Let me introduce Ramya Krishnamurthy. She is a student of both Western and Vedic Astrology. Ryan has had conversations discussing the similar foundational principles of the two, and they have decided to collaborate on exploring these principles.
Here she provides a wonderful article on “essential dignity”. We aim for these articles to be enjoyed by both Western and Vedic Astrologers. Sometime in the future watch for a video discussion on many of these principles, between Ramya and Ryan.
Distinguished or degraded?
Part 1: Essential Dignity
This article is an analysis of what makes a planet powerful in a chart by comparing and contrasting Western & Vedic astrology principles. The focus is more on western astrology so that Vedic practitioners can gain some insight into the methodology and terms used by Western astrologers.
In western astrology, the term ‘Dignity’ is used to describe the condition of a planet by sign position (essential dignity) or by house position (accidental dignity). This roughly translates to the Vedic concepts of uccha/ neecha and digbala.
Essential Dignity in Western Astrology (please note, in Western astrology I am always referring to the tropical zodiac & partial house system): When assessing the strength of a planet and its potential to give results – good or otherwise, many astrologers will start by reviewing the sign placement of the planet. The simplest factor is whether the planet is in a sign it owns. Please refer to Table A which shows a listing of the signs and the rulers. In this table, you will note the traditional rulership of the western and the Vedic signs match exactly. However, many western astrologers (myself included!) use Uranus, Neptune and Pluto as modern rulers for Aquarius, Pisces and Scorpio. So, I would consider Neptune in Pisces to be in its own sign. Those who use traditional rulership would also take Jupiter in Pisces as being in its own sign. Hence we see the sign rulership can be applied to the traditional planets as well as the modern planets.
In addition to the planetary rulership, you will see each sign is notated with a nocturnal or diurnal ruler. Nocturnal simply means a night ruler and diurnal is the day ruler. This concept applies only to the traditional planets and not to Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. So, a planet which rules two signs (per ancient rulership) will have a nocturnal and diurnal sign that it rules. Accordingly, the signs are designated as masculine or feminine depending on whether they are diurnal or nocturnal respectively. The only planets with single sign rulership are the Sun and the Moon which rule the day and night and hence the masculine and feminine. The Sun loses its power in the night (or no feminine energy) and the Moon loses it power in the day (or no masculine energy) – hence it makes sense these two luminaries were only assigned one rulership each. Similar to the vedic chart the rest of the planets are then designated one sign on either side of the Sun & the Moon to rule over. Please see the chart A below for a pictorial representation.
Since mercury is androgynous, the masculine/ feminine gender does not really apply in this case. But since its never more than one sign away from the Sun, it picks the sign of Virgo (next to the sun) as its preferred sign to rule over – this is indicated by a solid outline around the box in the diagram and also noted with an asterisk in the accompanying table 2 above.
Moon and Venus are the only feminine signs; hence Venus is more comfortable in the feminine signs of Taurus (preferred status). Moon only rules one sign as mentioned earlier, so the question of preference of sign does not arise. All other signs being masculine, prefer their masculine/ day signs. Hence Mars, Jupiter and Saturn prefer the signs of Aries, Sagittarius and Aquarius respectively.
You will note there is no equivalent in the Vedic system for this preference of rulership unless you were to apply the concept of Moolatrikona which loosely correlates, except in the case of Venus. I am in no way saying the two are the same, but merely comparing them side by side. I don’t see a lot of modern western astrologers use this concept often, but its presented here so the reader may have a chance to experiment if they chose to do so.
Coming next, to the topic of exaltation & debilitation, you will note per TABLE 1, the signs where the planets are exalted and debilitated match exactly across both systems. Even the degrees of extreme exaltation and debilitation match for the Moon, Mercury, Mars and Venus. The degrees of exaltation for Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn have diverged in both systems but safe to say the signs are still the same. The meaning of exaltation and debilitation also match across systems – exaltation is a place where the planet performs exceedingly well and in its debilitation the planet is uncomfortable and will not give good results. In the western system, the own house rulership is ranked first since the planet is comfortable and happy to be in its own environs. In its exaltation, it behaves more like an honored guest who may be a little haughty and considering itself of higher rank. In the Vedic system, the exaltation sign is more preferred than the own house of the planet. Again, these represent minor variations in interpretations across both systems.
