Essential Dignities in Astrology


During 1st – 3rd of June 2018 at the Astro-Festival in Craiova, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation on Essential Dignities in Astrology. And thank you to all my friends and colleagues who participated and made up this pleasurable and exciting event. Looking back at my workshop, there was too much material to go through, really. But maybe it had to be this way. There are so many things I want to tell and share, but then getting hold of it is difficult, particularly for the listener who is unfamiliar with the ideas and not used to applying these techniques when working with charts. Nothing could be better than the opportunity to hold the workshop first and then deliver something in writing afterwards. This way everyone has something to refer to and can get hold of these basic ideas.

I think that when we start off in Astrology, we hear about the planets first and then we learn about the signs while the planets are introduced again as sign rulers. This comes second. In my case, this is how it happened. Afterwards I learnt more about the planets and the solar system. As I progressed into the study of Astrology, I learnt things about the houses and then about the aspects and how to put it all together. When I just thought I had got it all figured out, the planetary exaltations popped out! Exciting, but I don’t remember whether I got it or it just made sense at first. I was thinking what was the point of this? I already had the planets as sign rulers.

For those of you who are at the beginning of your astrological training, the exaltations of the planets look like this: The Sun is exalted in Aries, the Moon in Taurus, Mercury in Virgo, Venus in Pisces, Mars in Capricorn, Jupiter in Cancer and Saturn in Libra. I was taught that the planet in their exaltations were strong like a planet in its own domicile – maybe even stronger. To complete the picture, the signs opposite to the signs of Domicile and Exaltation are respectively Detriment and Fall. Basically, Rulership and Exaltation were always the indicators of strength and potency, and depending on where they were located in a chart there was always something to be gained or some fortune involved. However, planets in their Detriment and Fall were weak and a token of misfortune and trouble.

Now if you have got this far into your studies and got it to work, you have done well! Because, let’s face it, there is really a lot of detail to get hold of. But keep working at this level and don’t give up – because your astrological fluency is something that develops as you go along. But to those of you who are confronted with a poor planetary state or configuration within your chart (and we have all got them!) remember that it is always the strongest and most beneficial line that works. However, let’s put it another way: some paths are easy, other charts are reserved for advanced students! Howard Stephen Berg from New York taught that planets in a poor celestial state, i.e. Detriment or Fall were weakened from the perspective of self-interest but could equally indicate a medium, an artist or someone serving a higher collective purpose. The message or calling had a better chance of getting through because the ego was not getting in the way!

As I followed Olivia Barclay’s Qualifying Course in Horary Astrology in 1985, my understanding of astrology was forced to change. Olivia Barclay has largely been credited for the revival of traditional astrology which re-examines our astrological roots before Sun sign astrology took over and messed everything up, as she would say. The major work that Olivia Barclay was loyal to and foremost advocate of, was William Lilly’s (1602-1681) “Christian Astrology”. The student doesn’t get many pages into this work and he is confronted with a table of planetary fortitudes that goes way beyond the common and more widespread concept of Rulership, Exaltation, Detriment and Fall. The “Table of Essential Dignities” is an extensive system of weighing and measuring up the planetary dispositions, strengths and meanings as each sign is divided into lesser portions. Through concepts of Triplicity, Faces and Terms the planets will cooperate in fashions you didn’t spot earlier, and even hard aspects may deliver, or there is a way to work them around.

The addition of the essential dignities often reveals resources that will support a chart. The problem is that these minor divisions are foreign to most of us and there is not a lot of literature available, either from modern or past astrologers explaining their meaning. So what I want to do is to take you through an interpretation of the various divisions based upon what I came across in classical works together with my own personal observations and thoughts as gathered through the years. Just be aware there may be different authorities who follow different schools or systems. Thus, they have the right to other thoughts on the subject than presented here.

The Signs and the Essential Dignities & Debilities of the Planets

Rulership and Exaltation are generally known to practitioners of Astrology, so I will not spend too much time on explaining them here. As an overview, a few words on the subject should be given:

A planet in its own sign gets 5 points in assessing Dignity through point-scoring

A planet in its own sign is like a king in his own castle, or a person in his natural home. The person is calm, reliable and in command and enjoys all wealth and resources in that place. All rights and licences are granted. The person is well founded, stable, long-term and a natural founder, supervisor, administrator, balanced, relaxed, vital and a host.

