Of the five dignities, the terms or bounds are the most mysterious and not always the easiest to understand. They are the only set of dignities that exclude the Lights. But this is understandable when you consider that light cannot be contained and so the Lights can have no bounds. The influence of the five classical planets however may be contained, giving for each sign a division ruled by one of the five. But this is not a mathematical division which divides each term into five equal portions of six degrees. There are other factors at work here.
Ptolemy in his Tetrabiblos describes three systems, the Egyptian, the Chaldean and the ancient system that he discovered in an ancient partially ruined manuscript, which has come to be named after him. In his exposition he finds the Chaldean more logical as it seemed clearly structured along considerations of the triplicities. The Egyptian is in his estimation not very logical but because of their age would have to be given more credence than the Chaldean. And then the ancient system he found, which seemed to account for what other dignities a planet has in a particular sign, the leading position being given to the planet with the most dignity, Mars and Saturn being pushed generally towards the end of most signs. There are a few exceptions. Cancer and Leo that have the Lights as domicile ruler have either Mars or Saturn, respectively, in the leading position. And this in spite of both being otherwise in Fall. As you see full of riddles. I’ll be quite honest with you. I’m just as stumped as Ptolemy was, but like him find the system he discovered to be efficacious. (You can download a pdf version of the Tetrabiblios at Peter Clarks website, http://www.classicalastrologer.com, here is the direct link)
Generally terms are tabulated along with the other dignities to determine such things as the almuten, sometimes they puzzle horary astrologers when a planet is both in its term and in fall or detriment, generally they are forgotten. Many traditional astrologers know that they can be very helpful with rectification and also with primary directions.
The terms have one very interesting quality. They seem closely connected to the appearance of a person.
There are some who with just a little astrological knowledge will venture to tell you what your Sun sign is just by your appearance. This is very popular as a conversation starter, with an 8% chance of getting it right on the first go:
“You are a Scorpio”,
“Huh. what? Oh, not really, but you ‘re close. I’m a Libra”
“I just knew it, on the cusp…”
” Now if that isn’t the rudest thing I’ve heard…” and so on.
The variations on this theme are practically inexhaustible.
The more sophisticated form of the game is to try to guess the Ascendant. It has the same limitations as guessing the Sun sign.
The best version is to guess the planet ruling the Ascendants’ term. What is more it is generally fairly accurate and requires only a little practice even for novice astrologers. It is a pleasant pastime when riding in a bus or train but you can of course try it on charts that you have in your archives or you can compare charts of popular personalities whose birth times are available in the various astrological databases.
Let me give you an example. I have the charts of two individuals with a Capricorn Ascendant. Neither looks very Saturnine. The first is tall, sand-blond, has very regular features, hazel-coloured eyes that change with the light and tightly curled hair. Saturn is certainly not the term ruler! The second on the other hand has medium brown flowing hair, large brown eyes, a heart-shaped face and regular features. Let me give you a hint. Each has one of the inner planets.
Dear reader, I would like to encourage you to take a look at the charts available to you and practice guessing which planet rules the term or bounds of the Ascendant. It is not only an interesting pasttime but one that will help sharpen your astrological skills.