Tag Archives: accidental malefic

Vampires, Werewolves, and Shapeshifters: Understanding Maleficence

Saturn with a Snack

As a viewer of True Blood and similar shows and movies depicting supernatural beings (Cronos is high on that list, as is Interview with the Vampire ), something occurred to me about that powerful trinity of vampires, werewolves, and shapeshifters.  It’s a wonderful way for beginners to grasp the essential nature of the malefic planets; what is meant by the term “malefic”.  In this post, I indulge the beginner and ask for you to imagine Saturn as a vampire, Mars as a werewolf, and Mercury as a shapeshifter.

What does it mean for a planet to be malefic?

In ancient astrology, certain planets were noted as being “malefic”, because they tended to signify more difficult or extreme types of things.  We can relate to this from a subjective perspective in terms of two main types of unpleasant emotions: a state of fear or a state of agitation and anger.  Also, few matters in life are more unpleasant than those of death, the macabre, and darkness (Saturn), or violence, explosiveness, and invasiveness (Mars).

Here we are getting at the heart of the malefics, Saturn and Mars.  Saturn is dark, and slow, but arriving certainly, like death. Saturn signifies matters of death, cold, fear, isolation, depression, rot, doubt, rigidity, poverty, imprisonment, breaking things down to basics, and energy loss.  In comparison with the certainty of Saturn’s looming threat, Mars is erratic, wild, and unpredictable. Mars signifies matters of violence, burn, inflammation, violation, anger, competition, sport, conflict, and an overload of energy.

Ptolemy, a prominent second century Hellenistic astrologer best known for his highly developed geocentric model, differed from the other ancient astrologers in that he described the basic nature of the planets not so much in terms of the topics they signified, but rather seemed to view these topics as derivative of the basic Aristotelian qualities of hot/cold and wet/dry.  To him Saturn and Mars were malefic because they represented extreme states, Saturn bringing extreme cold, Mars bringing extreme dryness.  Jupiter and Venus were most benefic, being more temperate and moist, and thus fertile.


The Sun and Moon also tend to be viewed as more benefic, signifying fortunate or desirable matters, in ancient astrology.

Mercury is the most neutral planet, being strongly influenced by that which connects with it.  In other words, Mercury has a broad range and can change forms quite readily.  However, the Lot (or “Arabic Part”) associated with Mercury in Hellenistic astrology is one that has overwhelmingly negative significations, so aside from Saturn and Mars, Mercury is viewed as next most capable of bringing unpleasantness.  Mercury signifies cleverness, intellectualism, commerce, symbols, language, and so forth.  All of these things involve a fair amount of complication and ambiguity, a ready basis for deceit, manipulation, misunderstanding, and trivial contention.

What does it mean for a malefic to be accidentally benefic?

The identification of Saturn and Mars as malefics, and of Mercury as ambiguous, in no way entails that they are just “bad” and have no value.  It is recognized that these signify important and powerful facets of life, and that they serve a productive purpose.  Additionally, it is recognized in ancient texts that the circumstances of the chart can make Saturn, Mars, and/or Mercury signify very positive and fortunate things in the person’s life, despite their natural signification of more difficult matters.

Below is Julius Firmicus Maternus (4th Century C.E.), excerpts from Book II, Chapter VII, “The Conditions of the Planets” (p. 38, Mathesis, Bram translation), illustrating an emphasis on sect and place. On diurnal planets:

Therefore, in diurnal charts, if they are in favorable positions, they indicate good fortune.

On nocturnal planets:

Favorably located in a nocturnal chart they indicated good fortune, unfavorably in a diurnal chart, the greatest evils.

Vettius Valens (2nd Century C.E.), excerpt from Book I, Chapter I, “The Nature of the Stars” (5P, Riley translation).

The benefic stars which are appropriately and favorably situated bring about their effects according to their own nature and the nature of their sign, with the aspects and conjunctions of each star being blended.  If however they are unfavorably situated, they are indicative of reversals.  In the same way even the malefic stars, when they are operative in appropriate places in their own sect, are bestowers of good and indicative of the greatest positions and success; when they are inoperative, they bring about disasters and accusations.

