The Planets' Dignities and Debilities
Imagine a traveler crossing a country. Depending through which part of the contry he or she is traveling at the moment, they might find themselves in very different conditions. Sometimes they might walk along a fertile valley with good roads. They can walk there very quickly if they wish, but chances are they won't be in a hurry, they will prefer to have plenty of rest to restore their energy and replenish resources. On the other hand, sometimes our travelers will struggle through a desert or a swamp. There will be no resources around and they will have to make a lot of effort to keep moving forward. Sometimes they will go down the hill for the whole day, and in that case they'll be able to cover significant distances very quickly, while on the other days they will be walking up the hill, and that will be a totally different story.
The journeys of the planets along the zodiac are in many ways similar to those of our imaginary travelers. Each planet has at least one sign of the zodiac for its abode, and it feels and manifests there like in a fertile valley. Each planet has at least one sign of the zodiac where it is in detriment, and that's like being in a desert or a swamp. Each planet has a sign of exaltation where it walks down the hill, an a sign of fall where the road goes up the hill all the time.
Planets manifest themselves stronger when in abode or exaltation, and it is said that a planet has a dignity when in one of these signs. Conversely, in detriment and fall the planets are usually weaker, so those are the signs of their debility.
The Planetary Rulerships of the Signs of the Zodiac
Each planet is strongly associated with at least one sign of the zodiac. The qualities of the planet are very similar to the qualities of that sign, and it is said that the planet rules that sign, or that the sign is a home for the planet.
The Sun rules only one sign, Leo. The Moon rules only one sign too, her home is in Cancer. Leo and Cancer are next to each other in the Zodiac, like the king's and the queen's rooms in a palace. All the other planets' homes are symmetrically distributed around the palace, Leo and Cancer. Here is the diagram that shows the planets' rulerships:
Mercury, the closest to the Sun planet of the solar system, rules the two signs adjacent to Leo and Cancer, Gemini and Virgo. Then the signs of Venus, the next planet after Mercury in the solar system, follow: Taurus and Libra. Then there are the signs of Mars: Aries and Scorpio. Jupiter follows Mars in the solar system, and in the zodiac the signs of Jupiter, Sagittarius and Pisces, follow the signs of Mars. Finally, the last traditional planet Saturn has Capricorn and Aquarius for its signs.
This diagram is logical and consistent, and it reflects the realities of the solar system. It was used for thousands of years by every single authority in astrology. But then Uranus was discovered.
It was a shock for astrologers: where they are going to place the new planet in this well established diagram? Is the whole concept of planetary rulership of the signs of the zodiac still valid, or should it be forgotten as something outmoded? In fact, astrology hasn't recovered from that shock until now, and certainly the discovery of two more planets, Neptune and Pluto, only added to the confusion.
Different schools of astrology came up with different solutions for the problem. Some schools discarded the whole idea of planetary rulership while many others decided to leave only one sign for each planet. In the most popular version of such a contemporary rulership scheme, Mercury rules only Gemini, Venus rules Libra, Mars rules Aries, Jupiter rules Sagittarius and Saturn rules Capricorn. As for the new planets, it was decided that the most appropriate sign for Uranus is Aquarius, Neptune will look very natural in Pisces while Pluto should be the ruler of Scorpio.
A couple of signs in this scheme remained empty, and this is where different schools of astrology expressed their creativity in full, placing into those signs various imaginary bodies, asteroids and so on.
But let's think logically. The discovery of the higher planets has manifested a new era in human experience. Uranus was discovered in 1781, and many new things were discovered or created by humanity around that time. Oxygen was discovered in 1774, and in 1777 it became clear that air is made of oxygen and nitrogen. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was published. Neptune was discovered in 1846, and in the same year anesthesia was used in surgery for the first time, while the Communist Manifesto has appeared in 1848. All those scientific and social discoveries didn't discard or cancel the previously existing knowledge - instead, they built on top of it.
So why should we discard the astrological knowledge that has passed the test of millenia? We should rather build on top of it. The approach that looks logical to me is to continue with the classical scheme of the rulerships. Going from the Sun, Mercury rules Virgo, Venus rules Libra, Mars rules Scorpio, Jupiter rules Sagittarius, Saturn rules Capricorn. Then the next planet after Saturn should be the ruler of the next sign of the zodiac. This means Uranus rules Aquarius, which most astrological schools will agree with, and Neptune rules Pisces, also a widely accepted idea, but then Pluto rules Aries. Some astrologers do believe so, but not many.
