I just wanted to let you in on this little warm and fuzzy. Stationing direct is a powerful factor of planetary strength. Jupiter, the greater benefic, who is often described as a Santa Claus like figure, and who is currently retrograde, finally stations direct right on Christmas afternoon.
The truth is that essential dignity tells you quite little about the “essential dignity” of a planet.
In a subsequent post (available here), I will explore in greater depth the obsession with dignity pointing, almutens, and sign-based indications of fortune/misfortune, which has done more to harm today’s practice of traditional astrology than anything else.
In this post I simply give the curious case of the charts of Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Turner, who quite strikingly illustrate how misleading essential dignity can be, particularly when it comes to evaluating the “essential dignity” of a planet’s effects, as in whether it tends to be more stable and fortunate or unstable and unfortunate.
Dahmer: A Chart Overflowing with Essential Dignity
Dahmer was exemplary in how undignified the display of aggression, sexuality, depraved mentality, and fear was throughout his adult life. He just so happened to have been born with a whopping 4 planets in domicile (Mars, Venus, Mercury, Saturn; i.e. the planets of aggression, sexuality, mentality, and fear). The planets include the ruler of the Ascendant (Venus) and the almuten of the Ascendant (Saturn). To most traditional astrologers using a dignity pointing system, Dahmer had an extremely dignified Venus (+8) (note: his first kill occurred in response to a male hitchhiker refusing to have sex with him, while later kills were of men and underage boys he lured into abusive sexual relations and then raped, dismembered, raped while dead, ate, etc.), an extremely dignified Mercury (+8), a very dignified Mars (+5), and a very dignified Saturn (+5), while the Sun and Moon were peregrine and only Jupiter was negatively dignified. In other words, there is an unusually high amount of planetary dignity in Dahmer’s chart.
Ted Turner: A Man with Much Detriment
For those unfamiliar with Ted Turner, he is a billionaire philanthropist and media tycoon, who inherited his father’s billboard business at age 24 and developed a huge media empire, including CNN. At his worst, he has been known to put his foot in his mouth. Poor Ted has 3 planets in detriment, another 1 in fall, and not a single planet with two forms of minor positive dignity or one form of major dignity.
So, there you have it. Dahmer’s chart contains mostly planets of very positive essential dignity, while Turner’s chart contains mostly planets of very negative essential dignity.
Dignity and Character
Keep in mind that that the condition of the ruler of the Ascendant and that of Mercury are typically used as strong indicators of the character and moral disposition (c.f. Masha’alah: On Nativities (Sec. 5); Abu’Ali Al-Khayyat: The Judgment of Nativities (Ch. 5); Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos (Book 3, Ch. 13), though Ptolemy looks at Mercury for the mind/reason (i.e. conscious mind) and the Moon for the senses/irrationality (i.e. subconscious mind); note: for later astrologers like Bonatti (c.f. Treatise 9, Part 3) the ruler of the Ascendant is typically the most important signifier in this matter). The most common alternative is to look at the strongest planets in the chart for this information, particularly planets in the 1st, 10th, or one of the other angles or “stakes” of the chart (c.f. Abu Bakr: On Nativities (Book 2)).
If essential dignity is the most important factor, or even one of the major factors, in consideration of the good/bad quality of planetary significations, then Dahmer, with ruler of the Ascendant highly dignified in domicile, exalted ruler of the Ascendant highly dignified in domicile, Mercury highly dignified in domicile, and the angular planet, Mars, highly dignified in domicile, would be said to be of unusually stellar moral disposition. One could argue that other factors could mitigate, but if dignity is a major factor, and they are minor, then it would be expected to take many of such factors to signify a diminishing of Dahmer’s moral greatness, let alone signify such a subversion of it.
If you’re learning, or even more importantly, if you’re practicing traditional astrology, then don’t you think you owe it to yourself and your clients to get out of the essential dignity trap, and investigate those factors more important to making a planet fortunate or unfortunate in the western tradition? There are factors which were used many centuries before the dignity pointing system was invented. Personally, I am against the widely-used, contrived, medieval, weighted dignity pointing system, which is accepted as scripture by most traditional astrologers. I find dignity to be a “STRENGTH” consideration of medium to low level importance (when considered relative to advancing/retreating, stationing, phasis/combustion/cazimi, place, and regard by lights), and insignificant in consideration of planetary beneficence/maleficence. In Hellenistic astrology, planets in a condition of rejoicing or joy are thought to be significant by many of the astrologers, but there is more consistent stress on matters of the fundamental nature of the planet, the sect, the place, the regard (aspect) by other planets, and the nature of the ruler(s) when the matter of good/bad quality are discussed.
