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The Issue of House Division in Astrology

The Issue of House Division in AstrologyIn this episode Chris and Kelly Surtees talk about the issue of house division in western astrology, and the range of different house systems that astrologers employ in practice.

The discussion was motivated by some recent threads in the Professional Astrologers group on Facebook, including a poll which showed that a surprising number of astrologers have switched to whole sign houses in the past few years.

During the course of the show we cover a variety of different topics related to the subject of house division, and the challenge of choosing which system of house division is right for you.

 Here is a list of some of the topics discussed:

  • Brief overview of some of the different types of house division.
  • Some discussion about the history of the house division issue.
  • The recent rediscovery of whole sign houses.
  • Paying attention to planets in houses versus planets ruling houses.
  • Using one form of house division for horary and a different one for natal astrology?
  • Testing different systems of house division.

There is also a brief astrology news segment at the beginning of the show where I mention the death of Michael Baigent, who passed away in June.


A full transcript of this episode is available: Episode 8 transcript

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  • thanks for making this episode. whenever I see people not using WSH, I frown inside. the historical evidence is so powerful that anyone who takes a rational look into the matter will really have to start considering using WSH

    • I think that the historical precedent is enough to warrant someone at least looking into it, although I don’t know if that is compelling enough to make a person adopt it outright, just because it is the oldest, or what have you. I do think that some of the practical advantages that set whole sign houses apart from the other systems in practice are compelling enough to cause people to switch though, and that is the most important part to me. It is like this complete package, where it is more compelling from a historical, conceptual AND practical perspective.

  • Please, could you say a little more about what considerations one might think on to decide how to orient the chart as regards the position of the Ascendant? I have been using whole signs since I began learning a few years back and have my Ascendant degree at 19 of the first house. There are 3 options in my Delphic Oracle software; 1 for Ascendant at horizon, 1 for Ascendant at 15 degrees of rising sign and one for Ascendant at 0 degrees of rising sign, that is where I have it set. They make for very different charts.

  • Your comments on the MC falling in a house other than the 10th does sort of raise a good argument for using a quadrant system.
    Its complicated and problematic to imply that the 10th house could have two rulers.
    A house system that was originated to predict a persons life span becoming more in favor over time seems also like an argument that it was getting better results. Tried and true. And also seems somewhat appropriate that it is now used by astrologers that believe in reincarnation.
    You have made observing transits with WHS more compelling and I’m trying it out. Thank you Chris!

  • Hi Chris and Kelly,
    I just listened to this very interesting discussion. I used Placidus for years (doing hand calculations..). I gradually moved to Porphyry when Robert Blaschke explained (it took many conversations!) the mathematics of the different quadrant systems (he felt that Porphyry made the most sense mathematically) and stayed there for at least 15 years. I’ve been in Kelly’s long sex change process and have been using Whole signs for nearly 10 years, first just watching it, then applying it straight off. I have found, however, the Porphyry 8th cusp is sensitive in death charts..(I always look at Porphyry along with WS) By sensitive, I mean a transit or progressed Moon to the cusp of the 8th of the natal at the time of death. Having reached the age where I’ve had more clients and friends pass away, this has been quite noticeable..So, was particularly interested that Porphyry was (seemingly?) originally used for length of life issues..
    Thanks for all the good work..

  • Question for Chris and Mary. Do you practice the technique of profection with the WHS? Finding it sort of irresistibly fascinating 🙂

  • Having fun with you again. Placidus was an outgrowth of Alcabitus, which has to do with the length of time it takes a sign to rise across the ascendant. You needed to know that in order to use Primary Directions, which were virtually the only forecasting method used for many centuries. Which goes back to Ptolemy, Valens and the Greeks in general. The availability of ephemerides was erratic, so if you could get the natal year, you could use primaries to forecast. Placidus was intended as a calculation aid for primaries. If this is true, then Raphael included them in his early ephemerides to produce a comprehensive annual guide. Lilly used Regiomontanus for the same purpose (Primaries) as the Placidus system was new to him and he did not like it. Sepharial and Ivy Goldstein-Jacobson were advocates of Primaries, and Placidus.

