Introduction to Rulership & Dignities 1:
Essential Dignities and Debilities

– written by Philip Graves Dec 25 2003
– reformatted for WordPress, June 9th, 2016


What are rulership and dignities?

Rulership and dignities are various pairing associations traditionally drawn by astrologers between each particular luminary and planet, on the one hand, and each particular sign of the tropical zodiac, on the other.

Rulership as an association in astrology has two distinct applications. The first is simply a dignity: a measure (among others) of the enhanced ‘worth’ or ‘strength’ or harmony of the planet by its placement within a particular chart in the sign it is said in general to ‘rule’. The second is more formally known as dispositorship, and helps to highlight effective connections between different parts of the same birth chart. This first part of the article will discuss rulership purely as one of the dignities.

A myth to dispel in introducing the topic of rulership is the popular misconception that the planets cause the characteristics of the signs of the zodiac over which they are said to ‘rule’. Quite simply, they do not, and logically cannot! Every luminary and planet can be found in every sign at different times. The signs are areas of space marked out from a geocentric perspective around which each luminary and planet apparently moves, freely completing cyclical circuits of all twelve signs. So to suggest that any one of those celestial bodies causes the characteristics of any one of those signs in general is absurd.

There is absolutely no natural, physical connection on which basis the Sun, Moon and planets can be paired off with the signs of the zodiac. The only connections are empirical approximations judged by astrologers. In other words, rulership originates in the human mind, based on the observation of characteristics of particular planets that seem to have more in common with, or to be more sympathetic to and compatible with, particular signs, compared with others. Each sign and its traditionally assigned ‘ruling planet’ therefore works well together. But they are fundamentally different entities, and in no sense identical. To presume no distinction in character between a sign and its corresponding ruling planet is a grave intellectual error made by many misguided astrologers.


Essential dignities and debilities

The essential dignities are supposed enhancements to the strength of a planet within a chart by its placement in a particular sign or part of a sign in which it is considered dignified. Dignity by sign rulership, also known as domal dignity, is one of the two key essential dignities, the other being called exaltation. Each luminary (the Sun and the Moon) is said to be the domicile ruler of (or be domiciled in) one sign and to be exalted in one other, which is always either trine or sextile that of its domicile. Each planet from Mercury to Saturn is said to rule two signs and to be exalted in one other.

Until Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were discovered, there were only seven known luminaries and planets shared between twelve signs. Therefore, the ancients accorded to each of the five known planets rulership over two signs, so all the signs would be covered. Since the discovery of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto in the past few centuries, modern astrologers have controversially assigned them domiciles and signs of exaltation too, resulting in three of the signs being described nowadays as being under ‘joint rulership’ by a ‘traditional ruler’ (meaning one of the planets from Mercury to Saturn) and a ‘modern ruler’ (meaning one of those from Uranus to Pluto), and resulting in Aquarius and Scorpio gaining exaltation associations where previously they had none, and in Cancer uniquely picking up an additional exaltation link although it already had one.

Until its interruption by the incorporation of these newly discovered planets, the rulership system had a neat symmetry. Starting at Cancer and Leo, which are ruled over by the Moon and Sun respectively, rulership of the remaining ten signs is assigned in pairs, following an outwardly radiating simultaneous bidirectional sweep around the zodiac from here into each adjacent pair of signs in turn, to the five planets from Mercury to Saturn in order of their increasing natural orbital distance from the Sun. Thus, the planet orbiting closest to the Sun (Mercury) is granted the two signs adjacent to Cancer and Leo within the zodiac, namely Gemini and Virgo; that furthest from the Sun (Saturn) is granted the two signs most distant from Cancer and Leo, namely Aquarius and Capricorn; and the three pairs of signs in between are left to the three planets in between, i.e. Venus (Taurus and Libra), Mars (Aries and Scorpio) and Jupiter (Pisces and Sagittarius). Although it could be argued that the neatness of this arrangement shows up its origins as being a fanciful design rather than based truly on empirical study, in practice it does seem to shed relevant light on connections between the effective characters of the signs and their assigned ruling planets.

