The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 227, titled:
Origins of the House Division Debate in Ancient Astrology
With Chris Brennan
Episode originally released on October 28, 2019
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: email@example.com
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released February 23rd, 2020
Copyright © 2020 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. Today is October 22, 2019, starting at 4:43 PM, in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 227th episode of the show.
In this episode, I’m going to be talking about the origins of the house division debate and how exactly there came to be so many different forms of house division in the Western astrological tradition today basically by tracing this issue back to its earliest starting point in the Western tradition, as far as we can go back in terms of textual sources. So let’s go ahead and jump right into it.
This is a lecture. Most of the podcast episodes are usually more like discussions, but this is actually one of the rare episodes where I’m going to give more of a lecture and a presentation. And this is actually based on some presentations that I’ve already given at conferences over the course of the past few years.
So the title of the talk is The Origins of the House Division Debate. As we all know, as modern astrologers in late 20th and early 21st century astrology, there’s many different forms of house division today, and one of the questions that astrologers sometimes have but don’t really know how to answer is how did this come to be the case. How did we end up with dozens–at least one, if not two dozen different forms of house division all of which are vying for people’s attention and are saying that they are the best system to use for dividing up a chart into the 12 sectors or into the 12 houses?
One of the things that I would say is that we can actually understand not just this issue but many issues by going back and studying the origins of Western astrology. By basically going as far back in the Western tradition as you can based on studying the surviving texts, you can actually come to understand some of these issues and come to understand some of the debates that astrologers have been wrestling with for centuries. And sometimes, by going back to the roots of these debates, you can understand the issue much better and have a fresh perspective with which to attempt to resolve the issue and approach it from.
So we’re going to go back to our roots. We’re going to try to answer some questions that people have like which forms of house division or which systems of house division were used in antiquity. Other questions like were there some approaches to house division that were more popular than others has become a debate in the astrological community recently, and that’s one question that I want to address and answer in the first half of this lecture. Additionally, one of the questions that we might have as modern astrologers is how did ancient astrologers reconcile some of the different approaches to house division in ancient times and can that give us any pointers about perhaps how to reconcile different systems with each other today.
This whole topic results basically in a series of recent debates about house division that have been going on over the course of the past few years. It all started in November of 2015, in one of the episodes of The Astrology Podcast, where I released an episode on whole sign houses, where I titled it something like Whole Sign Houses: The Best System of House Division. I was basically trying to make the case for whole sign houses and I was doing it in kind of an over-the-top, somewhat flamboyant manner, even though most of the arguments that I made I would still stand by today and were still essentially correct.
But this episode that I put out in November of 2015 got some pushback, and there were some proponents of quadrant house division that got angry with me and said that’s not correct and tried to call me out about different either conceptual or technical or historical arguments I was making about house division and its origins. And to be fair, the lecture that I did put out was kind of a blow-off lecture. It was originally just a lecture I gave for Adam Elenbaas’ school where he asked me to give a lecture on whole sign houses and why anybody would use that approach to house division. And so, I threw together some quick lecture relatively fast and didn’t think much of it and decided to release it as a podcast episode a week or two later.
So it wasn’t exactly the most formal presentation or careful historical argument that I could make; I still stand by a lot of it today. But the purpose of this lecture is actually to go back and present what otherwise if I was trying to be more careful with a more formal and thorough treatment of the house division issue actually is–at least, in terms of talking about it from a historical perspective and explaining how the issue came about in ancient astrology and what different forms of house division were used in the Hellenistic astrological tradition.
After I put that episode out, one of the next podcast episodes, Episode 54 of The Astrology Podcast, was a debate with Deborah Houlding where she came on and we had a long argument about this issue, and especially about the historical origins of some of the different forms of house division. We debated different things like how prominent or how much whole sign houses was the predominant form of house division versus whether quadrant houses or equal houses were the predominant forms of house division. So that was really the start of this series of debates in November of 2015 in that episode of The Astrology Podcast.
Several months later, Robert Schmidt, who was one of the leading researchers on Hellenistic astrology, put out an audio recording–which was a workshop in June of 2016–and he was specifically responding to the debate that he heard between Deborah Houlding and myself back the previous November, and he was putting forth his own take on the issue and take on what happened in the Hellenistic astrological tradition. This represented to some extent a new direction and revision of some of his previous arguments about house division that he had put out starting in the 1990s when he was involved in putting out and publishing translations through Project Hindsight of some of the Hellenistic astrological texts, so that was the second turning point in this sequence of debates.
And then finally, I, that summer, was in the process of writing my book, Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune. Initially, I just had a small treatment of house division at the end of the chapter on houses in my book on Hellenistic astrology, somewhere around the middle, and it was just a brief treatment or overview of some of the issues with this subject in the Hellenistic tradition and how the debate got started. But as a result of the debate with Deborah Houlding and then subsequently with Schmidt putting out his new arguments in his house division lecture in June of 2016, I had to spend the summer writing a much larger and much more extended and detailed treatment of the house division issue that represented essentially my final word on the subject, at least up to that point, and that became Chapter 11 of my book, which was released in February of 2017, titled Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune.
So those are the three defining turning points that happened as far as I was concerned in this debate that was recently about house division. One of the things that was interesting that I noticed at the time in retrospect back in 2016 is that the debate with Deborah Houlding actually occurred right around the same time as there was an exact Saturn-Neptune square in the sky, and then what was weird is several months later, when Robert Schmidt put out his house division workshop, that was right around the time that the second exact Saturn-Neptune square occurred in the sky. And then a few months later that summer, right around the time of the third exact Saturn-Neptune square, I actually completed essentially the chapter of my book on house division where I put forward my theory about all of this came together.
I only note that because I thought that was always interesting from an astrological and maybe a symbolic or a philosophical standpoint and might give us some insight into, from an astrological standpoint, what this house division issue is really all about and some of the things that it entails, where sometimes people are trying to draw hard and fast boundaries between things that are difficult or not very concrete. That’s a pretty broad way of referring to the issue of house cusps and where to draw the line between these different divisions in the 12 signs of the zodiac and the 12 houses.
I wanted to mention that because there might be something about the house division issue that almost inherently has a Saturn-Neptune type signature and might be hard to pin down for different reasons. Actually, we’re going to get into some of those reasons in this lecture and some of the things that make this issue murky. But I suspect based on that, based on the fact that those three important turning points in this debate happened around the time of the Saturn-Neptune square, that signature might go back further in history.
It may be that some of the earlier developments with house division also occurred under Saturn-Neptune alignments, but it’s something interesting to just keep in mind as you’re trying to deal with this issue yourself to realize that it’s an issue where there’s a pull or a tension or a contrast between two different extremes in terms of what’s going on in reality and what astrologers are trying to define and pin down, and sometimes what they’re trying to define and pin down is very hard.
So as a result of those three developments, I actually gave a lecture on this topic where I tried to summarize that chapter of my book, which ended up being a very long and perhaps overly-detailed, 50+ page treatment of the house division issue right in the middle of my book. And because it was still an ongoing debate and there were different rumors circulating about house division over the course of the next couple of years, I gave essentially a version of this presentation on the origins of the house division issue, first, at the Northwest Astrology Conference in May of 2017 in Seattle, and then again a year later at the United Astrology Conference in May of 2018 in Chicago.
What I’m presenting here today is basically just a slightly-revised version of the lecture. The recording didn’t come out well during the UAC lecture last May, last year, because the microphone died halfway through the lecture. I’ve always meant to redo it and I’m just finally getting around to doing it today, especially since next month Austin Coppock and Kelly Surtees are coming out to Denver, and we’re going to record a two-part series on the significations of the houses. So I always meant to do the more detailed treatment of the house division as an episode of The Astrology Podcast before we did that episode, so that’s part of why I’m finally getting around to doing this now, awhile later. All right, so let’s jump into it.
I have to do a bit of a historical backdrop first in order to catch up people who might not be familiar with the history of ancient astrology. To put it really simply, most of the techniques that we associate with Western astrology originated about 2,000 years ago during what historians call the Hellenistic era. So specifically around circa 100 BCE, roughly speaking, give or take maybe a century or a few decades, we see the introduction of the fourfold system of astrology which is still essentially what is used in Western astrology today.
It’s still essentially the same system that’s gone through some changes and there’s been some modifications, but at the core of it, Western astrologers are still using charts that consist primarily of four parts: One part is displaying the planets, the second is the 12 signs of the zodiac, the third is the concept of aspects or configurations between planets, and then finally, the fourth part of this system is the concept of the 12 houses.
This system that came together around this time, around 100 BCE, part of that system represented a synthesis of the earlier astrological traditions. There were long astrological traditions in Mesopotamia and Egypt that existed and had been developed and fed into and then were eventually synthesized together in the Hellenistic period. So part of the introduction of this fourfold system represents the continuation and the synthesis of an earlier astrological tradition that had been going on for at least 2,000 years at that point, however, around that time, there are also some new concepts that were introduced as well that probably weren’t practiced or perhaps didn’t exist up until that point.
This really affects the house division issue because we have to understand that while there were some pieces of astrology that were inherited from the earlier traditions, there were some techniques that were actually invented or only first introduced around this time period. So there were some new concepts as well, and the concept of the 12 houses–as 12 specific sectors in a chart that have a set of specific significations or meanings in those 12 different sectors–may have been a new concept that didn’t necessarily exist prior to that time.
So what happened, to back up even further, is that some parts of Western astrology originated in Mesopotamia where about 4,000 years ago or around 2,000 BCE, astrologers in that area began observing celestial omens and they began writing them down. So they began observing things like an eclipse in the sky at a certain time coincided with the death of a king, and so they would write that down on a little, tiny clay tablet and store it away in a library.
After doing that for centuries, the Mesopotamians collected and developed a pretty large library of astrological omens and their astrology began to get more complex and more advanced, and they started developing a more advanced astronomy and eventually their astrology became more advanced, and they developed certain concepts that would be inherited and become important in later astrological traditions.
One of those concepts was the concept of the 12-sign zodiac which became standardized by about 500 to 400 BCE. So this is the idea that you can divide up the ecliptic–which is the path that the Sun and the Moon and the other planets take when they move around the Earth from our perspective, when they move through the sky–into 12 equally-sized, 30 degree segments, which we refer to today as the 12 signs of the zodiac.
Basically, the Mesopotamians, by the 5th century BCE, developed the 12 signs of the zodiac. Over in Egypt, there was a tradition of astrology being developed simultaneously, roughly around the same time period, from about 2,000 BCE onwards. Instead of focusing on the ecliptic–which is essentially the zodiac, which is what the Mesopotamians were focusing on over in Mesopotamia, in roughly what is modern-day Iraq–over in Egypt, the Egyptians were focused on another astronomical concept which they had developed in their indigenous astrology which is known as the 36 decans.
The 36 decans were basically asterisms or specific fixed stars in 10 degree segments that were associated with specific fixed stars. They would use these 10 degree segments in order to time different religious rituals and in order to do different things culturally, but they would especially focus on using them for timing based on when certain decans were rising over the eastern horizon or were culminating overhead.
In different eras, they would focus on the rising decan and in other eras, they would focus on the culminating decan. What’s important about that is that by focusing on the notion of certain fixed stars rising or culminating, they were essentially focused on the diurnal rotation, and the diurnal rotation is also what the later concept of the 12 houses is based on. So for all intents and purposes, the Egyptians were using a precursor, they were focusing on a precursor to the concept of the 12 houses, even though the concept or the idea of 12 specific astrological houses probably didn’t exist yet at this point in time.
So eventually what happens is around the 4th century BCE, there was a young, Macedonian king named Alexander who took an army of Macedonians and Greeks out of Southern Europe and he stormed down through Turkey and down through the Middle East over to Egypt, conquered Egypt, then went over across Mesopotamia, conquered Mesopotamia, Persia, all the way over to the western-most portions of India, before eventually turning back and dying under mysterious circumstances.
Alexander, after he died, he had conquered this huge swath of land–which included those two previous geographical areas that had long astrological traditions for 2,000 years that we were just talking about, which were Mesopotamia and Egypt–and then all of a sudden, Mesopotamia and Egypt were under the control of Greek-speaking rulers for the next several centuries. So this created a situation where there was increased trade and commerce and interactions going on between those two areas which were the birthplaces of those two different forms of astrology: Mesopotamia of course being the home of the 12-sign zodiac and Egypt being the home of the concept of the 36 decans and the idea of focusing on the rising decan and the culminating decan.
What happens after the 4th century BCE once these two cultures are having these increased interactions is we start to see this cross-pollination taking place between Mesopotamia and Egypt where their astrological systems eventually start to co-mingle and start to become merged to some extent. So all of a sudden, this creates a situation where the notion of looking at the rising decan and the culminating decan–and just the concept of the decans in general–is being merged together with the concept of the 12-sign zodiac.
When you start doing that it leads inevitably to the concept of looking at not just the rising decan or the culminating decan, but also the rising zodiacal sign and the culminating zodiacal sign. You can start to see where this is going because we’re starting to head in the direction of the later concept of the 12 houses where you focus on things like your rising sign or your culminating sign, which you might call the Midheaven sign.
And due to the intermingling between Mesopotamia and Egypt at this time, that’s basically where things started heading during this few century period. We’re not exactly sure what was happening because we don’t have a ton of documentation, but we do start to see in Egyptian temples illustrations of the zodiac that started to be merged with the decans. So we can see that those two different approaches to astrology are starting to intermingle, especially in Egypt, where they started incorporating the zodiac into some of their different iconography and stone reliefs and things like that.
So this set the stage for the introduction to the 12 houses. Before we can go back to the whole historical question, I want to first define the different approaches to house division. Especially from an ancient standpoint, if we’re talking about the Hellenistic tradition–which was practiced from roughly the 1st century BCE until about the 6th or 7th century CE–that’s basically Greco-Roman astrology. I call it Hellenistic astrology because it originated in the Hellenistic period. So in that tradition of astrology–which was essentially the first tradition of astrology that had the fourfold system of planets, signs, houses, and aspects–there were basically three different forms of house division. And to some extent, this is still largely true to this day that there’s three main forms of house division.
In defining these three, the first one that I would define as the first form of house division is whole sign houses; and I’ll have a diagram on the next few slides to show you exactly what whole sign houses is. But the first form of house division is whole sign houses, the second form of house division is equal houses, and the third form of house division is quadrant houses.
Quadrant houses, or what I’m calling quadrant houses includes a bunch of different subsets like Placidus; it’s the most common form of house division or the most popular form of house division today. For example, Astro.com, or AstroDienst, uses Placidus as the default form of house division when you cast a chart there. So as a result of that most people are primarily familiar with Placidus, and Placidus has been the most common form of house division for the past century.
But quadrant house systems include other forms, such as Porphyry houses, Regiomantanus, Koch, and a bunch of others because there’s different ways of dividing up quadrant houses based on different criteria and there’s a bunch of different ways to do it. Whereas for whole sign and equal houses, it’s pretty straightforward. There’s just one approach to calculating those form of house division.
Anyway, roughly speaking, there are these three different approaches to house division in ancient astrology all the way through till today, and what it comes down to is that there’s basically three different ways of defining what we call the Midheaven and that becomes a sticking point for the most part. There is also a debate about where to start the 1st house, or where the cusp of the 1st house begins, but the major difference between those three forms of house division is really primarily about how you define the Midheaven and what the Midheaven is exactly because there’s three very distinct ways of defining it that are different in each of those forms of house division. So that’s what I want to get into or talk about a little bit here at this point.
All right, so here’s the whole sign house system. In the whole sign house system, what you do is you find the degree of the zodiac that is rising over the eastern horizon; if it’s in a birth chart, it’s at the moment of the person’s birth. Whatever degree of the zodiac is rising over the eastern horizon at that time is also known as the Ascendant; the degree of the ecliptic that is rising over the eastern horizon is known as the degree of the Ascendant. Essentially, whatever sign of the zodiac the Ascendant is located in at that time, the entirety of that sign becomes the 1st whole sign house.
In ancient Greek astrology, the word for the Ascendant was hōroskópos, which meant ‘hour-marker’. And the purpose of the Ascendant in the whole sign house system seems to have been to mark or to designate the rising sign and to designate the sign of the zodiac that would become the 1st house. So regardless of how early in the rising sign or how late in the rising sign the degree of the Ascendant is, the entirety of that sign becomes the 1st house, and then the sign of the zodiac that is after that in zodiacal order–which is counter-clockwise–becomes the 2nd house, and the sign after that becomes the 3rd house, and so on and so forth. There ends up being 12 houses because there are 12 signs, and each of the 12 houses perfectly coincides with one of the 12 signs because the starting point for the house is the starting point for the sign and the ending point of the house is the ending point of the sign.
In this approach to house division, when the ancient astrologers–like Vettius Valens or Dorotheus–used the term ‘Midheaven’, they’re usually referring to the 10th whole sign house, or in other words, the 10th sign relative to the rising sign in zodiacal order. So the 10th sign relative to the Ascendant always is the Midheaven from 0 to 30° of that sign. Oftentimes, when you see an ancient astrologer in the Greek texts say ‘Midheaven’, they’re talking about whatever the 10th sign is in that context, so the Midheaven is the 10th sign.
So that’s whole sign houses. One thing that’s important to know in whole sign houses is that the horizon still exists. The horizon, which is represented in a chart by the exact degrees of the Ascendant and Descendant on that axis, it still exists; it’s just that it does not act as the starting point for the 1st house. Instead, the degree of the Ascendant just marks or designates the entire sign which becomes the 1st house. Oftentimes, part of that sign is going to be above the horizon and part of that sign is going to be below the horizon with the degree of the Ascendant itself designated the horizon. So it’s something that’s important to note because it sometimes trips people up when they start thinking about it because whole sign houses is sort of a radically different approach to take compared to the quadrant house systems that are more popular in modern times, or that have become more popular in modern times.
