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Part One

Introducing DignityPtolemys Table of Essential DignitiesThe Use of Dignity in JudgementEssential Debility Assessing Dignity/Debility through 'point-scoring'The Use of Reception between DignitiesTake a test on planetary dignities & debilities

Understanding Planetary Dignity and Debility
Essential Debility

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A Planet is then said to be Peregrine, when he is in the degrees of any Sign wherein he hath no essential dignity, As Saturn in the tenth degree of Aries, that Sign being not his House, Exaltation, or of his Triplicity, or he having in that degree neither Term or Face, he is then said to be Peregrine; had he been in 27, 28, &c. of Aries, he could not be termed Peregrine, because then he is in his own Term. (Lilly, CA, p.112)

Just as essential dignity signifies strength and a capacity for beneficial action, lack of it implies weakness or a harmful disposition. A planet with no essential dignity is called Peregrine, a Latin word meaning 'alien' or 'foreigner' (pereger = beyond the borders, ager = land, i.e., 'beyond one's own land'). In old English, to 'peregrinate' means to wander far from home.

In symbolic terms, a peregrine planet describes a drifter - someone with no title or stake in his or her environment. Though it's helpful to think in terms of property, the comparison lends itself to the general tenor of the chart. If the peregrine planet represents a job offer, for example, it may suggest that there is little status attached to the job, or that there will be a poor sense of personal attachment to the position.

Property owners tend to view drifters with suspicion, and distrust their lack of stability. Peregrine planets share this dubious reputation so that in questions of theft a peregrine planet in an angle or the 2nd house is a classic indication of the significator of the thief. (CA. p.112)

Under normal circumstances a peregrine planet lacks the necessary strength to convey lasting benefit. Its position of weakness can be alleviated, however, if it is strongly dignified accidentally or if it forms a mutual reception with a stronger planet.

Detriment and Fall

As in taking the Fortitudes of the Planets, great care ought to be had, so their Debilities must be observed with no less care and prudence; wherein I advise you to beware of the Effects or Influence of a Planet when he is in Detriment; rather than when he is in Fall. For a Planet in his Detriment is like a person cast out of all his Estate without hopes of Recovery, whereas the Fall shows but a present subjection unto a misfortune with hopes of Recovery. (William Lilly, 'Choice Astrological Aphorisms' Merlini Anglici Ephemeris, 1676)

If a planet is situated in a sign which opposes its own it is said to be in detriment, a word which literally means to be harmed or damaged. Since a planet's own sign is regarded as its stronghold, it follows that the furthest sign from this should be viewed as its most vulnerable position.

Similarly, just as signs of exaltation are said to elevate the planetary influences to their highest level, their opposing signs are known as signs of fall, because here the planets suffer loss of strength and a reduction of potency.

A planet in detriment or fall is in a precarious condition, more so if it is peregrine or otherwise afflicted. In horary the use of this symbolism is often remarkably literal and can be used to describe someone who has 'fallen' from grace or is incapable of maneuvering a situation to their advantage. In charts drawn to find a missing object, for example, a significator in detriment may suggest the object has been damaged; in its sign of fall it may have physically fallen to the floor. To have many planets debilitated in this way in a nativity is considered a sign of obscurity and low birth. Firmicus described such a person as: wretched, poor, low of birth and constantly plagued by had luck (Mathesis, 2.3.3).

As well as considering a planet's own dignity or debility, it is wise to note how a planet 'responds' to another sign from which it receives an aspect. "Be not too confident either of a sextile or trine Aspect in violent Signs, nor out of those Signs in which the Planets behold one another, yet essentially suffer" - warned William Lilly in his Astrological Aphorisms for Young Students.

Thus, Venus in Capricorn benefits more from a trine from a planet in Taurus than one in Virgo, since the aspect from Taurus associates Venus with her sign of dominion while the trine from Virgo links her to her sign of fall.

The next section explains Lilly's table to calculate dignity or debility by numerical score - by use of an example horary.

© Deborah Houlding. For permission to reproduce extracts or diagrams, please contact the author.

Horary Astrology
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Dignities Quiz
Playing the interactive quiz '20 Questions on Dignities & Debilities' will test and reinforce your knowledge of dignity rulerships
Ptolemy's Table of Essential Dignities

Schoener's Table to Examine the Strength &: Debility of Each Planet
Lilly's Table to Examine the Strength &: Debility of Each Planet
The Classical Use of Triplicities
Explains the basis of triplicity rulership and examines the way it was used in Hellenistic astrology
The Philosophy of Sign Rulership
A clear explanation of Ptolemy's account of the reasoning behind the rulership scheme