At this point, you should know all the traits and characteristics of the Signs and Planets that we use in astrology. It's best to have a fully fleshed-out understanding of those first, and of your own chart, before moving onto the Houses.
In the last series, we talked about how each of the Planets in your chart has a Sign placement, and how the nature of each planet changes from Sign to Sign. Moon in Leo might be dramatically emotional, whereas Moon in Virgo may be repressed or subdued. Mercury in Sagittarius is loud and impulsive in the way they talk, whereas Mercury in Taurus is quiet and speaks very little.
Each of those Planets also has a House placement. But instead of describing the nature of the Planet itself, the House placement shows which area of your life that part of you shines out of, or where you may encounter it in others. Moon in the 7th House of Relationships may encounter partners who are highly emotional and deeply compassionate, where Pluto there may find power struggles and abuse. Saturn in the 11th House of Friendships may mean you choose to have only one or two friends, where Mercury could mean you are a social butterfly with dozens of associates and no close ties. Venus in the 4th House of Home usually implies a nice childhood home, close to the women in your family. Jupiter in the 12th House of the Collective could make you a spiritual teacher, once you learn to come out of your shell.
SO WHAT ARE THE HOUSES?
When you are looking at a Natal Chart with the time of birth calculated in, you'll notice that the wheel is divided into twelve numbered sections. Like this:
Each of those sections is a House. It starts with the 1st House, and travels to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on, all the way to the 12th House, where it starts all over again, just like the cycle of the twelve Signs.
BUT WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?
Imagine you are standing in the desert, or the prairie - a flat part of the earth with no mountains to obstruct your view. Look down at your feet. The exact location you are standing on has a Longitude (North/South) and Latitude (East/West) position. Now look up at the sky, and see the sun cross east to west. The path that the sun takes is called the Ecliptic. (And If you overlay that path onto the night sky, the sun crosses over all the constellations used in the Sidereal system of astrology! Neat, huh?)
Now, look back and forth. The line in the distance that divides the ground you're standing on from the blue sky above you is called the Horizon Line. That Horizon Line is the line that connects the Ascendant (AC) and its opposite point, 180° away, the Descendant (DC). You see the sun rise in the east, travel to its highest point, and then begin its descent downward, until it sets in the west and disappears from view. That highest point is the Midheaven, or Medium Coeli (MC). And its calculated opposite, 180° away, is the lowest point, the Nadir, or Imum Coeli (IC).
To really drive this home, I want you to imagine yourself outside, watching the sunrise at 5AM on July 01, 2017. On that day, the Sun was at 9° Cancer. And at that moment, it was rising halfway above the eastern horizon. That means that right then, the AC was also at 9° Cancer. The DC was in 9° Capricorn. And the Sun was in the 1st House:
The AC moves 2° every minutes as the day goes on. So 30min later, the Sun was still at 9° Cancer, but the AC was at 15° Cancer. The DC was at 15° Capricorn. By then, Sun had moved above the Horizon Line, into the sky, and was placed in the 12th House:
Come back and look up at 1:02PM. The Sun moved to 10° Cancer (it moves about one degree a day). The AC had moved to 7° Libra, and the DC was likewise at 7° Aries. The Sun had reached its highest point and was exactly in line with the Midheaven. And The Moon, in its third quarter phase, at 19° Libra, was in the 1st House and about to rise into the sky:
Since this was Cancer season and summer days were long, it wasn't until 9:02PM that the Sun reached the DC. You might've been able to see Mars and Mercury in the twilight, if they weren't obscured by the setting sunlight. The AC was at 10° Capricorn. The Moon, now at 23° Libra, was clearly visible in the sky, along with twinkling Jupiter next to it, and Saturn rising up from the east:
Finally, see yourself coming back at 1:02AM the next day. It is dark outside. The Moon, now having moved to 25° Libra, was setting. Saturn had begun its descent to the western horizon. The Sun was exactly in line with the Nadir at 10° Cancer, out of sight, and the AC was at 25° Aries.
(You can also see all the other planets moving around the wheel too.)
This is why people born on the same day but at a different times have radically different personalities. This is why if you are born in a day when a planet changes Signs, you need an exact time of birth in order to get an accurate Natal Chart. This is why astrologers ask what time you were born when they are getting to know you - and why they get so frustrated when you don't know!
WHAT THE HOUSES REPRESENT
The circular journey from 1st to 12th represents the cycle of life. It begins in the 12th House, in the womb of your mother, where the two of you are intrinsically bound, seamlessly, spiritually, with one another. Your body and her body were one and the same. Her health, her emotions, her outside surroundings, and her voice, were all you knew. Then, the day you were born, the moment your body left hers and your umbilical cord was cut, you became a separate, autonomous individual. That exact moment, your Natal Chart was cast. You crossed the horizon line of your AC into this world, and you entered your 1st House.
In your 1st House, you developed a sense of self, of who and what you were. In the 2nd, as you got older, you learned what was yours and what was everything else. In the 3rd, you crawled out into your neighbourhood, into your early childhood, and began talking. In the 4th, your family home and childhood circumstances became the foundation for everything you knew. In your 5th, those joyous childhood years of fun and creativity were the highlight of your youth. But in the 6th, you learned to grow up and assume more responsibility for yourself, your chores, your health, and your hygiene. Once you grew into that level of maturity, you left the first half of your Chart and moved into the next, pivoting into the adult, more relationship-oriented, phase of life.
In your 7th House, you formed close romantic and platonic relationships with other people. In the 8th, those relationships deepened, and became more emotionally and sexually complex as they became more intimate. In the 9th, you take all that you've learned from these relationships and experiences and gather a new perspective. In the 10th, you take these newfound beliefs into the public sphere and unite them with your public image. In the 11th, you network and rally a group of like-minded individuals around you. And in the 12th and final House, you look at emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually merging with the collective around you, in much the same way you had been merged with your mother before birth.
Each of the Houses also correlates with the Signs, although not literally, as the Houses divide up the day and the Signs divide up the seasonal year. The 1st House of Self is "Ruled by" Aries, the 2nd House of Possessions by Taurus, the 3rd of Communication by Gemini, and so on, in the same pattern around the wheel we are already familiar with.
WHICH HOUSE SYSTEM TO USE?
So how are all these points calculated? How do we know where the MC is at sunrise, or where the 8th House is suppose to begin after the sun has already set? It involves a lot of math, and a lot of debate over how to do that math. There are literally dozens of different House Systems to choose from, all calculated a little bit differently with their own systems of logic. Some divide it based on space, and others by time. Some looking down, and some looking up. The most common house system is Placidus, which is what I would recommend starting out. But there are others you can play around with until you find what suites your own ideas best. Lunar Planner has a more in-depth article that probably explains this better than I can. And Astro Wisdom has an online article by Alova which explains the logic behind some systems and their choice to use the Topocentric system.
The Houses are my favourite thing in astrology. It's always been that way. But Howard Sasportas' book was what really changed the way I saw them, and gave me greater insight into how they work and what they mean. Humanity has always seen the sun's journey across the sky, turning from day to night and day again, as symbolic for the individual's lifelong journey from birth, to death, and then rebirth. If you happen to be a writer, like me, you may notice the similarities between the Hero's Journey story structure and the cycle of the Houses in order from 1 to 12. To me, this isn't a coincidence - we tell stories about characters who go through the same inner trials and tribulations that we do, so it makes sense that every culture's heroes go through the same cycles that we do as we struggle to grow into better people.
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