Using Essential Dignities

Much of my time over the last several months has been spent preparing for a class on Essential Dignities in astrology, that I will be teaching at Kepler college starting this coming July 10. (Here is a link to the Essential Dignities class on the Kepler site if you’re curious about it.)

Preparing for the class gave me a good excuse to spend a lot of time researching the minor dignities and how they can be used. I am finding some really exciting things, and I want to share a sample of what I am finding here.

In this essay I want to give a brief demonstration of how the traditional system of essential dignites can be used to add quite a bit of detail and nuance to the interpretation of a chart.

Traditional astrology uses five different essential dignities. There are the two major dignities, rulership and exaltation, and their corresponding debilities, detriment and fall. Modern astrology still has these dignities, although they are often not widely recognized or used.

In addition, there are three minor dignities, named triplicity, term and face. Each has a different meaning and different level of control. I want to give an example here of how they might be used.

This is the chart of Clara Barton.

Clara Barton

She is most famous as the founder of the American Red Cross, and did extensive work in field hospitals during the Civil War.  In addition to that, Clara Barton also did extensive work in public education, and also became a major spokesperson for the women’s suffrage movement.

Let’s look at the dignities for a couple of the most important planets in her chart.

(Technical side note for traditional astrologers – I use the Egyptian terms, and all three of the Dorothean triplicity rulers.)

I want to start with Mars, the Lord of her rising sign, Aries. In traditional astrology the Lord of the first house represents the person, and Mars is in the sixth house, which is associated with nursing – with the Lord of the Ascendant in the 6th house like this you could say she was born to be a nurse, it is her identity and vocation. In addition, Mars in the 6th house is associated with the military – specifically, much of her nursing work was done during the Civil War on the battlefields.

In this chart Mars has dignity by triplicity. Triplicity has to do with general support from the community, of the side you are on – you’re not running the show, but you are in the same party that is currently in power. So, Mars in triplicity is her working as a recognized team player with the army doing nursing on the battlefields. The soldiers she worked with recognized her as one of them, on their side.

Next I want to look at the dignity of term. Term is a low level dignity and has to do with how things are actually implemented. If the house ruler is company manager, then the term ruler is the field supervisor who is in charge of how the work gets done.

In Clara Barton’s chart, Mars and Venus have mutual reception by term – Mars is in the terms of Venus, and Venus is in the terms of Mars. Venus in this chart is in the 12th house, which is associated with self-sacrifice, and also with large institutions like hospitals and nursing homes.

Planets that are in mutual reception have a mutually supportive role – it is like they are each pledged to help the other. Consequently, mutual receptions show places that planets have a strong supportive bond. Here we have a planet in the 6th house in mutual reception by term with one in the 12th house. The 6th to 12th house axis is often associated with nursing, and here in terms the planets work together at a practical level.

This plays out as nursing being a main area where Barton went in and accomplished a lot in implementing the field hospitals in the Civil War, and doing much of the nursing work herself. She is not ruler of the sign so she doesn’t run the show, but she does a lot at the more specific level of doing the actual work.

Now we need to look at Saturn, the rising planet in this chart. Saturn is in Aries, and in that sign Saturn is in fall, but also has dignity by triplicity. We already talked about a triplicity planet as being a recognized member of a team.  A planet in fall is one that is not respected, not given credit, not listened to. I think of fall as the Rodney Dangerfield of dignities – a planet in fall don’t get no respect.

There is a repeating pattern in Clara Barton’s life. Repeatedly, she would go and build up a particular organization or form of service. When it became big and successful enough, the powers that be took the organization away from her and gave it to a man or community of men, often at much higher pay. That is a good example of Saturn in fall – not being given credit, not being respected, not being listened to.

So the pattern is, Clara Barton goes in and does some really powerful work – building up a community school, or a field hospital – Mars in triplicity in 6th mutual reception by term with Venus in 12th – and then it is taken away from her and given to a man, without her being given a voice or given credit – Saturn in fall in the first.

However, there is another possible side to a planet in fall. A planet in fall can also express as a person who becomes an advocate or spokesperson for a community in fall, a group of people who are not respected or listened to, not given the dignity they deserve. In Clara Barton’s case, this expressed as her being a major spokesperson in the Women’s Suffrage movement, speaking for women who as a group were in fall – not respected, not listened to, with no power.

Along the same lines, notice that Saturn is trine to Mercury in Aquarius in the 9th house – travel and teaching. Mercury is in detriment but has dignity by triplicity and term. Again there is the dignity in triplicity and term, going and doing the work, and being thoroughly competent at getting it done – and again there is the detriment, a planet who is an outsider, not at home – that’s Barton as a woman, a second class citizen. Mercury is strong in some ways and weak in others, and that perfectly matches Clara Barton’s situation as women’s suffrage spokesperson.

I could go much further, but I think you get the idea of how much detailed meaning you can get by really looking at the full system of essential dignities.

If use of the dignities like this is interesting to you, please consider checking out my Essential Dignities class offered through Kepler College later this summer.

The featured image photo of Clara Barton is Public Domain,  and is at the following url: Clara Barton at Wikimedia


Using Essential Dignities — 5 Comments

  1. Both Mars and Saturn have third triplicity. You correctly point out the mutual reception of Mars and Venus by term, but at the same time Venus has the most influencial triplicity since this is a day-chart. Would this fact not bring in more weight than the third triplicity of Mars?
    Same holds for Saturn and the Sun – in the 10th house/Capricorn – who has first triplicity.
    I understand that this article is intended to be an introduction only.

    • Regarding the dignity of the points you mentioned.

      First, Saturn in Aries in the first, and the Sun – it is important that Sun has dignity by triplicity over Saturn. More important, Saturn and Sun have strong mutual reception – Sun receives Saturn into exaltation and triplicity, Saturn receives Sun in rulership – so you can argue for strong mutual influence and cooperation between these planets. I do not think that detracts from the importance of Saturn him (or her) self having dignity by triplicity in Aries. Without that, Saturn would be peregrine along with being in fall, which is a much weaker condition.

      And, regarding Mars in Virgo – you correctly point out that Venus has triplicity over Mars along with the mutual reception by term, and this does increase the influence of Venus on Mars. As with Saturn, I don’t think this detracts from the importance of Mars himself having dignity by triplicity in his location. I don’t think Venus being first triplicity ruler weakens that.

      With its relation to sect, I view triplicity as a team oriented kind of dignity, so I usually see the three triplicity rulers of a given planet as tending to work better together because of that shared dignity, rather than their competing or over-riding each other by their triplicity ranking. In examining the relative strength of the triplicity rulers of a given planet or house, I weight factors like each ruler’s condition, and its aspect to the ruled point, more strongly than the ranking within the three triplicity rulers.

  2. Thank you for responding. It took a while to fully comprehend this but you have widened my approach towards the three triplicity rulers and I grasp your point.

  3. Pingback: The Saturn Crone Project | Student of Astrology

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