The terms “exaltation” and “detriment” are familiar to many astrologers today as part of the Essential Dignities of the planetary rulership scheme. Dignity primarily refers to a planet being in its own sign of rulership or its sign of exaltation. The opposite of “dignity” in this model is “debility”. This occurs when a planet is in the opposite sign of its rulership or exaltation. While there are other forms of planetary dignity such as triplicity rulers, they are beyond the scope of this article.
In most astrological systems, a planet in its own domicile or sign of rulership (ie. Mars in Aries) is considered to be well-fortified or able to autonomously provide for the needs of that sign and house. It is therefore often considered to be the best place for the planet to express its natural significations within the qualities represented by the sign itself. The next best place is usually considered to be the exaltation sign of the planet which in symbolic terms is comparable to being an esteemed or honored guest in someone else’s home. While the exalted planet does not technically have domicile ownership, it has the effect of elevating or raising the status and matters of the house and sign its exalted in.
In contrast, a planet is said to be technically in detriment when it is placed in a sign opposite its domicile rulership. The word detriment literally means “harmed” or “damaged”. In my opinion, these kinds of descriptions carry a questionable sense of judgment or labeling, and it’s more that a planet in this placement does not have the intrinsic ability to provide for the needs of the sign opposite its rulership. The signs placed opposite their sign of exaltation are said to be in “fall”, another type of debility where there the status or matters of the sign and house with the fallen relationship are lowered or diminished in some way.
So, how does all of this fit into the Human Design System? In a somewhat similar way, “exaltation” and “detriment” are terms used to describe a situation where certain planets in specific gates and lines are fixed in a particular range of expression. We see these fixations noted and described in the Rave I Ching and in the BodyGraph as the little arrows that point upward, downward, or look like a six-pointed star next to the planetary activations in the Personality and Design columns. And yet, while obviously related to the aforementioned concepts in astrology, they aren’t quite the same thing nor approached the same way in the Human Design System. Moreover, Ra stated that he actually regretted choosing those specific terms:
I mean for me, and I mentioned this many times to students of mine over the years, that in essence, the only mistake in naming that I’ve had in my experiences in HD was putting these terms “exalted” and “detriment” to the lines themselves.– Ra Uru Hu
Actually, the exalted and detriment were there to describe the planetary force in that aspect of the thematic. But of course, it has taken on another quality over the years through interpretation because the not-self easily will interpret exaltation as being good and detriment as being bad. Rather than seeing that there is a planetary force that will bring out, in that specific place that quality, as an identified quality.
Everything about having an exaltation, you know this is again, I would have been happy to have called it “this” and “that”, but nonetheless, you have an exaltation in your design, the assumption is that you know you really have something special there. You know you’re only getting ‘the best part’. But it’s not true.
See for me, the Rave I‘Ching was written for the not-self. There was nobody else in front of me in those years, when I first began. It’s all written for the not-self. The lines themselves express the not-self life. It is the mechanism of life. And yet for each and anyone of us, it is an extraordinary opportunity to go beyond the this and the that, to embrace the Juxtaposition, to find the wholeness. And to find the wholeness by allowing the wholeness simply to display itself. It is the beauty of passenger’s consciousness, to get to that place where one simply sits back and allows the vehicle to operate correctly and move you through a geometry that allows you to fulfill the potential of your imprint. Your incarnation, your unique contribution, to the vitality of the biverse.
What Ra seems to be saying here is that the not-self mind with its conditioned way of viewing and conceptualizing things will take these terms and try to use them in a formatory or moralistic way. The mind will make it personal, saying “exaltations are good” and “these detriments I have are bad” or somehow a less worthy part of myself. If he would have named them “this” and “that”, we might be able to see them more clearly for what they are, as aspects of ourselves that tell us something more and specific about the role we’re here to play in the collective.
Genoa Bliven, a long-time practitioner and teacher of Human Design sheds more light on the situation:
It’s very important to realize what exaltations and detriments are, in fact. Exaltations and detriments actually belong to the collective. What they’re indicating is how the collective has either been able to cope with certain realities and come out on top. You know, whether the cream has risen to the top and the collective has the good sense to say, “Oh, that’s the solution to that problem. All right, why didn’t we think of that sooner? No, I didn’t really get this together sooner.” And so the exaltation is kind of where the collective has it worked out. Where we’ve done a lot of evolution, we kind of have a handle on it, you know. The detriment is where, well, we might have a handle on it, but it broke.– Genoa Bliven
This perspective may lack significance for those just getting into the depth of these systems, but for me, this is quite an interesting point of view. What Genoa appears to be saying is that the so-called “detriments” are actually what we’re here to contribute to the collective of humanity at this stage of evolution. When the intrinsic nature of the planet is in alignment with the qualities of the gate and line in terms of what is needed or considered appropriate within the collective, we see an “exaltation”. When the nature of the planet is not experienced in the expected way in the collective with the expression of that gate and line, we see it as a “detriment”.
