Houses are twelve slices of the sky pie. Each is associated with a set of circumstances, somewhat like departments of one’s life. When you work with houses, you can see what conditions affect these circumstances according to the planets which rule or occupy the houses. You can also determine temporary effects as the moving planets (“transits”) travel through the chart’s houses or when using chart updating techniques.
HERE is a handy one-page list of the main circumstances associated with each house.
When we look out at the sky, we see (basically) a semi-circle, with the lower boundary being the visible horizon. We know that there is more out there than we can see, beyond the horizon and far away beyond the opposite side of the earth. The sky forms a big circle (actually a sphere) around us. Part of that sphere is the apparent path of the planets and the Sun and Moon. This path is called the “ecliptic.” Out beyond the ecliptic is a belt of constellations which we have associated with the ecliptic path. That is the zodiac.
The wheel of a chart is 360 degrees. So is the wheel of the zodiac. Think of the zodiac wheel as wrapping around the outside of the chart wheel. When drawing up a chart wheel, it’s a good practice to draw the zodiac to scale and then draw in the houses according to their degrees of the signs. (These can be calculated by computer or from a “Table of Houses” for a particular “house system” – see below.)
The day dawns with the Sun rising in the east, so it’s easy to remember that the beginning of the houses is at the east. The day ends with the Sun setting in the west, but don’t extend that thinking to considering the western house as the end of the circle; instead it is the beginning of the night portion of the circle, which continues around the bottom of the chart.
Although the daily direction of the Sun and planets around the circle of the sky is clockwise, the houses of a chart follow one another in a counterclockwise direction. This difference is explained by the fact that the Sun, Moon and planets only appear to circle us every day. Actually the earth is rotating on its axis and facing the successive areas of the zodiac in a clockwise fashion. The normal motion of the planets forward through the degrees of the zodiac circle is in a counterclockwise direction, the same as the positioning of the houses.
All of us have the 12 houses in our charts, in the same positions relative to one another and relative to the four directions. The houses are defined by the directions and orient the zodiac to the directions from a particular place on earth at a particular time. East is at the beginning of the chart wheel, the 1st House (where 9 o’clock would be on a clock). North is at the bottom of the wheel, the 4th House (where 6 o’clock would be). Halfway around the wheel is West and the 7th House (where 3 o’clock would be). South is at the top of the circle, the 10th House (where 12 o’clock would be).
The (East/West) horizon line is indisputable. The central (“vertical”) axis of a chart reflects due North and South. It is also indisputable, but it is relative and depends on the longitude and latitude from which one is viewing the sky, as well as the time of year (since the earth is tilted with the Northern Hemisphere leaning north in the winter and south in the summer). These two axes represent the four directions and form what are called the “angles” of the chart. The angles are considered the most powerful positions on the chart wheel. Planets near the angles have a strong influence on a person’s personality and circumstances.
The houses and the angles are called “personal points” because they are dependent on the minute and place of birth and distinguish a person from all other people born on the same day. At the 1st House (Ascendant), we go forth into life as an individual person, in a body separate from our mother’s. At the 4th House (IC or “rootpoint”), we find our homeland, our roots, heritage, family. At the 7th House (Descendant), we make one-to-one contact with others on a personal level. At the 10th House (Midheaven), we encounter society and institutions, the greater outside world where one tries to make his or her mark.
Although astrologers cannot argue about the horizon line and vertical axis (these are fixed positions according to the four directions), they have disagreed about how to slice the pie of the sky up into the 12 pieces called the Houses. Thus we have a slew of house “systems,” mostly named for the proponent of the system (Placidus, Koch, Regiomontanus, Campus, Morinus, Porphyry) and some named for their properties (Equal, Meridian, Topocentric). Because of such disagreement, there are astrologers who do not use house systems at all, although they usually give more attention to planets near the “angles” of the chart.
Some astrologers prefer to use houses which are all equal in size. This system is called the Equal House system. Frequently it is used when the birth time is not known. The Sun is placed either on the eastern horizon (Ascendant) or at the Midheaven (southern-point at the top of the chart) and all the houses start with the degree of the Sun. Or you can make all the houses begin with 0 degrees of a sign (called “whole sign houses”). When you use an equal house system starting from the Ascendant, the actual Midheaven (southern most point in the sky) probably won’t be exactly at the 10th House cusp, although it will be somewhere near the top part of the chart.
As the world spins around every day, any particular place on earth faces each part of the zodiac circle at some point during every day. Thus all the 360 degrees of the zodiac touch each of the houses at some point each day. Whatever sign is rising over the Eastern horizon at any particular time is known as the “rising sign.” A chart drawn up for that moment will have that sign at the 1st House position. The remaining signs follow, counterclockwise in zodiacal order around the circle, “more or less” lining up with the remaining houses, one sign per house.
Why do I say “more or less”? There is not always a one-to-one correspondence of signs to houses or vice versa. Signs are always 30 degrees in size, but houses can be (and usually are) either smaller than 30 degrees or bigger than 30 degrees (when you’re not using the Equal House system). Some houses in a chart will be smaller and some will be bigger. A small house might be 15 degrees, a large one maybe 50.
Some houses can be so big, an entire sign falls within its boundaries. That sign is said to be “intercepted” and its characteristics are more difficult to express in the matters of the house. As one ages, it becomes easier to tap into the intercepted sign’s expression and characteristics. Some astrologers feel this occurs after about age 29, while other say more like 45. When there are interceptions, two pairs of two houses in a row begin with the same sign, so those signs’ characteristics are expressed in more than one area of the person’s life. When planets move around the chart, they visit big houses longer and small houses more quickly. A house can also be said to be intercepted when it begins and ends all in one sign.