Again, it doesn’t matter where the degree of the Ascendant is located in the rising sign. If it’s at the beginning of the sign, or even if it’s at 29° of the sign, the entirety of that sign becomes the 1st house, and then you just number the rest of the houses in counter-clockwise order after that. So if the Ascendant was in Cancer, then Cancer becomes the 1st house. The sign after that–which is Leo–becomes the 2nd house. The sign after that, Virgo, becomes the 3rd house, and so on and so forth.
Now one of the things that’s important about this approach to house division and this idea that the Ascendant has the power to mark or to designate the rising sign and to designate which sign of the zodiac is the rising sign is that this isn’t actually unique in ancient astrology. It’s part of a broader approach that you see replicated in other areas of Hellenistic astrology as well, and one of those areas is the use of the so-called Lots–like the Lot of Fortune or the Lot of Spirit–which in later times or in modern times became known as the Part of Fortune or the Part of Spirit.
Lots were used very similarly within the context of whole sign houses in ancient astrology where you would calculate, for example, the Lot of Fortune. Whatever sign the Lot of Fortune is in, it would designate that entire sign with those topics. So if the Lot of Fortune falls in 29° of Aquarius then the entirety of Aquarius takes on some of the qualities of the Lot of Fortune. There were also other Lots that were used for different topical matters. For example, the Lot of Children was used in order to calculate topics relative to the native’s children. There was also a Lot of Marriage you could calculate and it would add topics to a certain part of the chart or a certain sign of the zodiac that would pertain to the idea of relationships and marriage.
This is important because it’s part of a broader conceptual approach that was common and was often taken for granted in ancient astrology where different significators in a chart had the power to mark the entire sign of the zodiac that they fell in. This was part of a broader, almost sign-based approach that was used in ancient astrology where they were paying attention to both placements by sign, as well as placements by degree. But oftentimes, when a placement falls in a certain sign, it will alter the quality of the entirety of that sign, similar to how when the Ascendant in whole sign houses falls in a specific sign that entire sign becomes the rising sign and the entirety of that sign becomes marked with 1st house topics.
Another way that this works is that some authors, the way that they used the Lot of Fortune is they used it as the starting point for an alternative set of houses called ‘derived houses’ from the sign of the Lot of Fortune. In this approach, whatever sign the Lot of Fortune falls in, the entirety of that sign becomes the 1st house relative to derived houses from the Lot of Fortune, and then the sign after that becomes the 2nd house, and the sign after that becomes the 3rd house, and so on and so forth.
Some authors, like Vettius Valens, would sometimes place more emphasis on these derived houses from the Lot of Fortune–these derived whole sign houses from the Lot of Fortune–than they would the derived houses from the Ascendant in certain instances, for certain topics. For example, at one point, in Book 2 or Book 3 of the Anthology, where he starts talking about indications for death and mortality, he looks at it primarily within the context of paying attention to the 8th whole sign house relative to the Lot of Fortune. So he’ll calculate the Lot of Fortune, and then he’ll see what the 8th sign is relative to that and that’s the primary thing that he’ll focus on for indications relative to death. In a different chapter, he’ll focus on the 11th sign relative to fortune, which he calls the Place of Acquisition, and he says that that pertains to positive financial windfalls and other things like that if it’s well-situated in the chart.
My point with this is just that whole sign houses is part of a broader conceptual framework that was being used in ancient Hellenistic astrology which made it so that certain significators–like the degree of the Ascendant, or the Lot of Fortune or other Lots–could fall in a sign and then they would mark the entirety of that sign with their topics. And then sometimes you could set up a system of houses from that sign, but it was always done within the context of whole sign houses.
In addition to whole sign houses, the second form of house division that was used in ancient astrology is known today as the equal house system. In the equal house system, you calculate the exact degree of the Ascendant, and the degree of the Ascendent–whatever sign of the zodiac it’s located in–becomes the starting point for the 1st house. Then you measure exactly 30°, and wherever that comes to in the following zodiacal sign downwards–or in zodiacal order, which is always counter-clockwise–that becomes the end of the 1st house.
Let’s say, if the Ascendant was at 15° of Cancer then the starting point of the 1st house would be at 15° of Cancer, and the 1st house would extend all the way into 15° of Leo and that would be the end of the 1st house at 15 Leo and the beginning of the 2nd house, the 2nd house would extend all the way from 15° of Leo to 15° of Virgo, the 3rd house would extend from 15 Virgo to 15 Libra, and so on and so forth. So each of the houses is, again, exactly 30° just like it was in the whole sign house system, the previous system, but instead of measuring it relative to the rising sign, you’re measuring it relative to the rising degree.
This system is unique because in this system, the Midheaven is always going to be exactly 90° upwards relative to the Ascendant. So here, if we have the Ascendant at 15° of Cancer then that means the Midheaven will automatically be at 15° of Aries. And in the equal house system, there’s a unique astronomical term which is used to refer to the Midheaven, which is the nonagesimal, which just means 90° basically. But what’s interesting about the nonagesimal is that that is always that 90° point upwards relative to the Ascendant; it’s the highest point in the zodiac at any given point in time.
Here’s a little diagram that demonstrates that. And this diagram, and a few others that follow, were made by my friend and astrologer named Brett Joseph, who has some amazing illustrations and a great YouTube channel. He’s been on The Astrology Podcast before, but I’d recommend searching for his work. ‘Brett Joseph, Astrologer’ or ‘Gemini Brett’ is what he goes by sometimes as well.
So he made this diagram for me. The orange line is the zodiac, and the arc of the zodiac begins over on the left by the eastern horizon and over on the right by the zodiac intersecting the western horizon. The very highest point, or at least the center point of that arc is the 90 degree point relative to the Ascendant, and that is the Midheaven in equal house system. The 90 degree point is the Midheaven in the equal house system. And what’s unique and special about it from an astronomical standpoint is that it’s that center point in the arc of the zodiac at any one point in time; it’s exactly 90° relative to the horizon. So that makes it unique and important in some way or symbolically significant.
All right. Now we’ve come to the third approach to house division, generally speaking. The third approach to house division is known as quadrant houses. In quadrant houses, the degree of the Ascendant, again, becomes the starting point for the 1st house. So just like the equal house system, we start with whatever the degree of the Ascendant is and that becomes the cusp or the starting point of the 1st house. But in this system, the Midheaven is defined as the local meridian, or the exact degree of the local meridian. The local meridian is essentially the north-south line or where the north-south line runs relative to where a person is standing on Earth at any given point in time.
And so, the quadrant house systems, on the one hand, have more of a directional focus because the Midheaven in this context is being defined as the North/South line. But there’s also another unique point about the degree of the Midheaven or the meridian in this instance, which is that it’s also the point where planets reach their highest elevation, or their highest point in the sky when passing over the meridian relative to an observer’s perspective when they’re standing on any given location on Earth at any point in time.
So that’s the Midheaven in the quadrant house systems. You establish the degree of the Ascendant and the degree of the meridian, and then you trisect the distance between those two points in the chart and you divide it into three segments, and then you do the same with all four of the degrees of the angles in the chart. The degree of the Ascendant and the degree of the Midheaven, you measure the distance between those two degrees and then you divide it into three parts. Then you do the same with the degree of the Midheaven to the degree of the Descendant and you divide that into three parts, and then another quadrant from the degree of the Descendant to the degree of the IC, and then finally from the degree of the IC to the degree of the Ascendant. So those four quadrants get trisected or divided into three parts and that’s one of the reasons why it’s called quadrant house systems.
The debate amongst quadrant house system users is then how to divide those spaces in between those degrees. Some systems like Porphyry houses–which I believe is the one that I used here in this diagram–they just divide it up into three equal parts. So you literally just calculate the number of degrees between the degree of the Ascendant and the degree of the Midheaven and then you divide that evenly into thirds. But there are other approaches to quadrant house division like Placidus or Alcabitius that use other, sometimes more complicated systems of logic or motivations for trisecting and dividing up those sections into three parts. We’re not going to get into the details of that here, but broadly speaking, that’s essentially how quadrant house systems are calculated.
Here’s another diagram from Brett Joseph. What this is demonstrating is when we talk about the Ascendant being in the east and that’s where the Sun rises over the eastern horizon in the morning and that’s roughly where the Ascendant is, or the Sun sets near the western horizon over in the evening, all of the other planets do the same thing. They rise over the eastern horizon at some point in the day near the Ascendant and they set near the western horizon near the Descendant. Essentially, the degree of the Ascendant and Descendant are the eastern and western horizon.
But one of the things that people don’t realize is that the Ascendant is not always exactly due east and the Descendant is not always exactly due west. Over the course of a 24-hour period, or over the course of the day, it shifts a little bit back and forth, so that the degree of the Ascendant or the degree of the ecliptic–which we associate with the Ascendant–is not exactly due east.
The north-south line is the meridian, and it’s the intersection of that north-south line–here depicted in green with the orange line of the ecliptic–that defines the Meridian Midheaven. Basically, what can happen is that the degree of the meridian of the north-south line can shift back and forth and sometimes the ecliptic is a little bit more due east and a little bit more due west, which changes the position of the Midheaven in the chart, and that’s what leads to the distortion in the different quadrants in the quadrant house systems.
That’s kind of complicated and we don’t need to get into all of it here, but you just need to understand that there’s three different ways of defining the Midheaven. Each of them have unique and independent and relatively important astronomical properties that are valid and are potentially symbolically significant, but because these three different ways of defining the Midheaven are somewhat distinct, it can lead to radically different ways of calculating the houses depending on which one you want to focus on or which one you think is more important.
This diagram shows the three different things that we call the Midheaven depending on those three systems. So the 10th whole sign house, there’s a circle here around the entirety of the culminating zodiacal sign that is in the culminating or 10th house position. It’s the 10th sign relative to the rising sign, which is over on the eastern horizon. So the Midheaven in that context is the entirety of the zodiacal sign, which is at the peak or is at the highest part of the arc of the zodiac at any one point in time.
Then we have the nonagesimal degree, which is similar, except it focuses on the degree that is at the peak of the arc of the zodiac or of the ecliptic at any point in time. The nonagesimal degree of course will always be in the 10th whole sign house, and so, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the 10th whole sign house and what we call the Midheaven in that system, as well as the start of the 10th whole sign house in the equal house system.
Over on the left, we have the Meridian Midheaven, which is where the north-south line intersects with the ecliptic. And since north and south are not always lining up exactly with where the centerpoint of the zodiac is, or where the top of the zodiac is in this context, that’s why sometimes the Midheaven can be over more towards the degree of the Ascendant in the chart, or the Midheaven in the quadrant house systems can be a little bit more over to the Descendant in the chart. It really just depends on the time of day and the location and other considerations like that.
So those are the three different ways of defining the Midheaven and that’s why you can have three radically different approaches to house division because those can be so distinct from an astronomical standpoint. When you superimpose all of that on a chart, this is roughly what it looks like.
Let’s say we have a chart with 17° of Aquarius rising; the rising is associated with the east, and the Descendant is over in the west, which is Leo in this instance. If the Ascendant is at 17° of Aquarius then we know that using whole sign houses that the entirety of Aquarius from 0 to 30° of that sign is the 1st house, Pisces is the 2nd house, so on and so forth. And then Scorpio becomes the 10th whole sign house, Sagittarius becomes the 11th whole sign house, and Capricorn becomes the 12th house.
But in the equal house system, we would say that 17° of Aquarius becomes the cusp of the 1st house and 17° of Scorpio is the nonagesimal degree–that’s the peak of the zodiacal arc, the arc of the zodiacal circle–and that would become the degree of the Midheaven at 17° of Scorpio, 90° upwards from the Ascendant in the equal house system.
And then finally, the meridian in this chart, when superimposed here, would be at 5° of Sagittarius. Over in the 11th whole sign house, the degree of the Meridian Midheaven has shifted. So that’s what that same astronomical diagram looks like when it’s superimposed on a two-dimensional illustration, which is essentially what a birth chart is. It’s a two-dimensional illustration of a three-dimensional alignment of the cosmos at any one point in time.
One of the things that’s kind of tricky about this whole issue is that astrologers are more used to paying attention to the two-dimensional chart and don’t always tend to be familiar with what this actually looks like in the night sky, which is a lot closer to what I was showing here in some of these diagrams that were generated by the astronomy program called Stellarium. I’d recommend checking that out because it can sometimes help you to understand some of these issues about what the Midheaven is, or what the rising sign is, or other things like that a little bit better than you might otherwise if you’re only looking at charts.
Okay, so those are the basic definitions that I wanted to define in terms of the three different forms of house division. Now I want to transition into talking about the surviving evidence for the use of these different forms of house division in Greco-Roman astrology and what forms of house division were actually used, what’s the prominence of some of the different forms of house division, and what’s the actual evidence that we have for making some statements if we were to draw some conclusions from some of that evidence.
In the past, when I’ve made the claim that whole sign houses were the predominant form of house division or the most common form of house division in ancient astrology, what is that based on? Can that be validated, or is that just a statement that I’m pulling out of thin air? I’m going to spend the next little bit of this lecture actually demonstrating what data we have to draw on and what conclusions we can make from it based on the evidence that survives. So let’s go ahead and jump into that now.
Hundreds of astrological charts survived from the Hellenistic tradition and most of these are birth charts, so natal astrology was definitely the most common form of astrology from what we can tell in the Hellenistic tradition, from roughly the 1st century BCE until about the 6th CE. Most of the techniques of Hellenistic astrology and of this approach to Western astrology that is the starting point of the fourfold system seemed like they were largely designed around the concept of nata astrology.
This may have to do with some different philosophical trends that were occurring in the ancient world, especially in the Hellenistic period when Stoicism was really popular and the idea of accepting your fate was a very high-minded, philosophical aspiration that not just many philosophers had, but a lot of the astrologers in ancient world also seemed to state that as one of their primary goals. They say that the purpose of astrology is to know what’s coming up in the future, so that you know what you have to accept ahead of time and you can have some preparation to accept it–both the good things that might happen in your future, as well as some of the bad things, or some of the negative things or challenging things–so that if you’re forewarned, you’re forearmed; not always necessarily in the sense of changing it, but just in the sense of accepting it and having some preparation for what’s coming up around the corner.
That’s one of the few philosophical concepts mentioned by a lot of the ancient astrologers that a lot of them seem to have held in common. That’s one of the reasons why I think natal astrology was more prominent during this time period because there was more of a focus on the idea of figuring out what your fate is and figuring out what you had to accept, which is kind of a Stoic concept, but that’s probably due to the popularity of Stoicism in the late Hellenistic period and then the early Roman Empire in the first few centuries.
So mostly birth charts survive from the Hellenistic tradition. This is the period from about the 1st century BCE to the 6th century CE. These charts are mainly written in Greek. There’s a few that are written in Demotic, which is an Egyptian script. There’s not that many that are written in Latin, but there’s a few. There’s actually a surprisingly low amount of charts written in Latin, most of them by far are written in Greek. Also, most of the surviving astrological texts were written in Greek because Greek was the educated language that was used in most scientific and philosophical texts during this time period.
The different charts that survive are typically divided into two categories. One of these groups is ‘standalone’ charts, which are just individual, surviving birth charts that exist and survive on their own. And then there’s a second group which is known as ‘literary’ charts, which are charts that survived embedded in instructional manuals, usually in an astrological text. When an astrologer is introducing and trying to teach a concept to a reader, they’ll sometimes introduce an example chart, and oftentimes these are actual birth charts from the case studies of the astrologer from some point in the first few centuries.
These different charts are important, especially the standalone charts, because these charts are basically the raw data that was needed for an astrological consultation. So when we find one of these calculated charts from an ancient source, we have to take it pretty seriously because oftentimes the standalone chart was the chart that a person would get calculated and then take to an astrologer to have it interpreted. It’s almost the equivalent of somebody going to Astro.com today and getting a copy of their birth chart and then taking it to an astrologer, either online or in person, and asking them to interpret it. So when we see these surviving charts, we have to take seriously that the positions that are calculated in them are the positions that would be interpreted by the astrologer.
All right, so most of the birth charts that survive from the Hellenistic tradition, the majority of the charts tend to coincide with what is roughly the highpoint of the Roman Empire, which is when it was at its height and it had the furthest extent of land that the Romans had conquered, right around the 2nd century CE. This is a map that shows the Roman Empire at its height, in the 2nd century CE, where it had pretty much control over the entire Mediterranean region and was pretty spread out across the entire Mediterranean.
So when we look at surviving birth charts that are outside of authors like Vettius Valens–Valens lived in the 2nd century. He’s the source from where the most birth charts survive; he has over a hundred charts in his work. But when we count up charts that are outside of Valens, we usually end up with a distribution that looks roughly like this where we see the number of surviving charts peaking around the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE–which is roughly around the time of the height of the Roman Empire–and then starting to decline after that in the 4th century, and then pretty abruptly after that in the 5th and 6th centuries as the Roman Empire goes into decline and the practice of astrology also goes into a decline as well, not just due to the decline of the Roman Empire but also due to increased opposition from religious groups. Especially Christianity became very hostile against astrology in the later part of the Roman Empire and that curbed the practice of astrology a lot more than in previous centuries, so that’s part of the reason why we see this distribution.
Most of the charts, the individual, standalone charts that survive look like this. They’re basically just little scraps, often of papyrus. The majority of them come from Egypt and they’re just little scraps of papyrus, or little scraps of paper that have–usually in Greek–little notes written across them that contain the planetary positions for the individual.
This is an example that comes from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. This is a translation, a translated example of one of those charts that survived on a piece of papyrus and just has the person’s birth chart positions scribbled down on it. This translation says: “Nativity of Philoe. Year 13 of Antonius Caesar the Lord. Phamenoth 15 to 16. The 4th hour of the night. The Sun in Pisces, Jupiter and Mercury in Aries, Saturn in Cancer, Mars in Leo, Venus and the Moon in Aquarius. Scorpio is the Ascendant.” And then here, over on the right, I have a diagram that literally outlines what that chart then would look like if you put those positions in the zodiac. It shows the Ascendant in Scorpio and all the other positions of the planets based on the signs that they were located.
