House Systems In Astrology: What Do They Mean And Represent?•
Posted on April 04 2022
From our perspective on Earth, the entire sky, above and below the horizon, is divided into twelve zodiac signs (based on the Sun’s apparent rotation around the Earth for the duration of a year) and twelve astrological houses (based on the Earth’s daily rotation around its axis). The zodiac wheel is well-known in popular astrology. In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the astrological houses and highlight the most frequently used house systems.
The twelve astrological signs and houses are not the same: while signs represent archetypes that describe the blueprint of a person, an entity, or an event, houses show the concrete life areas where these archetypes manifest. From the 1st house of beginnings and self-affirmation to the 12th house of karma, dissolution, and hidden resources, the houses cover all the experiences that we can go through in a lifetime.
If life is a play, the planets are actors in an astrological chart (for example, Venus – the lover, Mars – the fighter), the signs are the masks they are wearing (for example, Capricorn – the mask of an achiever or a manager, Pisces – the mask of a dreamer or a humanitarian), and the houses are the stages where the play unfolds (for example, the 4th house – a family scene, the 9th house – an adventure abroad). The houses are deeply intertwined with our experience on Earth, giving concrete form to the cosmic energies that influence us.
The astrological houses depend on the Earth’s daily rotation around its axis and are influenced by both the time and the location of a certain event. Houses are not astronomically fixed, but they always start from the Ascendant, the sign that was on the Eastern horizon (sunrise) at the time of the event, marking the beginning of the 1st house. The opposite point, the Descendant, is marked by the sign found on the Western horizon (sunset) and represents the beginning of the 7th house. The other two important points of the chart (also known as angles, alongside the Ascendant and the Descendant) are generally at the start of the 4th house and the 10th house: they’re found in the signs that occupy the noon and the midnight points at the time and place of a certain event.
In this way, most house systems use the Eastern and the Western horizons alongside the meridian (the line connecting the noon point and the midnight point) to divide the astrological wheel. The 1st house of the self (sunrise), the 4th house of family and roots (midnight), the 7th house of relationships (sunset), and the 10th house of career and public image (noon) are the most important areas of a chart and they mark a symbolic journey of the soul through cycles of light and darkness, similar to the apparent physical journey of the Sun through our skies.
Beyond these four points, which are generally agreed upon by astrologers, there are several methods of dividing the remaining space to mark the cusps of the other astrological houses. We’re going to take a closer look at the most popular house systems below.
Named after the Italian monk and mathematician Placidus de Titis (1603-1668) and believed to have been originally designed by Ptolemy, the father of western astrology, in the 2nd century AD, this is the most used house system in current practice and it works by marking the house cusps in two-hour divisions, starting from the Ascendant.
The Ascendant marks the cusp of the 1st house; after two hours, we look at the degree of the new rising sign (the sign on the Eastern horizon) and we mark that degree as the cusp of the 12th house. We continue until we reach the cusp of the 7th house. The remaining house cusps are established by mirroring the first seven: for example, if the 2nd house starts at 19 degrees Cancer, the opposite house (the 8th) will start at the 19th degree of the opposite sign, Capricorn.
Placidus is a time-based system that varies with the seasons: the size of each house depends on how much time each sign spends on the horizon from the perspective of a certain place, at a certain time of the year. Usually, it takes about six hours for the Sun to travel from sunrise to the highest point it will reach during a day (high noon), but this time is shorter during wintertime, influencing the size of the houses.
In my view, the Placidus system works well because it’s personalized: it’s influenced by the particular place and time of an event and, in natal astrology, it allows for an emphasis on different houses, offering extra information about a person. For example, the life of someone with the 2nd house of money and pleasure and the 8th house of shared finances and sexuality each taking up more than 40 degrees of the zodiac will clearly be focused on their material possessions, their sense of ownership, and their quest for security and pleasure.
The challenge that Placidus brings is that house sizes can suffer extreme variations if we go too far from the equator, making it impossible to calculate for regions beyond a latitude of 66°N or 66°S. However, for the most of us, this house system works well and accurately captures the nuances and the design of our lives, an idea supported by its current popularity.
