The idea for this post was triggered by a very fine essay from the Seven Stars Astrology blog – it is titled, The Curious Case of Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Turner.
That essay begins with this sentence and opening paragraph.
‘The truth is that essential dignity tells you quite little about the “essential dignity” of a planet.
In a subsequent post (available here), I will explore in greater depth the obsession with dignity pointing, almutens, and sign-based indications of fortune/misfortune, which has done more to harm today’s practice of traditional astrology than anything else.’
To make his point, he uses two charts – that of the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, which has four planets with major dignity, and the billionaire media tycoon Ted Turner, that has no major dignity but several planets in debility.
I teach a class at Kepler College on using the traditional system of planetary dignities to evaluate the condition and action of the planets in a chart, and I spend a lot of time and emphasis on the essential dignities. I use every one of the indications he mentions – dignity pointing, almutens and so on – and I find them very useful. However, as he points out, if I am going to use those indicators, I need to be able to make sense of those charts.
My position is this – essential dignity is useful, but it was never intended to be used in isolation. It is part of a larger system of conditions for weighing up a chart that include what are called essential and accidental dignities, and all of them together are very useful for weighing up the condition and action of planets.
I use a weighted point system for evaluating planets, based on William Lilly’s system of dignities and debilities – in my class I nickname it, William Lilly’s Cheate Sheete. I am convinced that is largely useful as a training tool, a set of training wheels, teaching an astrologer the important indicators to scan for in the chart.
If you are going to work with the system of dignities, you need to be able to make sense of Jeffrey Dahmer’s chart. That is what we will do here.
At first glance if you look at just the essential dignities, it looks like this should be a really strong chart. There are FOUR planets in their rulership – in order around the houses, there is Saturn in Capricorn, Mars in Aries, Venus in Libra, and Mercury in Gemini. Having that many planets in rulership is quite unusual.
So what went wrong?
This chart is a case where you have to use the full system of dignities, essential and accidental, to really make sense of the chart.
A bit of technical background here – the essential dignities are based on zodiac position alone. They include our modern concepts of rulership and exaltation, with their matching debilities of detriment and fall. Traditional astrology also uses another three minor dignities, named triplicity, term or bound, and face.
There is another category of conditions called accidental dignities which have to do with conditions over and beyond zodiac placement. This includes house placement, proximity to angles, aspects to other planets, proximity to the Sun, and so on.
In traditional astrology essential dignity is never used in isolation. It is always used in combination with the different conditions of accidental dignity, and I think the two of them together provide the key to understanding Dahmer’s chart.
I want to start with looking at some overall chart patterns.
In traditional astrology angularity and house placement is extremely important. Some houses are considered powerful, and some are considered weak. Also, some houses are considered positive, and others are harmful and debilitating in effect.
Looking at just the traditional planets in Dahmer’s chart, only the Moon is in a strong and positive angular house.
Four of the seven planets are in negative houses – Venus, Sun and Mercury are in the 8th, and Mars is in the 6th. Two of the remaining three traditional planets, Saturn and Jupiter, are weak and cadent in the third house.
This means that Dahmer’s chart has six of the seven traditional planets in negative or weak houses. The overall pattern is very weak.
So what of the one angular planet? It is one of the two weakest planets in the chart – the Moon. We have to look at the essential dignity of the Moon to understand why.
The only planet in an angular house is the Moon, right on the cusp of the 7th house. Angular planets are considered to be strong, prominent, and facing outwards to the world. The Moon is the only angular planet, which makes it particularly exposed and vulnerable. And, as we shall see, the Moon is one of two planets that are in particularly bad shape.
The Moon here is peregrine, meaning it has no essential dignity. It is also out of sect, being a night planet in a day chart, and it is waning. It is in Aries, so it is a cold wet planet in a hot dry sign. It is a complete elemental mismatch.
What is particularly negative here is that the Moon is in a fairly tight separating square with retrograde Saturn in Capricorn in the 3rd house.
To evaluate how these planets interact we need to consider their reception. We look at what dignity Saturn has where the Moon is to consider how Saturn receives or treats the Moon, and vice versa with how the Moon receives or treats Saturn.
Looking at the reception in that square, the Moon is in the sign of Saturn’s fall, and Saturn is in the sign of the Moon’s detriment. The reception is doubly negative. In plain English, the Moon is nervous and hostile towards Saturn, and Saturn despises the Moon and does not value it at all.
There is mutual reception by triplicity between them, but this does not override the mutual non-reception between them. The reception is hostile, and this aggravates the negative effects of the square. The minor reception by triplicity likely means that this relationship plays out through members of his family and tribe – triplicity is a group or family dignity.
Saturn is in the 10th house from the Moon, and in traditional astrology this is called an overcoming square, meaning that Saturn is in an overpowering position towards the Moon. With Saturn being the stronger of the two planets combined with the hostile reception, the Moon is devastated here by Saturn.
It is worth noting that Dahmer was reported to have been sexually abused by an uncle or neighbor when he was a child. Saturn here is in the third house of related family and neighbors, plus we mentioned the mutual reception by triplicity.
The only other close aspect the Moon makes is a separating trine from Uranus in Leo in the 10th house. I would not look to that for emotional support here.