It has sometimes been argued that the loss of this symmetry when Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are attemptedly incorporated into the system is a reason to discredit any such inclusion. Others have taken the view that they should be incorporated, but that two further planets must be ‘found’ to reduce the number of signs ruled per planet to one in each remaining case, since otherwise Mercury and Venus have retained exclusive rulership over two signs each, unbalancing the system. Two ‘hypothetical planets’ known as Vulcan and Persephone have been suggested to this end. But since they have no proven existence, and indeed almost certainly no existence at all, drafting them in hastily to unify the rulership system in this way would appear to be a well-motivated mistake. Sometimes the Earth has been arbitrarily assigned rulership over Taurus, but this seems nonsensical when we are dealing with a system of geocentric astrology in which the Earth is our norm and we are interested in variant influences upon it from other factors.

Perhaps the reason why a second major class of essential dignity beyond sign rulership, namely exaltation, was established by ancient astrologers for each luminary and planet, was the realisation that each sign seemed to have natural sympathies to a degree with more than just one luminary or planet, so a ‘second best’ match was worthy of note in addition to the closest fit.

For every positive in astrology there is a corresponding negative; and dignity is no exception, having as its opposite debility. Each planet is debilitated in the two signs opposite those in which it is dignified. The sign opposite that over which it rules is called its detriment; while the sign opposite that in which it is exalted is called its fall.

The following table, adapted from Nicholas DeVore’s article on dignities and debilities, shows the key essential dignities and essential debilities of each luminary and planet. Those marked with an asterisk were described by DeVore as ‘modern and arbitary assignments’, since the recent discovery of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto left a requirement to set their signs of dignity and debility without the historical precedent of many centuries on which the assignments of the luminaries and the planets as far as Saturn rested.


Sun Leo Aquarius Aries Libra
Moon Cancer Capricorn Taurus Scorpio
Mercury Gemini/Virgo Sagitt./Pisces Aquarius Leo
Venus Taurus/Libra Scorpio/Aries Pisces Virgo
Mars Aries/Scorpio Libra/Taurus Capricorn Cancer
Jupiter Pisces/Sagittarius Virgo/Gemini Cancer Capricorn
Saturn Capricorn/Aquarius Cancer/Leo Libra Aries
Uranus Aquarius* Leo* Scorpio Taurus
Neptune Pisces* Virgo* Cancer Capricorn
Pluto Scorpio* Taurus* Aries Libra
N. Node     Gemini Sagittarius
S. Node     Sagittarius Gemini


Each dignity and debility was traditionally assigned a numerical value as an aid to calculating the overall strength or harmony of each planet as it is posited in a particular chart. On this scale, rulership scores +5, exaltation +4, detriment -5, and fall -4. For the sake of a calibrating standard by which to understand this scale in the context of a broader assessment of planetary strength, it has been said for any planet under consideration that having a harmonious aspect thrown to it by another planet carries roughly the same harmonious value as being placed in its own domicile, while having a disharmonious aspect thrown to it by another planet carries roughly the same inharmonious value as being placed in its detriment.

There are also three other traditional essential dignities that do not have corresponding debilities. These are known as triplicity rulers, terms and faces, and rated at +3, +2 and +1 respectively on the same evaluative scale.


Triplicity Rulers

Each sign triplicity (or element) was accorded a different planetary ruler for day-time and night-time charts, and a ‘mixed’ or ‘participating’ ruler. By this measure, a planet is dignified by triplicity (+3) when it is placed in a triplicity over which it rules during the period of time (i.e. day or night) concerned. The following table shows the day and night and participating rulers of each triplicity:

Triplicity Day Ruler Night Ruler Partic Ruler
Fire Sun Jupiter Saturn
Earth Venus Moon Mars
Air Saturn Mercury Jupiter
Water Venus Mars Moon

Note: In the table above, ‘Partic Ruler’ denotes ‘Participating Ruler’



Terms, also known as bounds, are traditional connections whereby each planet from Mercury to Saturn is assigned one of five degree-portions into which each sign has been differently divided. The degree-portions assigned to the planet concerned are said to be its ‘bounds’. In a chart, a planet can then be said to be ‘in (its own) term’ or ‘in (its own) bounds’ when situated in a degree-area over which it has been accorded such governance in general.