Now, going from the Moon, we'll have Mercury ruling Gemini, Venus ruling Taurus, Mars ruling Aries, Jupiter ruling Pisces and Saturn ruling Aquarius. Following the same approach as in the previous paragraph, Uranus should be the ruler of Capricorn, Neptune - the ruler of Pisces and Pluto - the ruler of Scorpio.
The balance of the traditional scheme is thus restored, but you might think: how can we have two planets ruling the same pair of signs, like both Jupiter and Neptune rule both Pisces and Sagittarius? Well, they rule them on different levels. Jupiter is visible with the naked eye while Neptune isn't, Jupiter is a social planet that represents in the horoscope the areas of human life where the person interacts with the society while Neptune is a higher planet that represents areas of experience that are generally not under personal control. Otherwise, these two planets are similar in many ways.
It is generally accepted that Neptune rules Pisces it seems so natural to have a planet named after the Roman god of water and the sea to be associated with a very ocean-like sign of the zodiac. But in astrology, Neptune is strongly connected to religion and ideolgy in general, and those are the attributes of Sagittarius. Also, there is a curious astronomical detail about Neptune and Jupiter: they both have a big spot in their atmosphere: the Great Red Spot in the case of Jupiter and the Great Dark Spot in the case of Neptune.
To summarise, here is the scheme of planetary rulerships that I will be using in my lessons:
A Planet in its Abode
In Russian, there is a convenient astrological term for a planet in its own sign. Literally translated into English, it will be the abode. I don't know of a similar term in English, unfortunately. In English astrological books, they simply write that the planet is in its own sign. I think this is less convenient, so let me use the word abode as the term for the planet in its own sign. I will be writing like "the Sun has its abode in Leo", or "Gemini is an abode of Mercury".
A planet in its abode is like a person at home. It is comfortable and confident, it has plenty of resources, and if a problem arises, it's got the support of the whole family to handle that problem. This is why a planet in its abode is considered to be exceptionally strong, and if there is a planet in its abode in a horoscope, a good deal of attention should be paid to that planet. It shows an area of life and a part of the body where everything is reliable and strong, and even if a problem occurs, there is a good chance that the problem will be resolved successfully.
William Lilly, a famous English astrologer of the 17th century wrote in his book Christian Astrology about a planet in abode:
...it represents a man in such a condition, as that he is Lord of his owne house, estate and fortune; or a man wanting very little of the Goods of this world, or it tels you the man is in a very happy state or condition...
Pay attention to the words about "a man wanting very little of the Goods of this world": for a planet in abode, a certain degree of passivity is typical. It already has everything, so no need to move to find anything else. If there are many planets in abode in a horoscope, a person can be generally quite happy about the conditions of his or her life, and unless there will be other strongly contradicting factors, might be not interested in any challenges or development.
In many ways, a planet in its abode in a horoscope shows a gift from God, an innate talent that can be used easily, without any effort, it's simply always there.
A Planet in Detriment
A planet considered to be in detriment if it in the sign opposite to its abode. So the Sun is in detriment in Aquarius, the Moon is in detriment in Capricorn, Mercury - in Pisces and Sagittarius, and so on.
A planet in detriment is like a person in a foreign country, where he or she doesn't understand the language and doesn't know the customs. Even a simple task can become very difficult for such a person, especially if a cooperation of the other people is needed.
In a horoscope, planets work like energetic centres through which a certain principle is manifested. If a planet is in its abode, it can be said to have both feet on the ground, and so it doesn't have any problems releasing any accumulated energy. For a planet in detriment, the situation is very different. It can have a lot of energy but it doesn't have a contact with the surrounding environment. As a result, the energy of the planet gets stagnated or is used for something inappropriate - in a human life this can result in illnesses, conflicts, a lack of satisfaction with one's life.
A planet in detriment in a horoscope is an alarm signal. In the area of life associated with that planet there is a high probabiity of problems.
The problems of a planet in detriment are significantly more difficult to solve than those of a planet in abode. Some usual, basic solutions aren't usually effective in this case, so in order to learn how to deal with this planet, how to make a contact with it, a person often needs to change him or herself, to grow above themselves, to change their attitude to life.
We should not think however that a planet in detriment is fatally bad. Detriment is another side of abode, and in principle it says something special about the personality and abilities of the person. However, in order to make a good use of the potential of a planet in detriment, one needs to learn something, to develop oneself, to strive for something. In the childhood a planet in detriment, being still not cultivated, brings mostly problems. However, with the age and experience weaknesses can be transmuted into strengths. Planet in detriment as if gradually learns the language and the customs of the foreign country where it happened to be.
In Russian, the word for such a position of a planet is exile, and if a person has several planets in detriment, especially if those are personal planets, he or she can really feel like in exile from time to time. Something that is simple and natural for the other people, for this person can be a reason for many doubts, thoughts and torments. These people can often find an application for their talents in theoretical science or philosophy as they tend to have their heads in the clouds rather than enjoy the pleasures of real life.
