Essential dignity

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Essential dignity, in the context of an astrological horoscope or natal chart, refers to the relative “strength” or “weakness” of a planet based on its zodiac sign and specific degree. This strength or weakness is referred to as the planet’s essence—what the 17th-century astrologer William Lilly called "the strength, fortitude or debility of the Planets [or] significators."[1]

In other words, since most astrology centers around the unique energies of each planet, and their various effects on Earth, essential dignity is simply an extra tool for gauging any potential “pros” or ”cons” of a planet in a given horoscope chart. A specific planet may be more ”effective” in a horoscope based on the time of day or night the chart was cast, or an individual’s personal birth time, or simply what sign the planet is in. For example, the Sun is traditionally the ruler of Leo. The opposite sign of Leo is Aquarius. Thus, someone with the Sun in Aquarius will be said to have a “weakened” or “debilitated” Sun, or that their Sun is in detriment. The Sun’s effects for this person will not be as pronounced or felt as intensely. This is, of course, dependent on other factors unique to the individual, but the Sun and Leo represent the self, vitality, showmanship, loyalty and respect. Aquarius and its planetary ruler, Saturn, both represent necessary tasks, group success, detailed facts, and potentially difficult (but often needed) scenarios. In the Northern Hemisphere, Leo and the Sun are indicative of high summer. Aquarius, in January, is a zodiac sign of midwinter. The Sun in winter is lower in the sky, and thus weaker than in summer. However, not every planet in a horoscope will have an elevated or debilitated status; some planetary placements are purely “neutral”, so the perceived effects will be less noticeable or intense.

By comparison, accidental dignity indicates how much strength a planet or point derives from its position in a natal chart, such as its relation to the other factors in the chart: for example, its proximity to other planets, or to the four angles of the chart, or to stars, as well as the aspects (or symmetrical angular connections) it forms with other planets or points in the chart.

For example, to find the essential dignity of Mars at 27° of Capricorn, one would first take into account the fact that the planet is already in a dignified position—Mars is said to be exalted in the sign of Capricorn—and also that it is the "bounds" ruler of the 27th degree of Capricorn and also the face ruler of the 27th degree of Capricorn. This is a considerably dignified Mars.

If the same horoscope featured an Aquarius first house—making Capricorn the twelfth house—Mars at 27° Capricorn would be placed in the twelfth house; Mars's accidental dignity would be poor, since it would be located in a weak or malevolent cadent house. The twelfth house symbolizes rest, respite, dreams, and fantasy, as well as deep sleep and escapism. These themes are contrary to the motivated, spirited, and determined energies of Mars as a planet, and of Capricorn as a sign. If Mars, in this horoscope, were to also be squared to a malevolent planet, such as Saturn, and would be receiving a dexter square aspect from malefic Saturn, ruler of Capricorn, this would further hinder Mars's strength and ability to operate benevolently. These accidental dignity factors would tend to weaken a Mars which is otherwise strong in essential dignity.

Traditionally the five essential dignities are:

For post-Classical astrologers, such as Bonatti or Lilly, the dignities had a hierarchy. The most important dignity was domicile rulership; slightly less important was exaltation. Triplicity rulerships were still fairly important in medieval astrology, but nowhere near as vital as they were for Hellenistic astrologers such as Ptolemy. Terms or bounds rulerships became very much diminished in importance, and face rulers were almost entirely ignored. (Lilly said that the only function face rulers served was to keep a planet from being entirely peregrine—that is, without any essential dignity whatever—which was considered a malefic condition.)

However, Hellenistic astrologers had a very different view of the dignities. To earlier astrologers, such as Ptolemy and Vettius Valens, domicile rulership, exaltation, triplicity rulership and bounds rulership were all of equal strength in influence.

Many modern astrologers take little heed of essential dignities, with the exception of domicile rulerships (see article on ruling planets.) This is most likely the result of the simplification of astrological technique that occurred when astrology lost popularity beginning in the eighteenth century (see History of astrology.)

Table of the most commonly used of the traditional essential dignities[2][a][edit]

Sign Domicile Detriment Exaltation Fall
Aries Mars Venus Sun Saturn
Taurus Venus Mars Moon None
Gemini Mercury Jupiter None None
Cancer Moon Saturn Jupiter Mars
Leo Sun Saturn None None
Virgo Mercury Jupiter Mercury Venus
Libra Venus Mars Saturn Sun
Scorpio Mars Venus None Moon
Sagittarius Jupiter Mercury None None
Capricorn Saturn Moon Mars Jupiter
Aquarius Saturn Sun None None
Pisces Jupiter Mercury Venus Mercury

Modern dignities[edit]

Many modern astrologers, eschewing the use of the other essential dignities, use the three outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto as the modern rulers of Aquarius, Pisces and Scorpio, respectively. The practice derives from the similarity between the nature of the planets with the nature of these signs. This as illustrated by the differences in the two "decans" tables above. It has also included more recently the dwarf planets Ceres and Eris relating them to Virgo and Libra, the same as the signs Scorpio, Aquarius and Pisces.

Sign Affinent Ruler Detriment Exaltation Fall
Aries Mars Eris Sun Saturn
Taurus Venus Pluto Moon Uranus
Gemini Mercury Jupiter Ceres Eris
Cancer Moon Saturn Jupiter Mars
Leo Sun Uranus Neptune Pluto
Virgo Ceres Neptune Mercury Venus
Libra Eris Mars Saturn Sun
Scorpio Pluto Venus Uranus Moon
Sagittarius Jupiter Mercury Eris Ceres
Capricorn Saturn Moon Mars Jupiter
Aquarius Uranus Sun Pluto Neptune
Pisces Neptune Ceres Venus Mercury

Decanate dignities[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This (Lilly 1999) is perhaps the source referred to most commonly, but the same table will be found in Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos, Valens' Anthologiae, Guido Bonatti's Liber Astronomiae, and a great many other major textbooks and sources.


  1. ^ Lilly (1999a), p. 101.
  2. ^ Lilly (1999a), p. 104.

Works cited[edit]

  • Lilly, William (1999a) [1647]. Houlding, D. (ed.). Christian Astrology, Book 1: An Introduction to Astrology; Book 2: The Resolution of All Manner of Questions. London: Ascella Publications.
  • Lilly, William (1999b) [1647]. Houlding, D. (ed.). Christian Astrology, Book 3: An Easie And Plaine Method Teaching How to Judge upon Nativities. London: Ascella Publications.

Further reading[edit]