The meanings of planetary exaltation

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Planetary exaltation is part of the so-called essential dignities and debilities (along with Domicile, Exile, and Fall). Historically, the concept of exaltation is already found in the Babylonian and Egyptian astrological texts, albeit expressed differently from the current one. With Arab authors, such as al-Biruni, and Hellenistic, such as Ptolemy and Vettius Valens, we are approaching a more hierarchical classification, which will be taken up by medieval and classical astrologers and which continues to this day.

The following is a table of the planetary exaltations of the traditional planets; the specific degrees assigned to exaltation are a legacy of some Hellenistic sources [1]. In Virgo’s case, the zodiac sign is also the place of Mercury’s nocturnal domicile.

As for the trans-Saturnian planets, their placement in exaltation is somewhat speculative. The ancient and articulated system of Dignities and Debilities develops around the visible presence of the classical planets; the insertion of the new planets is therefore problematic. A first classification attempts to locate the new planets in the signs where there is no exaltation (Gemini, Leo, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Aquarius). The most followed attribution sees Uranus in Scorpio, Neptune in Leo and Pluto in Aquarius, but there is no absolute agreement. The question is too complex to be discussed here.

We now come to the meaning of the exaltation. The general attribution is strengthening and enrichment, which is complementary to the fall, the site where the planet is weakest. Below is a diagram relating to the classical planets only, which can help to understand their attributions:

Sun-Aries. The life-giving star is in the zodiac sign starting a new seasonal cycle; here, it represents the explosive power, the light that breaks through and sweeps away the darkness.

Moon-Taurus. Lunar sensitivity and receptivity manifest themselves with great richness in the first sign of Earth, favouring the growth and sustenance of natural forms.

Mercury-Virgo. The mental and analytical functions are exploited to the maximum in the sign symbolising the apex of discriminating thinking.

Venus-Pisces. The planet of relationships and emotional balance finds the possibility of amplifying its tendencies towards universal or unconditional love.

Mars-Capricorn. Here strength joins tenacity. Capricorn hardens the characteristic Martian impetuosity to make it last over time.

Jupiter-Cancer. The planet loses its hierarchical meaning but expands its vast human and social potential.

Saturn-Libra. The planet of rationality and necessity applies its potential to the social structures that represent it: the law and the regulatory functions of the collective order.

Not everyone agrees on these attributions; some seem to depart from the mutual compatibility between the planet and its sign of exaltation. For example, Robert Hand points out, among other things, that Saturn exalted in Libra is badly associated with a Venusian sign [2]. Without a defined symbolic scheme, the question is far from resolved. In fact, since the time of Ptolemy, planetary exaltation has always had a subordinate role concerning the domicile. Not to mention that a planet exalted with critical aspects risks amplifying the adverse effects.