The degrees of exaltation of the North Node (Rahu) and South Node (Ketu) are given per the Western texts (Ptolemy), but not really used much by most western astrologers.
One big difference between the two systems is the cancellation of debility concept in the Vedic system. This rule based approach is absent in the Western system. We will talk a bit more about this later in the article since it’s a concept very well known to most Vedic astrologers!
Coming next to the concept of detriment – this is not used in Vedic astrology, but rather unique to Western astrology. If you take a close look at table A, you will see the detriment is the sign opposite the one the planet rules. Other than the Sun and Moon, each planet has two signs of detriment just as they have two signs of rulership. The detriment is also considered an uncomfortable placement for the planet. In Vedic astrology, this is not the case and sometimes the glance of the planet in detriment to its own house may even be a good thing!
Something I have not covered in table A is the “terms” of the planets. Simply put all the planets except the Sun and the Moon rule 6 degrees of every sign. (6*5= 30 degrees). E.g. the first 6 degrees of Aries are ruled by Jupiter, the next six by Mercury, similarly followed by Venus, Mars and finally Saturn. Readers may liken this to the concept of the rulership of nakshatras where planets other than the sign ruler also rule segments of the sign. But the calculation is entirely different so I will not be comparing these two systems. This is not a commonly used concept among most western astrologers and hence I am not dwelling too much on this topic.
To summarize, if a planet is placed in a sign where it has rulership, exaltation or is the ruler of a term – then it is said to have essential dignity. Please note, there is no cancellation of debility/ detriment for a planet in the Western system, unlike the Vedic system. It’s not unusual in the Vedic system to have a debilitated planet give very good results due to its debility being cancelled due to a set of rules provided in Brihat Parashara Hora Sashtra. This option does not exist for the Western astrologer.
Part 2: Accidental Dignity
Once the essential dignity of a planet has been determined we can look to the accidental dignity of the planet by placement in a house to determine if that will confer some additional strength to the planet.
Let me share an example to distinguish the two. A person may get a lump sum of money because he worked hard and applied his skills to it (essential dignity) or he won the lottery (accidental dignity).
Accidental dignity in Western astrology can be conveyed by any attribute that strengthens the planet –
- Many aspects to other planets, especially if there are also beneficial aspects to fortunate planets.
- Being angular (conjunct Ascendant, Midheaven, Descendant, IC – the tighter the aspect the better)
- Mutual reception – this is an exchange of signs between two planets. E.g Sun in Cancer and Moon in Leo. These two planets are in each other’s signs and are hence considered to be well placed.
- Despositor of the planet is well placed or has some dignity of its own – the despositor of a planet is the ruler of the sign a planet is in. E.g Jupiter in Virgo and Mercury the ruler of Virgo placed well in its own house in Gemini. Or Mercury conjunct the Ascendant. Here we are saying the ruler of Virgo has a source of strength which in turn strengthens the planet in its sign (Jupiter in this case).
- Being in direct motion (not retrograde). Stationary planets have considerable strength.
- Planets in the Aries point – The ‘Aries’ or ‘World’ point is 0-1 degree of the cardinal signs and 15-16 degrees of the Fixed signs, and 29-30 degrees of Mutable signs. Planets in these points will bring recognition to the person and put them on the world stage. This can loosely correlate to the Vargottma concept (for Navamsha/ D9 only), since the Aries point is a division of the 360 degrees in a chart by 45 degrees – hence the square, semi square, sesiquadrate aspects in a chart.
- Planets being in swift or slow motion.
- Free from combustion (8 degrees or more from the Sun) – the range of degrees of combustion are different in the Vedic system.
- Conjunct a fixed star of a fortunate nature- example a personal planet conjunct the fixed star Regulus may make the person a ‘king’.
- Cazimi – used by some astrologers, is a Medieval astrological term that is used to refer to planets that are so close to a conjunction with the Sun that they are “in the heart” of the Sun (within a degree or 2 of the sun) – these planets rather than being combust will actually become stronger.
