Exaltation, Detriment, Fall: The Sun

Exaltation, detriment, and fall are underutilized concepts in modern astrology, perhaps in part because even the ancients did not leave us a lot of clear explanation on the matter. Every planet has a sign (and degree) of exaltation, an opposite sign of fall, and a sign of detriment opposite its domicile (you may read a primer for this series, discussing rulership, here. This series will bring together a mixture of astronomical observation, astrological intuition, and some good old fashioned trial and error as we try to nail down what it is these concepts refer to for each celestial body, and the information we can thus gain about its nature.

I had an interesting conversation last night about the metaphysical underpinning of living things. After a lot of coaxing, my conversational partner finally held forth with his opinion that viewing photographs of stars and galaxies made him feel more alive and connected, and pointed out, aptly, that all of the energy on Earth ultimately derives from a central star – the Sun.

Given this, it’s easy to understand our cultural myths and religions about the progress of the Sun through the celestial sphere. It is not merely time-keeping, a calendrical reckoning of temporal distance. Paying attention to the condition of the Sun is paying attention to the condition of our very life. Even today, we feel the relevance of the Sun’s condition in our daily lives more than we (intellectually) know it. The return of vitality in the spring, everyone out and about, is apparent right now. We even have disorders named for the natural depression in activity in the winter months, when the Sun (and we) are not in the liveliest condition.

I use the word ‘condition’ here, as I am referring to the concept of essential dignities and debilities. The Sun is said to be in good condition (dignified) if it is in its sign of exaltation or rulership, and said to be weak or debilitated if it is in the sign of its detriment or fall. As we discussed, the Sun rules Leo. This gives us some idea of the character of the Sun – masculine, fiery, radiant – and its exaltation in Aries, fall in Libra, and detriment in Aquarius tell us a lot more.

The Sun’s exaltation in Aries forms a trine to its rulership in Leo, from which we should recall the corresponding seasonal distance of four months. ‘Exaltation’ literally means ‘lifting up’ or ‘raising high’ – the Sun is not at its full strength in Aries (this belongs to Leo season) but the promise of this fullness is raised in Aries, when the day begins to dominate the night. The Sun is not the king in Aries but he is the heir apparent.

From this scheme of the strengthening and weakening of the Sun’s vitality through the year, the rationale behind its fall in Libra and detriment in Aquarius becomes more apparent. A planet’s fall is in the sign opposite that of its exaltation, so for the Sun this is Libra. Libra represents the beginning of the Sun’s loss of vitality into the winter season, the return of the rule of the night.

‘Detriment’ means literally ‘damage through rubbing away’ and we can feel the beating the Sun has taken when we wake up in the weak light of these winter months. The Sun’s detriment is not, interestingly, in Capricorn as one might expect, given that this is when the Sun spends the least time in the sky – we might be tempted to think it is at its weakest here. But the Sun in Capricorn represents a particular death-rebirth characteristic that cannot quite be called weak, whereas we can feel the Sun’s weariness in the slow & painstaking reclamation of precious minutes of daylight in Aquarius season (what else do you expect, in Saturn’s masculine sign?).

So we see that planetary dignities and debilities relate quite literally to the vitality of the planet in question and to major points in its cycle. The Sun’s vitality is very easily apprehended even in mundane life, for it is the source of all the energy in and around you all the time. Some of the outer planets may thus, naturally, be less apparent in their effects (no one can match the Sun!), so beginning our exploration with the Sun should help solidify the concepts as we continue applying them.

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Exaltation, Detriment, Fall: The Sun — 26 Comments

    • I apologize for saying, Joe, that this series will be dense! I want to give people a good deal of info to chew on, especially given the relative dearth of info online on the topic. After all, what is astrology without experimentation, and what is experimentation without data? 🙂

  1. Nice post.

    But the Sun in Capricorn represents a particular death-rebirth characteristic that cannot quite be called weak, whereas we can feel the Sun’s weariness in the slow & painstaking reclamation of precious minutes of daylight in Aquarius season (what else do you expect, in Saturn’s masculine sign?).

    I thought it was simply that Aquarius was opposite Leo. (That’s actually bugging me a bit – why would the Sun not be weaker in Capricorn?)


