by Donna OConnor - Guild Educator and FAA Teacher

In the tradition of the art, it has always been deemed important to ascertain the understanding as to any planet’s or light’s primary condition and power when in a horoscope.

The ‘essential’ way to approach this was to relate the nature of the zodiacal wheel to the bodies of the ancient heavens
[1].  This could be achieved via the use of one of astrology’s primary philosophic systems, that of Essential Dignity and Debility.  In this model of planet and sign relationship, the whole circle of the zodiac became symbolically broken down, or sectioned, with classifications assigned to specific signs and the parts of signs.  These areas therefore become symbolic locations as to where the planets may be generally fortified in their nature, or not.  The traditional doctrine of essential dignity has five primary categories, all of which may be said to ‘give essential dignity’[2] to a planet - to be given in their order of importance and strength:

*Domicile – or dignity/direct rulership, when a astrological body is residing in a sign that it is regarded to be the primary lord of.

Exaltation – when a planet or light is seen to be in a sign that is deemed to be its place of exaltation.

Triplicity – a planet or light seen to be residing in a sign of an element that supports it.
Term – planets are assigned to the sections of signs, thus one may  be ‘in its own terms’.

Face – again planets are assigned to the specific sections of signs, the last and least of strength, of the traditional essential dignities.

The complementary principle to that of essential dignity is that of essential debility, the most well known being detriment and fall.  In regard to debility, the same categories may be viewed basically within a reverse of astrological logic, which will become more defined later in this discussion.  All of these are categories represent symbolic strata of classification, which are then concerned with the qualifying of the essential tone, in the astrological working of a planet in a sign. 

Some of these sign divisions were used in specific astrological context, in the techniques of the ancient astrologers.  Nevertheless the dignities that have always been the most of note are of the first two that are listed above – that is domicile and exaltation, thus their natural complements, which are the debilities of detriment and fall.  Thus in modern natal astrology the dignities that may still have retained some degree of awareness, are those of domicile
[3] and in some cases, exaltation. 

Through the historical evolution of astrology, this paring down of the system appears to have eventuated in the symbolism suffering many misunderstandings, modifications, and their justifications.  By the 20th century there came an eventual loss of awareness as to the true nature and utilisation of the essential dignity and debility model.

In contemporary times it is fair to say that the nature of the dignity principle had become almost extinct, or only touched upon in a very cursory sense. 

This essential astrological reference has often been set aside, as old-fashioned and archaic and not from an unquestionable, or necessarily erudite, point of view.  By the 18th century much of the original philosophical construct concerning essential dignity and debility was missing and its holism therefore largely misunderstood.  Consequently it became difficult to apply new reasoning, when more became known of the solar system.  Appearing to be witnessed may be a case of dismissing an obviously very essential and original primary doctrine.  Also diluted is any subsequent application of essential planet/sign relations. 

Perhaps this has been seen to eventuate via the apparent reasoning that what cannot be understood when attempting any translation must be useless.  Such approach seems a little perilous, as the awareness of the nature of dignity and so on is one of the keys to a sophistication and greater integrity in the delineating of any chart.  It is especially so in modern natal astrology, that essential dignity and debility has been seen, probably up until recently, to have been generally dismissed as having any possible use. 

Throughout the art’s contemporary period of history the likeliest stronghold of the awareness and utilisation of the tradition has been held in the horary and electional applications of astrology.  That is, prior to the retranslation of some of the ancient texts in more recent times
[4] and the resurfacing of greater information concerning the nature of astrology. 

The important judgement of astrological condition was achievable in a variety of ways and the relationship of the planets to the signs of the ecliptic is a very primary one.  Every archetype and its expression that is represented by a planet, is therefore seen to relate to the zodiacal symbolism in a variety of respective fashions.  The signs of the wheel of the zodiac are thus seen to come into a certain prominence, as each sign may further qualify the individual astrological character of each celestial body. 

The relationship may concern more than just the arbitrary appointing of the position of the zodiacal longitude that any component may be situated at.  In addition, the 30 degrees of each sign will become as a ‘container’, or ‘field of symbolic energy’, that will add colouration and degrees of modification to the astrological nature of any planet in question

Accordingly, some planets will seem more ‘at home’ and less in need of adjustment to their own essential nature, than others. 

