The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 157, titled:
With Chris Brennan
Episode originally released on May 14, 2018
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Transcription by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released December 5, 2023
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CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode is recorded on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, starting at exactly 8:00 PM in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 157th episode of the show. For more information about how to subscribe to the podcast and help support the production of future episodes by becoming a patron, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe. In this episode, I’m gonna be doing a solo show where I talk about which of the 12 houses the signification of sex should be assigned to and how that assignment has changed in different eras over the course of the past 2,000 years of the astrological tradition.
So part of the genesis of this episode was actually last fall, I was participating in an astrology forum, and I kind of noticed there was this thread where basically some modern astrologer was interpreting a chart and he was associating the 8th house with sex—which was a standard association over the course of the past few decades or the course of the past century—and I saw another astrologer come in who was more of a Medieval or Renaissance astrologer, and he started giving the modern astrologer a hard time, saying that the true assignment of sex should be to the 5th house, which is more common in some late Medieval, and especially some Renaissance texts where there was more of a focus on the 5th house for matters pertaining to sexuality. But what I thought was interesting is that this Medieval astrologer, this proponent of Medieval astrology, didn’t seem to notice or seemed unaware that even the 5th house emphasis—which became so prominent in the later part of traditional astrology, by the time of the 17th century—was a shift away from the earlier part of the tradition from the Hellenistic tradition where sex actually shows up as a signification of the 7th house. And in point of fact, the only explicit reference to sex being assigned to one of the houses was to the 7th house in the Hellenistic tradition by the 2nd century astrologer, Vettius Valens.
So this was an interesting thing that came up back then, and I posted about it on Facebook or Twitter or something and that generated a pretty lengthy discussion that a lot of astrologers commented on because it raises some issues about how do we know what the houses mean, how those assignments come about, and other tangential issues, like over-reliance on the supposed authority of tradition. Sometimes if you try to place all of your authority, or your primary authority on tradition, sometimes there’s gonna be an older tradition that might supplant yours; or there might be multiple or competing traditions, so that sometimes just an appeal to authority is not sufficient when it comes to things like this. Sometimes it can be or sometimes that can be useful, but it’s not always something that’s completely reliable for some reasons that we’ll get into later.
So this is part of a broader topic about the different significations of the houses and how those have changed over the course of the past 2,000 years. Although there’s some significations that have stayed relatively constant, there’s other significations that have moved around to different houses; and the assignment of sex to the different houses is actually a great case study because it’s one that has changed so radically depending on what tradition you’re talking about when it comes to Western astrology. So studying the different assignments of sex to the houses actually provides us with a good access point for understanding how the houses were conceptualized in different eras, how the significations were originally generated in each of those eras, and then what some of the underlying conceptual structures are that were motivating the generation of those assignments. So you can actually see how and why they were developing certain significations by looking at and thinking through or investigating why the tradition was assigning sex to different houses in different eras.
So what I’m gonna do during the course of this episode is trace the changing views on this topic over the years—going back to the earliest strata of the tradition and what we can tell about it from textual sources primarily—and then moving forward through the Medieval period, through the Renaissance, and then eventually to the modern era. We’re gonna focus on the topic of sex, again, because it actually provides an interesting access point for understanding the conceptual structure and the underlying motivation for the significations of all of the houses. So if you follow one of the major ones that has changed in different areas, you can kind of get a sense for what conceptual structures are motivating all of the different significations of the 12 houses and it becomes useful in a broader sense in that way or for that reason.
So this discussion is partially based on my own research, in terms of looking into the topic myself, in terms of studying the Hellenistic and Medieval, a little bit of the Renaissance tradition, and then of course the modern tradition. The discussion is also partially based on some research that Demetra George did. She, a few years ago, did a serious research project where she went through and studied all of the major texts of the astrological tradition over the past 2,000 years and compiled tables where she would just list what significations each author gives for different houses, and after she did that, she did a series of webinars where she basically went through and presented the significations of each house. So she did one webinar or one seminar for each house and gave an overview of how the entire tradition conceptualized each of those houses at different points and some of the ways in which it changed in different eras, but then she also tried to synthesize some of those meanings together to give astrologers a working understanding of how—at least for her—she’s reconciled some of the different approaches and presented a working model for how each of the houses can be conceptualized today.
So originally we were gonna record this discussion together about this topic, but we actually ran into a technical issue earlier today that prevented us from being able to do the recording. So I’m gonna go ahead and do a solo show here, and I’m gonna draw a little bit on some of the notes and some of the research that she had. But since our views do not completely coincide on some topics, and we have some disagreements on certain areas, I’ll largely just be speaking for myself here; although I’ll mention a few instances where Demetra had some interesting points that she would have made at various points during this discussion. So I do want to mention at the start that I’m excited that Demetra’s actually doing a full retreat later this year in September on the original Hellenistic significations of the houses.
So she’s basically gonna do a full intensive—a several-day intensive in Portland, Oregon from September 27-October 1 of 2018—where she’s gonna go through and really delve deep into the underlying significations of each of the 12 houses and basically do a full intensive on that topic, specifically focusing on the Hellenistic tradition and the original set of significations or meanings for each of the 12 houses in order to give astrologers a better background and better understanding about the original conceptual principles underlying the houses, and therefore, a better approach for actually understanding what the houses mean and applying those meanings in practice. So if you’re curious about the houses, if you want to go deeper in that topic, I’d recommend checking out that retreat. You can find out more information about it on her website at demetra-george.com.
So let’s jump into it with some preliminary statements about the origins of the houses first. So the concept of the 12 houses didn’t always exist in the astrological tradition. We’re gonna go way far back now, so let’s go back 3,000 years. So most of what we know of as Western astrology—that consists of the fourfold system that consists of astrological charts that contain the planets, the 12 signs of the zodiac, the concept of aspects, and then the concept of the 12 houses—most of that system didn’t really fully develop until around the 1st century BCE, so roughly about 2,000 years ago; and the concept of the 12 houses in particular seems to have really come about at that point.
So basically the 1st century BCE is the timeframe when the first texts survived—that we know of—which have references to the 12 houses and their significations, and many of the significations that became standard over the course of the next 2,000 years, or from our vantage point, the past 2,000 years. So those texts don’t show up in the astrological tradition from our vantage point until about the 1st century BCE. So by that point the concept of the 12 houses had been developed, but prior to that time, it may not have existed as a concept or as a technique—at least not in a way that we know it today. So the first step is just understanding even though we have a lot of astrological techniques that we take for granted and we know have been around for hundreds of years or thousands of years, just about all of these techniques are things that were developed or introduced or invented at some point in time.
So at some point in time, if we’re using a concept or a technique in astrology, somebody has to have first developed it or observed it or invented it in some way, and the concept of the 12 houses was one of those things; it’s basically a technique or a concept that was introduced at some point in time. So we can trace pretty well the origins of the concept, or what would have led to its development, in the two earlier Western astrological traditions that acted as precursors to what we know of as Western astrology. One of them was the Mesopotamian tradition, which was the type of astrology that developed in Mesopotamia, which now roughly coincides with modern-day Iraq.
So the Mesopotamians, by about 2000 BCE or maybe 1500 BCE, were making observations about different planetary alignments and movements in the sky, and then they were recording correlations of what those celestial movements correlated with on Earth; so we have the beginnings of Western astrology or of mundane astrology. So eventually the Mesopotamians developed the 12-sign zodiac, by the 5th century BCE, they standardized it to be 12 signs of exactly 30° each. Additionally, the Mesopotamians were also developing complex mathematical schemes for being able to track planetary movements and to be able to predict where the planets were far into the future, as well as far into the past; we know that the Mesopotamians were very much focused on the zodiac and the movement of the planets. Their next-door neighbor, a little bit away from Mesopotamia, was Egypt.