Terms are generally presumed to have been empirically derived by the ancients, although they do not appear a rational system at first glance, and modern astrologers could be forgiven for an inclination to disregard them altogether. Two slightly different systems of assignation of bounds to the planets have been passed down, Chaldean terms and Egyptian Terms. Whichever system is used, a planet posited in its own term within any sign in a birth chart is essentially dignified to a value of +2, and is said to highlight the chart owner’s involvement in the areas of work governed by that planet in general. An additional stipulation is that any other planet posited in the bounds of a benefic (Venus or Jupiter) is enhanced, but posited in the bounds of a malefic (Mars or Saturn) is debilitated.

System Sign Mercury Venus Mars Jupiter Saturn
Chaldean Aries 14º-21º 06º-14º 21º-26º 00º-06º 26º-30º
  Taurus 08º-15º 00º-08º 26º-30º 15º-22º 22º-26º
  Gemini 00º-07º 14º-21º 25º-30º 07º-14º 21º-25º
  Cancer 13º-20º 20º-27º 00º-06º 06º-13º 27º-30º
  Leo. 06º-13º 13º-19º 25º-30º 19º-25º 00º-06º
  Virgo 00º-07º 07º-13º 24º-30º 13º-18º 18º-24º
  Libra 19º-24º 06º-11º 24º-30º 11º-19º 00º-06º
  Scorpio 21º-27º 14º-21º 00º-06º 06º-14º 27º-30º
  Sagittarius 14º-19º 08º-14º 25º-30º 00º-08º 19º-25º
  Capricorn 06º-12º 00º-06º 19º-25º 12º-19º 25º-30º
  Aquarius 06º-12º 12º-20º 25º-30º 20º-25º 00º-06º
  Pisces 14º-20º 00º-08º 20º-26º 08º-14º 26º-30º
Egyptian Aries 12º-20º 06º-12º 20º-25º 00º-06º 25º-30º
  Taurus 08º-14º 00º-08º 27º-30º 14º-22º 22º-27º
  Gemini 00º-06º 12º-17º 17º-24º 06º-12º 24º-30º
  Cancer 13º-19º 07º-13º 00º-07º 19º-26º 26º-30º
  Leo. 18º-24º 06º-11º 24º-30º 00º-06º 11º-18º
  Virgo 00º-07º 07º-17º 21º-28º 17º-21º 28º-30º
  Libra 06º-14º 21º-28º 28º-30º 14º-21º 00º-06º
  Scorpio 11º-19º 07º-11º 00º-07º 19º-24º 24º-30º
  Sagittarius 17º-21º 12º-17º 26º-30º 00º-12º 21º-26º
  Capricorn 00º-07º 14º-22º 26º-30º 07º-14º 22º-26º
  Aquarius 00º-07º 07º-13º 20º-25º 13º-20º 25º-30º
  Pisces 16º-19º 00º-12º 19º-28º 12º-16º 28º-30º



The term ‘faces’ has a different application in relation to house placements, as will be discussed later. (Moreover, in relation to sign placements Alan Leo presented a different system whereby each sign was divided into six 5º portions.) But the faces as essential dignities are assignations of the luminaries and planets from Mercury to Jupiter in the set order Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter to the 36 decanates (ten-degree portions) of the zodiac, as shown in the table below. Thus, a planet or luminary is dignified by face (value +1) in a chart when it is posited in the decan to which it has been assigned by this system. Since 7*5=35, the last decanate of Pisces is granted to Mars, in common with the first decanate of Aries.

As applies to terms, Chaldean faces are a system that it is somewhat difficult for modern astrologers to take for granted without a major leap of faith, as the reasoning behind them appears very flimsy. But experimentation is advisable in all such cases, before they are written off pre-emptively.

Sign 00º-10º 10º-20º 20º-30º
Aries Mars Sun Venus
Taurus Mercury Moon Saturn
Gemini Jupiter Mars Sun
Cancer Venus Mercury Moon
Leo Saturn Jupiter Mars
Virgo Sun Venus Mercury
Libra Moon Saturn Jupiter
Scorpio Mars Sun Venus
Sagittarius Mercury Moon Saturn
Capricorn Jupiter Mars Sun
Aquarius Venus Mercury Moon
Pisces Saturn Jupiter Mars


Continue to Part 2 of 3…

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