Recently many heated discussions took place on social media and astrology forums regarding Deborah Houlding’s video where she challenges the validity of whole-sign houses and their use in traditional astrology. I’ve watched her video carefully two times and mostly silently followed the many online discussions. I’ve been pondering various house systems very much in the past and about ten years ago switched from using Placidus quadrant houses to whole-sign houses when I began studying astrology of the Indian tradition. When I made a roundtrip and got myself familiar with the Hellenistic tradition of astrology I was delighted to see that the whole-sign houses were apparently the predominant house system used. While most of the recent debates regarding this issue focus on the historical analysis I’d like to approach it from a more conceptual angle because even if the existence of a particular astrological concept is proven by historical research this still doesn’t validate its conceptual soundness. That a lot of the symbolism of the houses comes from whole-sign aspects has been proven widely (especially the four “dark” places (2nd, 6th, 8th and 12th)). Therefore I will focus on the diurnal rotation and its observation.
Mrs. Houlding claims strongly that the houses are based on diurnal rotation, which of course is true, but I’d challenge any ardent quadrant house proponent to explain why the houses follow the numbering sequence in a counter-clockwise direction if the observable diurnal motion of celestial bodies through the houses is clockwise. The counter-clockwise numbering sequence is applicable to the signs, because this is how they rise. If Aries is the sign that is intersected by the eastern horizon at the time of birth, then this is the 1st sign. Taurus will rise after it, and thus it is the 2nd sign (or place), and so on, all the way to Pisces, which will rise as the 12th sign and thus the last. Move on to quadrant houses, and we can’t apply this same numbering sequence without some (at least to me) strange justifications because these mundane houses are fixed (non-movable). Their proportions are of course changing if our perspective is focused on the ecliptic because when we project them onto the ecliptic and use the standard ecliptic-based modern graphical representation of a horoscope where the signs are of fixed 30-degree sizes, then the sizes of the houses change. But, from our observational point of view (which is what matters here), these mundane houses or, should we perhaps call them »sectors of diurnal motion« are of equal size – 30 degrees each. As a model I will take a simplified two-dimensional approximation of the Campanus system because in my opinion, its basis is the observational perspective which probably most of us have when looking at the southern sky (or northern in the southern hemisphere). When facing due South, we can imagine a line going from the point due South on the southern horizon over our head to the point due North on the northern horizon. This is the meridian. If we face due East we then imagine a line going from the point due East on the eastern horizon, over our head to the point due West on the western horizon. This is the prime vertical. Above our head the meridian and the prime vertical intersect. We call this the Zenith. We can then further divide the eastern and the western half of the prime vertical into three 30-degree segments each (or any number of segments if we have a good reason to do so). Now we connect these points to the point due South, and we get 6 “watermelon slices”. These are our terrestrial or mundane “houses” that are above the horizon. The Sun, the Moon, the other 5 visible planets (and the three invisible ones) and the signs of the Zodiac rotate daily through these 6 sectors above the horizon and 6 below the horizon.
IMAGE: A simplified two-dimensional model of Campanus houses as observed from local space. The Sun rose somewhere in the East (due East only twice a year at the Equinoxes) and began its journey towards the Midheaven or the MC.
I suggest we step out of the box a bit and consider this: The quadrant houses are simply 12 sectors (calculated by different methods) which enable us to more precisely determine the succeedent, angular or cadent quality (thus strength) of heavenly bodies that move along the Ecliptic by diurnal rotation. These sectors don’t even need numbering, but if this is necessary, they should perhaps be numbered 1-12, in the direction of diurnal motion, thus clockwise because when a heavenly body is in the 12th sector (2nd by convention), it is succeedent and will enter into the first, rising sector (1st house). We could even challenge the notion that the whole 1st house is below the horizon, and a planet leaves it right after rising. This problem was apparently on Ptolemy’s, Sripati’s and Johannes Vehlow’s minds when they devised their house systems because they’ve all left space after the Ascendant; Ptolemy 5 degrees above, Vehlow 15 degrees above and for Sripati a cusp represented the middle of a house, thus by all three systems a planet that rises is still in the 1st house for a while. After all, we can’t really consider a celestial body that’s just become visible to be in the inauspicious house of Bad Spirit. This has never ever made sense to me. If we focus on the signs and their risings, a planet in the rising sign, even if the sign has just barely peaked over the horizon, is situated in the portion of the ecliptic that is rising, and the planet is thus given the rising or angular quality. Because the sign has crossed the eastern horizon, it became the 1st place and the planets that are in that sign are, well, in the 1st place. In the diagram above I went a bit to the extreme and placed the whole 1st house above the horizon just to emphasize that this is the place of rising, the place where things manifest and become visible. This doesn’t happen below the horizon with the exception of the Sun (and to an extent the Moon) as we can clearly observe its light even before it actually rises. The horizon could as well mark the middle of the 1st house and to me that is more sensible and as pointed out earlier, I’m not alone in this thinking.
