There are so many misconceptions nowadays regarding planetary dignity in general and planetary wakefulness (exaltation\debilitation) in particular, that the entire theme became discarded in modern western astrology and extremely difficult to apply in its vedic counterpart. The confusion stems not only from the ravages of time upon our knowledge, but also from the effects of culture on our world view.
In fact, when it comes to interpreting planetary dignity, it is the cultural frame of reference that is the main problem as it has changed so much since antiquity that one might say a debilitated planet would seem exalted in today’s world and vice versa!
Now before you get excited, do keep in mind that there are always tradeoffs in astrology and even if you think that either an exalted or a debilitated planet are great news, in reality mediocrity is often better than any extreme, and the actual result of both extremes might surprise you quite a bit.
So what are those results? And why are they so confusing?
Holocaust Survivors vs Albert Einstein – The dignity of Mars
Whenever I saw charts of holocaust survivors, specifically from Eastern Europe, the one thing that often stood out was a debilitated Mars. This is hardly a surprise as their land (Cancer) was aggressively invaded (Mars) by a ruthless and murderous enemy (debilitation). But one must not forget that these were survivors, not casualties, and that they were physically very robust and in shape well into their 70’s, 80’s and sometimes beyond, especially if the Moon was well placed in their chart.
An almost opposite situation can be seen in the case of Albert Einstein, who was from Germany itself and not quite an athletic figure to say the least. But when it came to physics, which is also governed by Mars, he understood it far more than the average person could ever hope to. He was also a pacifist and was able to avoid direct involvement in both world wars, with his single indirect involvement destroying two cities in the blink of an eye.
These examples show precisely why it is so difficult to understand exaltation and debilitation through modern eyes. While one would expect the exalted Mars to produce a strong physique and martial prowess, it is the debilitated Mars that results in both. And conversely while one would expect a debilitated mars to produce weakness and defeat, it often produces the strongest fighters who are able to survive almost anything and prevail against all odds.
A very interesting and educational example of a debilitated Mars can be found in the most unlikely of charts – Krishna Avatar. His personal victories are well documented, along with his crucial contribution to the victory of the Pandavas in Kurukshetra, so one might wonder whether there was a mistake in the reconstruction of his birth chart. Yet the trickery and deceit with which he obtained those victories, and his willingness and even insistence on an “end justifies the means” approach to warfare, show the true results of a debilitated Mars.
Joan of Arc vs Niccolo Machiavelli – The dignity of Venus
With the examples given above, one might think that the saintly virgin and the heroine of France would be a perfect example of an exalted planet. Yet in reality her Venus, the planet of politics, is in the enemy sign of Sagittarius and this is well reflected in the real world results of her idealism. While extremely successful as a wartime symbol, during her lifetime her zealous nature led to political allies betraying her and to the British executing her for heresy. And even when it came to actual battlefield results, they were far from significant.
Quite surprisingly, the political career of Machiavelli didn’t go much better, ending up in exile as a persona non grata. Yet unlike the idealistic Joan of Arc, he was far more aware of how the world really works. Unlike many before him, he was quite aware that in the real world the good, the noble and the idealistic often find themselves losing and dying while those who play dirty are the ones who win. And while often misunderstood, his book the prince outlines the same tactics employed by Krishna to ensure success instead of clinging to ideals that simply don’t work. This insight and awareness should come as no surprise, given the fact that just like Krishna, Machiavelli had Venus exalted in his chart.
With the examples above, one might imagine that a debilitated Venus would produce someone even more idealistic than Joan of Arc, yet in reality it simply produces someone less compromising and less diplomatic as can be seen in the example of Herbert Hoover. While personally he was racially tolerant and philanthropic, he was also quite autocratic and a Hitler supporter. He was also widely blamed for inaction during the great depression even though many of the public works projects attributed to Roosevelt were initiated by him. It is in fact in his ignorance in supporting Hitler and inability to handle the unfolding financial crisis that one can see the real effect of a debilitated Venus, which unfortunately made him both economically and politically illiterate.
Sigmund Freud vs Friedrich Nietzsche – The dignity of the Sun.
Perhaps the best and certainly the most interesting example that can be given to the way exaltation and debilitation really work can be seen with Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche. While it is hardly surprising that the author of “der Wille zur Macht” who later suffered from a nervous breakdown that turned him into a megalomaniac would have a debilitated Sun in his chart, few realize that this debilitation was taking place in the 1st house. This gave his Sun a lot of strength and made its themes very prominent in Nietzsche’s life, giving him fame even to this day, but it also led to such tragic outcomes as his mental illness and the twisting of his ideas by the Nazis.
At the opposite end of the spectrum one can find none other than Sigmund Freud, with an exalted but weak Sun in the 7th house. Despite its exaltation, Freud was often seen as a pompous tyrant among colleagues and peers, but at the same time he himself often admitted to having deep insecurities and somewhat of an inferiority complex. And while the ideas of Nietzsche are often misrepresented yet are highly respected by the general public, the opposite is true of Freud’s work which is often the subject of caricatures and ridicule.
These examples show the true meaning of exaltation and debilitation and the difference between those and planetary strength. The exaltation-debilitation scale is quite correctly called “dignity” in vedic astrology, as it does in fact show the quality of the result instead of their magnitude. A more ancient name to this scale is “wakefulness”, which alludes to the fact that it dictates our understanding of the themes represented by the planet. That is why Freud, despite being quite full of himself, could see his own shortcomings while Nietzsche was driven to loss of control over his own ego despite being far more level headed and humble.
The Lotus and the Rose
While metaphoric, the real world example of the difference between a lotus flower and a rose can perfectly illustrate the whole concept of exaltation and debilitation. Both of these flowers are famous and respected, yet one is a symbol of purity and the divine while the other a symbol of love and desire. To pick a rose one can simply go to the garden, where it is carefully cultivated to provide as much beauty as possible. To pick a Lotus on the other hand, one must get knee deep in mud as it grows best in gutters and swamps. Yet when giving a Lotus flower to someone else it will never harm him, while the thorns of the rose often hurt the receiving hands of the ones we love.
Care to guess which one is the exaltation and which the debilitation?
Yet at the same time, would you really bring a lotus to a lover instead of a rose?