Trigger Warning: This article addresses unpopular perspectives regarding house systems. Acquire the emboldening genitals relative to your gender identity and read on.
The Houses of Babel
Recently there has been a lot of discussion and debate about house systems within the astrological community online. As I hope you know, houses are divisions of the zodiac relative to the horizon, and each house concerns particular topics or areas in one’s life. It’s kind of a popular idea in astrology, y’know, it’s been around for at least a couple of millennia. It stuck around.
But how are these divisions to be determined? Tri-secting the space between the angles (Porphyry)? Equal divisions of time (Placidus)? Other equal divisions of time (Koch)? Dividing the celestial equator and projecting it on the eclipctic (Regiomontanus)? Dividing into two segments of 99% and 1% (Occupy)? Using the house system you started studying astrology with arbitrarily and won’t change no matter what (Mine)? A lot of people sure love that Mine house system.
All of these house division systems are referred to as quadrant-based house systems, since they divide up the quadrants between the Ascendant and Midheaven, (well, except the last two, obviously). Most astrologers have stuck with the one they started with or used whichever one(s) they’ve wanted without symbolic or technical distinction for the most part, using the following impeccable superior airtight reasoning:
“It works for me.”
For a time there appeared to be a breakthrough in the late 20th century that seemed to promise a resolution to the Houses of Babel situation by rediscovering the original concept of a house. Astrologer James Holden and astrologers at Project Hindsight discovered that the original and predominantly used form of house division in the early astrological tradition was Whole Sign Houses, or WSH for short. This defines a house as a sign’s relationship to the Ascendant, so that the sign of the Ascendant is always the 1st whole sign house, the next sign is always the 2nd whole sign house, and so on. It’s elegant, simple, and gets rid of all of the problems of calculation, duplicated/intercepted houses and polar region charts associated with the quadrant-based house systems.
It turns out that the shift to quadrant-based house systems as topical houses was the result of errors or misunderstanding in translation. Naturally, everyone in the astrological community responded by dropping the quadrant house systems and adopting Whole Sign Houses, realigning themselves with the original conception of a house, and all was right with the world. Martin Shkreli got HIV, ISIS blew each other up and Donald Trump got in a rocket (the most luxurious, glamorous and incredible rocket) to the sun and everyone lived happily ever after.
The Real Deal
Of course, that didn’t happen. Some astrologers dispute that WSH actually was the original and predominant method of house division. This argument cannot be supported adequately in the light of the hundreds of ancient chart examples where the astrologers’ comments and topical techniques (such as annual profections) only make sense in WSH, or that in India they are still using WSH from Greek influence (from the Yavanajataka). Other quadrant-based divisions were present at the time but only in the context of specific techniques such as Porphyry divisions for length-of-life treatments. Equal houses were present for the technique of derivative houses, but it should be noted it is not strictly a quadrant-based division since it is independent of the Midheaven.
On top of that, while this is a fallacious appeal to authority, it’s still worth considering that many top astrologers in the field have switched to WSH, including Robert Hand, Demetra George, Benjamin Dykes, Austin Coppock, Dorian Greenbaum, Joseph Crane and others. Robert Schmidt and others speculated that a division such as Porphyry could theoretically be used as a dynamical division on top of WSH to determine planetary strength. Astrologers Curtis Manwaring and Nick Dagan Best take this into account, whereas astrologers like Chris Brennan tend to rely on WSH more exclusively for determinations of angularity.
If quadrant divisions are to be used for purposes other than topics, then why should WSH represent topics exclusively? Here’s what I think: Quadrant-based divisions present angles and houses as independent of the zodiac. In other words, the house divisions are defined by the angles, not the zodiac. It is unclear then, how the significations for 12 houses could or should be derived from just the angles. In contrast, WSH presents the zodiac as relative to the angles, naturally generating the 12 places each sign can be. Why else would there be 12 houses? The significations of the houses are derived from the Joys, which have their roots in some of the notions presented in the whole sign zodiacal construct, the Thema Mundi. Even in modern times, anyone who has subscribed to the idea of an “astrological alphabet” (e.g., 1st house=Aries) has implicitly accepted the premise of a sign being equivalent to a house in a way.
