Have horary astrologers misunderstood triplicity rulers?

Most horary astrologers have learned William Lilly’s system of triplicity rulers, derived from Ptolemy, in which each sign is ruled by one triplicity ruler by day and another one by night. In his table of dignities (CA, 104), Lilly gives the following list:

Element of Sign          Day Triplicity Ruler        Night Triplicity Ruler

Fire                                   Sun                                       Jupiter

Air                                     Saturn                                 Mercury

Water                               Mars                                     Mars

Earth                                Venus                                    Moon

In tabulating points of essential dignity, Lilly allows 3 points for the essential dignity of triplicity.  On page 102 of Christian Astrology Lilly states explicitly that the Sun in Aries at night is to be allotted no points for the dignity of triplicity (normally given 3 points) because Jupiter is the night ruler of fire signs rather than the Sun.  I believe that Lilly misunderstood the essential dignity of triplicity and thus has led horary astrologers astray.

Prior to Ptolemy’s over-simplification of triplicities, the Hellenistic astrologers, especially as seen in Dorotheus, used a much richer version of triplicity rulers. This earlier system used three different planets as the three triplicity “lords” of each group of three signs belonging to the same element. Diurnal planets ruled the fire and air (masculine) triplicities. Nocturnal planets ruled the water and earth (feminine) triplicities. Mercury could swing either way, depending on its relationship to the sun. The three triplicity lords were all of the same sect and worked in concert to govern all three signs of the same element related to that sect, somewhat like the Cosa Nostra having sovereignty over a particular set of territories.

Perhaps a more dignified analogy would be the triumverate of ancient Rome, which, according to the dictionary,  was “a group of three men holding power, in particular ( the First Triumvirate ) the unofficial coalition of Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus in 60 BC and ( the Second Triumvirate ) a coalition formed by Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian in 43 BC.” In modern English the word triumverate has come to mean ” a group of three people who are in control of an activity or organization.” Basically, the triplicity rulers in astrology are a triumverate of planets who collectively rule a group of three signs and whose essential dignity as triplicity rulers consists of being recognized as members of the governing triumverate which administers all three signs of a particular element belonging to the same sect. As part of its essential dignity, each triplicity lord remains a member of the ruling triumverate regardless of whether the sun is above or below the horizon. The Sun maintains a triplicity ruler relationship to the element fire, regardless of what time it is on the clock.

The table of Dorothean dignities looks like this:

Element of Sign          Day Triplicity Ruler       Night Ruler     Common Ruler

Fire                                   Sun                                       Jupiter                 Saturn

Air                                     Saturn                                 Mercury               Jupiter

Water                               Venus                                   Mars                      Moon

Earth                                Venus                                    Moon                    Mars

Signs belonging to the same element are in trine to one another. Trines are aspects of harmony, cooperating, and good fortune. In the Thema Mundi, the trine aspect is of the nature of beneficent Jupiter. Thus, the three triplicity lords worked cooperatively together to govern the three signs of each element. As lords of the same element, the three triplicity lords had a significant amount of essential dignity — not as much essential dignity as being the domicile ruler or the exalted ruler of a sign but essential dignity nothetheless.

I have trouble remembering the Dorothean list of triplicity rulers, so I came up with the following auditory mnemonic for recalling the members of the triplicity triumverate which jointly governs each element:

  • FIRE:         Su – Ju – Sa    (pronounced “Soo Joo Sah”)
  • AIR:           Sa – Me – Ju   (pronounced “Sah Meh Joo”)
  • WATER:    Ve – Ma – Moo   (pronounced “Veh Mah Moo”)
  • EARTH:     Ve – Moo – Ma   (pronounced “Veh Moo Mah”)

Note that the Oxford Living Dictionary defines essential as “fundamental or central to the nature of something or someone.”

If a quality is essential, it belongs to the very essence of something. An essential quality does not disappear when the sun goes down and reappear when the sun rises. For example, the nocturnal planet Mars does not stop having the essential dignity of being domicile ruler of Aries when the sun is above the horizon.  The Sun in Aries does not cease having dignity by exaltation when the Sun goes below the horizon. Why then should Jupiter in Aries cease to have dignity by exaltation when the sun goes down?

The dignity of triplicity in fire signs is an essential quality of Jupiter and is thus a part of Jupiter’s essence that cannot be negated by the accidental placement of the sun above or below the horizon. Avelar and Ribeiro recognize this fact in their book On the Heavenly Spheres (p. 72) when they write: “a planet posited in a sign in which it possesses triplicity is in a state of dignity, independent of whether the chart is diurnal or nocturnal.”

If we consider the so-called common, mixed or participating triplicity rulers, we see, for example, that Saturn always participates in ruling all three fire signs. Saturn always has dignity by triplicity in fire signs, both by day and by night. Dignity of triplicity in fire signs is part of the essential nature of Saturn, that is, it is part and parcel of who Saturn is and what he does. No accidental feature in a chart can take away Saturn’s essential nature.

