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“It Works For Me”™: Different Purposes for Different House Systems

I should disclose that I began my journey in astrology using the tropical zodiac and Placidus houses. After learning about Hellenistic astrology in 2006, I switched to Whole Sign Houses for every area of my astrological practice – natal, horary, electional, etc. So in fairness to you as the reader, it’s important for you to know I am not unbiased. I do have my preferences, but I also have my reasons beyond It Works For Me™, and I think by the end of this article you will agree that despite my biases I have made an effort to be fair.

I understand opinions surrounding this topic can get heated and feel personal, oftentimes because we become attached to how our charts look in a given house system. I want you to know that it’s perfectly fine to use whatever house system you want to use in your practice. I would only encourage you to ask yourself why you prefer a house system beyond It Works For Me™. Take the effort to understand the theoretical underpinnings/ astronomical basis for different house systems. Make sure you’re truly choosing the house system you use, armed with the power of knowledge and discernment, a theory and a rationale, rather than uncritically accepting what was first available to you, or by accepting what I’m saying uncritically. With that said, let’s get into it.

Houses are the main horizonal framework in astrology. Houses are supposed to show what domain of life a given planet has a particular relevance for. While astrologers mostly agree about what the 12 houses are about, less agree on which house system to use, and debates on this topic are a recurring feature of modern astrological discourse. Some say that a specific house system is the best one to use, whereas others like to say that they’re all equally valid and meaningful. I think there is a third way here: All house systems are equally valid and meaningful because they each refer to something different which would consequently give them each a different meaning, which makes a specific house system the best one to use for its particular purpose. 

Some of you may reject that idea right at the start because if each house system has a particular purpose or meaning, then they all can’t have the same purpose and meaning, which ultimately means that there would still be a perceived “winner” in the Topical Assignment Sweepstakes while the rest get silver, bronze or copper, or worse, participation trophies. However, the upshot of recognizing how the unique calculations of house systems lead to unique purposes and/or different interpretive distinctions is theoretical coherence and a guide for practical application. If it helps, this also appears to be how the earliest western horoscopic astrologers looked at different divisions.

Where do Houses come from?

As I’ve discussed previously, the significations of the houses are emergent properties arising out of a confluence of different paradigms. Here is a list of contributing factors to the significations of houses:

  • Diurnal Motion vs Zodiacal Motion
    • The daily cycle of the Sun’s rising and setting on the horizon and the Sun’s peaking and resting on the meridian are poetically associated with the ages in a life. The places ahead of each angle represent conditions prior to that stage in life indicated by the angle, the places following each angle represent conditions past that stage in life indicated by the angle. Diurnal motion (primary motion) (the Earth’s turn) pulls planets towards the angles while the zodiacal motion of planets (secondary motion) shows planets resisting gradually against diurnal motion. These dynamics surrounding each angle provide a purely astronomical basis for house meanings.
  • Horizonal Position
    • Houses above the horizon are about intangible things of the mind or spirit, whereas houses below the horizon, effectively through the ground below, are about tangible, physical things of the body or matter.
  • Aspects, Good/Bad Houses
    • Each house that makes an abstract platonic aspect to the Ascendant is considered a “good” house, productive or life-supporting. The houses that don’t are considered “bad” houses, unconnected to what supports life. The 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th and 11th are connected to the Ascendant by conjunction, sextile, square, trine or opposition, and these are the “good” houses. The 2nd, 6th, 8th and 12th do not form proper aspects to the Ascendant, and so they are the “bad” houses.
  • The Thema Mundi/Rulerships
    • The order of the signs themselves bear relationships to the houses, but the correlations begin from the lights rather than the beginning of the zodiac. This is all borne out in the Thema Mundi’s planet and sign placements. Many of the planetary and sign placements in the Thema Mundi are suggestive of topics associated with those places.
  • The Thema Mundi/Exaltations
    • The exaltations of planets are signs which embody each planet’s diurnal/nocturnal and benefic/malefic nature relative to their domiciles, but only within the horizonal reference of the Thema Mundi so that all exaltations are in “good houses”, able to make a whole sign aspect with Cancer. Exaltations are a blend of planetary, zodiacal and horizonal concepts, and are therefore relevant to the interpretation of houses. Similarly, the exaltations of the planets in the Thema Mundi are suggestive of the topics associated with those places.
  • The Joys
    • The Joys of the planets are houses which match each planet’s diurnal/nocturnal and benefic/malefic nature, so those houses take on the nature of those planets.
  • Relative/Derived Houses
    • Some significations of the houses are interpreted by their relative position to other houses, especially the opposite house.