I’d rather have a malefic in fall, in sect, in a good place any day over a malefic in exaltation, out of sect, in a bad place (I’ve actually have a malefic that is exalted but out of sect and in a bad place in my own natal chart, and activations of that exalted planet haven’t been so fun).
In honing the art of astrology, we often find it difficult to prove a doctrine, but by using strong minimal pairs we can at least disprove the effectiveness of certain techniques or interpretations. This minimal pair provides some of the strongest evidence against the interpretation of planets with high dignity scores as being “well-placed” and conferring in themselves significant fortune or positivity in natal charts or any other type of astrological chart-reading. The sooner astrologers discard dignity pointing, and downgrade essential dignity to a lesser consideration, the sooner they learn to read more important factors in the chart and the art moves forward.
The Mathesis of Julius Firmicus Maternus is a very large and influential astrological work written in Latin in the early 4th century. It is one of the longest and most prominent works in the Hellenistic tradition. The four most notable texts of the Hellenistic tradition that were written prior to 400 CE, are, in my opinion, this Mathesis, the extremely lengthy Anthology of Vettius Valens (2nd century), the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy (2nd century), and the shorter Introduction by Paulus Alexandrinus (4th century).
Mathesis and Sect
One of the great things about the Mathesis is that there are countless examples of sect in action. Numerous interpretations of planets in houses are given, and we see the sect principle illustrated in nearly all of them, as even a malefic planet in sect in a house is judged able to produce some good there, while even a benefic planet out of sect is accompanied by some problems or instability.
18. Saturn in the ninth house will make famous magicians, renowned philosophers, or temple priests noted for their reputation for magic. According to the nature of the signs he also makes seers, diviners, and astrologers. These are always outstanding in their responses. Some carry on the rites of tempIes or are in charge of rituals. Sometimes they become long-haired philosophers or interpreters of dreams.
19. Saturn in this house by night indicates wrath of the gods and hatred of emperors, especially if the waning Moon is moving toward him in any way. But greater evils are predicted from gods and emperors if Mars from any direction is in aspect to Saturn and the Moon.
Eight Books of the Mathesis
The Mathesis is a book of natal delineation with a few timing techniques thrown in for good measure. This means that you get a cookbook approach at times, which probably shouldn’t be taken literally as some sort of pronouncement of the gods, but rather used to gather illustrations of broad principles that will allow you to make more accurate judgments in your chart work (and Maternus himself says as much near the end of the fifth book).
The 8 books are topically written as follows:
Introduction: Reasons why astrology is important and useful.
Fundamentals: Signs, houses, aspects/regards, and other basics.
Planets in Places: A few more advanced fundamentals and then a cookbook-style delineations given for each planet in each place by day and night, as well as Mercury with each other planet in each place, and the Moon in the sign of the Lot of Fortune applying to each planet.
The Moon and some special topics: In depth delineation of possibilities with the Moon, including its regards, applications, and separations in a natal chart, then disparate sections on the Lots of Fortune and Spirit, the chart ruler, length-of-life, profession, different degree types (full and empty, masculine and feminine), and then additional Moon considerations.
The Zodiac and Divisions: Delineation of the different signs in each place, the delineation of the planets in the terms of each planet by day and night, concluding with some advice as to consider the whole picture and not just make pronouncements based on single factors such as a single planet in a sign.
Aspects: Some additional material on places, some delineation of fixed stars, but primarily a lengthy set of delineations on planetary aspects or regards, including complex aspect situations, plus some of predictive material on each planet as chronocrator (lord of the time).
Special Delineation: This is a book on delineating special topics, such as birth condition, deformation, slavery, illness, family, marriage, sexuality, children, power/fame, occupation, and so forth. At the end of Book 6, Maternus notes that this Book 7 will present the more complete picture of astrological practice.
Errata and Fixed Stars: Much of this is commentary on various special degrees, constellations, and other things of note to Firmicus.
Check out the New Translation
Many have hoped for a new translation of the Mathesis by someone well-versed in ancient astrology, because the earlier 1975 translation by Jean Rhys Bram had some confusing passages and possible mistranslations. James Holden, an astrologer specializing in ancient astrology and translation, produced this new, sought-after, 620 page translation.
