The article is Part 2 of a three-part series on ecliptic-based astrological house division. If you haven’t read Part 1, click here.
Part 2: Ecliptic-based House Division:
The Equal-House system is a variation of the whole sign house system. The difference is that the degree of the ascendant defines the start of the first house and becomes the starting degree of each of the remaining eleven houses. The MC floats and does not define the cusp of the tenth house.
Since Hellenistic times and before, astrologers have been concerned with the motion of the planets rising over the horizon, culminating at the MC, and finally disappearing into the darkness at the descendant. This is called primary motion, it is concerned with the rotation of the earth on its axis and with the motion of the stars, luminaries, and planets above us as they move during the course of the day.
The Acendant is the point where the ecliptic meets the local horizon. With the equal house system, we start to anchor the houses to the rotation of the earth by linking the ecliptic with the local horizon of the native or event. As we have noted in a previous post, the ecliptic is extra lunar, it is not of this earth. However, the local horizon is sublunar. So, with equal houses, ancient astrologers found an initial way to ground the ecliptic to events on earth.
The personal point of the degree of the Ascendant is emphasized in this system. The symbolism becomes a bit more grounded in that the eastern horizon takes on an elevated importance.
In the entire range of traditional natal astrology, the first house represents YOU, it represents the native. The rest of the houses represent everybody and everything else! Echoing the degree of the Ascendant in each of the subsequent houses underlines that this house system symbolizes YOUR money (2nd house), YOUR siblings (3rd house), YOUR home (4th house), and so on.
To compare equal houses with whole sign, in WSH there is no difference between a planet being domiciled in a sign and a planet being in a house. In whole sign houses, we don’t really have houses, what we have are signs. Can signs alone be used to define house cusps? Of course they can! The WSH system was probably used extensively in Hellenistic times and is one of the major approaches in Vedic astrology. However, when we use this method we lose the connection of astrological houses moving clockwise by primary or diurnal motion. In WSH, secondary motion along the ecliptic is emphasized, that is, planets and other objects in space moving in a counterclockwise direction along the ecliptic.
In WSH, signs are houses. A planet domiciled in a sign in WSH exactly corresponds to it being in an astrological house, so we lose the symbolism that we get when we separate domiciliation (Jupiter and Neptune in Pisces) from the symbolism of houses (Jupiter in Pisces in the 1st House, Neptune in Pisces in the 2nd House).
In Equal Houses, we start to get this symbolism back (see chart above). We put the signs back in the heavens, as the first manifestation of the Primum Mobile, and we begin to ground the houses back to the geocentric earth, where, after all, we live!
By defining the Ascendant as the start of the first house, we regain the demarcation between a planet being domiciled in a sign (Jupiter and Neptune in Pisces) and planets being in an astrological house (Jupiter in Pisces in the 1st House, Neptune in Pisces in the 2nd House).
However, the work of the ancient astrologer was by no means finished! The equal house system was still a non-quadrant house system in that the MC is floating. To further ground the houses to the sub-lunar realm of the earth, the ancients developed other house systems, which anchored the local meridian or latitude of the native to the cusp of the culminating tenth house.
In my next post, we’ll look at the quadrant house system that is most often referenced by scholars to the Hellenistic period. Today, it is known as the Porphyry house system.
The house systems can be classified into three major categories:
Ecliptic-based houses – These house systems divide the ecliptic itself. Whole Sign Houses, Equal Sign Houses, and Porphyry are in this category.
Space-based houses – These systems divide space in the celestial sphere in various ways and then determine how the resulting house cusps relate to the ecliptic. Campanus, Morinus, and Regiomontanus houses are space systems.
Time-based houses – These divide the time of the daily rotation of the Earth and then take the timing positions and project them in various ways to the ecliptic, resulting in house cusp positions. Alcabitius, Koch, and Placidus are of this type.
For this article, I’m only going to compare the ecliptic-based house systems, because that is all we will need to cover in order to make an initial point regarding the importance of taking into consideration the celestial circles that come into play when considering methods of arriving at house cusps.
