Planetary Dignities and Debilities, Part 1

Warning: this post is dense with astro theory, rules and terminology. But if you're into that sort of thing, dig in!

A few commenters have asked about certain planets as lower and higher octaves. It's almost impossible to touch on this subject, without diving into an explanation of planetary rulerships, dignities and debilities. So, here we go. This is an extensive subject, so this post is Part 1.

Let me start with the basics: rulership and exaltation.


Rulership refers to what planet rules what sign.

Here's a list of rulerships, by sign.

  • Aries ruled by Mars
  • Taurus ruled by Venus
  • Gemini ruled by Mercury
  • Cancer ruled by the Moon
  • Leo ruled by the Sun
  • Virgo ruled by Mercury
  • Libra ruled by Venus
  • Scorpio ruled by Pluto and Mars (traditional)
  • Sagittarius ruled by Jupiter
  • Capricorn ruled by Saturn
  • Aquarius ruled by Uranus and Saturn (traditional)
  • Pisces ruled by Neptune and Jupiter (traditional)

You'll notice that Scorpio, Aquarius and Pisces are ruled by two planets, and the second planet has the word "traditional" beside it. That's because Pluto, Uranus and Neptune were not discovered at the time the rulerships were sorted out. So there's a modern ruler, and a traditional ruler (or co-ruler) for these signs. Both are valid, but in the case of your natal chart and transits, I think you'll find that modern rulers are felt more immediately. We live in modern times, therefore we resonate with what's current.

A natal or transiting planet is strong in the sign that it rules. It expresses its energy purely. Think about how someone with their natal Sun in Leo acts, and you get the idea. If you have a natal planet in the sign that it rules, it will express itself full-on. If you have a natal planet in the sign that it co-rules, the energies of that planet will still be expressed strongly, but not quite as obviously. I'll write another post on these signs with their traditional versus modern rulers. But for now, think of it as an adjustment in understanding; a planet in a sign that it co-rules is expressing a definition of that sign that was set hundreds of years ago. It's going to be somewhat different than our modern understanding.


Planets are also exalted in certain signs. Exaltation boosts the planet's energy, making it strong, but not as strong as if it were in the sign it ruled. In his excellent book, "The Horary Textbook", John Frawley describes exaltation as an "exaggeration" of that planet's qualities. It looks/acts pretty fab in the sign of its exaltation, but the fabulousness is a bit over the top.

While the planet is exalted throughout the entire sign, there is a degree where it is especially exalted; the "exaltation degree." It's super- exaggerated here, or (in traditional terms) performing at peak capacity with cherries on top.

Here's a list of signs with the planets that are exalted in them (along with the degree of exaltation). Some signs do not exalt any planets.

  • The Sun is exalted in Aries (19 degrees interpreted as 18.00 to 18.59)
  • The Moon is exalted in Taurus (3 degrees interpreted as 2.00 to 2.59)
  • Jupiter is exalted in Cancer (15 degrees interpreted as 14.00 to 14.59)
  • Mercury is exalted in Virgo (15 degrees interpreted as 14.00 to 14.59)
  • Saturn is exalted in Libra (21 degrees interpreted as 20.00 to 20.59)
  • Mars is exalted in Capricorn (28 degrees interpreted as 27.00 to 27.59)
  • Venus is exalted in Pisces (27 degrees interpreted as 26.00 to 26.59)

Venus in Pisces; swooney, uber-giving, sacrificing all for love. If you have a natal planet in the sign it exalts, think about how it acts.

The big question is, if you have a natal planet in the sign that it rules, or exalts, is it "good?" My answer is...not really. It's not bad, but it's not better than any other sign. That's because you ultimately decide what you're going to do with your planets. If you have a Leo Sun, how do you use that craving  for attention? If you have Mars in Capricorn, what do you do with your exaggerated drive for achievement, or control? Your planet (in its rulership or exaltation) is strong. But stronger is not necessarily better if you let it control you. For example, Mercury in Virgo...over-thinking. analysis. See? Regarding transits, it depends on whether a super-sharp Mercury influence is going to help you, or burst your bubble. Transiting Venus in Pisces can lead to some beautiful moments of forgiveness, but she can also cloud your judgement.

Quick Reference:

  • When a planet rules a sign, it expresses its energy purely.
  • When a planet co-rules a sign, it's strong, but not as strong as if it ruled that sign.
  • When a planet is exalted, it's exaggerated.

Here's a link to Ptolemy's Table of Essential Dignities, over at Ptolemy was the astrologer (born AD 90) who put the table together. He didn't come up with all the rulerships, dignities, etc., but he organized them.

In Part 2, I'll look at detriment and fall (what signs the planets are weaker in) as well as diurnal and nocturnal triplicities. Part 3 will be about lower and higher octaves.