I thought it might be a good idea to talk about essential dignity in our first blog post. As it’s very likely we’ll refer to this information in later blog posts, it seemed sensible to explain what we mean for those who might be unfamiliar with the idea. As with our approach generally, I’m not suggesting this is the ‘right way’ to do it, simply a tool we have found to be highly effective! We both studied (and still study!) with Astro Logos and this technique is crucial to how they teach birth chart delineation. Recognising the condition of a planet is vital information when reading a chart for a client. Is the energy working for them? How might they best express that part of their personality? One of the first things I now look at when I see a birth chart is the essential dignity of the planets and luminaries. At this juncture, I should probably point out that essential dignity only applies to the luminaries and planets out to Saturn. The modern rulerships of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are not used.
An ancient astrologer would not simply have interpreted the meaning of a planet in a particular sign, as many modern astrologers do. They would have used a weighting system to determine how effective a planet might be for the individual. Just like our own experiences of life, the planets don’t always have it easy. The zodiac is not a level playing field. The planets and luminaries in our birth chart represent very different things and have different energies. Accordingly, they see the terrain of the zodiac signs differently. Whilst one planet may gain strength in one sign, another may be weak and struggle in that sign. This extra layer of information is crucial for the astrologer in helping them understand how that part of the client operates and suggesting how they can move towards the most effective expression of that energy.
The four elements of essential dignity we use are Rulership, Exaltation, Detriment and Fall. Further blog posts will follow looking at each of these in turn in more detail, but here are a few words on each to start us off.
- Rulership: ability, power and unquestionable right to fulfil its promise – a planet in rulership really is the king on his throne, think of the Sun in Leo. The planet has strength and energy flows easily.
- Exaltation: gained power through struggle or conflict so needs continual attention to succeed. This is still a powerful position but it needs some work on the part of the individual in order to achieve full promise.
- Detriment: has problems achieving – a general in enemy territory. These planets are in the opposite sign of their place of rulership and can find it difficult to operate in a maintstream way.
- Fall: like a deposed conqueror. These planets are in the sign opposite their place of rulership. This is a really testing position that often needs support from others or an unconventional approach to make the planet work effectively.
Detriment and fall can seem to fulfil their promise but then destroy what is given, or simply block and not give anything. They both function best in a non-mainstream way or with the support of a team.
There are plenty of examples on the web of Ptolemy’s table of essential dignity, but here’s a summary anyway.