Every traditional astrologer is familiar with the three debilities known as ‘detriment’, ‘fall’ and being ‘peregrine’, all of which show planetary weakness in three particular forms. They are complementary to what is known as essential dignity where a planet is strong. A planet with dignity has the power to act whereas one that is debilitated does not. Does this mean that every debilitated planet is evil? Given some consideration, the answer is no. As always the context is important. A debilitated planet in a natal chart must be judged differently than one in horary chart or even a mundane chart. But before we look at this question in more detail first a quick review of what each of these debilities represent;
- Detriment – the planet finds itself in the sign opposite to those it rules. The Sun for example is in detriment in Aquarius. This is the weak winter Sun that hardly is able to warm the earth as compared to the Sun in Leo.
- Fall – the planet is in a sign opposite to its exaltation. The Sun is in fall in Libra for example. This is a weakening Sun no longer able to quicken, as compared to the exuberance of Spring when the Sun is in Aries.
- Peregrine – the planet is wandering, it has no essential dignity at all, neither the greater nor the lesser dignities of triplicity, term and face nor is it in detriment or fall. It is weak, like a wanderer or pilgrim it is homeless and vulnerable. The Sun for example is peregrine in Taurus and Cancer which are where the Moon is strong and in Pisces, also a winter sign.
Now to the pith of our question. I would like to begin by quoting Boethius. He is speaking about human beings but the text can equally be applied to our topic:
“Now, there are two things on which all the performance of human activity depends, will and power. If either of them is lacking, there is no activity that can be performed. In the absence of will, a man is unwilling to do something and therefore does not undertake it; and in the absence of power to do it, the will is useless …Therefore, men’s power or ability is to be judged by what they can do, and their weakness by what they can’t do.” (p. 88 Penguin ed. of “The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. Victor Watts)
He also discusses the difference between the good man and the wicked, which is extremely helpful for understanding debilitated planets:
“…So that without any difference of instinct all men, good or bad alike, strive to reach the good… Since, then, both groups want goodness, and one obtains it and the other doesn’t, surely there can be no doubt of the power of the good and the weakness of the bad?” (op. cit.)
We can say, when we use this argument, that every planet irregardless where it is placed strives for goodness, only the one has power, that is has essential dignity, while the other is debilitated and is therefore weak. It is through its weakness that makes it “evil”.
There is still the question about position. There is also what is called ‘accidental dignity’. This means that the planet receives dignity by for example being conjunct a benign fixed star such as Spica or is on an angle, notably the Ascendant or the Midheaven. But does this mean that the malefic debilitation is mitigated or strengthened? Through accidental dignity a debiltated planet receives power to act and here again the astrologer must consider context in order to judge how this power is then used.