In this blog post and the next, I will be discussing the rationale behind the dignities presented in the Neophyte Knowledge lecture from the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Traditionally, when one completes the Neophyte degree, they are given five subjects to memorize perfectly in order to advance.
- The names and symbols of the four elements,
- The names, symbols and elemental attributions to the 12 zodiac signs,
- The names, symbols, zodiacal dignities of the seven planets,
- The Hebrew Alphabet and
- The names of 10 Qabalistic Sephirot.
For the rest of this post, I will focus on dignities of the seven planets. These dignities have diverse origins but in the Hellenistic period, a grand total of five “essential dignities” were standardized.
- The Houses or Domiciles
- The Exaltations
- The Triplicites
- The Decanates
- The Bounds or Terms
In the astrology presented to the Neophyte, only the houses, domiciles and triplicities are required for study. The decanates come in a later grade when studying the minor arcana of the tarot, while the bounds do not appear at all. Note that these dignities are called “Essential Dignities” as they essentially do not change. They are inherent to the zodiacal wheel. On the other hand, there are a series of “Accidental Dignities” which are not inherent to the zodiacal wheel and will appear in another Knowledge Lecture (and subsequent post).
Initially when first reading the Knowledge Lecture of the Neophyte, it may seem confusing as to the attribution of the planets to particular signs. No rationale or pattern is provided. It is essentially a case of just memorizing the dignities as presented. Let us look more deeply into the origin of these three dignities. This may help the aspiring Neophyte memorize and understand the dignities better and open up the mind for further meditation. Quite a lot of these rationales may have only been brought to light recently due to the translations and study of many Hellenistic astrological texts.
- The Houses or Domiciles
While the term “House” is used in modern astrology, the term “Domicile” may be more apt, as it can be confused another astrological doctrine also called the houses. These are presented in a future knowledge lecture and will be discussed in a future blog post.
The general idea is that each planet has either one or two zodiacal signs that they feel “at home” in. A sign in which they feel most comfortable and able to produce their significations naturally. They are essentially the signs where that planet is the strongest. In the Neophyte lecture, these may seem like a random assignment with no discernible pattern.
To make this more understandable, the Hellenistic astrologers had a teaching Tool called the “Thema Mundi” which can be translated as the “Birthchart of the World” or the “Nativity of God”, see Figure 1.
Both luminaries (the sun and the moon) are assigned to Cancer and Leo respectively. Next Mercury is assigned to Virgo. The rationale behind involves Mercury’s position in the sky. Each sign of the Zodiac occupies 300 of the ecliptic. As Mercury is so close to the sun, it never strays more than one sign away from the Sun. Similarly, Venus’s position in Libra is due to Venus never straying more than two signs from the Sun. Next Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are attributed to Scorpio, Sagittarius and Capricorn as they are the next planets that progress in natural and Chaldaic order from the Sun.
To account for the rest of the attributions, the story goes that the Sun moved into sign of Virgo and the heat was so over-bearing, Mercury moved as far away from the sun as he could to Gemini. Next, the Sun moved to Libra and Venus moved as far away as she could to Taurus. Similarly, the Sun moved onwards, and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn moved to Aries, Pisces and Aquarius respectively.
One probably notices this leads to a symmetry of the Houses starting with the luminaries at Cancer and Leo with each of the planets in order from the Sun spanning out on each side. The two final signs, Capricorn and Aquarius, occupied by Saturn. This can lead to very basic interpretative principles based on polar opposites. The Light of the luminaries opposes to the cold darkness of the Saturn. This can be extended to the other planets such as the obvious dichotomy between Mars and Venus. Even the opposing ideas of Jupiter and Mercury can be examined such as that of long and short journeys.
One might wonder why of the luminaries, the Sun is attributed to Leo and the Moon to Cancer, and not the other way around. This basic attribution could simply be derived from Leo being a Fire Sign and Cancer being a Water Sign.
One may also wonder why this system starts at Cancer as opposed to Aries as demonstrated in modern Astrology. There are a few theories, but I favor the theory that it is related to Cancer rising over the Eastern Horizon every year when the Nile flooded.
In part 2 of this series, I will discuss the known origins of the Exaltations and Triplicities.