The Logic of the Triplicity Lords: A Dialectical Account of the Astrological Triads

The Logic of the Triplicity Lords: A Dialectical Account of the Astrological Triads

“Hegel came to connect dialectic with the triad, or with triplicity”—Findlay, Hegel: A Re-examination.

Triplicity rulership is a form of planetary jurisdiction in ancient astrology. As the name suggests, instead of a single planet presiding over a given domain (as house and exaltation rulers do), triplicity rulers come in groups of three, and these three planets together rule over three signs. For many traditional astrologers, these triplicity rulers were of fundamental importance. Dortheus, for example, declares near the outset of the Carmen Astrologicum:

“Every thing which is decided and indicated comes from the lords of the triplicities. And for every thing of tribulation and hardship which afflicts people of the world and the generality of men, the lords of the triplicities decide it—even in an eclipse of the Sun and Moon, in what they indicate for the things which will come to be, and until when they will be, and in which types [of things] they will be” (I.I.8-9).

Thus, for Dortheus, the triplicity rulers were crucial to astrological practice. Without a knowledge of them, we lack knowledge of “everything”—what events will be and for whom and for how long they will be. Similarly, Valens describes the triplicity lords as constituting the “general basis” (καθολικός ὑπόστασις) of a nativity (Anthologies II. Preface).

There were a few different schematizations of the triplicity lords in the ancient world, but the dominant, so called, “Dorthean of model” was articulated along the following lines:

Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius constitute the fire triplicity (Dortheus, Carmen Astrologicum, I.1.2).[1] “Its lords by day are the Sun, then Jupiter, then Saturn; and by night Jupiter, then the Sun, then Saturn” (Ibid., I.1.4).

Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius form the air triplicity. “Its lords by day are Saturn, then Mercury, then Jupiter; and by night Mercury, then Saturn, then Jupiter” (Ibid., I.1.6).

Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces form the water triplicity. “Its lords by day are Venus, then Mars, then the Moon, and by night Mars, then Venus, then the moon” (Ibid., I.1.7).

And, finally, Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn constitute the earth triplicity. “Its lords by day are Venus, then the Moon, then Mars; and by night the Moon, then Venus, then Mars (and in Virgo Mercury also has a share)” (Ibid., I.1.5).

Note how the order of the triplicity lords varies according to sect. Day and Night charts differ in their starting points and in their transitions. For example, the fire triplicity in a day chart would begin with the Sun, and then shift to Jupiter, but, in a night chart, things would proceed in the opposite direction, beginning with Jupiter and shifting to the Sun.

Sect and Triplicity

There is thus an essential connection between the doctrines of Sect and Triplicity. Indeed, our extant examples of the justifications for the triplicity assignments all ground their arguments in considerations of sect. Valens, for instance, explains sect and triplicity together and appeals to sect to explain triplicity.[2] In attempting to account for the fire triplicity, Valens contends that:

“When the zodiacal circle is subdivided according to similarities and differences, we find two sects, solar and lunar, day and night. The sun, being fiery, is most related to Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, and this triangle of the sun is called “of the day-sect” because it too is fiery by nature. The sun has attached Jupiter and Saturn to this sect as his co-workers and guardians of the things which he accomplishes: Jupiter as a reflection of the sun and as his successor to the kingship, a partisan of good, and the bestower of glory and life, Saturn on the other hand as a servant of evil and of downfall, and a depriver of years <of life>. Therefore the sun is the lord of this triangle for day births; for night births Jupiter succeeds to the throne; Saturn works with both” (Valens, Anthologies, II.1).

Here Valens argues that since the Sun is essentially fiery, it is the leader of the diurnal sect, and is thus also a fitting leader for the fire triplicity. So, for day charts, it will be the primary triplicity ruler. In contrast, Jupiter will be the primary ruler for night charts. Saturn is presumably ruled out as a primary leader in this case, since it “is a servant of evil and downfall, and a depriver of years”. Saturn is thus instead given the role of working with (συνεργός) both the Sun and Jupiter.

And Valens makes a similar argument concerning the earth triplicity, when he tries to establish why the Moon would be its primary ruler by night. He contends:

“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: Venus (as is reasonable) acts as a benefactor and distributes glory and years;  Mars acts as the bane of nativities. 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, II.1).