A Planet in Exaltation
According to astrological tradition, each planet has a sign of exaltation where that planet manifests itself especially brightly or strongly. For the traditional seven visible planets, the scheme of exaltations is established over millenia. For the higher planets, there is more like a popular convention. Here is how the complete scheme looks:
A planet that is situated in the sign of its exaltation is as if at work. At work, it isn't as cosy or convenient as at home. When we go to the office, it's usually not to enjoy life but to do something, to prove ourselves. All the other sides of life become less important, and what remains essential is our ability to perform a specific, most often quite narrow range of duties. And the whole environment at work helps us to concentrate on those duties.
All this is strongly related to a planet in the sign of its exaltation. That sign isn't necessarily the most comfortable environment for the given planet, however the properties of the planet and the sign combine in such a way that the planet has a chance to express itself brightly, to do its work very efficiently. Therefore, a planet is strong when situated in the sign of its exltation.
You might have noticed that Mercury has in the sign of Virgo both its abode and exaltation. This is the traditional arrangement, and I prefer to follow it even though I can't explain it logically. Some astrologers nowadays, however, believe that their understanding goes deeper than that of the authorities of the past, and they use some other sign, typically Aquarius, for an exaltation of Mercury.
You can see that Mars has its exaltation in the sign of Capricorn. Hot Mars can't feel himself at home in this cold sign, the abode of Saturn. However, the combination of the attributes of the planet and the sign helps to make the energy of Mars organised and controllable, so it can be easily used to do some work. This is how a crowd of armed people under the influence of discipline makes a regular army, and the energy of burning fuel organised by the structure of an engine allows a car to move.
A planet in exaltation in a horoscope in its importance close to that of a planet in abode. It is also a gift from God, the qualities of this planet usually manifest themselves clearly from the very childhood, and the person doesn't need to make any effort to make use of those qualities. However, exaltation is somewhat narrower in its scope than abode. It can be said that a planet in abode says something about a general characteristic of a person, where as a planet in exaltation is more about a specific talent, ability to prove oneself strongly in a certain activity. A planet in exaltation can be more visible in the person's life and character, but the influence of a planet in abode is more fundamental.
After abode, exaltation is the second of the planet's dignities. Even if there is a problem related to a planet in exaltation, a corrective action can be defined in this case quite confidently, and its efficiency will be high.
Psychologically, a planet in exaltation makes a person proud of his or her achievements, and if this quality is excessive, then such a planet, according to Lilly, "presents a person of haughty condition, arrogant, assuming more unto him then his due".
A planet in exaltation can be especially important when judging about the professional aptitude of a person. Ideally, the chosen profession should be as close to the symbolic correspondences of the planet in exaltation as possible as that will help the person to be successful and to avoid problems in the future.
A Planet in Fall
A planet is considered to be in the sign of its fall when it is in the sign of the zodiac that is opposite to the sign of its exaltation. Thus, the Sun is in fall in Libra, the Moon is in fall in Scorpio, Mars is in fall in Cancer, and so on.
If in the sign of its exaltation a planet has the most beneficial environment to express itself in some activity, then in the sign of its fall the situation is the opposite. Say, if in exaltation a planet has all the necessary tools to do its work then in fall it has to do everything with bare hands. As a result, a planet in exaltation does its work naturally, automatically, while a planet in fall has to concentrate and to be inventive to achieve the same result.
Being the other side of exaltation, a planet's fall, although a traditional debility, can also show a specific talent the person has. However, the talent of a fallen planet will more often be of a theoretical rather than a practical nature, and so for many people it won't be noticeable. Also, the talent of a fallen planet may not always be available to the person. A person might need to do a lot of study, thinking, personal development to reach the level where the energy of the fallen planet becomes available.
Quite often though the energy of the fallen planet cannot be used naturally, it gets stagnated and a result might become a source of various problems.
A planet in the sign of fall can be even more important when selecting a profession than an exalted planet. Its qualities can become very valuable at the theoretical, abstract level, so in relation to it one might think of a higher education and a scientific or other intellectual occupation.
Spiritual versus Mundane Considerations
You might find the word debility to be too strong, but that's just a term. What is more important is to understand that there are branches of astrology where planets in detriment or fall are interpreted very negatively, like they don't bring any luck, they only create problems. This kind of approach is typical for the traditional astrology that deals with the realities of life rather than psychological aspects of personal development.
