Triplicity: The Third Essential Dignity


Triplicities: Ptolemy, Lilly, Dorotheus, Morinus

My first contact with triplicities came when I was learning horary astrology some 30 odd years ago.  I obtained a copy of William Lilly’s Christian Astrology (1647) and read it cover to cover.  Lilly presents Ptolemy’s system of triplicity rulers in his famous table of planetary dignities.  In Lilly’s version of Ptolemy, each sign has a day and a night triplicity ruler, depending on the elemental nature of the sign and whether the person was born during the day or at night (whether the Sun above or below the horizon, aka solar and lunar “sect”).   Different authors have different versions of triplicity rulers.  Lilly’s system, derived from Ptolemy, looks like this:

Lilly                  Day             Night

  • Fire:              Sun             Jupiter
  • Air:                Saturn         Mercury
  • Water:           Mars           Mars
  • Earth:            Venus         Moon

In day charts, Lilly gives the day triplicity ruler +3 points and the night ruler 0, as if the night ruler had no dignity during the day.

In night charts, Lily gives the night ruler +3 points and the day ruler 0, as if the day ruler had no dignity at night.  I always wondered how a triplicity ruler could have no dignity in the triplicity that it rules.

Ptolemy was not a practicing astrologer but rather an encyclopedist who was trying to catalogue the known sciences of his day.  Most likely Ptolemy was presenting an extant version of the triplicity rulers of his time.  Lilly’s version of Ptolemy’s system is an oversimplification.  Ptolemy may have been working with a variation of the triplicity system presented by the 1st century Hellenistic astrologer Dorotheus of Sidon.   From my reading of Dorotheus, I believe he reasoned something like this:

There are four elements: fire, air, water, and earth.  Each element is associated with three signs of the zodiac, which make up the triplicities (sets of three signs belonging to an element).  There are three complete essential dignities: rulership (domicile), exaltation, and triplicity.  Triplicity is the third type of essential dignity, after rulership and exaltation.

Dignity is often likened to the type of respect accorded to royalty or important personages.  The Pope has dignity by domicile in Vatican City.  He is the absolute ruler and final arbiter.  His authority is not questioned.   When the Pope travels to a Catholic country, like Mexico, he is exalted and treated like an honored guest.  He generally gets what he wants but he must abide by the laws of the Mexican government.  When the Pope (Joe Ratzinger) dresses in civilian clothes and visits his family in Germany, he has dignity by triplicity in the homes of his extended family.  He is well treated by his extended family, but they are more likely to call him “Joe” rather than “Your Holiness.”

The day can be divided into “solar sect” planets that have dignity by day (diurnal) and “lunar sect” planets that have dignity by night (nocturnal).  The solar/diurnal planets are the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn (because icy Saturn needs the heat of the day to counteract his coldness and make him behave well).  The lunar/nocturnal planets are Venus, the Moon, and Mars (because ardent Mars needs the cold of the night to cool its hot temperament and make him behave well.)  The Fire and Air signs have positive polarity, which goes well with the solar/diurnal sect.  The Water and Earth signs have negative polarity, which goes well with the lunar/nocturnal sect.  Thus, Dortheus decided to pair the solar planets with the “positive” Fire and Air triplicities, and the lunar planets with the “negative” Water and Earth triplicities.  Here is the scheme Dorotheus reported:

Dorotheus      Day             Night          Participating

  • Fire:             Sun             Jupiter         Saturn
  • Air:               Saturn         Mercury      Jupiter
  • Water:          Venus          Mars            Moon
  • Earth:           Venus          Moon           Mars

In the Dorotheus system, each of the three planets ruling a triplicity has dignity and will score points (Lilly’s +3) regardless of whether the native was born during the day or at night.  What varies with day or night births is the order of the triplicity rulers.  The participating ruler always comes in last.  In day charts the day ruler comes first, and the night ruler is second.  In night charts the night ruler comes first, and the day ruler is second.  All three rulers, however, maintain their dignity no matter at what time the native came into the world.  Presumably the day ruler is more influential in day charts, the night ruler is more influential in night charts, and the participating ruler is influential regardless of what time the person was born.

The Dorotheus system was probably the most widely used in medieval astrology.  When Ptolemy became popular during the Renaissance, a simplified version of his system came into vogue and was adopted by Lilly.  In the 17th century, the brilliant French astrologer Morinus (Morin de Villefranche) reviewed the astrological literature and decided that the systems of Ptolemy and Dorotheus were not rational, so he set out to revise it.