Out of these, the dynamic interaction of diurnal and zodiacal motion of planets around the angles are probably the primary basis for many house significations.

“The four angles in the whole-sign house system were collectively designated by the highly suggestive term kentron, which generally means any kind of point, but concretely means a sting, a goad, and the point around which a compass arm turns (from which we get our word ‘center’). In our astrological context, it means a pivot or turning point. Each of the pivots, then, must be understood as a special kind of turning point, with respect to which planets in the whole sign surrounding these pivots are understood to be centered.”

-Robert Schmidt, Facets of Fate

One of Robert Schmidt’s great insights was his rediscovery of the triadic organization of houses. When we think of the order of houses, we tend to think angular-succedent-cadent, from order of greatest influence to least. But it’s really the tension between diurnal and zodiacal motion relative to each angle that gives houses their meaning, among other things. Quadrant-based divisions all divide the space between angles into equal divisions of some type, but the triadic arrangement of house meanings indicate it’s the space around angles that provides their meaning.

To briefly summarize: Because the Ascendant/eastern horizon/1st House is where the Sun and other planets rise, it’s equated with the beginning of a new life, the moment of birth. Planets in the 12th House have already risen beyond the horizon, and so they represent the conditions prior to rising, it’s the Pre-1st House. This is why traditional authors often ascribe the labor of childbirth to the 12th House because it represents conditions before birth. Planets in the 2nd have yet to rise up to the horizon, and so they represent conditions after rising, it’s the Post-1st House. This is partly why the 2nd House represents material possessions because we depend on material sustenance to stay alive after birth.

A planet in the 10th House is reaching its culmination and so it represents a point of maturity, achievement, our worldly careers. A planet in the 9th House has already culminated so it represents conditions prior to culmination, it’s the Pre-10th House. This is why the 9th House is associated with higher education which prepares one for their adult career, and more broadly, thought precedes action. A planet in the 11th House has yet to culminate so it represents conditions after culmination, it’s the Post-10th House. This is why the 11th House is about awards, gifts, acquisitions, allies. It’s about what is received for what one does.

Because the Descendant/western horizon/7th house is where the Sun and other planets set, it’s equated with the end of life, the moment of death. Planets in the 6th House have already set beyond the horizon, and so they represent conditions prior to setting, it’s the Pre-7th House. This is partly why the 6th House is associated with illness and injury, because they precede death. Planets in the 8th House have yet to set on the horizon, and so they represent conditions after death, it’s the Post-7th House. This is why the 8th House is associated with legacies and inheritances, because those are issues dealt with after someone has died.

A planet in the 4th House is reaching its rest or anti-culmination on the other side of the Earth from a given location. It’s as far from daylight and visibility as possible and so it represents a kind of hidden place, underworld or origin point. This is why the 4th House is associated with one’s parents, our biological origin points. Planets in the 3rd House have already rested, so it represents conditions or figures prior to (or at least in proximity to) one’s origins, it’s the Pre-4th House. This is why the 3rd House is associated with relatives and siblings. They’re like parents, but not quite. Planets in the 5th have yet to rest, so it represents conditions that come after (or in some proximity to) one’s origins, it’s the Post-4th House. This is why the 5th house rules one’s children, the next generation to come.

So a house system that organically arises out of these considerations would fundamentally organize its division of houses around the angles, not between them.

Virtually all quadrant-based house systems are at odds with this fundamental triadic organization of house significations, because instead of dividing space around the angles evenly, they (in different ways) divide the space between the angles evenly. Indeed, they’re quadrant-based rather than angle-centric. So we can at least agree that there is a discrepancy between the organization of house meanings and the division of houses in quadrant-based systems? This is the reason I think quadrant-based divisions aren’t properly topical houses, but instead measure some other quality. So, is there a house system which properly reflects these foundations for house meanings? Yes, yes there is.

