I’m giving a 3-part series of Zoom workshops on house division at the Astrological Lodge of London.
Each workshop is one hour in length, the first is next Monday 25 September at 8:30pm, London time. The subsequent two parts of the workshop are on the following Mondays at the same time, 2 Oct & 9 Oct.
In these workshops, we’ll look at the astronomy behind house division calculation. While there is no math involved, we will look at the celestial circles used in calculating the house cusps and learn to identify them, and then discuss their symbolic implications with respect to chart interpretation.
These workshops do not take a position on a “best” house system. We simply look at the major ones used in ancient, medieval and modern times and consider how they are calculated, we’ll look at their respective differences, and how those differences might affect astrological symbolism.
There is a good deal of information to assimilate and discuss, so rather than try to do it in one go, we’ve split the workshop into three parts:
On 25 September, we’ll do Part 1, where we will look in detail at how the ecliptic based house systems are calculated (WSH, equal and Porphyry), and the symbolic implications of using the ecliptic as the primary celestial circle used in calculating a house system.
Part 2 (held on 2 Oct.) will cover space-based house systems such as Meridian, Regiomontanus and Campanus, and Part 3 (9 Oct.) will cover the time-based systems such as Alcabitius semi-arc, Placidus and Koch.
I’ll post details of how to register for the workshops shortly.
The fees per lecture are as follows:
Lodge Members £8, Concessions £6 – Non-Members £12, Concessions £8.
British astrologer Mary English interviews Rhys for her podcast.
Many astrologers have side gigs that they do in addition to astrology. Some of us are also psychologists, we have some homeopaths, stock analysts, also psychiatrists; I know of at least one astrologer who, when no one is looking, is a lawyer!
Astrologer Mary English outed me in my other line of work in this talk that we had recently on her podcast. Learn the shocking truth here…
In this interview, I speak about my background as an astrologer and stay away from overly technical topics. Mary and I speak about astrology in its broad strokes.
The replay link is below for this month’s AFAN Community Workshop with Rhys Chatham on ‘Astrological House Division and the Symbolism of the Celestial Circles.’ Rhys explained how the major house division systems are calculated in a way that does not require any math.
Rather than advocate the use of one house system over another, Rhys compared them and looked at the various celestial circles they are based on. He guided us through the symbolic implications of each of house system and how they might impact your chart interpretation.
In the workshop Rhys taught what distinguishes one house system from another, allowing you to make informed choices on which ones to use, for what, and when.
The house systems covered in the workshop included the ecliptic-based (whole sign, equal and Porphyry), space-based (Meridian, Regiomontanus, Campanus), and time-based houses (Alcabitius, Koch and Placidus).
I have a piece on Astrological House Division in the current issue of The Evolving Astrologer (formerly known as the Career Astrologer). This magazine is published by the Organization for Professional Astrology (OPA). It is directed at all those interested in Astrology, newcomers and professionals alike.
Click here to download a PDF version of the magazine. My article appears on page 48-55.
Rhys Chatham explains how the major house division systems are calculated in a way that does not require any math.
Rather than advocate the use of one house system over another, we will simply compare them and look at the various celestial circles they are based on, reflecting upon the symbolic implications of each of them and how they might impact on chart interpretation. We’ll discuss what distinguishes one house system from another, allowing you to make informed choices on which ones to use, for what, and when.
In this talk we will cover the ecliptic-based (whole sign, equal and Porphyry), space-based (Meridian, Regiomontanus, Campanus), and time-based houses (Alcabitius, Koch and Placidus).
It’s free! If you would like to attend, click on the site (below) to register and get your ticket and Zoom codes.
House division systems are based on different celestial circles. After a quick review of the astronomy, we’ll discuss those differences and look at how they might affect chart delineation on both symbolic and practical levels.
This article on ecliptic-based house division is Part 3 of a three part series. To start at the beginning , click here.
Porphyry is a quadrant house system. In quadrant house systems, the ascendant defines the first house cusp, and the MC defines the tenth house cusp. This creates four sectors or zones within the circle of the ecliptic, otherwise known as quadrants.
Named after the third century Neo-Platonist philosopher and astrologer, Porphyry, this system was used from the earliest days of horoscopic astrology and was described by Vettius Valens in Book 1 of Anthology, his astrological textbook.
In the Porphyry system, the span of the ecliptic between the horizon and midheaven is trisected to produce three houses. This makes the houses very easy to calculate, you can practically do it in your head! Because the number of degrees between the ascendant and MC vary according to location, time of day and season, the quadrants are rarely of equal size.
The advantage of Porphyry houses is that the first house cusp starts at the degree of the Ascendant, and the degree of the MC defines the 10th house cusp, thus underlining the importance of angularity in horoscopic astrology. In doing this, Porphyry anchors houses to the earth in that it is the local horizon that defines the start of the first house, and the local meridian that defines the 10th house cusp and MC.
