Ecliptic-based houses

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.

To go to Part 2 of this post, click here.