Over in Egypt, they were also developing an astrological tradition, since around 2000 BCE or so, that focused on the 36 decans, which in the Egyptian tradition were specific fixed stars or specific clusters of fixed stars which were called ‘asterisms’. They were using these fixed stars evidently in order to do things like time religious rituals, and the two ways—during different points in their tradition—that they used the decans, they used them to tell time, especially at night, for these religious rituals and for other things; and one of the ways that they would do that was by determining when a decan was rising over the eastern horizon or culminating overhead. So they were basically focused on what we know of or what we refer to as the diurnal rotation, which is the daily rotation where the Sun and the rest of the planets and stars will all rise over the eastern horizon in the morning, over what we know of as the ascendant, they’ll eventually culminate overhead, near or sort of loosely-associated with what we might refer to as the midheaven, and then eventually, the Sun and the other planets and stars will eventually set; the Sun sets in the evening each day then eventually anti-culminates around midnight, and then eventually the sun rises again each morning.
So that’s the diurnal rotation, and that’s the basic foundation of what we associate with the houses, ‘cause the houses are also focused on that diurnal rotation of rising, culminating, setting, and anti-culminating. But in the Egyptian tradition, they hadn’t necessarily developed any advanced concept of 12 houses, or they hadn’t necessarily ascribed significations or developed significations for them. But instead, they may have only been focused on this idea of certain fixed stars rising over the eastern horizon and culminating overhead and something important happening at that point when those stars were doing that, and specifically being able to do things like tell time or time religious rituals based on which stars were rising or culminating.
So, to make a long story short, what ended up happening is the confluence of these two traditions; what happened is that, in the 4th century BCE, Alexander the Great conquered both Mesopotamia and Egypt. So suddenly those two areas that were developing those two approaches to astrology were suddenly under the control of Greek-speaking rulers, and it encouraged and allowed for a greater degree of trade and commerce and exchange between those two areas over the course of the next few centuries. So what happened is we had a confluence or coming together of the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian traditions and this eventually led to the development of what we call horoscopic astrology.
And basically what happens is when you blend the idea of the 12-sign zodiac from Mesopotamia with the Egyptian idea of focusing on certain fixed stars that are rising over the eastern horizon or culminating overhead, you basically end up with the concept of houses. At that point, they probably developed the concept of whole sign houses, or somebody developed the concept of whole sign houses where all you have to do is figure out which sign is rising over the eastern horizon and then you say that that sign becomes the 1st house or the 1st sector, the 1st region of the chart for something; then every sign of the zodiac that follows after that in zodiacal order becomes the next house or the next region or sector of the chart, and then all of a sudden you end up with 12 regions or 12 houses. So that’s probably how we ended up with 12 houses in the first place rather than some other number like 24 or 36 or 48, or what have you. There’s 12 houses because there were originally 12 signs of the zodiac, and because they were using whole sign houses early on, the houses and signs were seen to be equivalent in some way.
So we get this idea of the 12 houses that are connected to using whole sign houses, the 12 signs of the zodiac, but not all of the significations were necessarily introduced at once, but instead what we see in the very earliest part of the Hellenistic tradition is that there were a few different or a few separate astrological texts that were introduced or written by somebody—by different figures that were mysterious early on—that wrote proposals about what they thought the significations of each of these 12 sectors should be. So there was one text that was attributed to Hermes Trismegistus and that seems to have introduced the original set; what I argue in my book, Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune, is that the Hermes text, from probably about the 1st century BCE, introduced the original set of significations for the 12 houses.
Then there was a later text that was attributed to an author named Asclepius, and that seems to have introduced sort of a modified version of the significations of the first eight houses, where he retained some of the significations that Hermes had developed for the houses—like Hermes said that marriage should be assigned to the 7th, and Asclepius followed him and agreed and said marriage should be assigned to the 7th. However, the Hermes text said that death should be assigned to the 7th as well, whereas the Asclepius text moved death to the 8th house. So the Asclepius texts partially represented a revision or a challenge to some of the significations that the Hermes texts gave to the houses, and later authors tended to try to reconcile or try to merge those two traditions and eventually created a hybrid one over the next few centuries that became the dominant model for the significations of the houses that we largely still use to this day.
All right, so that’s my preliminary statement about the ‘quick and dirty’ early history of house division, basically. And you can actually go back to some previous episodes of The Astrology Podcast; for example, in Episode 17, I talked a bit about this in the episode on “The Rationale for the Significations of the Houses.” I focused there a little bit more on the planetary joys, and especially the 3rd house; here we’re gonna end up focusing on the 7th, 8th and 5th houses. In that podcast, I covered some similar things, but I focused more on the 3rd house, and that was during the point where I was doing a lot of this research for a series of lectures that I was making for my Hellenistic astrology course—and kind of doing some of the same research that Demetra did—in order to try to reconstruct and understand what the meanings of the houses originally were and where they came from; and one of the ones that was still struggling with a little bit at that point was the 3rd house.
So anyway, that’s a good other reference episode to go back and listen to, though, Episode 17, if you want to learn more about this topic. There’s also another good one talking about the Hermes text and the Asclepius text. At one point, when I was writing my book, when I was working on the chapter a couple of years ago—I guess in 2016—where I was writing little biographies for each of the Hellenistic astrologers, I decided to record an episode that just talked about the lives and works of all of the Hellenistic astrologers, and that ended up being like a three- or four-hour episode or something crazy like that. But if you’d like to hear more statements about those early texts—like the Hermes texts and the Asclepius text—and get greater historical context for the sequence of some of those early authors, then I definitely recommend checking out that episode. So that’s Episode #62 of The Astrology Podcast.
All right, so with those preliminaries out of the way, let’s move on to our main topic, and our main topic is the original assignment of sex to the 7th house in the Hellenistic tradition. So one of the points that Demetra was gonna make here—that was a good point right at the start—is that she notes that sex was actually primarily associated with the planets, especially the planets Venus and Mars. And there was not as much discussion about the topic of sex in terms of the houses in the Hellenistic tradition in general, but instead they seemed to focus most of the discussions about sex and sexuality, and even sexual orientation, which was another episode that I did with Christopher Renstrom at one point. Okay, that was Episode 79, titled “Sexual Orientation and Astrology,” where Christopher Renstrom and I talked a little bit about that in the astrological tradition and how Ptolemy discusses the topic in the 2nd century. So one of the things Demetra points out is that most of these discussions about sex and sexuality and sexual orientation tend to focus on the planets and not so much of a discussion in terms of the houses. However, the topic of marriage and the marriage partner is often presented from the perspective of males because we’re talking about Greco-Roman society, and most of the astrological texts that survive—all the astrological texts from that period—were written by male astrologers; so it’s always couched in terms of marriage and the marriage partner, or specifically the wife, and that topic was always assigned to the 7th house from very early on.
So I already mentioned earlier that as early as the Hermes text—which is really the earliest text that we know of that deals with the significations of the 12 houses—the topic of marriage is already assigned to the 7th house. And this is also true—or this gets repeated in the Asclepius text as well, where it assigns the marriage partner to the 7th house, and therefore, it becomes this unanimous thing that all later astrologers followed as well. And this makes some good sense from a symbolic standpoint because one of the things you have to understand about the houses is there’s this big focus on the 1st house/7th house dynamic, and that one of the things that’s clear is that the four angular houses play a really foundational role that many of the significations of the rest of the houses are derived from in some way. Part of the reason for that is the four angular houses are unique because they have their own independent astronomical meaning, and they sort of stand out astronomically in a unique and readily-identifiable way that makes them easy to draw symbolism from, basically.
So what I mean by that is the 1st house in the Hellenistic tradition became the house that was most closely associated with the native—or the person that was born at that moment in time—whose birth chart you’re looking at since the birth chart is always cast for the exact moment that an individual was born. And the reason for that is because the 1st house and the ascendant is the region of the sky or the sector of the chart, let’s say, where the planets will rise over the horizon—where the sun rises over the eastern horizon every day and the other planets will rise over the horizon at some point—and emerge into view suddenly. So if you’re standing outside at any point during the day on Earth, and you look to the eastern horizon, at some point you’re gonna see some of the stars or some of the planets or one of the two luminaries basically emerge over the eastern horizon at some point, and in that way it looks like the planets are symbolically being born or are emerging at that time. So the ascendant or the rising sign is the spot where planets basically emerge, and as a result of that, it became symbolically the part of the chart that was most closely associated with the individual who was born at that point in time, whose birth chart you’re looking at, which is to say the native or the individual who owns the birth chart.
