Some thoughts on the astrological houses: Placidus, Equal — or what?

Sooner or later, it dawns on the student or budding astrologer that the method of dividing the space in a horoscope into 12 sectors or spheres of life, known as houses, poses some problems.

Firstly, since there are a number of different house systems, which should you choose? 

Secondly, to a varying degree, depending on your chart, planets can move house. In my chart, for instance, using the Equal House system, I have six planets in the 12th house. However, when I first saw my horoscope in Placidus houses, one planet of those planets, my ruler Mercury, had migrated to the 11th house. O joy! I need all the help I can get here, I thought then. But, as you will soon see, it’s not as simple as that.

Then there is a further problem. In Placidus, the MC/IC axis always defines the cusp of the 10th/4th houses. If you use Equal Houses, the MC/IC axis can fall within any pair of houses, from the 8th/2nd to the 11th/5th. How do you deal with that? 

I have worked with only two systems over the years, Equal House and Placidus, the most commonly used ones in the U.K. I used Equal House from the early 1980s perfectly happily, finding that the system worked well for me. Then I changed to Placidus in 1995. I didn’t choose it for any carefully thought out philosophical reasons; it was simply the system used in the Diploma course I was doing. Now, in 2015, I am moving back to using Equal House again — for philosophical reasons this time, as you will see shortly.

A class experiment
Ever since a small group of my “old” students persuaded me to run a refresher class in August 2014, I have enjoyed returning to teaching astrology. Those students were all very rusty and wanted to cover the basics again. Inevitably, the question of house division came up. Having covered the core meanings of the houses in an introductory class, we recently spent a whole tutorial looking in more detail at the issue of house division. 

The methods I adopted on this occasion were twofold: firstly, I gave the class copies of their charts in Equal House to compare with their existing Placidus charts. Then I drew up a grid for each chart, of which we all had a copy. This listed all the planets, Chiron and the North Node as well as the pair of houses through which the Equal House MC/I C axis ran. Thus, we could see at a glance those features which stayed the same in both systems, and which ones changed. In some charts, many features changed. In others, such as my own, there was very little difference. 

We worked our way around everyone in the small group, discussing how interpretations might change, and most importantly, how much that mattered by potentially altering the emphasis on key horoscope themes.

For instance, the Moon in one student’s horoscope changed from the Placidus 9th house (a location she really liked for her Moon, being both a teacher and an education junkie!) to the 10th by Equal House, which emphasised the importance of her vocational/career life, but not the dimensions of teaching and learning which are both 9th-house concerns. However, we pointed out to her that this didn’t really matter in terms of overall accuracy of interpretation; she really was very well endowed with Jupiterian energy anyway, given her Moon’s trine to Jupiter in Aries, as well as her Sun’s square to Jupiter.

This was just one example in which, whatever shift we saw of planets from one house to another, there was invariably an underlying theme in the birth chart, so that the emphasis being slightly shifted in one context made little if any difference to the overall accuracy of interpretation of the whole horoscope. Interestingly, more than half of our small group, despite my having worked with all students with Placidus since 1995, said they preferred the relative simplicity of the Equal House system.

In my own case, although ruling planet Mercury moved from the sociable, group-oriented Placidus 11th house to join five other planets in the reclusive 12th by Equal House, I have an exact semi-square from Mercury to 10th-house Uranus in both systems. Uranus also strongly aspects the Sun and Moon, so the Aquarian/Uranian/11th house “tone” remains strongly emphasised. The Mercury energy also flows from the 12th house in an exact sextile to Neptune, and a square to 3rd-house Jupiter in both systems. So any reclusive tendencies brought about by the move into the 12th are augmented by other horoscope factors!

The students could see from our small experiment something that is fundamental to the accurate reading of any horoscope: strong themes will shine through, whatever way you divide up the circle. As U.K astrologer Robin Heath so memorably observed in TMA a number of years ago: “…astrology appears more and more to behave like a hologram. You can perform almost any technique with the data, turn the chart inside out or slice it up, and still the symbolic pictures remain….” (1) Both this statement and our class experiment bore out the conclusion to which I had arrived some time ago. It doesn’t really matter much what system you use — you will get the same overall picture.


