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Houses: Part 5 of 12
by Mary Plumb

This article is a beginning look at the third of the main components of a horoscope. The planets (see Part 3) show what is happening, or what is sounding a tone. The signs (see Part 1) describe how it is happening, or what is the sounding board for that tone. The houses show where an energy is expressing itself, or where that tone is being received in the human field of experience.

According to sidereal astrologer Cyril Fagan, the houses were originally derived from the watches and are based on the observation of the movement of the Sun as it rose in the east, passed overhead in midday, set in the west, and disappeared until the next dawn. These watches eventually became the four angles of the chart (Ascendant, IC, Descendant, Midheaven), which are derived from the intersection of the axis of the horizon and the meridian.

The 12 houses were designed fundamentally as a measuring system that creates a frame of reference by which we can identify the positions of the planets against the background of the zodiac. In a certain way, the houses bring the chart down to earth and allow us to further personalize the planetary picture. The signs of the zodiac circumscribe the chart and the houses are like spokes of that great wheel, or pie-shaped wedges within the whole circle.

The 12 houses were designed fundamentally as a measuring system that creates a frame of reference by which we can identify the positions of the planets against the background of the zodiac. In a certain way, the houses bring the chart down to Earth and allow us to further personalize the planetary picture. The signs of the zodiac circumscribe the chart, and the houses are like spokes of that great wheel, or pie-shaped wedges within the whole circle.

The 12 houses are analogous to the 12 signs. For example, the 1st house relates in meaning to the first sign, Aries; the 2nd house to the second sign, Taurus, etc. The direction is counter-clockwise around the wheel – 12 signs and 12 houses. The meanings of the houses derive from the signs but they are not the same. As we have seen, the houses show where an energy is being received and expressed. This question of where has many levels of interpretation, i.e., what department or area of life? Where in the human psyche? Contemporary astrology owes a great debt to Dane Rudhyar, who eloquently described houses not so much as outer departments of life but as inner states as well. In his book, The Astrological Houses, is an explanation of the spectrum of individual experience described by the 12 houses. Just as the 12 signs of the zodiac describe the complete human journey, the 12 houses are also interrelated, and the experience and meaning of one leads us into the experience and meaning of the next house.

All charts begin at the Ascendant which is the beginning of the first house and the cusp of the 1st house. The cusp shows where one house begins and another house ends. Although the 1st-house cusp relates in meaning to the sign Aries, any of the 12 signs can be placed on the 1st house (due to the Earth's rotation on its axis). Beginning with whatever sign is on the Ascendant, the signs of the zodiac follow in their natural order from the 1st to the 12th house, each sign falling on the cusp of a house. (However, due to the occurrence of intercepted houses, the signs may skip a house cusp.) The sign on the cusp of the house is our entry into the experience of that house. Or, to put it another way, our relationship to the arena of a particular house carries the feel of the sign on the cusp.

In the recommended reading list I have included some of the many good books on the meanings of the 12 houses. For this article I would like to hold the sense of the 12 houses as a unified field and look at some of the larger patterns within that whole. The houses can initially be divided by hemisphere. The horizon runs across the chart, dividing houses one through six from seven through twelve. Houses one to six are below the horizon (or north) and describe fields of experience or domains that are more internal, more subjective, relating to the inner life. The 4th house is the very bottom of the chart and symbolizes our roots and foundations on all levels, our depth, our past, the most subjective arena of human experience. Houses seven through twelve (the southern hemisphere) are above the horizon and describe more objective domains of life or areas that are more visible. The 10th house is the very top of the chart, what we look up to, what we can manifest visibly in our lives, how we can contribute to our world.

The meridian line divides the chart into east (oriental) on the left and west (occidental) on the right. The eastern hemisphere contains houses ten through three, and we have an initiating quality of sowing seeds in these arenas of life. The 1st-house cusp is where we enter life at the moment and place of birth. The western half of the chart points to the 7th-house cusp where we meet others. The western hemisphere contains houses four through nine and represents reaping energy, which is experienced through our interactions with others.

By combining horizon and meridian, the chart is divided into four quadrants. The first quadrant is composed of houses 1, 2, and 3, where the subjectivity of the lower hemisphere meets the self-motivation of the east. These are the most personal houses in which we develop ourselves in very basic ways. The second quadrant is composed of houses 4, 5, and 6, where we deepen ourselves and begin to share ourselves through creative expression and work. Houses 7, 8, and 9 comprise the third quadrant, where we meet others as equals and intimates and develop an expanded view of life. The fourth quadrant (houses 10, 11 and 12) is the most universal and holds the broadest themes in life – we begin to contribute to the world and serve the greater whole.

Within the 12 houses there are four angular, four succedent, and four cadent houses. The angular houses (1, 4, 7, and 10) are those placed near the angles of the chart and relate to the cardinal signs – Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn. The Ascendant is the cusp of the 1st house, the IC the cusp of the 4th, the Descendant the cusp of the 7th, and the Midheaven the cusp of the 10th. These houses are not only visually prominent when looking at a chart, but also have a vast influence in the life, as if the door of cosmic influence to and from the individual is wider at these points. The angular houses relate to fundamental areas in the life of the individual ( e.g. how do I reveal myself and who am I with? Where are my roots and how can I accomplish my life's purpose?), and planets placed in these houses tend to have a strong, often quite obvious influence in the life of the native and in his perceptions and perspective. There is an outgoing, initiating energy in the angular houses.

The succedent houses follow the angular houses. These are 2, 5, 8, and 11 and they tend to hold and deepen the planetary energies they contain. There can be a latent, concentrated force held in these houses, and areas in life related to resources and values are issues of the succedent houses, much like the fixed signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius) to which they relate.

The 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th houses are known as the cadent houses and we can see parallels between cadency and the mutable signs – Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces. Conditions are changing in the cadent houses, the concentration of resources of the succedent houses is circulating and moving toward the new expression of the next angular house. There is a sense of reflection in the cadent houses, and states of mind are described quite accurately here.

I want to briefly mention the complex question regarding house systems. The houses were created by early astrologers to divide space, and there are different approaches taken in measuring house division. The most commonly used house systems in this country are Koch, Placidus, and the Equal House system. Most students use the method of their teacher or the books they are studying, and perhaps begin to try out different systems at some point in their study. Over time, many astrologers develop a preference for one or another house system, although there does not appear to be a definitive system, and there are advocates of many different methods, including some astrologers who use no houses at all! Investigate the houses. After years of study I continue to be amazed at the richness and depth inherent in the pie-shaped wedges of the horoscope.


Robert Hand, Horoscope Symbols; Para Research, 1981.

Bill Herbst, Houses of the Horoscope; ACS Pub., 1988.

Joan McEvers, editor, The Houses: Power Places of the Horoscope; Llewellyn, 1991.

Dane Rudhyar, The Astrological Houses: The Spectrum of Individual Experience; Doubleday, 1972.

Howard Sasportas, The Twelve Houses; Aquarian Press, 1985.


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