    • Thanks for your interest, max! You stumbled on a bit of my guess-and-check. You are right that the definition of detriment is the sign opposite the domicile. It is also the case that detriment means ‘damaged’ (in fact, in horary astrology, the significator for a lost item being in its detriment in the chart can indicate that the item in question is physically damaged). I was wondering why it was the ancients would reason this — perhaps it is merely geometrical, in which case our explanation stops there. There are also an abundance of modern takes on dignity and debility that appeal to the more psychological characteristics of the planets and signs (if I were to take a stab at the type of thing you’d read.. something about the sun-ego being uncomfortable in a collectivist sign). The ancients would not have conceptualized it like this, so given the seeming correspondence of the Sun’s exaltation and fall to seasonal points represented in the tropical zodiac, I looked for a similar rationale for domicile and detriment. You may be interested to know that, just as Aquarius does not coincide with the winter solstice, nor does Leo correspond with the summer solstice. And yet there is no doubt that the Sun is the strongest in his domicile and thus must be weakest opposite to that. So, as I alluded to above, the rationale for this seeming discrepancy (the Sun -not- factually being ‘weakest’ in the sign of the winter solstice, is that in Capricorn the Sun is dying and being reborn. This seems to display a deep inner, though delayed, fortitude — a bit of a miracle really, to come back from the ‘dead’.. I’m not sure this could properly be called weak. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this distinction, and on dignities/ debilities in general! It may very well be that looking to the seasons is an incomplete approach, in which case we must keep looking!
      [‘That was a much longer reply than I realized.’]

      • I feel about this like max. I understand that the Sun is strongest in his domicile, but there is more daylight during Cancer. This would then be in opposition to Capricorn. Thus it would be logic and all four cardinal points (solstices and equinoxes) would be dignities or debilities of the Sun. For the Moon it shouldn’t matter. I know the dignities and debilities are ancient and working, but I don’t discover logic in them.

      • I can definitely feel the weariness after December’s winter. I’ve often heard people say, including myself, that winter is nice only one month during the Christmas season. After that, it’s just so long and so cold. It’s still cold when Pisces season comes but there’s hope, when we see ice melting and the sun is coming closer.

  2. Caitlin, that was BRILLIANT! I’m so glad you’ve joined Elsa’s team. I deeply appreciate the depth of your explanation, and your writing style! You made it all clear to me, and I finally understand. Thank you. Please keep your posts coming.

    I hope you’ll write a discourse on the Nodes. I am very curious about what you have to say regarding the North Node in Libra 7th house. I’ve read that it means one will get to be with their soul mate in this lifetime, and also that it brings only loneliness.

    Thank you for the superb writing!

    • Thank you for the very kind words! Happy to be here with you. I hope to do a series on all the planetary nodes (did you know every planet has them?) in time. 🙂

      • I’m looking forward to the planetary node series. It’s hard to find anything on this topic. Even astro.com can’t calculate them or I didn’t figure that out. Saturnian and Plutonian nodes are taking part in the conjunction in 2020, right?

        • Saturn’s nodes (geocentrically) move from ~17 Cancer to 00 Leo (north — south node opposite), while Pluto’s have a range from ~19-22 Cancer at this time, so they conjoin regularly. Here is an ephemeris I came across recently that calculates them, in case you need it: http://www.true-node.com/eph3/

  3. Thanks for the very informative post. For people like myself, who live South of the equator none of the links of signs to seasons or solstices fit in. For example, Christmas is the Australian Summer solstice as the Sun moves into Capricorn. Go figure!
    As a student astrologer, I had to always do a seasonal flip in my head to understand it. Nevertheless, the ancient astrologers learned and theorized from the European night skies,where changes in seasons tied beautifully to the qualities of the Sun’s star sign. But for counties in the global South it doesn’t really work.

    • Alison, you bring up a very good point, the seasonal associations of tropical astrology completely fall apart in the South. Do you find that the flipped associations (i.e. treating Cancer as Capricorn, etc) give you reliable results in your studies? Or have you explored sidereal systems at all? In any case, thank you for the reminder that one size does not fit all!

  4. As I was reading this I began to recall the Greek and Roman myths of Aquarias/Ouranos and Capricorn/Saturn.

    Ouranos ate his children during his time and was castrated by the sickle that Saturn wields, a metaphor for returning to the essence or rebirth in a sense. Glad this is mentioned. We are in the Detriment of the Sun now correct? I’m unaware if we go through Capricorn next, which I believe we do, no? It makes sense if this is true, following the rebirth patter of myth, the cosmogonic cycle.

    • I read it was Saturn devouring his children. Famous painters, Spanish Goya and Flemish Peter Paul Reubens had portrayed it on their canvases. Quarnos imprisoned his children because he was afraid of rebellion from them. lol strange…. I loléd a little at that. Since aquarius/Uranus is about rebellion in astrology. I think most people want to be free, not imprisoned. irony that it was a Scorpio sun who discovered Uranus, and an Aquarius sun who discovered Pluto.

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