The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 52, titled:
Whole Sign Houses: The Best System of House Division
With Chris Brennan
Episode originally released on November 18, 2015
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcribed by Gulsen Altay and Andrea Johnson
Transcription released October 20, 2019
Copyright © 2019 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode was recorded on Wednesday, November 18, 2015, just after 5:00 PM, in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 52nd episode of the show. For more information about subscribing to the podcast, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe.
This episode is actually a recording of a lecture I gave a few days ago titled, 12 Reasons Why Whole Sign Houses is the Best System of House Division. I’m recording this introduction to the talk today, on November 21, 2015, in order to provide some background information on the talk before releasing it for listeners of the podcast.
The lecture was presented as a webinar for Adam Elenbaas’ Nightlight Astrology group, which you can find out more information about at nightlightastrology.com. When Adam originally invited me to give the talk on whole sign houses for his group last month, I suddenly realized that I had never given a lecture that was just on that topic before. So I actually decided to try and come up with a provocative but playful title in order to draw people into the lecture.
And the title that I actually originally gave in the promotional material for this talk was Whole Sign Houses: Literally the Best System of House Division Ever. By the time I actually gave the talk, I had toned it down a little bit to the slightly less humorous, yet descriptive Why Whole Sign Houses is the Best System of House Division. And now at this point, I’m just calling this talk 12 Reasons Why Whole Sign Houses is the Best House System.
The goal of this talk is to present a series of 12 arguments for what makes whole sign houses great as a system of house division and why somebody might want to choose it as their preferred method for calculating the 12 houses. If you’ve listened to my podcast before, if you have listened to it for a while, then you know that I generally I try to aim for more nuanced discussions that talk about the pros and cons of different approaches. Although here I felt like I mainly just wanted to do a good job of pitching whole sign houses to my audience since it is in fact the form of house division that I prefer personally, and I wanted to convey some of the reasons for why that is. As a result of that, I deliberately adopted more of a polemical tone for the purpose of crafting the arguments that I presented in this talk.
However, I did end the lecture on a somewhat more conciliatory tone with some brief thoughts about the possibility of reconciling whole sign houses with other systems in the future. So I do want to say from the outset that I do think that in future discussions of house division that they may need to focus a little bit more on reconciling whole sign houses with quadrant houses. Although I do believe personally that whole sign houses should form the primary basis of any synthesis because of the foundational role that whole sign houses plays in many other basic concepts underlying the meaning of the houses, as I will discuss in this lecture.
All right, that’s it for my extended preface to this lecture. So without further ado, here is my lecture on whole sign houses.
All right. Great. Well, let’s get started. First, thank you, Adam, for having me. I’ve never presented a talk just on whole sign houses before. Usually this is something that I cram into my basic introduction to Hellenistic astrology where I’m trying to present an introduction to a 700-year tradition of astrology. I make this side note about this really interesting facet of it, which is this system of house division that was the original system of houses that’s just been recovered in the past 20 years. So I’m excited to actually have the opportunity to go into it with more detail tonight and to present an argument for why you should take whole sign houses seriously and why you should seriously consider using it in your professional or personal practice.
I did modify the title a little bit. I was playing with the title. What was the original title? It was Whole Sign Houses: Literally the Best System of House Division Ever, which I think still conveys what I’m going to attempt to present here tonight. But I decided to reformulate it just slightly for the purpose of what I’m doing here right now to the present title, which is Why Whole Sign Houses is the Best System of House Division which I think is still adequately and similarly bombastic as the previous title, but I think better formulates it as a question of why would some astrologer–since there’s a number of astrologers that are quickly adopting whole sign houses today–why would they think that it’s the best system of house division.
All right, so let’s get into the first slide.
Before we jump into the topic, I wanted to give you a little bit of background information. I wanted to give you a historical backdrop. Our story with whole sign houses begins in 1982 when the astrologer James Holden published a paper in the American Federation of Astrologers Journal of Research titled Ancient House Division. Holden was a really interesting and really special character in the astrological community that not many people knew about. He actually wrote one of the best books on the history of astrology that was titled, A History of Horoscopic Astrology in 1996. But back in 1982, he wrote this research paper shortly after or around the time that he became the research director of the American Federation of Astrologers.
What he did is he gave a survey of house division in the first 1,000 years of the practice of Western astrology, and one of the things that he pointed out in this paper that nobody had ever pointed out before is that the original system of house division in Western astrology was whole sign houses. He actually called it, or he personally referred to it as the Sign-House system.