Jean Baptiste Morin

Morin reasoned that the triplicity rulers should be logically consistent with the first two rulerships (domicile and exaltation) and should not be based primarily on solar and lunar sect (day versus night births).  All twelve signs already have primary rulers, and seven of the twelve signs are the places of exaltation of the seven visible planets.  Let’s look at how Morin logically deduced the “true” triplicity rulers:

The Fire triplicity consists of Aires, Leo, and Sagittarius – the domiciles of Mars, the Sun, and Jupiter respectively.  The cardinal sign Aries is ruled by Mars, and the Sun is exalted there.  Leo is ruled by the Sun and no planet is exalted there.  Hence, the Sun is both a ruler of a Fire sign and is exalted in the Fire triplicity.  Because the Sun has both domicile and exaltation in the Fire triplicity, the Sun should be the first or day ruler.  Because Mars rules Aries, a dominant cardinal sign, Mars should be the second of night ruler of the Fire triplicity.  Because Jupiter rules the remaining Fire sign —  mutable Sagittarius where nothing is exalted — Jupiter will come last as the participating ruler.

Applying a similar logic to the remaining triplicities, Morin came up with the following scheme:

Morin              Day             Night          Participating

  • Fire:              Sun             Mars            Jupiter
  • Air:               Saturn         Venus          Mercury
  • Water:          Jupiter         Moon           Mars
  • Earth:           Mercury      Saturn          Venus

Here are Morin’s guidelines:

  1. Day rulers have rulership by both domicile and exaltation in the triplicity.
  2. Night rulers have rulership of the cardinal signs of the triplicity.
  3. Finally, the participating ruler is the planet that is not exalted in the triplicity and does not rule the cardinal sign of the triplicity but does rule one of the three signs of the triplicity.

Morin’s system is certainly logical and elegant as he intended, but does it work?  To answer that question, let’s look at Morin’s birth chart.  Morin was a brilliant man and he let everybody know it.  In his writing he sounds petulant and irascible at times.  Morin alienated his own mother on her deathbed by making an ill-conceived comment.  His narcissism and sense of superiority shine throughout his work.  From what I know of his personality, I would expect his Ascendant to be strongly influenced by the Sun, Mars, and Jupiter with little input from tactful harmonious Venus.

Morinus Natal Chart

Using Lilly’s table of dignities, Morin’s Aries Ascendant has the Sun as its almuten (+7) and Mars (+5) as its ruler.  His Sun has Venus as its almuten (+6), so Lilly would expect Morin to be rather proud (Sun) of himself and somewhat testy (Mars) but absolutely charming (Venus).

Using Dorotheus’ triplicities with the rest of Ptolemy’s table of dignities, Morin’s Aries Ascendant still has the Sun as its almuten (+7) and Mars (+5) as its ruler.  Venus is still the almuten of the Sun but now has +9 points.  For Dorotheus, Morin, though testy (Mars) at times, is even more charming than Lilly thought.

Using Morin’s system of triplicities with the rest of Ptolemy’s table of dignities, his Aries Ascendant now has Mars as its almuten (+8) but the Sun is quite influential with its score of +7 at the ASC.  The almuten of the Sun changes from charming Venus (+6) to expansive Jupiter (+8).  Jupiter in Pisces is its own dispositor and answers only to itself.  Morin’s method suggests a personality that is testy (Mars), proud (Sun), self-aggrandizing (Jupiter), and just charming enough (Venus) to keep Cardinal Richelieu from having him beheaded.

I think Morin’s system of triplicity rulers gives a more accurate picture of his personality (as reflected by the Ascendant) than either the triplicity system of Lilly or Dorotheus does.  One chart example does not prove the point, but it does make you wonder.

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About Anthony Louis

Author of books about astrology and tarot, including TAROT PLAIN AND SIMPLE, HORARY ASTROLOGY, and THE ART OF FORECASTING WITH SOLAR RETURNS.
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8 Responses to Triplicity: The Third Essential Dignity

  1. Pingback: Did William Lilly Understand Ptolemy Correctly? | Anthony Louis – Astrology & Tarot Blog

  2. Sophie Falco says:

    Thank you for this interesting post!
    A question – in Morin’s system, do all three triplicity rulers attract points as well?

    • Hi Sophie,
      Let me quote Morin directly for you from his Book 18:
      “A planet posited only in its own triplicity is at least in a sign of the same manifest or occult elemental nature as itself, and also in trine to its own elemental domicile, which thereby reinforces it.” (p. 21)
      “Each planet … is strengthened extrinsically … by 3 degrees for being in its triplicity.” (p. 26)
      “I disagree with the practice of the ancients to assign an additional 3 degrees for triplicity to a planet also located in its domicile where it has already received 5 points.” (p. 26)
      To answer your question, yes, Morin gave 3 points to each triplicity ruler but did not do so when the planet was already in its domicile where it already has 5 points. He regarded the awarding of points to the same planet for both domicile and triplictity as a form of astrological double-dipping. I’m not sure I agree with Morin on this last point.
      In the above post I used Lilly’s method of calculating points, giving 5 for domicile and 3 for triplicity. I should probably go back and calculate the points following Morin’s rule to see what difference it makes.

  3. Sophie Falco says:

    OK, that makes sense. Very Cartesian! Thank you :)

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  6. Pingback: Chris Brennan’s discovery about Triplicities and the Joys of the Planets | Anthony Louis – Astrology & Tarot Blog

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