A planet in the sign of its Exaltation gets 4 points

An exalted planet is in its highest honour and always shows something that is extraordinary or spectacular by nature. It can be competitive, powerful, aggressive and assertive, an elite, someone who pushes himself to the front. Sudden wealth and fortune may be shown. However, the Exaltation may represent someone who assumes more than he is due and can be both noisy, arrogant, haughty and naughty. Loyal to no one but himself and sometimes adulterous. It is the symbol of knights and armour or the army.

Detriment, Fall, and Receptions

William Lilly writes that a planet in its Detriment, Fall or a planet that is Peregrine is weakened and debilitated. A planet in its Detriment loses 5 points. A planet in its Fall loses 4 points, and a planet which is Peregrine loses 5 points. But Lilly also says that a planet which has Mutual Reception by sign gains 5 points, and a planet that has Mutual Reception by Exaltation is granted 4 points. By this I consider that by Reception of any kind, i.e. a mixed exchange of Essential Dignities, the planet receives as many points as is offered by a planet in dignity. However, Lilly says that the mutual reception by Face doesn’t save a planet from being Peregrine. This must mean that the dignity gained by a planet placed in is its own Face has no true authority and is so weak that it has little or no merit to pass onto anything else.

A planet in the sign of its Detriment loses 5 points

In 1984 I attended an astrology course in New York in the home of Howard Stephen Berg. He taught that a planet in its Detriment was weak because it was not in its own home and did not enjoy any of the comforts or privileges that this provides. When in the opposite sign from Domicile, a planet is as far away from its natural habitat or place of belonging as possible. It is out in the battlefield or in the home of its enemy or opponent. Whether friend or foe, a person represented by such a planet has a circumstanced behaviour in such a manner that it is said to be detrimental. Such a person cannot put its feet up on the table, stump the chewing beneath the chair, or do what it wants, because its behaviour is regulated by the house rules and by the customs of its host. The planet is not at home, but on the opposite side of home, or playing a game which by reason weakens it and makes it more vulnerable.

A planet in the sign of its Fall loses 4 points

On the topic of a planet in the sign of its Fall, Howard Stephen Berg said that while everything you do in the sign of your Exaltation turns out right, everything that you do in the sign of your Fall turns out wrong, even you made the best efforts. As a Pizza-delivery carrier, you manage to reach your destination in record time, only to discover that you were given the wrong pizza. Or in the absence of your partner, you redecorated the house, and when your partner comes back they didn’t like the changes, even though you saved the house from falling apart. So the place of your Fall makes you super-unpopular. It represents an inhibition, danger, weakness or collapse, where there is little to win from the start. So with the Significator in this state, do not trust your luck. Defences are low. It is an indication of trouble, disease, sacrifice or loss. Something is at its absolute low and in a sore need of support or repair. Precaution is the best line.

Note: A planet in Exaltation is more magnificent and impressive than any other planet, yet still naughtier and in this way potentially more adulterous than a planet in its Detriment or Fall. The exalted planet is full of himself and could get you into trouble. A planet in Detriment or Fall is not necessarily naughty, just weak and unfortunate – thus unreliable but in another way.

Other Essential Dignities

Before moving to the details of other essential dignities, an important point in classical astrology is adding it all up. If a planet is found in several of its dignities at the same time than this is like a double testimony: the person has a higher position and is the bearer of several credentials. A planet in two of the essential dignities is actually quite important, as the planet will hold its ground and is capable of prominence. Further, a planet located in its own Term of any sign will take control of that place because it is capable of exercising more power than an absent Dispositor by Exaltation. When inspecting any degree, i.e. within a sign or on the cusp of a house, the ancient astrologers added up the total sum of essential dignities to calculate which planet had the highest number of dignities in that place. This planet is called the Almuten and is often a give-away regarding the main issues of a chart. The Almuten of a house occasionally reveals the Sun sign of spouses, parents, children or the like. A planet casting an aspect to another planet, or to the cusp of a house, is always better equipped to pass on virtue and deliver positive results if it has dignities in and disposes of the 2nd place. Point you should note.

