A planet in a sign other than its own bestows (or disposes) its energetic to the sign's ruling planet. Thus, the ruling planet of a sign is called the dispositor for a planet visiting the ruling planet's sign. For example, if Mercury were in Leo, Mercury disposes its energetic to the Sun because Sun rules Leo. Thus, the Sun is Mercury's dispositor. The Sun, or course, can be in a sign other than Leo. If it were in Cancer, the Moon would be its dispositor, because the Moon rules Cancer. If the Moon were in Taurus, Venus would be its dispositor. If Venus were in a sign other than Taurus or Libra, the ruler of that sign becomes the dispositor for Venus—creating a chain of disposition. If Venus were in Taurus or Libra however, Venus would be the final dispositor, being its own authority, ending the chain.
The final dispositor holds a very strong position, not only because it is in its domicile (home sign), but because it has the influential support of the planets in the chain. Looking at the chain of dispositors can bring significant insight into the underlying workings of each planet in the chain, as well as what formulates the final planet's expression. Chains of dispositors reveal our underlying neurology, how we are wired. They delineate our behavioral inclination and decision making process. A dispositor in a chain consults with the previous planet in the chain, thus augmenting its expression as it influences the next planet in the chain, its dispositor, much like a chain of advisors. A dispositor of a planet reveals why the planet expresses as it does, its purpose in a sense, serving its dispositor. Likewise, the planets forming the chain of a final dispositor reveal the underlying neurological process forming the dispositor's expression, why it behaves as it does.
Generally, only the traditional (visible) planets are considered when looking at dispositors (the Sun, Moon, and Mercury through Saturn), although you can look at other planets in this way, which can also be insightful. Dispositions can also be based upon other astrological elements. Traditionally, those include exaltations, triplicities, terms and faces (decans). Although other elements can be considered as well, such as dwads or Nakshatras. Exploring dispositions based on rulerships and exaltations is the most significant and is primary method applied in modern day astrology. Planets are strongest in their ruling signs. It is where they exemplify their nature and best fulfill their roles.
Triplicities refer to the trines formed by the four elements, with each trine having two different ruling planets, one for day and one for night. Dispositions based on triplicities generally indicate harmonious and fortunate planetary relationships, where things just happen, like the nature of a trine aspect. Faces refer to the three decans (10° segments) of each sign, with each decan having its own ruler. Terms are based on a sign's division into five segments.
"Essential Dignity" is a term used to refer to the strength or weakness of a planet, how well it performs and is able to fulfill its role. Whether the Essential Dignity of a planet is strong or weak is determined by whether it is enhanced or debilitated based on rulerships, exaltations, triplicities, terms or faces. The Essential Dignity of a planet does not account for a planet's chart location (houses, angles), star alignments or aspects. "Accidental Dignity" is a term used to refer to a planet's strength or weakness considering these other factors.
Exalted locations are based on astronomical positions (star alignments). They have nothing to do with signs or Naksahtras. Their origin preceded a sign-based zodiak. Extending exaltations beyond a couple degree orb to an entire sign is unsound, as the stars expressing through an exalted location bring awareness to a planet's Gnostic role. It is where the nature of a planet expresses independently with heightened awareness and with knowledgable authority. Mercury, for example, is exalted in mid-sidereal Virgo conjoining Porrima and Vindemiatrix, which impart higher perceptual capacities, hence exalting Mercury's nature and accentuating premonition, telepathic and related abilities. Mercury is also the ruler of Virgo, thus being strong throughout the sign, but Mercury is only heightened at its exalted location. Say for example the ascendent of a chart conjoins Zubenelgenubi (~21° Libra), the star marking the exalted location for Saturn. In this case I would place significant emphasis on Saturn, its placement, etc. I would not place the same emphasis on Saturn if the ascendent were in earlier Libra. (The discovery chart of the Dwarf Planet 2007 OR10 is an example of this exact configuration.)
A planet is only at its "fall," at the degree opposite its exaltation, not throughout the entire sign. Here a planet is submissive or passive in the sense that it is influenced far more by the nature of the sign, whether it is dignified or in detriment by rulership, its star alignments, and by its aspects and house placement.
Dispositions do not automatically imply a good or bad situation, that they are strengthening or debilitating, or create easy or hard planetary relationships. They reveal the transcendent neurological wiring of the planets involved, and this can occur in empowering ways, challenging ways, or even in paradoxical or confusing ways. Thus, the nature and strength of the planets, signs, stars, aspects, chart placement (house), level of dignity or debilitation, etc., are all factors to be considered when delineating a planet's disposition and what it is contributing to its dispositor.
Referring only to Traditional Planets: All planets rule two signs (except for the Sun and Moon, which rule Leo and Cancer). If a planet rules an air sign in a masculine expression, it rules an earth sign in a feminine expression. If it rules a fire sign in a masculine expression, it rules a water sign in a feminine expression.
The four basic elements precipitate from Æther, the quintessential element.