Whole Sign houses (WSH) is simplest system because the cusps of the astrological houses are defined by the 30° division of the constellations that rest along the zodiac. Each 30° sign equals one house.
The zodiac sign that rises over the horizon at the time of the birth or event defines the entire first house. If the Ascendant is at 29° of a sign, all the planets in that sign are considered first house planets in this system of house division. The remaining eleven signs create the rest of the houses, moving in a counter-clockwise direction.
This is a non-quadrant house system and does not use the ascendant or midheaven to define the beginning of the first and tenth houses. The ascendant and midheaven in this system are floating.
In WSH, the ascendant always floats somewhere in the first house. Depending on the latitude, the MC can be present anywhere in the upper hemisphere, although in moderate latitudes it is usually found somewhere within the 9th through 11th houses.
This is an interesting feature of WSH. It adds a layer of interpretative symbolism which can be put to good use in delineation. If for example, the MC falls in the 11th House, we can then blend 11th House topics with 10th House topics when articulating a delineation: the native’s career will be significantly linked to their friends or a professional group. If the MC falls in the 9th House, a possible delineation could be the native’s career will take place in a foreign country. And so on.
In WSH, we define the house cusps by the 30° division of the constellation of stars themselves, which is interesting in itself. Let’s think about what this might suggest symbolically.
We’ve all heard the expression, “As above, so below”, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, the mythical founder of horoscopic astrology. Basically, the idea is that what we see manifested in the physical world is modelled on a perfect Form found in the spiritual world. We also may have come across Plato’s theory of Forms or Ideas, where he says that Forms are mind independent paradigms or abstract objects, which he calls “particulars”, and that the particulars are imperfect copies of their Platonic spiritual form.
Image: Ptolemaic cosmology-Sheilla Terry
Looking at the above diagram, we see that the Platonic Forms exist in spiritual form at the level of the Primum Mobile, the Prime Mover or “God”, and their first manifestation is at the level of the firmament, where we find the constellations of stars. Their energy then passes through the level of Saturn, then Jupiter, then Mars and so on in Chaldaic order until finally they manifest as elemental Fire, Water, Air and Earth.
The point is this: the cusps of whole sign houses are based on the 30° division of the constellations or zodiac. These 30° divisions are then projected downwards onto the ecliptic, which is the Sun’s apparent path around the Earth. Since the Ascendant and MC are floating, the ecliptic takes on heightened symbolic importance in this house system. Let’s explore this.
The constellations are in the heavens and are beyond the planetary spheres. They reside firmly placed as the first physical manifestation of the Primum Mobile. It is an extra lunar system, rather than a sublunar one. They are not of this earth.
To return to the neo-Platonic expression “As above so below”, what we see manifested on the physical plane here on Earth is indeed modeled on that which is above, but as the original spiritual, non-physical Form/Idea descends, a change is affected when the spiritual form is finally filtered through the Light of the Moon and manifests on Earth as the sea, the mountains, the vegetation and forests, the birds, the animals and the humanoid forms.
The word that was traditionally used to describe this journey from the higher worlds to our physical one was “corrupted”. Now perhaps to our modern minds and world view this is too strong a word, so without putting a negative value on it, we can simply say that as the subtle spiritual Forms descend to our physical plane, they undergo significant change in the process.
Whole sign houses define their cusps from these upper reaches of the heavens, only tenuously linked to the earth by its floating Ascendant and MC. Symbolically speaking, we could say that this house system represents how things ought to be in an ideal world; we could perhaps say that they represent things more along the lines of how the Primum Mobile – God, if you like – wished them to be. Put in terms that Spinoza (or Rudhyar) might use, we could say that whole sign houses represent the Universe’s unfiltered original intention for the native in the context of nativity, before Mother Nature had her way.
There is another level of symbolism at work here, that of the ecliptic itself. The ecliptic is the path of the Sun. Because all the planets follow its path and are roughly on the same plane, the ecliptic is used to measure longitudinal position of the planets and luminaries as well as other objects in space. There is an entire coordinate system based on the ecliptic used to measure objects in outer space, which was the primary coordinate system used by astronomers for many centuries.