So the 1st house gets associated with the individual, or you could say the self in some sense—in a modern context, it often comes to me in the self—whereas the 7th house is the part of the sky, by the western horizon, where the planets set and where the Sun sets each day in the evening, and the rest of the planets also set and go from being visible in the sky to actually sinking underneath the Earth. So the 1st house becomes associated with ‘the self’ and the sense of emergence, and the 7th house becomes associated with ‘the other’ and this concept of submergence and planets going into hiding at that point and disappearing; so it sets up this basic dynamic of basically 1st house being ‘the self’ and the 7th house being ‘the other’. So as a result of that, that’s basically the primary, underlying, foundational principle for the assignment of the native to the 1st house or the self to the 1st house and the marriage partner to the 7th house.
In other areas of astrology, the 7th house also becomes the default ‘other’, this is very clear in electional astrology; for example, in some of the earliest electional texts, the 1st house is always associated with the one who initiates the action, and the 7th house is always associated with the one who’s receiving the action. So, for example, sometimes in electional rules for buying and selling, the buyer is typically assigned to the 1st house and the seller is assigned to the 7th house. So there’s this general symbolic concept of 1st house as ‘self’/7th house as ‘other’ because of that core astrological idea of rising versus setting or emergence versus submergence.
So we know that the 7th house is associated with marriage and with the marriage partner, and at one point the 2nd century astrologer Vettius Valens, when he’s listing off a quick set of significations for each of the houses at one point—I think it’s in one of the early chapters, like Chapter 10 maybe of Book IV of The Anthology—one of the significations he gives for the 7th house is intercourse with a woman. So he actually uses a euphemism ‘cause the word that I’m translating there as ‘intercourse’ actually means ‘intertwining’ or something like that, or would perhaps be the equivalent of our term ‘intercourse’. So he uses what is a euphemism for the concept of sex, and one of the questions you may have is that maybe he’s just referring to marriage, ‘cause the other way you could translate it—and I think some translators have translated it that way—as ‘union with a woman’. But the thing is that in the same sentence, he mentions ‘marriage’ as a separate signification. So he wouldn’t have repeated himself twice and said ‘marriage’ and ‘marriage with a woman’. He’s basically saying marriage is one of the significations, and additionally, one of the other significations is intertwining or intercourse. So this is an important point because it’s actually the only, as far as I’m aware, explicit reference to assigning a specific house in the Hellenistic tradition to the concept of sex, and Valens seems to be assigning it to the 7th house.
So one of my speculations is that this may partially derive from an earlier tradition that was happening either during the very early phases of or perhaps slightly prior to the early Hellenistic tradition, where it seems they were assigning everything to one of the four angles. There may have been an approach to astrology during this time period—perhaps even prior to the Hermes text is what I suspect—where they hadn’t developed the full-fledged concept of the 12 houses yet or the concept of whole sign houses, but they may have developed the concept of just the four angles, these general regions of the sky where the planets are rising over the eastern horizon, or culminating overhead, or setting, or anti-culminating. So those are roughly associated with what we would associate with the ascendant, midheaven, the descendant, and the IC. So I think you can actually make an argument for this or you can see evidence for it when you look at the electional tradition, the early electional tradition in the Hellenistic tradition in authors such as Dorotheus of Sidon from the 1st century CE and Hephaistio of Thebes, who basically repeats and preserves a bunch of Dorotheus’ rules for different types of elections when he wrote his text in the 5th century CE, I believe.
So I actually interviewed Ben about that book a few years ago; I guess, it was actually one of the early episodes that I did. Yeah, one of the early episodes was interviewing Ben Dykes on that new translation of Book 3 of Hephaistio of Thebes because that’s the specific one that covers all the electional rules. And what’s interesting about that text is that it has 20 or 30 or 40 different chapters on different instructions that it’s giving you for how to pick an auspicious electional chart for different topics or different ventures or how to interpret an electional chart that has already taken place and determine what the outcome of that venture will be if you know the time that it was initiated, depending on what topic you want to study. So what’s really interesting, if you read through that entire book—Book 3 of Hephaistio or Book 5 of Dorotheus, because Book 3 of Hephaistio is basically derived from Book 5 of Dorotheus—if you read all the instructions, you see this recurring pattern where they’re pretty much just exclusively presenting rules that focus on the four angles, and they’re pretty much not talking about any of the other houses hardly at all, so occasionally they might throw in some other stray reference to one of the other houses.
But it’s really striking how almost exclusively all of the electional rules originally derived from Dorotheus—and Dorotheus himself says that he’s collecting them from earlier authors from the Mesopotamian and Egyptian astrological tradition—virtually all of the rules only focus on the four angles or the four angular houses: ascendant, midheaven, descendant, and IC. So I think the reason for this or one of my speculations is that many of these electional rules may come from a part of the tradition before all of the 12 houses were worked out. You have to just imagine you’re working with a type of astrology that only has the ascendant, the midheaven, the descendant, and the IC, and it doesn’t otherwise divide the space in between those angles into different sectors, but instead of just generally focuses on these four regions around the rising, culminating, setting, and anti-culminating sectors of the sky.
So that’s interesting to me ‘cause it also might explain some other stray rules that show up later in the Hellenistic tradition. For example, while children did come to be assigned to the 5th house by some authors, there was some disagreement about this in the early tradition because some authors assigned children to the 10th house. So, they said, if you want to look at a natal chart, you look at the 10th house of the native and that’ll tell you things about the native’s children and whether that will go well for them or not. Ptolemy, for example, says that you should look at both the 5th house as well as the 10th house for the topic of children, so he uses both. And I think part of that focus on the 10th house, for example, for that topic, may derive from this time period from earlier; they may have had a tradition where basically they were just using the four angles for a period of time. And then eventually, later on, the Hermes text and the Asclepius text introduced the concept of breaking up the entire diurnal rotation into 12 sectors, and then they introduced the first standard set of significations for those 12 houses, which were later synthesized and became standardized over the course of the next few centuries in the astrological tradition.
So part of this, in terms of the signification of children to the 10th, you can’t fully validate that argument but you can partially validate it by looking at the electional rules in Hephaistio and Dorotheus for marriage elections. So for marriage elections, they say the 1st house represents the husband. In an electional chart for the start of a marriage, the 1st house represents the husband, the one initiating the action, basically. The 7th house represents the wife, the one receiving the action, the 10th house represents their life together, once married, and the 4th house represents the dowry. So that general concept is a little bit ambiguous in Hephaistio and Dorotheus where it just says ‘life together’ or what they do together, ‘cause basically, part of the conceptual premise of all of the electional rules in Dorotheus and Hephaistio at this early stage of the electional tradition is that the 1st house represents the one who initiates the action, the 7th house represents the one who receives the action, the 10th house represents the action itself, and the 4th house represents the outcome. So that’s basically the earliest set of meanings for the four angles, and that basic conceptual structure then gets applied to pretty much every topic you can think of in the electional books of Dorotheus and Hephaistio.
Yeah, so I think, on the one hand, that we’re dealing with a tradition where marriage and the marriage partner is associated with a 7th house, and therefore, it sort of makes sense on some level that they would also then associate sex with that house because sex is presumed to be taking place within the context of the marriage; but more than that, even just symbolically, there may be a good symbolic reason for it. To the extent that the 1st house is associated with the native—because symbolically the planets rise over the horizon and emerge into view at that point—the 7th house represents, from an astronomical standpoint, again, the planets setting and sinking into the Earth, or merging or forming a union, you could say, with the Earth and literally moving down into it. So that might be the other reason why somebody like Valens could have ended up associating sex with the 7th house because from an astronomical standpoint, if you were to try to pick one of the houses—especially if you had to focus on one of the four angular houses—the 7th is the one that might make the most symbolic sense because of this notion astronomically of something coming together, of the planets moving into the Earth versus the 1st house and the idea of the planets moving away from it and sort of emerging from the Earth and moving into the sky.
So that’s part of the way that I’ve tried to understand that assignment in Valens of sex to the 7th house. Demetra also noted in her notes that marriage oftentimes during this time period was more of a contractual relationship agreement rather than necessarily being a love match, and that sexual consummation actually sealed the deal at that point, so that if there was a no consummation of the marriage, then the marriage could be legally annulled. So there’s this whole other legal or legalistic component to sex and sexuality as it’s tied up in marriage in the Mediterranean and in the Greco-Roman world in ancient times, like 2,000 years ago, that has to be taken into account.
