I don’t think so, and I’ll try to explain why as simply as possible.
Before I do that I feel like I should acknowledge the concern about the negative language or mood of the essential dignities at a deeper level. Yes, they can be used prescriptively. In fact they can come across like curses if they’re used in the wrong way. They can sound like fundamentalist jargon, and they can really hurt people when they’re used like psychic weaponry or ill-fated omens, or whatever else.
On the other hand, here are a list of simple reasons I’ve personally decided that astrology still needs them (though I respect people who don’t use them).
While it’s true that astrology is always evolving, sometimes it’s better to stick with the insights of several thousand years worth of astrological history and not try to reinvent the wheel. When we look at the debilitated planets in our birth chart we’re always gaining some of the deepest insights into our relative strengths and weaknesses. And while it’s always great to turn lemons into lemonade, sometimes the real gift of a chart comes through accepting, truly accepting, our limitations rather than trying to recast every challenge as a “blessing” or “gift in disguise.” Sometimes we just need to get a little more accepting about words like negative, difficult, bad, or challenging. We’ve become so allergic to these kinds of words in astrology that sometimes the only way to treat our allergic pacifism is with small doses of the very things we despise…some good old malefics, fallen planets, and debilities.
James Hillman liked to say that all psychology begins with pathology. That the deepening of the soul and the awakening of the psyche happen through our problems, not our heroic strengths. He also liked to say that friends generally sit down to discuss life’s issues, and that intimacy is forged through the sharing of issues not virtues.
In some ways we need to do something like a soul retrieval for astrology. If astrology becomes allergic to the language of problems, then we lose the entry point for the soul.
For example, I find it ironic that many astrologers I’ve met will talk about the “toxic” language of debilities and yet speak of the south node like it’s the mark of our original sin, or the journey of the soul as though its core mythos is about the “fall from union with god and its eventual redemption.” Prescriptive metaphysics based in problems but no taste for an ancient astrological language whose insights about problems are far older and more time tested than the those evolutionary theories whose origins are relatively new…this is an irony worth reflecting on at a deeper level.
Again, this isn’t to discount or discredit any school of thought, but rather to illuminate why the use of debilities can still be tremendously helpful. Tradition is too easily discarded in the name of cheapened ideas about evolution. There is room for the intelligent and compassionate/wise use of many different languages in astrology.
2. The fascism of positivity
After a decade of drinking ayahuasca my experience of positivity is that its just another state of mind to potentially get attached to…it’s just as hard to let go of it and entertain ideas that are more difficult to swallow as it is difficult to let go of chronic drinking or smoking. Included in the range of difficult ideas that we are often forced to accept as “part of reality,” is the experience of limitations, things we cannot change, pain and suffering, mystery, things not working out as we hope or wish for, death, unfairness and cruelty, many gods versus just one all unitive god, no redemption or resolution to the problems of life or existence, abandonment, betrayal, etc. Not only does the language of debilities help us to see most clearly the places that are similarly difficult to accept, but they also help us to see where there is help or alleviation or relief from these difficulties through planets or places in the chart whose positions are relatively or contextually stronger and healthier (so to speak). Again, we don’t need to do away with the language of debilitation or make lemons out of lemonade when we start with a basic acceptance of the darker faces of the psyche. We don’t need to feel doomed and ill-fated unless we start off with too much attachment to the idea that our life SHOULD be rosy or redemptive. It’s as though spiritual ambition has cloaked itself in compassion with some of these complaints about debilities and then by its disguise tried to play the role of the saving hero. In fact, we should very seriously consider the idea that it’s just the opposite and that astrology has gone through something of a soul-loss because of its inability to utilize the traditional language of astrology with care from the get-go.
Just because people cheat at cards, doesn’t mean the answer is to throw out the game of cards. The cruel or cursing/damning and prescriptive use of the ancient astrological language is the problem, not the theory or the language itself. This is a crucial point that is purposefully ignored for the sake of a kind of false astrological heroism or progressiveness. Too many astrologers have built their careers on trying to look like the “nice guys” in contrast to the nasty “old school” astrologers, and it’s both unimaginative and soul sucking to our very diverse tradition.
3. Anything can be used mindfully
I want to go back to honoring the complaint, because again I think that our problems are the entry point for soul. This persecution of debilities feels ironically saturnine to me. It feels as though the old devil is up to his tricky ways…using one of his favorite tools, “the scapegoat,” to get us to believe he is something he isn’t. Tricky old devil! But isn’t that amazing? Isn’t it amazing to think that the most pointed dismissals of planetary debilities may come from a debilitated point of view? Isn’t it possible that the old task master himself just grew sick of people always blaming him for their problems? Can’t we imagine Saturn (the great malefic) coming up with the idea that the language of debilities are all together poisonous and archaic? Isn’t that sort of the heavy-handed “problem” with Saturn…he can’t ever really get past his problems with his problems.
James Hillman also once wrote, about Saturn, that we get the most out of Saturn when Saturn comes to terms with his problems with problems. When Saturn can finally take himself to task then, as the alchemists said, “the blackening of the black occurs.” The poison becomes an archetypal reality rather than a literal problem needing literal solutions.
Again..it’s not the language, but the way we use it. Like Jupiter in its fall in Capricorn…we are quickly corrupted by our overly ambitious perceptions of virtue and goodness.
So for all of these reasons, I’ve come to embrace the poetic depth that the mindful use of debilities and dignities can give to the birth chart. I’ve come to take up the challenge of using these classifications as creatively as I can. Maybe someday I’ll feel differently about them, and I certainly respect the great debate that our field holds on the subject, but for now this is where I’m at.
I hope this is interesting and useful for everyone–I felt compelled to write since I received several emails inquiring all at once!