As Chris Warnock pointed out in a comment on my previous blog post, modern astrology tends to deny the existence of malefics and even of evil itself. (Note: which is interesting, since most of the keywords that they use for Uranus, Neptune and Pluto tend to be negative, yet the refuse to refer to these as malefic energies.) So when things like Mercury retrograde or Void of Course Moon happen, the modern habit is to round up everything evil, bad, or inconvenient that is happening and scapegoat that one factor. (Remember, the idea with scapegoating was to take one symbolic [innocent] goat and cast upon it ALL the sins of the nation.) Just do a web search for Uranus in Aries, and you will see all sorts of non-specific, dire predictions about what this means. (Most of these are actually what I call post-dictions, that is, looking backwards and casting blame on one factor which is convenient, though usually inconsequential in reality. Reference the multitude of astrologers who point to Uranus in Aries and connect it to the earthquake in Japan. This is despite the fact that Uranus was still in Pisces, and the fact that this entrance into Aries was not something peculiar to Japan - it happened for everyone).
This brings me to something that traditional astrology dealt with all the time, which is wholly ignored in modern astrology. What makes a Benefic or Malefic? First, let's look at the words. Bene-fic is from the Latin bene (good) and facere (to do/make). So Benefics are do-gooders. Likewise, Malefics (male + facere) are evil-doers. Traditionally, the Benefic planets are Jupiter, Venus, Moon (when waxing) and in certain situations, the Sun; the Malefics are Saturn, Mars, Moon (when waning) and in certain situations, the Sun. However, one of the things that traditional astrologers universally agreed on is that Benefics can become Malefics accidentally, and that Malefics can become Benefics accidentally. What does "accidentally" mean in this context? Classical astrology distinguishes between Essential dignity, which has to do with the relationship between a planet and the sign that it's in, and Accidental dignity (also known as Accidental Fortitudes), which is a broad category that covers a number of areas, such as: what house a planet is in, what aspects a planet makes to other planets, etc.
A planet like Jupiter, for example, is essentially dignified in signs like Sagittarius and Pisces (he is the sign ruler of these two signs) and Cancer (where he is exalted). He's also somewhat dignified in all of the Fire signs, especially if the chart is a nocturnal one (i.e., the Sun is below the horizon) and in certain degrees of certain signs. What this means is that Jupiter can freely be himself in these signs and work without interference in the way that he prefers to work. One of the meanings of Jupiter that has come down to modern astrology is "expansion" (in fact, it may be the only meaning for Jupiter that many modern astrologers are even familiar with). This is due to Jupiter's qualities of being warm and moist, which conditions are perfect for growth (think of what conditions you want for your garden to grow). What happens when this expansion goes unchecked? The growth never stops. If a fat, happy Jupiter is sitting on one's Ascendant (physical body), that might not be such a good thing for the person (over-weight issues, water retention, etc). Or what happens when that super-growth Jupiter is in Cancer, and in the sixth house or twelfth house, which are connected to illnesses? This is often (not always) the signature of someone who may have a predisposition to the disease cancer (which is basically an overgrowth of dangerous cells).* In this case Jupiter is clearly an Accidental Malefic.
Another example from current events is that of my girlfriend. Her natal chart has Mercury retrograde exactly conjunct the Midheaven/MC (career/fame/boss area of the chart, which also increases the strength of any planet near it) in Virgo. Professionally, Mercury conjunct the MC would indicate someone who is a teacher, writer, accountant, etc. Mercury is very highly dignified in Virgo. But here it's retrograde. This would be an accidental malefic. Professionally, she is a language teacher, but also somewhat of a social-phobe. The Mercury retrograde here also represents a slew of bosses and superiors who are lousy at communication, which causes problems. My girlfriend also is a writer of fiction, and has founded a small press within the last year (all Mercury activities). She detests dealing with the public aspects of owning a press, but there is nothing that makes her happier than writing in the basement, all alone where no one but the cats visit.
However, we have recently identified a pattern in her writing practice. She said to me the other day that all of a sudden, the writing blocks that she has been experiencing since early January have fallen away, and she is pumping out the pages non-stop. That prompted me to look back over the course of the last year, and it is clear that whenever Mercury goes retrograde, her creative juices start flowing, and she retreats to the basement and produces volumes of fiction. Note that this does not mean that the outward activities become any easier; for example, the bosses' communication gets worse, the job of publicizing the press get more difficult, etc. But the activity that she enjoys most in life, writing alone, is most enjoyable and most productive during this time when modern astrologers are crying that the sky is falling, and would counsel specifically against this sort of activity.
In this case, Mercury is an accidental malefic and benefic, depending on which of the Mercury-ruled activities we examine. Once again, where the modern take on this is very monolithic and completely without nuance, the perspective of Traditional Astrology allows for subtleties and levels of interpretation unheard of in any of the modern texts.
* Please note that this is only one possible example of what might happen with this placement. No one astrological placement will indicate any particular kind of disease; there are many complex factors involved, not least among them genetics (which is connected to fate), diet and personal health choices (free will), and upbringing (a combination of fate/free will). All health issues -- physically, mentally, emotionally and astrologically -- are complex ones that require in-depth analysis before any determinations can be made.