Someone in the local (tropical) astrological Meetup community recently asked me about the significance of planetary dignities and their application in the chart. My response went something like this:
A natal planet in dignity (own/exalted sign, directional strength, etc) offers the opportunity to exhibit its best qualities, while a weak planet (debilitated, combust, etc) may well manifest its poorer qualities.
For example, Saturn offers a full spectrum of characteristics: mature, organized, stable, conservative, ambitious, persevering, constructive, contemplative, solitary, morose, frustrated, lethargic, taciturn, pessimistic, alienated, repressive, depressive, etc, etc.
A person with an exalted Saturn in the 12th house may leave home to enter a Zen monastery, because Saturn’s solitary nature finds an exalted form of expression via contemplation. A person with a debilitated Saturn in the 12th may leave home to go into alcohol/drug rehab because Saturn’s same solitary nature has sought expression via the insular activity of substance abuse.
Similarly, Mars like to fight. A person with own/exalted Mars in the 7th may take up professional (contact) sports, which is a socially-approved form of aggressive behavior, while the person with debilitated/combust Mars in the 7th may be a wife-beater or a tavern brawler.
These examples from a pair of malefic planets can as easily be applied to the benefic planets. Any good astrology book will suggest a full range of behaviors for the planetary archetypes. Once we understand that every behavior has its flip side of the coin, we can then relate it to the strength/weakness of the planet in question.
We must be careful not to get distracted by the word “exaltation” which implies something very lofty. In fact, a planet in its own sign is actually stronger than a planet in exaltation. That’s because a king is truly a king in his own castle, whereas a visitor may be treated (exalted) like a king, but at the end of the day, obliged to defer to the house ruler/dispositor.
The whole spectrum of planetary strength/weakness is vitally important in chart analysis, and we ignore it at our peril. But we must also factor in malefic/benefic status. Consider this: we can nuance/spin things all we want, but in a black-and-white world, Saturn is a malefic. If we were to personify Saturn, we might call him a rogue.
If we take criminals for an analogy, exalted Saturn is a refined and charming thinking-man’s crook, like Clooney, Pitt & Co in Ocean’s 11/12/13, while a debilitated Saturn is an in-your-face unpredictable and out-of-control hood such as portrayed by Joe Pesci, or the lieutenants of The Sopranos.
Although it’s never quite as simple as I’m illustrating here, the distinction between strong/weak planetary influence is a very fundamental one in being able to describe, first, the characteristics of a client and, second, the outcomes of such character. After all, Character is Fate.