Different ancient astrologers had their preferred factors that they thought made a planet more benefic or malefic.  In the Hellenistic period sect, place, and regard by other planets were commonly at the forefront of such considerations, while later astrologers of the ancient, medieval, and later periods tended to put more emphasis on sign-based rejoicing conditions, such as whether the planet was in the sign that was its domicile or exaltation or its place of fall (or detriment, a concept that appears be absent in Hellenistic astrology).  These sign-based considerations became a system of “dignity”, and a weighted system of dignity pointing, which I am highly critical of on empirical grounds.  For instance, I briefly discuss some of the history and problems associated with dignity here and I give a poignant empirical show of how misleading the approach is here.

Benefic or Malefic?

The factors that make a planet more benefic or malefic in a chart (i.e. accidentally – specific to the chart circumstances) are often referred to as “qualitative” considerations, as opposed to factors that make a planet stronger or weaker in power and pervasiveness of effect, which are more “quantitative”.  Qualitative may be a bit misleading though, as all kinds of factors may change the quality of the planet’s significations, without being very relevant to signifying more fortunate or unfortunate matters.  I prefer to refer to them as factors that make the planet more fortunate/unfortunate, or even associated more strongly with “good” or “bad”, as subjective and judgmental such an outlook may seem.

A planet is never wholly good or bad though, and everyone’s chart will show a unique range of pleasant and unpleasant possibilities associated with any planet, ready to manifest at various times, with varying degrees of inevitability, and perhaps affected by the person’s own will and consciousness.  All the same, when Saturn, Mars, or Mercury signify positive things, they will still do so with a sense of their own nature, such as Saturn showing success through control, discipline, fear, and difficulty, and Mars showing it through atheleticism, competitiveness, and sheer drive.  Saturn can show a certainty fortified against negative possibilities and Mars a courage that can surmount the most difficult of obstacles.

The public image of the malefics

The malefics have been ostracized, and sometimes we may even try to ignore them out of existence.  Ancient astrology has a language that encompasses the full good/bad, pleasantness and unpleasantness of this world.  Try as we may, we can’t ignore the fact that murder, violence, war, death, disease, oppression, poverty, and deception exist in the world; that they are natural elements of existential reality.  We also can’t ignore the human tendency to ostracize these things, to hate them, to view them as abominations, as existential errors, caused by an original sin, or a flaw in the system, or an indication that God doesn’t exist.  In other words, on a fundamental level we view certain categories of things as naturally malefic, evil, devilish, and at the very least unpleasant and undesirable.

The supernatural creatures of vampires and werewolves, as well as shapeshifters, strike a chord when it comes to understanding the malefics.  I particularly like their representation in True Blood, in which they are all of nature, but nature fashioned to feared and dangerous extremes. As they are extreme, they are ostracized and largely of the hidden world, pushed into a sub-conscious realm.  In addition to malefics showing things objectively harmful to the individual, they can also signify things that the individual may be comfortable with but which society doesn’t accept or approve of.    The depiction of the vampires, werewolves, and shapeshifters in True Blood really resonates with the spirit of Saturn, Mars, and Mercury in traditional astrology.  Such a mythological personification helps flesh out these forces (or perhaps the forces help flesh themselves out in our mythologies?) and gives us insight into these more extreme and super-natural aspects of being human.

Saturn the Vampire

Vampires are dark, cold, and dead, like Saturn.  Vampires and Saturn are about the dark side of things, about fear and the macabre, and an exploitation of the limitations, vibrancy, and uncertainty of life.  The key concept with both vampires and Saturn is the idea of sucking the life out of something, the need to control out of fear of the unknown, and an identification with the dark.  Ironically, Saturn is of the diurnal sect, fitting in with the more respectable and principled order of day time, and Saturn is made tamer and more beneficent by day.  However, like a vampire, Saturn becomes most dangerous by night. Saturn is in touch with the past, with history and tradition, the soil, real estate, things less alive, but more certain, and more tangible.  There is a dark humor, a cynicism, and deep knowing that there is nothing new under the Sun, and that eventually everything dies and is lost.