Valens notes that since the Moon is astronomically close to earth, it is most fittingly connected to the earth element. And since the Moon is also the primary luminary of the nocturnal sect, it is fitting for it to be the primary triplicity Lord as well. In contrast, for diurnal charts, Venus will be primary. Again, Mars seems to be ruled out as a primary lord since it acts “as the bane of nativities” and so is given the role of cooperating ruler.  

Unfortunately, Valens gives up his attempt to justify the order of the triplicity rulers when he comes to the air and water signs, and opts instead to simply stipulate the relevant lords and their order. Moreover, he appears to be puzzled about what to do with Mercury when he asserts:

“Note that Mercury is common (κοινός) and works with (ἐξυπηρετέω) the two sects to a special degree to accentuate the good or the bad, and to accentuate the individual characteristics and configurations of each star” (Valens, Anthologies II.1).

By saying Mercury works with everything, Valens appears to be admitting that he doesn’t know how precisely Mercury should function within the triplicity rulership scheme.

In light of the fact that our source texts have not fully developed their sect based justifications for the triplicity rulers, contemporary Hellenistic astrologers have tended to ignore them in favor of Schmidt’s speculations about how triplicity rulers allegedly cluster around the angles in his preferred planetary joys scheme.[3] I believe that this state of affairs is doubly unfortunate, since it (i) abandons the only form of justification for the triplicity lords explicitly stated in the textual tradition, yet (ii) markets itself as, unlike modern astrology, grounded in this same textual tradition which it ignores.

In what follows, I will attempt to offer an alternative account of the triplicity rulers that addresses both of these concerns.  First, the account will attempt to be true to the spirit, if not the letter, of the source texts by relying on the essential connection between sect and triplicity. And second, the account will make no claim to being historical. It consists of my own contemporary reflections on the logic of triplicity rulership.

Triplicity as Dialectic

Trinitarian Clue

Our first clue to an alternative account of the logic of the triplicity lords can be found in Valens’ identification of the lords of the triplicities with what has been translated as the “general basis” of a nativity. The relevant Greek terms here are καθολικός ὑπόστασις, terms that should intrigue those acquainted with the history of philosophy. For catholic hypostasis immediately calls to mind the development of the doctrine of the Trinity in Christian Theology. Though the Christian ecumenical council of Nicaea did not meet until 325 AD and Vettius Valens probably wrote his Anthologies about two hundred years earlier (thus ruling out a historical connection between the two), the synchronicity at play here is too striking to ignore. For the creed formulated at the council of Nicaea distinguished the catholic faith from heretical sects (think of the astrological concept of αἵρεσις / sect) through the doctrine of the Trinity, the contention that there is one divine οὐσία or essence that is nonetheless differentiated into three ὑποστάσεις or persons. For example, this doctrine is explained in the later so called “Athanasian Creed” as follows:

“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith… And the Catholic Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is all One, the Glory Equal, the Majesty Co-Eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father Uncreate, the Son Uncreate, and the Holy Ghost Uncreate. The Father Incomprehensible, the Son Incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost Incomprehensible. The Father Eternal, the Son Eternal, and the Holy Ghost Eternal and yet they are not Three Eternals but One Eternal. As also there are not Three Uncreated, nor Three Incomprehensibles, but One Uncreated, and One Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not Three Almighties but One Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not Three Lords but One Lord. For, like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say, there be Three Gods or Three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father, and of the Son neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is One Father, not Three Fathers; one Son, not Three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not Three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after Other, None is greater or less than Another, but the whole Three Persons are Co-eternal together, and Co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.”[4]

This suggests that one way of understanding Valens’ identification of the triplicities with the catholic hypostases of the chart would be to understand them as the determinate realizations of a general essence such that the essence is not divided and the determinacies are not confounded. Furthermore, if we wanted to move from the realm of imaginative speculation to historical argument, we could point to the fact that the framework for the Christian doctrine of the trinity was borrowed from Neo-Platonism. Plontinus, for example, spoke of the three primary hypostases of the One, Nous, and Soul when trying to explain how determinate reality is grounded in the emanations from the One. And since Plotinus lived around the same time as Valens, it is not implausible to think they could have been employing a similar conceptual language.[5] The idea here, then, is that whereas other forms of rulership might give us a general conceptual structure, the triplicity rulers might allow us to uniquely capture the internal self-differentiation of a concept.

