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The Houses

The positions of the planets in the signs and the aspects they form detail the important characteristics of the subject of an astrological chart. The system of houses indicates how these traits are exhibited in everyday life, as each house concerns a specific area of existence.

While the positions and interplanetary aspects of the planets depend only on the approximate time for which a chart is constructed, the houses in a chart are dependent upon the exact time and geographical location for which the horoscope is begin prepared. So for the most complete interpretation of a natal horoscope, the time and latitude and longitude of birth must be known (as well as details of the time zone and any special temporal rules - "daylight savings time," "war time," etc. - in effect at the time and place of the reading). When these are unavailable, a solar chart can be drawn up with the sign containing the sun as the Ascendant. This kind of chart describes the subject in terms of their innate characteristics, whereas a chart drawn using the true houses takes into account the effects of the subject's surroundings on him or her. That's the theory, anyway.

The Ascendant, Descendant, Midheaven and Nadir

There are numerous systems of dividing a chart into houses - such as Equal, Placidus or Koch - but all split the chart into twelve (not usually equal) divisions, with the lines between them called cusps. The sign rising on the eastern horizon at the time and location of the chart is called the Ascendant or First House cusp, and the opposite, setting sign is the Descendant or Seventh House cusp. The sign overhead is the Midheaven (MH), MC ("medium coeli" - "middle of the sky") or Tenth House cusp, and its opposite sign is the Nadir, IC ("imum coeli" - "bottom of the sky") or Fourth House cusp. (Note that houses are inverted for locations in the southern hemisphere.) These four house cusps are known as the cardinal or angular cusps, and they are the most significant in a horoscope, with the remaining eight cusps dividing each quadrant of the chart into three houses. The houses are numbered in anticlockwise order, starting with the Ascendant.

The planets' journeys through the signs depend on their orbits of the sun (with the sun's apparent course defined by the earth's own yearly circuit and the moon's by its month-long circumambulation of the earth), but the houses are set in motion by the earth's daily rotation on its axis. This means that the houses are especially useful when considering the role of the outer planets in a chart. These planets - Uranus, Neptune and Pluto - have such lengthy orbits (84, 165 and 248 years respectively) that they remain in each sign for extended periods of time (averaging 7, 14 and 20 years respectively). This makes their influence through the signs more generational than personal, whereas their influence through the houses is more specific to the subject, as each planet moves through all of the houses every day.

House Systems

It was mentioned above that there are a number of different house systems, and the one used depends on the preference of the astrologer. The simplest and most compelling is the Equal system, which starts with the Ascendant and divides the chart into twelve houses of equal length.

One of the most commonly used alternatives is Placidus, invented by Placidus de Tito in the 16th century. As with most house systems, Placidus does not work at all when a chart is for extreme northern or southern latitudes, as the Midheaven is related to the highest point the sun will reach in the sky on the day in question. Another common system is the more recent Koch, developed in the 1960s by German astrologer Walter Koch. Other, more rarely used, house systems include Campanus, Porphyry and Regiomentanus.

Each house system is different, so the house a planet is in for any given chart depends on the system used by the astrologer. Some favor a single house system, while others argue that different systems suit particular purposes and may use one system for natal charts and another for predictive work.

Like any systematic combination of symbolic meaning, astrology is useful from the purely subjective standpoint of self-exploration, even if there is no knowable or actual correlation between the positions of heavenly bodies and events on earth. For those wishing to promote astrology as a largely objective, scientific discipline, the houses really are a major problem. A chart drawn up with one house system is different from one produced with another, and astrologers cannot agree on which house system is the most valid, even for a particular type of chart.

Rising Sign Overlays, Intercepted Signs and the Natural Zodiac

Once the sign of one house cusp has been determined, the rest of the signs and houses match up in the usual zodiac order, giving rise to twelve possible rising sign overlay patterns. So if the Cancer is the Ascendant, then Leo is on the Second House cusp, Virgo on the third, and so on.

As explained above, most house systems do not produce houses of equal size. Signs always occupy 30 degrees, but an individual house may span more or less than this value. Thus a sign may be contained within a house without appearing on either cusp, and such a sign is said to be intercepted. A sign may also be found on both cusps of a house occupying less than 30 degrees. Whatever the case, at least part of a sign will normally lie in the house that corresponds to its natural overlay pattern. So if Cancer is rising and the house system being used isn't nearing the bounds of its applicability (such as Placidus at extreme latitudes), then Leo will be found somewhere in the Second House, even though it may not be on the house cusp.

The overlay pattern that occurs when Aries is the Ascendant (so Taurus is on the Second House, etc.) is called the natural zodiac, and it is this pattern that is the key to understanding the attributions of the houses, as each house is fundamentally linked to its associated natural zodiac sign.

First House (Aries) The First House or Ascendant

The First House represents the subject of a chart, their self-awareness and self-expression. The First House cusp is the most important in the chart, as the sign in this position is the subject's Ascendant or Rising Sign, showing their personality and appearance. In a natal chart, the First House also deals with the subject's formative circumstances and influences.

Second House (Taurus) The Second House

The Second House deals with material resources and possessions. In a natal chart this house concerns the subject's ability and desire to earn a living, find stability, meet financial obligations and acquire belongings.

Third House (Gemini) The Third House

The Third House deals with thinking and communicating. In a natal chart this house shows the subject's ability or otherwise to think clearly, reason logically, get ideas across to others and act perceptively.

Fourth House (Cancer) The Fourth House or Nadir

The Fourth House deals with the home, the family and the environment subjects create for themselves. In a natal chart this not only concerns the physical home and the people in it, but the "inner home:" those things that the subject feels comfortable with, and includes habits and unconscious processes.

Fifth House (Leo) The Fifth House

The Fifth House deals with romance, creativity and pleasure. Activities pertaining to self-expression and popularity belong to this house, and as such it governs the creative arts and entertainment.

Sixth House (Virgo) The Sixth House

The Sixth House deals with work, application and health. In a natal chart this house reveals the subject's attitude towards work and their ability to get on with things practically. It also concerns their general health and how good they are likely to be at looking after themselves.

Seventh House (Libra) The Seventh House or Descendant

The Seventh House deals with relationships, partnerships and legal matters. In a natal chart, this house indicates the kind of relationships the subject is likely to have, the sorts of people they try to be with, and how the subject is perceived by others.

Eighth House (Scorpio) The Eighth House

The Eighth House deals with joint resources and ventures, and governs sex, death and money. In terms of finance, it particularly concerns money resulting from united efforts like business or marriage. In relating to death and decline, the Eighth House is also concerned with inheritance, legacies and rebirth.

Ninth House (Sagittarius) The Ninth House

The Ninth House deals with the far horizons: knowledge gained from institutions, established systems and long-distance travel. It deals with the dissemination of knowledge through teaching, publishing and established systems of religion, academia and law.

Tenth House (Capricorn) The Tenth House or Midheaven

The Tenth House deals with career, reputation and social standing. In a natal chart this house indicates how ambitious the subject is, and how likely they are to fulfill their ambitions.

Eleventh House (Aquarius) The Eleventh House

The Eleventh House deals with friendships, humanitarian activities and the ability to work as part of a group for common goals. In a natal chart this house indicates the subject's ability to make friends, and their capacity to help, work and communicate with others.

Twelfth House (Pisces) The Twelfth House

The Twelfth House deals with what is hidden: the subconscious mind, psychological baggage and mystical inspiration. In a natal chart, this house concerns the subject's deep-seated habits and emotional responses. It reveals those areas in which subjects are most likely to deceive themselves.