As are the signs, the planets in themselves are also viewed to be concerned with the varying symbolic intermixtures of the primitive qualities of hot, cold, moist and dry.  Thus the traditional humours of their core temperaments are:

 Sun           - hot and dry

 Moon         - cold and moist

 Mercury    - neutral/androgenous

 Venus       - warm/temperate and moist

 Mars          - hot and dry

 Jupiter     - warm/temperate and moist

 Saturn       - cold and dry

The foundations in the symbolic ‘chemistry’ of each body is seen and as noted, the signs are also are of their own essential humours.  Therefore differing scales of natural familiarity between the two are seen to enter the disposition of the astrological understanding.   Thus every celestial body is seen to have a sign that it may ‘resonate to’ and be ‘dissonant to’, in particular ways. 

When a planet is placed in any sign, symbolically observed may be a ‘mixing’, or alchemising of their respective elemental archetypes.  Between the two a further symbolism is offered, in particular to the temperament of the planetary representation. 

A planet may appear to gather this via relating to that which it is essentially supported by, or even elevated by, due to a holding of some degrees of ‘dignity’ with the nature of the sign concerned.  When a planet is in domicile, it is within the zodiacal sign that it has some manner of a metaphysical familiarity at a very essential level.

                                       Sun              Leo

Cancer            Moon

Virgo              Mercury       Gemini

Taurus            Venus          Libra

Scorpio           Mars             Aries

Pisces             Jupiter        Sagittarius

Capricorn        Saturn          Aquarius



Above is the list of traditional domicile rulerships. Here the planets are said to be the ‘lords’ and ‘ladies’ of certain zodiac signs.  In addition, the signs may be as relative and reflective facets of their lords.  This very ancient model has been called the ‘Ptolemaic rulerships’; in fact Ptolemy[6] (Alexandria, c.2nd century CE) only appeared to record and relate what was already largely established, within the ancient Hellenistic astrological tradition.  The other common titles for these relationships are the ‘traditional’ or ‘ancient’ rulerships.

The previous domicile list is a consideration of the symbolism; there are signs in which each body is seen to find the greatest of familiarity.  A planet or light, is said to be ‘domus’, or ‘at home’, when within the boundaries of such a sign and hence the term ‘domicile ruler’.  The exact origin of domicile rulership is not clear and various reasons are postulated. 

Usually it is those of the seasonal/natural symbolism and such philosophic reasoning, are the most commonly cited.  As said, whatever the origins, these rulerships appear to be compellingly linked upon an archetypal principle of natural familiarity and not only that of a more two-dimensional analogy, or similarity
[7].  That is, the universal principle of ‘correspondences’ does not only concern the similar, but in actuality, the greater depth of the familiar. 

Although principles concerning similarity are not entirely invalid, they may prove a shallower dimension and are of a different approach.  Recently it is the correspondence of the similar that has come into the greatest investment.  Thus the recent context of astrology is suffering a general confusion in regard to its most essential philosophic and practical principles.  This is where the ‘natural house model’
[8] of modern astrology has come into form. 

This model concerns that a planet, sign and house will all carry a basic sameness of meaning, due to more superficial similarities and are thus considered to be related by a misleading term called ‘natural rulership’.   The evolution of this ‘new tradition’ seems as a shortcut, a kind of  fast ‘MacDonald’s-style’ astrology, which is also very reflective of today’s general zeitgeist of convenience and its foibles.

To give an example in this model, the sign of Aries (the first sign), the planet Mars (lord of A) and the first house, are said to be the same in their symbolic representations.  Mars is subsequently called the ‘natural ruler’ of the first house, which has been then said to be that of a ‘Martian’ nature, no matter what sign is on the cusp[9]. 

In such a system Aries, Mars and the first house, become known as the same, or in this example, ‘equal to letter one’
[10].  Misleading and of no service to the Art, this approach seems quite erroneous and naïve.  As missing is the comprehension as to the true nature and elegance, of the philosophical core of this ancient system. 

The truth is a house, a sign, and a planet are entirely separate classes of astrological components in their own right, any similarities and resonances aside.  Logically, what is already ‘mixed together’ in its meaning and function may defeat the symbolic purpose, when attempting to further analyse the synthesis of these three separate components.  There can often develop a lack of discernment and clarity. The chart delineation may tend to become very general, loose, and more prone to misunderstanding.

When looking to the overall traditional model of dignity, the symbolic elegance of the entire group of the ancient ‘planetary spheres’ symphonically resonates to the twelve zodiacal divisions.  The planets of the traditional domicile system achieve this by harmoniously fitting their own system of order into the full sequential ordering of the signs of the elliptical round. 

The point of note is that both astrological pantheons do so without experiencing the breaking of their respective integral orderings.  Hence, in an elegance of astrological geometry, a planet and a sign may symbolically ‘marry’ their archetypes, then reflecting the essential quality/character of their ‘partnership’. 


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