Astrology Basics

Essential Dignity

Once we have understood the quality of all planetary forces into play, we have to weigh their strength in order to figure out which most influence the personality. In astrology, the strength of a planet is called dignity; its weakness, debility. There are two types of dignity: essential and accidental. Essential dignity is the effective strength of a planet; accidental dignity shows instead whether or not a planet has occasion—or power—to act.

For example: you are a good driver (essential dignity) but you’re stuck in the traffic (accidental debility); you might be not such a good person (essential debility) nevertheless you have been elected as mayor (accidental dignity); you are a very talented chef (essential dignity) who works in a renowned restaurant (accidental dignity); you’re a con man (essential debility) who went to prison (accidental debility). As you can see strong also means good, weak also means bad.

Sign Ruler Exalt Triplicity Ptolemaic Terms Decans (Faces) Detr Fall
[aries] [mars] [sun] 19 D [sun] N [jupiter] [jupiter] 6 [venus] 14 [mercury] 21 [mars] 26 [saturn] 30 [mars] 10 [sun] 20 [venus] 30 [venus] [saturn]
[taurus] [venus] [moon] 3 D [venus] N [moon] [venus] 8 [mercury] 15 [jupiter] 22 [saturn] 26 [mars] 30 [mercury] 10 [moon] 20 [saturn] 30 [mars]
[gemini] [mercury] D [saturn] N [mercury] [mercury] 7 [jupiter] 14 [venus] 21 [saturn] 25 [mars] 30 [jupiter] 10 [mars] 20 [sun] 30 [jupiter]
[cancer] [moon] [jupiter] 15 D [mars] N [mars] [mars] 6 [jupiter] 13 [mercury] 20 [venus] 27 [saturn] 30 [venus] 10 [mercury] 20 [moon] 30 [saturn] [mars]
[leo] [sun] D [sun] N [jupiter] [saturn] 6 [mercury] 13 [venus] 19 [jupiter] 25  [mars] 30 [saturn] 10 [jupiter] 20 [mars] 10 [saturn]
[virgo] [mercury] [mercury] 15 D [venus] N [moon] [mercury] 7 [venus] 13 [jupiter] 18 [saturn] 24 [mars] 30 [sun] 10 [venus] 20 [mercury] 30 [jupiter] [venus]
[libra] [venus] [saturn] 21 D [saturn] N [mercury] [saturn] 6 [venus] 11 [jupiter] 19 [mercury] 24 [mars] 30 [moon] 10 [saturn] 20 [jupiter] 30 [mars] [sun]
[scorpio] [mars] D [mars] N [mars] [mars] 6 [jupiter] 14 [venus] 21 [mercury] 27  [saturn] 30 [mars] 10 [sun] 20 [venus] 30 [venus] [moon]
[sagittarius] [jupiter] D [sun] N [jupiter] [jupiter] 8 [venus] 14 [mercury] 19 [saturn] 25 [mars] 30 [mercury] 10 [moon] 20 [saturn] 10 [mercury]
[capricorn] [saturn] [mars] 28 D [venus] N [moon] [venus] 6 [mercury] 12 [jupiter] 19 [mars] 25 [saturn] 30 [jupiter] 10 [mars] 20 [sun] 30 [moon] [jupiter]
[aquarius] [saturn] D [saturn] N [mercury] [saturn] 6 [mercury] 12 [venus] 20 [jupiter] 25 [mars] 30 [venus] 10 [mercury] 20 [moon] 30 [sun]
[pisces] [jupiter] [venus] 27 D [mars] N [mars] [venus] 8 [jupiter] 14 [mercury] 20 [mars] 26  [saturn] 30 [saturn] 10 [jupiter] 20 [mars] 30 [mercury] [mercury]

There are five essential dignities, from the strongest to the weakest: rulership, exaltation, triplicity, term and decan (face). Essential debilities are detriment and fall. The table above  is fundamental, especially in horary readings.

Rulership Each sign is ruled by a planet (sometimes by two, if we also consider generational planets); when a planet is transiting through a sign it rules, it is dignified. For example Aries is ruled by Mars; when Mars is in Aries we say it is in its rulership, or domicile. This is likened to a man being in his own home, or territory: he is in charge.
Exaltation Exaltation means enhancement, elevation. Each planet is exalted in a sign, whose energies are particularly appropriate to enhance its nature. It may not rule, but it can express itself to the best. Venus, for example—goddess of love—is in exaltation in Pisces, a romantic and compassionate water sign. In the table (exaltation column), you can see a number next to each planet; it’s called exaltation degree which is a special position where exaltation is particularly strong.
Triplicity Each element has also its own ruler. As you know, there are three signs for element—hence the term triplicity. A special feature of triplicity is that it has a different ruler by day and by night. For example, when Jupiter is in a fire sign—at night—it is in its triplicity, which means it feels comfortable (literally in its own element).
Term (ptolemaic) Term means boundary. Each sign is divided into five unequal slices, ruled by a planet (the Sun and the Moon are never dignified by term). It is a power similar to that of vassals, subordinates which ruled a piece of land on behalf of the king. There are several terms (Egyptian, Chaldean, etc.), by tradition we use ptolemaic terms. For example, Capricorn terms are: Venus 6 Mercury 12 Jupiter 19 Mars 25 Saturn 30. This means that when Mercury is transiting from 6° to 12° Capricorn, it is dignified by term.
Decan (Face) Decans are a system of splitting a sign in three slices of 10 degrees each; as for terms, each part is ruled by a planet. Even though they are quite famous, they are the weakest among essential dignities. They represents a very little amount of power. There are many types of decans (hindu drekkanas, Marco Manilio’s, etc.). We use faces, which follow the sequence from the slowest to the fastest planet: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon. We start with Mars as Aries first decan, Sun as the second, and so on.

Remember that essential dignities are cumulative. Mars in Scorpio for example is in its domicile and triplicity as well; from the first to the sixth degree it is also in its term and face. We can say that in the first degrees of Scorpio, Mars is particularly dignified. Let’s see now essential debilities.

Detriment Detriment is basically the opposite of rulership. It occurs when the planet is in the sign opposite the one it rules, for example Jupiter in Gemini or Venus in Aries. The planet is very debilitated, as well as its symbologies.
Fall A planet is in its fall when it is in the sign opposite its exaltation. For example, Jupiter in Capricorn or Venus in Virgo. The planet is in a sign that does not allow it to express its true nature.

Please note that dignity and debility can mix. This is perfectly normal, because it reflects the complexity of reality. Think for instance about a talented poet which is also an alcoholic: he is debilitated, nevertheless he is still able to write masterpieces. In order to judge properly, we need to go beyond our usual right or wrong way of thinking.

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