The beginning point of a house (like the doorway) is called the “cusp.” The sign on the cusp is the sign in charge of matters associated with that house. Any planet inside the house will also affect the matters of the house. The planet in charge of (ruling) the sign on the cusp will also affect the matters of the house. Look to the ruling planet’s sign and house position to see others areas of life that affect the matters of the house in question.
Each house represents certain areas of life. These are like the stage sets upon which the action of our lives takes place. The planets in a chart represent energies and urges; they are like the actors. The signs represent how those energies and urges are enacted, similar to the characteristics or emotions of the characters portrayed by the actors.
If you cut the circle of a chart wheel in half, each side will mirror the other as far as house size goes. If the 1st House is small, the opposite house (the 7th) will be exactly the same size. The 4th House might be big and if it is, the house opposite it (the 10th House) will be just as big. Houses opposite one another begin and end with the same degrees and minutes of opposite signs. There is a connection in the interpretation of opposite houses as well.
Think in terms of polarities and pairs or axes.
1 / 7 I/thou, personal/couple-based, individual/dual
2 / 8 personal money & resources/joint or collective money & resources, individual values/collective values & rituals
3 / 9 thinking and communicating on an everyday level/higher and broader thinking and communicating, nearby/far away
4 / 10 home/the great outside world, family/community
5 / 11 love given/love received, lovers/friends, children/groups
6 / 12 individual health/health of the collective, service on an individual level/service on a collective level
The houses are categorized into 3 groups: Angular, Succedent, and Cadent. The Angular houses are at the angles; the Succedent houses follow them. Cadent (meaning falling — like “cadence” in conversation) houses wind down the energies before the next Angular house.
Angular 1, 4, 7, 10
Now-oriented, sense of immediacy, initiating
Succeedent 2, 5, 8, 11
Future-oriented, consolidating, conserving, value-based
Cadent 3, 6, 9, 12
Past-oriented, building on experience, preparing for the future
If a house has no planets occupying it (called an “empty house”), that doesn’t mean one doesn’t “have a life” in the area represented by the house. Instead, look to the planet ruling the sign on the cusp for clues to the matters of the house. It may mean, however, that one doesn’t put a lot of time and energy into the matters of the empty house. We tend to put the most focus on the matters of our houses that have planets, especially if there are multiple planets in a house. A “loaded” house’s matters are very consuming and important.
During the course of the year, the Sun makes a regular journey through the zodiac and around the circle of the houses. (Actually it is the earth moving around the Sun which makes it appear that the Sun is moving around the circle.) Because this is a very regular and predictable motion, you can determine which days of each year the Sun passes through each of the houses of a chart. The entry into and exit from a particular house will not vary by more than a day or so from year to year (part of the variance is due to “leap” years). You can also figure out the days of each year that the Sun crosses the degree of each of your birth planets, kind of like having a Moon day or a Mercury day, etc.
The other planets take varying times to circle the chart according to their speeds of motion. Neptune and Pluto are so slow they don’t go all the way around a chart in a lifetime. You have to live to be 84 to have Uranus go all the way around. But Saturn does it in 29 years, Jupiter in 12, Mars in 2, Venus and Mercury in less than one, and the Moon does it every month! As they travel around, they bring their energies to the houses that they visit.
According to the time of day you were born, the Sun, Moon and the planets will fall in various houses in your chart. This is because of their positions in the signs, and the fact that the signs line up around the directions and the houses. At sunrise, the Sun’s sign will always be rising, from wherever you view it on earth.
As the world turns throughout the day, the Sun appears to rise up from the horizon to the southernmost part of the ecliptic area of the sky, peaking at around noon. Then it heads toward the western horizon where it sets. At night, it is on the other side of the earth, in a northerly direction out of sight. At midnight, it hits the bottommost point in the chart.
Look at your chart and your birth time. If you were born during the daylight, the Sun is above the horizon. If you were born at night, the Sun is below the horizon. If you were born in the AM, the Sun is on the left side of the chart. If you were born in the PM, the Sun is on the right side of the chart. “AM” means “ante meridiem;” ante = before and meridiem, a derivative of medi (half) diem (day), thus before the middle of the day. “PM” means “post meridiem;” post = after. These terms derived from the Sun crossing the center point of the sky, crossing at the top at noontime and the low point at midnight.
The term “MC” for the top of the chart is short for Medium Coeli. Coeli is sky (same root word as ceiling). So the top of the chart is the middle (medium) of the sky. The term “IC” for the bottom point of the chart is short for Imum Coeli. Imum means lowest part, bottom or foot. We use the word Midheaven for the MC. There isn’t such an easy word for the IC. Most astrologers just call it the IC. I use the term “rootpoint” but that’s not an official astrological term. (Maybe if I use it enough and my students do, too, it will someday pass into common usage.)
The rising degree is called the Ascendant (because it is ascending). The setting degree is known as the Descendant (because it is descending). You may sometimes see these abbreviated at Asc or AC and Desc or DC. Astrologers usually make a big deal about the Ascendant and the Midheaven and usually don’t pay so much attention to the Descendant and the IC, but all the angles are very important personal power points.
Each house has a “generic” planet and sign associated with it according to the “Natural Zodiac” correspondences. (Aries as the first sign aligns with the 1st House, Taurus with the 2nd House, Gemini with the 3rd and so on.) These can be of some help when assessing matters affiliated with the House. But the more important indications come from the sign located at the beginning cusp of the house and its ruling planet. If Aries is the rising sign, then the planet and sign associations of the Natural Zodiac are also the individual chart’s house associations, unless an interception throws off the correspondence of the signs with the houses. The individual chart’s house rulers trump the generic associations.