If you’ve ever referred to the 8th house as a “Scorpionic” house, this article is for you. Originally I wanted to write an article to definitively show how the 8th house shouldn’t be associated with sex, until it became way, way too long. I realized that in order to back up that argument, I had to first show why the conceptual framework for coming to that conclusion was insufficient to begin with. So, this is why the Aries=1st House paradigm is wrong.
It’s called by a few different names, the 12 Letter Alphabet, the Astrological Alphabet. I prefer to call it the Aries Alphabet. They all refer to a system where the houses are archetypally linked to certain signs. So the 1st house is an Aries-like house, the 2nd house is a Taurus-like house and so on. Associations are made between the modes of the signs and the angularity of the houses, as well as between the elements of the signs and some of the significations of the houses. Sort of like this.
I understand why this is attractive, tempting, comforting, and honestly, some of these associations work fairly well. But the truth is they’re accidental rather than archetypal, and are only specifically relevant for everyone with Aries Rising. The Aries Alphabet is most commonly attributed to astrologer Zipporah Dobyns who came up with it in the ’70’s. It’s understandable as a modern attempt at a conceptual understanding of the houses, but astrology as we understand it goes back to at least ~2 BCE, and the meanings of the houses were originally attributed to a semi-mythical figure called Hermes Trismegistus from that time. So if there’s a conceptual framework to understand the houses, we’re going to have to go a lot further back than the 1970’s. Astrologers of the Hellenistic era of astrology (~2 BCE-~7 CE) reference a mythical, theoretical chart for the beginning of the world called the Thema Mundi, and it looks a bit different from the Aries Alphabet.
This arrangement is a statement/reflection/(basis?) of many fundamental astrological concepts, including rulership, aspects, exaltations and more. Interestingly, it has Cancer rising. There are a few reasons for this but ultimately it’s what makes everything else about the chart work. While it’s a theoretical chart, it’s rooted in the astronomy of our solar system, by arranging the planets visible to the naked eye by visibility and/or order. Sort of like this:
Now, you may be saying the Thema Mundi is bullshit because it doesn’t include Uranus and Neptune. Well of course it wouldn’t, not just because they didn’t know about them, but because it’s a system predicated on visibility, and the outer planets are invisible to the naked eye. The best human eyesight in optimal conditions can detect magnitudes down to 6.5, and Uranus deviates between 5.38 and 6.03, so it’s really not that visible. It’s barely visible once a year when it opposes the Sun, and you’d have to know where to look. You really have to bend over backwards to look at Uranus. (You right now: ಠ_ಠ)
If you were going to reinvent astrology, you’d probably have to distinguish between planets which are organically visible versus the ones which require technological assistance. This is another reason why Saturn signifies limits and Uranus signifies breaking past barriers, because Saturn is at the limit of human visibility and Uranus is beyond it. Weirdly enough, if you continue to place planets into the Thema Mundi, Uranus goes into Aquarius and Neptune goes into Pisces. This is pretty bizarre because modern astrologers made these associations between these signs and the outer planets before knowledge about the Thema Mundi was recovered late in the 20th century. I personally think that the outers are beyond rulerships because they’re beyond visibility, but I think it’s interesting in any case.
You may be wondering though, why is the Thema Mundi so much better than the Aries Alphabet? So let’s continue on now with the various problems with the Aries Alphabet, and why the Thema Mundi provides a solution to each of them.
Problem #1: If the 1st House is equivalent to Aries, the order of the signs do not qualitatively match the Sun’s apparent diurnal motion.
The Sun’s rising would be equivalent to it being in Aries, which makes sense as the sign of its exaltation, a fiery sign for the beginning of the day. As it rises through the 12th (equivalent of Pisces) and the 11th (equivalent of Aquarius) it typically culminates in the 10th (equivalent of Capricorn). Does this actually make sense for the Sun’s culmination to be associated with Capricorn? It does if you yourself are an Aries Rising, but does it make sense to use this as an archetypal reference for the meanings of these houses overall?