Hegelian Triplicity

One fruitful way of working out this trinitarian account of the triplicities is through Hegel’s distinction between the three moments of the logically real. Hegel’s account provides us with a clear procedure by which to understand the logical differentiation of content. And, since, as I have argued elsewhere, it also accounts for sect membership, Hegel’s account will allow us to connect sect and triplicity as the ancient astrologers did.[6] According to Hegel,

“With regard to its form, the logical has three sides: (a) the side of abstraction or of the understanding, (b) the dialectical or negatively rational side, [and] (c) the speculative or positively rational one” (Hegel, Encyclopedia Logic, 79).

And Hegel points out that he does not intend to speak of these as three parts of logic, but as “moments of everything logically real; i.e., of every concept or everything true in general” (Hegel, EL 79).

Moment 1: The Moment of the Understanding

The first moment is that of the understanding. According to Hegel, the understanding assumes a particular content has a determinate character that sets it apart from all other contents. It is what it is, and because it is what it is, it rules out all that it is not. Hegel explains:

“Thinking as understanding stops short at the fixed determinacy and its distinctness vis-à-vis other determinacies; such a restricted abstraction counts for he understanding as one that subsists on its own account, and [simply] is” (Hegel, EL 80).

So, for example, God, might be posited by the understanding as pure Being standing apart from all creation. God is what He is, and being infinite, He cannot be expressed by any finite concept.

Moment 2: The Dialectical Moment

Hegel claims that the second moment is dialectical, or the negatively rational. “The dialectical moment is the self-sublation of these finite determinations on their own part, and their passing into their opposites” (Hegel, EL 81). Hegel claims that in this moment, the initially posited content transforms into its opposite. This transition is not primarily a matter of epistemology. It is not a matter of being confused about a series of arguments and not knowing which of them is true, but the metaphysical and logical concern that a given content has transformed itself into its contrary. Hegel explains:

“According to its proper determinacy, however, the dialectic is the genuine nature that properly belongs to the determinations of the understanding, to things, and to the finite in general… [It] is the immanent transcending, in which the one-sidedness and restrictedness of the determinations of the understanding displays itself as what it is, i.e., as their negation. That is what everything finite is: its own sublation” (Hegel, EL 81).

To continue with our example of the concept of God stipulated as pure Being, we can come to see that if God is pure Being standing apart from everything finite, then the concept God has no determinate content. For, to be determinate, a content needs to relate to others. But, if the concept of God has no determinate content, then we have no basis for distinguishing it from any other concept. And so, we have no grounds for saying God is pure Being apart from the finite.  So, God cannot be pure Being in isolation from the finite. God cannot stand apart from creation, since if He did, He would need to have some distinguishing feature, and thus could no longer be identified with pure Being.

Moment 3: The Speculative Moment

And, finally, Hegel claims that the speculative or positively rational moment apprehends the unity of the previous two moments. He explains: “The speculative or positively rational apprehends the unity of the determinations in their opposition, the affirmative that is contained in their dissolution and in their transition” (Hegel, EL 82). Hegel contends that this moment is positively rational, since it is not a mere abstract negation of a previous content. It is not simply asserting ~A to the general contention A. Rather, it is the awareness of exactly how a particular content undermines itself and gives rise to a new one. He elaborates:

“The dialectic has a positive result, because it has a determinate content, or because its result is not empty, abstract nothing, but the negation of certain determinations, which are contained in the result precisely because it is not an immediate nothing, but a result. Hence, the rational [result], although it is something-thought and something-abstract, is at the same time something-concrete, because it is not simple, formal unity, but unity of distinct determinations. For this reason philosophy does not deal with mere abstraction or formal thoughts at all, but only with concrete thoughts” (Hegel EL 82).