The scholar who recovered this chart–it was either Alexander Jones or Otto Neugebauer–they actually were able to date it, and they came up with the date of March 11th or March 12th, 150 CE. So this is a birth chart of a person who was born either on March 11th or March 12th, 150 CE.
One of the things that’s cool about looking at and recovering some of these standalone charts from archeological finds is you’re literally finding the birth chart of somebody that lived almost 2,000 years ago, and you’re able to–using modern astrology software programs –actually figure out the position of the planets. The planets, their movements are relatively fixed and relatively stable, so we can calculate where they were 2,000 years ago with pretty good precision at this point in time, and when you do that for some of these charts, you can actually narrow down and figure out the date when the chart was set for, which again is March 11th or 12th, 150 CE in this instance.
So that’s one standalone chart. Here’s another standalone chart for somebody else that was born on February 17th, in the year 320 CE. The chart in Greek says: “Year 36 of Diocletian, Mecheir 22, hour 2 of the day. Ascendant in Pisces. Saturn in Aries. Jupiter in Leo, on the same day in Virgo. Sun in Aquarius, Mars in Aquarius, Venus in Aquarius, Mercury in Aquarius. Moon in Scorpio. Good luck!” So this is our super-Aquarius stellium friend who had four planets in Aquarius and was born in February of 320 CE.
Notice that one of the things that’s happening here–and this is common in the vast majority of charts–is they’re just saying what sign of the zodiac the planets are located, and they’re saying what sign of the zodiac the Ascendant is located in and that’s all the information that they’re giving, and that’s true in the vast, vast majority of charts. Usually, at the beginning, it’ll list the birth data of the person, which is probably the data that the person knew from their parents and gave to have the astrologer calculate the positions then the positions are being calculated. And the statement at the end that says, “Good luck!”, is actually there in a lot of the charts. I’m not sure if it’s the majority, but almost the majority of the charts have a similar statement where it’s just “farewell” or “good luck” at the very end.
This is what the majority of the standalone charts look like when you translate them and calculate them. It’s just a list of planetary placements in the sign of the zodiac for the seven traditional planets plus the Ascendant. There are occasionally more elaborate horoscopes, much more elaborate horoscopes that are found where it will calculate not just the sign of the planets, but it’ll also calculate the degree that the planets are located in. It’ll calculate what decan or what bounds or terms or the planet is located in. It’ll also calculate other things like the Lot of Fortune or other Lots. These are sometimes referred to by certain researchers, like Alexander Jones, as the so-called ‘deluxe’ horoscopes because they contain more information or more detailed calculation of the planetary placements in the person’s birth chart than what the vast majority of the surviving birth charts contained.
If you want to hear a little bit about one of those, listen to Episode 129 of The Astrology Podcast titled, A Newly Discovered 4th Century Horoscope. I interviewed Dorian Greenbaum about a deluxe horoscope that was recently rediscovered and translated just in the past few years,so you can listen to that episode for more information about those.
The consensus is–and I’m pretty much on board with this theory–that these little scraps of papyrus, or these little scraps of paper that contain these planetary positions, there’s hundreds of these that survived, especially from Egypt. In Egypt, the temperature and the climate is so dry there that when stuff gets buried in sand, it can have a tendency to be preserved, and then later archeological digs sometimes will unearth some of these huge caches of birth charts in different cities.
For example, in the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus, in the late 19th and early 20th century, there was a group of archeologists that discovered when they were digging in the sands of Egypt what was essentially the rubbish or the trash dump of this ancient city of Oxyrhynchus, and there they found a bunch of different pieces of papyrus. Amongst the papyrus were dozens and dozens of birth charts that had just been scribbled on these little pieces of paper or papyrus.
Anyway, so what probably happened is that the client would either go to an astrologer or potentially to an astronomer, basically somebody who had an ephemeris and specialized in calculating planetary positions. They would give their birth data to the person. They would say what day and month and year and what time they were born and then they would have the person calculate the planetary positions in their birth chart, for the moment of their birth. The person would write them down on this little piece of papyrus and the person would have that with them.
But when it came time for the consultation, the astrologer at that point would look at the little piece of papyrus and some of them would take out one of these astrologer’s consultation boards–some of the more elaborate ones were like a wooden board that’s like a chess board–and on this board, they would open it up and it would have the zodiac inscribed on it. The astrologer would take out a few stones or little markers that would be representing each of the planets, and then they would recreate the birth chart of the person on this board and do the consultation.
There’s been a few of these consultation boards that have survived. This is a picture of one that comes from a really good article on the boards by a historian of astronomy named James Evans, and the title of the article is “The Astrologer’s Apparatus: A Picture of Professional Practice in Greco-Roman Egypt”.
So here’s a little black-and-white image of that. This is one of the more elaborate boards that’s been found that was made out of wood, and I think there was lining or trimming that had gold and ivory and other exotic materials like that for some of the more elaborate boards. But there were also cheaper versions that have been found and there’s at least one story that survives in a Greek source that makes it seem like some astrologers might use cheaper materials if they didn’t have an elaborate board; they might sometimes use sand basically. They would have sand and then they would draw out the chart in the sand, and then they would put the positions of the planets in there in order to represent the person’s birth chart and then they would do the consultation.
There was probably a whole different range of options in terms of different socio-economic levels just like there is today for astrologers, where there are some astrologers that are doing relatively well for themselves and there’s other astrologers that are just getting by with what they have and just reading charts for people on the street or what have you. But the use of an astrologer’s board of some sort was probably taken for granted and that’s the reason why what survives for the most part is not diagrams of charts, but instead those little scraps of papyrus which just list the planetary positions, especially by zodiacal sign, with the assumption that the client is then going to give that to the astrologer, and the astrologer is then going to use it in order to calculate the positions, or at least in order to place them at the time of the consultation in the astrologer’s apparatus or on the consultation board.
I actually have a theory that a lot of these survive because it’s probably like today where either the client comes to the astrologer, and then the astrologer calculates the planetary positions and writes them down and then does consultation on the astrologer’s board, and then the client after that consultation, they’re able to take that piece of papyrus and keep it with them just in case they either want to come back to the same astrologer for a follow-up consultation in the future. That way, the astrologer doesn’t have to calculate the same chart over again, but the client can just give them their data again. Also, the client then could take that to other astrologers and have other astrologers interpret their birth chart without needing to have the astrologer recalculate the chart over again.
But I also wonder if there might have been astronomers, or people that specialized in astronomy, or people that specialized in the calculation of birth charts and in some instances that might have been a separate job that certain people specialized in. You would go to this person who was really good at calculating charts, get your chart calculated, and then they write it down on a piece of paper, and then you take it to the astrologer and the astrologer can interpret it.
I don’t think it’s always a given that the astronomer and the astrologer were one and the same, especially in the later period. There were some discussions by Theon of Alexandria, who was a prominent astrologer around the late 4th or early 5th century; he was the father of Hypatia. He wrote a commentary on Ptolemy’s Handy Tables, and I believe it’s in the introduction to that that he talks about how there were some people that would come to him with questions about how to use those tables to calculate birth charts. Those are obviously astrologers who wanted to know how to calculate birth charts accurately, and Theon was writing this commentary in order to make it simpler to understand for those types of people who might have been good at interpreting charts and being astrologers, but they might not have been experts in mathematical astronomy and things like that.
Even though it’s usually assumed, or a lot of historical texts say that prior to modern times, astrologers and astronomers were always one and the same and there was no distinction between the categories, I’m not sure that that was necessarily true. Instead, there may have been some distinction and that may be part of the reason why we have all these papyrus fragments that exist that just give the planetary positions, and then those would have been taken to an astrologer to be interpreted.
Conversely, some of the larger caches of these could have been from the personal archives or files of individual astrologers who could have kept copies themselves just in case somebody came back to them to get their chart calculated later. For example, the fact that Vettius Valens uses over a hundred chart examples in this Anthology in order to demonstrate how certain techniques work clearly implies that different astrologers had their own personal case files that they would keep with interesting examples that they would subsequently use for teaching purposes. So that could be part of what some of these different caches of birth charts are as well.
All right, so what I did with these charts is I went through all of them that survived because there’s a lot of them. There’s a few hundred of the standalone charts that survive, but there’s not so many that you can’t go through all of them. There’s actually a limited number of collections that they survive in, where different historians have basically preserved them and republished the charts and then calculated the dates of the charts, so you can go through and count through all of them.
So what I did is I went through and I counted all of the charts in order to see what approach to house division was used in each of them in the entire Hellenistic tradition from the 1st century BC through the 6th or 7th century CE. Now this approach was actually first outlined and first used by the astrologer Robert Hand in a 2007 article in the journal Culture and Cosmos that was titled “Signs as Houses (Places) in Ancient Astrology”, where he initially was the one that outline this approach to calculating and trying to tabulate or figure out the distribution of charts that were using different forms of house division in the ancient world.
I basically followed a similar approach but I just wanted to count up the data myself. I also wanted to pay attention to what Midheaven was used in each of these charts because I think that’s something that Rob didn’t focus on quite as much and that’s something that I was more interested in, in order to distinguish between whole sign houses vs. equal houses vs. quadrant houses in order to be very clear about that. But Rob’s article I think is actually available online. So if you just Google ‘Signs as Houses in Ancient Astrology’, you’ll find that article, and you’ll find that the data that he presents is very similar to the results that I have in this presentation.
So what I did when I calculated all the charts is I divided them into three categories. The first category is surviving standalone charts that only record the rising sign; in other words, like the two that we just looked at where they only said what sign of the zodiac the Ascendant was located in. That means that the only information you have in terms of calculating the houses in that chart is that the Ascendant is in a certain sign of the zodiac, like let’s say Pisces.
In those instances where only the rising sign is noted that means that whole sign houses is the only system of house division that could be used in that chart. In order to calculate equal houses, you have to have the exact degree of the Ascendant, otherwise, you don’t know where the starting point or the cusp of the 1st house is, and in quadrant houses, you need not just the degree of the Ascendant but also the degree of the Midheaven. Therefore, if only the rising sign is noted then whole sign houses is logically the only system of house division that could have been used in those example charts.
So I went through and I calculated all of the charts and put them into one category, one pile, let’s say, all of the charts that only recorded the rising sign. Then I made a second category that was only the charts that record the degree of the Ascendant but do not note the degree of the Midheaven; with those, you could potentially calculate equal houses. And then the third category I recorded was those charts that record both the degree of the Ascendant, the exact degree of the Ascendant, as well as the degree of the Meridian Midheaven. Those charts could then be used to calculate quadrant houses since those are the two necessary precursors for that approach to house division.
Here are the results of that. This is the distribution of those three categories. When we’re looking at just the standalone charts–where it’s just a little piece of papyrus that survives that contains the planetary positions usually of somebody’s birth chart–what I found is that there were approximately 124 charts. The vast majority of the charts, almost 90% of the charts only record in the chart the rising sign, which means just the Ascendant was located in Pisces, or the Ascendant was located in Aries, or what have you, but they do not record the rising degree and they do not record the degree of the Ascendant or Meridian Midheaven.
Conversely, there were 12 charts that I found, 12 standalone charts, that record the rising degree. So they note the actual degree of the Ascendant but they do not note the degree of the Meridian Midheaven. And then there were 5 standalone charts that I found so far, give or take, that record both the degree of the Ascendant and the degree of the Meridian Midheaven.
This is the raw data and the basic distribution where basically 88% of the surviving standalone charts roughly only give you the rising sign. That’s a hugely disproportionate amount you can see–if you’re looking at this visually–based on the pie chart that that gives you. 88% only record the rising sign, 8% record the rising degree, and only 4% roughly record both the degree of the Ascendant and the degree of the Midheaven.
So what does that mean? I think there are some conclusions that we can draw from that distribution. The first conclusion and the most important conclusion is that this supports my statement that I’ve been making for several years that’s occasionally challenged by proponents of quadrant house division who want to pretend as if quadrant houses were used more frequently than they were, or that whole sign houses was not used as frequently as I’ve claimed that it was.
But I think from that data and from that distribution, we can easily draw the conclusion that the vast majority of the standalone charts from the Hellenistic tradition–which were the first several centuries of the practice of horoscopic astrology that used the 12 houses, from the 1st century BCE until about the 6th or 7th century CE–could only have used the whole sign house system because this is the only system that you can calculate if all you know is what the rising sign is. If you don’t know the degree of the Ascendant and if you don’t know the degree of the Meridian Midheaven then you cannot calculate either equal houses or quadrant houses; the only approach to house division that you could use would be whole sign houses. Therefore, the vast majority of standalone charts could only have used the whole sign house system.
And not just like it’s close and maybe it could go either way–the vast, vast majority of charts obviously from this distribution only could have used whole sign houses, and I think that’s pretty straightforward and pretty clear and pretty non-ambiguous. It’s like that’s not even an arguable point looking at this distribution.
That being said, additionally, even many of the charts that list the degree of the Ascendant or even the degree of the Midheaven could also still have used whole sign houses. As we’ll see, when we get to some of the discussions from the technical manuals of astrologers like Vettius Valens or Dorotheus or other authors, sometimes even when they had the degrees of the angles calculated, we’ll still see them using whole sign houses, but just using those degrees as sensitive points, or sometimes as a secondary overlay that they’re using in addition to whole sign houses as their primary approach.
So even in the instances in that distribution where we’re seeing that 8% of the charts note the rising degree or that 4% note the rising degree and the Meridian Midheaven degree, we can’t automatically assume that those were just using equal houses or just using quadrant houses. Instead, in those instances, they may have been using some combination of whole sign houses and quadrant or equal houses, as we’ll get into later.
One important point to note is that even in the instances where the degree of the Ascendant and the degree of the Meridian Midheaven are mentioned, almost none of the surviving, independent standalone charts mention intermediate house cusps, or have intermediate house cusps calculated. And that’s a big issue, especially if they’re charts that are being calculated ahead of time as a prerequisite for interpretation. If they were really using or really focusing on intermediate house cusps, or at least, if that was a common concern that the astrologers were focused on then you would almost expect that to be calculated more frequently. Instead, they may have just been focused on the degree of the Ascendant or the degree even of the Meridian Midheaven but not necessarily focused on using them to calculate quadrant houses for the purpose of using intermediate house cusps.
Again, all of this is important because these standalone charts are literally the equivalent of, in modern times, a client having a printed-out chart that they got from an astrologer or a printed-out chart that they got from Astro.com, which they then take to get interpreted or they then try to interpret themselves using the basic principles of astrology. When we’re looking at this distribution, we’re looking at the raw data of the planetary placements in the charts that were being used to interpret people’s birth charts and people’s lives in Hellenistic astrology, so we have to take that data pretty seriously, I think.
Okay, so those are the standalone charts. At this point, I want to switch to talking about literary charts that survived in textbooks from the ancient astrologers whose works survived–there’s different astrologers like Vettius Valens in the 2nd century who has over a hundred example charts that he uses in his texts; there’s other astrologers like Dorotheus that have maybe 7 or 8 charts that survive in his texts of different birth charts that he uses to demonstrate different concepts–and then look at the distribution of what the use of whole sign houses vs. equal houses vs. quadrant houses is in those textbooks.
Here’s an example chart from Vettius Valens. I believe this is one of the first example charts that he uses in Book 2 of the Anthology. He opens up the whole section where he uses a bunch of charts in a row with this example of a notable nativity. This chart has been dated and these planetary positions or this alignment of planets occurred on October 25th, in the year 50 CE.
So Valens says, this is from Schmidt’s translation: We will make use of illustrations for the diagnosis of the above matters, setting a notable nativity at the beginning. And then he gives the birth chart positions. He says: “Let the Sun be in Scorpio, the Moon in Cancer, Kronos in Aquarius, Zeus in Sagittarius, Ares in Scorpio, Aphrodite in Libra, Hermes in Scorpio, the Ascendant in Libra.”
And that’s it; he basically then proceeds to interpret the chart. He’s demonstrating, for the most part, the triplicity rulers of the sect light technique for determining different periods of support and stability and even eminence during different periods in the person’s life, and then he goes on to doing the delineations.
What’s important is that he only gives the position of the Ascendant and the rest of the planetary positions by sign, but then he interprets the planets as if they’re in different houses using the whole sign house system. This is important because Valens has literally over a hundred example charts in the Anthology that are exactly like this one and they all use whole sign houses, with the exception of one or two or maybe three charts when he introduces a different technique, which we’ll get into later, where he at one point uses quadrant houses to determine planetary strength within the context of the length-of-life technique. He introduces quadrant houses at that point for the purpose of that, but the vast majority of his example charts, over example charts, he only uses whole sign houses.
Even later in the Anthology at one point, which we’ll get into later, when he starts drawing on an earlier text by an author known as Asclepius–who seems to have introduced the equal house system–Valens seems to be paraphrasing Asclepius and starts talking about the equal house system and using it together with whole sign houses. Even though he reports that from the Asclepius text, that approach, in his actual example charts, Valens never demonstrates the use of equal houses in any of them. Instead, in over a hundred example charts, he only uses the whole sign house system in basically a bunch of examples that look exactly like this one.
So that’s super important in terms of understanding the number of charts that survive, not just the standalone charts, but also chart examples from the literary tradition, from the actual textbooks and the case studies of the astrologers where they’re interpreting planetary placements in certain houses.
For this example, he says that Venus is in the 1st house because it’s in the 1st whole sign house, or it’s in the rising sign, or he says the Moon is in the 10th house because it’s in the 10th sign relative to the rising sign. And then he gives specific interpretations based on that which would only be true using the whole sign house system. That’s really important. We have to take him seriously that then is clearly his preferred approach in terms of the approaches that he’s actually using and demonstrating his usage of in the vast majority of his example charts.