The symbolism of the ecliptic is solar. The Sun in astrology among other things traditionally represents the King. In Hermetic Kabbalah, the Sun is placed in the Sphere of Tiphareth on the Tree of Life, which is said to be the seat of the Soul, the place of the High King, or in Jungian nomenclature, the unconscious mind. The Soul/Unconscious mind is said to know the true life-purpose of the native. One of the great quests of the conscious mind is to discover this purpose, this is the meaning of the Greek aphorism, “Know thyself”. It follows that a system of house cusps that is primarily based on the celestial circle of the ecliptic and defined by the 30° division of the constellation of stars themselves would relate to the original intention of the Soul for the conscious native.
This Platonic version of defining house cusps has many uses, both when using time lord techniques involving fate, as well as in the context of nativities, but the ancients (Dorotheus, Ptolemy, Valens) thought it would be a good idea to have other methods of defining house cusps that were more anchored to the sublunar realm. Which brings us to our next ecliptic-based house system: the equal house system.
In the next post, we will look at the Equal House system and its symbolism.
Before moving on to the astronomy of the ecliptic-based house systems, I had another thought on the current WSH war.
Those of us interested in Hellenistic Astrology owe a great debt to the research done by Project Hindsight (PH) and the folks who did the research, primarily Robert Hand and Robert Schmidt, and at the start Robert Zoller. Also we can give our gratitude to Chris Brennan, whose book Hellenistic Astrology (HA) attempted (and largely succeeded) to put the entire doctrine of HA as understood by Project Hindsight and himself into one volume. This was followed by two volumes by Demetra George on the praxis of Hellenistic delineation, with Volume 1 looking at planetary strength and other technical subjects from a mostly Hellenistic perspective, and Volume 2 to looking at house delineation in a way that included the entire astrological tradition, from Hellenistic to 20th century astrology.
Thanks to these efforts, HA and some of its techniques have become widely popular, so quite naturally other scholars and academics are joining in and looking at the relevant texts in their original languages (Greek, Sanskrit and Latin). Further interpretations and alternative views of the Hellenistic tradition are beginning to appear as time passes. One hopes that the PH point of view will not become dogma and that folks will listen to other viewpoints with an open mind.
Deborah Houlding has an alternative interpretation of Anthologies by Vettius Valens.
I believe that folks have misinterpreted her recent talk at the Astrological Association of Great Britain in thinking that she was saying whole sign houses (WSH) never existed. What she meant to get across was that no ancient or medieval author ever formally defined or endorsed their use, which is not the same thing as saying WSH never existed. One can either agree or disagree with her point of view. Also, she didn’t mean to leave the impression that prior to the 80s, no one wrote about or mentioned WSH, ever. She simply meant that prior to PH, WSH were not a “thing”. It wasn’t generally talked about in the astrological community, indeed, even people like her doing traditional astrology (as medieval and renaissance astrology was called back then) were considered slightly mad. Hellenistic astrology was strictly for the academics.
Unfortunately, her presentation contained inaccuracies, snide comments about colleagues and bordered on presenting PH as a kind of evil cabal. This was not helpful to her cause, which was to present an alternative view on how ancient astrologers worked with houses. Completely lost in the subsequent furor was her fascinating discussion of primary vs secondary motion as it related to WS and quadrant houses. The lesson to be learned from this is when presenting an alternative view on a hot-button topic, it is best to stay away from personalities and stick to principles; to stay on topic and avoid dragging out the dirty laundry along the way.
Chris Brennan responded to Houlding with a video stream where he played her entire talk and calmly responded to it, point by point. He also did interviews with Robert Hand, one of the founders of PH, as well as with Demetra George, an early PH participant and proponent, each of whom gave their reactions to the Houlding talk. For anyone who is interested in Hellenistic astrology, these videos make for fascinating watching. Responding to the Houlding talk almost becomes secondary; one gets a sense of what PH was and how it developed; the interviews are in no way a shouting match.
