Combustion, which refers to a phenomenon that occurs when planets are considered too close to the Sun, is a topic that seems to be interpreted differently by many astrologers I’ve learned from and respect. Some say they’ve either never found it to be the case in their practical experience or, at least, that it’s not the case with Mercury (the most common planet to be located so close to the Sun) and/or has mixed results. Some astrologers also feel the Moon cannot become combust, while others list it along with the other planets. I’ve also heard more than one astrologer suggest combustion is very real but that the required orbs are just much tighter than indicated in classical texts.
Those texts state specific orbs of combustion for different planets – (although the orbs vary a bit depending on which text is referenced) – and generally take a very negative view of combust planets. James Braha mentioned in an ACVA (American College of Vedic Astrology) lecture that he feels combust planets have a multi-layered effect that both brightens and agitates, giving the example of models with a combust Venus, who, despite their beauty, often have difficult love lives. The late Narendra Desai mentioned in another ACVA lecture that he felt Mercury, being so used to closeness with the Sun, doesn’t actually become combust. Chakrapani Ullal’s ACVA lecture on the topic is informative but also interestingly ambivalent; he suggests his own observations regarding combustion have been mixed.
It’s been my own observation that an unusual percentage of highly intelligent people have a very combust Mercury… and also that an unusual percentage of these people are anxious and neurotic. Possible anxiety and neurosis aside, it would be difficult for anybody to convince me that a combust Mercury makes one more likely to be intellectually slow or have trouble communicating, which I’ve heard from other astrologers whom I respect (but disagree with on this account). Even in regard to anxiety and neurosis, correlation doesn’t necessarily mean much; highly intelligent people may just be more likely to be anxious or neurotic. Similarly, without considering astrological factors, there’s plenty about modeling that seems as if it could make one’s love life more difficult. The number of variables involved in life is enough to make pinning down the facts about certain topics problematic at times… and that applies to most fields, not just astrology.
Combustion is genuinely tough to figure out… or at least it is for me, at this point in my studies. Others may be much more confident, although, if this is the case, each of them would inevitably still be confident about a different theory than most other astrologers.
Early on in my study of astrology, I was inclined to think combustion wasn’t real because I enjoyed some very positive indications related to a combust planet in my chart. Later, after gaining more appreciation for the importance of context, hearing Braha’s theory and also understanding my own chart better, I thought I understood how combustion related to me via certain troubles that could easily be connected to my combust planet.
Today, when I look at my combust planet in the context of everything that affects our lives, including my natal chart, divisional charts, dashas and my culture and circumstances, I see other factors in my horoscope and my dharma that have supported both positive and negative indications of my combust planet. I also see that a skilled astrologer reading my chart could ignore my combust planet completely and come to the same general conclusions about my personality and life experiences from a thoughtful analysis of the rest of my chart.
It’s always about the chart as a whole (which includes not only the natal chart but also other relevant techniques and information).
And combustion, as with any other single factor in astrology, must be viewed in the context of that entire chart. If a chart is viewed in a comprehensive manner, one’s theory about combustion, or any other issue, may miss the mark and the overall analysis could still be quite accurate and helpful.
In almost every field, from medicine to professional sports to astrology, opinions about many important, even relatively basic techniques and ideas are still debated by experts. Yet, this doesn’t mean a great doctor or athletic trainer is useless if they happen to turn out wrong or less than fully accurate about one of these topics. Combustion, while interesting to explore, won’t ever make the difference in a proper reading.
With that said, I still consider combustion to be one of the great unsettled arguments of astrology. My hope is that, as astrology gains broader acceptance and understanding, thorough experiments, including large sample sizes and proven methods of accounting for variables, will be undertaken, giving us much more clarity about controversial conditions such as combustion, retrogradation, neecha bhanga (i.e. cancellation of debilitation) and others.
There are many reasons I’m eager for the inevitable merger of science and mysticism to speed up… and figuring out some of astrology’s burning questions is high on that list.
I’d also love, right now, to hear readers’ personal experiences and observations, as part of an effort to gather as much information and facilitate as much informed discussion as possible.