Accidental dignity - making it work
If you haven’t read my post on essential dignity in astrology, check it out here first.
Essential dignity is great if you have it, but what about those of us with a majority of planets neither dignified or debilitated? Are we just destined to average-ness forever? Hopefully you’ve already guessed that the answer is no. And accidental dignity provides a helpful framework for what it looks like to make the best of your placements based on context. As with everything, it’s all about accepting what you’re working with in your chart and making it work the best you can - which is always enough.
While essential dignities are rooted in the functions of the planets and how well they express themselves in the signs, accidental dignity is assigned to planets based on qualities other than sign placement. Accidental dignity is not related to the inherent qualities of any planet (e.g. Mars is strong in Aries because Mars rules the sign of Aries); it is purely circumstantial, meaning that any planet can have the same accidental dignity based on where and how it shows up in the chart. Because a planet is conjunct Venus, for example, or moving at a faster rate than its average daily motion, it will have some level of dignity - regardless of its sign placement. Thus, it is accidentally dignified. (But not coincidentally so... because nothing is coincidence in astrology.)
Specifically within the context of birth chart analysis, accidental dignity allows us to see where how a planet’s essential dignity might be modified to express more strongly or weakly. I love The Astrology School’s explanation of this - it’s clear from their extended metaphor that accidental dignity does not bring the same sort of inherent gifts that essential dignity does, but it can help - or hurt - based on the context of the chart. If you don’t have a natural talent that was bestowed upon you from above, maybe you’ve worked really really hard and gotten good at something regardless. You might need to apply a bit more conscious effort rather than having it fall into your lap, but the potential is still very much there.
A planet in the sign of its rulership or exaltation will be bursting at the seams full of energy, ready to share and thrive in the outside world, but its expression may be challenged through accidental debility.
Let’s say you have Mars in Aries, with boundless drive and motivation, the ability to get things done, and lots of enthusiasm for new projects. This is an awesome placement for Mars, but if it’s retrograde in the sixth house, you might have some trouble making something out of all of that Martian initiative. All retrograde planets are expressed more inwardly, where the person with this placement has some trouble sharing its deep and complex energy with others, and planets in the sixth house are stifled by the humdrum (or put less nicely, drudgery) of day-to-day life and routine. Maybe you’re disciplined with your diet and you show up to work on time, but you don’t take initiative and show interest in being the leader so much as you’d expect based on the “cookbook” definition of Mars in Aries.
Is your essential dignity squandered here? Not necessarily, though it may take a bit more for you to find direction and become a leader - assuming that’s even something you’re interested in. Many people will feel an innate desire to “live up” to their dignified planets and accidental delibility might show up as roadblocks or frustrating self-sabotage mechanisms, but that essential dignity is still there no matter what. Perhaps you just need to wait until the right Jupiter transit or Mars’ progression into the 7th (an angular house) for things to get moving.
Conversely, maybe you’ve got Venus in Scorpio, and you're (secretly) scared to death of falling in love. You have trouble expressing how much you care about the people in your life, terrified that once you do they might leave, and your desire for deep connection gives you an all-or-nothing intensity.
While the conventional explanation of Venus in detriment would say that your intensity scares others away, you have trouble initiating relationships, and your deep emotions create the self-fulfilling prophecy of devastation once your relationships inevitably end... let’s say this placement is trine Jupiter and conjunct the Ascendant in your chart. Sure, you’re intense, and this is undoubtedly the first thing people see about you, but this allows you to attract the right partners your way, those who are magnetized to your deep nature. You have an innate knack for finding these sorts of people, and once you find them, you are able to hold on to them for a long time, because your Venus in Scorpio nature is totally “what you see is what you get” when it’s right on your ascendant.
So, maybe you’re not for everyone, but your debility does not mean your love life is cursed! Venus’ position in your chart, relative to the other planets and the houses, helps you get what you want. Essential dignity serves as an asset here.
Well, what determines accidental dignity? According to Renaissance astrologer William Lilly, whose classification table is still used today, planets are assigned accidental dignity based on their house and hemisphere placement, speed and direction of motion, position relative to the Sun, and aspects to other planets and fixed stars. Check out the chart to the right - all of this information can found on Astro.com (and I’m always happy to help translate if you’re still learning astro-jargon).
To really get into dignity and debility in your chart, you can assign points to each of your personal planets (Sun - Saturn) based on their essential and accidental dignity. Typically there is one planet that emerges as “strongest” and one as “weakest,” which can give you a great deal of insight into the assets and challenges you experience throughout life.
I’d love to hear your reflections on essential vs. accidental dignity if you’ve read this far! Have you tallied up the points for the planets in your chart? Are the results surprising, or do they validate what you already understood through your lived experience? I hope that the theory of dignity and debility enriches your astrological analysis!