The Whole Sign House War

(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).

Does this mean we shouldn’t be using whole sign houses?  Of course not! WSH have many uses, but as mentioned the ancients didn’t use WSH exclusively; in fact, we have indications in Valens that in addition to house strength and length-of-life, quadrant houses were also used for topics, (c.f. Vett. Val. IX 3,21–25, also Martin Gansten – Platikos and moirikos: Ancient Horoscopic Practice in the Light of Vettius Valens’ Anthologies )

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.