Mars the Werewolf

I particularly like the portrayal of the werewolf in True Blood.  The werewolf is presented as rough, naive, instinctual, aggressive, and lacking manners, unlike the refined vampire that is desensitized and matured to such an extreme of control and refinement.  Saturn’s temperament, like that of the vampire, has been characterized as melancholic, while that of Mars, like the werewolves of True Blood, is choleric.  Mars is of the nocturnal sect, led by the Moon. Mars seems more animal-like, connected with the hunt and predation.  We all know Mars types who like machismo, sharp objects, dangerous things, getting their hands dirty, and hanging out with their “pack”.  Mars rules over the gangs and bikers of the world.  Werewolves hunt in their packs, where violent initiation is the norm.  They are not particularly “bright” but they have strong instincts and reflexes.  They tend to be involved in work with sharp or dangerous things, enjoying working with tools and affecting material things whether by building them or blowing them up.

Mercury the Shapeshifter

Less ostracized than the more malefic vampire and werewolf, the shapeshifter is still viewed with suspicion.  Mercury’s involvement with intellectualism and commerce is not uncontroversial.  Stereotypes ostracizing those involved with business and even with language or intellectualism as deceptive tricksters abounds (for instance, in racist views of Jewish people).  Mercury is also associated with theft and con artistry in ancient astrology.  We see these themes play out in True Blood with Sam, who is the major local business owner, previously was a thief, and has a brother who is a thief and a liar.  Mercury, like the shapeshifter, can be a bit too clever for his own good.  Mercury is both the magician, as well as the trickster.  The portrayal of the shapeshifters in True Blood really seems to bring out these qualities of the planet.

Your Opinion

What mythological creatures, gods, or spirits do you most readily associate with Saturn, Mars, and Mercury?  I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.



Maternus, J. F. (1972). Mathesis: A fourth-century astrological treatise. (J. R. Bram, Trans.). NY, NY: New York University.

Valens, V. (2010). Anthologies. (M. Riley, Trans.) (Online PDF.). World Wide Web: Mark Riley. Retrieved from http://www.csus.edu/indiv/r/rileymt/Vettius%20Valens%20entire.pdf

Astrology of Religion, Atheism, and Belief | 1. Introduction and James Randi


I’m not starting a series of posts on skeptics and atheists to in any way belittle them or marginalize them.  This is simply an important and interesting area of traditional astrological inquiry.  I’m not an atheist myself, but I may be a skeptic, as I’m certainly a critical thinker with a high regard for rationalism, empiricism, and falsifiability.  I have great relationships with many atheists, and, while I’m not an atheist, I think theirs is a perfectly acceptable point of view. Does astrology entail theism?  I’m not completely sure.  There may be means of explaining astrology non-theistically.

James Randi

I have some measure of respect for James Randi, as I don’t like con artists, especially new age ones, and he works to expose such people.

Randi was also kind enough to give astrologers his birth time (though many have met it with skepticism, giving it a C Rodden Rating on that basis alone, even though other first-hand reports from birth certificates would get an A rating).  I’ll take his birth information at face value.

James Randi's Natal Chart
James Randi’s Natal Chart (Outer Edge Position are Twelfth-Parts)

The Rules of the Game: Ingredients

In this post I just want to highlight a few features of the chart very quickly that would pertain to skepticism and dislike or or bad experience with religion.  I’ll delve into traditional special techniques for such things in more depth in subsequent posts, but here I just want to look at a few major factors.

The factors I’ll look at are:

  1. Jupiter, natural significator of religion.
  2. 9th Place, house of God and religion.
  3. Mercury, natural significator of rationality and critical thought.
  4. Saturn, natural significator of doubt, fear, challenge, and rot.

These will be analyzed in terms of strength/weakness and benefic/malefic tendencies.