In other words, those planetary activations that you see in your BodyGraph shown as exaltations are the gifts that you’re here to use and express as part of living an authentic life that is yours. These are areas where that planet activating a particular gate and line represents a frequency that is in accordance with the expected characteristic or theme in the collective. The detriments shown in your BodyGraph represent where the frequency of that planet, gate, and line needs more work and is an opportunity to contribute to the development and evolution of the collective. Put another way, it’s not as personal as we might think. Genoa goes on to explain:
And so when we discover a detriment in our own design, we take it very seriously because we’ve internalized that oppression, and we think that’s us. No, it’s actually not us. It’s the species. We got born into this, we took the wrong turn at the Pleiades or something. And we got born into these vehicles and you know, we came here for a reason, which was to evolve, and we evolved through trial and error. And you know what? Sometimes we make mistakes and they accumulated, the stakes become a rubble heap of the Maya that comes around and bites us in the ass. And we’re embedded in all of this. And the sum total of our mistakes can be very confusing. We internalize this oppression and we think it’s us. But gradually with time and as we wake up the frequency, we realize that these problems are actually something much larger than ourselves. That in fact, we’ve deconditioned and now we can see that that detriment is our link into what it is that the collective, the sum total of the consciousness of humanity, needs to work out. This is our vast opportunity.– Genoa Bliven
Genoa raises a similar point to Ra here on how the mind can take the conditioning influence of our collective culture and make it into something personal that we use to beat ourselves up with or as a statement of how we’re less than our potential. Human Design is not here to label, limit, or restrict us. It’s here to free us from the conditioning that is keeping us from truly expressing ourselves and to wake us up to our lives in the fullest sense.
Genoa continues, explaining how the body is the vehicle which aligns ourselves to the life we’re here to have:
We are not a certain person, a certain kind of person because we have a certain design. We’re free people. We’re free people who have a bio mechanism to work with, to wake up with, and wake up to, and to learn how to use to be able to walk the body through the door, to see the body walking through the door and to follow it, to let the body get into the zone, to follow a strategy. And once it’s following a strategy to follow it, not to understand it, but to follow it. This is called getting into the zone. So when we realize that the vehicle isn’t us, but it’s just something that we’re meant to follow, to join. Life is for joining, not for figuring out. When we join the vehicle, and we follow the vehicle, we get into the zone and when we’re in the zone, we realize that the detriment doesn’t drag us down. In fact, it’s this extraordinary opportunity. It’s our point of contact, it’s our traction. It’s where the rubber hits the road. It’s where we can make an impact. It’s where we can express ourselves and when we allow the vehicle to follow its strategy, and we follow it, and we’re in the zone, the quantum intelligence that is us applies itself to that place where humanity hasn’t got it worked out.– Genoa Bliven
Of course, it comes back to following one’s Strategy and Authority as a means of aligning with our form and letting it be the driver of our lives. This is when we can tap into the full potential and cognition of our bodies and the mind can sit back and take its correct position as a witness or passenger. We can let go of the conditioned stories and narratives that we’re carrying through life, freeing ourselves to begin playing the unique role we’re here to play in the collective.
Looking back at the example BodyGraph above, we can see that the Personality Sun is exalted in the 6th line of the 43rd Gate of Insight/Breakthrough. This position fixes the Sun’s expression into the exalted frequency of that gate and line as described in the Rave I Ching: “Actualization and centering, that in breakthrough naturally establish both internally and externally a new order. Unique knowing that is both personally and collectively of value”. So we might say that when this Sacral Generator is living as themselves, waiting to respond to what life brings them and is called out to share their awareness, their expression brings a unique knowing that is both personally and collectively of value in establishing a new order and structure.
Taking the Design Venus in the 4th line of Gate 29 as an example of Detriment, we have the general keynote from the Rave I Ching “Directness: The Shortest Distance between two points is a straight line”. Yet, when Venus appears in this position, the inherent frequency of expression of Venus brings out an aspect of the collective consciousness that still needs to be worked out: “Simplicity and directness all too often seen as inharmonic and aesthetically crude. The power of directness often offends others”.
Here we can see that “directness” of the Sacral response can often be experienced by others as inharmonious. Yet, the work here is for this Sacral Generator to follow their Strategy of waiting to respond and only saying yes to the things that light up the Sacral Center regardless of the social consequences. This kind of directness even if considered aesthetically crude is something needed in the evolution of the collective consciousness.
These are just two examples, but what we can take away from all of this, is that when we’re following our Strategy and navigating life with our authority, we align with the true cognitive potential of our body and mind. In doing so and expressing our natural gifts (as seen through the exaltations) and working through the cultural challenges (as shown by the detriments), we then individually participate in the development of the collective consciousness of our species in our own unique way.