The Moon rules the water element, and is feminine and nocturnal in nature.
The Sun rules the fire element, and is masculine and diurnal in nature.
The Moon (feminine) is semi-sextile Mercury in masculine Gemini (Air) and is sextile Mercury in feminine Virgo (Earth).
The Sun (masculine) is sextile Mercury in masculine Gemini (Air) and is semi-sextile Mercury in feminine Virgo (Earth).
The Moon is square Venus in masculine Libra and is sextile Venus in feminine Taurus.
The Sun is sextile Venus in masculine Libra and is square Venus in feminine Taurus.
The Moon is square Mars in masculine Aries and is trine Mars in feminine Scorpio.
The Sun is trine Mars in masculine Aries and is square Mars in feminine Scorpio.
The Moon is quincunx Jupiter in masculine Sag and is trine Jupiter in feminine Pisces.
The Sun is trine Jupiter in masculine Sag and is quincunx Jupiter in feminine Pisces.
The Moon is quincunx Saturn in masculine Aquarius and is opposite Saturn in feminine Capricorn.
The Sun is opposite Saturn in masculine Aquarius and is quincunx Saturn in feminine Capricorn.
The sextile, trine and opposition aspects occur between the Sun (considered masculine) and the planetary rulers of the masculine signs, and between the Moon (considered feminine) and the planetary rulers of the feminine signs, indicating more harmonious and compatible relations. Conversely, the semi-sextile, square and quincunx aspects occur between the Sun and the planetary rulers of the feminine signs, and between the Moon and the planetary rulers of the masculine signs, indicating more challenging relations.
Planetary elements are not fixed. In classical Vedic literature, we often see Mercury associated with earth, and Saturn with air. However, Mercury, being associated with the intellect, thought, communication, more so corresponds with the air element. Saturn, being of concretized structure and form, more so corresponds with the earth element. Personally, I prefer the Mercury-Air / Saturn-Earth association. That said, planet-element relations can be augmented by several factors, such as chart placement, sign, nakshatra and navamsa rulerships, and their masculine/feminine nature, the gunas, aspects with other planets, and how elements combine (a fire-water amalgam expresses differently than a fire-air amalgam.
Mercury, for example is quite mutable. In masculine Gemini (an air sign) it expresses the air element, being of externalized forms of communication and logistics, making things happen in the outer world. In feminine Virgo (an earth sign), Mercury is more about bodies of knowledge and their practical application, about internal systems of communication, like biological/agricultural symbiotics. Here in Virgo, Mercury expresses the air element augmented by earth. Saturn, for example, being of structure and form, can refer to material objects and physical systems, architectural, mechanical, yet it can also refer to intellectually related structures, like political or other functional systems, organizations of any type, published works, long establish belief structures, etc.
The Moon is especially mutable, thus other elements can easily augment its watery nature. Venus, like the Moon is watery, yet it is more airy in nature compared to Moon's water. Mars is fire, yet this can be creative expansive fire (more sun-like), or it can be primal carnal fire (more earth like). Thus, an astrologer should consider all factors when thinking of a planet's elemental nature.
Mutual Reception occurs when two planets act as dispositors for each other, such as Mercury in Capricorn (Saturn's domicile) and Saturn in Gemini (Mercury's domicile).
There can also be chain of disposing planets, but without that chain ending with a planet in its ruling sign. Instead, the chain ends in a Mutual Reception. An example is shown in the chart to the right. Venus in Cancer disposes to the Moon (the ruler of Cancer). The Moon (with the influence of Venus) and Saturn, both in Scorpio, team up and dispose to Mars (the ruler of Scorpio), Mars in Leo disposes to the Sun. The Sun in Gemini disposes to Mercury, and Mercury in Leo disposes back to the Sun, creating the loop, thus becoming the dominant energetic of the chart. Note Jupiter in Virgo, also disposes to Mercury, adding its wisdom, and its mobilizing and expansive energetic to the loop.
Planets in mutual reception consult with and influence each other, they work together, generally strengthening each other, but not always. Sometimes one planet may be stronger than the other, thus we may tend to give its expression precedence. They can also set up an oscillatory effect, creating a loop of indecision or a paradoxical quandary. Becoming aware of this, if occurring in one's natal chart, can bring tremendous insight in the the nature of one's behavioral patterns and how to consciously work to evolve and balance such an energetic.
The material on this web page about Dispositions is intended as a mere introduction. You can easily find more in-depth material presented by authors more versed on this topic.
Note to the novice astrologer: When exploring an astrological chart, consider first the intrinsic nature of each planet (and its proximity to the angles [ASC-DSC / MC/IC]) before considering rulership, let alone dispositions, that is, before assigning a planet to rule an area of life. For example, if you have a second house Aries and consider Mars (its ruler) to preside over acquired resources (personal wealth, money, etc.), consider the inherent nature of Mars first and foremost. Mars is always Mars before the sign/house that it may reside in augments its disposition (how it expresses through your entire chart).
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