For strength/weakness I will consider the following as major considerations showing strength of a planet:

  1. Strongly Advancing (approaching the angles of the chart, i.e the Asc, MC, Dsc, or IC of the chart, within 15*) and to a lesser extent Advancing (more than 1/3 zodiacal travel from one angle to the next).
  2. Stationing Direct (the planet turns from retrograde motion to direct within 7 days of the birth).
  3. Being In Phasis (the planet moves into or out from the beams of the Sun, standardized to 15* from the center of the Sun, within 7 days of birth).
  4. Being in a Stake of the Chart (the planet is in the 1st, 10th, 7th, or 4th place, i.e. the Ascendant or the signs 4, 7, or 10 signs from the Ascendant counted inclusively, e.g. a chart with Scorpio rising has Scorpio, Leo, Taurus, and Aquarius as “stakes”).

I will consider the following as major considerations showing weakness of a planet:

  1. Retreating (planet has passed an angle by more than 5* but is not yet 1/3 of the way to the next angle).
  2. Stationing Retrograde (the planet turns from direct motion to retrograde within 7 days of the birth).
  3. Combust (planet is within about 8* of the Sun at birth and is not in phasis).
  4. Being in a Cadent Place (the planet is in the 6th, 12th, 3rd, or 9th place counted inclusively from the 1st place/rising sign).

For quality I will consider the following major considerations show beneficence:

  1. Planet is of a benefic nature naturally (Jupiter, Venus, and to a lesser extent the Moon and Sun).
  2. Planet is In Sect (if the Sun is above the horizon, i.e. a diurnal chart, then the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn are in sect; if the chart is nocturnal, then the Moon, Venus, and Mars are in sect; Mercury is of the diurnal sect when rising before the Sun, or nocturnal if rising after the Sun).
  3. Planet is in a Good Place (in order from best to not as good, 1st, 11th, 5th, 10th, 9th, 7th, 4th).
  4. Planet is with Jupiter or Venus (in the same sign) or regarded by Jupiter or Venus from the right side (i.e. a benefic is in a sign sextile, square, or trine from behind the sign containing the planet under consideration).

I will consider the following major considerations to show maleficence:

  1. Planet is of a malefic nature naturally (Saturn and Mars).
  2. Planet is Out of Sect (i.e. if diurnal, then Moon, Venus, Mars out of sect; if nocturnal, then Sun, Jupiter, Saturn out of sect; Mercury as determined by rule above).
  3. Planet is in a Bad Place (in order from worst, 6th, 12th, 8th).
  4. Planet is with Mars or Saturn (in the same sign) or regarded by Mars or Saturn from the right side, or by opposition, or within 3* (i.e. scrutinizing).

Additionally, the 1st place and its ruler pertain more to the person themselves.  Planets in the 1st or ruling the first will be more representative of the person in the chart.  Likewise, planets in the 9th or ruling the 9th will tend to say a bit about the role of religion in the person’s life.

The Rules of the Game: Recipes

Our initial, very rough technique for determining dislike of religion and a strong skeptical rationality, follow from basic principles of ancient astrology, and are as follows:

  1. Jupiter and the 9th are significant for religious matters, so if they are weak then religion/theism is likely to be weakened in the person’s life and if they are made malefic then religion/theism is likely to be seen as “bad” in the person’s life.  For Jupiter, this is as illustrated above, but for the 9th, this means a planet made malefic in the 9th or to a lesser extent a malefic that regards the place by square or opposition), as well as the condition of the ruler of the 9th.
  2. Mercury and Saturn signify rationality and doubt/fear respectively, so the stronger they are, the more pervasive their effect in the life.  The more malefic they are, the more they are geared to destruction, attack, and controversy, and the more malefic they make the things they attach to in the person’s life.