    The reason the Greeks did not invent Placidus – or any other system aside from Porphyry, was that they lacked a number system that would support the calculations needed. Before “Arabic” numbers were developed in India around 300 AD, all number systems were versions of hash marks. Of them, Romans were about the best. The Greeks got around this by inventing algebra, but algebra would not work for spherical trig. I am uncertain to what extent the abacus would work as an aid.. We think of it as a Chinese machine, but the Romans used it as well. It fell out of use in the west with the introduction of Arabic numbers, which in Europe dates to 1202 in Italy, from Fibonacci.

    You really should study the introduction of Arabic numbers, as whenever they appeared, knowledge shot upwards almost immediately. They are that powerful. I am surprised that David Pingree, who held the title of Professor of the History of Mathematics, said nothing about this.

    Porphyry divides zodiacal longitude, which is not a house system as it does not relate to the earth’s daily revolution, but it was the best one could do with Roman numbers. Calculate them in Romans sometime. Jeff Green’s use of it does not seem serious to me. Charles Carter was a fan of Campanus, as was the wonderful Kanya, in Harlem in the 1980’s. From him, there is still a distinct school of Black astrologers who use Campanus houses with the Fagan-Bradley sidereal zodiac. Carter’s associate, Margaret Hone, was an advocate of Equal, back in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, etc. Carter founded and Hone ran the Faculty of Astrological Studies in London. She would probably have used whole sign houses had she been aware of the distinctions. I do not know what the Faculty is up to these days as regards houses.

    Aside from Porphyry, quadrant house systems can be divided between those that divide various Great Circles – Regiomontanus, Campanus, for example, and those which divide time, such as Placidus, Koch, Topocentric, Alcabitus, etc. The time-based systems cannot be understood without reference to Primaries. It might also be said that horary is static, in that we use a chart once and throw it way, while natals are dynamic, in that we will use the same chart for the life of the individual. In this light, differing house systems might be justified, from horary to natal.

    I haven’t seen that any natal astrologer, aside from Morin and his followers, have a good grasp of houses. I have myself “innovated” a great deal in this area, but I do not think innovation is possible in a system as old as this. I am simply following my nose.

    The reference for houses is The Elements of House Division, by Ralph William Holden, published by L.N. Fowler, Essex, 1977. I would have reprinted it years ago but Mr. Holden, who has disappeared, is now 62 years old and one does not touch a book when the author is alive but unavailable.

    The split in the astrological community, AFA to AFAN, etc, was in the late 1970’s and was due to a fallout with Bob Cooper’s heavy-handed tactics. He retired four or five years ago and has since passed.

    Back in the 1980’s, when I learned the ropes, people were told to use Koch. The German-inspired Cosmobiology-based New York school, of Weingarten et al, pushed it heavily. People used them, they had no idea why, but since then the system has faded, as you have noticed. Joyce Wehrman made the ultimate use of Koch, for gambling, a system that works quite well and is extremely precise, specifying four minutes out of six hours, etc. The once when I tried Koch in a rectification, I found there was no “there” there and never tried it again. Once you understand why different houses systems were devised you may make better use of them. You will not win in Vegas with any form of equal or whole or Placidus. You just won’t. Wehrman’s system is specific to Koch. If you want to use primaries you will immediately return to Alcabitus, Placidus or Topocentric. In medical astrology we use a system of eight houses in decumbiture, but it is such a simple system that we merely track the moon..

    Medieval astrologers knew of the Hellenists, Lilly mentions them himself. He had a library of books some of which were several hundred years old. They abandoned many Hellenistic tenants in part as astrology, as a whole, evolved, due, I think, to the development of numbers, which made many new things possible. Morin made the best use of houses that I have seen, but his system was largely unknown until the mid-20th century. Many in Leo’s school a century ago rejected him.