So I think that makes sense then because then in some ways the signification is culturally-relative and you could make the argument that it’s partially culturally-relative to the culture of its day; and you could see the astrology as not a byproduct, but reflecting the culture of its day to some extent because most astrological traditions often do, although not entirely. That’s not usually always the primary thing that motivates astrological significations, but sometimes it’s a secondary consideration. We’ll come back to that later. On the one hand, there may have been cultural reasons for assigning sex to the 7th house at that time period that made sense, but also, I still want to emphasize that there may have been good symbolic reasons for it, just in that notion of the planets setting and forming a union or moving together into the Earth and then symbolically associating not just marriage but also sex with it as well and just this general notion of union or coming together.
All right, so that is the 7th house and the Hellenistic tradition. So at this point now we move onto the topic of the 5th house and what happened during the latter part of the Hellenistic tradition and the Medieval tradition and the Renaissance tradition, where sex eventually came to be associated with the 5th house. So in order to talk about this we first have to take a little detour to the 5th house and the topic of children. So, remember, going back to those very first two texts that I talked about—which seem to have introduced some of the earliest, if not the original sets of significations for the 12 houses, the Hermes text and the Asclepius text—the Hermes text does not say anything about the topic of children in terms of the 5th house, however, the Asclepius text does; the Asclepius text actually does mention the topic of children and it assigns that topic to the 5th house, basically. Now it was probably the original text to make this association and that’s probably because there was a previous tradition of assigning children to the 10th house for the reasons that I mentioned above.
So I’m just trying to pull up my text really quickly to remind myself—yeah, it’s the Hermes text where Hermes actually assigns children to the 10th house. So again, we’ve got one of those conflicts where the earliest or the original author who wrote the Hermes text—whoever that was, the guy that used the name Hermes to write that text—assigned children to the 10th house. But then there was this other later text that came along at some point—probably not too far after the Hermes text, but far enough that it was clearly a separate text that was written by a separate person—and this text assigned the topic of children to the 5th house. And what happened in later authors is that even though you have some authors like Ptolemy—who mentioned both the 10th house and the 5th house as houses that you have to pay attention to for the topic of children—as the tradition went on, more and more, children got pushed more to the 5th house, and later authors tended to prefer the 5th house for talking about the topic of children, and eventually forgot about the original Hermes’ assignment of assigning children to the 10th. So that’s kind of a common theme; we’ve seen that already elsewhere. For example, I mentioned how the Hermes text assigned death to the 7th house, but the Asclepius text assigned death to the 8th house. And eventually, during the course of the tradition, astrologers tended to prefer and tended to side with the Hermes variant—or the Asclepius variant—and then eventually death became almost entirely associated with the 8th house rather than the 7th; so the same happened here with the signification of children.
And one of the questions that remains is why did the Asclepius text decide to assign the topic of children to the 5th house rather than the 10th house that the Hermes text apparently assigned it to? And my speculation for this is I think it’s actually connected with this conceptual structure known as the ‘angular triads’, which is basically the conceptual notion that’s underlying the modern concepts of angular, succedent, and cadent houses. And the original conceptual premise underlying angular, cadent, and succedent is that the four angular houses or the four angles represent that which is in the present moment in time, that which is happening right now.
So if you looked at it from a chronological standpoint, it represents the present, whereas when a planet is in a succedent house, it’s actually moving up towards an angular house; so the succedent houses were usually associated with things that are developing in the future, things that are coming into being, basically, but they’re not quite there yet. And this was contrasted then with the cadent houses, which were known as ‘declining houses’, because when a planet is in a cadent house that means about an hour or two prior to that time it was in an angular house, but now it’s moved away from the angular house and it’s moving further and further away from that angular house over time, the longer you pay attention to it, basically. So as a result of that, the cadent houses—chronologically or from a temporal standpoint—were associated with the past or things that are moving into the past; planets in cadent houses were at the angles a couple of hours ago but are no longer there and instead are moving away from them. So again—chronologically or temporarily—the sequence then is that cadent houses represent the past, angular houses represent the present, and succedent houses represent the future or things that are still developing in the future.
So one of the significations that Hermes established that Asclepius retained is the idea of the 4th house being associated with one’s father and potentially the parents or the parental unit in general, or the idea of the home and family and origins. And that’s a pretty easy symbolic association to make because if the 1st house—where the planets emerge and rise over the horizon—represents you, the native the person who’s born at that point in time, then the 4th house is the place that’s hidden underneath the Earth, at the very bottom of the chart; it’s not up there in the sky. So the midheaven is the middle of the sky from your vantage point here standing on Earth or where you were born, and that’s where the planets reach their highest point or they become the most visible; therefore, the 10th house and the midheaven became associated with one’s reputation and one’s social standing and one’s career or occupation, eventually.
Opposite to that is the 4th house, where the planets are at their most hidden and most invisible. So the 10th house becomes associated with public life and the 4th house becomes associated with private life, but because it’s at the very bottom of the chart, under the Earth, it also starts gaining these other meanings of the roots or the foundation of the person’s life. And symbolically speaking, one of the foundations of a person’s life is one’s family lineage or one’s family in general. So pretty early on the Hermes text is already talking about the significations of the 4th house and associating it with paternal possessions, so it’s already talked about the paternal inheritance. And the Asclepius text basically retains that and takes it a little bit further and says that the 4th house is associated with the parents. So it’s taking something that’s already in the Hermes text and then it’s just taking it one step further and just stating explicitly that the 4th house represents the parents.
So what’s interesting about that is that the 5th house is the succedent house; so everybody knows that the 5th house is a succedent house, whereas the 4th house is an angular house. But what that actually means in concrete symbolic terms—it kind of actually sounds like a funny contradiction in concrete symbolic terms—but what that means is that the 5th house is the house that follows after the 4th, and therefore the 5th house represents that which follows after or that which is a continuation of that which happened already in the 4th house. So one of the speculations that I’ve made—and I feel pretty confident about this—is that what the author of the Asclepius text was going for there is the idea that if the 4th house represents the parents, and that’s already established, then the 5th house has to represent the continuation of the family lineage in some sense, since the 5th house is the succedent house that follows after the 4th, and therefore symbolically represents the future of the 4th in some broader sentence. And if the 4th represents your parents and your family lineage, then the continuation of that is basically you having children—you, the native, being the 1st house.
Interestingly, this was a discussion I was having with a student or a person who took my Hellenistic course at one point last year and has done some really brilliant work on the houses, Theodore. He pointed out to me that if you think about the 4th house—the 4th house is the parents—and if you think about what the 4th is in terms of derived or derivative houses, the 1st house—which is the house of you, the native or the self—is the 10th house relative to the 4th house. So using that previous tradition where the Hermes text was assigning children to the 10th house—partially because that’s, for some people, your job or that’s what you do—one of your accomplishments in life is having children and producing offspring, or what have you. It’s interesting then in the derivative houses scheme that if the 1st house is the native, that is actually the 10th house relative to the 4th house of parents. So there’s this interesting interchange and interconnection there, which could also be relevant in terms of how the Asclepius text ended up deciding that parents should be associated with the 4th house in the first place. Yeah, so going back, the notion then is that the Asclepius text also assigned children to the 5th house, and very quickly in the astrological tradition many authors started following that.
The 5th house also has some other conceptual structures underlying it. So one of the other things that they took into account for developing the meanings of the houses is the aspect that the house has to the ascendant or the rising sign. Any of the houses that have an aspect to the rising sign—using the major aspects of conjunction, sextile, square, trine, and opposition—were conceptualized as positive or signifying positive things in the native’s life, whereas any of the houses that did not aspect the rising sign were conceptualized as negative or sometimes indicating negative things in the person’s life. So, it’s a contrast between the 3rd house representing siblings, the 4th (parents), the 5th (children), the 7th (marriage and relationships), the 9th (travel), the 10th (occupation), the 11th (friends) versus the 6th house (illness), 8th house (death), and the 12th house (loss). So the 5th house is actually one of the more positive houses because it has not just an aspect, but a positive aspect to the ascendant, which is a trine.