Randi’s Chart Analyzed in Brief

James Randi's Natal Chart

  • Jupiter:
  • Extremely weak – Jupiter has none of the major strength considerations, and in fact is extremely weak, by retreating and cadent (in the 12th place, Taurus).
  • Made malefic – While Jupiter is naturally benefic, that is its only signification of beneficence, and it is in fact made malefic by being out of sect, in a bad place, and assembled with the malefic, Mars.
  • Our initial expectation from Jupiter is that expansive spirituality and positivism is weak in his life and that it is also associated with bad things, particularly aggression and victimization (Mars), as well as loss, betrayal, and deception (12th place).
  • 9th Place:  
  • Fairly strong and Saturnine – The 9th, Aquarius, is not occupied by any planets but its ruler, Saturn, is Strongly Advancing in a stake of the chart, which makes the place more prominent in this person’s life.  The 9th signifies religion but also the seeking of higher wisdom in general. When strong a person tends to be a truth seeker. When Saturnine they tend away from spirituality due to a strong dose of doubt and fear associated with spirituality and religion, and their doubt or various obstructions may hold them back from achievement in higher ed.  In any case, this shows more prominence for matters of belief in this person’s life than Jupiter did, and it is showing particularly that a strong doubt and obstruction of belief is prominent and pervasive in this person’s life.
  • Somewhat malefic – Saturn rules the 9th place and Saturn is malefic as will be discussed in the Saturn analysis.  Additionally, Mars is square to the 9th place from the 12th.  In terms of religion and belief, this signifies a hatred, challenging tendencies, contrariness, and overly critical attitudes.  In other words, the tendency in the life is towards destruction of 9th place matters and towards their association with bad or difficult things.
  • Saturn:
  • Very strong – Saturn is Strongly Advancing, and in fact is within 3* of the Descendant, i.e. setting right when the person was born.  Saturn is in the 7th place which is a “stake” of the Ascendant.
  • Somewhat malefic – Overall, Saturn is malefic.  This is because it is naturally malefic, and in the chart it is also out of sect.  Saturn is not extremely malefic though, because it is in a good place and Venus trines it from the right side.  Therefore, Saturn is somewhat mixed in terms of malefic/benefic tendencies, bring both fortunate and difficult circumstances in the life, at different times and in relation to different matters.  Saturn is also trined by Mercury, the ruler of the 1st place of the self, on the right-hand side, so in any sense, Saturn integrates harmoniously into this person’s sense of self and personality.
  • We expect doubt and/or fear to be a powerful and pervasive influence in this person’s life, integrated with the conception of self, and mixed in terms of pleasant and unpleasant associations.
  • Mercury:  
  • Rather neutral – Mercury is not very strong, nor very weak in the chart.  Mercury is in phasis, but also retreating and cadent.  We say Mercury is more weak than strong, except that it also rules the 1st place of the self, so if not pervasive in the person’s life, then at least it is pervasive in terms of their sense of self, personality, and skill set (also, there are many more minor strength considerations, such as being with the Sun, ruled by the Sun, trine the Moon, and with a very strong ruler).
  •  Somewhat malefic– Mercury is a rather neutral planet, but is here out of sect, assembled with Venus, and square by both Jupiter and Mars from the right side.  It’s complex, with a broad range of expressions.  Given that it is a strong reflector of the person’s own moral range, we see quite a broad range from good to bad intentions and everything in between, always with a showy trickster type of expression due to Mercury’s nature and the strong public emphasis of the Sun.
  • In short, he’s Mercurial, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad, but he is not a genius when it comes to intellectual and verbal matters.  In other words, Randi is a skeptic (Saturn), not a scientist or intellectual (Mercury) for profession, though he was a magician (dash of Mercury, Venus, and Sun; trickster, art, and publicity; in the house of communications, the 3rd).

That’s all the time I have for today.  I hope to explore this chart and those of other prominent skeptics and atheists in the future.

Dignity: The Biggest Problem with Late Traditional Astrology

One of the most ubiquitous aspects of later traditional astrology (i.e. late medieval through early modern astrology) is the use of a dignity pointing system in which the domicile ruler of a position gets 5 points, the exaltation ruler gets 4 points, the triplicity rulers each get 3 points, the term ruler gets 2 points, and the ruler of the decan gets 1 point.  This pointing system is found in the astrology of very late Persian medieval astrologers, through the astrology of Bonatti, throughout Renaissance astrology, and in the astrology of William Lilly and Morinus.  It is still leaned on heavily in the traditional community at large. 17th century English astrologer William Lilly made extensive use of it and combined it with other factors in his own very comprehensive pointing system.