Returning to our previous example, by following the dialectical unfolding of the concept of God as pure Being, we come to see not just the abstract negation of the concept in the assertion that it is not the case that God is pure Being, but also precisely how this concept undermines itself and transforms into its opposite. The problem, in this case, arises from the formulation of pure Being as something lacking all determinations and of the infinite as something that is essentially opposed to the finite. By coming to see precisely how our original concept undermines itself, we are in a position grasp a higher concept that can integrate the previous two moments that stand in opposition to each other. For example, we might formulate a concept of God wherein the concept of transcendence does not exclude the possibility of immanence. Hegel sketches out something like this dialectic in The Phenomenology of Spirit when discussing the Unhappy Consciousness of medieval Christianity. He observes:

“Thus there exist for consciousness three different ways in which individuality is linked with the Unchangeable. Firstly, it again appears to itself as opposed to the Unchangeable, and is thrown back to the beginning of the struggle which is throughout the element in which the whole relationship subsists. Secondly, consciousness learns that individuality belongs to the Unchangeable itself, so that it assumes the form of individuality into which the entire mode of existence passes. Thirdly, it finds its own self as this particular individual in the Unchangeable. The first Unchangeable it knows only as the alien being who passes judgment on the particular individual; since, secondly, the Unchangeable is a form of individuality like itself, consciousness becomes, thirdly, Spirit, and experiences the joy of finding itself therein, and becomes aware of the reconciliation of its individuality with the universal” (Hegel PhG, 210).

In this roughly trinitarian picture, the first moment of alien Being would represent the Father, the second, the moment of the unchangeable taking the form of a particular individual would represent the Son, and the third moment, that of the reconciliation between the previous two, would represent the Spirit. I contend that this sort of triadic model can help us understand the nature and function of the triplicity rulers in astrology.

The Core Interpretation

Using the Hegelian model sketched above, we can understand the structure of triplicity rulers as follows: The primary ruler corresponds to the moment of the understanding where contents are posited as having a separate and fixed existence, the secondary to the dialectical moment in which the contents undermine themselves and transform into their opposites, and the cooperating to the speculative moment that unites the previous two moments in a higher perspective. Though traditional astrologers tended to understand triplicity rulers temporally, claiming, for example that the primary ruler governs the first half of life, and secondary the last half, the interpretation sketched above need not be understood in terms of temporal progression. This dialectic may well play out in time, but it need not. The same can be said for logical structure in general. For example, I might utter the following statement: “Socrates is mortal, since all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man.” From a temporal perspective, the words “Socrates is mortal” are uttered first. But, from a logical perspective, it comes last, as the conclusion following from the premises of the argument.

If we make a few classical assumptions about the elements and the structure of the cosmos, this framework allows us to see an interesting phenomenological justification for the assignments of the triplicity lords. Let’s begin by assuming, like Valens and Rhetorius, that the triplicities correspond to the four classical elements of fire, air, water, and earth. Additionally, with Plato in the Timaeus, let’s also assume that the elements of fire and earth are primary and that air and water are created to harmonize them (Timaeus, 31b-32b). Following this order, we can commence our examination by investigating the assignments of the triplicity lords of fire and earth.

The Rulers of Fire and Earth

Recall that the Sun rules the fire triplicity by day, Jupiter by night, and Saturn cooperates; and that the Moon rules the earth triplicity by night, Venus by day, and Mars cooperates. Now, if we use the Aristotelian account of natural motion in which fire tends to move upward, and earth downward (Aristotle, Physics IV.1), we can pair each of these with elements with a corresponding sect. If, as I have argued elsewhere,[7] the diurnal sect primarily concerns the representation of Being, and the nocturnal that of Becoming, then there is a sense in which the Moon more closely corresponds to the earth, the downward tending ground on which we finite beings live, and the Sun to fire, which ascends above us like the realm of eternal Being transcending our temporal horizons.

And, once these elements are, in this manner, correlated with their corresponding sects, we can see that the triplicity rulerships of fire and earth have an identical structure when considered abstractly. For both fire and earth triplicities are structured as follows: When in sect, the Luminary of sect is the primary ruler, followed by the Benefic of sect, and the Malefic of sect cooperates. When out of sect, the out of sect Benefic is the primary ruler, followed by the contrary sect Luminary, and the contrary sect Malefic cooperates.