So that’s an example from Valens. But Valens isn’t the only author who survives, the literary author who has birth charts or example charts in his work. There are other important authors, for example, like Dorotheus of Sidon who wrote another text that was highly influential in the Medieval as well as the late Hellenistic tradition. Dorotheus is thought to have written his text some time around the late 1st century, so let’s say, circa 75 CE, and that dating is partially based on the fact that he uses a bunch of example charts of people who were born earlier in the 1st century CE.
Here’s an example from Dorotheus and it’s been dated to May 2nd, or possible May 3rd–either of those dates would basically result in the same planetary positions by sign–in the year 40 CE. And of course, this is the English translation of the Arabic translation, which may have been made from a Persian translation of the original Greek text. So it’s gone through a bunch of languages at this point, but for the most part, the planetary positions and the actual data of the birth charts and the examples that he gives are still there.
In this translation, Dorotheus says: “Now I assign to you things which I will make clear to you if you have wanted to judge the native in the matter of assets and good fortune. A native was born with the Ascendant in Gemini, and the positions of his planets in the circle were according to this image.” And then it gives an image or an illustration with a birth chart which has the Sun and Venus in Leo, Mercury in Virgo, Saturn and the Moon in Scorpio, Mars in Aquarius, and Jupiter in Taurus. So this is from Benjamin Dykes’ more recent translation of Dorotheus; Book 1, Chapter 24, Lines 1-4 is the example.
Again, with Dorotheus, he gives the planetary positions only by sign, and he gives the Ascendant more importantly only by sign, but then he still proceeds to interpret the planets and uses their house positions as crucial interpretive principles for the technique that he’s trying to demonstrate, but in doing so, he’s the whole sign house system. So he is using the whole sign house system and he’s just calculating the positions of the planets in different signs based on what sign they’re in relative to the rising sign or the ascending sign, whether it’s the 10th whole sign house or the 5th whole sign house, or what have you.
Dorotheus also takes for granted in his actual example charts–where he demonstrates how the theory actually works out in practice in the lives of real individuals, where he uses at least half a dozen example charts if not more–in all of them, he demonstrates the consistent use of the whole sign house system.
When you actually look at the distribution of the literary charts, I went through all of the authors, all of the surviving authors that I could find from the Hellenistic tradition, from the 1st century BC through the 6th century CE. I calculated all of the charts and then I counted up which ones only mentioned the rising sign, but do not give a specific degree for the Ascendant and do not give a degree for the Midheaven. I calculated all of them that list the exact degree of the Ascendant, but do not list the degree of the Meridian Midheaven, and then finally, I calculated all of the literary charts that calculate both the exact degree of the Ascendant as well as the exact degree of the Meridian Midheaven.
The distribution that I came up with is that there were 96 surviving charts that only list the rising sign, just like the two examples that I just showed from Valens and from Dorotheus. That’s approximately 76% of the surviving literary charts only list the rising sign, and therefore, only could have used whole sign houses in terms of the approach to house division that they must have been employing because there’s no other approach to house division that could have been used besides that. So 76% of the surviving literary charts must have used whole sign houses.
When it comes to ones that list the rising degree, there were 7 surviving charts that I was able to find that list the exact rising degree or give the degree of the Ascendant. But this was tricky because one of those charts was in Dorotheus where it gives the exact degree of the Ascendant, but then in the chart example, it proceeds to still use whole sign houses to calculate where the rest of the planets were actually located. That’s, again, another reason why we have to be careful and we have to understand that even when the exact rising degree was calculated, in some instances, that does not necessarily mean that the authors were then using equal houses, but it could mean that they’re still using whole sign houses.
Sometimes when you’re calculating whole sign houses, if the Ascendant is really close to the end of the sign or the beginning of a sign, you need to know what specific degree it’s in, in order to know for sure where the Ascendant is located in. So there are instances where even when the astrologer calculates the degree of the Ascendant, they may have still been using the whole sign house system, so keep that in mind.
One of the things that’s notable about the literary charts is that there is a larger percentage that did calculate both the degree of the Ascendant as well as the degree of the Midheaven. I was actually able to find 24 charts in the literary charts that calculated both the degree of the Ascendant and the degree of the Midheaven. So that ended up being approximately 19% of the surviving literary charts compared to 5% that calculated only the ascending degree, or 76% that calculated only the rising sign, that gave you only the sign of the Ascendant, and therefore, only used whole sign houses.
So what conclusions can we draw from that? The first conclusion I would draw from this is that, again, the vast majority of the literary charts still used whole sign houses. So the vast majority of the chart examples–in Vettius Valens, where he uses over a hundred examples–used whole sign houses, the vast majority of the charts in Dorotheus used whole sign houses, and the same for most of the rest of the authors. However, quadrant houses do show up more frequently than they did in the distribution of standalone charts, so we are seeing an uptick in the literary charts in the potential use of quadrant house systems.
Again, most of these charts, even when they’re calculating the degree of the Ascendant and degree of the Meridian Midheaven, are not calculating intermediate house cusps. I was only able to find a few of them that actually went so far as to calculate the intermediate house cusps explicitly. So in some instances, even those charts that are calculating the degree of the Ascendant and degree of the Meridian Midheaven could still be using whole sign houses, it’s just that those are the only instances. It’s only those charts that do calculate both the degree of the Ascendant and the degree of the Meridian Midheaven that could even possibly calculate quadrant houses at all.
So it just opens the door where in those instances they could be using quadrant houses, but in many cases we don’t know since they’re not even calculating intermediate house cusps. And we can’t even necessarily take for granted that they were using quadrant houses if they do calculate both the degree of the Ascendant and the degree of the meridian because as we’ll see later, there were some astrologers like Valens who advocated calculating whole sign houses, but still calculated the meridian as a secondary significator that could import 10th house topics into different whole sign houses that it falls in, so that there was a doubling up of the topics in that whole sign house. That sounds a little complicated, so we’ll put off that discussion until a little bit later, but we’ll return to that idea.
One of the things that’s important to note is that in the distribution of the charts that potentially could have used quadrant houses–where they give both the degree of the Ascendant and the degree of the Meridian Midheaven–there’s a greater distribution of those, or the majority of the ones that I found occurred later in the Hellenistic tradition rather than earlier. So most of the charts that list the Meridian Midheaven actually come from two sources, which are Rhetorius and Palchus. Basically, the majority of them are from circa 500 CE forward.
This is a little bit tricky because then it raises the question of if that bump in the use of quadrant houses is occurring at the very end of the Hellenistic tradition, is this representing a new development where astrologers in the later Hellenistic tradition started calculating quadrant houses and equal houses more frequently than was being done earlier in the Hellenistic tradition? Or is this an issue where it’s just something that the astrologers were taking for granted earlier in the Hellenistic tradition and maybe was being done, but we just don’t have a lot of surviving evidence, or as much surviving evidence from earlier in the Hellenistic tradition of this approach compared to later in the Hellenistic tradition where astrologers like Rhetorius or Palchus were calculating potentially quadrant houses more frequently?
So that’s a question we have. We don’t really fully know the answer. All we know is that the majority of the charts that were potentially using quadrant houses are coming from the end of the Hellenistic tradition, whereas the majority of the example charts from the earlier Hellenistic tradition, from authors like Valens and Dorotheus, were largely just using whole sign houses.
Okay, so what are the overall conclusions that we can draw from the surviving charts as a whole, when we combine both the literary charts as well as the standalone charts? I think one conclusion that we can clearly show at this point is that the data shows that whole sign houses was indeed the predominant form of house division in the Hellenistic tradition from roughly the 1st century BCE through the 6th or 7th century CE; so basically, the beginning of the Roman Empire until roughly the end of the Roman Empire. This is true both in the standalone charts that survive, individual charts on papyrus fragments, as well as in the literary charts that survive embedded in the astrological manuals.
With that conclusion in mind, it then raises some other subsequent questions about the history of astrology: One, how did the different forms of house division come about? If whole sign houses was the predominant system that was used, how did the other two forms of house division–equal houses and quadrant houses–come about? Secondarily, what were those two other forms of division actually used for, or how were they used? And was it distinct in its application, or was it the same as the way that whole sign houses were used?
Basically, was there a unique application of the quadrant or the equal house systems, or was it just an alternative like it is today, where you have a bunch of different forms of house division that are all supposedly doing the same thing? So that’s the question that I would like to jump into now at this point in the lecture and attempt to provide some answers to.
All right, so now I want to transition to talking about the origins of the different approaches to house division and my reconstruction of how I think the three different approaches to house division came about. Basically, how did we get to this place, not just in ancient astrology where we can clearly see the potential that there were these three different approaches to house division being used, but also in modern times, how did we end up with this situation that we find ourselves in today as well? In order to do this, we have to look primarily at the surviving textual evidence from the astrologers themselves.
One of the things that’s important is that several of the ancient astrologers, they have this mythologized version of the foundation of Hellenistic astrology where they often end up attributing it to a handful of specific authors. So here’s a quote from Bram’s translation of Firmicus Maternus. Firmicus lived in the 4th century in Rome. Firmicus says: “We have written in all of these books all of the things which Hermes and Hanubius handed down to Asclepius; which Petosiris and Nechepso explained; which Abraham, Orpheus, and Critodemus wrote, and all the others knowledgeable in this in this art.”
So Firmicus is not alone in giving this mythologized version of the foundations of Hellenistic astrology where he talks about receiving and getting specific technical doctrines–like the Thema Mundi and other concepts–from the books of these foundational authors, such as Hermes, Asclepius, and especially, Petosiris and Nechepso.
In my book, I spend a lot of time making this argument–especially in the historical chapters, the first few chapters of the book–about the historical origins of Hellenistic astrology, and I traced the house division issue back to three foundational texts that were probably written some time around the 1st century BCE, maybe around 100 BCE, give or take.
These three foundational texts seem to have outlined some of the earliest core doctrines in Western astrology. In particular, what’s most important for our purposes is they seem to have introduced the technical concept of the 12 houses. I think the first text introduced the concept of the 12 houses, then there was another text written after that that expanded the concept, and then there was a third text written some time after that which expanded the concept further.
In particular, there was a text that was attributed to Hermes Trismegistus that seems to have introduced the original concept of the 12 places, or the 12 houses, and it introduced a basic set of significations for the 12 houses. It seems to have taken the whole sign house system for granted as its primary approach to house division.
Then the second text was a text attributed to an author named Asclepius which introduced the eight-place system. And in this text, it also seems to have introduced equal houses, or the equal house system in addition to a new or modified set of significations for the first 8 houses. And then finally, the third text was attributed to Nechepso and Petosiris. The Nechepso and Petosiris text seemed to have had a section that dealt with the length-of-life technique, and in this treatment of the length-of-life technique, it seems to have introduced some form of quadrant house system, or at least some form of house division that later authors tended to interpret as quadrant houses when they drew on it to try to determine the length-of-life technique.
Basically, what we have are three early texts that introduce three different approaches to the house division issue. And this, I think, is where we can trace the origins of the house division debate back to having three foundational authors in the Western tradition who were highly influential and basically introduced what essentially became three, somewhat competing approaches to some extent.
So the argument for this is basically outlined in Chapters 2, 4, 10, and especially Chapter 11 of my book, Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune. And I’m saying that now not necessarily to sell the book, but primarily just to say that the way that I treat this issue is much more detailed and much more careful and deliberate, and I’m able to use a lot more footnotes and citations and other things like that in order to outline the argument than what I’m doing here, where I’m presenting it in lecture format.
The purpose of this lecture is to present a broad, CliffNotes version that’s a little bit easier to digest. But I would recommend, if you’re really serious about not just studying this argument and studying the arguments that I’m making about the origins of the house division issue, but also, if you anyone’s interested in challenging that then you should really go back to the book because that’s where my primary arguments about this are outlined and where I actually substantiate them. Whereas, here, I’m just going to try to present the conclusions of some of those arguments to give everyone a broad overview of how I think the house division issue came about. So let’s get into these three texts because that’s what we really need to understand.
The first text is the Hermes text. There was some text that was attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. It was probably written around the 1st century BCE because the earliest author we know of who mentions it is Thrasyllus, and we know for sure that Thrasyllus died in the year 36 CE. So Thrasyllus cites the Hermes text, and he actually quotes or paraphrases from it, and he tells us what the Hermes text said in giving a list of significations for the 12 houses. And what’s important about this is because Thrasyllus is so early in the early 1st century CE that means the text that he was drawing on must have been at least from the previous century. It must have been at least in the 1st century BCE, if not a little earlier. So that’s why I date the Hermes text to somewhere around 100 BCE because that would be roughly about a hundred years prior to Thrasyllus when Thrasyllus cites it.
Because Thrasyllus cites the Hermes text and he gives a list of significations of the houses that means that this is actually the earliest list of the significations of the houses that we know of, that gives it a complete set of significations for all 12 houses. And because of that this may also be not just the earliest one we know of, but it may actually be the original text that originally introduced and came up with the concept of the 12 houses to begin with. That’s essentially my argument that the Hermes text introduced the concept of the 12 houses, and it introduced what looks like a rudimentary set of significations for the 12 houses that must have been the original prototype for whatever the author of this text thought the 12 house should mean.
Imagine that the concept of the 12 houses doesn’t exist but somebody comes up with it at a specific point in time, around 100 BCE, and it’s like a new technique that this guy’s inventing. And he’s not inventing–this guy or gal, we have no idea. They’re not inventing it out of whole cloth because there were earlier astrological traditions that were using the signs of the zodiac, and we know that there was an earlier Egyptian tradition that was focused on what is essentially the rising decan and the culminating decan, which is sort of like the Ascendant and the Midheaven, or at least it’s a precursor to the Ascendant and the Midheaven.
This Hermes guy, around 100 BC, they’re not completely inventing this out of whole cloth, but they are introducing the intersection of the concept of the diurnal rotation and the concept of the 12-sign zodiac. And when you do that and you apply that notion of paying attention to the rising sign and the notion that the eastern horizon is marking the rising sign and that becomes the 1st house, then you set up the rest of the houses in zodiacal order, in counter-clockwise order relative to that. So the Hermes text seems to have been taking for granted the concept of whole sign houses and they introduced a basic set of significations for each of those houses, which are as follows.
According to Thrasyllus, Thrasyllus says that the Hermes text said that the 1st house signifies the soul, fortune, way of life, and siblings. That last signification of siblings is one of the reasons why I think that this was probably the original text that introduced a set of significations for the houses. One of the things that’s funny is that some of the later astrologers, while they adopted some of the significations of the Hermes text, they also dropped some of them. For example, the signification of siblings being assigned to the 1st house was dropped at some point and astrologers instead focused almost entirely on the 3rd house.
So that’s one of the ways that I think you can see how this was a prototype in terms of the significations of the houses. Some of the significations basically stuck and later astrologers continued to follow them even 3,000 years later, whereas other significations were dropped during the course of the tradition, in some instances, relatively quickly.
All right, so that’s the 1st house. The 2nd house, they give the significations of hopes or expectations. The 3rd house, Hermes said it signifies actions and siblings. So again, already the Hermes text, it’s assigning siblings to the 3rd house but also the 1st house. The 3rd house significations stick, but the 1st significations don’t. The 4th house, according to Hermes, signifies slaves, paternal possessions, and the foundation of happiness. The 5th house, it just says good fortune.
The 6th house, there’s a little unclarity about what it means. The first signification may be daemonic fortune, the second signification is punishment, and the other signification given by Hermes is injury for the 6th house. The 7th house, Hermes says signifies death and also the wife. The 8th house signifies life and livelihood. The 9th house signifies travel and living abroad. The 10th house has a bunch of significations here. It says fortune, livelihood, life, children, procreation, occupation, esteem, authority, and ruling. The 11th house, it just says good spirit. The 12 house, it says bad spirit, pre-ascension, livelihood, and submission of slaves.
So there’s two things that are important and interesting about this. Some of these significations of course stuck with the tradition and others were dropped, some of them were just moved to different houses as we’ll see in a minute. But one of the things that I think is already being taken for granted here is the concept of the 12 Joys. I think that’s how, on the one hand, the names of some of the houses are being assigned, for example, the 5th house being called Good Fortune, the 11th house being said to be Good Spirit, and the 12th house being called Bad Spirit. That’s probably because the Hermes text was already taking for granted the notion that the 5th house was the Joy of Venus, the 11th house was the Joy of Jupiter, and the 12th house was the Joy of Saturn.
If you’ve seen any of my other lectures or my paper on the planetary joys, you understand that the planetary joys scheme is actually an incredibly important and incredibly interesting conceptual model that a bunch of different concepts were derived from. So some of the significations of the houses come from the planetary joys. The assignment of the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water to the signs of the zodiac actually seems to have been imported over from the joys scheme into the zodiacal scheme. I have a whole paper on the planetary joys that’s about that. I also talk about it in my book at one point.
There’s a bunch of stuff that comes from the planetary joys scheme. The fact that the Hermes text already seems to be taking the joys scheme for granted implicitly, arguably it’s pretty clear that the names of the houses are derived from the planetary joys scheme. The fact that the Hermes text is already taking the joys scheme for granted I think means that this is the earliest reference to the planetary joys scheme that exists in the Hellenistic tradition textually, which also arguably could mean that the Hermes text was the original text in which that scheme of the planetary joys was introduced.
Whoever authored the Hermes text and used the pen name of Hermes Trismegistus may have been the person that actually came up with the planetary joys scheme and then some of the significations of the houses that they developed were based on that. One of the ways that I think I can actually validate that argument is that’s the reason why siblings weirdly gets assigned to the 1st house in the Hermes scheme. I think it’s because, according to the planetary joys, Mercury has its joy in the 1st house.
