Triplicity Rulers: One or Three?
Recently, a reader asked about triplicity rulers. She noted that in an article on profession I attributed Venus as a triplicity lord of a Capricorn Ascendant in a night chart. In Chapter 15 of Demetra George’s book “Ancient Astrology” she dealt with triplicity lords. She appears to only consider one triplicity lord for the matters of sign rejoicing and rulership. Namely, she uses the first triplicity lord (that of the sect). Do the other two triplicity lords matter?
Triplicity is one of the most misunderstood and neglected types of rulership in traditional astrology. I have written on them in the past, so I don’t want to re-tread too much ground. Let’s briefly recap what triplicity lords signify.
In the lesson on the signs, I introduced the triplicity lords. Please first familiarize yourself with the triplicity lords by way of that lesson. The triplicity lords are three planets which rule over a given triangle of three signs, or a given element (fire, earth, air, water). There is a day ruler, a night ruler, and a participating ruler.
The ruler of the sect is considered the main and initial influence. The triplicity rulers were often used in timing such that the ruler of sect showed support in the first period. That of the other sect showed support in the second period. Thus, there is an order to the triplicity lords, starting with the lord of sect.
Demetra noted the use of multiple triplicity lords for timing techniques. However, she emphasized only the triplicity lord of sect for assessing planetary condition. In this view, there is a planet that is THE triplicity lord. The other two lords are marginal, only to be used in certain techniques.
Triplicity rulership is indicative of support, particularly reflective of relatives. For instance, a strong triplicity ruler can indicate significant support to what a planet or house indicates, and can make up for its deficiencies. An example might be a wealthy uncle who provides opportunities that one could not create for oneself out of one’s own abilities.
Triplicity is strongly associated with sect. Sect (day or night) is another significant factor that pertained to a relationship of affinity and support. I have explored the meaning of sign sect and its overlap with triplicity in the article on the sect and sex of the signs. Please refer to that article for information on that relationship. Sect and triplicity are two primary ways in which planets have a sense of kinship with each other and sense of support network in each other’s places.
As I noted in an early article on the subject, triplicity was originally associated with the directions of winds, rather than of the elements. Demetra, following Robert Schmidt, noted that this sense of triplicity as winds works nicely as a metaphor for support. A planet in its own triplicity has the wind at its back, and triplicity lords are like productive winds helping to move things forward.
One or Three in Hellenistic Literature
So now let’s return to the question of the use of the triplicity lords. These lords were strongly emphasized in the work of Dorotheus and Valens, two pivotal early Hellenistic astrologers. Would these men have considered Venus in Capricorn to be in triplicity by night? Also would they have considered Venus to be a significant triplicity lord (in terms of support) of Capricorn by night? After all, the Moon is the nocturnal lord of Earth by night, and Venus is the diurnal one. Is the diurnal lord significant in a nocturnal chart?
I caution against getting all of one’s ideas about Hellenistic astrology from secondary sources. There are many high quality English translations of Hellenistic texts available. Secondary sources are primarily useful as gateways to aid in approaching primary sources and for critical practical evaluation and comparison. I try to encourage the exploration of primary source material as much as possible. Don’t take my word for it, look at the texts. And that’s what we’ll do now.
Dorotheus of Sidon (1st century CE)
First, I’d like to say that Ben Dykes provided a great introduction to his translation of Dorotheus’s Carmen Astrologicum. This introduction includes a discussion of the meaning of triplicity (beginning at page 42). I highly recommend that one obtains a copy of that translation and reads the introduction. As he noted, triplicity lords in Carmen tend to signify increase/decrease, protection, and assistance.
Order Not Exclusion
“The triplicity of Aries: its lords by day are the Sun, then Jupiter, then Saturn; and by night Jupiter, then the Sun, then Saturn.” (Dorotheus, Book I, Ch. 1, #4, Dykes trans., 2017, p. 61-62)
The way that Dorotheus presented the triplicity lords is significant. Dorotheus did not say that the Sun is the triplicity lord of a fire sign by day, and Jupiter by night. No, he said that by day the lords of that triplicity are the Sun, then Jupiter, then Saturn, and by night they are Jupiter, then the Sun, then Saturn. He did this for each triplicity. This emphasizes that all three are important for either chart sect. Sect only pertains to their order.
More Strong Lords Equals More Strong Support
Dorotheus made it very clear that all three triplicity lords are to be used in the matter of support. This does not just apply to timing. For instance, in the matter of looking at the health of one’s upbringing he examines all three triplicity lords of the Ascendant.
“… you want to examine the first, second, and third lords of the triplicity of the Ascendant: for if you found of them in its own share and a stake (or in what is equivalent to that, of the places in which it becomes stronger), then that will increase him in life, by the permission of God, and protect him.” (Dorotheus, Book I, Ch. 4, #2, Dykes trans., 2017, p. 65)
But let’s be clear, Dorotheus went beyond this. Not only can any one of the three triplicity lords help to support a position, but more strong lords equals more support.