A planet in its own Triplicity – 3 points

A planet located in its own Triplicity is always a token of quality, value and access to resources. It may represents a person who is comfortably situated in the world and well off in a formidable manner, both socially and financially. He or she enjoys a circle of friends and is often strategically positioned within a social network. The person may gather and collect, and hence profit from several sources, but also distribute and share things around in an even manner. Like a community or network builder, or the member of a club or family, with positive associates. When studying the outcome of football matches based on the radical chart and qualified according to the rules of Triplicity, initial observations suggested there was a tendency for draws where no other reason was offered – meaning that the home ground was defended. The person represented by a planet in its own Triplicity always enjoys good conditions, has good connections and is a useful person to know. It is a key person, who may offer options or solutions. A manager, organiser or coordinator, a friend or member of the Board. Or someone who summons resources like sponsors or fundraisers. A planet in its own Triplicity will always contribute to the quality of the chart but we can get some unusual combinations, i.e. if Mars is in Cancer both in its own Triplicity and Fall, both strong and inhibited at the same time. So there will be resources but also problems if the family providing them turns out to be the mafia. If Venus is in Virgo by day, i.e. in her Triplicity and Fall there will also be funds but her principles are compromised by her sponsors. So a planet in its Detriment or Fall has to deal with a catch or restriction, or some difficult circumstance.

A planet in its own Term – 2 points

The planetary Terms, unlike the other categories of essential dignities, are divided among the five traditional planets alone, excluding the Sun and the Moon. This is because the Luminaries represent the immortal and divine, and are the rulers of Day and Night while the five planets are bearers of the crosses and deal with our place in material world. The cross marks our space. So the five planets represent our grip on the mundane and mortal world separate from the Divine. Furthermore, they represent the physical senses through which we observe the world. The twelve signs are subordinate to the Sun and Moon and are like stations, limbs or the hands of a body. Each sign, station or limb is divided into five fingers that each has a practical assignment for meeting and dealing with the material according to their specific posts, positions and descriptions, or a certain set of rules. So, the Terms describe where something is placed in the order of things, how it is designed and how it performs, the right and ability to act. They describe the terminals, the offices of dispatching, how something is functioning, works and how it is ‘tooled’.

Thus, a Significator in its own Term is like an officer, someone with skill and merit who is qualified and certified within the appropriate field. He is in the office of his own administration and has the right to speak and to set up business. It is a person with an educated opinion. A planet in its own Term describes someone who holds more than a tourist visa or ticket of attendance, someone with a mission and a credible work permit. A planet in its own Term is in the position to argue, prove and document its case while a planet in its own Face is only marketing.

A planet in its own Term has the power of knowing, mastering, of being able. Terms are clever and catch you out on wit. They are in control of the situation and command the rules. They always have a rule, arrangement or agreement that makes them win. They are the magicians, the artists, the gifted and talented, hands on the situation. The Terms are stronger than Faces. A planet’s or Significator’s location by Term describes that person or item by wit, trade, manufacture, function, capacity and performance. The Term reveals the content or the essence and says something about inclination, abilities and leaning. Where do you expect to find it and where does it belong? In comparison, the Faces are more shallow and on the surface. The Face of a planet adds detail to the emotional aspect of the person or item: its appearance, maintenance and state, how it presents itself, mask, dressing, costume, make-up, humour or mood.

When a planet is located in its own Term in its sign of Detriment or Fall, the debilitation is lifted. It is like putting the right person in the wrong place but for the right reasons, i.e. if Venus were in her own Term in Aries, it would be like an area of truce and rest on the battlefield, a sanitary department with the people and services that go with it. If Venus were in her own Term in Scorpio, she would be like a nurse who brings comfort and relief to the ailing in a venomous situation or deterioration.

