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The Definition of Peregrine

By Deborah Houlding
Some modern astrological works1 describe a peregrine planet as one which lacks any kind of essential dignity or debility, and so imply that peregrine status acts as a kind of neutral state, being the default value between the fortitude of essential dignity and the disablement of essential debility. This incorrectly defines a term which is traditionally intended to express weakness through a lack of essential dignity. Older sources are clear that whilst a peregrine planet can never be dignified, it can suffer additional levels of essential debilitation when placed in its sign of detriment or fall. Even without any extra debility, a peregrine planet is far from neutral, with a symbolic significance which is expected to range from weak to worse. The current confusion presents an opportunity to sharpen our understanding of the linguistic roots and traditional use of this symbolically-loaded and highly descriptive term. The Latin word peregrine has been used since the early Middle Ages to describe someone who is passing through unfamiliar territory.2 The word comprises a collection of Latin components which, together, express the state of travelling outside of ones own (national or personal) territory.3 In its general archaic use, the adjective4 peregrine is used to describe strangers, pilgrims, travelers, or anyone who journeys across land over which they have no claim to ownership, from which they obtain no lawful privileges, and to which they give no personal allegiance. This sense of being outside of legal rights and ownership is embedded into the astrological term, which describes a planet that is poorly situated, unable to claim any level of essential dignity by being outside its own sign, exaltation, triplicity, term or face.5 Being a Latin word, the historical evidence for its astrological use begins with the Latin translations of Greek and Arabian texts, which started to become popular in the 12th century.6 The oldest instance of its astrological use is uncertain, but it can be found in the Medieval Latin translations of 9th century Arabian works such as those of Sahl, Mashaallah and Umar. An example is seen in the anonymous Latin translation of Sahls Introduction (a text known to have been available in Latin since the 12th century), which says of the ways that planets are debilitated:
Octavus ut sit planeta in domo in qua non habet testimonium .i. aliquam dignitatem .i. ut non sit in domo sua: aut exaltatione sua: vel triplicate etc et ut sit peregrines et iam insequutus a sole 7 8th, if the planet were in a house in which it has no testimony, viz, some dignity: that is, it were not in its own house or exaltation, nor triplicity etc, and so were peregrine and followed by the Sun8

In this instance Sahls text appears to define as peregrine a planet which is not in its own sign, exaltation or triplicity, but which may or may not be in its own terms or face (since these are not mentioned in the text but implied by the etc). Early translators were using contemporary words to convey what was written in the text, and were most likely not aiming to set strict definitions for what would later be looked upon as traditional technicalities. So initially the term may have been loosely used, as a way to say that a planet was not in its own house or any of the areas where it could claim essential dignity, whatever those relevant dignities were considered to be. Sometimes a planet could be described as peregrine from its own sign,9 and we can see from other references (included at the end) that specific mention to the lesser dignities of term or face were occasionally included in the texts of authors who failed to mention them elsewhere.

STA, Deborah Houlding, July 2010.

An interesting example of the words early use in horary can be found in a short treatise attributed to Mashaallah, De Cogitatione which concerns the astrological resolution of contemplated concerns.10 The text refers to Saturn as the dispositor of the Part of Fortune, describing it as in Leo, peregrine.11 Besides demonstrating the recognition of peregrine status in a sign of detriment, this passage is also of interest to the argument of whether participating triplicity rulers should gain recognition of dignity (this text suggesting that they should not). In fact demonstrating how heavily traditional authors remain dependent upon each other the example of Saturn in Aries, its sign of fall, is usually used in the formal definitions of when a planet is peregrine. Some examples include Schoeners Opera Mathematica (1561; canon 24):
Whether some planet is peregrine or feral: A planet is said to be peregrine, when it is not in any of its own essential dignities: as Saturn in the 6th degree of Aries possesses no essential dignity, and so is said to be peregrine.