I saw a YouTube video recently depicting Chris Brennan as some kind of power hungry, evil empire Darth Vader type for responding to the Houlding talk. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brennan is by no means a HA fundamentalist, just look at his podcast: He has medieval and renaissance astrologers on the show, he has psychological astrologers, he has evolutionary astrologers, vedic astrologers, he even has had “pop” astrologers present their work. Brennan promotes astrology in all its forms. Outside the context of his book and HA course, his astrology is a blend of Hellenistic and modern practices, as is D. George’s. I believe that Houlding in her talk was simply speaking from her heart and calling things as she saw them. However, because the talk unfortunately contained a good deal of hyperbole and what Brennan considered falsehoods, he felt obliged to respond. I don’t see how we can fault him for that.
With all that being said, the understanding of Hellenistic house division practice is evolving and we are beginning to hear new viewpoints. We’ve heard the one by Deborah Houlding. Here is a new viewpoint from Martin Gansten, a traditional astrologer who is also an academic. He reads Greek, Latin and Sanskrit and is thus able to do his research using critical editions. He recently responded to those who call him a whole sign denialist in a short piece written by an astrologer for other astrologers (rather than for academics) . He did so in a way that simply laid out his points in a line, for all to consider, to either accept or reject. It is a model of how a debate on a controversial subject ought to be conducted. Here is a link to the piece:
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d like to gently shift things away from the WSH controversy, and instead of focusing on which ancient astrologer used which house system, and for what, I plan to look at the astronomy and symbolism of the ecliptic based houses: WSH, Equal Houses, and what today we call Porphyry Houses, which is an exquisite quadrant system that was used in Hellenistic times.
Each of these systems emphasizes particular celestial circles. WSH emphasize the ecliptic itself. Equal Houses bring the great circle of the horizon strongly into the mix. The Porphyry system of house division adds the local meridian of the native or event.
In my next series of posts, I’ll discuss the interesting features of each of these three systems, without promoting one over the other. We’ll look at the celestial circles that come into play in determining the house cusps, and together we will discuss their possible symbolic implications.
(The chart to the left was cast in whole sign houses. The same chart, to the right, was cast in a quadrant house system, today known as the Porphyry House System. Note how some of the planets and symbols shift houses)
After listening to the various responses on the internet to Deborah Houlding’s talk in 2022 at the Astrological Association of Great Britain on whole sign houses, I found that my reactions matched precisely with that of Anthony Lewis, whom I will directly quote:
“Recently I watched a video on astrological domification posted by Deborah Houlding, whose work I have followed and admired for many years. Deb expressed her concern that the current popularity of what are called “Whole Sign Houses” might interfere with the newer generation of astrologers being able to understand the conceptual underpinnings of mundane houses. Unfortunately, Deb was somewhat polemical and provocative in her presentation and at times made factually inaccurate statements, which her critics have pounced on rather than trying to understand the gist of her presentation. Nonetheless, I felt that Deb’s argument was worth pondering, and I posted a link to her video on my Facebook page. The response to the link to Deb’s video was quite startling. I felt like a tourist visiting the Holy Land when the Crusades broke out. It was like being in the midst of a religious war with opposing cults battling each other to the death over whose dogma had God’s blessing. In any case, the back and forth discussion did produce several valuable statements and references, which I’d like to summarize.” ( To read the rest of Anthony Lewis’ article, click here).
I studied Hellenistic Astrology with Brennan as well as horary (we used whole sign houses!) and I also led a study group for a number of years where we went over, paragraph by paragraph, his excellent book entitled Hellenistic Astrology, in which he attempted (and largely succeeded) to outline the entire Hellenistic astrological tradition as understood by Project Hindsight and its adherents.
I went on to study medieval and renaissance astrology with Christopher Warnock, who re-introduced me to the discrete pleasures of quadrant house systems, which I continued with horary studies with Deborah Houlding, Lee Lehman and Wade Caves. All to say that I know and respect all the players in this Whole Sign House (WSH) war. In my current astrological work I use both WSH as well as quadrant house systems, depending on what I’m doing, and I have had excellent results using both.
