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. 

Lunar Eclipse 18 October 2013

On 18 October 2013 at 23:37UT, there will be a penumbral lunar eclipse. This eclipse is the 52th of Saros series number 117, which is composed of 72 eclipses. The duration of this lunar eclipse will be 3 hours, 59 minutes and 6 seconds.

The eclipse will be visible from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and most of Asia, whereby only the beginning will be visible in East Asia.


(click on image to enlarge)

The chart below, cast for the location of Washington, shows the event:

Lunar Eclipse 18 October Washington

In all lunar eclipses, we have to take into consideration two sensitive points, namely the placement of the Moon and that of the Sun, which are opposing each other. In this case the eclipsed Moon is located in Aries, and a look at the table of Essential Dignities and Debilities shows us that she is peregrine (that is, not essentially dignified).

The Sun is in the sign of Libra, wherein he is essentially debilitated by fall, and he is also peregrine. This basic information already provides us with important insights into the nature of the upcoming eclipse. We are able to predict that the energy of the eclipse will most likely be rather negative or challenging.

William Lilly tells us in his pamphlet on the judgment of the effects of solar and lunar eclipses:

“For when the place Eclipsed, or Eclipse itself, shall be in the Ascendant, the effects shall then begin in the 1, 2, 3, and 4. moneth next after the appearance of the Eclips, …”

 To find out more about the possible general effects of this eclipse, we can turn to William Lilly again. He writes in his Annus Tenebrosus, or The Dark Year, about a lunar eclipse with the Moon in the third decanate of Aries:

“… it imports many abortive births, many discommodities and dangers unto that Sex, viz. women; as also the death of many great Ladyes according to the Climate wherein the Eclips falls.”

 We know that the planet ruling the third decanate of Aries is Venus, which underlines the importance of this eclipse for women (Venus is the natural significator of women). Venus is located in Sagittarius and is essentially dignified by term. Looking at the placement of the Sun, we realise that he is in Libra, ruled by Venus, which adds to the developing theme. We also know that Mars has rulership over Aries and therefore he is dispositor of the eclipsed Moon. Venus and Mars are not in conjunction to any malefic fixed stars, which indicates that the negative effects of the eclipse may perhaps not be as bad as first expected.

Lunar Eclipse 18 October 2013 angularity Washington

The next step is to determine where the effects of the eclipse will be felt strongly and immediately. The general rule here is that the smaller the distance between the Sun or Moon and any of the angles, the stronger the effects of the eclipse will be. Furthermore, we can say that there is a correlation between the Ascendant, Medium Coeli or Descendant, and the time of the onset of the eclipse’s effect. If the eclipsed Moon is near the Ascendant, the effects will become noticeable after one, two, three or four months. If the eclipse is near the Medium Coeli, we will notice the effects after five, six, seven or eight months. Should the eclipse be near the Descendant, we can expect effects to occur after nine, then eleven or even twelve months. Thus, being interested in the strong and immediate effects of the eclipse, we want to find out where in the world the Moon will be close to the Ascendant during the eclipse. Looking at the world map, we see that the line of angularity for this particular lunar eclipse runs through Canada and the United States of America. Taking Washington to be representative of the USA, we can see that Luna is close but not conjunct the Ascendant and we can therefore conclude that the diminished effects will begin to take place about one month after the day of the eclipse.

We also notice that during the eclipse the Moon will be conjunct the MC in the United Kingdom and Europe. This is clearly visible in the world map, depicted above. The astrological chart below, cast for London, shows this, too:

Lunar Eclipse 18 October 2013 London

We can conclude from this that there will be a stronger effect in Europe and the UK, setting in about four months after the eclipse date.

We are also interested in the duration of the eclipse, and we find it to be three hours and 59 minutes. Lilly claims that the key to establishing the duration of a lunar eclipse’s effect is “one month for every hour”. Therefore we can conclude that this eclipse will affect us for just under four months.

To give a summary of what we have established, we can conclude that the upcoming lunar eclipse will mainly affect women in a rather negative way, and, should it come to the worst, we may even expect the death of a prominent woman. Eclipse rulers Mars and Venus are not in conjunction with any of the malefic fixed stars, and are not highly debilitated which may diminish the severity of the predicted outcome. In the United States of America, relatively weak effects should be felt about one month after the eclipse. In Europe it may take five months before any effects might unfold, but they could be more severe than the ones felt in the USA. In both cases the duration of the eclipse’s effect could be up to four months.


For readers, interested in the personal implications of this eclipse, it might be of interest what William Lilly has to say about this:

“… Eclipse is more dangerous or pernitious which shall be in the Horoscope or Ascendant of the birth; or which shall be in the degree Ascending in an Annuall Revolution: it portends unto the Native some ominous and mischievous action as unto his body and also in his vital substance.”

And further on:

“… who had in the Radix of his Nativity either the Sun or the Moon in that degree, or in the degree opposite … or in the like degrees … which signs are in Quadrate aspects to the former, or if the degree Culminating in any man’s Nativity was either [the degree of the eclipse or its opposite or square] or within one degree therof, the native did suffer more or less by the influence of this Eclips; according to the signification of the House of Heaven, wherein the Sun or the Moon was in at the Birth, and was either well fortified or aspected of the benevolent Planets, or ill aspected, or afflicted of the Malevolents.”

For this particular lunar eclipse that means that people with Aries or Libra rising, either in their birth chart or in their Solar Return chart for 2013, will feel the influence stronger than others. Furthermore it should be noted if natal Sun or Moon are conjunct the eclipse point and it should be investigated if Venus or Mars are particularly afflicted or located in houses six, eight, or twelve, as this might be of significance, too. If it should be the case that one or even more of these factors apply, an in-depth reading of the native’s charts may be necessary to find out which particular areas of life are likely to be affected the most.

