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Throughout history, astrologers have used allegorical examples of territory ownership to illustrate the meaning of dignity in judgement. Although this may seem naive and unsophisticated to modern students, the technique of demonstrating interpretations via images we can conjure in our minds is an extremely effective way of communicating essential principles. The technique will be followed here by reference to historical examples.
Dignity Rulership by Sign
Each classification of dignity, from sign down to face, represents a section of zodiacal territory that is said to belong to one of the planets. The strongest rulership is the dominion of the planets over the signs of the zodiac. Ptolemy and most early authors referred to the signs as the 'houses' of the planets, because the signs where the planets held their rulerships were regarded as their natural homes.
In symbolic application, a planet is in its strongest position when it is in its own home. In war and sport it's easy to see how the advantage goes to those who operate in their own territory and familiar ground. Lilly noted that in judgement, a planet or significator is in its own sign:
…represents a man in such a condition, as that he is Lord of his own house, estate and fortune; or a man wanting very little of the Goods of this world, or it tells you the man is in a very happy state or condition....
For the philosophical reasoning that lies beneath the structure of sign rulership, read the accompanying article The Philosophy of Sign Rulership.
Dignity Rulership by Exaltation
After its own sign, the next best place for a planet to be is in its sign of exaltation. In symbolic terms this is comparable to being an honoured guest in someone else's home. There is not the same level of freedom or strength as when a planet is in its own sign but it shows a dignified position, often indicating a person of respect or rank.
One has only to consider the meaning of the word 'exalted' to understand the use of this dignity in judgement. The 12th century Hebrew astrologer, Ibn Ezra, said that a planet in its own exaltation "is like a man in the pinnacle of his rank", while Lilly less flatteringly notes that it: "presents a person of haughty condition, arrogant, assuming more unto him then his due".
Dignity Rulership by Triplicity
For anyone who has not encountered rulership by triplicity before, a brief word of introduction is necessary.
Much of classical astrology developed as a result of the Hellenistic perspective towards numerology and geometry. In this, the shape and form of the triangle and the metaphysical meaning of the number three was paramount. Hence the triplicities - triangles drawn within the zodiacal wheel - were extremely important.
At an early stage the triplicities were associated with the elements of Fire, Earth, Air and Water, but the basis of their harmonious relationship was the triangular form that bound them together.
The rationale behind the selection of the triplicity rulerships can only be explained by reference to how the triplicity rulers were used in Hellenistic astrology. The article the classical use of triplicities demonstrates their early use and also explains a philosophy that became an intrinsic foundation to aspect meanings. It is worth noting that there were originally three rulers for each triplicity, which changed their priority of rulership according to whether the chart was cast for day or night. Triplicity rulership became simplified to one main ruler by day and another by night as the significance attached to their use became diminished through the ages.
Ptolemy's table shows the primary ruler for each triplicity; again, this changes according to whether the chart is cast during the day or at night. The Sun is the principal ruler of the Fire triplicity by day but after sunset the principal rulership is transferred to Jupiter. Venus principally rules the Earth triplicity by day, with the onus of rulership given to the Moon at night. Saturn principally rules the Air triplicity by day, Mercury by night. The water triplicity, however, is principally ruled by Mars, both day and night, for reasons explained in the above-mentioned article.
Finding a ruler of a triplicity situated in its triplicity during its period of power is another indication of dignity and strength. Lilly says that it shows a man: modestly endued with the Goods and Fortune of this world. While good, its condition is not as strong as a planet in its own sign or exaltation. Ibn Ezra compared the situation to a man in the house of his relatives - his position is not as strong and comfortable as when he is in his own home, and he wouldn't expect to receive the same level of respect as an honoured guest, but he is in a familiar, relaxed environment and so this is considered to be a comfortable position.
Dignity Rulership by Term
The word 'term', from the Latin termini, means 'boundary' or 'limit'.
No-one knows exactly when term rulership was introduced into astrology but references to their use exist in our oldest extant Greek horoscopes. The ancient Egyptians and the ancient Mesopotamians both had their own system of term rulers, which Ptolemy recorded and explained, demonstrating how these ancient systems depended upon different logic. Ptolemy argued in favour of the Egyptian system and, as well as the usual table of Egyptian terms, he also published what he believed to be an older table, which was discovered in an ancient manuscript. This document also contained a rationale to explain their order, but unfortunately it was badly decayed, so Ptolemy could only pass on the gist of this ancient information, which explains most - but not all - of the length and arrangement of each term. These were later known as the 'Ptolemaic terms'. Most astrologers today use either the Ptolemaic terms (mainly because they were the preference of William Lilly) or the more usual set of Egyptian terms which are shown in the table below.
When a planet is in its own terms it is recognized as being in a situation of temporary strength, even though it may not otherwise be suited to the sign it is in. For example, Saturn is in detriment in Leo, yet if it is in the first 6 degrees it is in its own terms so this overall condition of weakness is somewhat alleviated. Ezra referred to such a planet as "like a man in his seat". We could compare the situation to someone who rents or owns a holiday villa abroad. The country may be generally unfamiliar but there is a sense of security when surrounded by one's own possessions.
The terms are also useful for showing physical description. That is, a significator in the terms of Saturn describes the native as Saturnine in appearance. This seems to be the principal use of the terms by Lilly, for although he considered a planet in its own terms to be fortified he thought that it: rather shows a man more of the corporature and temper of the Planet, than any extraordinary abundance in fortune.
Dignity Rulership by Face
The lowest form of essential dignity is dignity by face - the 'decanates'. These owe their origin to the ancient Egyptian calendar, which divided the year into 36 ten-day periods, each presided over by a particular stellar deity. The decans or decanates (meaning 'tens') are known to have been important in late Egyptian astrology and we are told by the 4th century Roman astrologer Firmicus that the astrologer King Nechepso "... by means of the decans predicted all illnesses and afflictions". Nechepso reigned during the 7th century BC although Firmicus probably got his information from the astrological textbook of Nechepso and Petosiris, written around 150 BC.
Firmicus placed great emphasis on essential dignity by face saying that a planet in its own decan is as good as in its own sign (Mathesis II.IV.II). Later authors gave it less value. Ezra described a planet in its own face as corresponding to a man with his ornaments and clothing, while Lilly said that in judgement:
"A Planet having little or no dignity, but by being in his Decanate or Face, is almost like a man ready to be turned out of doors, having much ado to maintain himself in credit and reputation."
It portrays a picture of a person who carries some respect, but is struggling to maintain it.
Essential dignity then, is used to symbolise rank, position, and someone's material standing in the world. As a sign of esteem, it is also used to represent personal honour and integrity. The more essential dignity a planet has, the greater its position of strength, which is why it is very important to distinguish this when judging charts drawn for trials, contests, wars or elections.
The use of essential dignity is also crucial in numerous other matters, where the strongest, most dignified planet indicates who has the most to offer in a relationship, is the most likely to stand their ground, is better placed to receive a contract, and so forth. To have a significator essentially dignified is an all-round indication that the person is well suited and inherently capable of achieving what they are striving for.
The next section considers what it means when a planet has no essential dignity at all or is classed as essentially debilitated.
© Deborah Houlding. For permission to reproduce extracts or diagrams, please contact the author.