In Valens and other authors, like Dorotheus, one of the significations of Mercury is brothers or siblings. So Hermes may have been taking for granted that Mercury was assigned to the 1st house, and therefore, that’s one of the reasons why it would have assigned siblings to the 1st house because it was drawing significations from the planetary joys scheme as part of the conceptual model of this early attempt to assign significations to the houses. The other thing that the Hermes text seems to be taking for granted is the idea of what we call today ‘angularity’, or the idea that there is angular and succedent and cadent houses. And it seems like the Hermes text must have not just introduced the planetary joys scheme, but it also may have introduced the concept of angularity as well.
Again, here’s a diagram. We all know from just basic, 101 Western astrology even in modern times that the four angular houses are the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th, the four succedent houses are the 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 11th, and the four cadent houses are the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th. I think the Hermes text was already taking this for granted and may have introduced and discussed this concept of angularity potentially as the first text to do so in the Western tradition.
So there’s that and there’s also the planetary joys scheme. Here is the actual full diagram of the planetary joys scheme that I meant to show earlier, where according to this scheme, Mercury is assigned to the 1st house and is said to rejoice there, or the 1st house is said to be the house associated with Mercury. The Moon is said to have its joy in the 3rd house, and the name given to the 3rd house is said to be the Place of Goddess. This is opposite to the 9th house, which is said to be the place where the Sun rejoices, and the name given to the 9th house is called the Place of God. The 5th house is assigned to Venus, and the 5th is said to be the Place of Good Fortune. This is opposite to the 11th house, which is said to be the Place of Jupiter and is said to be the Place of Good Spirit. The 6th house is assigned to Mars, and it’s called the Place of Bad Fortune. And the 12th house is assigned to Saturn and is called the Place of Bad Spirit.
This is the planetary joys scheme and the assignment of some of the planets to those seven houses, and what I have it combined with here is the names that were commonly given to the houses, including some of the names that were used in the Hermes text. Remember, in the Hermes text, he specifically called it the 5th Place of Good Fortune, the 11th Place of Good Spirit, and the 12th Place of Bad Spirit. I think it’s pretty clear when you look at the planetary joys scheme and the names of those specific places that the names of the places are being derived from the planetary joys.
The 5th is the Place of Good Fortune because Venus is assigned there, or the 12th is the Place of Bad Spirit because Saturn is assigned there, for example. That’s why I can make the inference that if the Hermes text is already using those specific names for those houses–like Good Fortune, Good Spirit, Bad Spirit–then the planetary joys scheme must have been introduced by that point already as well, and therefore, the Hermes text may have in fact been the first text to introduce that specific scheme.
All right, so in terms of angularity, a lot of the early authors when they talk about angularity, they have a tendency to talk about it in terms of angular, succedent, or cadent zodiacal signs, so they have a tendency to talk about it within the context of whole sign houses basically. Once the later tradition moved away from whole sign houses, it tends to talk about the houses themselves as being angular, cadent, and succedent, whereas in the earlier Hellenistic tradition, the further and further you go back and the closer you get to the Hermes text, the more they have a tendency to talk about the angularity and make it seem like it’s a property of the zodiacal signs. That’s because if they’re using whole sign houses as their primary form of house division–which as we’ve already seen most of the astrologers were in both the literary charts and the standalone charts–then angularity within a whole sign context is something that is assigned to the zodiacal signs.
For example, the philosopher and astrology commentator Olympiodorus–who wrote a commentary on the introductory astrology text of Paulus Alexandrinus–when he talks about angularity, he talks about it and even gives an example within the context of the signs of the zodiac. So here’s the quote. He says: “The succedents are taken from the angles. For since there are four angles–the Ascendant, Midheaven, Setting, and Subterraneous–one must know that the leading zodiacal sign (and here it uses the term zoidion) for each angle is called a decline. The one which is following the angle is a succedent, such as: for the nativity of the Cosmos (so it’s talking about the Thema Mundi), let Cancer mark the hour, Aries culminate, Capricorn set, and let the Subterraneous Pivot be Libra. Pisces is the decline of Aries, Taurus is the succedent; Leo is the succedent of Cancer, and Gemini is the decline, since Cancer is following. One must take [it] in the same way for each nativity. And those following from the angles are called succedents, but those leading are called declines.”
So again, he’s trying to explain the concept of angularity here, but he’s doing it entirely in a sign-based framework. He’s giving an example where he says the Ascendant is Cancer; so he’s saying the entire sign itself of Cancer, because it contains the Ascendant becomes the Ascendant and essentially becomes the 1st house. One of the things that you have to get used to that’s unique when you’re reading authors like Valens or Dorotheus is when they say ‘Ascendant’, sometimes they’re talking about the entire rising sign.
Usually, when they’re talking specifically about the degree of the Ascendant, they’ll actually qualify the statement and they’ll say the Ascendant by degree, or something like that. And similarly, often when Valens or Dorotheus say ‘Midheaven’, they’re talking about the entire 10th whole sign house and they’re not necessarily talking about the degree of the Midheaven, and when they are, they actually will go out of their way to qualify the statement.
So it’s really important to pay attention to Olympiodorus because when we’re coming from a modern or a later traditional standpoint, when they start talking about angularity, we normally would be inclined to assume that they’re talking about quadrant houses and the exact degree of angles. But in fact, if you pay attention to the actual words of what they’re saying, they’re often talking about angularity within the context of zodiacal signs, so that the four angles are the four angular whole sign houses: the rising sign, the 4th whole sign house, the 7th whole sign house, and then the 10th whole sign house.
And then the cadent house is the zodiacal sign that comes before the angular house. So that would be like the 12th house comes before the 1st house and that’s why it’s a decline or why it’s a cadent house because it’s moving away from the angle. Or the 3rd house is moving away from the 4th house and that’s why the 3rd house is a declining zodiacal sign, so on and so forth. The 6th house and the 9th house are the other two declining signs, which in this context are signs of the zodiac that are declining relative to the angular zodiacal signs, whereas the succedent houses are the signs of the zodiac that come after the angles, or will rise up towards the angles. What gives them their property of being succedent is this notion of rising up towards the angles.
So that’s how Olympiodorus defines angularity. This is important because in some of the other citations of the Hermes text, when it uses a very important technical concept of planets being chrematistikos, which means ‘advantageous’ or ‘conducive to business’. It can also mean ‘busy’. The Hermes text seemed to have defined that concept; chrematistikos is basically the concept of what we call today angularity or planets being more active or more busy. When the Hermes text defined angularity in some of the citations we have–like by Thrasyllus–it talks about it within the context of zodiacal signs.
Here’s a quote from Thrasyllus where he cites the text by another author named Timaeus, and the Timaeus text itself evidently cited Hermes. The text says: “Following Timaeus, they say that seven zodiacal signs lend themselves to the conduct of advantageous business – I mean the four pivots (those are the four angles), which are the Hour-Marker (which is the Ascendant or the rising sign) and Midheaven and Descendant and Anti-Midheaven (so they’re saying the rising sign, the 10th whole sign house, the 7th whole sign house, and the 4th whole sign house), and also, the two trigonal figures to the Hour-Marker (it’s saying the two signs that are trine to the rising sign, which are the 5th whole sign house and the 9th whole sign house), and also, the post-ascension of the Midheaven (which would be the succedent house after the Midheaven, which would be the 11th whole sign house).” Then it says: “The remaining signs are without ability to bring advantage.” So that would be the 12th house, the 6th house, and the 8th house, and so on and so forth. Basically, this is Hermes’ explanation for why some of the houses are positive and some of the houses are negative, and it’s applying that within a sign-based, or in other words, a whole sign house framework.
Here’s a diagram. Part of the underlying rationale for this–which gets explicated in later authors like Firmicus Maternus when they try to explain why some of the houses are positive and why some of them are negative that’s coming from the early foundational authors like Hermes–is they explain that it has to do with the configuration that those whole sign houses have to the 1st whole sign house.
For example, if the sign of Cancer is rising, and Cancer is the 1st house–and the 1st house represents the body and the spirit of the native–then any of the houses that aspect the 1st house by a major aspect–which is a sextile, square, trine, or opposition–are going to be considered good houses, or positive houses that are somehow supportive of the native, and therefore, those houses are assigned positive significations for the most part. Whereas, any of the houses that don’t aspect the rising sign by one of the major aspects are seen to be not supportive of the native, and therefore, are given negative significations.
This is why the 6th house is illness, the 8th house later became death, and the 12th house is sometimes associated with loss. It’s because those houses are in aversion to or do not aspect the rising sign. So this is important because we can see that some of the early authors that are coming up with significations of the houses–especially the Hermes text–are doing so within the context of a whole sign house or a sign-based framework, where they’re talking about angularity and the positiveness or negativeness of the houses within the context of the zodiacal signs, and therefore, it’s taking for granted a whole sign house framework.
So this is probably then the reason why so many of, not just early texts, but why so many of the later astrological texts–both the literary texts by authors like Dorortheus and Valens, as well as the standalone birth charts–are taking whole sign houses for granted. It’s probably because the Hermes text itself–which was probably the original text that introduced the first set of significations for the 12 houses–was taking the whole sign house framework for granted and using that as its primary approach. And this then explains why so many of the later Hellenistic authors used whole sign houses as their primary approach as well because they were following what was essentially the original tradition, or the original system that was outlined in the initial text that introduced the 12 houses as an idea or a new technique.
Naturally, especially early in a tradition, when an author introduces a new technique and it takes off and later astrologers adopt it, they’ll tend to stick relatively closely, at least initially, to the foundational approach that’s outlined by the author who introduced the technique. And in this context, that seems to explain the prevalence of whole sign houses in the Hellenistic tradition, especially the earlier and earlier you go.
All right, so we’ve talked about the Hermes text. I now want to transition into talking about the second text, which is the Asclepius text. I think that the Hermes text was the first text that introduced the idea of the 12 houses, and it introduced a set of significations for the 12 houses that the Hermes text thought made sense to them and provided a foundation for that new technique of using a birth chart and assigning different topics or different areas of life to different sectors of the chart based on 12 whole sign houses. But then, at some point after that, there was another author that came along that wrote another text, a second text, and they attributed it to Asclepius, who was a mythological figure in both the Greek tradition as well as in the Egyptian tradition.
The Asclepius text did a few things. One of the things that it did is it seems to have introduced an alternative set of significations for just the first 8 houses, and this is referred to consistently by different authors in the Hellenistic tradition as the Octatropos, which if you translated it literally it means ‘eight-turning’. So the name of the system may have been the ‘eight-turning’. There are some spelling variants which may indicate that it was referred to as the Octotopos, which would mean ‘eight-place system’, but it’s not clear if that’s just a typo or something like that. At the very least, we do know that some of the texts referred to it as the ‘eight-turning system’.
So it introduced a set of significations for the first 8 houses, and what I mean by that is this. Here’s a diagram which lists the significations of the Octatropos that’s attributed to Asclepius by several later authors, and it seems to have been an alternative set of significations. In some early 20th century scholarship, they came across the Octatropos and they thought mistakenly that it was a different approach to house division where you were dividing the entire chart up into eight segments, but that’s not actually what it was. Instead, it just seems to have been an alternative set of significations for the first 8 houses.
According to the Asclepius text, the 1st house is said to signify life, the 2nd house is said to signify livelihood, the 3rd house is said to signify siblings, the 4th house signifies parents, the 5th house children, the 6th house injury, the 7th house wife, and the 8th house signifies fortune and death. One of the things that’s interesting about the significations of the houses according to the Asclepius text is that it actually modifies some of the significations from the Hermes text that were introduced earlier and it moves them around.
For example, we can see that death was moved from the 7th house, where it was in the Hermes text, and it’s moved over to the 8th house. What’s interesting about that is that you’ll see in some of the early authors like Thrasyllus and Antiochus that they present the Hermes significations separately from the Asclepius significations–the eight-place system and the 12-place system. And it’s clear in the early authors like Antiochus and Thrasyllus that these are two separate systems, or two separate texts that are being drawn on like two separate streams. But in later authors like Vettius Valens–who’s a century or two later–they’ll tend to synthesize and merge those two sets of significations into one approach.
And what’s funny is that the later authors tended to side with Asclepius in following his modifications of the Hermes system for some reason, so that later authors tend to eventually drop the associations of the 7th house with death–which was in the prototypical set of significations in the Hermes text–and instead they’ll tend to assign death to the 8th house which is following the Asclepius text. Basically, in a number of instances, those modifications of the system that were introduced by Asclepius seemed to have taken off and have been adopted by the later tradition for whatever reason.
So death is moved from the 7th to the 8th. In other instances though, we can see that the Asclepius text didn’t reject the significations from Hermes, but instead it just retained some of those significations. For example, the Hermes text attributes injury to the 6th house and the Asclepius text likewise attributes injury to the 6th house. The Hermes text attributes the wife or the spouse to the 7th house and the Asclepius text similarly attributes the wife or the spouse to the 7th house. In some instances, even though it modified some significations, there were others that it seems to have retained and not changed at all.
There have been speculations, like Schmidt speculated or noted that one of the things that’s unique about the Asclepius significations is it introduces different family members. It basically introduces all of the family members by introducing parents to the 4th house and children to the 5th house, so that you have the native’s entire family indicated by the set of significations by Asclepius, where you have siblings, parents, children, and wife or spouse. Part of the motivation for the Asclepius introducing this alternative set of significations was introducing the main players, the different family members in a person’s life and making it so that astrologers could access what specific house to look for if you needed to answer questions about the parents or the children or the siblings, or what have you.
So there’s a conceptual or a practical motivation for why the Asclepius text would want to introduce an alternative set of significations that modifies or adds to some of the Hermes significations. It also explains how or why some of the later astrologers would have merged the Hermes and Asclepius systems because there were good points from both of them, and there are pieces of both that made sense. The later astrologers tended to just take the best parts that made the most sense to them and merge those into one approach, even though they were introduced separately originally.
The other thing that the Asclepius text seems to have done that’s interesting is that it seems to have outlined the concept of equal houses. So it’s not just that it introduced an alternative set of significations for the first 8th house, but it also seems to have introduced an alternative approach to house division as well. And we can see this because in both Valens and Firmicus, they seem to mention equal houses, especially within the context or in connection with the Asclepius material.
In Valens, for example, it’s only in this one chapter, when he starts talking about Asclepius, that all of a sudden, he introduces the equal house system, which he never has talked about before up to that point. Similarly, Firmicus seems to put a lot of emphasis on Asclepius as a major author who he says wrote about and contributed a lot to the concept of the 12 houses, and Firmicus is one of the unique authors who also introduces the equal house system in his text.
By reading the texts of Firmicus and Valens, and studying those sections where they talk about both the equal house systems as well as Asclepius, one of the things that you can see is that they both seem to be attempting to use both whole sign houses and equal houses at the same time in those passages or in those chapters. This seems to imply that the Asclepius text actually tried to use both whole sign houses and equal houses at the same time.
So what I’ve taken from this and my understanding at this point is that the Hermes text seems to have introduced the significations for the 12 houses, or a rudimentary set, and it was taking the whole sign house system for granted. Then the Asclepius text comes along and it introduces an alternative set of significations to the first 8 houses, and it’s taking, to some extent, whole sign houses for granted, but it’s also adding an additional modification by trying to use equal houses at the same time. So it’s integrating both a sign-based framework for house division as well as a degree-based framework for house division, which is what equal houses introduces that’s kind of unique or worthwhile, as we saw earlier when we were talking about the different approaches to house division.
When the Asclepius text uses both whole sign houses as a foundation and then also equal houses on top of that as a secondary degree-based framework, it’s not clear to me in the original source text that guys like Firmicus or Valens, or even potentially Rhetorius were drawing on if the Asclepius text used the secondary equal house framework for topics–1st house is body, 2nd house is finances, 3rd house is siblings, and so on and so forth–or if it was only using that secondary framework for planetary strength to indicate which planets were more prominent in certain zodiacal signs. And we’ll see arguments for both approaches, where you could make either interpretation later, when I cite one of the texts that seems to have been drawing on the Asclepius text for its delineations. Actually, I think we’ll turn to that right now.
All right, so here’s the passage, the primary passage. It’s not the entire thing, but here’s the passage where Valens seems to be drawing on this lost text attributed to Asclepius when he introduces the concept of equal houses. Actually, I meant to mention earlier that what sucks is that a lot of this is a reconstruction of what happened in the early Hellenistic tradition because we actually lost–they didn’t survive–the foundational texts by the foundational authors like Hermes and Asclepius and Nechepso and Petosiris.
All we have are references or allusions, or sometimes little fragments of those texts that survive in quotations by later authors like Valens, but we don’t have the full texts themselves to actually study to know exactly what they said. Which is really frustrating because then it means sometimes there’s inferences and sometimes you have triangulate and piece together what different authors are saying about the text that they are drawing on in order to infer what the original source text said.
But Valens, just before he introduces equal houses, he mentions Asclepius, and he says that Asclepius contributed a lot to the doctrine of the houses, and then all of a sudden, he starts talking about equal houses and this is what he says. He says: “First of all, it’s necessary to calculate the positions of the places in degrees: count from whatever point has been determined to be the Ascendant until you have completed the 30° of the first place; and this will be the Place of Life. Then proceed until you’ve completed another 30°, the Place of Livelihood. Continue in the order of signs.”
And then I have this part underlined because this is important. This is actually a sentence that I’ve noticed proponents of quadrant houses and other degree-based forms of house division are attempting to overlook when they talk about Valens introducing equal houses in this passage. They tend to not mention the point where Valens here evidently says that you should pay attention to both whole sign houses and equal houses at the same time. So here’s the sentence. It says: “Often two places will fall in one sign and will indicate both qualities according to the number of degrees each one occupies. Likewise examine in which sign the ruler of the sign is and which place it controls (according to its degree-position in the horoscope).” And then it goes on, but unfortunately, it starts giving delineations and the text becomes garbled so that we don’t know completely how it went. It just starts giving random delineations and then it jumps to talking about something that sounds like secondary progressions, and it’s clear that the manuscript just got messed up at that point.
