Malefic and benefic – the real meaning

benefics-malefics2Initial reactions

If you find yourself reacting to the words ‘malefic’ and ‘benefic’ there is a good chance that nobody has taken to the time to explain to you what they really mean. Many people immediately associate these words with bad and good, something very judgmental and moralistic. While this association is very understandable it can have negative consequences for your astrological education.

You may be surprised to learn that these words provide you with a big advantage when their intended meaning is understood. So first a little background:

Agricultural heritage

These terms are derived from a more ancient context that reflects our agricultural heritage. In previous generations when the majority of people lived off the land the astrologer needed to assess whether planetary indications were life supporting, fertile and promoted growth, or whether they were associated with deprivation, barrenness, decline and ultimately death.

Underpinning the astrologer’s assessment was an understanding of the primary qualities which are the foundation blocks on which astrology is constructed. The primary qualities are hot  cold, wet and dry.

Supports or hinders life

The basic principle is that planets which generate or promote life are referred to as ‘benefics’ and those which are life challenging and destructive are referred to as ‘malefics’.

In agricultural terms planets which support life and promote fertile environments are the warm and moist planets: Venus and Jupiter. They are associated with moderation, growth and prosperity. Because Jupiter is the slower planet its beneficial effects last longer and it is therefore referred to as ‘the major benefic’.

Mars (burning heat and drought) and Saturn (ice and frost) are associated with harsh conditions, too hot or too cold to support life. Because Saturn is the slower planet its destructive effects last longer and it is therefore referred to as ‘the major malefic’.

Most astrologers who use the terms malefic and benefic are usually referring to Mars and Saturn (minor and major malefics) or Venus and Jupiter (minor and major benefics).

Although the terms benefic and malefic can be also applied to the other planets there is not the space here to go into that detail.

In the transition from agricultural to mostly urban life and the development of modern sensitivities concerning anything suggestive of negative judgement the use of the term malefic is an unfortunate turn off.


In the modern world the term malefic can be applied to something inconvenient or which upsets our comfortable existence. In the extreme it also applies to more serious planetary correlations such as terror, death, destruction, violence war……

‘Inconvenient’ is a word which does some justice to the term malefic although it does fail to convey the more extreme negative scenarios.

Inconvenient: we don’t like to be delayed, have our house burnt down, aggravation, violence, discord, or be rejected, controlled, trapped, depressed or repressed. Even if these inconveniences make our life better in the long run or in some sense make us better people, we rarely appreciate it at the time. Although no planet is inherently evil their effects can be very inconvenient!

Used in predictive and psychological astrology

So next time you hear the terms benefic and malefic please recall their origin and their intended meaning.  This understanding will provide access to other useful concepts and techniques.

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