Whole Sign Houses As Topical Areas of Life

Whole sign houses are simply measured by the zodiac’s relation to the horizon. Whatever sign the Ascendant is in is the 1st house, the next sign is the 2nd, the next is the 3rd, etc. So the Ascendant defines what the ascending sign is, and that sign is the 1st house. The zodiacal divisions relative to the angles are an extremely covenient way to divide up the sky according to the triadic logic of the houses. The angles make certain signs “angular”. The sign rising before it is cadent for having been angular, and the sign rising after it is succedent for having yet to be angular.

Here are the reasons I use whole sign houses beyond the least convincing argument in astrology, It Works For Me™:

  • It’s easy AF to figure out once you know the Ascendant.
    • Counter-argument: “Ancient people were too dumb to calculate complicated house systems”
      • Counter-counter-argument: “It’s 2019 and people are eating TidePods meanwhile Greek astrologers were building computers like the Antikythera mechanism to calculate planetary movements before computers were even a thing, also complexity is not the same thing as accuracy.”
  • Certain techniques can only be used in the context of whole sign houses, such as annual profections and Zodiacal Releasing.
    • Counter-argument: ::incoherent grumbling::
      • Counter-counter-argument: #sorrynotsorry
  • Why else are there 12 houses, if not to describe the 12 places each of the 12 signs can be when one of them is rising?
    • Counter-argument: “What about the 8-place Oktatopos house system?”
      • Counter-counter-argument: Yes, let’s interview all zero of its adherents to see what they think. And it’s not actually clear that this was actually ever a division of the zodiac into 8 places.
        • Counter-counter-counter argument: ::rolling eyes and muttering under breath::
  • It’s one of the few house systems to overcome problems of extreme latitudes.
    • Counter-argument: “You’re just ignoring the problem not solving it”
      • Counter-counter-argument: No, whole sign houses doesn’t ignore the problem, the MC just doesn’t define any cusps in whole sign houses, it’s not a problem because it’s irrelevant to its definitions. You might as well ask why Placidus doesn’t bring about world peace or help you lose 10 lbs.
  • No intercepted houses to worry about.
    • Counter-argument: “What about when the Midheaven isn’t in the 10th whole sign house, then you potentially have two places concerning career and parents?”
  • It’s one of the very few house systems to account for Gauquelin Plus Zones.
  • It’s the oldest primary house system, most predominantly used for several hundred years in the earliest part of the history of western horoscopic astrology. FACTS.
    • Counter-argument: “It’s a fallacy to appeal to tradition. What if new house systems since then are better?”
      • Counter-counter-argument: It’s a fallacy to appeal to novelty. Appreciating this house system in its historical context is important because we can contextualize fundamental rationales underlying different house systems, and whether they are departures or in the same vein. Seems to me the further we go back to investigate the origins of the houses, the more we keep running into whole sign houses, suggesting it’s closer to the original notion of what a house is, and that later innovations were offshoots.
  • It’s a house system built in to the foundation of astrological principles, as demonstrated by the Thema Mundi, its relationship to the scheme of Exaltations and the Joys.
    • Counter-argument: You can’t prove the Thema Mundi was using whole sign houses.
      • Uh, yeah you can. It came from a time when whole sign houses was the predominant house system and only requires knowledge of its ascending sign.  The only other two ancient divisions, Equal and Porphyry are not able to account for the arrangement of the Thema Mundi. Also, the Joys are houses which match the natures of particular planets. Mercury’s Joy in the 1st only makes sense in whole sign houses because in the same way that Mercury defies clear sect categorization, the 1st whole sign house always straddles the horizon, between day and night, with a slight tendency towards the day since the 1st is where a sign starts rising above the horizon. This dynamic is completely lost in quadrant-based systems where the 1st is always nocturnal.
  • The significations of houses partly derive from their whole sign aspect to the Ascendant, which whole sign houses preserves. 
    • Counter-argument: “Equal Houses does the same by degree”
      • Counter-counter-argument: Which emphasizes degrees rather than spans of degrees. Whole Sign does it by sign, emphasizing those spans of degrees to create “houses”.
  • It matches the triadic organization of house significations, by considering the space around an angle rather than the space between angles.
    • Counter-argument: ::Eyeroll::
      • Counter-counter-argument: ::shrug:: This is also partly a consequence of whole sign houses being more or less the original house system, so it bears the closest relationship to the original rationale for house significations.