Additionally, the 5th house was known as ‘the place of good fortune’. And using an ancient scheme where the Hellenistic authors associated the seven traditional planets with seven houses, they actually assigned Venus to the 5th house, and the 5th house was said to be the house associated with Venus, so that becomes tied in also with the assignment of children to the 5th house. So what ended up happening is that in the planetary joys scheme the planets were assigned to the houses; maybe I should list it really quickly for those that aren’t familiar with it. So Venus is assigned to the 5th house, Jupiter is assigned to the 11th house, Mars is assigned to the 6th house, Saturn to the 12th, the Sun to the 9th, the Moon to the 3rd, and Mercury to the 1st. So that’s known as the planetary joys scheme, and if you do a Google search for that, ‘the planetary joys in astrology’, you’ll find a paper that I wrote on the planetary joys that gives a diagram and talks about the origins of the scheme and some other things like that, and how it actually probably played an important conceptual role in motivating some of the significations of the houses.
So what happened is that as the tradition progressed, especially later in the Hellenistic tradition, some later authors realized that the planetary joys scheme—where there were some planets that were assigned to certain houses—seemed to be used to generate some significations, and some later authors started using that to generate new significations or take some of the significations even further based on those assignments. So as a result of this what happens is that Venus’ joy in the 5th house became a source for additional significations and this created a sort of abstract conceptual structure that some of the significations were derived from; this is an important development and an important departure on some level. Previously, we were talking about how in astrology, when you only have the four angles, then you pretty much have to develop the significations for those four angles, or those four angular houses almost purely based on the astronomical appearance of those four angles. So the 1st house—because the planets and the Sun emerge there—that’s gonna represent the native who is born at that moment in time; and since the 7th house is where the planets sink into the Earth, that’s gonna represent the other or the marriage partner; and since the midheaven or the 10th house is the highest and most visible part of the sky, that’s gonna represent the native’s career; and since the IC represents the hidden and most private part of the sky, that’s gonna represent the native’s private life, like their home or parents, or what have you.
So all of those significations for the four angles are developed based on interpreting the symbolism of the astronomical appearance of those sectors of the sky, however, once you introduce the planetary joys scheme, this becomes a new, abstract, conceptual rationale for generating significations for some of the houses. So it doesn’t work for generating significations for all of the houses because there were only seven visible planets traditionally; there were seven traditional planets, and there was one planet assigned to one house each. So it means that it was just the houses that had planetary joys where significations started being added to those houses based on those assignments: so that’s the 1st house and Mercury, the 3rd house and the Moon, the 5th house and Venus, the 6th house and Mars, the 9th house and the Sun, the 11th house and Jupiter, and the 12th house and Saturn. So what starts happening in the later part of the Hellenistic, and especially the Medieval tradition, is that because Venus as a planet was associated with things like joy and pleasure, those Venusian significations started being applied to the 5th house, since the 5th house is the joy of Venus. Demetra points out here that Venus, from a mythological standpoint, was the goddess of love, and that in astrological texts from the Hellenistic period that just talked about the significations of Venus, they say that it signifies things like desire and yearning and eroticism, sexual union, and pregnancy and fertility.
So one of her arguments, I don’t fully disagree with, but we run into trouble because we get into a point where we don’t have a lot of evidence textually. When you’re studying the ancient astrological traditions, or your studying the astrological tradition in general, sometimes there’s a question about when you can make an inference about something reliably versus when the astrologer has to have written it out before you can actually say that they did or thought that specific thing. So Demetra’s argument is that if Venus is a planet that’s most associated with sexuality and fertility, and the 5th house is the house where she most delights to be in, by having her planetary joy there, then Demetra argues that there may have been an implied connection there. So basically, she thinks that in the Hellenistic tradition, they may have already had an implicit association of sex with the 5th house just because of the connection with Venus, but the problem is that the only author who explicitly mentioned sex in the Hellenistic tradition—in the first several hundred years of the Western astrological tradition when the authors start using or start applying the significations to the 12 houses after the concept’s introduced—is Valens, and he applies sex to the 7th house in that one reference.
So there’s a little bit of ambiguity here, and a scholar of Medieval astrology pointed out to me that some early Medieval authors also continued to associate sex with the 7th house. So, to me, that reinforces that this wasn’t just a one-off association in Valens, and Valens wasn’t the only one who did it, but that there was some general tradition of associating sex with the 7th house. However, there did start to be, by the time of the Medieval tradition—especially by the 8th and 9th century forward, and the authors who are writing in Arabic in the Middle East at that time period who had inherited the Western tradition and then continued to develop and expand it—the medieval Arabic authors start this push towards potentially associating sex with the 5th house.
So Demetra actually has traced this whole lineage through the Persian and Arabic authors by looking at the terms that they were using, and she makes this interesting argument in, I believe, her webinar and in her research into the 5th house, which she has a bunch of webinars that you can buy on her website that cover each of the houses from the research she did into this a few years ago. She has this whole thing where she traces how some of the Arabic translators of the Greek astrological texts in the Medieval period may have conflated or seem to have conflated the Greek term chairó, which means ‘joy’ or ‘rejoice’, which is the term that was used to refer to the 5th house as being the place where Venus rejoices; they started translating this with an Arabic word that referred to joy and bliss and pleasure and enjoyment and lust and voluptuousness, as well as another term that meant delight, amusement, love, and esteem. So the 5th house is the ‘planetary joy of Venus’ in the Hellenistic tradition and starts gaining these additional meanings because they’re focusing on the concept of the 5th house being the joy of Venus, even though that entire scheme in general was referred to as planetary joys: Saturn was said to have its joy in the 12th house and the Sun was said to have its joy in the 9th house, and what have you.
So already in the early Arabic authors, Demetra points out that there’s this shift where, for example, Sahl ibn Bishr—who lived around the year 800 CE and wrote in Arabic—says that the 5th is ‘a house of love’ and ‘seeking a woman’; Abu Ma’shar—who lived in the 9th century and wrote in Arabic—said that the 5th is ‘desires’ and ‘sexual intercourse’; and al-Qabisi—who also lived around the 9th century—wrote that the 5th house signifies ‘lust’ and ‘voluptuousness’. So eventually this gets translated into Latin. What happened in the 12th century is a bunch of Europeans started translating a bunch of the Arabic astrological texts from previous centuries into Latin and they started picking up some of these terms. So Demetra points out that the translators chose to use the word dilectio when they started translating things for the 5th house, which means ‘delight’, like ‘sensual delight’, ‘amusement’, ‘esteem’, ‘love’, and ‘dear’.
So Demetra goes on saying that texts during this time period—the Latin texts from the 12th century forward—mentioned ‘pleasures’ for the 5th house, which was then expanded to include things like ‘food and drink’, ‘fine clothing’, ‘gambling’, but typically did not have any explicit mention of sex. Eventually, this moved into the Renaissance and they’re associating the 5th house with things like ‘making merry’, ‘dancing’, ‘music’, ‘plays’, ‘alehouses’, and other things like that, again, largely following the significations of Venus. And eventually, Demetra focuses on this French astrologer who lived in the 16th century, Dariot, who in his astrological text repeats using the term dilectio for ‘pleasures’ for the 5th house. However, she points out that in the French edition of his work—so he wrote it in Latin—instead of the term dilectio, he uses the word amors, which when translated into English became ‘love affairs’.
So you can tell this is partially poorly conveying some of Demetra’s detective work here in doing this archaeology of astrology in tracing the texts and how the texts were translated and transmitted into different languages and how sometimes the concepts would change when they were translated from one language to another; you can tell that it’s heading in this specific direction. And then, eventually, by the time you get to modern authors, Demetra notes that in Alan Leo—for example, in his 1904 book, How to Judge a Nativity—there’s a brief mention of children; but for most of the interpretation of the 5th house, he says, “love affairs, court ships, affections that arise from emotions; seat of physical and magnetic attraction between sexes.” Then there’s CEO Carter in 1925, who says, “If the 5th house is afflicted, there’s immorality, profligacy, looseness due to desire for pleasure.” And finally, in Max Heindel, in 1927, there is “love, courtship, licentiousness, legitimate and illegitimate attraction and intercourse between sexes prior to wedlock.”