Even if we were to try to derive house meanings from the angles alone through abstractions about the Sun’s activity at the angles, the quadrant houses are at odds with what’s happening astronomically. For example, at sunrise, the dramatic appearance of the Sun is described as being in the cadent 12th house in quadrant systems and equal houses, whereas the actual event of the Sun making its first appearance evokes far more of what we know about the angular 1st house in terms of appearance, life and essential vitality. Additionally, WSH could explain why Gauquelin’s plus zones occur ahead of the angle, while quadrant systems could not. This also puts a hole in the idea that Porphyry divisions could be useful for dynamical determinations. Ultimately, quadrant divisions are measuring something, but the question of what they represent or if they represent the topics of the 12 houses is up for discussion.
Some rightfully point out that most advocacy of WSH amounts to an appeal to tradition, a logical fallacy. However, those same people do this usually by appealing to their own unexamined “tradition”. Others say the proliferation of quadrant-based house systems was a “creative mistake”, and that they are all equally valid. This appeal to novelty is also a logical fallacy. The “live and let live” ethos is close to my heart but unfortunately, I don’t think that it serves us as well in astrology as it does in many other areas of life. We have to contend with the reality that different house systems will produce different house cusp rulers in the same chart. Since examining the ruler of a house is a method we all use to investigate the areas of life in a natal chart, we have to consider that perhaps, just maybe, both can’t be right.
Except Archer. He can do both.
For example, what if one person says someone’s whole sign 6th is Scorpio ruled by Mars while another says their quadrant-based 6th house cusp is in Sagittarius ruled by Jupiter? By the logic of astrology itself, very different interpretations should result. If we are content to say that they are both valid, then we prove skeptics of astrology correct who say that astrologers are too willing to let anything fit. And I understand if you don’t care about pleasing skeptics, but surely you care about the integrity of your own craft? If we accept the premise that astrology can reflect some objective reality, then there must be a reference point which most accurately corresponds to it. It’s as above, so below, not whatever you want, so below.
The reason why houses in astrology have still “worked” despite some of the occasional different outcomes between house systems is that most of the time, there is a good amount of overlap. At least some of the time, a planet is considered to be in the same house regardless of house system. But it’s the differences between them that have to be dealt with. One problem with testing these differences in natal charts is that (to go back to my example) despite the clear differences between Mars and Jupiter, it would be hard to more empirically prove which planet has true rulership of 6th house issues without a very detailed chronology and seeing whether the transits of Mars or Jupiter played a bigger role in 6th house events, and even then there could be disputes over what exactly was relevant for what.
Of course, Geoffrey Cornelius disagrees with the idea that conflicting house systems is a problem because each one has its own independent symbolic coherence and importance. Therefore whatever house system the astrologer was using in the moment of inquiry was the right one, because in his view, astrology is divination. Cornelius would likely think this whole enterprise is pointless because in his view, I’m shackling myself to the “Machine of Destiny” by worrying about the houses, like accusing poetry of being bad journalism.
For what it’s worth, I’m not completely closed off to his argument as it pertains to judicial astrology and I do generally regard astrology as signs rather than causes. What’s interesting to me is that Cornelius’s distinction between natural (mundane) and judicial (horary, natal) branches of astrology seems to be mirrored in the classical/quantum divide in physics. Mundane astrology and classical physics appear to operate on the basis of objective, abstract and distant principles or causes. Meanwhile in the moment of horary, an astrologer becomes an unwitting participant and mediator of cosmic sympathies, just as the quantum physicist’s shield of empiricist objectivity is shattered when she becomes an unwitting participant in her experiment, affecting it by her very presence and act of observing.
I mention Cornelius because of the great interview he recently did with Chris Brennan. In his book, Moment of Astrology, he uses the katarchic nature of horary astrology as an entry point to his argument about astrology as divination. This is kind of interesting, because I think that the technical nature of horary astrology could also resolve some of the controversy about houses (and yes, even zodiacs but that’s a WHOLE other barrel of Pisces).
So, how does horary fit into all this?
Horary Astrology, the Keanu Reeves of the House System Debate
Horary could help resolve these disputes about house systems because it relies on houses and rulership in order to work properly. It can answer questions which are narrow in scope, and most importantly, it can answer questions which are falsifiable, and in a reasonably timely manner to boot. To get the right answer and to correctly time when the outcome to the question occurs, you have to have to be looking at the right planets which depends on what one considers the rulers of the houses to be. Basically, horary astrology is Keanu Reeves. Here’s what I’m thinking as far as using horary to test house systems against each other.
