A look at Tables of Essential Dignities and Debilities

Searching the internet to find a Table of Essential Dignities and Debilities according to Ptolemy, we will most likely find a large number of tables looking like the one below, but there is much more to essential dignities and debilities than meets the eye.

essential dignities

Although many of the tables are attributed to “Ptolemy”, there is a great variety in the content of these tables, as our examples will show. There is also a variety of other factors that need to be taken into consideration before one decides which assignment should be adopted. 

Generally speaking, it can be said that a planet is essentially dignified when it is located in a segment of the zodiac that reinforces its nature. If a planet is located in a segment of the zodiac wherein its nature is challenged, it is said to be essentially debilitated. Western astrology generally recognises five essentially dignified states, which are split into major, or primary dignities and secondary dignities. These are:

Major DignitiesDomicile or Sign Rulership and Exaltation.

Secondary Dignities: Triplicity, Term and Face

There are also two essentially debilitated states to be taken into account. These are:

Essential Debilities: Detriment and Fall


Whereas the assignment of Sign Rulership, Exaltation, Detriment and Fall has been constant throughout history, the assignment of Triplicity, Term and, more recently, Face rulers has varied.

The oldest group of Triplicities, known as the Dorothean Triplicity system, is shown below:


Day Ruler Night Ruler Participating Ruler
Fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius): Sun Jupiter Saturn
Earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn): Venus Moon Mars
Air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius): Saturn Mercury Jupiter
Water (Cancer, Pisces, Scorpio): Venus Mars


During the Renaissance a reformation of astrological thought occurred and new triplicity rulers, based on the teachings of Ptolemy, replaced the Dorothean system. A typical example is the Table of Essential Dignities found in Rensberger’s Astronomia Teutsch, published in 1570. Here we see that Ptolemy changed the planets in the Fire element, substituting Saturn for Mars. He also substituted Mars for Saturn in the Earth element. Ptolemy also changed the sequence in the Water triplicity to Venus – Moon -Mars.

Rensberger dignity table

In 1642, William Lilly published a different table in his Christian Astrology. Here we can see that he leaves out the third triplicity altogether and changes the triplicity rulers of the Water element to Mars – Mars.



Looking at the Terms, we see that these are dividing each of the twelve signs of the zodiac into five unequal parts. Although there are some suggestions about the logic behind these divisions, it has to be stated that the true meaning has been lost in time.  There are different variations in assignment, as follows:

We are already familiar with Ptolemy’s take on the Terms, as a seen in the tables above. His version of the Terms became popular in the Renaissance, but it seems that nowadays many Traditional astrologers make use of the so called Egyptian Terms.

Below are the Egyptian Terms, according to Al Biruni:

 Terms al Biruni

The next table, the Egyptian Terms according to Firmicus Maternus shows a slight variation to the table above:

Terms Firmicus

Perhaps I should also mention the so called Chaldean Terms, although I have to state that I am not aware of any practical example in print. Interested readers can find out more about the Chaldean  Terme here:



Looking at the Faces or Decanates, which are basically ten degree divisions of each sign, we are not aware of any variations throughout Western astrology. Nevertheless, a variant, which is based on a Vedic decanate system, seems to be currently very popular with Western astrologers. 


8 thoughts on “A look at Tables of Essential Dignities and Debilities

  1. Hi. May I ask a question please that is driving me nuts. I am currently studying astrology and I have been asked a question in a test. I have done much research to try and find the answer but for some reason, the answer alludes me. So here goes. Which sign of the zodiac is not of the expected triplicity? Please help!!! and many thanks in advance…..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s