Dignity Pointing in Late Traditional Astrology
One of the most ubiquitous aspects of late traditional astrology is the use of a dignity pointing system. In the typical dignity pointing system, rulers of a position are assigned points in a weighted fashion. The ruler with the most points is the “winner”. Sometimes the winner is called the almuten or al-mubtazz (again from words meaning winner).
Almutens: What’s a Winner?
This winner planet is judged to have the most significant “testimony” among all the planets with “testimony”. In other words, all the rulers have some testimony, i.e. say something. However, the planet with the most testimony says the most important things. The testimony we are referring to is in regards to the matter signified by the specified position. For instance, to examine the Lot of Fortune, we could look at the dignity scores of each of its rulers to determine which planet is the most important one to analyze in relation to the lot.
You can also have winners over many points. In fact, in later medieval astrology it was common to look at which planet had testimony over multiple points in order to judge the “winner” for a specific topic. For instance, one could add up the dignity points for all the rulers of the Sun, Moon, Ascendant, Fortune, and the prenatal syzygy (New or Full Moon). The planet with the greatest dignity points in total over all these powerful positions in the chart could be said to be the overall chart “winner”. This planet would be called the chart ruler or even be said to signify the guardian angel of the individual. Similarly, one could look at the planet with most dignity over Jupiter, the 2nd place, and Fortune for a “winner” regarding money matters.
Adding It Up
In a typical dignity pointing system, 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. Some astrologers also assigned points for different house positions and the planetary day or hour rulers.
I consider the over-emphasis on dignity to be one of the single biggest corrupting influences degrading astrological accuracy in today’s traditional circles. The related use of weighted dignity pointing systems exacerbates the problem. Here I take a closer look at dignity pointing, and why it should not be used. I also discuss why dignity as a factor should be given much less weight than it currently receives. Issues around “detriment” as a concept, and particularly the treatment of dignity as just that, showing “dignity” (i.e. goodness), are particularly troublesome areas
Dignity in Traditional Astrology Today
As noted, dignity is used extensively in pointing techniques to find winners. For instance, Abraham Ibn Ezra used a system in which dignity points are combined with house placement points, and points for the planetary day and hour. The winner (i.e. planet with the most total points) is the “chart ruler”. Robert Zoller followed suit in his ebooks and astrological course. Many of today’s traditional astrologers such as Deborah Houlding, of the informative Skyscript website, largely follow Lilly in their approach. They rely heavily on dignity pointing.
In addition, to the use of dignity pointing for finding a winner over a specific position (i.e. a most relevant planet), it is also used for judging a planet itself. To do this, one looks at the dignity score of a planet in its own position. A planet with a higher score in its own position is viewed as stronger and/or more beneficial, while a lower score makes it less so. Some even view peregrine planets (those with no specific sign dignity) as afflicted or debilitated.
Additionally, astrologers using point systems typically assign negative scores. A planet with an overall negative score is viewed as weak and/or more malefic. A negative 4 point value is given to a planet in fall. Fall (i.e. being opposite the sign of exaltation) was considered weakening or indicative of low status categories in Hellenistic astrology. Furthermore, they assign a negative 5 point value to a planet in detriment (i.e. opposite its domicile).
This is interesting as detriment was not used as a weakening condition or negative dignity at all by the major figures of Hellenistic astrology. Dorotheus, Ptolemy, Valens, Manilius, Maternus – these astrologers did not use a concept equivalent to detriment. Despite the lack of “detriment” as a significant concept in Hellenistic astrology, astrologers using the point system in this way treat it as the most afflicted of positions.
Strong or Benefic?
There is confusion in traditional circles as to whether having more dignity in its own position makes a planet stronger, more fortunate, or both. The consensus appears to be that it makes it more fortunate. This is expressed in the term itself. Something “dignified” is more socially acceptable and well composed. However, many astrologers, including Robert Zoller, have implied that it involves both strength and quality. Zoller has taught (in his natal course) that a planet with more dignity is more capable and competent, while a planet with negative dignity is like one who has consumed a substance counter to their own vitality, i.e. like a drunkard. My own position is that ruling its own place just makes a planet reinforced, and thus more prominent and independent (a type of strength).