I consider the over-emphasis on dignity and the use of weighted dignity pointing systems to be one of the single biggest corrupting influences leading to the degradation of astrological accuracy up to today’s traditional circles.  Here I take a closer look at dignity pointing, and why it should not be used, and why dignity as a factor should be given much less weight than it currently receives, particularly in considerations of bonification (i.e. in considerations of how fortunate a planet is made by its configuration).

The Current Place Dignity Holds in the Traditional Astrological Community

Dignity is used extensively in point-adding techniques to find what’s called the al-mubtazz/almutem/almuten (translated the “winner”) for a number of topics in the late middle ages.  For instance, Abraham Ibn Ezra used such a pointing system, in which dignity points combined with points for different house placements, and the planetary day and hour, to derive a calculation system for finding the “chart ruler” or planet symbolic of the guardian angel in the chart.  Robert Zoller follows suit in his books and astrological course.  Astrologers such as Deborah Houlding, of the insightful and informative Skyscript website, largely seem to follow Lilly as the authority in their approach to chart work, relying heavily on dignity pointing and also viewing peregrine planets (those with no specific dignity) as afflicted or debilitated.

Additionally, there is something of confusion in traditional circles as to whether more dignity points means a planet is stronger, more fortunate, or both.  The consensus appears to be that it makes it more fortunate, for the most part, or “dignified”, giving more socially acceptable and honorable expressions.  However, astrologers like Robert Zoller have implied that it involves both strength and quality, suggesting that a planet with more dignity is more capable and competent, while a planet with negative dignity is like someone who has consumed a substance counter to their own vitality, i.e. like a drunkard.

Ptolemy’s “Predominator”

The use of a pointing system for dignity was absent in Hellenistic astrology and early Persian medieval astrology.  In fact, according to Benjamin Dykes (Persian Nativities II, 2010, pp. xiii-xiv) it is the invention of a Persian astrologer who had something of a reputation as a con man in the 9th century C.E.

As far as I’m aware, the only time some form of dignity pointing is used in Hellenistic astrology is in Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos (entire English translation is available to read online).  There he uses a different pointing system in which each of the aforementioned dignities gets one equal point, except for decan which is absent, being replaced by what is often translated as “face”, and appears to be regard (i.e. whether or not a planet is in whole sign aspect to the place, an important consideration in later Persian work as well).  For instance, any planet that was the domicile ruler, exaltation ruler, triplicity ruler, term ruler, or was regarding a position, would get one point of rulership over that position for each circumstance.  For instance, if the position was in Scorpio in the term of Venus, and Venus regarded the position from Virgo (a sextile) then she would get one consideration for triplicity, another for term, and another for regard, and if Mars does not regard the place then she would be the “predominator” or most important ruler of the place (i.e. Mars would have only domicile and triplicity, the Moon would have triplicity and possibly regard, and all other planets could at most have regard).

Ptolemy introduces this “predominator” method in Book 3, Chapter 2, in a rather convoluted method of chart rectification. In that method, you first try to estimate the sign by ascensions, then you take both luminaries for a conjunctional birth (i.e. a birth taking place after the New Moon and before the Full Moon) or just the one(s) above the horizon for a preventional birth (i.e. a birth before the New Moon), and you find the predominator(s) of it or them by looking at the planet(s) ruling the triplicity, exaltation, domicile, term, or in regard. The degree of the predominator is the degree of the Ascendant. There are other notes for if there are more than one predominator, and there’s no pointing system given in that place.