This structure begins to make sense once we consider it from a phenomenological perspective. Consider first the element of fire. Since the diurnal sect is naturally oriented towards the representation of Being, when that sect begins to operate within the fire element, the element that moves upwards and is closest to the heavens, it will orient itself to its environment with a kind of natural familiarity. This fiery realm will make sense as a kind of natural organic whole, an organic unity represented by the Sun (Being-in-and-for-itself). This realm will feel easy, natural, and familiar. Yet, as fire is the closest element to the realm of Being, this organic unity will come to undermine itself, as one becomes aware of something above the realms of fire, namely Being, something that outstrips the representations of Being posited by empirical beings. This irruption of the otherness of Being will first show itself in the form of grace, and thus, under the auspices of Jupiter (Being-for-itself). Being reaches down to our finite minds, and elevates them to view what they do not have the power to articulate. But, through this very grace that pulls us out of our finite horizons, we come to see that those horizons are nonetheless constitutive of our viewpoint. The realm of Being thus lies outside of us, and articulates itself as Being-in-itself, i.e. Saturn.

In contrast, when the nocturnal sect enters the domain of fire, it does not begin with a sense of familiarity or natural equilibrium. The nocturnal sect is more comfortable with the representations of Becoming, and, so, the realm of fire and its connection to Being will appear as something unfamiliar. Yet it is a welcome unfamiliarity, the unfamiliarity of revelation and grace, a realm of wonders beyond what one could have ever previously imagined. Thus, the nocturnal sect begins with Jupiter (Being-for-itself) as its first ruler. But, for this gift to be accepted as a gift, it needs to be received. And this means that there must be something in us capable of receiving it. And so, upon reflection, one enters a kind of natural equilibrium within this realm, an equilibrium represented by the Sun (Being-in-and-for-itself). Yet, this equilibrium is only adequately grasped from its limits, for the gift presupposes a giver, a giver who somehow has the power to act in an alien realm. So, the equilibrium itself points to a realm of Being which transcends that equilibrium, Saturn, Being-in-itself.

A similar case holds for the earth element. Since its natural motion is downward, it is closer to us finite empirical beings. It is our element and thus more closely approximates the realm of Becoming. So, in a nocturnal chart, which begins with an orientation towards the representation of Becoming, we will again commence from a state of natural harmony with this element. And the Moon, representing Becoming-in-and-for-itself, is indicative of this harmony. But this harmony will once more be disrupted by a transcendent grace that cannot be made sense of from within this organic unity. Some beauty, for example, will strike us through the natural world and call us out of ourselves and into a higher domain. Such beauty is represented by Venus, Becoming-for-itself. And, again, this transcendence cannot be understood as transcendence over the realm of Becoming, unless it is represented as something distinct from that realm. Yet, within the domain of Becoming, the only representation that can adequately capture this distinction is death. Thus, Mars, Becoming-in-itself, takes up the mediating role as cooperating lord. 

For a diurnal chart oriented towards a representation of Being, the earth element will not be apprehended at first as a kind of organic unity. Rather, it will need to be approached with grace, drawing near to it through its beautiful and delightful aspects. But, those earthly beauties and delights are nevertheless delights of the realm of Becoming, a realm of finitude and separation, and so, contain within themselves an element that resists us. Hence, we will have to adapt ourselves to them in a kind of natural harmony. Thus, the Moon (Becoming-in-and-for-itself) is the second triplicity lord for diurnal charts. And, finally, the truth of this organic unity comes to be seen in its very self-sundering. The grace that spoke through Venus, and to which we accommodated ourselves in the empirical world, calls us beyond the confines of the empirical world entirely. And, again, within the realm of Becoming, the only concept that can serve to signify what is beyond that realm, is death. Hence, Mars, Becoming-in-itself, is the cooperating lord.

One important upshot of this schematization of air and fire is that, for both, the final synthetic moment is governed by a malefic. This may, perhaps, emphasize the fact that though the sects initially appear to be in conflict, they in fact depend upon each other for their content. If the element of fire, the element most closely aligned with the representation of Being, concludes in Saturn, Being-in-itself, this may suggest that the Being sought after by the diurnal sect proves to be removed from us. It is an empty unknown devoid of all determinacy. So, if Being is to be more than an empty abstraction, it must concretize itself through a series of finite emanations. In other words, the truth of Being must rest in Becoming. Likewise, if the element of earth, the element most closely aligned with the representation of Becoming, concludes in Mars, Becoming-in-itself, this may suggest that the realm of becoming sought after by the nocturnal sect concludes in severing and death. Thus, by ending in death, the severing of all connections with itself, the realm of Becoming opens to a realm beyond itself. The truth of Becoming must rest in Being.  The sects, in this manner, would prove to be interdependent: each unintelligible without the other.