In terms of applying aspects, the Moon at 19 Aries in this chart is void of course – it gets no help from any other aspects for the rest of its course in Aries. Lack of support.
So the only angular planet, the vulnerable Moon that faces the world, is wounded and unsupported.
Notice that we needed to use the essential dignity of these two planets, and their interaction, to understand why this is such a negative aspect.
Now we have to look at the other major weak point, which I think is the key to the entire chart.
On the positive side, Venus has dignity by rulership and by triplicity, so at first glance you would think that it is quite strong.
However, on the negative side, Venus is out of sect, a night planet in a day chart. It is also in the 8th house, which is considered to be weakening and debilitating.
The critical point here is that Venus is approaching the Sun, moving towards combustion. Combustion, also known as being burnt, is considered about the worst debility that can happen to a planet in traditional astrology. A planet conjunct the Sun is burned up, it has no strength.
This does not mean that all planets conjunct the Sun are equally debilitated. How negative or positive combustion is depends a lot on the essential dignity of the planet, and the essential dignity of the Sun.
In Dahmer’s chart the Sun is peregrine, it has no essential dignity. Venus is in her rulership at 22 Taurus – but she reaches her conjunction with the Sun at very early Gemini, where she has no dignity at all. She goes from rulership and triplicity to peregrine and burnt in the space of a degree. It is abrupt, like falling off a cliff.
If we are correct, that there is a connection between Venus going combust and whatever went wrong with Dahmer, then we should see some kind of defining traumatic event if we use primary directions to move Venus forward to when it reaches the Sun.
If you look at the age when Venus reached the Sun by direction, Dahmer had a double hernia injury to his scrotum that required a serious operation, and that caused him a lot of severe pain both before and after the operation. According to his father he was never the same after that event. He became tense, withdrawn, isolated, lacking in self-confidence.
Note that we needed to use essential dignity to understand why this combustion was so very negative.
The Ascendant of this chart is Libra. Venus is the ruler of the Ascendant, so in traditional terms Venus is Jeffrey Dahmer.
There are two nasty fixed stars that affect this point in the chart, one in a tight aspect, and the other close enough to pay attention to.
One of them, Alcyone in the Pleiades, is at very late Taurus or early Gemini – right about where Venus joined the Sun. Pleiades is the constellation of the weeping sisters, causing various sorts of injury and sorrow. I have seen it summed up in texts of fixed stars as Alcyone giving you something to cry about. In this case that is a almost too literal – Dahmer spent a lot of time crying in serious pain from his injury.
The other fixed star to note here is Algol, which is around 26 Taurus. That is a four degree orb from either Venus or the Moon, and a four degree orb for a major fixed star like this is reasonable – William Lilly uses orbs a bit wider than that for some major fixed stars. Algol is also pretty much right at the midpoint of the Sun and Moon. Midpoints are not used much in traditional astrology, but I have found them to be powerful and significant.
The symbolism of Algol includes beheading and bodies being chopped up.
I would not hang the entire chart interpretation on this one fixed star, but if you accept either the midpoint or the wide orb, it is a rather creepy supporting factor.
Combustion in this case correlates to major injury that caused Dahmer to get very withdrawn. Combustion also has to do with being hidden, taken out of public view, and this is in the 8th house, which is also hidden. The 8th house in traditional astrology is described as idle, and planets there have a hard time being seen. That fits his becoming withdrawn – and it also fits activities hidden from public view. This combustion takes place in the 8th house, which is associated with death, including dead bodies.
Venus is also the planet related to sexual pleasure.
Debilitated Venus, 8th house, combust – hidden sexual activities involving dead bodies. It fits too well.
We have covered the critical points in Dahmer’s chart at this point, but there are a couple of other points that are worth noting.
Looking again at that vulnerable Moon, it is in the 7th house. That Moon does not just relate to Dahmer. Being in the 7th house, it also represents his victims.
We mentioned that Venus is lord of the Ascendant, but it is worth noting that the Almuten, the stronges planet at the Ascendant, is Saturn, who has dignity there by exaltation, triplicity and face. You could also take Saturn to represent Dahmer – and in that case, Saturn square Moon describes his encounters with his partners and victims.
I could go further here, but I think we’ve made our point. Essential dignities are very important, but they really need to be used in combination with the entire gamut of essential and accidental dignities. I think we have clearly demonstrated that accidental dignity is not just about strength and prominence, it also can affect quality.
Towards the end of his blog post on the Dahmer and Turner charts, Seven Stars has this sentence –
“I’d rather have a malefic in fall, in sect, in a good place any day over a malefic in exaltation, out of sect, in a bad place.”
My point here is that the conditions he mentions – sect, and being in a good or bad place – are necessary parts of the entire system of dignities. Because the essential dignities are not sufficient by themselves does not mean that they are not useful.
To use a sort of metaphor from cooking – if you put butter and spices on a salmon fillet but neglect to cook it, it will probably taste pretty lousy. This doesn’t mean that the butter and spices don’t make a big difference in the quality of the final product.
I plan to take on Ted Turner’s chart down the road – stay tuned…
This will be my final post of the year, as I will be busy with other things over the holiday season. My next post will be in early January.
Regardless of where you are in the world, and how you choose to spend this end of year time, I send my blessing to you, your family and your community.