Origins of Dignity Pointing
The pointing system based on sign dignity is found first in the astrology of very late Persian medieval astrologers. It was carried on by European astrologers of the High Middle Ages and Renaissance, right up through the 17th century astrology of William Lilly and Morinus. It is still leaned on heavily in the traditional community at large.
However, the use of a weighted pointing system for dignity was absent in Hellenistic astrology. Also, early Persian medieval astrologers like Sahl, Masha’allah, and Abu Ali did not use such as system. In fact, according to Benjamin Dykes (Persian Nativities II, 2010, pp. xiii-xiv) the dignity pointing system may be the invention of a 9th-century Persian astrologer, and he may have also had a reputation as a con man (Al-‘Anbas).
Among the Hellenistic astrologers, Ptolemy had a technique for discovering a predominant influence over a position. It does not use weighted dignity and it does consider aspect, unlike the typical almuten approaches. Ptolemy’s technique is very different from the later dignity-pointing techniques but may have inspired them. Let’s take a look at it.
A type of dignity pointing is used in Hellenistic astrology but it is very different from that used in late medieval astrology. It is found in Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos. Ptolemy used a pointing system in which each of the aforementioned dignities gets one equal point, except for decan which is absent. Rather than decan, Ptolemy used planetary regards (often translated as “face”) as another point. Basically, if a planet is in the place or with the planet/lot in the same sign, or is in whole sign aspect to the place/planet/lot,then it gets one point.
Venus as a Predominator in Scorpio
To clarify, any planet that was the domicile, exaltation, triplicity, or term ruler would get one point for each form of rulership. Additionally, any planet regarding a position, would get one point of testimony for that position. For example, take a position in Scorpio in the term of Venus, with Venus regarding the position from Virgo (a sextile). Venus would get one point for triplicity, another for term, and another for regard (3 points total). If Mars does not regard the place then Mars would have only domicile and triplicity (2 points). In such a case, Venus, rather than Mars would be the “predominator” (main ruler) over this position in Scorpio. Ptolemy did not use “detriment” as a concept, so there is no issue here with Venus having the most say over a position in Scorpio.
Predominators In the Tetrabiblos
Ptolemy introduced this “predominator” method in Book 3, Chapter 2 of the Tetrabiblos. The passage is in a rather convoluted method of chart rectification. In that method, you first try to estimate the sign rising by ascensions. Next, you take both luminaries for a conjunctional birth (i.e. a birth after New Moon, before Full Moon) or just the one(s) above the horizon for a preventional birth (i.e. a birth before New Moon), and you find the predominator(s) of it/them by the method discussed. The degree of the predominator is the degree of the Ascendant. There can be more than one predominator. Ptolemy does not explicitly discuss “points” in the passage.
Delineating with Predominators
Ptolemy also used a predominator in a couple additional passages of the Tetrabiblos. He used one to find the “ruler” of a place that most strongly characterizes a position (Book 3, Ch. 3) and to delineate the “quality of the soul” (Book 3, Ch. 13). Only in the passage on finding the position “ruler” does he first explicitly note that a planet with more of the five claims to a place has more say over it.
In the first place, we should examine that place of the zodiac which is pertinent to the specific heading of the geniture which is subject to query; for example, the mid-heaven, for the query about action, or the place of the sun for the question about the father; then we must observe those planets which have the election of rulership to the place in question by the five ways aforesaid; and if one planet is lord in all these ways, we must assign to him the rulership of that prediction; if two or three, we must assign it to those which have the more claims. (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, Book 3, Ch. 13, Robbins trans., p. 112)
The material on personality is less clear. He instructed that Mercury and the Moon are the most relevant factors for the quality of the soul (personality). Furthermore, he advised that planets “dominating” them give important indications. He allowed for more than one planet to dominate the Moon or Mercury at a time.
A Marginal Technique
Ptolemy mentions this predominator technique only a few times, and often rather informally. This suggests that he may have included it as a convenience to emphasize the point that delineation involves looking at rulers and regards. Ptolemy even allows for multiple predominators. This would be contrary to the strict “add-it-up” type of procedure. Unfortunately, an add-it-up approach figures heavily even in the astrology of those who espouse the Ptolemaic approach. For instance, Joseph Crane, in his book Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy, used it in his discussion of special techniques for personality and other topics. A better approach would be to more carefully consider the types of aspects and rulerships involved.