The association between Capricorn and the 10th house tends to be rationalized through Saturn’s frequent connection to one’s career, responsibilities, etc. But if we’re honest we’ll also wonder why one of the coldest (earth sign ruled by Saturn) and darkest signs (literally darkest in the northern hemisphere) is supposed to represent where the Sun is at its highest and the day is brightest and warmest. The same problem exists when the Sun comes to rest on the IC around midnight. By this system it’s naturally associated with Cancer, even though this is where daylight is lopsided and ruled by a luminary. And if you think this is too northern-hemisphere-centric, have I got an article for you.
Contrast this with the Thema Mundi where sunrise in the 1st is associated with the balmy light-ruled sign of Cancer (and was considered to be co-ruled by the Sun by the Zoroastrians). The Sun’s culmination in the 10th is associated with its fiery exalted sign of Aries, matching the brightness and heat of day. The Sun’s setting in the 7th is associated with the cold earth sign of Capricorn as the day ends, and the Sun’s resting around midnight in the 4th is associated with the cool air sign of Libra.
So the elements of the Aries Alphabet do not qualitatively match the Sun’s apparent diurnal motion at least half the time, whereas the Thema Mundi does a better job of qualitatively reconciling the opposites of diurnal motion and zodiacal order by associating the most diurnal solstice and equinox with the most diurnal angles. It’s not a perfect match, but it’s impossible for them to perfectly match, because diurnal motion and zodiacal order go in opposite directions. That’s actually really important and we’ll definitely come back to that.
Problem #2: If the 1st House is equivalent to Aries, the houses lose their interpretive association with different aspects.
Each planet has its most characteristic distance from the Sun. Mercury can never be more than one sign away from the Sun, so Mercury is linked to the contentious contrarian so-called semi-sextile or adjacent aversion (⚺). Venus can never be more than two signs away from the Sun, so Venus is linked to the friendly sextile (⚹). Mars is close to the degree of its direct station when it last squared the Sun, so Mars is linked to the hostile square (□). Jupiter stations retrograde and direct very close to its trine with the Sun, so Jupiter is linked to the generous trine (△). Saturn is the next planet out and is hard to see until it goes retrograde and nears its opposition so Saturn is linked to the so-called quincunx or opposing aversion, a blind spot, a lack of connection (⚻). We’ll get to the opposition.
These astronomical relationships between the Sun and the planets form the basis of the rulership system. For example, Mercury-ruled Gemini and Virgo are both in adjacent aversion to Cancer and Leo. Venus-ruled Taurus and Libra are a sextile away from Cancer and Leo. Mars-ruled Aries and Scorpio are square Cancer and Leo. Jupiter-ruled Sagittarius and Pisces are trines from Cancer and Leo. Saturn-ruled Aquarius and Capricorn are a so-called quincunx away from Cancer and Leo. The lines finally cross between the nocturnal and diurnal arrangement with Saturn’s signs of darkness opposing the signs of the lights.
Similarly, the houses have planetary associations. This is why the 2nd and 12th are related to different sides of Mercury because they are in aversion to the Ascendant, (currency and calculations in the 2nd and distractions or enemies in the 12th).This is why both the 3rd and 11th are related to different sides of Venus, (personal friendships in the 3rd, impersonal friendships in the 11th). This is why both the 4th and 10th are related to different sides of Mars (we sever from parents from the 4th and we take action in the 10th). This is why both the 5th and 9th are related to different sides of Jupiter in that they signify good things we either generate for ourselves or experience. Both the 6th and the 8th are largely houses of difficulties, and the “quincunx” is Saturn’s aspect. The 7th is both a place of weddings and partnerships but also death and exile, and it is opposite the Ascendant. The only opposition in the Thema Mundi is between the Moon and Saturn, and the opposition is alternately a receptive/exchanging relationship or excluding/oppressive relationship. In my estimation the opposition is a lunar and Saturnian aspect.
