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.