Muhammad Ali and Our Dignity Problem
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
Last Friday, the world's self-proclaimed "greatest" passed away. Muhammad Ali died in Phoenix Arizona at the age of 74. The famous boxer went on to win the world heavyweight crown on three separate occasions and retired as a professional in 1981 with a record of 56 wins from 61 fights.
But what makes Ali so interesting to a traditional astrologer such as myself, who likes to point out that the Emperor has no clothes, is by far his Mars. But before we move into the astrology, let's just outline the biographical details of Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.'s life that make his "planet of conflict" so fascinating to study. Cassius Clay took up boxing after his bike was stolen at the age of 12. He won a gold medal for boxing at the age of 18 in the 1960 Olympics. He then generated a good deal of controversy for having joined the Nation of Islam and changing his name to Muhammad Ali shortly after becoming heavyweight champion of the world at the age of 22 in a huge upset. But aside from having been a freakishly good heavyweight fighter, Muhammad Ali is best known for being stripped of his title, exiled from boxing for 3 years and having been sentenced to 5 years in jail, all for being a conscientious objector to the Vietnam war and refusing induction into the army at its height. Now all of these events required not only a powerful ability to physically fight, but also to have the courage to confront a sovereign government, social injustice, and religious conventions. In short, Ali was the embodiment of courage at all levels. So we'd expect his Mars to pack a pretty powerful punch (excuse the pun) in the chart.
From the Gauquelin data, we know that eminent athletes are statistically more likely to have Mars post-ascending and post-culminating (in the 12th and 9th houses). So it is in Ali's chart, where Mars is placed in the 9th house in all quadrant house systems, except for whole-sign houses, which places it in the 10th. According to some astrologers this makes it a "strong" Mars and therefore capable of courage and bravery.
However, we also find that Mars is in Taurus, the sign of its detriment. According to the traditional dignity doctrine, this should make the planet "weak" and unable to deliver its full "strength". For example you often read delineations such as the one I saw in one modern website: "When Mars is in Taurus, Mars is weighted down and prevented from taking action as quickly and impulsively as it would like." Does this sound like Muhammad Ali, who became famous for being quick on his feet and winning matches through his faster, longer-range punches? I have also heard it said that Mars in detriment delivers powerful but negative Mars-type outcomes or "afflictions", such as bad tempers, getting into too many brawls, and criminal behavior. So sometimes the doctrine is said to affect the degree of its "strength" and sometimes the "quality of its outcome', which are actually two very different and independent functions. I have also heard it said, by those who have noticed how other powerful and successful athletes often have Mars in its detriment (Arthur Ashe and Dale Earnhardt, come to mind), that perhaps they are successful athletes because they are "overcompensating" for having a weak Mars and thus have had to overcome huge Mars deficiencies, which makes their Mars "stronger". This explanation is one of the more convoluted ones I've heard, as it tries to have it both ways. "Yes, Mars is weak, but somehow being weak makes it stronger." While the overcoming of obstacles narrative is certainly one we find in the real life stories of many successful people (athletes or no), I can tell you with certainty that it has nothing to do with Mars' sign. This type of double-speak is far too common with astrologers, but it says nothing astrologically useful.
All this confusion suggests a lack of understanding not only of what the function of the detriment is, but also of the function of the domicile rulership, since each is defined in opposition to the other. That is to say, the reason detriment is thought to "weaken" a planet or make it deliver "more problematic" results is because its opposite, the domicile rulership (e.g. Mars in Aries), is believed to be "stronger" and deliver "better results". But empirical evidence does not bear this out either. The charts of Jeffrey Dahmer and John Hinckley, both of whom have Venus in its own domicile, are a testament to the fact that the planet of love and relationships in dignity need not be strong or deliver fortuitous outcomes in love any more than one in detriment should deliver its opposite.
So if Mars in detriment does not "dial down" Mars' strength and it does not automatically deliver problematic outcomes, then what is its purpose and what is it doing in Muhammad Ali's chart? To understand this, we must get out of this tendency to think of a planet as capable of being anything less than what it is. A planet is an archetype. By definition, an archetype is always pure and eternal. This means by Platonic terms, that a planet is unalterable. Therefore, there is no weak "Mars" any more than there is a weak Venus, Moon, Sun etc. The sign that the planet occupies has a function over the place in which the planet finds itself, not over the pure essence of the planet, which is unalterable. So the sign does not qualify the planet, it qualifies the planet's place or location (i.e. the house it's in) by creating a need that must be met through the creation of that place.
Now there are actually two planets "shaping" this 9th house location where Mars finds itself. Mars "shapes" it because it is placed there. And Venus "shapes" it because it has domicile rulership or ownership over the location. We'll take each of these two functions separately since they are different. (And, no, a planet in a house IS NEVER the same as a planet ruling a house!!)
Venus' house: Now, while Mars is located in Taurus in the 9th house, Taurus is actually the 10th sign from the Ascendant. (This is where my approach to Equal Houses actually overlaps with Whole-sign Houses.) So the sign actually "shapes" the region that runs across the 9th and 10th houses. That means that the significations that Venus has ownership over are 9th-10th matters: work abroad; legal standings; religious status, career instruction, etc.