So by the early modern tradition, we certainly have the 5th house firmly established as being associated with sex and that’s deriving from some earlier changes in the Medieval and Renaissance traditions where it kept moving in that direction, evidently originally deriving from the 5th house as being associated with Venus and some of Venus’ general significations, which had already been associated with sex and love and other things like that. But it’s interesting that there’s a transition at some point in the early Medieval tradition, ‘cause some of the early Medieval authors are still often mentioning sex within the context of the 7th house, and it’s really to some extent more of a later development that eventually becomes more of a 5th house thing primarily, and the 7th house is largely almost excluded later in the tradition. So I think Lee Lehman actually has a note about this in her latest book on horary where she points out that William Lilly, in the 17th century, doesn’t mention the 5th much, or at all, for relationships, but that some of his contemporaries do. So there’s still even an issue in some later Medieval and Renaissance authors where there’s a tendency to focus more on the 7th rather than the 5th, but as the tradition progressed that changed more and more so that the 5th became the primary house associated with sex.
All right, so now we get to the modern period and the third phase of this, which is the 8th house. Basically, what happened is that astrology was revived in the early 20th century after kind of disappearing or falling out of favor for a couple of centuries after the 17th century. And one of the things that happened really early on is the conceptual structure of equating the signs and the houses using the formula that Aries is the first sign of the zodiac and therefore it’s equivalent to the 1st house, and Taurus is the second sign of the zodiac and therefore Taurus is associated with the 2rd house. That formula started being used much more frequently starting very early on in the early 20th century and then with increasing frequency the further and further you go into the 20th century; it became something that was used a little bit in the early 20th century to something that was the core, overarching, conceptual premise for deriving almost all of the significations of the houses by the time you get to the later part of the 20th century.
So this actually has an interesting history to it. Originally, it seems to have started in the Renaissance tradition, during the later part of traditional astrology, especially in some of the medical texts where they started assigning body parts—especially within the context of horary—to the houses based on this rationale. So they wanted to assign body parts to each of the houses, and so they used this structure—saying that since Aries is the first sign and it represents the head, then that’s equivalent to the 1st house, and therefore the 1st house will represent the head as well. And then they said since Taurus is the second sign and it represents the next body part down—starting from the head and working our way down the body—that Taurus is the second sign and represents the neck, which is the next section on the body; therefore the 2nd house represents the neck. And then they just kept working their way down the body until eventually you get to the sign Scorpio, which if you’re just laying the zodiac out on the human body, once you get to Scorpio, you’re basically at the genital region. So they said Scorpio is the sign of the genitals, and Scorpio is the eighth sign, so therefore the 8th house should be associated with the genitals as well. And so, this starts showing up in some Renaissance authors like Schöner in Germany, in the early 16th century, and in Lilly, where he associates Scorpio as the co-significator of the 8th house for this purpose in the 17th century.
One of the points I should clarify is that this association of the ‘1st house equals Aries’ and the ‘2nd house equals Taurus’ wasn’t really done much, if at all, prior to that time. If you go into the Hellenistic tradition and you look at how some of those early authors are deriving significations, they never mentioned that scheme, and instead they always resort to and invoke other conceptual models in order to generate the signification of the houses; sometimes those are astronomical models, like the idea that the 1st house is associated with the rising of the planets of the horizon, or the 10th house is planets culminating overhead. So sometimes they’re astronomical models, other times they are other conceptual models, like the planetary joys scheme, but none of the early authors for the first thousand years or first 1,500 years of Western astrology really mentioned or use this scheme of assigning the first sign of the zodiac with the 1st house, and so on and so forth; it just starts very slowly in the Renaissance tradition with initially using it for making these assignments to parts of the body. But then what happens when the astrological tradition is revived in the early 20th century by guys like Alan Leo is that notion of that connection was already being taken for granted, and then as a result of that they started using it to generate new significations or apply new significations to the houses that weren’t necessarily there previously.
So Demetra says, according to her research, that the first mention of sex in the context of the 8th house is actually by Alan Leo in the early 20th century; and she says that he has one short phrase in his book, The Key to Your Own Nativity, in 1912, which says that the 8th house “indicates sex tendencies.” So that’s a really humble origin. This is something that we take for granted today or that a lot of contemporary astrologers in the late 20th and early 21st century take for granted, that sex is associated with the 8th house, but you have to realize that this is, again, a shift or a change in the astrological tradition and in the conceptualization of the houses that started relatively recently.
So I understand that when I say ‘1912’ that doesn’t sound terribly recent from the perspective of your lifetime or my lifetime, since we’re talking about over a hundred years ago; but if you’re looking at it from the vantage point of the entire astrological tradition—or let’s just say the past 2,000 years of the astrological tradition—that’s a relatively recent development. Having one of the first authors mention sex in association with the 8th house only a hundred years ago—when you’ve had 2,000 years of authors and different astrologers using the concept of the houses up to that point—that is a relatively recent development. Whether you endorse the association or not, that’s completely aside. I’m just saying from a historical perspective, it’s obviously something that happened more recently, and I think that’s something that people can generally agree on.
So part of the discussion I was gonna have with Demetra around this stage—because she’s done a ton of really interesting work and interesting research surrounding this—was how that association came to be emphasized and endorsed, and how it also kind of made sense culturally at the time because of some cultural changes that were occurring. She mentions, for example, the idea of ‘the little death’, la petite mort, that was a popular theme in late 19th century French literature’ she mentions Freud and the connections between sex and death being linked in psychological disorders and other things like that, and so on and so forth. Eventually, Pluto gets discovered, and some astrologers very quickly start associating Pluto with Scorpio and as the new ruler of Scorpio; Demetra points out that Pluto’s main story—basically the story of the rape of Persephone and other things associated with that mythology—potentially coming into play in terms of how astrologers would have started to perceive that association of Pluto with Scorpio. There were a ton of other things like that, but as the 20th century progressed and moved forward, more and more, the 8th house became the primary house that was associated with the concept of sex.
And the 5th house—while it’s still retained that meaning of being associated with children—I feel like if you mentioned sex to a modern astrologer typically they’ll immediately think of the 8th house rather than going to the 5th house. And certainly, I don’t think there are any contemporary astrologers that typically would look to the 7th house at this point in time for sex, just in terms of the modern astrological tradition. So that sort of brings us to the present time and sort of completes this weird little survey of these three discrete traditions or three discrete approaches to what house the topic of sex should be assigned to based on different conceptual models. One of those conceptual models, of course—the first one of assigning it to the 7th house—is just the idea that, as I mentioned a few times, the idea of the ascendant being the rising place where the planets emerge, and the 7th being the setting place where planets submerge and form a union with the Earth, and therefore gets associated with both marriage and relationships, and sexuality or sex—sexual union, I should say. So that’s the conceptual premise for the 7th house association in the early Hellenistic tradition as far as I can tell.
Additionally, there’s the 5th house tradition where it largely seems to do with the association of children with the 5th house, which, again, I argued was because the 5th is the house that follows after the 4th and therefore represents the continuation of the family lineage. Also, the conceptual premise underlying associating sex with the 5th house in the Medieval and Renaissance traditions—because it was thought to be the house associated with Venus through the planetary joys scheme—some of those significations about love and pleasure and all of those other things came into play and started being applied to the 5th house. And then finally, in modern times, we have the development of associating sex with the 8th house, and the basic or core underlying premise of that seems to be the assignment of the signs of the zodiac to the body, under the premise that Aries is the first sign, and therefore is connected with or has some similarity to the 1st house, Taurus is the second sign, and therefore it’s the 2nd house. And then, by extension, Scorpio is associated with the genitals, therefore Scorpio and the genitals are associated with the 8th house, which then by extension, you could make that connection of sex with the 8th house.
So those seem to be the primary conceptual premises that are underlying those three approaches. And as we get towards the end of this, now that we have it all sort of laid out in front of us, it of course raises some questions. And there’s a bunch of different miscellaneous topics that we could talk about that I want to touch on here really quickly, and one of them is the question that a lot of the modern astrologers responded to in my original thread about this. I basically wrote a post on Facebook last fall, I think in September, that said that sex was originally, from what I could tell, assigned to the 7th house, and then it moved to the 5th house, and then eventually moved to the 8th house.