While there is some overlap between what the Aries Alphabet and Thema Mundi show about the houses, you run the risk of generating some confusing mismatches. Here are two of the clearest examples: The 11th house=Aquarius association is weird whether you think Saturn or Uranus rules Aquarius. It’s a house of gifts, friends, networks, alliances. Saturn is austere, dispassionate, solemn, restricting. Uranus is unconventional, rebellious, iconoclastic. In the Thema Mundi, Taurus is in the 11th where Venus rules, the Moon is exalted and where Jupiter joys. Tell me which one you think is a better fit.
The 12th house=Pisces association is also off. The only way it makes sense is if you completely reject Jupiter as a ruler for Pisces. The 12th is about enemies, suffering, isolating, retreating, imprisonment, etc. Jupiter is jolly, abundant, expanding, generous. Neptune is deceptive, addictive, synthetic, virtual, chemical, mystical. In the Thema Mundi, Gemini is in the 12th where Mercury rules and Saturn joys. Saturn is a depressive, restricting planet, while Mercury is duplicitous and can have a bad side. Anyone who’s been Mercury Retrofucked™ can attest to this.
Problem #3: If the 1st House is equivalent to Aries, the Exaltations lose their interpretive connection to the houses.
Sometimes there is some overlap between the Thema Mundi and the Aries Alphabet. For example, the 9th house is ruled by Jupiter in both systems, and we still most commonly associate Jupiter with wisdom, belief, knowledge, religion, etc. However, if you overlay the Exaltations on top of the zodiac with an assumed Aries=1st House equivalence, the planets end up in houses that are not particularly relevant to their meaning. For example, Venus ends up in the 12th house. Even if you can draw a connection between Pisces and the 12th house, what particularly does Venus have to do with the 12th? Why should Venus be exalted in the natural 12th house of enemies and self-undoing?
If you overlay the Exaltations on top of the Thema Mundi, all of the planets end up in houses which are relevant to their meanings. For example, Venus is exalted in the Piscean 9th House in the Thema Mundi. While that may not make a whole lot of sense to the modern understanding of Venus, Venus themes of purity, cleanliness and sacredness are certainly “exalted” in most religious traditions. Christianity has Baptism, Judaism has the Tvila, Islam has Wudu. They all use water as a part of religious rites to cleanse or sacralize themselves, literally and spiritually. So Venus has this special role in religious practices that relates to its nature and even with the water element of Pisces. This makes far more obvious sense in the context of the 9th rather than the 12th. As a people we also hold the romantic principles of Venus in such high esteem that we make marriages official either through a wedding in a religious tradition or in a courthouse, both places suggested by Jupiter’s association with the 9th house (via Pisces rather than Sagittarius). This is just one example that stands out.
Problem #4: The Houses do not ultimately derive from zodiacal associations, and even if they did, they would more likely apply to relationships to Cancer rather than Aries.
“So how did we get the meanings of the houses?” you might be asking yourself. Great question! The meanings of the houses are emergent properties, primarily a result of the tension between diurnal motion (turn of the Earth) and zodiacal motion (planetary motion through the zodiac).
This is diurnal motion, the regular day/night cycle over a period of 24 hours. The Sun, planets and stars rise in the east. As the Earth turns, they set in the west. At the location in this gif, you’re in the northern hemisphere looking south, so you can see the Sun rises on the left and sets on the right.
This is zodiacal motion, how planets transit through the zodiac. Below is the same location at the same time every night over ~3 months. Notice how the planets are moving through the zodiac from west to east, or from this perspective, right to left. You can really see it with the Moon and Mars especially.
These opposing motions of a planet’s diurnal motion versus its zodiacal motion are where the meanings of the houses come from, especially in relation to the angle they’re closest to. Here are the 4 angles:
- IC – where the Sun rests as the Earth completes its turn to start a new day for a given location. This is why the IC is associated with our origins and private places, our home and parents, where we come from.
- Ascendant – where planets emerge and make an appearance, similar to our own emergence at birth. This is why the Ascendant is supposed to represent ourselves in a more specific way, who we are.
- MC – where the Sun peaks, and so the the MC represents our actions, the height of our reputation and lives, what we do.
- Descendant – where planets in the sky finally meet the earth, so it is similarly a meeting place in terms of marriage and partnerships, who we are with. It’s also where the Sun sets ending the day, so it’s also a place that shows old age and the end of life. “‘Till death do us part”.