“Now if the three of them were all in strong places, then it is more excellent. And if two of them were in a strong position, then the strength in their indication will be complete, and preferable to that is if the first one of them is in an excellent place.” (Dorotheus, Book I, Ch. 4, #3-4, Dykes trans., 2017, p. 65)
Note that Dorotheus advised that it is most preferable if the first lord is strong. This suggests that this first lord was viewed as a first or preferred line of support.
Summary of Dorotheus on the Triplicity Lords
There are numerous passages in Carmen in which Dorotheus used the lords in this manner. Please see the introductory section by Dykes for a table of the sections in which Dorotheus used the triplicity lords. You will find that the passages above are representative of Dorotheus’s approach to triplicity. Namely, sect orders the lords in terms of first line of support, second, and third. It is not intended to indicate that only one planet is THE triplicity lord while the others are insignificant.
Therefore, here we get to the crux of the matter that so confuses people about triplicity lords. First, all of the triplicity lords rule a sign of that triplicity, by day or night. They are all significant. Second, the sect distinction is to order the lords of the triplicity. This ordering pertains to actual temporal ordering for timing techniques but also a sense of priority or preference. We might consider the first triplicity lord to be the preferred first line of support, wheres the third is the support of last resort.
Vettius Valens (2nd century CE)
Valens is more ambiguous in his introduction to triplicity (the triangles). He introduced them in Book II, Ch. 1 of his Anthology. Triplicity is explicitly linked to sect in this passage. I have provided extensive quotes from the passage in my lesson on the signs.
He is more ambiguous in that he sometimes says things like “the moon, being near the earth, is allotted the houserulership of Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn” but also says things like “[f]or day births Venus will lead; the moon will operate second; Mars, third” (Valens, Anthologies, Book II, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 25).
Next the moon, being near the earth, is allotted the houserulership of Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn, a triangle earthy in nature and the next in order. It has Venus and Mars as members of the same sect […]. Therefore for night births the moon has preeminence; in the second place is Venus; in the third is Mars. For day births Venus will lead; the moon will operate second; Mars, third. (Valens, Anthologies, Book II, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 25)
However, it is clear from Valens’s use of language pertaining to “preeminence” and second and third places, that all three are used. It is the order and relative importance that changes by day and night.
Support from All Three
In the next chapter of Book II, Valens laid out how to use the triplicity lords in delineation. He explicitly looked at all three rulers in much the same fashion as Dorotheus.
“If the sun is found in Taurus, Virgo, or Capricorn (for day births), it will be necessary to investigate first how Venus is configured, second the moon, and third Mars, and to see what stars they have in aspect. In the same way, if the sun is in the next triangle, Gemini, Libra, or Aquarius (for day births), it will be necessary to look at Saturn, then Mercury, then Jupiter. The same for the triangle Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces: if the sun is there (for day births), it will be necessary to look at Venus, then Mars, then the moon, to see if they are at angles. Having determined all this, then make the prediction.” (Valens, Anthologies, Book II, Ch. 1, Riley trans., 2010, p. 25)
As a Rejoicing Condition
Valens also clarified that a planet is strengthened by being in a sign of its own sect or triangle. Again, this would include Venus in Capricorn in a night chart, for example.
“It is best if the stars of the day sect are found at angles in their own triangles or in operative places; the same is true for the stars of the night sect. If they are in other triangles or in the opposite sect, prosperity will be less and will be subject to anxiety.” (Valens, Anthologies, Book II, Ch. 2, Riley trans., 2010, p. 26)
I explore some of these constant references throughout Valens to sect and triangle as near synonyms in my article on sign sect. The terms are nearly synonymous because a sign of the same sect as a planet is with only a couple exceptions also a sign in which the planet is a triplicity lord. In any case, Valens sees some sort of intrinsic support pertaining to a planet in its own triplicity. This condition is not just applicable if the planet is the first triplicity lord of that triplicity.
As we’ve seen, there were three triplicity lords of every sign in Hellenistic astrology. Sect was used to order them. This ordering pertained to relative importance in terms of support, and in terms of temporal ordering (typically with just the first and second used in that matter as beginning and end). All three triplicity lords were relevant both in the sense of rulership and in terms of evaluating planetary condition. Additionally, a greater number of strong triplicity lords can act to multiply the degree of support shown through triplicity.
Triplicity was of great importance to astrologers like Dorotheus and Valens. It was often emphasized more than domicile rulership. The symobolism of triplicity lords reflects the fact that success and opportunities often pertain more to connections than inherent quality or condition. It’s about who you know.
Dorotheus of Sidon, & al-Tabari, U. (2017). Carmen Astrologicum: The ’Umar al-Tabari Translation. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, Minn.,: The Cazimi Press.
Valens, V. (2010). Anthologies. (M. Riley, Trans.) (Online PDF.). World Wide Web: Mark Riley. Retrieved from http://www.csus.edu/indiv/r/rileymt/Vettius%20Valens%20entire.pdf
Featured image is Trinity + Triquetra (Tripod of Life, Borromean rings) Jerusalem by zeevveez from Jerusalem, Israel [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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