Which is seen again in John Searls Ephemeris for Nine Years Inclusive, from 1609-1617:
Peregrine, is when a planet is found out of all his essential dignities: as Saturn in the 6th degree of Aries.12

And William Lillys Christian Astrology (1647) p.112:

A Planet is then said to be Peregrine, when he is in the degrees of any Sign wherein he hath no essential dignity, as Saturn in the tenth degree of Aries, that Sign being not his House, Exaltation, or of his Triplicity, or he having in that degree neither Term or Face, he is then said to be Peregrine; [but] had he been in 27, 28, &c. of Aries, he could not be termed Peregrine, because then he is in his own Term.13

Exploring the astrological use of this word across a number of historical authorities offers a clear demonstration that the definition of peregrine status is only about a lack of essential dignity, and is not a statement on how the planet is (or is not) essentially debilitated. How then did the waters get muddied enough for modern authors to become confused about its meaning? The seed of misunderstanding appears to have been set in the publication of the French astrologer Jean Morins Astrologia Gallica (1661), a text which reveals an open dislike of the concept of essential dignity due to Morins inclination towards measuring astrology as an astronomically objective science, rather than a philosophy which incorporates elements of subjective reasoning. Perhaps because Morin had no real interest in the symbolic application of the word, he gave a misleading description of a planet in a mediocre condition such as peregrine.14 Taken by itself, that, and similar references from Morin,15 could suggest that a planet is either essentially dignified, or peregrine or essentially debilitated, but cannot be two of those conditions simultaneously. However, even in Morins text we see that this is not the case because he also includes a (rather vacuous) definition, which states that the term has two applications: one for a planet which is not debilitated, and another for a planet which is debilitated.
And note that every planet which is situated outside of its own home, exaltation or triplicity is called by us peregrine: and therefore there are two ways to be peregrine : one simple without essential debility, as with the Sun in Capricorn, but the other mixing with essential debility, as with the Sun in Aquarius, and this is worse.16

It is almost as if Morin suddenly realized that he had made misleading comments in other parts of his slowly compiled lifes work, and so sought to include a definition which had little value other than to justify the contradictory ways in which he had used the term himself. Whatever the situation, the net result of Morins definition is to say this: a peregrine planet is one which lacks essential dignity, and it may, or may not, be essentially debilitated too. Which takes us back to what the older authorities were able to say more elegantly, and less confusingly, in fewer words.

STA, Deborah Houlding, July 2010.

Use of the Latin term peregrine in Sahls (Zaels) Quinquaginta precepta Fifty Principles
C. 26: On malefics in signs in which they are or are not peregrine If the malefic planets were in a peregrine sign; that is, if they were not in their own house nor in exaltation, nor in triplicity, their malice is increased and their impediment is made greater; and if they were in signs in which they have testimony, they refrain from malice, and likewise there is no impediment. C. 28: On fortunes which are or are not peregrine If the fortunes were in a sign in which they have no testimony, their fortune and good is diminished. And if they were in a sign in which there is testimony; that is, in their houses or exaltations or triplicities or terms,* their fortune is magnified and perfected and their good is augmented. * Here terms are mentioned as a way to escape peregrine status. Face is mentioned below. C. 41: Of a peregrine planet If a planet were on a peregrination, that is, it were not in some of its own dignities, as is exaltation, face,* &c., its mind and nature will be crafty; that is, if it were not in its own house or exaltation and it were direct and in a good place from the ascendant, or in the midheaven or in the eleventh, [then] it will be good.
Callidus might mean cunning, clever or crafty (sharp in thought). This presents the idea of a peregrine planet having to live on its wits, which might be a good thing if the planet has accidental strength.


A planet is said to be peregrine, when he is in the degrees of any Sign wherein he has no essential dignity, as Saturn in the 10th degree of Aries, that sign being not his house, exaltation, or of his triplicity, or he having in that degree neither term or face. Had he been in 27, 28, &c. of Aries, he could not be termed Peregrine, because then he is in his own term.
William Lilly, Christian Astrology (1647) p.102.

Notes & References:

Influential modern texts which present a misleading definition include Nicholas de Vores Encyclopedia of Astrology, (1947; p.275) which states Said of a planet posited in a sign where it possesses no essential dignity: where it is neither dignified nor debilitated and John Frawleys Horary Textbook, (2005; p.51) which declares A planet that is not in any of its own dignities, nor in its detriment or fall, is peregrine. 2 The word peregrination is dated to the 12th century in the Online Etymology Dictionary at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/peregrination (accessed 16 July 2010). 3 The usual view is that the word derives from the Latin components per through/passing though, and ager (field/acre) but my own belief is that the components are the prefix per through/passing though, the verb egre to surpass/overstep/go beyond and the suffix ine pertaining to. 4 The related verb is to peregrinate and the related noun is to make a peregrination.

STA, Deborah Houlding, July 2010.