A planet in its own Face – 1 point

A planet located in its own Face is in it furthest outpost. Out in the barracks or on a single wicket. It represents someone who holds his ground, manages to keep his pose and stay in dignity, but only just. Someone who gets past with the formalities yet barely meets them. The person represented by a planet in its own Face is well-behaved, commits no evil and keeps his pose. In this way he is granted a single and casual credit of confidence or trust. A planet in its Face allows a person to keep up appearances. But sometimes with a squeal, on a single thread or mere ‘face-value’. Often a gest of friendliness, habit or generosity is extended the planet in its own Face, a simple comfort. Yet, arguments ‘wobble’ along and reasoning is not always good. Decisions are based upon a predisposition, a chemistry, sympathy, tradition or liking.

A planet in its own Face is granted the right to turn up in a certain place, be present and “show face”, to temporarily visit, occupy and dispose of the site for purposes of observation, to display and to be seen although the right to speak, to influence and to do business is limited – like a ticket to the cinema or to a concert. You get to sit in the audience like a delegate or a spectator and peer though not up on stage with band or orchestra. However, your entrance is admitted and a planet in its own Face often improves the place. The essentials are there, or there is a solution to basic requirements. You were there and may be quoted as a credible witness. In terms of control and authority however, the planet by Face is in its weakest mandate. Its rank is low, yet it leaves a signal and passes on a message of a symbolic meaning, like a peg, marker or reservation card, a guard or territorial claim, like a jacket that has been thrown over a seat in the absence of the person who would like to sit there. Something that will stand until someone of a higher order moves in and throws it aside. So a planet in its own Face shows an occupant or purpose of intent that is generally accepted yet often there is someone who has departed and left the queue with a mere a footman behind to hold the line. Someone who acts as a substitute and who is deployed to a subordinate office, a mere Face in replacement, like a servant but even more of a clothes rack.

A planet in its own Face keeps up appearances but does not have the power to practice or operate on its own. It will provide a tourist visa but not a working permit. Yet they allow someone to show up, to put on display, to see and get seen. It gives the opportunity to advertise something and attract attention, but not to practice, take into or execute. The Faces of the planets describe the looks of things, how things are met, how they present themselves and are exposed. Faces of the planets often describe a mood, position, appointment, prejudice or predisposition.

A planet in its own Face will often indicate a subjective observation. Someone who can serve as a useful reference, recommendation or witness. This is often enough to win people over, to provide testimony and evidence to a case, an alibi or clue, so that the Significator gets the benefit of the doubt. This allows the Significator to stay in favour, to come up with a solution and “save his face”.

When performing as the Significator of another person, a planet in is face shows a person with an indirect and distant relevance to the querent or native who is the centre of the chart, like a friend of a friend, or someone who does not belong to, yet is known by someone of the household, not a complete stranger, as if the planet was peregrine.

It is important to understand that Faces are not the real thing, as would be the case if the planet were in its own sign or Exaltation. The Faces deal with uniforms, masks and make-believe. It is a show, cover-up and exhibition. Half of it is fake, fancy dress or ritual – but we let it pass by and accept it for real. The Faces often plead an authority, make a beckoning, and set up an excuse or argument. Or they take a position, there is some sort of office, stall, display or ritual order. A place is designated. Services appear to be present, but with no authority or qualified personnel on site. There is merely an assistance, or back-up on the scarcest level, an emergency solution. “A doctor is not present but there is a first aid kit in the back of the car. The Faces muse the real thing but there is only a substitute available that keeps people happy: a distraction or misdirection.

The Faces are an imitation, mimic, trick or attraction, like the lure on the end of a fishing-line – something that captures your attention, appeals to your mood and makes you go for it. Faces can put on a show, and often announce and advertise something. Like fireworks or a rocket, but often something that is short lived, or like a last resort, like an emergency flare. The Face could be compared to the hook on the end of a fishing-line, or a kite in the sky, waving on the end of a long thread. Again, spectacular to see, and attraction attention from afar, but control is limited and you have to be careful not to get thrown off your tail or extension, and avoid ending up in a tangle of knots. So the faces will beckon and call, and win you over but often there is something that is not strictly real or lasting, or there is something with a catch to it.