One reason astrologers use quadrant house systems is for the same reason that they use the tropical zodiac: because they are tied to what’s going on in the sublunar world. Just as the tropical zodiac is tied to the earth’s seasons, quadrant houses are tied in profound ways to the physical earth itself. The idea behind using quadrant houses is that they better reflect what is happening in the terrestrial world as opposed to the sidereal world.
Furthermore, with Porphyry, we distinguish and underline the difference between a planet being domiciled in a sign and a planet being in an astrological house.
An astrological house represents things that are linked to the Earth that we live on, the domiciles are in the heavens. For example, we could have two planets domiciled in Aquarius, with Mercury in Aquarius in the 12th House and Saturn in Aquarius in the 1st House (see chart below).
We lose this symbolism in Whole Sign houses (see chart above), but we get it back in quadrant systems and in systems where the 1st House starts with the Ascendant, which is one reason why ancient astrologers used quadrant house systems in addition to WSH cusps.
Granted that the Porphyry system is more anchored to the earth and that it is a quadrant system, it is still based primarily on the ecliptic. So, after a time, astrologers began entertaining the idea of basing the houses on celestial circles other than the ecliptic, perhaps ones that were more linked to the earth, such as the celestial equator and/or the prime vertical. This would bring us to a discussion of the space-based houses, which we will save for a future blog. For now, let’s move on to our conclusions of what we’ve covered so far…
We’ve been discussing the ecliptic-based house systems: Whole Sign Houses (WSH), Equal and Quadrant Houses. Which house system should we use?
Which one to use depends on what system of astrological praxis one is following. If you’re following Project Hindsight (Robert Schmidt, Robert Hand) and its followers, you’ll probably want to use mainly WSH, using equal and perhaps quadrant houses for planetary strength and length-of-life. However, later scholars who reviewed the same material as Project Hindsight have recently arrived at alternative interpretations regarding Hellenistic house doctrine. Some seem to think that degree-based quadrant houses were used by the ancients for topics, in addition to planet-strength and length of life. These scholars conclude that the ancients (Dorotheus, Ptolemy, Valens, et. al) used quadrant houses for more precise readings, when the exact birth time was available. Exact birth times often were not easily come by in ancient Greece, in which case WSH were used.
This undoubtedly was most often the case (no exact birth-time) resulting in a highly developed Hellenistic technique of using sign-based aspects and houses for delineating a chart. Also, it made casting a chart less time consuming (no computers in ancient times), so it makes sense that degree-based houses and aspects were used only when a birth time was available and when a high degree of accuracy was called for.
However the ancient Greek astrologers may have calculated their house cusps, my policy with respect to these new scholastic findings is to keep an open mind and not fall into the trap of turning previous interpretations of the ancient Greek authors into dogma. On a practical level, my personal choice is to use both WSH and quadrant houses for topics in the context of natal readings.
Modern astrologers, of course, feel free to pick and choose whatever techniques work for them. If you fall into this category, I would highly recommend basing your choice on the celestial circles that we have been discussing. Keep in mind their symbolism, and use whichever house system corresponds best to the goals of your astrological tradition (ancient, classical, humanistic, psychological, evolutionary, etc.)
As we have seen, each house system is based on a different set of celestial circles, which render varying house cusps and sometimes put planets in different houses. Let’s say that this happens when using whole sign houses and Porphyry on the same natal chart (see example above).
Saturn jumped from the 12th House to the 1st House, oh dear! What do we do?!?! Which chart do we use? Which one is “right”?
The answer to this question is that both charts are right; the only thing that is happening is that we are seeing the same native from different perspectives! It is not a question of choosing between one or the other. Both must be interpreted.
So, when looking at a natal chart, I have found it is always best to try putting it in more than one house system to see if any of the planets change houses. When they do, I look at the changes with interest and delineate both.
Working simultaneously with two house systems often yields interesting information. For example, if I’m using WSH and Porphyry or some other quadrant system, when I see a planet move from one house to another, I interpret both and see what resonates with the client. With clients who are past their second Saturn return, I have found that both usually resonate, representing different aspects or periods of their lives. For younger clients this is not always the case, because it may be that the symbolism represented in one of the charts has simply not happened yet.
Another thing to keep in mind is which house system we use depends on what we are attempting to do.
For example, if we are focused on prediction, we might use one house system, in horary we might favor another, in natal analysis another. Ideally, the house systems we use would be based on which celestial circles are used to determine the house cusps, and how the symbolism of those circles relates to what we’re trying to accomplish. For example, what is prediction? It is a form of fate. Where does fate come from? One way of putting it is that it is in the hands of the universe. It might make sense to use whole signs in that case, since the house cusps in whole signs are based in the heavens, rather than where we live on the planet Earth. On the other hand, if we are looking for a lost object, we might want to use a space-based system like Regiomontanus. We’ll talk about space-based systems in another article.
Moving on, in conclusion, I’d like to say that all the symbolism I’ve mentioned up to now are just ideas to get the conversation going amoung present day astrologers: traditional and modern. Rather than arguing in favor of one house system over another, it might make more sense to focus our research on which house system is best for which astrological technique based on the celestial circles that come into play.
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.
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.