And I don’t think I might put in any commentary or value judgment, but one of the things a lot of the modern astrologers would say, partially in defense of the 8th house assignment, is that they would speculate that astrology is culturally-relative and that the assignment of sex to different houses or the assignment of any significations to any houses is always gonna be partially a reflection of the culture of the day and the value system of the astrologers during that point in time. And the people that were saying this were partially saying that as a defense in saying that somehow the 8th house was more representative or more appropriate in modern times as a house to associate sex with, which you could argue that either way. I think you could make the case that that’s kind of a questionable assumption to make, or you could make an equally good case for any of those three houses based on those different conceptual structures.
So one of the things I’m trying to point out here—with this survey that I just did of those three shifts—is that many astrologers often assume that changes like these are due to cultural shifts and that the astrology always somehow represents the culture of its day. And to some extent, this is true, but not always. Sometimes it seems to me like the shift is often more due to conceptual changes in the astrology of the time than it has to do with cultural changes. So, for example, we saw that the growing emphasis on the planetary joys scheme in the Medieval tradition seems to have pushed them more and more towards associating the 5th house with the Venusian-type significations; and the further you go away from the Hellenistic tradition and the further you go into the Medieval tradition, it seems like the more and more they’re emphasizing Venus and Venus’ significations in connection with the 5th house because of that perceived conceptual connection due to the planetary joys scheme. And even though the planetary joys scheme existed in the early Hellenistic tradition discussions about the 5th house are often very brief and they’re associated with children. And they’ll say that it signifies good fortune and that when planets are placed there, it indicates positive things in life, but they otherwise don’t go into a ton of detail about what that means specifically.
And so, when you look at some of the Medieval authors—when they’re giving these long lists of significations for the 5th house, and it’s clear that they’re driving them largely from Venus—it’s not clear to what extent that’s based on an earlier precedent versus them generating new significations for the house based on this underlying conceptual structure where they think that Venus is associated with the 5th house, and therefore you can borrow significations from Venus and apply it to that sector of the chart. So what I’m pointing out here is that, again, sometimes it seems like the shift is due more to conceptual changes in the astrological tradition than cultural changes. There’s a greater emphasis on the joys in the Medieval tradition, so a bunch of Venus significations start getting applied to the 5th house—and one of those is sex in the Medieval tradition—and therefore there’s that shift. Later, you have the advent of the ‘12-letter alphabet’—or the equation of ‘Aries equals the 1st house’ and ‘Taurus equals the 2rd house’, and that becoming a new concept that’s taken for granted in the early 20th century—and then all of a sudden you see the introduction of new significations to the houses based on that conceptual structure.
So, in that way, from a historical standpoint—fancying myself as a historian of astrology, as I do from time to time—I would argue that when I see things like that it makes me think that it’s often more conceptual motivations that are primary in dictating things like the development of the significations of the houses. Astrologers are much more concerned with generating them based on what they think the underlying conceptual structure is and then elaborating on that structure just based on its fundamental framework, and then the culture gets adapted to that later on or further along in the process. But, initially, the astrologers are more concerned about what the conceptual structure is and what they can do with that, and then later they apply their own cultural or philosophical or religious or metaphysical presumptions on top of that; so that’s one thing I wanted to address.
Another thing I wanted to address—and I’m not sure if this is worth mentioning. But one of the things I thought of when I was researching this, at one point, I realized if you understand the different structures, there may be multiple ways to generate the same significations for a single house, but approaching it from a completely different direction than how it was originally approached. So the association of sex to the 8th house is actually one that I think you could potentially make a conceptual argument for using the earlier Hellenistic rationales that had to do with the angular triads and the notion of cadent and succedent and angular being instrumental in determining the symbolic meaning of each of the houses. So I’m not fully advocating this ‘cause it’s not something that I use necessarily in my own work, but it’s just something I’ve played with because I just noticed that you could make the argument if one was so inclined. So here’s the argument, taking some of those ancient rules and applying it to the 8th house. Remember, I said previously that the meaning of the four angles were probably developed first: so the rising representing the self; the setting or 7th house representing the other or the marriage partner; the 10th house representing action; the 4th house representing the home and living situation, or what have you. So planets emerge at the ascendant, planets submerge at the descendant, they’re at their most visible or prominent in the 10th, they’re at their most hidden or private in the 4th.
Remember, I argued that the 5th house probably originally came to signify children partially because it’s the succedent house that comes into play after the 4th house; so the 5th house represents the continuation of what is signified by the 4th house and what comes after that point. Therefore, if the 4th house represents parents, then the continuation of the family lineage would mean that the 5th house signifies children. So if that’s true, if that reconstruction is true, that was actually how the author of the Asclepius text originally developed the signification of children or originally assigned the signification of children to the 5th house. And I don’t know for sure because it’s kind of speculation—it’s a reconstruction or historical reconstruction on my part—but I think it’s a pretty, relatively solid speculation or solid argument. That being said, if it was true that that’s how that signification was originally developed, it’s kind of interesting, ‘cause if you applied that same conceptual structure to the 7th house, then you end up at an interesting place.
So the 7th house, which is an angular house, represents relationships and represents marriage symbolically based on the other things that we’ve talked about previously where the 7th house is where the planets unite and come together into the Earth; if we take for granted that it represents relationships and marriage specifically, then the 8th house would be the succedent house that follows after the 7th house. So the 8th house, as we all know, is a succedent house, and it’s the succedent house that comes after the 7th house. That would mean symbolically, one of the most fundamental things you could say about the 8th house is that it should signify that which comes after one gets into a relationship or that which comes after when one gets married. And obviously, one of the statements you could make about that that would be typical for most marriages or most relationships is that sex is one of the things that comes subsequent to getting in a relationship or to getting into a marriage with somebody. Therefore, using that argument, using part of that original conceptual structure, you could through an alternate route come to assigning the signification of sex to the 8th house using a completely different conceptual approach than the one that was originally developed, which was the 8th house being equated to Scorpio and Scorpio being equated to the genitals, and what have you.
So I’m just throwing this out there as an interesting thing that I thought of from a conceptual standpoint. And I’m not necessarily trying to endorse or promote this association, at this stage at least, but I just kind of find it interesting conceptually. And the general point that I want to make is just that I think we should try to have specific astronomical or symbolic reasons for associating specific significations with each of the houses. So whatever you think each house signifies, just try to do your best to figure out a good symbolic or astronomical reason why that should be the case rather than just taking it for granted that it somehow signifies something and that it’s always signified that, or that it signifies that just because somebody says so. Try to do your best to know, for each signification, the specific symbolic or astronomical reason why something should signify that. That would be what I would urge everybody just ‘cause I think we’ll be on better ground conceptually in terms of using this stuff and continuing to develop new significations in the future as the need arises or as necessary. Once you get to the core, underlying, conceptual or archetypal meaning of a house, then it becomes easier to understand what other meanings might be applied to that house when the circumstances call for it or when the circumstances allow for it.
All right, so the last point that I wanted to make about this topic, one of the final questions is, what’s the answer? What is the answer to the original question? I think I’m gonna title this episode “What House Rules Sex in Astrology?” So that raises another question that we have to answer first: Is there only really one house for this topic, or, conversely, can there be multiple houses for the same topic? So that’s the open question right now at this point. Can there be multiple houses for the same topic in astrology? Another way of putting that or maybe another way of looking at it is, can there be different variations of this topic? So this gets a little bit tricky because in some branches of astrology, like horary, you kind of need to have a specific single house associated with a topic so that you know what house to focus on or what house to look for depending on what question is being asked. In horary astrology, you typically focus on looking to see if there’s an applying aspect between the ruler of the ascendant and the ruler of whatever house matches the topic that was inquired about, and if those two planets are applying to an exact aspect, the answer is affirmative, and if those two planets are separating, then the answer is negative. So because of that conceptual structure in horary, oftentimes there needs to be one house; however, that’s in horary. In natal astrology, when you’re working with birth charts and people’s lives, sometimes in natal work things can be a bit more nuanced.