But what’s important here is I think Valens is drawing on and is summarizing a discussion that occurred in the Asclepius text when the Asclepius text must have introduced the concept of equal houses. But here, it’s saying that sometimes when you’re calculating equal houses that you’re going to get this doubling-up of both an equal house and a whole sign house and that it will indicate both qualities according to the number of degrees each one occupies. What we’re seeing there I think is an indication of using both whole sign houses and equal houses at the same time and that must have been the approach the Asclepius text advocated.
That’s something that I talk about and demonstrate pretty extensively. This idea of a doubling-up of forms of house division recurs not just in Valens but also in other authors like Rhetorius and Firmicus if you go through their delineation material where they delineate planets in houses. I think I have an example of that here in a second.
One of the questions we have is if Asclepius is introducing equal houses at this point, why is he doing that, or what is the motivation for doing that? I think there may be some earlier historical justification of this if you go back to the idea that the ancient Egyptians were focusing on the rising decan and the culminating decan, because when you’re doing that, it’s basically marking out a 10° space. So a decan is 10° and that’s indicating a 10° space by the rising degree and a 10° space by the culminating degree, and that’s very close as an approximation to what you’re doing in equal houses when you identify the degree of the Ascendant and you say that’s the beginning of the 1st house, and you identify the degree of the nonagesimal, the 90-degree point upwards, and say that that’s the Midheaven and that that’s the beginning of the 10th equal house.
There’s a very short passage, but it’s a very important passage that survives from Hephaestio where he starts talking about what the ancient Egyptians did with the decans. In this text, which is apparently referred to as the Salmeschoiniaka, or something approximating that–nobody knows what the title means. There’s pages and pages of scholars for about a century now who have been trying to make different arguments about what the title actually means and nobody really knows. I mean, there’s different arguments that might be more or less correct, but we’re not really sure.
Anyways, Hephaestio, who wrote some time around 415 CE, cites this text on the decans. We tend to think that this was a text that originated some time around the 1st or 2nd century BCE and may have been a precursor to Hellenistic astrology. It may have represented what the Egyptians were doing with the decans very late in their tradition. And if that’s true, what they were doing is they were using what’s almost like a ‘whole decan’ house system. So instead of a whole sign house system, they were using something similar with the decans, the 36 decans, but using those 36, 10-degree asterisms.
Here’s the quote from Hephaestio. He says: “And one must also examine the decans, since the first decan of the Ascendant deals with birth; the 28th from the Ascendant, which culminates early, deals with livelihood.” Then he goes on: “The 25th, which culminates at noon, deals with sickness; the 9th, which rises late in the east, deals with injury; the 17th, which rises in the west, deals with marriage and wives; the 8th, the door of Hades, deals with children, and the one in the subterraneous [angle] deals with death. These are the places that the ancient Egyptians used in every nativity.”
This is really important because even though the dating of this text is actually really difficult and we’re not fully sure where it comes from, what time period it comes from. Scholars generally think that it comes from some time around the first few centuries BCE, which would make it legitimately early, like super early, towards the very end of the Egyptian astrological tradition, just before Hellenistic astrology comes on the scene.
If that dating is at all correct, the assignment of significations to the decans shows what the precursor was in terms of the Egyptian contribution to the concept of the houses, because it means that they were identifying the rising decan–or the decan that the Ascendant was located in–and saying that that was the 1st decan and that it signified birth. And then they said that the 28th decan–which would be exactly 90° upwards, roughly coinciding with the nonagesimal degree–would signify livelihood, which is very close in terms of significations to the 10th house meanings that came about later, that also had to do with one’s career or one’s occupation.
Then they said that the 19th decan–which would roughly coincide with where the Descendant is–indicates injury. Remember, in the Hermes text, it assigned death to the Descendant or the 7th whole sign house. So that could be the contribution that the Egyptian decan tradition made to the Hermes text in influencing that idea of the Descendant, where the Sun sets each day, indicating something about bodily harm or death. And then finally, it says that the 10th decan–which would roughly coincide with the equal house IC; so 90° from the Ascendant, but this time downwards–signified death.
I’m bringing this up because if this is true, it indicates that there was a pre-existing tradition that was focusing on what is essentially the four angular decans, in this instance, or the four angles, but it was doing it in an equal house context, because it was assigning the 1st decan, the 10th decan, the 19th decan, and the 28th decan to those places, and those would always coincide with what is essentially the four equal house angles. So that could have been part of the earlier, historical precedent for the Asclepius text eventually generating a tradition where it’s using equal houses and its focusing on those four angular degrees as being the starting point for the four angles instead of focusing on the entire whole sign house–or maybe in addition to focusing on the entire whole sign house.
One of the things to take into account here and keep in mind is it’s focusing on those four angles, but it’s not trisecting the arc between them or something like that. This a pre-12-fold, house division approach where it’s setting up 36 sectors, or 36 houses measured relative to the rising decan. And the other thing that’s really interesting about it is, like I said earlier, it’s a whole decan approach. Whatever decan the Ascendant is located in, that entire decan is said to signify the topic of birth; or whatever decan the Descendant is located in, that entire 10-degree range is said to signify injury; or whatever degree the equal house Midheaven is located in, that entire 10-degree range is said to signify livelihood.
Again, this is really important because if this text, the Salmeschoiniaka, is genuinely early then it’s showing that the idea of the angles marking certain signs–like they do in the whole sign house system, where the Ascendant degree or the rising degree marks the rising sign and then that entire sign takes on the topics of the 1st house–there was already a precedent there in the Egyptian tradition with this whole decan approach where the rising decan becomes the 1st decan and it signifies birth, and then the rest of the decans have certain qualities based on their position relative to the rising decan.
But it’s not just focusing on a degree-based approach, it’s focusing on both a degree and an entire range of degrees that contains that angle. So I think from this we can almost start to get a sense of why the Asclepius text then might be trying to merge both the whole sign approach as well as the equal house approach because it might have been drawing on this earlier Egyptian tradition. It was also taking into account both degrees as well as the entire 10-degree range of the decan as well.
All right. Finally, we come to the third text, which is the Nechepso-Petosiris text. And what happened with the Nechepso-Petosiris text is in the lineage given by Firmicus Maternus, Nechepso and Petosiris are below Hermes and Asclepius. So if that chronological order is correct at all–it’s not just from Firmicus; also, there are other authors that report it–then the Hermes text comes first, then we have the Asclepius text, and then we have the Nechepso-Petosiris text.
The Nechepso-Petosiris text introduced a bunch of things. It seems to have been widely cited and very influential in the ancient world; unfortunately, it doesn’t survive. We only have some fragments and quotations and allusions to it in later authors. But despite that, one of the techniques that it seems to have introduced or seems to have talked about that was incredibly influential is the Nechepso-Petosiris text seems to have outlined what became the common length-of-life technique that was used by later Hellenistic astrologers; by astrologers like Valens and Ptolemy and Dorotheus and Manetho and lots of other authors basically.
This technique for determining how long a person would live utilized primary directions. And the technique–it was a twofold technique–where one part involved calculating a predominator. Once you have determined the predominator–or the planet that was capable of representing the life force of the native–you would then use primary directions to direct that planet, or to advance it or move it around the chart until it hit the rays of malefics, especially a hard aspect: a conjunction, square, or opposition with a malefic. And when that happened, it would indicate a crisis in the native’s life in terms of their physical vitality and the potential for the native to exit their life and to die at that time.
So that was one part of the technique. The other part of the technique is once you find the predominator to use it to identify the Master of the Nativity, and once you find the Master of the Nativity, the condition of that planet–based on the sign and the house and the other things that have to do with its condition–would indicate a certain number of years that the native might live. And if that number of years lined up with the number of years that you get from directing the predominator then there’s a higher degree of likelihood, according to the ancient tradition, the native could die at that time once the number of years is up basically. This is something I talked about more back in Episode 205, in the podcast episode on the Master of the Nativity in terms of outlining part of that technique and outlining what it was used for to calculate the overall ruler of the chart.
Anyway, in this technique, because they were trying to figure out the strongest planet in a chart that could indicate the life force or the vitality of the native–and then they would use primary directions to move that planet forward in the chart until it hit the rays of malefics–they seem to have been focused primarily on the concept of angularity in order to determine which planet was the predominating planet that you should start from in order to use primary directions.
When you read Book 3 of Vettius Valens, or when you read, I believe, it’s in Book 3 of Ptolemy, both of them–when they get to chapter where they introduce the length-of-life technique–up to that point, for the most part, they’ve been using whole sign houses that entire time, and even after that Valens will continue using whole sign houses. So we’re already up to Book 3 of the Anthology by the time Valens introduces the length-of-life technique, and he’s already used dozens of birth charts as examples all throughout Book 2 of the Anthology, and in every single one of them, he’s used whole sign houses up to this point.
But then all of a sudden, when Valens gets to the length-of-life technique, he stops and there’s a digression, and he introduces for the very first time the concept of quadrant houses. This is really important because it’s at this point that Valens switches to and introduces quadrant houses for the first time, and he even uses at least one or two example charts to demonstrate how to calculate quadrant houses and how to use them within the context of the length-of-life technique. But then after that point, once Valens is done with the length-of-life technique, he never uses quadrant houses again in any other example chart; he reverts back to using whole sign houses.
And even though he also mentions equal houses at some point later in the Anthology, he never actually uses equal houses in any of his 100-plus example charts. So what that means is that in the vast majority of chart examples by Valens–in 98 or 99% of the chart examples–he uses whole sign houses except in this one chapter on the length-of-life technique where he suddenly introduces quadrant houses. He uses at least one example chart to demonstrate how quadrant houses work in order to determine which planet is the most angular in order to therefore determine the predominating planet that you direct using primary directions for the length-of-life technique.
Why is this important? It’s not just important for Valens, but what’s weird is that Ptolemy does almost the exact same thing. All throughout Ptolemy’s text, he sometimes refers to the houses in passing, and he seems to take for granted whole sign houses a number of times. In certain passages, he’ll refer to the houses as if they’re zodiacal signs, which is kind of weird from a modern standpoint, but it makes total sense if you understand that he’s taking whole sign houses for granted just like Valens was doing and just like Dorotheus and other Hellenistic astrologers were doing. Valens is taking whole sign houses for granted as his primary form of house division, but then when he gets to the length-of-life technique, suddenly, he introduces for the first time an alternative form of house division.
And according to the two primary translators of Ptolemy in modern times, or primary scholars of Hellenistic astrology–one of them is Robert Schmidt who translated Books 1, 3, and 4 of Ptolemy, and the other was James Holden, one of the great historians of astrology who passed away just a few years ago–they both said that Ptolemy seems to introduce equal houses at this point in his discussion when he’s talking about the length-of-life technique.
So what we have then is a little bit of a difference because there’s a similarity, but there’s also a difference. Even though they’re both introducing two different forms of house division with Valens apparently introducing quadrant houses–and he specifically outlines Porphyry houses at this point–and then Ptolemy potentially introducing equal houses, the commonality is that both of them are introducing some degree-based form of house division within the context of this technique.
There’s probably reasons for that, but part of the reason, I think, is that this must have been what in the original Nechepso-Petosiris text introduced the length-of-life technique, because all of the authors seem to be drawing on this Nechepso-Petosiris text for the discussion of the length-of-life technique. It introduced the technique, and it must have introduced some degree-based form of house division at this point in order to determine which planets were angular or which planets were prominent.
I think the reason for this is because planets that are getting close to the degree of the Ascendant are getting prepared to rise, or if they’re getting close to the Meridian Midheaven, they’re getting ready to culminate. If they’re getting close to the degree of the Descendant, they’re getting close to set, and so on and so forth. So what this does is it ends up creating a range of degrees that are more powerful, where the planets are rising into positions of prominence in the chart.
I think this may have been why some authors interpreted and followed the Nechepso and Petosiris text, like Valens, in introducing quadrant houses at this point. It’s because when planets are rising up towards the degrees of the angles, and they’re within a few degree range of those, they’re rising up towards positions of prominence. So when a planet hits the degree of the Ascendant, of course it rises up over the eastern horizon and it emerges from under the Earth. Whereas, when a planet is rising up and is moving towards the degree of the Midheaven, the Meridian Midheaven, it’s rising up towards the spot of its highest elevation in the sky.
Originally, in some of the early authors, like Valens and Antiochus, they seem to almost paraphrase the Petosiris text, and when they do so, they’re just talking about the angles using this very vague, directional language that has to do with east and west and north and south and other terms like that. And it almost seems as if the original source text may not have necessarily outlined very clearly what specific degree-based form of house division should be used, but instead, it originally it just outlined a loose range of degrees right after the angles, the degrees of the angles that were said to be powerful or potent, but then later authors tended to standardize that into other, alternative, full-fledged forms of quadrant house division, such as Porphyry houses and Alcabitius houses. I’m not going to go into that in detail because I actually go into that in the book, so I’ll just leave that discussion for there because it’s kind of complicated. Let’s keep moving forward.
I think what happened is that the original length-of-life technique was probably introduced in the Petosiris text. It seems to have used–based on the paraphrase–some of the same rules that are in both Valens and Antiochus, as well as Porphyry–so three texts–when they start explaining how to calculate the predominator. Those three texts, when they explain how to start calculating the predominator, they all start giving very similar rules that use this sort of ambiguous directional language when it refers to the houses. So it said things like “declining in the west,” or “rising up in the east,” and other language like that.
We can see in authors like Valens that Valens will have a tendency to just convert that into normal language, like saying 1st house, 7th house, 11th house, and so on and so forth, but in Antiochus and Porphyry, they actually retain the vagueness of that directional language. And I think the vagueness of that directional language is actually what led to different variants in the later tradition because there may have been an open question about what the original author meant when they were trying to describe how to use this technique.
So basically, different interpretations of the original source text of Petosiris may have led to variations in the later tradition. And I think this is why Valens, for example, when he’s doing the length-of-life technique at this point, he introduces Porphyry houses and says that this is what you’re supposed to use for the length-of-life technique. Whereas, Ptolemy at this point, when he’s talking about the length-of-life technique, he introduces what seems to be equal houses and that seems to be his preferred method of degree-based form of house division at that point in time. I think it has to do with just differing interpretations of what the core source text meant and different astrologers thinking that the original authors meant different things.
The primary thing that I think tripped them up from a textual standpoint is questions about whether east and west should be interpreted very strictly, or whether it should be interpreted more generally. So the authors were asking themselves questions about what does the original Petosiris text mean by east and west. Remember that I said that it used ambiguous directional language. This is important because if a text is saying east or west, we know that the Ascendant is always roughly due east and the Descendant is always roughly due west.
But the issue is that the degree of the Meridian Midheaven, like I said earlier, is actually the dividing line in indicating not just north and south, but also, it’s the dividing line between east and west. So if your core source text, like the Petosiris text, was using directional language and saying east versus west to calculate where the predominator is, then this could be the reason why some authors like Valens switched to quadrant houses in that instance, because that would be the only system that would tell you precisely when a planet is in the eastern half of the chart versus when it switches over to the western half of the chart. It would only be the quadrant house system that would be truly correct from a directional standpoint.
So that may be part of the reason. There may have been other authors like Ptolemy who may have felt like east and west just pertained to the Ascendant and the Descendant. So instead of taking east and west super-literally and saying that you must only use the degree of the Meridian Midheaven to demarcate that, he may have just used equal houses as a general degree-based form of house division since you knew you were supposed to use some form of degree-based house division. Equal houses may have been sufficient, or he may have felt that was sufficient since it would have still indicated roughly east versus west to the extent that east is associated with the Ascendant and west with the Descendant.
I know that all of that’s kind of complicated. I actually went into this a little bit more and used, I think, better diagrams and details because I actually took some of the chart examples from Porphyry in my previous episode on the Master of the Nativity, which I think was Episode 205. So if you’d like more information about this argument, I’d recommend checking out that episode, and also, of course, Chapter 11 of my book where I talk more about this, and I have more specific quotations from each of the authors when they’re discussing it.
Anyway, to make a long story short, one of the conclusions that I would make from this is that some of the multiplicity of different house systems may have arose out of textual ambiguity of later authors like Valens and Ptolemy interpreting an early source text like Petosiris but coming to different conclusions about what it said, and therefore, going in different technical directions based on that. We can already see that that actually did happen with other techniques, like the Lot of Fortune, where some early authors introduced the Lot of Fortune, but there was some ambiguity about how to calculate it and when to reverse the calculation for day or night charts.
Valens actually quotes these passages from the Nechepso and Petosiris on the calculation of the Lot of Fortune, which he says is ambiguous. He then quotes the text and says: “Different authors have come to different conclusions about what this means,” and then he provides his own interpretation of what he thinks it means and how you would calculate the Lot of Fortune and when you would reverse the calculation based on his interpretation.
So we can see from that that sometimes later authors were coming to different technical conclusions about when to do certain things based on ambiguity in interpreting earlier source texts that they viewed as authoritative. I think that’s partially what was also happening here when it comes to the house division issue. We can see the same exact thing happening, two major authors living in the same century, both of them living in the same city, in Alexandria, Egypt, in the 2nd century, Valens and Ptolemy, coming to potentially, slightly different conclusions while still drawing on the same source text, which is the text of Petosiris, and attempting to follow it in putting into practice the same technique–which was the length-of-life technique–in trying to figure out how to calculate the predominator ina chart.
Yeah, some of the ambiguity, some of the technical variation in the Western astrological tradition when it comes to the house division issue may not have been fully astrologers disagreeing with each other based on practical considerations. Some of the differences in the later tradition may have evolved out of differing textual interpretations of earlier texts, which is kind of interesting because we can see recurrences of that sometimes later in the tradition where differing interpretations of the same source text can lead to different techniques forming from astrologers that are reading the same book but reading it differently.
All right, I want to transition at this point into the last phases of this lecture where I want to talk a little bit about some of the later attempts to synthesize the different approaches that occurred in the later parts of the Hellenistic tradition.