If a person asks a question, and in the horary chart for that question the planet associated with the desired thing is in detriment, that's bad for the outcome of the question. We might speculate that planets in detriment and fall are related to the less tangible strata of reality, so the person asking the question might get some valuable knowledge or understanding about that thing, instead of the thing itself - but that's not what that person wants.
On the other hand, planets in abode or exaltation are deeply rooted in reality, so in the traditional astrology they are considered to be good, dignified.
On the other end of spectrum, there is spiritual astrology where the horoscope is viewed as a map for the person's spiritual development. Those who follow this approach often discard the whole notion of dignities and debilities alltogether. Their reasoning is that there are no bad planets, no good planets, everything is a part of the lesson of life.
As for me, I prefer to keep a balanced approach. I do recognise that planets in detriment and fall can often be associated with problems in one's life, but I also acknowledge that such planets can offer an important opportunity or a hidden talent.
Preparing for Interpretation
We are gradually learning to interpret a horoscope, although that might be not obvious at the moment.
There are two main approaches to horoscope interpretation. One is a so called "complete report" where you take all the elements of the horoscope you can interpret, and then describe them one by one. This is the way computer programs approach interpretation: they just take from their database a bunch of descriptions for different factors, stick them together and output a lengthy report. Some schools of astrology teach this approach too, although in this case a student is instructed to do some synthesis, i.e. not only describe each and every element separately but also figure out what is the result of their interaction.
The downside of such an approach is that it can be very difficult to figure out what's the most important about this person. I find such reports overwhelming: by the time you finish reading such a report, you usually forget what was in the beginning. I still use computer generated reports sometimes, because they are usually made of texts written by experienced astrologers, and it can be very interesting to see the opinion of the author of the texts about one or another specific configuration.
The approach that I prefer is to find something peculiar, something significant about a particular horoscope. There is always something important in every horoscope, and as a rule, in different horoscopes, different elements and configurations will attract your attention.
So what we'll be learning in these lessons is how to locate the most important factors in a horoscope. We've already learned one approach. The balance of the Elements, the Qualities and the Polarities can sometimes give an important information. Typically, if one of these is either completely missing or strongly dominant, we should take that into account. On the other hand, there will be horoscopes where this approach will give no substantial information - when all the Elements, Qualities and Polarities are distributed more or less evenly. In that case, you should simply try the next approach from the list, and that list of possible approaches is going to grow with every lesson.
In this lesson, we've just learned the second approach for our list. Whenever you are studying a horoscope, note the planets that have any dignities or debilities, and list them in your notes. Pay the most attention to the luminaries and the personal planets, these are the most important. Social planets can be quite important too.
As for the higher planets, they move very slowly, and they occupy the same signs in all the horoscopes of people who were born within a few years from each other. I usually don't pay much attention to their dignities and debilities, unless I am thinking of the tastes and fashions of a specific generation.
Planets in abode and exaltation show us the points in the horoscope where the person has the strongest contact with the real world, the world of things and events.
Planets in detriment and fall show us the points in the horoscope where the person has the strongest contact with the world of ideas.
Let's consider a few horoscope examples, to help you get started.
Examples of Dignities and Debilities
Let's start from the horoscope of Angelina Jolie that is familiar to you. She's got Mars and Mercury in their signs of abode. These are the planets she can rely upon when striving for success in the real world, and I think she is doing that very well.
Her Saturn is in detriment, so going with the society's rules and traditions isn't really for her. On the other hand, she might choose something very old and traditional for her spiritual development. Psychologically, a problematic position of Saturn can speak about problems with the father.
Let's have a look at another horoscope, this time of Adrian, a well known costume designer. Here is the chart:
You can see that Adrian has the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn in the signs of their abode while Mars and Venus are in detriment. It is quite common for designers, painters and other people dealing with arts and beautiful things to have Venus either in detriment or in abode, which shows that a planet can be very strong in both cases, just the way of its expression will be different. Venus in detriment can give very strong ideas about beauty, but the person will need some other planets in abode or exaltation to bring their ideas into reality.
In the case of Adrian, the exalted Moon in Taurus is very important. It gives him a strong ability to work with shapes and forms, with the material things. Strong Jupiter and Saturn are important for integration with the society, this is one of the factors that can help people to become famous.
You might have noticed that both Venus and Mars are the planets associated with gender, and in the Adrian's chart Venus is situated in the sign of Mars while Mars is in the sign of Venus (so called mutual reception). This is one of the important factors behind the fact that Adrian was an open gay.
It is interesting to note that people with unusual abilities often have quite a few planets in detriment or fall. I will show you a couple of horoscopes below. I am sure you know both people, just have a look at where their planets are.
In the next lesson we'll start working with astrological houses - a very important part of any horoscope.