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For a classical astrologer, interpreting dignities is a key element of his art. And itís much more than just looking at the ruler of a given planet or house. The classical system of Essential Dignities is a far reaching concept going back to the ancient greeks and beyond. As most of astrology, it came out of use during the 17th century, but unlike many other techniques that were revived in the 19th century, interest in the whole system of dignities only bounced back about 10 years ago.

The only dignity that is still in common use is the domicile ruler. The modern concept incorporates the three generational planets unknown in classical times, but has slight differences in interpretation. Modern rulership is based on similarities between planets and signs: Mars is somehow like Aries, etc. Classical rulership is about strength: Mars is strong in Aries.

But there are more dignities and their rulers that were used in classical times: Exaltation – the planet being strong like an honoured guest. Fall – the opposite of exaltation, a weak position. And Detriment, opposite the ruling domicile position. These four are the most important of the essential dignities (and debilities, as the weak ones are called), but there are still more. Triplicity relies on planets in the elements, and is different for day and night charts. Planets in triplicity are generally considered lucky. Bounds (also called Terms) designate areas of importance for the planet concerned. And finally, Faces are another dignity widely used throughout the classical time.

What Watch automatically produces a table of dignities whenever a chart wheel is calculated. For each planet and each dignity, the corresponding ruling planet is shown. When a planet is in dignity (or debility), it is marked in red. When a planet is in mutual reception with another planet, both are shown in blue. The last column shows the end of the dispositor chains, based on domicile rulership.

Dignities bring a planet into focus. A planet in dignity (or debility) is highlighted, and strong dignities indicate a very important influence of this planet on the whole chart. But in most charts, many planets do not have any dignity: they are peregrine. These planets may follow quite a meandering path in life, searching for their purpose and destiny.

J. Lee Lehman – Essential Dignities, Whitford, West Chester PA 1992
Alan Oken – Rulers of the Horoscope, Crossing, Berkeley CA 2000
Project Hindsight – www.projecthindsight.com

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