It is rather exciting time in the study of ancient astrology. In addition to the fact that most of the Hellenistic and Persian source texts available in English today were first translated in the last two decades, it is also the case that a lot of material has become available online.
Decent translations of the Tetrabiblos, the Mathesis, and the Anthology have become available to read for free online. Click here to read the Tetrabiblos. Click here to read and/or download Mathesis. Last year, something amazing occurred in traditional astrology, as classics scholar Mark Riley released, for free on his website, his full translation of The Anthology of Vettius Valens, the first full English translation ever released. Be sure to download it. Therefore, 3 of the 4 pivotal early texts are available online. Also available for free online is an English translation of the Treatise of the Fixed Stars by Anonymous of 379 (click here), which is the most notable ancient text on the effects of the fixed stars. It’s going to take a long time before traditional astrologers can even digest this large volume of freely available work, making this a very exciting time to do traditional astrology.
Besides noting the available texts here, I will also continue to provide and update the list of links to online texts on the homepage of the Ancient Astrology Wiki.
According to Astro-Databank, it is stated on his birth certificate that Steve Jobs was born on Feb. 24, 1955 at 7:15pm in San Francisco, California.
This chart poses a dilemma for traditional astrologers, in that Mercury is in a weak place, the 6th sign from the Ascendant, and appears to be retrograde. This man was a thinker, a technologist. To claim that Mercury was weak or not a pervasive influence in this man’s life would be preposterous. Mercury is the primary planet of technology, commerce, and communications, all things central to his life story. It does not play a minor role.
This is a good time to introduce two major conditions that make a planet quite strong from Hellenistic astrology, which are easily missed and mistaken for mild weakening conditions.
While Mercury appears to be retrograde, and therefore some may regard it as somewhat weakened, the truth is that the Rx here is deceiving. Mercury is stationing direct, which is considered one of the major factors that strengthens a planet. Being retrograde is actually not a substantial impediment to a planet, but stationing retrograde, that is turning retrograde within about a week of birth, does weaken the planet’s influence, especially the more proximal it is to the time of birth. By contrast, stationing direct (within about a week of birth) is extremely fortifying to the planet and makes its effects stronger, more pervasive, more widespread in the life, especially if very close to the birth time.
In the case of the chart of Steve Jobs, Mercury stations within 24 hours of birth, so this is a very strong direct station.
Making an Appearance: Phasis
Another fortifying condition in Hellenistic astrology is making an appearance, or being in phasis. A planet is in phasis when it is passing into or out of the Sun’s beams (with more strength when passing out of them). The Sun’s beams are standardized to 15 degrees for this condition, and it should occur within about 7 days of birth – the closer in time, the more powerful the effect. This again marks out a planet as more significant and of more pervasive influence. A planet going into the beams is making its last appearance before it disappears for some time, while one coming out from the beams is making a first appearance after being shrouded under the beams for a time. Unfortunately, when a planet is under the beams at birth, this condition is confused for the mildly weakening situation of being under the beams. Like with stationing direct, the mildly weakening situation really does not apply if the planet is in phasis.
Jobs was born with Mercury at 14 Aquarius and the Sun at 5 Pisces. They are about 21 degrees from each other, though Mercury has no apparent motion as it is stationing. Five days earlier, on Feb. 19, 1955, Mercury was at 16 Aquarius and the Sun at 0 Pisces, so they were 14 degree apart, with Mercury under the beams, passing out of them to make its first appearance. Therefore, Mercury is in phasis in his chart, making its first appearance about 4-5 days before his birth.
Ruling the First Place
There is an additional important strength consideration that should be mentioned in this chart. The planet ruling the 1st will have some special topical signification over the person themselves, their preferences, and their personality. With Virgo rising we must acknowledge that Mercury has three powerful conditions making it significant, that it’s stationing direct, in phasis, and rules the 1st (additionally, it is the 1st triplicity ruler of the sign it is in).
Advancing and Retreating
While it was customary to use the place/house position (which ordinal sign a planet is located in as counted from the rising sign which is the 1st place) as a factor in strength consideration in Hellenistic astrology, I prefer the later Persian use of Advancing and Retreating (see Abu Ma’Shar and al-Qabisi) for this type of strength consideration, while using place more for topics and consideration of pleasantness/unpleasantness of effect.