The Whole Sign house system follows a simple rule: the entire zodiac sign that appears at the Eastern Horizon at the time of a person’s birth occupies the 1st house, with the Ascendant at 0 degrees of that sign. For example, regardless of the exact degree, if Libra was on the horizon when you were born, every point or planet in Libra is considered to be in your 1st house. The next sign makes up the 2nd house and so on; all houses have 30 degrees and are made up of complete zodiac signs in this system.
The Whole Sign system can offer a clear overview of a chart: it’s a good choice if you want to keep things simple. This approach was used in Hellenistic and Indian astrology in ancient times and it was revived during the last decades. It’s less fine-tuned than the Placidus system, but its advantage is that it works even in high-latitude locations. Astrologer Steven Forrest suggests that this was the most widely used house system in ancient times because it solved the problem of time: people had no clocks, so it was difficult to record the time of an event and to determine the exact degree of the Ascendant.
The Equal Houses system is similar to Whole Sign, but the difference is that the 1st house starts with the degree of the Ascendant, not with the first degree of the rising zodiac sign. Every house has 30 degrees; therefore, the Midheaven (the noon point) doesn’t coincide with the cusp of the 10th house and isn’t necessarily found within it.
This system has been used since antiquity: it’s more precise than the Whole Sign system (the cusp of the 1st house is determined by the exact time of birth) and, unlike Placidus, it can be used for high-latitude locations. Because of these reasons, many astrologers still prefer it today.
The Koch house system was developed by Walter Koch (1895-1970) as a refinement of the Equal Houses method. Koch is a time-based system that breaks down the circle of latitude at the place of birth into equal divisions, using calculations based on the Midheaven (the highest point in the chart).
The zodiac degree of the Midheaven is turned back until it reaches the Ascendant, then this temporal distance is trisected to obtain the houses. Koch is similar to Placidus: the house cusps don’t suffer significant variations between the two house systems. As it’s the case with Placidus, Koch is also impossible to calculate for regions beyond the polar circles.
The Regiomontanus system, developed by the astronomer and astrologer Regiomontanus (Johannes Müller, 1436-1476), is space-based: it divides space into equal (30-degree) segments along the celestial equator. The divisions are projected onto the ecliptic along house circles and their intersection with the ecliptic marks the house cusps. The Ascendant marks the 1st house and the Midheaven marks the 10th house, but the rest of the houses are unequal in size. This system was mostly used between the 15th century and the early 19th century.
This system came into use in the 13th century and it was developed by Giovanni Campani (1233-1296). Campanus is another system that is defined by space: it divides the Prime Vertical (the great circle that takes in the East point, the West point, the zenith, and the nadir) into twelve equal segments (like slices of an orange) that are projected onto the ecliptic to determine the house cusps.
Named after Porphyry, an ancient astrologer from the 3rd century, this system focuses on the angles of the chart (the Ascendant, the Immum Coeli, the Descendant, and the Midheaven) and determines the other house cusps by trisecting each of the four quadrants obtained.
This way, the 1st, the 2nd, and the 3rd houses, for example, will be of equal size, but not the same size as the 4th, the 5th, and the 6th houses. The advantage is that the cusps can be calculated even at polar regions.
Which Astrology House System Is The Best?
Astrologers have been in disagreement over the “correct” house system for centuries, but the truth is that different types of systems can be suited for different types of charts. For example, Placidus is preferred for predictions, while many astrologers use the Regiomontanus house system for horary astrology.
The choice also depends on the latitude of the event’s location: for locations closer to the poles, Placidus or Koch produce significant distortions in house sizes, so Whole Sign, Equal Houses, or Porphyry can work better.
Finally, no other criterion compares to personal experience. Which one works best for you? Astrologer Steven Forrest remarks that any system can be efficient in the right hands. Even if astrology is based on calculations, making sense of a chart is an intuitive process: the whole world is made of symbols if we look carefully enough.
Reading the energy of someone or something can work well with more than one house system if our intention and intuition are in the right place. Robert Hand’s rhetorical question, “Which is truer, French or German?”, shows that, similar to languages, house systems are different instruments that we can use to communicate the same message.
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