I’ve kind of established already at this point that my reconstruction is that you’ve got these three different forms of house division that are basically introduced in these three, early astrological texts. You have whole sign houses that are introduced in the Hermes text, you have equal houses in the Asclepius text, and you have potentially some form of quadrant house division being interpreted from the Nechepso-Petosiris text based on the length-of-life technique, especially to the extent that it was using directional language. And if you use directional language then the most perfect form of house division for directional concerns is quadrant houses, if that’s your primary concern. So we’ve got these three different forms of house division in the early authors. In the later authors, we can see them occasionally struggling with and sometimes trying to reconcile these different systems, which in some instances are wildly different approaches.
Like I said, when it comes to Valens and Ptolemy, they often tend to use whole sign houses and talk about the houses as if they are the signs, which is what the astrologers do when they’re using whole sign houses. In the whole sign system, of course, the signs are the houses because you’re just numbering the houses relative to the rising sign. So most of the time, they’re using whole sign houses for topics when we’re talking about different areas of life or different people in the native’s life, like the 1st house for health, the 2nd house for money, the 3rd house for siblings, the 4th house for parents, 5th house for children, and so on and so forth. Those are topics; those are using the houses for topical concerns.
But then, all of a sudden, when it gets to the length-of-life technique, when they’re trying to determine the prominence of the planets and they’re trying to determine planetary activity, that is when they introduce their degree-based forms of house division. So at this point, Valens switches to quadrant houses for determining planetary strength, and Ptolemy evidently seems to switch to equal houses for determining planetary strength.
One interpretation is that Valens and Ptolemy were then essentially using whole sign houses for assigning topics and they were using quadrant houses or equal houses as a secondary overlay for determining planetary strength, or determining how busy or how active the planets were in different sectors of the chart. They would use the technical term, chrematistikos, which means both ‘advantageous’ as well as ‘busy’ or ‘active’. One possible way, at least in terms of those two authors when they’re dealing with the length-of-life technique, that they seem to attempt to reconcile the systems is by using whole sign houses for topics and quadrant houses for determining planetary strength.
In terms of modern discussions of this topic that initially, in the 1990s, was Schmidt’s argument and Schmidt’s interpretation for how some of the astrologers were using the different systems, with the idea that whole sign houses was used for topics and quadrant houses was used for planetary strength. And there are some astrologers that still go in that direction or have that specific interpretation in terms of attempting to use each system for a specific role or for a specific purpose. However, things are kind of complicated.
Elsewhere, in the Anthology, Valens returns to this issue, and he seems to use–he does actually use the degree of the Meridian Midheaven to assign topics to different whole sign houses. He also uses the degree of the IC to assign topics in the bottom part of the chart to different whole sign houses. So using this approach, what Valens is basically doing–I think this is in Book 5 of the Anthology, somewhere towards the middle of it when he introduces this approach–he’s using whole sign houses, again, as his basic backdrop for different topics. But then he points out that the Meridian Midheaven can fall in different whole sign houses, so that the Meridian Midheaven kind of floats around the top half of the chart and the degree of the IC floats around the bottom half of the chart.
And what he says is that whatever sign, whatever whole sign house the degree of the Midheaven falls in, it will import what are essentially 10th house topics into whatever whole sign house it falls in, so that there’s a doubling-up of topics in that whole sign house. For example, if the degree of the Midheaven falls in the 11th whole sign house, then it means that that sign will have both 10th house topics pertaining to career, as well as 11th house topics pertaining to friends all in the same sign.
So in that approach, it’s kind of like how they’re using the Ascendant to mark the entire sign, but in this instance, the Midheaven–whatever sign it falls in–it marks the entire sign with 10th house topics, which then double-up with whatever pre-existing whole sign house topics are already there. Basically, he says the same thing happens with the IC, where the IC can fall in different whole sign houses and then there’s a doubling-up of topics in that sign.
In order to validate this, here’s the actual passage from Valens. And one of the funny things is, again, some of the later proponents of quadrant houses, they’ll sometimes cite this passage of Valens, and they’ll say, “See, Valens is using quadrant houses,” but they’ll ignore the fact that what Valens is actually doing is he’s doubling-up topics, and he’s saying that you should use both quadrant houses and whole sign houses at the same time.
Although, one of the things that’s tricky that you have to be careful about is he doesn’t say anything about calculating intermediate house cusps. So we’re actually not clear here if Valens is using a full system of quadrant houses here, or if what he’s doing is just paying attention to the degree of the Meridian Midheaven and the degree of the IC and using those for topics, but then not actually calculating other intermediate house cusps besides that, because all he does is talk about the Midheaven and the IC.
So here’s part of the passage. He gives an example, basically–this is just part of the passage– he says: “As with the Ascendant in Gemini, the Midheaven in Aquarius by degree. This place, then, possesses the relation concerning activity and reputation and children, and also that concerning a foreign land and god since zodiacally it is found in the 9th from the Ascendant.”
Okay, so that’s really important. Let’s unpack that. He’s giving a chart example where the Ascendant is in Gemini and the degree of the Midheaven–he qualifies it when he’s talking about the exact degree of the Midheaven because, otherwise, when he says Midheaven, usually he is referring to the 10th whole sign house. But here, he says the Midheaven is in Aquarius by degree, which means that if the Ascendant’s in Gemini, the Midheaven by degree is falling in Aquarius, which is the 9th whole sign house.
So he’s giving us a chart example where the Midheaven has fallen in the 9th whole sign house, and he says what happens is that that sign–and interestingly, he seems to imply the entirety of that sign, so it’s not just the range of the degrees after the Midheaven. But again, he’s using the degree of the Midheaven like an hour-marker, just like the Ascendant–where the degree of the Midheaven has this power or this quality just like a Lot–just like the Lot of Fortune–where it’s marking the entirety of that sign of Aquarius with its significations, or with its properties, with its qualities. And he says that the entirety of Aquarius takes on 10th house significations, which he says are “the relation concerning activity,” and the term for activity used here is praxis, which also means ‘occupation’.
He says this place, Aquarius, takes on “the relation concerning occupation and reputation and children,” so those are three topics that are associated with the 10th house, or in this instance, with the Midheaven in Hellenistic astrology: occupation, reputation, and children. So he’s saying Aquarius, because the degree of the Midheaven falls there, that sign takes on 10th house significations. But then he adds an additional qualifier and he says as well Aquarius takes on 9th house significations, and then he gives 9th house significations, which are a foreign land and god–remember, the 9th house is the Place of God and religion–because zodiacally, or by zodiacal sign, it is found in the 9th from the Ascendant.
This is really crucial and it’s often overlooked, but this passage is important because since the 1990s, since we first had the Project Hindsight translations of Valens, this has been the passage that whole sign house users have taken very seriously because it tells you an important piece of what you’re supposed to do with the Midheaven, which is that whatever sign the degree of the Midheaven falls in, you have a doubling-up of significations in that whole sign house. You’ll have both some 10th house significations, as well as the significations of whatever whole sign house it falls in, and the justification is this passage.
It’s important to understand that Valens is not just using quadrant houses here, but instead, he’s using the degree of the Midheaven topically–not just for dynamic purposes; not just for determining how busy the planets are. He’s using it as a horoscopic marker to designate topics that are being imported into whatever whole sign house it falls in and then there’s a doubling-up of topics.
But interestingly, he goes on and he extends the same principle to the degree of the IC. So he says: “Similarly also, the diameter of Aquarius (that is, Leo), which is the subterraneous angle (which is the Hellenistic name for the IC) possesses the relation concerning foundations, buildings, and parents, as well as that concerning god and siblings and a foreign land.” So what he’s doing there is he’s saying that the degree of the IC falls in Leo, and the IC itself imports some 4th house topics into the 3rd whole sign house where there’s a doubling-up of 3rd house and 4th house topics in that sign.
That’s why he says first that in that sign there will be 4th house topics, which according to Valens are foundations, buildings, and parents, which are pretty straightforward 4th house topics. But then he also says there will be 3rd house topics such as, again, god–there’s some religious associations with the 3rd house in Hellenistic astrology; it’s called the Place of Goddess normally–but also, siblings, which is a super-standard, 3rd house signification, and he also says a foreign land because foreign travel is one of the 3rd house significations in Hellenistic astrology.
This is really important because Valens is living in the 2nd century and this is one of the ways that we can see astrologers wrestling with this issue of the difference between whole sign houses and quadrant houses and how they were attempting to reconcile that issue. And for Valens at least, we see this really interesting intermediate stage where, in this passage, he doesn’t actually calculate intermediate house cusps, so it’s not actually clear that he extends this principle to the cusp of the 11th house, or the cusp of the 12th quadrant house, or something like that. Instead, he just seems to be applying it to the four degrees of the quadrant angles and then saying that the degree of the Midheaven and the degree of the IC import 10th house and 4th house topics into whatever whole sign house they fall, but then that’s it and he doesn’t extend it past that.
Interestingly, he’s also not saying that you find the degree of the Midheaven and then you calculate a range of degrees after that that signify 10th house topics. Instead, he’s only saying that whatever sign the degree of the Midheaven falls in that it marks the entirety of that sign with 10th house topics, both in the range of degrees after it, up until the end of the sign, as well as the range of degrees before that in the sign. So that would mean then that if the degree of the Midheaven falls at 29° of Aquarius in this chart example, 10th house significations are being imported into the entirety of the sign of Aquarius, which would start all the way back at 0° of Aquarius because that’s the sign that the Midheaven falls in. But those 10th house significations would end at 29° or 30° of Aquarius at the end of that sign, so that the doubling-up of significations is applied to the entirety of that sign just like when you’re calculating whole sign houses and the Ascendant falls at 29° of Gemini. The degree of the Ascendant marks the entirety of that sign basically, all the way, starting at 0° of that sign regardless of how late the Ascendant is.
So we’re seeing Valens using a similar logic for the degree of the Midheaven and the degree of the IC, and he’s using them as horoscopic markers just like the Lot of Fortune or just like the role the Ascendant plays in whole sign houses, but they can act as floating points that move along the top half of the chart or the bottom half of the chart. And that’s a really interesting in-between position to be in, in terms of using whole sign houses and importing parts of quadrant house division, but not necessarily going all the way with quadrant houses and using them completely for topics by trisecting the arc between the degrees of the angles like later astrologers do, but instead, we have this interesting in-between stage with Valens in the 2nd century.
All right, so that’s Valens’ approach. In later Hellenistic astrologers like Rhetorius–once we get to the very end of the Hellenistic tradition–he’s one of the latest, if not the latest Hellenistic astrologer writing either around 500 CE or around 600 CE, depending on his dating, which is a little iffy, but we know at least he was writing somewhere within that century. Rhetorius in his text, if you go through his delineation material–especially when he goes through and delineates planets in houses–Rhetorius actually has the longest chapter on delineating planets in houses that survives from the Hellenistic tradition.
Rhetorius alternates between using both whole sign houses as well as quadrant houses, not just in his delineations of planets in houses, but he also does this in his example charts. So he gives at least one example in his text where he’s calculating the triplicity rulers of the sect light, and he gives the planetary positions, but he alternates between telling you what the whole sign house position is and telling you what the quadrant house position is, which seems to imply that he is using both in his interpretations at the same time.
This is really important, and it’s also clear in Rhetorius that he’s also calculating the intermediate house cusps at this point. So we don’t have this in-between stage like we did with Valens where it’s not clear that he’s calculating the intermediate house cusps when it comes to attributing topics to the quadrant houses. But by the time of Rhetorius, he clearly is calculating the intermediate house cusps, and he’s using both whole sign houses and quadrant houses at the same time. Firmicus Maternus, who’s also relatively late–he’s living in the middle of the 4th century–he’s also doing something similar where he’s using whole sign houses as well as equal houses at the same time.
So both of them attempt to essentially use whole sign houses together with a degree-based form of house division simultaneously. And when you go through the chapters of theirs where they give delineations of planets in houses, they keep alternating between talking about planets by sign versus the placement of the planet by degree. It’s not always clear if they’re talking about the degree-based form of house division within the context of topics, or if some of the earlier astrologers, like Valens and Ptolemy, are talking about them in terms of just how active or how dynamic or busy the planet is because there’s some ambiguity in the delineations. I’ll show you one in just a second.
I think that both Firmicus and Rhetorius, when they give their delineations of planets in houses, they seem to be drawing on the same source text. One of the things that I do in Chapter 11 of my book is I go through and I compare the passages where they do delineations of the Moon in the 10th house, or the Moon in the 4th house or the 7th house. And when you compare the passage of Rhetorius and Firmicus, you can see that their delineations are very, very similar, so that it’s clear that they’re drawing on the same underlying text.
I suspect then that the earlier source text that they’re drawing on is the text of Asclepius and that maybe that is the source text that both Firmicus and Rhetorius share in common. And that must then be the text that was using both whole sign houses as well as some degree-based form of house division at the same time, but for whatever reason, Rhetorius interprets it one way and uses quadrant houses as well as whole sign houses, whereas Firmicus uses equal houses as well as whole sign houses. So it’s kind of like a similar breakdown as what you find with Valens and Ptolemy where Valens is using quadrant houses and whole sign houses and Ptolemy is using whole sign houses and equal houses for some reason. It may just be based on different interpretations of the same source text.
So there is a question about how much the approaches advocated by Rhetorius and Firmicus represent what was happening later in the tradition, like how much this was a new development where we can see them firmly trying to use both whole sign houses and degree-based forms of house division at the same time and integrate them those in their delineations. How much of that was a later development that was only put in place by the end of the Hellenistic tradition vs. how much does this represent a development that was earlier in the tradition, perhaps going back to the Asclepius text?
Unfortunately, we don’t know because we just have the later delineations from Firmicus and Rhetorius, and we can see that they’re similar but slightly different. We don’t actually know what the original source text said because, sadly, the text of Asclepius doesn’t survive, so we can’t study it ourselves to figure out what it originally seems to have advocated or used. Let me give a delineation.
This is from Rhetorius when he’s delineating the Moon in the different houses, and he’s using both sign-based house division–whole sign houses–plus some degree-based form of house division, which was probably quadrant houses. He says: “The Moon chancing to be of the sect, in the Midheaven sign, on the same spot as the angle, will produce great rulers, kings, rulers of life and death.” Then he goes on and he gives the second part of the delineation, and he says: “Chancing to be in the Midheaven place [only] according to sign indicates those who are great in their actions and in those efforts with which they are entrusted or which they do for their own benefit, and those who receive money.”
What’s important here is that Rhetorius is giving two delineations. In the first delineation, he says the Moon being of the sect in favor–so let’s say the Moon in a night chart–and being in the 10th whole sign house–so he says the Midheaven sign–but then he qualifies it and says, not just in the 10th whole sign house, but also, on the same spot as an angle. The Greek term used here is homokentros, which means homo meaning ‘same’ and kentros meaning ‘angle’ or ‘pivot’. This is the technical term he uses to refer to when a planet is on the exact degree of an angle, which Rhetorius seems to mean on the quadrant Midheaven.
So he’s saying when the Moon is in the 10th whole sign house in a night chart, and it’s not just in the 10th whole sign house, but it’s exactly on the degree of the Midheaven, then he predicts great things. He says it’ll produce great rulers and kings and rulers of life and death. But then, in the second part of the delineation, he takes it down a notch and he says, however, if the Moon is in a night chart and it’s in the 10th whole sign house–but it is not on the degree of the Midheaven–then it indicates people who are great in their actions and in efforts in which they’re entrusted, and they receive some money, but he basically implies that they’re not going to become kings or great rulers. They’re not going to be people who are in charge of life or death.
So this is Rhetorius and he’s drawing on this earlier source text. When you look at Firmicus, he has a very similar delineation, which is how we know that they’re both probably drawing on the same underlying source text which I suspect is Asclepius. But that gives you some indication and explains when I say that they’re trying to use both whole sign houses as well as some secondary form of house division at the same time–like quadrant houses or equal houses–this is what I mean where they’re sometimes producing two different delineations, where if it’s just in the whole sign house, it will indicate that topic. But if it’s also angular by degree at the same time then the delineation becomes amped up, or it becomes heightened basically, and that seems to be how they were trying to synthesize the sign-based form of house division with the degree-based forms of house division in the later part of the Hellenistic tradition.
All right. And finally, I wanted to have a quote from Antiochus and Porphyry. This is from very early in the Hellenistic tradition, from probably the 1st century. The Antiochus text probably goes back to the 1st century CE, and Porphyry draws on it and quotes the text extensively a few centuries later. But when they introduce the concept of aspects, they first define the concept of aspects by sign and then they define the concept of aspects by degree. And what’s interesting about that is that throughout the Hellenistic tradition, there seems to have been this awareness that you have to take aspects into account simultaneously, both by sign and by degree, because there is this duality built into aspects where it’s both. It’s not one or the other, but instead, it’s both.
Let’s say one planet is in Leo, it is trine to a planet in Aries because both of those signs are fire signs that are masculine, and so they share something in common. But also, if one planet is at 15° of Leo and one planet is at 15° of Aries then they also share a close degree-based aspect because they’re about 120° apart, which is roughly the geometrical configuration associated with a trine. So the point is that the Hellenistic astrologers took both sign-based aspects and degree-based aspects into account, and it wasn’t necessarily an either or situation, but instead, both of them were considered to be important.
Here’s the passage. In Porphyry, he’s quoting Antiochus. He says: “They call the configurations of the stars towards each other bearing witness.” Epimarturia was the original term used for aspects, and it means ‘witnessing’ or ‘testifying’. “So there are the following figures: the trigon is through five [intervals], whenever there are three zodiacal signs between the two; the tetragon (which is the square) is through four [intervals] whenever there are two zodiacal signs between them, the diameter is through seven [intervals] whenever there are five in the middle, and the hexagon (which is the sextile) is through three [intervals], whenever there is one sign between them.”