Equal House Cusps as Dynamical Degrees of Power

Equal houses are a similarly elegant concept. It’s basically just a degree-based version of whole sign houses. Instead of the houses being based on the relationship of the signs to the ascending sign, the houses are based on the relationship of the degrees to the ascending degree. In equal houses, the degree of a given house cusp will always fall within its associated whole sign house. So for example, the 9th equal house cusp will always be in the 9th whole sign house.

As a whole sign house user, equal house cusps essentially represent a degree of particular relevance within its particular whole sign house, in the same way that the Ascendant degree is of particular importance within the 1st whole sign house. So when I see a chart in equal houses, I don’t really see the divisions as house topics as much as just a map of aspects to the Ascendant, like this:

You could say that this conception of equal houses as establishing particular degrees of importance has an ancient precedent in Paulus Alexandrinus who claimed that planets in cadent houses are angularized by making a degree-based aspect to an angle within 3°. So for example, in the chart above, Jupiter is cadent in the 9th whole sign house at 24° Aries. The Ascendant was at 19° Leo, and about 8 minutes after birth, the Ascendant would have been at 21° Leo, within the 3° range of perfecting a trine with Jupiter, in effect, offsetting some of its cadency. In this same example, Neptune is technically angularized despite its cadent placement in the whole sign 6th, because it is within 3° of forming a trine with the Midheaven.

As it is, in the early Hellenistic tradition, equal houses were only used in the context of specific techniques, which suggests they should not be seen as proper houses with the topics of life, but for some other kind of determination. Ptolemy uses equal houses for a dynamical assessment of a planet for a length-of-life technique, but Vettius Valens from several centuries earlier uses quadrant houses for the same purpose, and mentions equal houses only as a paraphrasing of Asclepius. This shows that even in 1st and 2nd centuries, astrologers were already using certain house systems for particular purposes.

The main purpose I can see for equal houses is as an aspect map for the Ascendant, not focusing on the divided spaces as houses, but on the cusps as particular points of interest within each house, like an “Ascendant” for each house topic. You could do something similar with the MC/IC axis, developing an aspect map for the angles, but they wouldn’t represent houses. Sort of like this:

Red=Aspects to the Ascendant/Descendant, Blue=Aspects to the MC/IC

Porphyry Houses as Dynamical Areas of Power

Porphyry is a bit of a misnomer because astrologers were using the Porphyry house system before Porphyry did. Basically, it’s just dividing the span of zodiacal degrees between the angles by 3. Boom, that’s it. Trisection of the quadrants. This division was used as a kind of power gauge. Vettius Valens used this division overlaid on top of whole sign houses. Sort of like this:

Dynamical Divisions (Porphyry) overlaid onto Whole Sign Houses; Darker Red = Angular Zone, Middle Red = Succedent Zone, Lighter Red = Cadent Zone

The reason why any system dividing up the quadrants would relate to some aspect of a planet’s “power” as opposed to house topics is because it divides the space between the Sun’s angular points, rather than the space around an angle. So it represents movement from angle to angle, from its most aimless/weakest/cadent state separating from an angle to becoming more focal/stronger/angular as it approaches the next angle. So it makes big distinctions between planets approaching an angle versus departing from it.

So the whole sign houses retain their topical significations while the Porphyry divisions give us a dynamical view of a planet’s strength, through its application to or separation from angles. For example, if there were a planet in this chart at 5 Aquarius, it would still relate to the topic of the whole sign 7th – old age, death, partnerships, marriage, relation to the general public, etc.. But it’s dynamically cadent since it has already separated from the setting angle.