Looking at the clockwise direction of diurnal rotation, the planets don’t proceed from the 1st to the 12th (by convention), but from the 1st to the 2nd, because this is how they move in diurnal motion – clockwise. We can ask ourselves which of the four angles (Asc, MC, Dsc, IC) is the 2nd angle. Is it the MC or the IC? The answer is clear: It’s the MC, because this is the second angle the signs and the planets reach in their diurnal rotation. So, if the order of the angles is clockwise, then why should the mundane houses be numbered in the opposite direction? The most common answer to this is usually something along these lines:
“The mundane houses numbered from 1-12 in an anti-clockwise direction tell us the order in which the planets will rise, for example, if a planet is in the 4th house it will rise as the 4th.”
This is one of the strange justifications I’ve mentioned earlier. My reply to this argument is that the rising sequence of the planets is already determined by their sign placements because the signs, along with the planets rise in this order. Why do we need another, allegedly more precise, local space-based measurement of this, if the primary twelve-fold division of the Ecliptic (the Zodiac signs) already serves this purpose? The signs rotating and carrying with them the planets as passengers on a train clearly correspond to the idea of places (topoi), because the locomotive (the 1st sign) is in the 1st place, rising. Then the wagons follow in their respective order, carrying their passengers along. The passengers sitting in the last, 12th wagon are in the last, 12th place because they will arrive to the point the locomotive is at (the Ascendant at that moment) the last. On the other hand, the quadrant houses (by any system) do not rotate like the signs do, but are fixed and the signs along with the planets rotate through them (as shown in the diagram above). This difference is crucial to understand, and here I have to point out one of the issues that make this ongoing house systems debate so incredibly difficult. First let me state that the whole-sign houses are not a proper house system. Yes, you’ve read it right, and please, bear with me for just a little bit more. Mrs. Houlding was actually correct when she expressed her doubt about their validity as a house system. Hold it, hold it, take a deep breath and move your mouse away from that X button. Thank you. This is not a proper house system in the way house systems are understood today. I’ve already explained the difference between the two and it should be clear that the whole-sign houses and the quadrant houses are entirely different on the conceptual level. The first are ecliptic-based while the later are local space-based. The first rotate in the sky, the later are fixed and everything on the Ecliptic rotates through them. The problem with most modern astrologers in the West is that they can’t imagine a practice of astrology without houses as they know them. Yes, if we only use signs as houses we are basically practicing house-less astrology, because we don’t use mundane, local space-based houses. It’s simple. Yet, it can be difficult to digest for many astrologers from both camps. Perhaps it’s not fancy enough? Perhaps it’s not sophisticated enough and makes one a “street astrologer” as it has been stated by some high profile astrologers, much to my disbelief. Whatever the case, the wide existence of this “house-less Zodiacal astrology” has been well proven without a shadow of a doubt, but I leave the textual evidence to those who’ve already made wonderful efforts to bring the evidence forth.
In my opinion the validity of projecting the quadrant cusps onto the ecliptic in order to determine their rulers, based on the degrees of the cusps in the Zodiacal signs, and eventually reading these sectors of diurnal rotation as topical houses needs to be scrutinized and questioned, even if there is textual evidence that justifies it. We know that the ancient astrologers were not infallible. Valens, for example, was not aware he was using an outdated sidereal Zodiac, and apparently thought he was using a tropical zodiac, while still referencing the stars. His zodiac was actually an outdated hybrid. He was in error and quite possibly to us probably unknown astrologer who assigned the counter-clockwise house numbering sequence to the twelve mundane houses and equated their meanings with that of the whole-sign places was in error, too. Significant conceptual errors in ancient astrological texts are nothing new to me, because I’ve discovered them before and they have unfortunately shaped the further development of astrological traditions (read my article on aspects in mainstream jyotish). Just looking at the thesis that the twelve sectors of diurnal motion received their numbering sequence from the sequence of the rising of the signs is enough to make us think.
To be clear that I’m not denying the validity of quadrant or equal houses, please know that in my practice I’ve been using three different “systems of houses” simultaneously for at least five years but each for their specific purpose; whole sign places for topics, equal house cusps (cusps only) for determining the most potent degrees in the signs (because the degrees of equal house cusps are the points of exact aspects between the signs) and a quadrant house system for determining angular strength of planets. For the later the four angles (Asc, MC, Dsc, IC) have been sufficient for the most part, but I’m currently employing Campanus system in order to see if defining angular, suceedent or cadent quality of a planet by boxes is a good idea in practice.
In my opinion our house systems paradigm has to be burned down if we want to understand the conceptual difference between whole-sign places and mundane quadrant divisions. I do not think however, that consensus can be reached anytime soon and we’ll all have to learn to peacefully co-exist and practice astrology through different lenses for generations to come if not forever.