    As I calculated several hundred charts by hand back in the 1980’s using Placidus, I had the chart mostly interpreted by the time I had it calculated. The text Kelley is referring to is the Rosicrucian table, which is organized differently from those of Dalton, ACS, AFA, Raphael, etc. The Rosicrucian is organized towards rectification, while the others are organized around latitude. All except the Rosicrucian were identical in layout to the Koch and Campanus tables I’ve seen. Once you had the final sidereal time worked out, you could still finesse the MC and ascendant, but there was no point bothering with the other cusps, which were read straight from the table. Entries were every 4 minutes, birth times are rarely that tight. Primaries need a great deal greater precision, but few bother with them. The Krishnamurti system uses the Krishnamurti ayanamsa with Placidus houses, their students simply rave at the precision. Krishnamurti publishes tables calculated to the minute, also to precise latitudes of specific towns in India. I have stocked them. Krishnamurti’s ayanamsa is similar to the tweak that Rick Houck made to Lahiri around 20 years ago.

    Myself, I use whole sign houses with Placidus cusps, with angles that are walls, which is my own observation. The planet-house-sign synthesis is powerful, as is the rulership issue. The quadrant issue is real, planets stranded in intercepted houses are real, planets on the wrong side of an angle are real, retrograde planets are read differently re: houses than planets that are direct, etc. Every now and then planets disappear entirely, so far as their house placements are concerned. There are such things as planets stranded by house.

    Topocentric was developed to duplicate Placidus. The difference between the two systems is that Placidus is a theoretical construction, Topocentric was based on the observation of the results of primary directions. It was the work of A.P. Nelson Page and Wendel Povich, of Argentina. The two systems mirror each other. I once knew an Argentinian who used Koch in northern latitudes and Topocentric in southerly ones. Which I did not understand at the time, but now I think he was trying to please his neighbors in New York while remaining a patriot to his native country.

    So far as the observation that quadrant systems do not work at extreme latitudes, there is a simple answer: There are very few pregnant women at such latitudes. Back in the late 1980’s at Henry’s place my job was to run charts. In four years I ran around 12,000 charts, all by computer. In that time there was precisely one woman who was born above 66 degrees north. She was a repeat customer. This is otherwise an imaginary problem.

    An interesting broadcast. I hope you enjoy my notes. Thanks.

    • Thank for the link to the Patrick Watson podcast here as concerns house division systems. Having lived through two saturn returns etc., I can in retrospect, consider validation of house division from lived experience. I switched from Placidus to Whole Signs around the time everyone else did when this podcast started because I like having a reason for doing what I am doing, was really appalled at how many astrologers were flying blind – making it up as they went and charging for unsubstantiated interpretation. Whole Signs made sense to me. I gravitate toward Traditional techniques but cut my teeth on Placidus, as did most people on back in the late 70’s early 80’s. It is interesting that Liz Greene used this house division system when so many English Astrologers were trained to use Equal Houses aka English houses. This was and still is the system used at the Faculty of Astrological Houses in London you cited in your comment. This is the only house division system that puts my very important Moon Saturn conjunction at the end of the third house in Sagittarius along with a 28 degree IC in Scorpio as opposed to the 4th House. Personally, I find that having a sub lord to a house confusing if using house rulers, which I do. The house ruler itself gives a sub-tone by sign expression to the house in question so no need for a second ruler. I finished a reading yesterday for a woman who is usually read by an evolutionary astrologer who uses Placidus or Prophyry which puts her Sun in the 12th H instead of the first, so this was significant. I am letting her decide which resonates most, and I think this is the way to go – the client will know. I was also married to an Alaskan who ws born at the 61st latitude.When I run his chart in Placidus, it is extremely disproportionate house size wise and it feels a bit off to me. Astrology is divination. Whatever technique is used is only the beginning, and while it has to be understood, and rules do have to be followed, there has to be room for the magic so to speak – for particular and multi-valent meaning that is coming to the fore for the client, which is very personal. I feel the job of an astrologer is to read the weather report – the cycles, to put the present within the context of the whole and sometimes, with too much information – we get lost in the woods a bit. Whole Signs on a practical level – makes the basis uncluttered – and there is much to fill that house with the dance around the chart I prefer a cleaner visual. I have intercepted houses myself in Placidus, and I find this annoying, which is not a rational reason for not using them, but I do not feel the house cusp ruler rings true, and that is a reason. Am I really opening 2 doors to get to that planet within? Maybe, but in whole signs, the ruler tells the same story – so, why bother with interception? Thank you for your comment.