The other times he uses it are to find the “ruler” of a place that has the most say over that place (Book 3, Ch. 3) and in assessing the “quality of the soul” (Book 3, Ch. 13). It is only in finding the place “ruler” that he first notes that a planet with numerically more of the five claims to a place has more say over it. He does not seem to use this method in his material on personality, but it is unclear. He simply instructs that Mercury and the Moon are most relevant to the quality of the soul (personality) and that planets “dominating” them also give important indications. He definitely allows for more than one planet to govern the soul, dominating the Moon and Mercury.

The fact that so few mentions of this method of finding a “predominator” are made in the Tetrabiblos, and even then partial and rather informal in scope, suggest that Ptolemy may have included this as a convenience to drive home the point that planets having some rulership over a point and regarding a point, have an influence over it.  This would be contrary to the strict “add-it-up” type of procedure that figures heavily in the technique of many traditional astrologer who espouse the Ptolemaic approach (c.f. Joseph Crane in his book Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy, in discussion of special techniques for personality and other topics).

A common mistake among traditional astrologers in their treatments of Hellenistic astrology is to treat of Ptolemy’s methods as typical of Hellenistic astrology.  In addition to Ptolemy’s odd use of the “predominator”, he also didn’t employ Places or Houses for topics, and described planetary nature and the workings of astrology in terms of physical causality through Aristotelian physics, all at a variance to the approaches of other astrologers of the day.  Therefore, the method is not only rare in Ptolemy’s own work and doesn’t involve a rigid nor weighted pointing approach, but Ptolemy is also an odd breed of Hellenistic astrologer.

Why Dignity Pointing is a Problem

There are three reasons why an emphasis on dignity and its pointing leads to bad astrological chart work. In order of importance they are:

  1. Misleading: Dignity is misleading, because while it is easy to spot, and it carries the name “dignity”, it is not a strong indication of bonification (i.e. not a good indication of when a planet is made more fortunate in effect) and it is a weak strength consideration.
  2. Inaccurate Weighting: The particular weighting system used appears to be contrived and inconsistent with the earlier strains of the tradition.  In addition, while sign-based and place-based rejoicing conditions existed in Hellenistic astrology, use of even “predominator” techniques appears to have been extremely rare (Ptolemy is the only astrologer I know of that used one, and it is even rare in his work, as elaborated above).  Furthermore, the sign-based rejoicing conditions had nowhere near the emphasis placed on them in later traditional astrology, particularly that since the Renaissance.
  3. Turns One into a Numb(er) Skull:  Astrologers utilizing a weighted point system for dignity tend to become attracted to overly simplistic solutions to complex delineation issues.  For instance, the planet becomes high scoring or low scoring in a subtractive manner based on one consideration, but what of the conflicting considerations?  Are we acknowledging that some planets tend to swing to greater positive and negative extremes in signification within the same chart, as is the case in some people’s lives?  Going down this road of numerical cut-and-dry solutions to sticky, complex, even contradictory, life situations, we may get to the point where we start adding up numbers to find the planet of the guardian angel of the chart, based on some spuriously invented 12th century technique while deceiving ourselves about its ancient origins, then in the next breath we use a different spuriously invented 16th century technique to find the name of the holy guardian angel based on more mathematical derivations, then we pay $150 more for a talisman that sees Jupiter as +8 rather than +6, and so on and so on.  This is a sad fate to be avoided.  Astrologers going down this road are also likely to eventually realize that chart work goes very wrong quite often, and sadly they’ll chalk this up to a subversion of the fundamental archetypal planetary order of the platonic reality by the temporal evils of the age, rather than look to improve their art.  I’m serious; such “numb skulls” do exist and they move astrology further and further away from sense, coherence, critical-thought, and falsifiability and closer and closer towards the new age-ness that traditional astrologers so often criticize (albeit it will be a “darker” new age-ness). 

The Curious Case of Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Turner

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.

Dahmer's Natal Chart
Dahmer’s Natal Chart (Outer Wheel Placements are 12th Parts)  – CTRL click to enlarge

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.

Ted Turner's Natal Chart
Ted Turner’s Natal Chart (Outer Wheel Placements are 12th Parts)  – CTRL click to enlarge

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.

The Message

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.