Why, then, did the ancients divide triplicity rulers into day, night and participating varieties?  The answer seems to be that each element, or more precisely, each group of three signs belonging to the same element, were always ruled by three distinct planets which jointly had dominion over that triplicity of signs.  There had to be a way to distinguish the three rulers or to place them in some sort of logical order for delineation purposes.

The solution seemed to be to put the joint rulers of each triplicity of signs in order according to sect.  During the day, the day ruler took 1st place, the night ruler took 2nd place, and the common ruler took 3rd place.  At night the night ruler took 1st place, the day ruler took 2nd place, and the participating ruler took 3rd place; but all three planetary lords continued to rule the triplicity, regardless of whether it was day or night. The use of sect was simply an ordering system which allowed refined interpretations to take place. For example, the 1st triplicity ruler might be assigned to the first part of life, the 2nd ruler to mid-life, and the 3rd ruler to late life; and so on.

A political analogy may be of help in clarifying my point about triplicity.  Imagine that there exists a realm called the United Kingdom of Tri-islandia, which consists of three islands along the Equator, each about 8000 miles apart. The three islands decided to unite into one kingdom which is governed by a Prime Minister (the domicile ruler). In addition, they have installed a Queen whose job it is to attend to matters of pomp and circumstance (the exalted ruler). The Queen does not cease being Queen when she goes to sleep.

Each of the three islands has its own governor (triplicity ruler) whose job it is to cooperate with the other two triplicity rulers under the direction of the Prime Minister to make sure that matters run smoothly on each of the three islands and throughout the entire kingdom.  Because of the geographical location of the three islands, the sun never sets on the United Kingdom of Tri-islandia. When it is daytime on one island, it will be nighttime on another. YET the governor of each island remains governor regardless of whether it is day or night. The dignity of being governor of an island (triplicity ruler) does not vary with the time of day.

HALB vs Triplicity Rulership

It seems clear and logical that an essential dignity is a core feature of a planet that cannot be removed by accidental factors in a chart. Where did Lilly go wrong? One possibility is that Lilly confused the essential dignity of triplicity rulership by day or by night with the sect-related concept of the accidental fortitude of halb (from the Arabic for “portion”) which he read about in Bonatti. The idea of halb has to do with planets occupying the proper portion of the sky according to their sect:

  • a diurnal planet (Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, or Mercury as a morning star) rejoices and becomes more powerful when it lies above the earth in a day chart or below the horizon in a night chart;
  • similarly, a nocturnal planet (Moon, Venus, Mars, or Mercury as an evening star) rejoices and becomes more powerful when it lies below the earth in a day chart or above the horizon in a night chart.

The importance of recognizing that all three triplicity lords rule all three signs of an element all the time was driven home to me in a chart presented by Lee Lehman in her  2017 book Learning Classical Horary Astrology.  On page 66 (Example 4-2) she presents a diurnal horary chart about whether an anticipated home repair will be routine and inexpensive or major and quite costly. Mercury in Aquarius signifies the home, and Mars in Pisces signifies the querent’s finances.

In the table above we see that Mercury in Aquarius (an air sign) has dignity of triplicity by night but not by day.  Most horary astrologers would say that Mercury lacks dignity by triplicity in this chart. The only dignity Mercury does have, then, is by face, a very minor dignity.

The same holds true for Mars in Pisces (a water sign). Most horary astrologers who use the Dorothean dignities would say that Mars does not have dignity by triplicity in this chart.  (Lilly, however, would give Mars dignity by triplicity because he believed that Mars always functioned as a triplicity ruler of water.)

Lehman argues that Mercury (the house) is quite essentially dignified because, even though it is a day chart, Mercury as night ruler of the triplicity of air has significant dignity by triplicity. In addition, Mercury has dignity by face, and according to ancient authors the combination of two minor dignities (triplicity plus face) is as significant as one of the major dignities (domicile or exaltation). The impressive essential dignity of Mercury (the house) suggests that the repair will be minor, and the essential dignity by triplicity of Mars (the querent’s money) despite the fact that it is a day chart means that the expense will not be great.

In summary, I think that most horary astrologers, myself included have been working with the essential dignity of triplicity ruler incorrectly and have instead been treating triplicity rulership as if it were an accidental fortitude or debility. Popular astrology programs like Solar Fire and Janus also make this mistake in their tabulation of essential dignities.  It seems that Lee Lehman got it right, and her interpretation of triplicity rulership as an essential dignity that is an unalterable quality of a planet led to a correct interpretation of her horary example.  The take-home lesson is that all three planetary triplicity lords have the essential dignity of triplicity rulership all the time, regardless of whether the sun is above or below the horizon.


<< All original material on this page is copyright Anthony Louis 2018. >>

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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