This accords with William Lillys definition of the term, that any level of essential dignity avoids peregrine status. In Christian Astrology (p.58) he lists the terms of Saturn and then writes:

The meaning whereof is that if Saturn in any question be in any of these degrees wherein he hath a term, he cannot be said to be peregrine, or void of essential dignities; or if he be in any of these degrees allotted him for his face or decanate, he cannot then be said to be peregrine: understand this in all the other planets.

Outside of the Latin texts alternative terms are used to express the same concept, but I am leaving these outside of the scope of this short article. An example can be seen in Ramsay Wrights 1934 English translation of Al Birunis Elements, (11th cent., v.496; p.306), concerning Testimony and Dignity:

The expressions testimony and dignity are synonymous terms and are applicable to a planet in two different ways. One concerns the fortunate position which it may occupy, if, e.g. it should be lord of the house in which it is situated, or be in its exaltation, or in any other position congenial to it, it may have one or more of these dignities. If however it is not in a favourable situation it is said to be peregrine (gharfb), while if either in its detriment or its fall, calamity is added to the alien situation.

The Latin translation is available as a digital facsimile by courtesy of the Warburg institute. See Justes notice for Zael, Introductorium at http://warburg.sas.ac.uk/mnemosyne/Orientation/Bibastro.htm (accessed 15 July 2010). The translated passage can be found on leaf 1 and 2 of p.10 in the PDF file. 8 The meaning of this comment is that a planet which lacks essential dignity and is receding in its synodic cycle is weak and debilitated a point we see more clearly expressed in similar references from the same period. For example, Umars Three Books of Nativities expresses the principle in regard to the determination of greater years for strong planets and lesser years for weak planets:

if it were in its own domicile or exaltation or its own triplicity, in the midheaven or ascendant or in the 11th it signifies its own greater years. And if it were peregrine and occidental in those places, it signifies its own lesser years.

Persian Nativities Volume II, translated by Benjamin Dykes (Minnesota, 2010); p.14. 9 For example, the 33rd principle of Sahls Fifty Principles refers to a benefic being impeded when it is peregrine from its own sign or cadent from the ascendant. 10 The treatise is included in the compendium of translated texts in The Works of Sahl and Mashaallah by Benjamin Dykes. A Latin translation is available as a digital facsimile by courtesy of the Warburg institute at http://warburg.sas.ac.uk/pdf/fah765mesahw.pdf (15 July 2010). 11 Dominus quoque partis fortuuae erat Saturnus, qui erat in Leone peregrinus, non receptus. (p.94 of the Warburg PDF). The translation of the relevant passage reads:
A question was offered, of which the ascendant was the ten degrees Taurus, and Venus, its lady, was in Cancer, in fifteen degrees, in the house of the Moon; and the Moon likewise was in Libra in the house of Venus in ten degrees. And the Moon was peregrine, because she was not in her own domicile nor in exaltation nor in triplicity, but she was being joined to Venus from the quadrate aspect, and was received. Also, the lord of the Part of Fortune was Saturn, who was in Leo, peregrine, not received.

Published in 1609. A facsimile is included in the collection of 82 texts on The Renaissance Astrology CD library, ed. C. Warnock 2004 see www.renaissanceastrology.com/cdlibrary.html for details. 13 A practical example is found in Lillys horary concerning Sir William Wallers battle engagement with Sir Ralph Hopton, where he describes Hoptons significator, Saturn, as wholly unfortunate being accidentally afflicted, peregrine and in Aries, its sign of fall (C.A., p.400). 14 Holden translates as intermediate state; the Latin reads mediocriter affectus: Astrologia Gallica, Bk 21. II, ch.II, available as facsimile at www.svkol.cz/~petros/astrol/morin/kniha21/page_01.htm (16 July, 2010). 15 See also book 18, ch. v, 4th paragraph for a similar implication of peregrine as an intermediate state. 16 Astrologia Gallica, Liber XV, Caput XIII: Of the Essential Dignities of the Planets; the Latin reads:

Noteturque planetam omnem qui versatur extra suam domum, exaltationem, aut trigonem, dica nobis peregrinum: ac proinde duplicem esse peregrinationem: unam simplicem sine essentiali debilitate, ut ^ in : alterum vero mixtam cum essentiali debilitate, ut ^ in & haec deterior est.

I am grateful to the members of the Skyscript forum, in particular the member janeg, for bringing this comment from Morin to my attention (a thread which explores this issue can be seen at http://skyscript.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?p=36398: Peregrine: what definition do you use?)

STA, Deborah Houlding, July 2010.