I agree with Anthony Lewis’ assessment that most of the attacks on Houlding and her talk are missing the point she was trying to make, which, as far as I can make out, was answering the question: Signs as Houses. Are astrological signs the same thing as astrological houses?
Houlding’s answer was that clearly they are not.
Signs are in the heavens and relate to the ecliptic, houses are tied to the earth, specifically, the rotation of the earth and the great circle of the celestial equator. Houses move in a clockwise diurnal direction driven by the earth’s rotation, which is at an approximately 23.5° angle to the ecliptic. The ecliptic is concerned with the planets that move along its 12 signs in secondary motion, or counterclockwise motion. (c.f. David Cochrane for the astronomy of this, click here for his recent YouTube talk: Are Whole Signs the Oldest House System?).
Essentially, the problem with exclusively using WSH is that they are not tied to the great circles of the horizon and the local meridian: They do not reflect primary motion and local space. They are exclusively tied to secondary motion, and everything that the celestial circle of the ecliptic symbolizes.
This is not to say the WSH are useless: WSH have many uses, however, they DO have their limitations. The ancients dealt with this by also working with equal houses, which ties the house cusps to the earth’s horizon, as well as quadrant houses, which anchor the house cusps to the earth by linking them to the horizon and the local meridian (i.e. the local geographical longitude line extended out to the celestial sphere).
Personally, along with Lewis and Gansten, I believe that WSH were used extensively in Hellenistic times for the simple reason that they are so easy to calculate. Lewis has compared the use of WS to the way Sun sign astrology has been used from the time of Alan Leo onwards. If, for example, I know that a Taurus and a Scorpio are disputing with one another, I don’t need to see their entire natal chart to have a fairly good idea of how things will turn out, or to divine how flexible each will be in adapting to the other’s point of view. But if I wanted to go into more detail, I would need to see each of their respective complete horoscopes.
WSH work much the same way. In Hellenistic Astrology, it is possible to judge a chart just by 30° house aspects, which we call whole sign aspects. For example, any degree in Aries aspecting to any degree in Leo would be considered a trine. But as Valens says, for more precision, one would need to use degree-based aspects along with degree-based equal or quadrant houses.
Why was the use of WSH so prevalent? Remember, back in ancient Greece, no one had computers, obviously. Nor did they have digital watches. They didn’t even have Timex watches! If it was cloudy outside, that further complicated things. Too, many people didn’t have a precise time for their birth, so using WSH and WS aspects would make a lot of sense in this context, and it gave good results! Just as today, knowing someone’s Sun sign will tell you quite a lot about the person without having to cast an entire nativity.
Many astrologers today aren’t great with math, thank goodness we have computers. It probably wasn’t any different back in the time of the ancient Greeks. The great astrologers were also astronomers and mathematicians, but alas, not everyone was. So those who weren’t would have used exclusively WSH, and get acceptable results with their clients. But as Valens mentions at one point in Anthologies, to get superlative results, one would use degree-based aspects and houses.
To finish, I think Houlding was expressing the frustration that many traditional astrologers (i.e. those practicing medieval or renaissance astrology) feel about a new wave of astrology enthusiasts being told from one source or another that WSH is the one and only true system, where WSH = GOOD, and quadrant house systems = BAD, which of course is ridiculous.
As one traditional astrologer friend recently wrote me:
“There can be few “astrologers” that are unaware of the omnipresent propaganda and pressure to adopt whole sign houses. They are the BEST house system and EVERYONE must use them. This has been shouted from the rooftops for some time and is increasingly fervently believed. This has a very clear practical effect, for example recently I have had a prospective client for a reading, insist that they would only accept a reading done using whole sign houses and similarly I had a student whose only question was did I use whole sign houses. For both, the answer “no” meant instant rejection, that was all they needed to know. “
I think the main takeaway from Deborah Houlding’s talk, at least for me, was that generally we need to give our students and the public in general more awareness of how WSH, Equal, and the quadrant houses are calculated, what celestial circles in the sky they are based on, and how that affects the symbolism of the house system. I hope to contribute to doing that in future posts.