Houses for different approaches

Some astrologers use different house systems for different purposes. Since the Equal House system is based on the Ascendant/Descendant axis, which is the axis of “Here I am in relation to you,” this system can be used when the client wishes specifically to address matters pertaining to relationship. 

Since the IC /MC axis can be seen as an arrow flowing from the person’s deepest self and origins (IC) to their future direction (MC), issues of roots, vocation, and life direction are most appropriately contemplated, some astrologers think, via the Placidus lens, since that system can be seen to emphasise the MC/IC.
Also, although I have never worked with the Koch system, I know that some astrologers swear by the accuracy of its house cusps in plotting transits and progressions. 

The Equal House MC/IC “problem”?
The placing of inverted commas above gives you a clue that I do not see the shifting placement of the MC/IC axis in the Equal House system as a problem at all. Quite the opposite: I think that working with the MC/IC axis against the backdrop of either the 2nd/8th, 3rd/9th, 4th/10th, or the 5th/11th adds a layer of richness to the interpretation of the MC/IC which, of course, should remain just as focal and important in the Equal House system as in any other where the MC/IC is always the cusp of the 10th/4th houses.

For example, I have often encountered clients or students with 2nd/8th backdrops in professions involving finance and collective money, and those with 4th/10th backdrops having a strong life focus on career/vocation. With the 5th/11th backdrop emphasised, I’ve often found “creative” types who work co-operatively and collaboratively in the pursuit of their careers. In my case, the 3rd/9th backdrop is highly appropriate, since writing and higher education have been central to all the diverse vocational paths I have pursued throughout my working life. 

Equal House: the return
In conclusion, the students were very keen to know why I had decided to return to working with the Equal House system.  For giving me the final shove in that direction, I want to thank Phoebe Wyss and her excellent recent book, Inside the Cosmic Mind. I would urge any astrology student or practitioner to read this book if they are inclined to perceive astrology as a “top down” art, the practice of which reveals that we are expressing in micro form the shifting macro patterns of the whole cosmos.

In Phoebe Wyss’ words: 
“Archetypal astrology is an approach to astrological chart interpretation that is based on this cosmological view. The meanings of the chart factors such as zodiac signs, houses, and planets are then seen to derive from the twelve basic categories of meaning associated with the astrological archetypes. These fundamental cosmic principles and their inter-relationships are symbolised in the geometry of the zodiac …” (2)

Wyss’ book — which builds on the recent work of Richard Tarnas, Kieron Le Grice, and other pioneers in the field of archetypal cosmology — has taken me back and regrounded me in the basic geometry of sacred numbers, whose symbolism reflects the core shaping principles or archetypes governing the movement of energy throughout the whole cosmos. The number 12 is one of those sacred numbers. 

From that symbolic, geometric perspective, dividing the inner space of the horoscope symbolically into 12 equal parts seems more appropriate than using any other house system, including Placidus, whose devising arises purely from measurements limited by the view from planet Earth in relation to the solar system in our tiny corner of space/time. 

Footnotes:
(1) The Mountain Astrologer, Issue 78, April/May 1998, Letters, p. 11.
(2) Phoebe Wyss, Inside the Cosmic Mind, Floris Books, 2014, p. 93.

Bio: Anne Whitaker is an astrologer, astrology teacher, and writer based in Glasgow, Scotland, U.K. Anne blogs at Writing from the Twelfth House, and Astrology: Questions and Answers. Her two FREE research studies “Jupiter Meets Uranus” and “The Moon’s Nodes in Action” can be downloaded from astro.com or either of her blogs.

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18 Responses to "Some thoughts on the astrological houses: Placidus, Equal — or what?"

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  • Thank you for a nice article. I agree with the author as to house system: “It really doesn’t matter.” The important themes will resonate regardless of house system, and astrology being a somewhat divinatory practice anyway the chart will “speak” to the honest and skilled seeker. I like the Koch system … transits and progressions work very well in this system. Plus, it’s the method I’ve always used and am comfortable with. I’ve tried others, but find myself gravitating back to Koch. Have a bunch of clients in Norway however, and I do abandon Koch at some of those high latitudes … it produces really frightening charts in that case!