For example, the reason why the 3rd is about siblings is because it’s where diurnal motion pushes a planet away from the 4th of home and family, suggesting places or people that are not quite your home and parents, but in proximity. The planet’s zodiacal motion tries to move back toward the 4th of home and family, suggesting people and places that are almost your parents and home, but not quite. This is why the 3rd is about close relatives, friends of the family, local neighborhood, etc.
We also know the 3rd is a sextile from the Ascendant, which is Venus’s aspect, so it’s a social place, which matches the associations with siblings and friends. In the Thema Mundi, Virgo is in the 3rd place, Mercury is there, Mercury rules there, Mercury is exalted there, the Moon joys there, etc. These other considerations fill out the notions of this house as a contrarian, unorthodox, busy, mobile place.
Meanwhile the 5th house is on the other side of the IC and is often associated with fun, entertainment, recreation, leisure, children, procreation. The 5th is where diurnal motion pushes a planet towards the IC of origins, showing people or places that eventually become like home and family even if they don’t start off that way. Zodiacal motion shows the planet is moving away from the IC of origins, showing people and places that are further removed and past your origins. It’s the next generation, your children.
We also know the 5th is a trine from the Ascendant, which is Jupiter’s aspect so it’s a generative place of fun and happiness (typically). In the Thema Mundi, Scorpio is in the 5th place, Mars is here, nothing is exalted here, Venus joys here, etc. This also gives us a picture of it being a place of romance, passion and the necessary elements of risk and danger to enhance the thrill of excitement. This is also where Scorpio gets its sexual connotations, and Mars and Scorpio are associated with the genitals. You might also begin to see how Scorpio’s association with the 8th and the 8th house’s association with sex doesn’t really…make any sense. But I’m going to handle that entire issue separately.
So if you want to know what a house is about, check it against all of these various factors and you can see how the most common significations of the houses came about, and how you might apply them to all different types of things unstated in tradition.
- Day & Night (Sect): Diurnal houses in the sky above are about intangible things of the mind or spirit, whereas nocturnal houses on the other side of the Earth, effectively through the ground below, are about tangible, physical things of the body or matter.
- Diurnal Motion: The 4 most pivotal points of the Sun’s daily journey are symbolically equated with a life cycle, from conception in the 4th, to birth in the 1st, to the height of life in the 10th, to death in the 7th, etc.
- Angularity: These 4 most pivotal points of the Sun’s journey, or angles, are strong houses, central and focal to one’s life. Each succedent house is a stable house, things which are more constant throughout someone’s life. Each cadent house is a weaker house, with themes less central to the narrative of one’s life.
- Zodiacal Motion: The cadent houses have already moved past the angle, so they signify things that happen before the event of the angle. The succedent houses have yet to move past the angle, so they signify things that happen after the event of the angle. These are also extended towards the ages of life represented by the sun’s apparent daily cycle.
- Aspects: Each house that makes a whole sign aspect to the rising sign is considered a “good” sign, productive or life-supporting. The houses that don’t are considered “bad” signs, 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 do 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.
- 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.
- 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 Houses: Some significations of the houses are interpreted by their relative position to other houses, especially the opposite house.
If you want to see how some of these factors contribute to the meanings of the houses, I made a handy infographic to help you with just that. (You may have to open it in a new tab and zoom in to read it, it’s pretty big). This is kind of a first draft, I do have an update planned.
So while the Aries Alphabet makes some associations that aren’t totally off-base, they’re purely accidental. They’re a function of Aries and Cancer both being cardinal signs with some similar rulerships, or different malefics associated with each house in each system, making it harder to distinguish between them. In any case, the meanings of the houses do not derive from the signs, but instead derive from the directions a planet in a sign moves by diurnal and zodiacal motion. If you’ve put a lot of stock in the Aries Alphabet, hopefully by now you at least have more information to judge whether or not you should continue to. Aries can be the 1st house if you’re an Aries Rising, but Aries can’t be archetypally equivalent to the 1st house. Spread the word.