And here I think it’s worth noting that it’s notable that in some of the early Hellenistic authors they sometimes did not restrict themselves to just one house, but sometimes they allowed for multiple houses signifying the same topics. So I talked earlier about children being assigned to both the 5th house as well as the 10th house as one example. But even when Vettius Valens talks about the significations of the houses, he associates friendship with the 11th house, but he also associates it with the 3rd house. So even topics like that were not necessarily as restricted to single, specific houses in ancient times or in some traditions as we have them today. So part of the answer here, at this stage in the tradition—as we’re reviving all these ancient traditions and we’re seeing some of this conflict between different traditions assigning something like sex to different houses—is perhaps there doesn’t need to be just one house per topic, especially in people’s lives, and when you’re dealing with natal astrology. If different houses have similar or equal rights to some symbolic connection with that topic, maybe it doesn’t need to be restricted to one, or maybe there can be different variations that are relevant.
So that’s one potential way to answer this question. And I’m not trying to necessarily push it in one direction or another, although I have seen certain things in my own practice, for example, where I feel more settled about other things. I do think that the 8th house is associated with death, especially when it’s activated by transits or when it’s prominent in the natal chart, and I have a bunch of examples in my profections lecture, which I gave a few episodes back. I used the example of the Kennedys and how prominent the 8th house was in some of their charts, and how when it was activated—or when the rulers of the 8th house were activated by annual profections using that time-lord technique—sometimes death would occur as an event in their lives, especially in connection with the siblings, ‘cause it was connected to the 3rd house. So my point here is that while I think the 8th house does have some connection with death, it’s not the only house that has some connection with death.
Traditionally, in Hellenistic astrology, the 4th house also is connected with death and the end of life because it’s the place underneath the Earth that’s the most hidden; and that’s in some broader symbolic sense where you go, or at least where your body goes after you die. Now my point is that using timing techniques, one of the things that I was always really struck by and talked about a lot in my full, nine-hour lecture on annual profections was I was always surprised at how often death would come up as a major topic sometimes when the 4th house was activated. And I was surprised at that just coming at it and learning Hellenistic astrology as a modern astrologer just because I otherwise didn’t expect to see death as a typical 4th house or a potential 4th house signification. But when I actually attempted to investigate it using timing techniques, I was surprised, despite my skepticism, that it often did come up when issues surrounding death or mortality were in play in the person’s life, whether it was their own death or somebody else’s.
So I mention that partially as an example in that I don’t think you always have to restrict one topic to just one house, and there can be the same topic applied to multiple houses, or there can be variations of the topic applied to different houses. Demetra’s argument was that perhaps the 7th house association of sex was only in legalistic sense to the extent that it was necessary in some cultures to verify the marriage or ratify the marriage versus the 5th house as being sex for pleasure; a modern astrologer might argue that the 8th house is sex for transformation.
I’m not trying to go that far, or at least I’m not trying to nail this down into specific statements at this stage. I don’t necessarily want people following that and emulating or quoting me on this as an authority on this stage because I feel like I’m still exploring this topic. But I just want to put that out there as a potential way that this could be resolved in terms of keeping our options open for what the possibilities might be, and one of the possibilities might be multiple houses having some relationship to this topic. Now what those houses ended up being and what the context is, is perhaps still an open question, but that’s one of the potential solutions. One of the ways, of course, we can test this is looking at natal charts. But I would also suggest timing techniques like annual profections because they do a good job of activating specific houses, and then you can look to see what topics do arise in a person’s life during those time periods. I think there was one other point I was gonna mention in terms of those options, but I would just like to conclude what I’m saying here..
Oh, yeah, the final thing is the Indian tradition actually has other assignments for sex, one of which includes the 12th house; and this is based on entirely different conceptual rationales, so that’s another whole area to explore as well. In this discussion, I’ve kept my focus limited entirely to the Western astrological tradition, from the Greco-Roman period through the Medieval and Renaissance eras in Europe, through to modern times largely in the West. But in the Indian tradition, they have their own unique ideas about the assignment of sex to different houses and their rationales for that. So that’s a whole different thing because in some instances that’s drawing on completely foreign conceptual rationales that don’t exist in the Western tradition. So they have certain standards, or certain things for the houses, certain conceptual structures—just like we have in the Medieval tradition and Hellenistic tradition the planetary joys scheme—that inform some of the significations of the houses in the Indian tradition; they have other schemes like that that cause some of their significations to be slightly different. But nonetheless, exploring some of those and seeing if they have any interesting rationales or seeing if the Indian astrologers have resolved this in their tradition in interesting or unique ways might be a worthwhile path of investigation to see if that could be helpful at all in our tradition.
All right, so I think that brings us to the end of this discussion and the end of this episode. I don’t know what the answer to the question is. The answer is that there’s three houses at least that may be associated with sex in astrology, and you could make a pretty good case for all three of them, depending on whether you think that specific conceptual structure or that specific conceptual premise makes sense. So traditional astrologers, like Medieval and Renaissance astrologers, might object and say that they don’t agree with the conceptual premise of the ‘12-letter alphabet’ in assigning Scorpio to the 8th house and therefore reject that association based on that premise. Modern astrologers might say that they don’t agree with the Hellenistic and the Medieval conceptual premise of the planetary joys scheme, and that if you take that away, you have no reason, they might argue, for assigning sex to the 5th house. There’s all sorts of different ways that I’m sure you could approach this depending on what your tradition is and what your conceptual structure is that you either accept or reject.
The purpose of this episode was not necessarily coming to a final conclusion about this where I’m gonna try to advocate one thing or another, but instead it’s just to outline for all of you the nature of the issue and to basically outline the full issue in front of you that we have to wrestle with and hopefully spark some discussion about that specific topic, but more importantly just show you the importance of this type of research, why it’s important to do it, how it should be done, and also give you some better insight into how the significations of the houses in general, throughout the astrological tradition, came about in different eras. And that, hopefully, this will give you some different tools to work with as you decide which ones you like, or which ones you don’t like, and what makes sense to you, so that you can develop your own unique approach to astrology with full background knowledge of how other astrologers have done it in the past. So if I’ve accomplished that then I think I’ve accomplished the primary thing that I set out to do with this episode.
All right, if you want to find out more information about this topic, be sure to go back and listen to some of the other episodes of The Astrology Podcast that I’ve mentioned at various points. For more information about my research—especially in terms of the Hellenistic tradition in the first 1,000 years of the use of the houses and which Hellenistic astrologers used which significations, and what have you—you can check out my book, which is titled Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune, which is available on Amazon and fine bookstores everywhere; mainly just Amazon and Barnes & Noble occasionally.
And you can also check out my online course on Hellenistic astrology, which you can find more information about at courses.theastrologyschool.com. In there, I have some lengthy 10-hour lectures where I really go into not just reviewing how different Hellenistic authors talked about the significations of the houses, but I try to go into the conceptual structure, and I also try to give some example charts in order to show you how certain houses work out when they show up prominently in a person’s chart. So from a Hellenistic perspective, I primarily end up focusing on the 7th house, and maybe to a lesser extent, the 5th house occasionally for sex, and I think I do show some example charts related to that topic to show how it works out. So anyway, you can check out that course for more information from a Hellenistic perspective.
Additionally, I’d really strongly recommend checking out Demetra’s retreat on the houses, which is gonna take place this September. This is actually the third Hellenistic intensive that she’s done. Once a year, over the past three years, she’s basically taken a week where she’s had a relatively small group of people all fly out to Portland, and they do this intensive on a specific topic in ancient astrology. And the fact that she’s doing one in person, you can go there and hang out with her and take part in and hear her research at this stage in her career—after having a long career as a modern astrologer and then a long career as a Hellenistic astrologer, a long and distinguished career. And now that she’s merging some of her insights from having that background in both the modern and the ancient traditions, I think having a chance to go out there to spend a week with her going over a topic like this and going into much more depth than I was able to in this episode is a real opportunity and a real treat, so I’d recommend that people check it out. You can find out more information about that on her website which is demetra-george.com. Or just do a Google search for ‘Demetra George’, and on her homepage, you should find a link to find out more information about the Hellenistic astrology retreat on the houses this year.
All right, I think that brings us to the end of this episode. I hope you found it useful and interesting, or at least followed along. If you have any questions, just be sure to let me know in the comments section for this episode on theastrologypodcast.com. As always, if you liked the episode, please give it a good rating on iTunes. If you enjoy the podcast and you want to support my work and the work that I’m doing in trying to, in some instances, have interviews or do things like that, like the last couple of episodes I did—or in other instances, like today, failed to do interviews with amazing astrologers like Demetra, but nonetheless, I still try to do as many interviews as I can.
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