    • Hi Trish Marie

      many thanks for dropping by, and for your affirming comment. Yes, the same problem occurs with Placidus also at high latitudes…you should try out Equal House. I am feeling very enthusiastic about it all over again, these days!

  • Duke Defaria says:

    I enjoyed the article. However, I am in the opposite direction of Anne’s conclusions. Having used the unequal house system for the past 25 years, and as we say, “Things go better with Koch”. Placidus equals psycho – analysis and Koch equals life events. – I truly believe in Archetypal Astrology…I also deeply believe in Interceptions, a bi-product of unequal house system. I cannot imagine myself reading a chart any other way. The equal house system was easy, hand calculated for hundreds of years and stayed with us until Astrology BC (Before Computers). – I also feel probing questions are necessary.

  • Thanks for your comment, Duke. The question of which house system to use is a controversial one, and probably always will be! The main thing is to find one(s) which make sense to you in the context of how you practice and – most importantly – enable you to do a positive, accurate and constructive job for your clients. Astrology is a broad church; how dull it would be if we all agreed with one another…

  • Duke Defaria says:

    Hello Anne,

    I do agree with you in what makes sense for an individual. We are all wired differently, and finding the end means of Truth is what really is important. – One should never stop listening to our inner muses.

  • Tricia Lee Nickel says:

    Liked your article! Thanks. Looking at everything through a different lens is always helpful.

  • Lark Bowerman says:

    I really appreciate your perspective on the Houses, Anne. I’ve reached a similar conclusion regarding other methods of interpretation. The chart does seem like a holograph that you can view from many different perspectives and still see the same basic themes.

    The thing is too, each astrologer and each astrologer’s chart is different. I often wish a client could read my chart simultaneously as I read theirs. Then, in some cases, they would be better prepared for why I’m reading it the way I do. Some people are unsuspecting of what a strong 8th-house emphasis in an astrologer’s chart might allow them to see! For that reason, I try to pay attention to signals from the world around me as to whether it’s appropriate for me to read someone’s chart or perhaps not. It’s most of the time quite clear.

    We each stand at the center of the web of life — our own trustworthy center.

  • Hello Lark

    many thanks for your comment, and for your deep and thoughtful perspective on the relationship between astrologer, client and their charts. I think it was Jung who observed that we see the world as WE are. Bias would seem to be our norm as humans; but at least astrologers have an opportunity through contemplating their own horoscopes to make corrections for that bias as they approach another person’s chart and therefore their whole life. It is an awesome responsibility we take on, for sure – and working on our own process is a way of keeping us standing, as much as possible, “…at the center of the web of life…” as you so beautifully put it. For that, I certainly find regular professional supervision with a fellow astrologer who is also an experienced psychotherapist very very helpful.

  • Anthony Burns says:

    My astrology software offers a choice of house systems, including Placidus which comes as the default. The only house system I deem to be ‘correct’, however, isn’t in any of the books or available on software, but it’s the one I normally use in my own work. Since there are no tables for this, I had to devise my own algorithm. It works well.

    • Well, Anthony, what you say confirms the point I made in response to Duke’s comment, ie that the issue of which House system to use has not been and probably never will be settled. It boils down in the end to what works for each individual astrologer – and more importantly, what assists us in offering a positive and constructive experience to our clients.

      Good for you in having devised your own system – and thanks for commenting.

  • Very nice article Anne…Thank you very much!

  • Eva Line Nilsen says:

    Nice article! I am born in Norway, 70 degrees north,and have been practicing astrology for more than 30 years (personally and professionally).I use Placidus sometimes for people born in the south of this country,but always look at the Equal map as well. My own chart can only be read from the Equal system, and because of that I got used to this system. Far north the ASC/DC axis swap in the dark season of the year at certain times of the day, so you have to read the chart upside-down to find the right ASC.

    • Hello Eva,

      thanks for dropping by, and for this interesting comment – it reminds us that the Houses have a complex relationship with both geography and seasons! I am moving towards using Whole Sign Houses – about to start testing this system out, using my current batch of students as ( willing!) guinea pigs. The WSH system certainly creates clarity and relative simplicity as far as the Houses are concerned…

  • Nice blog. Interesting in reading.