Whole Sign House War – Part 2

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.

Until next time!