A common mistake is to treat of Ptolemy’s methods as typical of Hellenistic astrology. However, Ptolemy was a highly atypical Hellenistic astrologer. In addition to Ptolemy’s odd use of the “predominator”, he also tended not to use Places or Houses for topics and discouraged the use of the lots except Fortune. Additionally, he described planetary nature and the workings of astrology in terms of physical causality through Aristotelian physics. These approaches are at a variance to those other astrologers of the day. Therefore, the predominator method is not only rare in Ptolemy’s work, 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.
1. Dignity is Misleading
Dignity is misleading. It is easy to spot, and it carries the name “dignity”, implying goodness. However, it is not a sound indication of goodness (for instance, see the charts of Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Turner). Sign based dignity does not take into account more important factors for judging goodness like sect, place, and planetary aspects.
It is also a relatively weak and general strength consideration. Planets move through signs slowly, so sign based rejoicing conditions hold for long periods of time. In this way, sign-based conditions are more common and less individualized. Rulership of a place can make a planet more prominent and reinforced, but is less particular to the individual than factors such as place, advancement, phasis, and stations.
The one area in which sign rulership is most effective is in examining planetary testimony. However, in this Ptolemy’s approach is more capable. This is because Ptolemy’s approach takes regard and term rulership as significant, while the weighted approach tends to given no weight to regard and little to term.
2. Inaccurate Weighting
The particular weighting system used is contrived. It is inconsistent with the earlier strains of the tradition. For instance, the Hellenistic predominator at least considered the important role played by aspecting planets. It also didn’t put the important rulership by term below that by triplicity. Negative dignity is particularly suspect, as detriment is not a distinct concept of Hellenistic astrology. Furthermore, even the predominator technique was marginal in Hellenistic astrology. The more typical approach was to treat the different rulers as having different manners of connection with the position.
The weighting is also problematic for assessing planetary strength and goodness. Sign-based and place-based rejoicing conditions existed in Hellenistic astrology. However, the sign-based rejoicing conditions had nowhere near the emphasis placed on them in later traditional astrology. For instance, some early medieval astrologers considered Mercury in a mutable sign, such as Gemini or Virgo, to be a bad indication for the intellect. This is in contrast to the view that Mercury’s natural indications become super-powered when it is in domicile. In my own experience, a planet ruling itself is made more prominent and reinforced, but not better.
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. In terms of analyzing goodness and strength, a planet’s score is often based on only one factor, its sign. However, what about conflicting considerations? Are we acknowledging that some planets have a mix of very positive and very negative associations within the same chart? Being able to differentiate these can help us predict their activation.
Going down this road of numerical cut-and-dry solutions to sticky, complex, even contradictory, life situations, can get us into trouble. Do we add up numbers to find the planet of someone’s guardian angel, based on some spuriously invented 12th century technique. How are we to contact their guardian angel to make sure it is accurate? In the next breath, we may use a different spuriously invented 16th century technique to find the name of the holy guardian angel based on more mathematical derivations. Worse still, we could value talismans more if Jupiter is +8 rather than +6. This is a sad fate to be avoided.
Astrologers going down this road are also likely to see chart work go very wrong quite often. Sadly, there are those who would chalk this up to the subversion of the fundamental archetypal planetary order of the platonic reality by the temporal evils of the age, rather than think critically about their astrology. I’ve met many such “numb skulls”. They do exist and they move astrology further and further away from sense, coherence, critical-thought, and falsifiability. They move astrology closer and closer towards the type of astrology that traditional astrologers so often criticize; an astrology based more on dogmatic assumptions about covert forces than on signs measured against observation.
Ptolemy, C. (1940). Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos. (F. E. Robbins, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Ptolemy/Tetrabiblos/home.html
This article was edited and updated in 2018. Some of the improvements include a quote from Ptolemy discussing the use of the predominator and better section headings. For more information on why dignity is misleading, please see my analysis of the charts of Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Turner.