The Rulers of Water and Air

While earth and fire are posited for their own sakes, Plato claims, in the Timaeus, that water and air were created to mediate between them. And, again, according to the Aristotelian theory of natural motions, water moves down (like eart) and air up (like fire), though with less force than earth and fire do. So, in such a framework, water would be closer to earth, since it moves downward, and air to fire, since it moves upward.

Let’s start by examining the triplicity lords of water. In a nocturnal chart, water will begin where earth ended, with Mars, the representation of Becoming-in-itself as its first triplicity lord. Since water is a mediating element, taking one beyond earth proper, one who is primarily oriented towards one’s representation of the world of becoming will feel disoriented, estranged from what is familiar. But things shift with the second triplicity lord, Venus, Becoming-for-itself. One comes to see that in this mediating element of water, one retains a relation to Becoming. Indeed, the very idea of Becoming-in-itself, represented by Mars and its severing, requires a kind of relation. If I, for example, am fundamentally distinct from the realm of Becoming, then this distinction must be rooted in our determinate natures which are opposed to each other. But this conflict between natures is itself something that unfolds in time, and presupposes that these natures are related to each other, since, if they were not, they would not be able to stand in conflict. Hence, Mars gives way to Venus. And, finally, in grasping the unity of these two moments, one comes to the final triplicity lord of water, the Moon, Becoming-in-and-for-itself.

For a diurnal chart, in contrast, the starting point will be Venus, Becoming-for-itself. Having been cut off from earth by Mars, and naturally oriented by its representation of Being, one will be struck by the grace of this mediating element of water. Hence, one will be guided by Becoming-for-itself, the essentially relational character of becoming. Yet, since water still resides within the realm of becoming, and not the realm of Being for which one yearns, Becoming’s essentially ephemeral and elusive character will come to stand out clearly. So, the secondary ruler for diurnal charts will be Mars, Becoming-in-itself.  And the harmony between these previous two moments is realized by the cooperating lord, the Moon, the representation of Becoming-in-and-for-itself.

It is interesting to note here that the element of water, standing above the earth, but still tending downward, is the only element that achieves a kind of internal harmony and self-composure, since it is the only element which culminates in a Luminary. This may suggest that water is the most self-contained of all the elements, and also the easiest to get trapped in. Perhaps this is due to the symbolic association between water and life noted by Agrippa:

“There is so great a necessity of Water, that without it no living thing can live. No Hearb [herb], nor Plant whatsoever, without the moistening of Water can branch forth. In it is the Seminary vertue of all things, especially of Animals, whose seed is manifestly waterish…. Such is the efficacy of this Element of Water, that Spirituall regeneration cannot be done without it, as Christ himself testified to Nicodemus. Very great also is the vertue of it in the Religious Worship of God, in expiations, and purifications; yea, the necessity of it is no less then that of Fire. Infinite are the benefits, and divers are the uses thereof, as being that by vertue of which all things subsist, are generated, nourished and increased.” (Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy I.6).

In these waters of life we can achieve a kind of organic equilibrium not attainable in the other elements.

Above water, and below fire, is the further mediating element of air. Water ends with a synthesis, and so air must begin by shattering that synthesis and upending the direction of motion from down to up. For a diurnal chart, this shattering can be accomplished by its natural orientation towards the representation of Being. We sense that even after attaining a kind of organic unity with the realm of Becoming, we are nonetheless beckoned by a beyond which eludes our grasp. Hence, diurnal charts will begin with Saturn, Being-in-itself. Yet, in beckoning us, this other realm, in some sense, also desires to be known by us and to assist us in our journey. So, the secondary triplicity ruler is Mercury, the quintessentially mediating planet, who is sent to bridge the gap between sects and between worlds. In Mercury, we are confronted with not only an awareness of an elusive realm of Being, but also with an invitation on Being’s behalf and a gracious guide to lead the way. Finally, the two preceding moments will be grasped in their unity in Jupiter,  Being-for-itself. For the whole transition is one of grace as eternity reaches out to embrace time.

