Have you ever noticed how most of the planets in astrology seem to have masculine qualities? With the notable exception of the Moon and Venus, which are distinctly feminine, our planetary panoply is majorly male.

All that changed on January 1, 1801, when the asteroid Ceres was discovered in between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. And that was just the beginning! Several more asteroids were discovered in short order, in what is now called the Asteroid Belt.

As our instruments improved, we continued to find them. Currently, over 30,000 asteroids have been found and over 10,000 have names -- and we’re still discovering more! Now, that’s an awful lot of asteroids; too many to use in any sort of practical matter.

Asteroids are small and rocky, and do not qualify as planets. However, the larger ones have distinct qualities associated with them, astrologically speaking. Astrologers use the four largest asteroids -- Ceres, Juno, Vesta and Pallas Athena -- as feminine archetypes.

In addition, many astrologers add Chiron (pronounced KY-ron) to the mix. This maverick asteroid was discovered in 1977 and correlates strongly with the healing principle.

Many astrologers find that using the asteroids adds a whole new level of information and interpretation to their work with astrology.

Chiron (pronounced KY-ron), discovered in 1977, is more than an asteroid but less than a comet. True to its maverick nature, astronomers are still not quite sure how to classify this rocky mass.

Chiron’s orbit lies between Saturn (the outermost visible planet and, for most of history, the limiting factor of the heavens) and Uranus (the revolutionary planet discovered in 1781), making Chiron a link between established tradition and unknown territory. It often functions as a bridge between the old and the new, fearlessly going where no one has gone before.

Don’t say to Chiron, ‘You can’t do that!’ -- because Chiron will respond, ‘Oh yeah? Watch me!’ and then proceed to do it! Chiron loves nothing more than a challenge.

Mythologically speaking, Chiron was a remarkable character. He was son of Zeus and a mortal. He was a centaur -- usually centaurs were bad boys, but not Chiron -- and was accomplished in many fields including music, medicine, herbs, astrology, mathematics, ethics, decorum and the arts of war and weapon making. He was a mentor to many of the famous Greek heroes.

He accidentally wounded himself in the foot with his own poisoned arrow, creating an injury that would not heal. From this, we derive the usual interpretation of Chiron as the Wounded Healer. However, more and more astrologers recognize that this is an incomplete interpretation.

To focus solely on the wound removes our attention from the more important healing aspect. Chiron expert Dale O’Brien considers Chiron a shaman, and nothing less. The wounding is simply part of the process, not the focus of it.

Chiron’s extremely elliptical orbit means that Chiron spends much longer in some signs than in others. It takes just over fifty years for Chiron to orbit the Sun.

The word Ceres, (pronounciation here), shares its roots with the word ‘cereal,’ which gives us a huge clue in interpreting this, the largest of the asteroids. Among other things, Ceres, or Demeter, as she was also known, was responsible for making sure that the crops grew properly.

One day, while she was romping in the fields with her daughter Persephone (also called Proserpina), the ground opened up and the daughter was abducted by Pluto, God of the Underworld. Ceres searched and searched, but could not find her daughter for the longest time. While she was looking for her daughter, the crops failed, creating a terrible famine among the people.

Finally, Ceres found her daughter in the Underworld and struck a deal with Pluto: Ceres could have Persephone for half the year, but for the remaining half, the daughter would have to return to the underworld. From this arrangement came the seasons: a time when crops grow and ripen, and then a fallow period when the crops do not grow.

Ceres is related, then, to agriculture as well as to food and its growth, production and distribution. She rules cooking, bakeries and the food industry. She is also connected to children and all related matters such as pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, feeding, nutrition and nurturing. She is strongly related to education. Ceres’s importance to the people results also in her affiliation with work, laborers and labor unions.

Juno, the goddess of marriage, is not strictly a planet; it's an asteroid that derives its name and meaning from Greek mythology. Also called Hera, Juno was wife to the Greek god Zeus, and she took her marriage vows seriously -- despite Zeus’s many infidelities, among other obstacles to Juno’s commitment.

In astrology we associate Juno with long-term partnerships like marriage. This asteroid governs what you look for in a soul mate, and what kind of soul mate you’ll be.

Do you need lots of freedom and space in order to make a commitment? Or is finding and committing to the love of your life at the top of your list of priorities?

Juno rules intimacy and commitment, and can determine both your strengths and your challenges in finding that long-term love. If you tend to fall into similar relationship patterns from one affair to the next, look to Juno to reveal why love keeps slipping from your grasp. (Perhaps your Juno lies in an impetuous fire sign, encouraging you to fall in love fast, only to wake up later -- sometimes too late -- to the problems and issues inherent in any relationship.)

While every Juno placement reveals challenges, it also gifts you with strengths in love. What do you need to love freely and fiercely, and to be loved the same? Look to Juno for the answer.

One morning Zeus woke up with a tremendous headache. As he was moaning and holding his head in agony, much to his surprise, a fully armed adult female warrior sprang from his head, intact.

This was none other than Pallas Athene, the Warrior Goddess who was born from man alone. She brought with her many gifts, most of which were not related to war.

When it came to fighting, she was no wimp, but she did not fight just for the joy of the battle. A master strategist, she brought the much-needed principle of wisdom to the battlefield. She also possessed a creative intelligence as well as a love for victory. She was a valued advisor in the arts of war.

Her main contributions, however, were for the advancement of civilization. She was the guardian of cities and states. She gave the olive to the Greeks, and introduced many other civilizing influences: musical instruments, the potter’s wheel, the plow, rake and ox-yoke.

She introduced arts and crafts, weaving, smithing and metal foundering. She was a Goddess of health and healing and introduced a variety of medicines and herbs for healing.

Pallas Athena was Zeus’s favorite child. When her presence is strong in a woman’s chart, this asteroid can indicate a woman who succeeds in a man’s world or who is particularly attached to her father, striving to earn his approval.

You’ve heard the phrase ‘Vestal virgin,’ and you’ve probably always wondered what it meant, right? Well, wonder no more. The phrase derives from Vesta, the Roman Goddess of the Hearth and Keeper of the Sacred Flame.

Vestal Virgins (of whom our Vesta was one) were workers in the sacred temples. They were called virgins not because they lacked sexual experience, but because they were dependent upon no one: The temple provided for them.

As you might suspect, a temple worker was dedicated to a life of purity, devotion and commitment to a single purpose. Sexual rites were indeed part of the temple rituals -- when a soldier returned from war, say, and stopped by the temple for purification before returning to the bosom of his family.

This archetype of sacred sex can become important for persons with Vesta prominent in their charts. There can be great awareness of the mystical, spiritual aspect of the sacred sexual act, which is forgotten or judged harshly by the general populace.

Perhaps more important was Vesta’s role as the Keeper of the Hearth. It was common in ancient times to have a family hearth that was dedicated to Vesta, and each community had a shrine to Vesta in the central public courtyard. This practice speaks to the crucial importance of fire, the flame and the hearth as the center of civilized life. Vesta represents nothing less than the cohesion of family and state.