  • Very interesting article and obviously a well studied astrologer……..but forgive my ignorance could you expain your conclusions?

    As I’m not sure what you are saying in this statement you made ” Myself, I use whole sign houses with Placidus cusps, with angles that are walls, which is my own observation.”

    • Hello Steve, Thanks for your note. Since I wrote that I have seen the light and have given up. My system is complex and unworkable.

      For an example of how houses work, go here: https://theastrologypodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/james-patrick-watson-natal-full.jpg . Note carefully the big bold lines do not represent the angles, but rather, the 12th, 3rd, 6th and 9th cusps. Or, as it was explained to me, the four cardinal signs set to mirror the degree on the ascendant, the houses being equal. This was put up by the host and presenter of the Astrology Podcast, Chris Brennan a day or two ago. Unlike my personal system, this is traditional and can be explained in simple terms. Please forgive that I myself do not know what those would be.

  • At the moment of birth the ASC is on the horizon. Just at that moment the native arises into the world. Before that the whole of the being was hidden. As diurnal motion moves forward if there was a planet below the horizon it will rise above as time moves forward but was hidden at the time of birth.

    With your research on significations of the houses you had several hundred AA rated charts. If you look at those and check the biographies of the people compared to the ASC what is more compelling?

    With the few charts I have looked at there seems to be a mix but Placidus seems a bit more accurate. There are a few where WSH seems workable and some that could be either.

    I find the historical use is not a compelling reason to use WSH. If that were a compelling reason why have we left papyrus behind? Are you still writing with charcoal? At the time I think the reason that WSH may have been used was due to the difficulty of computation. New tools are not always better but they should not be discarded because they weren’t the original way. Just because something is easier does not make it better. Testing and application may be the best way to ground a change.

    • Yes, of course. Clearly I wouldn’t use it if I didn’t find it more effective in practice as well. I gave several other arguments for whole sign houses that include some practical points in this later episode:


      Addressing your statement point from the first paragraph, one of the things that is more compelling to me conceptually when you are talking about planets becoming visible and invisible is in whole sign houses it encompasses the entire process of going from visible to invisible in the 1st or 7th whole sign house, rather than just one side of that process where the house is either entirely under the earth or entirely above the early. That is one of the more compelling things from a conceptual standpoint that makes whole sign houses unique.

      • The ASC is the dividing line between below and hidden (or in the womb) and above and visible (or born). Birth is the dividing moment and the ASC seems to be an equal in the chart.

        • And yet in quadrant systems planets that have just risen are immediately in the 12th house, despite having just emerged from under the horizon.

          • Yes, but are you aware upon birth or in some sort of a hidden state consciously, only becoming more aware as you age? With the state of consciousness just after birth the 12th house may be more appropriate than the 1st?

  • I will listen to that later episode but am currently listening to the Robert Hand interview. Really appreciate you doing all these podcasts. Currently a supporter also.

    I do look at the whole sign houses but can’t make them work in some of the closest charts of people I know. One example is someone who’s sun and mercury are in the 12th with Placidus but drop into the 1st with whole sign. She is someone that prefers being behind the scenes and is not out to make a name for herself.

    • I think a good way to test this is by looking at the Leo house and then deciding if 12th H issues come to play as a result of action in that house. Also, the angles have to be considered as well. The Sun in the first is more about what you see is what you get – and this house location is still not public like the 10th H – it is the vitality and the body and co present with the ASC is very copacetic with the life path direction and can be very motivating if in good condition. There is so much more than wanting to be behind the scenes that could determine the work-ability of this Sun in the 1st. Sun in the 12th would also point to a self that identifies with the collective to a fault – to others in an empathic way. I could go on. There are many considerations.

  • Great podcast, very illuminating. Thanks for that.

    But brothers and sisters, you shouldn’t pronouce the H for Latin rooted words, so HORARY should sound ‘ORARY Astrology. Let’s not sound horrory. lol.