LVX – The Light of Creation in Traditional Astrology

William Blake, Europe

Five windows light the cavern’d Man; thro’ one he breathes the air;
Thro’ one, hears music of the spheres; thro’ one, the eternal vine
Flourishes, that he may recieve the grapes; thro’ one can look.
And see small portions of the eternal world that ever groweth;
Thro’ one, himself pass out what time he please, but he will not;
For stolen joys are sweet, & bread eaten in secret pleasant.
(W. Blake, Europe A Prophecy)

Light plays a crucial role in Traditional astrology. And here I am not only thinking of light emanating from the sun, making the seven planets of Traditional astrology visible to the naked eye. First and foremost I am talking about the light of creation, or divine light, of which our sunlight may be seen as an important but distant relative. Light has long been recognised as a most important factor in many cosmologies and creation myths.

One typical example is the Lightning Flash of Creation depicted on the Tree of Life: 


Here the divine light emanates from the void beyond Kether to manifest the physical Earth (Malkuth), passing through all the other sephirot on the way. This process of creation has to be seen outside of time and space as it creates time and space itself.

Another cosmological model is the Tetraktys:

John Dee states in his Monas Hieroglyphica, published in 1564:

Besides, the kabbalistic extension of the Quaternary according to the common formula of notation (because we say one, two, three, and four) is an abridged or reduced form of the Decad. This is because Pythagoras was in the habit of saying: 1+2+3+4 make 10.

With this quote, Dee shows his knowledge of Plato’s cosmology and the Tetraktys. The triangle of Ten is nothing else but the depiction of the creation of the universe. The Monad, the point at the top of the triangle, splits into two, implying that creation can only be a division in the first place. Here we see the division of the One into Two, light and darkness, male and female (2). The next step after this scission is addition (1 + 2 = 3) and after this addition the first multiplication (2 x 2 = 4 ) takes place. This process of creation can be expressed as 1+2+3+4 equals 10. 

At this level Ten, manifestation begins in the form of the four elements. These four elements, Fire, Air, Water, and Earth are the building blocks of everything tangible. Each of them consists of two of the four basic principles hot, cold, dry, and moist. These four elements are sometimes called the Cross of Matter.

To see how the divine light permeates creation, we can turn again to John Dee and his Monas Hieroglyphica, wherein he states:

As is evident from the sixth theorem, FOUR right angles can be considered to be in our Cross, and the preceding theorem teaches that the sign of the Quinary can be attributed to each one of them, the right angles of course being arranged in one way, but maintaining another position. The same theorem explains the production of the hieroglyphic symbols of the number FIFTY. Thus, it is very clear that the Cross generally denotes the Denary; and that in the order of the Latin alphabet, it is the twenty-first letter (whence it was the case that the wise ones called the Mecubalists signified the number twenty-one with the same letter); and finally, it can be considered very simply to be seen as one sign, no matter what kind of, and how much, other power it has. From all of these things together, we see it can be concluded by means of a very good cabbalistic explanation that our Cross can signify to initiates, in a remarkably shortened way, the number TWO-HUNDRED-FIFTY-TWO. Namely, FOUR times FIVE, FOUR times FIFTY; TEN; TWENTY ONE; and ONE, add up to TWO-HUNDRED-FIFTY-TWO; which number we can deduce in still two other ways from our previous statements. Thus we recommend to cabbalistic Tyrians that they scrutinize this same number, studying it in such a brief space, concluding the varied, skillful production of this Master Number to be worthy of the consideration of philosophers. I will not conceal from you here another memorable initiator to the mysteries. Our Cross having suffered itself to be divided into two different letters, and as earlier we considered their numerical virtue in a certain way, we will now compare in turn their verbal power with that cross, because from this may be born LVX (LIGHT), a Word we perceive with the highest admiration, finally and magisterially through the harmony and agreement of the Ternary in the unity of the word.


Dee clearly shows the all-encompassing importance of the divine light, being manifest in the elements and shining through all the worlds.

Having established the four elements, representing the different combinations of the four qualities, we can have a look at the next level, the zodiac. Here we find our four elements in three different modes. We call them ‘moveable’, ‘fixed’ and ‘mutable’, but other systems may recognise these modes as ‘sattwa’, ‘rajas’ and ‘tamas’, or ‘sal’, ‘mercury’, and ‘sulphur’. This leads us to the 12 signs of the zodiac, which, together with their mundane counterparts, the mundane houses, are the representation of all of creation.

We have seen how the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 are symbols of the creation of the world, resulting in the wheel of the zodiac (3 x 4). If we move one step further into the world of manifestation, we find that the number 5 is the number of the planets used in the tradition, except the lights (sun and moon). Together with the sun and the moon, the number of the planets increases to 7 (3 + 4). John Dee shows this perfectly in his Monas Hieroglyph.



 Being the source of everything, the monad divides, adds and multiplies in the constant creation of the universe. Although unknowable, it is essentially pure. Only when manifestation takes place, the essence splits into several different parts. This can be compared to light, splitting  into the colours of the rainbow when shining through a prism. We may note here that a prism is of triangular shape, another indicator for the threefold nature of creation.

Our seven planets, being in a more manifest stage on the path of creation, symbolise these seven parts of divine light or essence. As these planets exist on the material plane and therefore change their positions in time and space, the astrologer can find out how well their essential natures are expressed at any given point. This is known as essential dignity or debility.



 The illustration here shows the table of essential dignities of the planets published in William Lilly’s Christian Astrology, 1659, 2nd edition.

By assessing the level of essential dignity of each planet, the astrologer tries to establish how much of their essence, or their individual part of the divine light,  is available at a particular moment in time. This information enables the astrologer to give accurate judgment.