- The questions would all have to meet a minimum standard. The question would have to be personal, pressing, positively framed, yes/no, asked once to one person in particular other than themselves. Even horary hardass Nina Gryphon called this approach pretty strict, but if you read the link for my reasoning, I think you’ll agree it would be a good way to reduce the number of variables.
- Everyone would have to agree which house the horary question pertains to. This wouldn’t be impossible, given the fairly broad consensus the astrological community has about the significations of the houses.
- The horary questions couldn’t be 1st or 7th house questions, because the rulers would be the same in any house system.
- They also generally couldn’t be 10th or 4th house questions, in case the MC/IC axis happened not to fall in the 10th/4th whole sign houses. It would be best to make sure the MC/IC question fell in the 10th/4th whole sign house to reduce that variable in interpretation.
- To avoid a false positive, Cancer can not be the Ascendant, nor can Cancer be the house cusp relevant to the question. The Moon is already a kind of general/co-significator for the question.
- To avoid controversy over combustion, Leo should not be the Ascendant, nor can Leo be the house cusp relevant to the question, and no significators can be combust.
- Aquarius and Pisces should also be avoided as the Ascendant or as the house cusp relevant to the question, to eliminate the variable of modern claims of rulership by Uranus and Neptune.
- Questions where the ruler of the 1st is the same as the ruler of the house cusp of the question should also be avoided in order to make a clear comparison of timing techniques.
- Most importantly for the clearest result, the horary needs to have the ruler of the Ascendant and/or the ruler of the house of the question in different houses than another house system.
Or to think of it another way, the horary questions that could best illuminate difference between house systems would be:
- Personal, pressing, positively framed, yes/no, asked once to one person in particular other than themselves
- MC/IC falling in the 10th/4th Whole Sign House
- Aries Rising, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 9th house questions
- Taurus Rising, 2nd, 5th, 8th, 9th, 12th house questions
- Gemini Rising, 5th 6th, 8th, 11th, 12th house questions
- Virgo Rising, 3rd, 5th, 8th, 9th house questions
- Libra Rising, 2nd, 3rd, 9th, 12th house questions
- Scorpio Rising, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 11th, 12th house questions
- Sagittarius Rising, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 11th, 12th house questions
- Capricorn Rising, 5th, 6th, 9th, 11th, 12th house questions
- No combust significators
- Has to be a situation where different house systems produce different rulers for the horary question
- Horary rules applied in same way
Generally, in horary you’re looking for an applying perfection between the ruler of the 1st and the ruler of the house of the question. For example, if the question was “Will I get accepted to college?”, I imagine it would be broadly assumed to be a 9th house question. Say Aries is rising, so the first significator would be Mars. In WSH, the 9th would be Sagittarius with Jupiter ruling , whereas in Placidus, the 9th house cusp could be in Capricorn, ruled by Saturn. So in WSH, the outcome and timing would be based on the perfection between Mars and Jupiter, whereas in Placidus it would be based on the perfection between Mars and Saturn. Odds are good in this example that this divergence would reflect in substantially different interpretations and timing. To Cornelius’s point that the two house systems have their own independent logic and consistency, there is only one possible outcome to the question, and as long as the only difference were the houses, there would be one house system that produced a correct answer with more accurate timing and one that did not.
Weirdly, this could also be a way to test the extent to which astrology relies on technique versus divination. If it’s a matter of technique and having the right house system, then the right one would keep showing up. If each question was only answered correctly by the astrologer who first received the question and interpreted it in their preferred house system, then it would show that astrology is more divinatory than technical.
How It Could All Go Terribly Wrong
I mean, it wouldn’t get President Trump bad, but pretty bad. This could all hilariously backfire because there is quite a lot of diversity in horary techniques, as much consensus as there is on basic techniques. It is also possible that different house systems could both produce the right answer or the wrong answer. What then? Horary is invalid? Houses are invalid? What if there was a clear winner, and it’s the most random house system ever? Like the Krusinski-Pisa-Goelzer house system? Do you really want to live in that world? Or what if there was a clear winner with a more popular contender and there are all the hurt feelings and disappointment and life re-evaluation and inevitable torch and pitchfork waving I’d get for proposing such a test in the first place? Or the test could just be seriously flawed. Take a think about it and let me know what the flaws are, they have to be there. Look forward to hearing from you! ::Braces self::
If you’re not sure how you think about this proposition, use this handy flowchart.