But what does Venus actually do to these 9th-10th house things that it owns or can provide? First, the sign occupying that place does not represent a type or characteristic of that place or the things from it. So for example, Leo on the cusp of the 7th does not mean your partner is magnanimous or vain or attention-seeking (Because what if you should have 5 different partners? or 3 different children, if we were talking about the 5th? Would they all be the same? of course not). Rather, the planet ruling that house signifies the action necessary to bring those things into existence. (This planet can sometimes resemble -- in terms of its occupation or action -- the people of that house. But not in their personality. So Sagittarius in the 5th can show a child who is a teacher or a businessman, but does not necessarily mean that they are Sagittarian by nature or have a lot of Sagittarius planets in their chart).
How does Venus brings these things into existence? By "shaping" the things of the house in which it is placed. Now I have been using the verb "shape" to refer to the two roles a planet has: as domicile lord of a house and as occupier of a house. But these are actually two different ways of shaping things: 1) above I explained that a planet can shape something into existence; that is, it can generate or birth "a thing". 2) But a planet as occupier of a house, can also "shape" a thing by directly altering something that already exists. It does both through its archetypal, dynamic essence. So since Venus is occupying the Descendant in Ali's chart, it must first form unions or relationships with people, enemies, or competitors (Venus in the 7th) in order to generate his career.
We can clearly see how this played out in Ali's life: his boxing career started when after having his bike stolen, he met a Louisville police officer who also happened to be a boxing coach. Note that the relationship formed -- shown by Saturn, as lord and provider of the 7th -- is one with an authority figure who builds his career (Saturn in the 10th). We also saw something similar play out with the creation of his little known and brief career as a diplomatic envoy under two presidents. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter tasked him with a diplomatic mission to recruit countries to join the US boycott of the Moscow summer Olympics. In 1990 President George H. Bush sent Ali to Iraq to procure 15 Americans that had been kidnapped by Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait, and bring them back home. While the first mission was a failure, the second one was a huge success, both generated by relationships forged with people in authority capable of potentially building a new career. His relationship with Malcolm X as a spiritual mentor also led to the generation of his new religious status with the Nation of Islam. His often changing legal marital status was also brought about by Venus's tendency to forge unions with others because he often had sexual relationships with other women while married, this of course led to several divorces.
Now I have not talked about angularity, except to state that it was highly significant in the Gauquelin professional studies. But what is important to note about planets at angles, is that they signify degree of impact in the world. So to have both Venus and Mars (and in addition Saturn and Uranus), all at angles of the chart, says that they will all bring about highly impacting life events. It is for this reason that angularity was only a factor in the charts of eminent professionals in Gauquelin's studies. It is also the reason why celebrities and important people tend to have planets near the angles -- because they tend to have a high degree of impact upon the world. So the partners, enemies or competitors that Ali forms will have a high degree of impact upon him and the world in general. In fact, this Venus says as much about the creation of Ali's boxing profession as Mars does. And it is reflected in this famous Ali quote: "My face is so pretty, you don’t see a scar, which proves I’m the king of the ring by far.” Venus is responsible for generating the public, legal, religious and foreign environments into which he brings the Mars courage.
Mars' Placement: Let me finally circle back to the Mars action in the 9th-10th. Just like Venus does to the 7th, Mars shapes the 9th-10th directly. So while Venus is busy creating these environments through unions, Mars is breaking or separating from them at various points in his life. We saw that he had a 3 year separation from his boxing career, several breaks in his religious status, breaks in the legal status of his marriages; another legal contention as a draft dodger; and a contention with his teachers over his graduation from High School (he was a terrible but popular student who only graduated because the principal of the school, who saw his potential as a boxer, gave an impassioned speech where he said that "One day, this kid, in a single fight, will get more than all you teachers earn in a year combined, and our claim to fame will be that we taught Cassius Clay." This became known in school lore as the "Claim to Fame" speech. Again, his career environment being shaped by loving relationships.)
Just as the domicile function creates or generates its houses, the detriment function "removes" the things of its houses from the life. So when Mars acts in the 9th-10th, its effect is to remove the 10th and 3rd house things from the life (Taurus and Libra houses). Since Mars is in the 10th sign anyway, and Mars separates from those things, it is almost like saying "by breaking away from my career, I will remove it from my life." but it does so in a documented fashion (the 3rd house is simultaneously at play). So what is being removed by Martial contentions with the legal government are the public contracts or legal documents, such as the conscription papers to go fight a war, or the segregation laws he so fought against.
In summary, Muhammad Ali did not have a weak or problematic Mars in his chart. He had a very impactful Mars operating within an environment that was brought into existence through loving relationships. Those of you out there with Mars in Taurus in the 10th will inevitably be drawn into public contests or controversies. But for better or for worse (corruptions are different chart indicators), they will be motivated by your simple need for peace and the value you can bring to public life. That doesn't sound like much of a weakness to me.