That matters hold together and work is often a joke. The fact that things get by and people actually survived is more often than not, closer to a miracle. People laugh when it is over, although it was more likely to have been a nightmare at the same time. Items that are purchased are well marketed but of a poor quality. They appear to be a good buy and look like the real thing, but as soon as you want to use it, they fall apart. Which brings us to another aspect of the Faces, because they are funny. Things are working at joke level but in this way we are also unnerved.

One of the things that can make a story funny is that the reasoning and sense of logic is so thin, and suddenly the story takes an unexpected turn. It catches you out and puts you into knots or stitches. So the Faces are amusing, seductive and lower our guard. They allows us to pass the lines and get on the inside. The Faces are popular. They are artists, advertise and put something on display. A planet in its own Face is placed in favour, has a favourable view or outlook.


A Significator in its own Face indicates someone who may hold his ground, meet formalities and stay in dignity, getting round with a squeal or a single thread, the person receives a casual credit, is granted the right to be present and show face, but the right to speak, influence and do business is limited. Delegate, audience or peer. Servant. Someone who is accepted on face value and may hold the stand. A tourist visa, not a working permit. Employed or deployed to a subordinate office. The need to submit to order and abide rules. Observer, witness, alibi. A single testimony. Authentic. Ticket.

The Faces are shallow. Cosmetics, paint, cover, uniform, mask, a guard, barrack, station, stop or outpost. A counter, stump, port or wicket; a simple marker or single credit. A hold, observation place or appointment, a reception. The Face indicates a Right, Option or Claim, “This is My Seat”. An occupant or reservation. Predisposition, attitude, prejudice. Like/dislikes, disposition, leaning, appearance. Exhibition, stand. Like a ground, field or arena – describes use, purpose and intent. Trace of evidence, clue, mark, looks, witness, referent, visitor, visit card. Chemistry, recognition, likeness. Extension, kite, lure, attraction. A single thread, so thin it is ridiculous, funny, it makes us laugh. Put on a “face” or act. Making up stories on a string of truth. Reorganizing facts. Getting in a twist or tangle, vulnerable. Comedians. Clowns. Stand-in, replacement, not original, something from IKEA. A single comfort, basic, cheap.

Of a planet that is Peregrine – loses 5 points

“A planet without essential dignity is a foreigner, outsider and has no association with the territory” (Deb Houlding). A peregrine planet is a stranger who cannot be relied upon. When in an angle or in the 2nd house in a question of theft, he is the signicator of the thief. When both Mercury and Mars are peregrine it denotes cheating (Goldstein-Jacobsen). According to Lilly, a planet with essential dignities is like a noble soul that has his enemy in his clutches but scorns to hurt him, while a peregrine planet is malicious beyond expression. He says, “Do not trust the assistance of a fortune, unless in essential dignities; for then he performs matters wholly, else by halves.” Examples: Occupants. Gypsies. Cuckoo’s. Beggerman, thieves. Motorhomes – staying off even the camping sites. People who throw rubbish in the wrong places. Accepting no responsibility.

A planet in a sign of Similar Powers – 0 points

A planet in a sign of similar powers has no claim in that area, but contributes to the situation and raises the quality of what may be experienced from that area. Gifted, a natural, doing the right thing, contributing, improving. Such a person is still slightly vulnerable, because it has no true authority in that place, but is less exposed. Like someone passing by. I hardly expect that such a planet could be counted as Peregrine, because it has no sting and its menace is gone.

As the reader will notice, the most time and space in this article has gone to explaining the Faces and Terms. This is because these categories of essential dignity are most unfamiliar to practitioners of modern astrology, and I think we all need some encouragement and detail to start using them. For those of you who have spent time on my theories of the Age Point1, now observe the Dispositor of the Age Point and see how this planet is dignified according to the table of essential dignities, or the Age Point crosses over a planet that holds such dignities. These resources will greatly improve your life experience and also your understanding and interpretation of your astrological chart.

ANDREW BEVAN, QHP, DMS Astrol. – (c) 2018
Honorary Member of Romanian Astrologers Association

Articolul este disponibil în revista Astrele și în limba română.

  1. All of Andrew’s articles for Astrele Magazine can be found at

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