How to read Ptolemy's table of Essential Dignities
The first column of the table indicates the signs of the zodiac.
The second column shows the traditional rulers of the signs. It is headed 'house' because ancient terminology referred to the signs that the planets ruled as being their natural 'houses' or 'homes'.
Apart from the Sun and Moon, each of the planets rules one sign by diurnal expression (D) and one by nocturnal expression (N). Hence Mars rules both Aries and Scorpio, but in Aries, its diurnal rulership, its energies are expressed more openly and directly; in Scorpio (its nocturnal rulership), its energies are more introverted and unconsciously driven. Diurnal simply means 'of the nature of the day'; nocturnal, 'of the nature of the night'. The terms 'diurnal and nocturnal' are synonymous with 'masculine and feminine', 'yin and yang', 'extrovert and introvert'. Diurnal energy usually gives a more spontaneous reaction where inner drives are consciously expressed and clearly apparent. Nocturnal energy is usually more reflective and operates at a deeper level of consciousness.
In considering the traditional scheme, note from the illustration at the top of the page how the planetary rulerships fan out in a symmetrical pattern from the union of the Sun and Moon.
The third column shows where each of the planets are exalted. The specific degree of exaltation is included - these degrees are particularly notable although the dignity of exaltation is generally applied to the whole of the sign. Hence Mars is dignified at any position in Capricorn, the sign of its exaltation, but the dignity will be especially apparent in the 28th degree. The traditional exaltations of the nodes are included although I have never really seen these put to good use in judgements.
The fourth column shows the planetary rulership of the triplicities. You will see that the pattern repeats for the fire triplicity - Aries, Leo and Sagittarius; the earth triplicity - Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn; the air triplicity - Gemini, Libra and Aquarius; and the water triplicity - Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces.
In triplicity rulerships the planetary rulers change according to whether the chart is a daytime chart, (which features the Sun above the horizon), or a night-time chart, (where the sun has set). The 'D' and 'N' at the top of the column indicate the rulers by day and night. So if the chart is cast for noon then Saturn acts as the triplicity ruler of all the air signs; at midnight Mercury would be used instead.
The fifth column shows the degrees where rulership by term transfers. That is, Jupiter rules the first six degree of Aries, from 0°00' - 5°59'; Venus rules from 6°00' - 13°59 Aries.
Notice that the Sun and Moon do not rule any of the terms. Also that the malefic planets, Mars and Saturn rule the final terms of every sign (this principle is fixed from 27 degrees to the end of the sign). The malefics fo not rule any of the middle terms (from 6 degrees - 19 degrees), which are all held by Mercury, Venus or Jupiter.
The sixth column shows the degrees where rulership by face transfers. That is, Mars rules the first ten degree of Aries, from 0°00' - 9°59'; the Sun rules rules from 10°00' - 19°59 Aries.
Notice how the order of planetary rulership over the faces winds across the column in descending order of their proximity to earth; that is - Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon.
As you read their order down the column, you find the pattern that matches the order of the days of the week - Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn:
Sun - Sunday
Moon - Monday
Mars - Tuesday (equivalent Scandinavian god Tyr - O.E.: Tiw)
Mercury - Wednesday(equivalent Scandinavian god Odin - O.E.: Woden)
Jupiter - Thursday (equivalent Scandinavian god Thor)
Venus - Friday (equivalent Scandinavian god Frigg)
Saturn - Saturday
The seventh column shows the signs where the planets experience detriment. These are the signs opposite the ones they rule, so apart from the Sun and Moon, each planet has two signs of detriment just as they have two signs of rulership.
The eighth column shows the signs where the planets experience fall. These are opposite the signs of exaltation, so each planet has only one sign of fall, just as they have only one sign of exaltation. Although the debility is applied throughout the sign, the specific degrees mentioned in the list of exaltations carry extra significance, so the 28th degree of Cancer is particularly notable as a degree of debility for Mars, being the sign and degree of its fall.
The following sections in this article explain the use of dignities, debilities and reception in chart interpretation. Before moving on, try the exercise below to make sure that you understand how to take dignities and rulerships from Ptolemy's table.
Test your ability to read the table correctly
If you want to check that you can read this table correctly, try the following exercise - a link to the answers is given below.
1) In a day-time chart, Saturn is placed at 15°35' Taurus. List the planets that rule Saturn's position by sign, exaltation, triplicity, term and face. Does Saturn have any essential dignity in this position?
2) In a night-time chart, the Moon is placed at 19°45' Cancer. List the planets that rule the Moon's position by sign, exaltation, triplicity, term and face. Does the Moon have any essential dignity in this position?
3) In which three signs is Venus essentially debilitated?
4) In a night-time chart Mercury is at 26°12 Aries. List the planets that rule Mercury's position by sign, exaltation, triplicity, term and face. Does Mercury have any essential dignity in this position?
© Deborah Houlding. For permission to reproduce extracts or diagrams, please contact the author.