To find whether a planet is advancing or retreating you take the distance between the horizon and the meridian on either side of the planet (the big bold lines going up, down, left, and right, also known as the “angles” of the chart) and you divide them by three. If a planet is less than one-third the distance from one to the next one (moving clockwise), but not very close to an angle (i.e. not within a few degrees, more might be allowed for luminaries), then it is retreating, a strong weakening condition. If the planet is more than one-third of the way to that next “angle” then it is advancing, and is strengthened. If it is very close to an angle or approaching an angle within about 15 or 20 degrees, then I would consider such a planet to be strongly advancing, i.e. very strengthened.
Advancing/Retreating makes sense to me conceptually, because it is as if the volume is being turned up on a planet is it is lining up with the horizon or meridian of a specific locale on Earth, and quickly turning down as it “retreats” from that location. It is truly a continuum, with a planet getting stronger (or louder, if you will) as it advances closer to the angle. I consider it to be the single easiest to spot strength consideration in a chart, and also the single most significant one.
In Steve’s chart, Mercury has already set, passing the Descendant at 22 Pisces and approaching the IC at 21 Sagittarius. The distance between the two is 91 degrees, but we’ll round off to 90, as precision is not important in this. If Mercury has passed one-third of this, or 30 degrees, from the Descendant at 22 Pisces, then it won’t be considered retreating. Mercury is at 14 Aquarius, which is 38 degrees from 22 Pisces, so it is considered Advancing, albeit just barely.
A careful look at Steve Jobs chart reveals that Mercury is probably the strongest, most pervasive, planet in the chart. While the Moon is strongly advancing, and Jupiter, Mars, and Venus are all three advancing more strongly than Mercury, Mercury is not only advancing but also stationing direct, in phasis, and the ruler of the 1st, while possessing only very minor weakening conditions.
Take a look at your own chart and the charts of others that you know, including celebrities. Experiment by weighting advancing/retreating, direct/retrograde stations, phasis, and rulership of the 1st. Personally, I rank them in the order given in the previous sentence, and consider all of them, particularly the first three, as giving powerful general indications regarding the pervasiveness of a planet’s influence.
Remember, a strong planet will express more of its nature in more places. It will not be restricted to the topic of its place, or those places it rules, but will spill out its indications and natural significations whereever and whenever it can.
Would you believe that you can do all of your traditional astrology charting and calculations with a free software program?
When I discovered Morinus a few years ago it was quite a revelation. This program does it all, and its creator also made it available as a special Traditional version that eliminates some of the options one working with ancient astrology won’t need while adding a few extras they’ll like.
The program’s most recent update was on Oct. 2, 2011, and is version 3.5.
If you are absolutely new to astrology and just need to be able to pull up and print charts in a basic way, then I recommend using the free online chart calculation at Astro.com (Astrodienst) instead. I’ll cover basic use of the Astrodienst charting in another post.
Installation of Traditional Morinus on a Windows machine is easy:
Download your copy by following this link. The download link (MorinusWin.zip) is at the bottom of that page. Right click it, choose Save As, and save it somewhere you can find it.
After downloading, then open the zip folder and click “Extract all files”, choose a place you’ll remember and click “extract”. That is where the program now resides on your computer. It is installed.
Open that folder, find the file morinus.exe and right-click it, choosing “Create shortcut“. Then cut and paste or drag and drop the shortcut onto your desktop.
Drawing up your first chart in Traditional Morinus may be a bit different from what you’re used to:
With the program open, click Horoscope then New, or simply hold CTRL and press N, notated CTRL+N.
You will need the following information: Name, Date your charting (for instance birth date), Time (do this in 24 hour time, i.e. 1pm is 13 hours 0 minutes), Place of Birth, and two very tricky things, coordinates and time zone of your location, if you weren’t born in one of the major cities on their small list. I recommend putting those last two in while adding your location to the list, by clicking on the “Place” button.
With the “Places” dialog box up, you first enter the longitude and latitude of the location. You can go to this website, zoom out of the special Google map, zoom in on your location, and then click the relative location, and it will give you the longitude and latitude which you can enter here. To enter the timezone, use this timezone map to find how many hours west (-) or east (+) of Greenwich time (GMT) your place is designated, for selecting the + or – and then putting the number where it says Hour under that. Also, put the name of the location, and the altitude if known (not significant for most work), then click Add and your location is added to the Places database. Once the location is there, then in the future just click Place and select it.
Finally, before you do a chart, make sure you know if the location had daylight saving in effect at that time of year. You may need to do some investigation to find this out, and this link is a good place to start. If it was in effect then make sure you check the “Daylight saving” box.
Once your chart is up, be sure to type CTRL+S to save the chart for later access.