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Dignity, Debility, Exaltation and Fall

Master’s Musings, June 2023

Dignity, Debility, Exaltation and Fall

Steven Forrest
In our Member Call on May 11, Cliff Passen asked a good question, but time ran out and we never got to it. Here it is: Considerations of Dignity, Debility, Exaltation and Fall seem not to have made the cut in FCEA. Could you please speak about the decision not to include these perspectives?
Thanks, Cliff – this issue is important enough that I want to dedicate this newsletter to responding to it. Before I dive in, I do want to express gratitude to everyone who submitted questions for that call. We had quite a lot of them this time, and they were all interesting. I knew that one hour was not going to be long enough to get through them all. We’ll save many – but not all – of them for next time. Always our aim is to use our Zoom time in a way that seems to be of most benefit to the greatest number of students and members. The least general benefit comes from questions that basically involve “putting a chart up on the screen” – except doing it by listing most of its configurations verbally. That kind of litany is hard for audience members to follow – it’s hard for me too! (But I’m lucky – I get to see all the questions in advance. I actually make a little sketch of the chart so I can follow.)  Deep chart analysis is what our “Chart Winner” segment is for – and we’ll always do an actual chart analysis as the second part of these online sessions.
Bottom line: I won’t say that we’ll never accept questions like those personal, chart-specific ones again, but they’ll generally have a lower priority. Much will depend on how many questions get submitted. Asking about a specific configuration is fine – for example, “please talk about my Venus in the 3rd house opposite Saturn.” That’s short enough that everyone can digest it in “spoken word” format.
Onward to Cliff’s question.
He wonders about our decision not to include dignity, debility, exaltation and fall in the FCEA curriculum. Let me begin with a minor quibble – the reality is that we do include them, at least  functionally. What we exclude is that specific language. The reality is that each planet is naturally more comfortable with certain signs, while feeling less comfortable with others. We acknowledge that fact, and that’s basically what those four words that Cliff mentioned are all about.
Here’s the heart of the matter. The focus of our school is the development of “clinical” skills – we’re all about astrological counseling, in other words. Succeeding there of course depends on mastering astrological theory – but theoretical knowledge alone does not make a person an astrological counselor. We also have to think about how we present astrology to our clients, most of whom are not versed in the technicalities. That means that we always have to think carefully about the impact of our words. Maintaining rapport with the client is mission-critical.
Imagine I’m a first-time client and I know nothing about astrology. I hear that my Venus is “in detriment” or that my Jupiter is “in the sign of its fall.” How do those words land on my ears? Not well! The word “debility” is perhaps the most dangerous one of all – even if we don’t exactly say “your chart suffers from many debilities,” that is the baleful news that the client is likely to hear.
You can probably already see where this is going. Clearly, detriment, fall, and debility are not words that leave people feeling encouraged. They imply that there is something wrong with their chart, and by extension, that there is something fundamentally wrong – or simply doomed – with them. Those are not feelings that we want to trigger in our clients! The language itself is damaging. Perhaps worse, it is also simply incorrect. Everyone’s chart is perfect – they all fit the needs and conditions of the soul like the proverbial glove. 


Technical astrologers having a technical discussion out of earshot of any clients can use words like dignity, debility, exaltation and fall as an effective shorthand in their conversations with each other – no problem there, so long as those astrologers know what they’re talking about. The trouble is that often they don’t. Astrologers themselves have often fallen prey to the misleading implications of those words, imagining for one example that it’s “bad” to have Mars in Libra – the sign of its detriment.
Let’s think specifically about Mars in Libra as a way of approaching the general heart of the matter. That Mars “rules” Aries makes perfect sense – their natures are very similar. That’s why traditional astrologers say that Mars is “dignified” in that sign. But Mars in Libra? No “dignity” there at all! Mars is the god of war and Libra is about peace, reconciliation, tolerance, and seeing the other person’s point of view. Clearly poor Mars is confused and “debilitated” when we invite it to learn those kinds of lessons – it’s like asking a lion to be a vegetarian. But ask yourself: is learning those kinds of lessons actually bad for Mars? Or might the god of war benefit from a little dose of peace, love, and understanding?
Truly understanding fall and detriment really hinges on those kinds of questions. Paradox, ambiguity, and complexity are not “debilitated” conditions – they’re just tricky to think about.
Can we ever fight for peace? Think about John Lennon, with his Mars in Libra. In the back of my head, I’m hearing him militantly leading the chorus in the anti-war song Give Peace A Chance.
Mars also rules Scorpio and thus is said to be in “detriment” in Taurus, the opposite sign. Both Libra and Taurus are ruled by Venus, so peace is quite fundamental to our understanding of the evolutionary aims of both signs. So once again, can we fight for peace? Ask that famous “peacenik,” Thich Nhat Han – he had Mars in Taurus, and more than a thing or two in common with John Lennon.
Planets in detriment or fall are learning to deal with paradoxes. There is something intellectually sophisticated about them, something full of nuances and subtleties. Meanwhile, it’s important to remember that the straight ahead quality of Mars in Aries is not automatically a good thing – it can potentially be violent, intolerant, and crude. Why? Because, unlike planets in detriment or fall, it lacks any reflective perspective on itself. 
I don’t want to make it sound as if a planet being in the sign it rules is a bad thing! Or that fall and detriment are automatically good. Nothing in astrology works that way. Everything comes down to understanding the evolutionary lessons implicit in the configuration and getting those ideas across to the client in a cogent, convincing, and encouraging way.
In our FCEA course work, the specific idea of rulership actually does come up frequently. We tend not to label it a “dignity,” but otherwise it’s pretty much everywhere in our work. We put great emphasis on the planet that rules the Ascendant, for one example. As any of you who’ve been through FCEA 102 know, we simply could not do evolutionary astrology without recognizing the power of the planet or planets that rule the sign of the lunar south node.
Rulership basically means resonance – and astrology hums because of the way Mars and Aries are always energetically linked in a chart no matter what their specific configurations may be. Ditto of course for Mercury and Gemini, Jupiter and Sagittarius, and so on. From the counseling perspective, I would also add that a client hearing that “Neptune rules your chart” is not likely to be frightened or damaged by those words. That sentence simply does not carry the same linguistic baggage that comes with telling a client that his or her Saturn is in detriment or fall.
By not using the words “fall” and “detriment” in our FCEA courses, we bypass the pitfall of having them creep into the language we use with our clients – or sneaking into our own heads with that judgmental tone.
Much of what I’ve written about here so far is really about rulership and detriment. What about exaltation and fall? Let me begin by directing you to chapter four of The Endless Sky: Planetary Exaltations; Planetary Falls. I delve deeply into the topic there. (Chapter three of that book, by the way, is about rulerships and detriment – it covers ground similar to what I’ve explored so far  with you here.)
Here are a few lines from chapter four of The Endless Sky:


“With exaltation, the situation is a bit more subtle. In essence, the sign has the effect of underscoring some specific potential strength in the planet – or similarly, of correcting one of its blind spots. The planet is therefore uplifted – “exalted,” if you will.”
For example, the Moon is said to be exalted in Taurus. What we see there is not quite the same as the straight tonal “unison” that exists between the Moon and Cancer. Rather, it’s the idea that Taurus resonates powerfully with our “animal instincts,” and so it strongly supports that particular instinctual dimension of the Moon – it “exalts” that part of the Moon’s range of positive potentials.


Meanwhile, Venus is exalted in Pisces – and so the spiritual and romantic qualities of human affection are underscored when Venus is in that sign.
Turn it around – a planet in the sign opposite its exaltation is said to be in fall. That means that the Moon is “in fall” in Scorpio – and that’s because we can tie ourselves in knots with too much “second-guessing, overthinking, and Scorpionic psychology,” and thus lose track of the “simple Taurean truth.” Meanwhile, Venus is “in fall” when it is in Virgo – and that’s because picky fault-finding doesn’t go well with romantic love.  
Let’s keep all of this honest though – a little psychological perspective on our gut feelings can be healthy, which means that the Moon doesn’t automatically become “bad” when it’s in Scorpio. A romantic bubble in which acknowledging a partner’s flaws becomes taboo doesn’t always contribute to long-term intimate happiness – so there’s real wisdom in Venus in Virgo. 
“Fall,” in other words, is no more an inherently bad thing than is “detriment.” Like detriment, it is ultimately about dealing with paradox and subtlety.
In my own practice, I don’t actually pay much attention to exaltation and fall. The effects are real enough, but for me they sort of disappear into the broader questions of figuring out the specifics of the dance that each planet does with each sign. Again, have a look at chapter four of The Endless Sky if you’d like to learn more about my take on that topic – it’s real, but it’s just not something that I have personally found useful.


Exaltation and fall are very much a part of traditional astrology and so the available interpretations tend to be steeped in the values of the past. Here’s a list of the traditional exaltations:
  • The Sun is exalted in Aries – and has its fall in Libra
  • The Moon is exalted in Taurus – and has its fall in Scorpio
  • Mercury is exalted in Virgo – and has its fall in Pisces
           (Note: this is the same as its rulership/detriment)
  • Venus is exalted in Pisces – and has its fall in Virgo
  • Mars is exalted in Capricorn – and has its fall in Cancer
  • Jupiter is exalted in Cancer – and has its fall in Capricorn
  • Saturn is exalted in Libra – and has its fall in Aries
Note the absence of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto – that’s because, once again, these are ancient traditions, dating to a time before those planets were known. Modern traditionalists argue about whether those “new” planets should or should not be assigned exaltations and falls. Some say yes, some say no. Personally, I’ll just say that I don’t have a horse in that race.
Mercury being exalted in Virgo – the sign it also rules – does seem weird to me. Convincing arguments have been made for Mercury’s exaltation in Aquarius since Aquarius supports Mercury “thinking for itself.” I find that idea compelling – but lest I invoke the fury of the traditionalists, I’ll keep my mouth shut on that one too.
Back to Cliff’s question – for our purposes, in the FCEA we actually do use all of the basic concepts implicit in dignity, debility, exaltation and fall – we’ve just updated them, put them in evolutionary terms, and recognize that when it comes to dealing with clients, each of those words is a potential minefield of misunderstanding.
As ever, “first do no harm” is our guiding principle.
Steven Forrest
June 2023