Nocturnal charts, in contrast will begin with Mercury. They will not be caried out of the harmony of water by a natural sense of the elusiveness of Being, but will require a divine emissary to deliver the invitation to something higher. But, after heeding this call, we will confront something foreign to us which we do not understand. Hence, the secondary ruler is Saturn, Being-in-itself. And, again, these two moments will be grasped in their unity by seeing them as a movement of grace resolving itself in Jupiter, Being-for-itself.

This interpretation allows us to explain why Mercury appears as a triplicity lord for the element of air. For air is a mediating element and marks the transition between downward and upward natural motions, and so is a fitting domain for Mercury. Moreover, it also makes sense that Mercury would be operative in the initial phases of this transition as a primary or secondary lord, rather than at the conclusion of it with the cooperating lord, since Mercury’s power is needed in the transitional process itself, not just in its culmination.


Though admittedly speculative, the forgoing account promises to be a fruitful framework for understanding the triplicity lords. For it can explain not only why the triplicity lords are introduced (viz., to explain the triadic development of determinate content) but also the assignments of the triplicity lords to their corresponding elements and their ordering according to sect. Moreover, it can do so in a way that can avoid some of the objections raised against the traditional arguments, since it can provide a phenomenological account of why the Moon is a cooperating ruler in the water triplicity (rather than a primary or secondary ruler) and why Mercury is a ruler of the air triplicity.[8] Though I’ve sketched a general outline of how the logic of the triplicity lords would develop, the details of the dialectic will prove be much more specific in practice. For, in reading an actual natal chart, we would not discuss a planet in general, but that planet as it is particularly located within that chart. So, for example, if one were examining Hegel’s chart, one would not analyze the logic of the triplicity lords of fire as the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn in the abstract, but as the Sun in Virgo the sixth place (co-present with Mercury), followed by Jupiter in Sagittarius in the ninth, and culminating in Saturn in Leo in the fifth. As a result, the story of the dialectic development of the triplicity lords will vary for each client.

Peter Yong, Ph.D.

[The image used in the thumbnail of this essay is “The Trinity” by Masaccio and is in the public domain. It can be found here:,_trinit%C3%A0.jpg]

[1] Dortheus didn’t himself connect the triplicities to the elements, but I’ll do so here since it became the standard practice.

[2] Ptolemy is our other extant source for the justification for the triplicity rulers. Though he argues for a different set of triplicity lords, the so called Ptolemaic triplicity scheme in which there are two triplicity lords which rule over three signs, his justification also appeals to the idea of sect. For example, his justification for assigning the Sun and Jupiter as lords of the fire triplicity is as follows. “The first of these, which passes through Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, is composed of three masculine signs and includes the houses of the sun, of Mars, and of Jupiter. This triangle was assigned to the Sun and Jupiter, since Mars is not of the solar sect. The sun assumes first governance of it by day and Jupiter by night.” (Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos I.18). Ptolemy’s argument here begins with the observation that the fire triplicity occurs in so called masculine signs. He then notes that the house rulers of these signs are Mars, the Sun, and Jupiter, thus providing us with three candidates for possible triplicity rulers. And, since the diurnal sect is apparently more masculine, this would rule out the nocturnal sign of Mars. And, furthermore, since the Sun is the diurnal sect light, it will be the primary ruler of day charts, leaving Jupiter to be the primary ruler of night ones.

[3] For an account of Schmidt’s view see, for example, see Brennan, 268-271 and George, 204.

[4] Athanasian Creed.

[5] See, for example, Plotinus Enneads V.1(10) “On the Three Primary Hypostases”.



[8] Brennan, for example, makes such an argument in Hellenistic Astrology, 270-271.

One Reply to “The Logic of the Triplicity Lords: A Dialectical Account of the Astrological Triads”

  1. Very well done once again. I’d consider one of these articles the accomplishment of a lifetime. Constantly teaching me new interesting terminology. It’s always well sourced and seems to push the envelope. Thanks for speaking so highly of the water element. I also enjoyed how you brought in the Catholic Hypostasis. I found myself seamlessly inserting friends, family, and former lovers horoscopes and it rang true. I often parrot Hegelian Dialect endlessly in attempt to sound smarter than I am. An article like this makes me revisit the crux of what I am saying and why perhaps I am saying it. Even though the article seems to speak directly to me I can see how a Pagan might enjoy it just the same.

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