Several accidental dignities listed above correlate with the Vedic system as well. A key accidental dignity on the Vedic side – Digbala is absent in Western astrology. Since Digbala assigns specific angles for each planet (Mars in 10th, Venus in 4th etc) whereas the western system believes a planet at any angle is strong (as long as its tightly conjunct by degree), I cannot classify them as the same. Also, please remember we are using partial houses in the Western system so the degree really does need to be looked at cosely as opposed to the Vedic which uses the Whole house system.
Overall I utilize the accidental dignities more than the essential dignities in a Western chart. This is not true however for the Vedic chart where I also look at the essential dignity closely.
Part 3: Analysis of the composite dignity
Some prominent western astrologers have designed several point systems to assign (+ or -) points to each planet based on its dignity so the scores can be compared across the planets to see which is the most powerful. It is easy to see the use of such as system since it simplifies the planet down to a score. I personally have not applied any point systems to my readings since I seldom find that one positive will cancel out a negative. Usually they play out in different ways in a person’s chart. This is just my personal experience. For those who are interested in the point system, please refer to the works of Schoener and William Lilly. I am sure there are astrologers who utilize them and find it to be insightful.
Finally coming to my personal research working with charts (using Western astrology) – I give primary importance to the following:
- placement in own sign (e.g. Sun in Leo), house (Sun in 5th house) or triplicity (Sun in a Fire sign)
- Many aspects (soft & hard aspects)
- angular nature of the planet
- Mutual reception
- Stationary, direct planets
The above pointers, in my mind tend to give a very good indication of the strength of the planet. I do not use exaltation and debilitation in western charts since I don’t apply the concept of cancellation of debility to them. Hence, I feel it is somehow incomplete and does not provide me with an accurate picture. Placement in own sign however is a more universal and simpler concept without further rules – hence I do take this into primary consideration.
Also, if the planet is in its own house, I believe it strengthens the planet or adds more of a similar color to the planet. So, in the example above Sun in the 5th house regardless of the sign is in, will somehow strengthen the Sun’s natural significations and also add a tinge of ‘Leo-ness’ to the 5th house.
The concept of being in its own triplicity is fairly simple and logical in my mind. The Sun being a fiery planet will be happier in Sagittarius, Aries in addition to its own sign.
The more major aspects there are to a planet, regardless of the soft or hard ones, the stronger it makes the planet. Any transit to the planet will definitely trigger off some events in a person’s life. This does not necessarily mean the planet will always do good or bad, but will be dependent on the type of transit and aspects in a chart.
A planet closely conjunct the Ascendant or Midheaven (and also the IC and descendant) will certainly have some prominence in a person’s chart. The tightness of the degree indicates the propensity for more strength and hence more results from the planet during time of transits. I often find the ruler of the ascendant conjunct the Midheaven a very good indication of a person’s rise to fame.
Mutual reception is a similar concept in both systems and can give results strongly for both planets involved in the exchange. The planets will behave as if in their own sign and hence ‘protect’ their own homes, significations thereby being a good influence in a person’s chart.
Stationary planets are considered very strong in both systems, and direct is preferable to retrograde in the Western system. In the Vedic system, there are different schools of thought regarding retrograde (vakra) planets and their strength which I will not go into in this article.
To conclude, in the western system, I give more emphasis on the accidental dignity rather than the essential dignity. In the Vedic system, I apply the essential dignity and the accidental dignity equally.
I have summarized both the essential and accidental dignities for planets in the Western system while comparing for similarities in the Vedic system. The application of these rules is entirely up to the practitioner and will yield results based on the approach they are most comfortable with. I have stated my preferences in the analysis section of this article which can serve as a guideline for those curious to learn more about the Western system of dignities. It can be used as a starting point to research further into the topic.
Om Shri Gurubhyo Namaha
II Salutation to all Gurus (Dispeller of Darkness) II
Ramya Krishnamurthy is a student of both Western and Vedic Astrology. She is a Board Member of the National Council for Geocosmic Research (NCGR). She also speaks on the topic at the National and Regional level. She can be reached through… http://www.lexingtonastrology.com/
She currently holds a senior position in the corporate world and dedicates her nights and weekends to astrology.