But then he goes on–and this is the important part–he says: “It is necessary to consider if the figures are perfect by degree and not only by zodiacal sign.” So in the first half of the passage, he introduces aspects and he defines them based sign-based aspects, but then he says you also have to pay attention to the degrees. Then he introduces and defines degree-based aspects and says: “The triangular figure is at an interval of 120 degrees, the square is at an interval of 90 degrees, the hexagon is at an interval of 60 degrees, the diameter is at an interval of 180 degrees.” And then this is the final statement that’s really important. He says: “For often the [stars] are configured according to zodiacal sign, but no longer according to degree.”
So basically, Antiochus and Porphyry were setting it up where the concept of aspects from the very beginning was defined both by sign as well as by degree. And this is really important because you can see the astrologers, at different points in the Hellenistic tradition, paying attention to both and treating it as if once two planets are configured by sign, they’re already in aspect. But the closer they get to an exact aspect by degree, the more intense the aspect was considered to be and the delineation is heightened or amped up when it’s closer to an exact aspect by degree.
That’s kind of similar, honestly, to what we just saw in the delineation by Rhetorius when he was contrasting the placement of a planet by whole sign house and then contrasting that with the placement of a planet both by whole sign house as well as degree-based house division, which is either equal house or quadrant houses. Remember, in the first part of the delineation, when it’s both by sign and by degree, it’s the best or most characteristic delineation, the most powerful delineation of that placement in the 10th house. Whereas, when it’s just by sign, it’s still a similar delineation but it’s not quite as prominent and not quite as powerful.
I suspect that part of the way forward here and part of the answer to how the Hellenistic astrologers were conceptualizing this issue is that it was probably very similar to the way they were using both sign-based aspects and degree-based aspects. And I think personally, as the tradition went on after the Hellenistic tradition, in some early Medieval authors, they continued to define aspects not just by degree but also by sign.
For example, when you look at Abu Ma’shar–I was just reading the Great Introduction the other day–he defines aspects both by sign and by degree, and he says that both are important to use.
But as the tradition continued to progress, there was a tendency to focus more and more on degree-based aspects and to forget about the importance of sign-based aspects. And I think we saw something similar happen in the Hellenistic tradition.
In the Hellenistic tradition, they were clearly defining house division both in terms of whole sign houses, as well as in terms of other degree-based forms of house division. But as the tradition progressed after the Hellenistic tradition, they slowly lost the concept of whole sign houses, and it became just about defining houses in terms of degrees, and especially in terms of quadrant houses. And I think just like the loss of the sign-based aspects was a mistake in the later tradition, the loss of whole sign houses was a mistake in the later tradition as well. But we can see here how that might be useful and how some of the astrologers were attempting to reconcile those two different approaches by essentially using them both at once.
All right, so what ended up happening is that the fall of the Roman Empire several centuries later led to the decline of Hellenistic astrology. The Roman Empire itself fell, and learning and literacy declined, and so there were less people who were educated and able to do things like calculate birth charts. At the same time, there was a rise in religious opposition to astrology due to the success of Christianity, and the aggressive stance that the established Christian tradition had towards astrology also led to what ended up being largely successful attempts to outlaw the practice of astrology, so that the environment for the practice of astrology changed and became less hospitable towards astrologers during the later part of the Roman Empire.
By the time we get to the Medieval tradition in the 8th and 9th centuries, initially, whole sign house usage continued in the early Medieval tradition, and we can find authors like Masha’allah living in the late 8th century, and Sahl ibn Bishr living in the early 9th century. Those two authors primarily seemed to have used whole sign houses due to being influenced by translations of earlier authors like Vettius Valens and Dorotheus.
So if you read, for example, the translation of the book titled Works of Sahl & Masha’allah by Benjamin Dykes, he has this whole discussion about their use of whole sign houses and how that seems to be the primary system of house division that they were using in their texts and in their chart examples. Because they’re basically following the texts of authors like Dorotheus and Valens where you can clearly see in their example charts that they’re using whole sign houses as their primary system, as a result of that the early Medieval astrologers that were using those texts basically emulated Dorotheus and Valens in primarily using that approach as well.
What happened after that is that at some point after the 9th century, there was some sort of shift that occurred towards quadrant houses where things flipped, and suddenly, quadrant houses became the primary form of house division within a few generations after authors like Sahl and Masha’allah. As far back as the 1990s, there’s been speculation. I remember Rob Hand speculating that Abu Ma’shar may have been the reason for this switch.
I’m not really clearly why he thought that back in the 1990s, but recently, that speculation seems to have started to become documented as an accurate speculation due to some of the recent translations of Benjamin Dykes. Especially, I would recommend going back and listening to–if you’re interested in learning more about this–Episode 218 of The Astrology Podcast, which is titled Abu Ma’shar on Solar Returns with Benjamin Dykes. This is where I did an interview with Ben about his new translation of the book on solar revolutions by Abu Ma’shar.
In this text, Ben has an extended introduction where he talks about this issue, and he basically points out how in Abu Ma’shar’s work on solar revolutions, he clearly tries to in some of the chapters use both whole sign houses and quadrant houses at the same time. He alternates between the two and tries to synthesize both of those approaches, so that he’s clearly aware of both approaches and he’s aware that there’s an issue there that he’s trying to reconcile, because he’s inheriting techniques that sometimes have a sign-based approach, but he’s also trying to use a degree-based approach at the same time.
But from what I can tell in Abu Ma’shar–and I think this was Ben’s conclusion as well–is that when there was a conflict between whole sign houses and quadrant houses–like when Abu Ma’shar ran into an issue between those two approaches, where they weren’t working together and you had to make a choice between them–Abu Ma’shar seems show a preference for quadrant houses. I think it was a turning point in the tradition since Abu Ma’shar shows a preference for quadrant houses when there’s a conflict between the two, when there’s a conflict between quadrant houses and the whole sign house approach.
It set up a precedent so that later astrologers tended to start following the quadrant approach and prioritizing that as well, and I think that may have been what caused this shift in the tradition, because what happened is that Abu Ma’shar ended up becoming the most authoritative and one of the most influential of all of the Medieval astrologers after that point. When astrology was transmitted back to Europe in the 12th century, they were following a lot of Abu Ma’shar’s work and that may have influenced why after the 9th century there’s a pretty dramatic shift towards using quadrant houses.
Virtually all of the discussion at that point just becomes a question of what quadrant house system to use and that becomes the primary approach from that point forward, and knowledge of whole sign houses gets lost pretty quickly within a few centuries by the time you get to the late Medieval, and especially the Renaissance traditions where they’re pretty much exclusively using quadrant houses at that point. Whole sign houses are largely forgotten from that point forward up until very recently, until the concept was recovered in the West in the 1980s and 1990s through the work of scholars like James Holden, Robert Schmidt, and Robert Hand.
So at that point, it just becomes a question of which quadrant system to use, and a bunch of different quadrant systems are introduced during and after the Medieval tradition. Some of them based on different mathematical approaches to dividing up the quadrants, others were sometimes based on textual arguments. Some of the authors were trying to figure out what system they thought Ptolemy was using, and so they introduced new quadrant systems based on their interpretation of what system they thought Ptolemy used, and that sometimes generated different approaches.
Basically, a ton of different quadrant house systems are introduced at this point, and during different eras, different quadrant systems became more or less popular. So for awhile, Alcabitius was the most popular form of house division. And then there was a period in the Renaissance tradition where authors like Lilly were primarily using Regiomantanus as their primary form of quadrant house system.
Then in the modern period, in the 20th century, Placidus became the primary form of house division. Although James Holden, for example, said that he thought that the main reason that Placidus became the primary form of house division in the 20th century was because that was the only system that tables of houses existed in printed form for quite awhile. It was the only advanced quadrant house system that any astrologer could calculate from for awhile, and therefore, that led to people adopting it early on in their studies without it necessarily being intrinsically the best system. Instead, it was more out of necessity because that was the only quadrant system that you could calculate, and quadrant house systems had become the standard by that point in the astrological tradition.
So knowledge of whole sign houses was forgotten completely by that point, and the turning point seems to have been in the 9th century. But it’s too bad that that took place because it’s clear that Abu Ma’shar and other authors are trying to reconcile these systems. It seems like instead what happened is the tradition ended up just focusing on one, and the other approach– which had been foundational up to that point, which was whole sign houses–was forgotten.
All right, to wrap up what’s become another long talk, I want to end this by saying that each of these three approaches to house division has its own unique symbolic significance. And I’ve already explained this earlier, but just to reiterate, whole sign houses focus on the rising and culminating signs in their entirety.
So it treats the Ascendant as if it’s capable of assigning topics and designate the entirety of the rising sign as signifying certain things related to the body and the character of the native. And then the sign after that has significations pertaining to wealth and finances, and so on and so forth. From a symbolic standpoint, it’s treating the rising sign and the culminating signs as being symbolically significant, and that in and of itself astronomically has its own independent value from a symbolic standpoint.
Equal houses, on the other hand, focuses on the rising and the highest degrees of the zodiac. So it’s identifying the rising degree and the nonagesimal, or the 90° point as having their own symbolic significance. And the nonagesimal, as we talked about earlier, does have its own independent astronomical significance because that is the peak of the zodiacal circle at any one point in time that’s always exactly 90° from the degree of the Ascendant. And so, if that’s the peak of the zodiacal circle, we could see why that might gain some 10th house type significations having to do with one’s reputation or one’s career or one’s public persona, or what have you.
Then finally, quadrant houses focuses on the rising degree just like equal houses does, but the degree of the Meridian Midheaven demarcates the highest elevation of the planets. So it’s when the planets get to their highest points in the sky as opposed to looking at what the highest arc of the zodiac is at any one point in time, which is more what the whole sign and equal house systems are trying to do.
So what you have then is a difference between what you’re looking at and what you’re focusing on and what makes more sense symbolically–or maybe not necessarily choosing which one makes more sense symbolically, but just recognizing that both of them are representing overlapping things from a symbolic standpoint.
The idea that the planets are reaching their highest elevation, or the idea of the arc of the zodiacal circle being at its highest point in some sense at the peak of the circle, which is the equal house Midheaven as well as the whole sign house that’s culminating. You can see how both of those have some symbolic significance that’s similar to the Midheaven in thinking about things being at their highest point, or at their peak, or at their most visible, or at the highest point of prominence, and so on and so forth, which are all, roughly speaking, 10th house type themes.
Ultimately, the most difficult thing that’s tricky about the house division issue is you can see how all three of those systems have independent, unique value that that is actually valuable and is actually useful from a symbolic standpoint, so that it’s hard to just choose between them or say that one is correct and one is not. In reality, all three have some valuable, symbolic information to convey. And that’s, honestly, why the house division issue is so difficult. Everybody who’s using and preferring a different form of house division is doing so because each of the three forms of house division does actually have some practical, symbolic value, and that’s why practitioners that use those different approaches know that there’s something to their approach that works and that’s why they want other people to see that and adopt that to some extent.
So in my opinion, a synthesis of the different systems is desirable, but I don’t think anybody has successfully carried out that synthesis yet. It’s not clear to me that the Hellenistic astrologers had completely accomplished a synthesis of the different systems. I think it’s clear that they were moving towards that and there was a desire to synthesize and reconcile the different systems, although there was still some ambiguity.
Even though whole sign houses seemed to have been used as the basis of most of the approaches, and they were all taking into account the signs as houses, there was some ambiguity about whether to use equal houses or quadrant houses as the degree-based system to use, and you seem to have different astrologers like Firmicus using equal houses or Rhetorius evidently using quadrant houses.
There are some different questions that we have to ask ourselves and have to address today as we attempt to reconcile these different systems and create some sort of synthesis. One of them is should equal houses and quadrant houses just be used for dynamic purposes. For example, whole sign houses, we’ve established can be used for topics or different areas of life: like parents, children, relationships, career.
But then when you add a secondary form of degree-based house division on top of that, are those degree-based forms of house division–let’s say you’re using equal houses or quadrant houses–also signifying topics, so that there’s a doubling-up of topical significations, including all of the intermediate house cusps? Or should the secondary, degree-based form of house division only be used for dynamic purposes, so that the whole sign houses are indicating the topics and the degree-based forms of house division are indicating how prominent or how active the planets are within the context of those topics?
So that’s one of the approaches that some astrologers have taken. But then for proponents, of course, of either equal houses or quadrant houses that’s not going to be a reliable or appropriate or acceptable solution for them because they certainly already believe that the quadrant houses or the equal houses do have topical significance. So if you were adopting those approaches already, you would reject that as a possible solution. But it’s an approach that some people take, so it’s something to consider.
I don’t necessarily want to, and the purpose of this is not to give people the answer to these questions, but instead, just to raise them as questions that you should ask yourself. And I think, ultimately, different astrologers are going to come to different conclusions, just like they did during the Hellenistic tradition where we can see a multiplicity or a diversity of different approaches being used and employed.
It would be nice if all of the astrologers got on the same page at some point and there was more consistency when it comes to the issue of house division in the Western astrological tradition. Maybe we can achieve some degree of consistency at some point, but there will probably still be some variations as well and that’s all right.
Ultimately, I think, to each his own in terms of what form of house division you want to use and however you want to either attempt to reconcile or to not reconcile the different systems. My main thing that I’ve always said–ever since the original whole sign house lecture that I gave that started all of this–if you go back to the conclusion of that lecture, it’s the same thing that I’m going to say again now.
The important point is to choose whatever approach you’re going to use to house division deliberately and to know why you’re doing it and to have a reason for doing it that’s not just practical, but is also conceptual and philosophical, so that you have some sort of justification for why you’re using one approach to house division rather than another.
And it’s okay if part of your answer to that is practical in terms of what works best for you when looking at charts, either your own chart or the charts of friends or family or clients. That’s okay as part of your justification, but you should also have some understanding of the historical origins of your approach to house division, as well as the conceptual reasons why you prefer that approach to house division rather than something else. I think if you do that then whatever system you use, I respect that. I have respect for your approach to house division if it’s something that you’ve put some thought into and you have reasons why you’re using it.
But if your approach to house division is just that, “Well, that’s what my teacher used,” or “That’s what this ancient text that I read that’s a few centuries old used, and therefore, I’ve decided just to follow that approach,” I don’t think that’s necessarily as reasonable or defensible as a position as what you could have. So I would encourage all astrologers to just try to think through the issue and have good reasons to use whatever approach or whatever synthesis you decide to use in your practice and advocate.
All right, I think that’s it for this lecture, and that is my lecture on the origins of the house division issue in ancient astrology. So if you enjoyed this short, brief, overview of the history of house division and you would like to go more in-depth, or you’d like to understand some of the sources and see some of the different citations and footnotes and get deeper into this issue in terms of understanding the Hellenistic tradition, then I would recommend checking out my book titled Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune, which was released on February 10, 2017, and is available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble website and just about everywhere.
Chapter 10 is where I introduce the concept of the 12 Places, and I focus especially on the treatment of the houses in authors like the Asclepius text and the Hermes text, as well as later authors like Valens and Rhetorius. And Chapter 11 is where I have the detailed, 50-page treatment of the house division issue where I do the same treatment that I did in this lecture, except I actually go into surprisingly–if you can believe it–more detail than what I did in this little workshop here.
So definitely check out the book if you’re interested in learning more about this topic, and especially if anybody wants to argue with me about any conclusions that I made in this lecture. Please at least read the book and the chapter on house division first and then I would love to have that discussion. Yeah, I’d like to have it based on what I wrote in the book in conjunction with what I said in this lecture, rather than just the pieces I presented in the lecture since this was not the entire treatment, if you can believe that.
All right, so that’s the book. Other than that, if you want to learn more about Hellenistic astrology, I teach a full, online course with tons of video lectures like this one, although they’re a little bit, in some instances shorter and other instances longer video lectures where I go into detail treatments about the history, philosophy, and especially the techniques of ancient astrology.
It has over a hundred hours of video lectures plus recorded webinars and workshops and guided reading through ancient texts like Valens, where there are some little webinars where we went through his chart examples and talked about different things. Anyway, you can find out more information about that at courses.theastrologyschool.com, or just go to theastrologyschool.com and go to ‘courses’ and you can find out about the Hellenistic astrology course.
All right, so my websites are hellenisticastrology.com, which has a bunch of additional information about Hellenistic astrology and the different authors. There’s also a good article there about Ptolemy’s preferred form of house division, as well as links to other resources. My consulting site is chrisbrennanastrologer.com. I’m not actually doing consultations at this point in time, but I do have some references to other astrologers and other resources that I could try to direct people to for learning astrology. And then also, of course, theastrologypodcast.com, which is where I have this episode, as well as 200 others on different topics on astrology.
So for this episode of The Astrology Podcast, I wanted to give a shout out and a thanks to Patreon supporters who have been supporting the production of this episode through our page on patreon.com/theastrologypodcast. In particular, I’d like to thank patrons Christine Stone and Nate Craddock, as well as the Astro Gold astrology app available at astrogold.io, the Portland School of Astrology at portlandastrology.org, and also, the Honeycomb Collective personal astrological almanacs available at honeycomb.co.
That is it for this episode of The Astrology Podcast. Thanks, everybody, for watching or listening, whether you’re watching the video version on YouTube or listening to the audio version in your car or wherever you’re at. Thanks a lot for listening. I hope you’ve learned a lot about the history and the origins of the house division debate.
This has been something I’ve been meaning to put together for a long time. It’s not as comprehensive. Obviously, it’s a very long, detailed lecture, and I’ve been meaning to put it together for a long time in order to get more of my actual reconstruction and thoughts about the house division issue recorded for the public. So if you’ve made it this far in the lecture and you listened to the entire thing, thank you. I appreciate it.
If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comments section below, either on the YouTube video or on theastrologypodcast.com website if you’re listening to the audio version. So thanks a lot for listening, and we’ll see you again next time.