So these divisions can lead to a more complete picture of a planet’s condition. For example, you could say that although Neptune is cadent by house, it’s dynamically succedent. Neptune also forms a trine with the MC within 3 degrees, further angularizing this planet. This would give you an idea of how this planet could be more prominent in someone’s life than would otherwise be assumed by its cadency. It would still relate to Neptunian circumstances in the 6th house, but brought into a a more ongoing and contributing role to the life rather than representing isolated incidents.

Keep in mind that if a planet is separating from an angle but still in close conjunction, it’s considered to be “goaded” to action. For example, the Sun and Moon in this chart could be considered to be “goaded” by the IC due to their close proximity to it, despite being dynamically cadent.

What I haven’t figured out yet is how to interpretively distinguish between different quadrant-based systems. Alcabitius is probably closest to Porphyry as a clean division of each quadrant into 3, except Porphyry divides the quadrants by zodiacal longitude and Alcabitius divides it by time. But what’s the difference between dividing a quadrant by longitude vs dividing it by time? One takes the varying ascensional times of the signs into account, but the other treats zodiacal degrees equally. If you can figure out the interpretive difference between them, it would have to be based on that.

Some people maintain that Regiomontanus is the proper house system to use for practicing horary. The main reason I think people claim this is because it’s what William Lilley used, and he’s a major access point for people who practice horary. To be perfectly honest, I don’t see any particular astronomical reason inherent to the Regiomontanus system that would make it particularly better specifically for horary.

Placidus Houses as a Planetary Hour System

Placidus has a very intriguing potential use. I propose that it shouldn’t really be called a house system as much as an hour system. An intriguing thing about Placidus is that it interfaces perfectly with planetary hours. If you divide each Placidus house in half, you can figure out what planetary hour you were born in, depending on the position of the Sun. It seems then that the most obvious application of Placidus is as a kind of horizonal system of terms or bounds, with each sector relating to its planetary hour ruler. An hour system, like this:

This is my chart with Placidus divisions, with each Placidus division divided equally to create the 24 planetary hours.

I was born on a Venus day and a Jupiter hour. You can tell this from the fact that the 1st hour after the Ascendant is a Venus hour, and my Sun is in a Jupiter hour. It’s pretty simple to fill in the rest of the hours in Chaldean order. But what if the other planets in other hours have some kind of meaning as well? I have my Mars in a Mars hour, my Mercury, Venus and Pluto in a Saturn hour, my Saturn and Uranus in a Mercury hour, my Neptune in a Venus hour and my Jupiter is in a Sun hour. This is, I think, a more fully realized purpose for Placidus divisions which is intricately related to their unique calculation, rather than for topical houses.

Putting Them All Together

So you can see how this allows different divisions to be used together, because they can all measure different things.

Whole Sign Houses – Shows what area of life a planet’s placement pertains to
Equal Divisions  Shows a specific degree of emphasis within a whole sign house topic
Porphyry Divisions – Shows how strong or weak a planet is
Placidus Divisions – Shows a planet’s hour ruler

I hope that you can see these determinations have not just come from saying “It Works For Me”™, but from a careful consideration of the first principles of house topics and what house system best accounts for them, and what purposes other house systems could have based on their native properties. Let me know if you disagree with my reasoning or if you have a better rationale for interpretive distinctions between house systems, I’d be interested to hear especially about how one might interpretively distinguish between different quadrant-based systems. Just don’t say “It Works For Me”™!

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5 Replies to ““It Works For Me”™: Different Purposes for Different House Systems

    1. Thank you Jay! I should say though that these are my own views and probably do not reflect the opinions of everyone in the astrological community or among professional astrologers necessarily.

  1. Out of all the astrologers I follow online, and particularly on Twitter, you are my favourite. Your articles are always articulate, insightful, intelligent, and funny. Above all I trust you, and I trust that you know what you’re talking about.

    Thanks Patrick!

    1. Thank you so so so much for the awesome comment and your generous support of my Patreon. That inspires me to keep doing the best work I can. You’ve made my day! 🙂
      -Patrick

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