Later in the 1990s, about a decade later, Robert Schmidt and Robert Hand started translating some ancient astrological texts from Greek and Latin as part of this translation project in the mid-1990s called Project Hindsight. And what happened is that they were able to also confirm Holden’s original discovery where Holden–who himself read Greek and Latin and was able to go back and read the texts on his own–noticed that whole sign houses was the system of house division that all of the ancient astrologers were using. So then Schmidt and Hand come along 10 years later and they actually do translations into English of all of the texts from the ancient tradition and publish them, and they’re also able to confirm Holden’s discovery, and it became abundantly clear to everyone at that point in time that this really was the original system of house division.
So what happened at that point is that Robert Hand, who had been practicing astrology for something like 40 years at that point–he had discovered it when he was 17-years-old–he always experimented with different systems of house division. He changed and went back and forth and never really found one that spoke to him or that really seemed as effective as he would like. At one point, for a period–I think around the 1980s–he even experimented with just getting rid of houses all together.
Then in the 1990s, in the middle of Project Hindsight, they make this discovery about whole sign houses and Hand starts testing it out, and he starts using it and he really likes it. He finds that it really works and that it’s more effective than any system that he had tried to up to that point in his 40- or 50-year career as an astrologer. So Robert Hand then starts popularizing the technique. He starts to popularizing whole sign houses starting in the mid-1990s, first by giving lectures and writing an article for The Mountain Astrologer magazine, and then eventually writing a small booklet, a little monograph on whole sign houses.
It wasn’t really until the late 2000s though–I would say 2008, 2009, 2010, and especially the past few years–that whole sign houses really started to catch on. So it’s really only in the past 5 years that suddenly it seems like a lot of people are switching to whole sign houses or starting to incorporate it into their practice in different ways.
Whole sign houses is quickly becoming one of the most widely-used systems of house division in Western astrology, and I actually saw two polls recently, one of them was on the traditional astrology forum on Skyscript which indicated that the second most used system of house division was whole sign houses, and then I saw similar poll on Facebook. It was more of a general consensus of Western astrologers–so not just traditional astrologers–and again in that same poll, it seemed to indicate that among practising astrologers and astrology enthusiasts that whole sign houses was the second-most used system of house division underneath or next to Placidus which has always been the dominant system of house division in the 20th century.
So there’s a big shift that’s taking place, a lot of people are switching to whole sign houses. Part of the purpose of this lecture is to show you and attempt to explain to you why some people are switching to whole sign houses and what it is about that approach that they see as appealing or useful or worth considering, as opposed to any of the other dozens of house division that are floating around out there. There’s at least 12 major systems of house division and there’s really as many as 20 or 30 different forms of house division that you could choose from.
I’m going to frame this lecture in the form of more of a polemical argument, so more of a quasi-contentious, ‘this is the best system of house division’, fully gung-ho arguments that I could come up with. If this was a discussion with somebody or a discussion amongst different astrologers that had different approaches, I might advocate more of a nuanced approach that is not necessarily as assertive or as aggressive. But for the purpose of this, because I feel like I’m trying to sell you on this system initially, I’m going to present the best arguments that I can come up with, and I’m going to frame them in such a way to really give you an idea of why some people think that this system of house division is really great, and potentially that you could make the argument of why it’s the best system of house division, and therefore the system that you should adopt. Let’s get into it.
Before we get into the actual arguments, we have to cover some ground bases by first obviously explaining what whole sign houses are and how you calculate them. It’s actually really simple. In order to calculate whole sign houses, all you have to do is identify what sign of the zodiac the Ascendant is located in, and whatever sign that is that entire sign becomes the first house. So from 0 to 30 degrees of that sign becomes the 1st house, no matter how early or how late the Ascendant is in that sign. So if the Ascendant is at 0 degrees of your rising sign or if the Ascendant’s at 29 degrees of the rising sign, it doesn’t matter, that sign becomes the 1st house. Then the next sign in zodiacal order becomes the 2nd house, the sign after that becomes the 3rd house, and the sign after that becomes the 4th house, and so on and so forth.
Let me give you a diagram really quickly in order to demonstrate exactly what I’m talking about. Let’s imagine a chart where the Ascendant falls somewhere in the sign of Cancer. So it doesn’t matter if it’s the 1st degree of Cancer, or the middle of Cancer or the end of Cancer, let’s just say that the degree of the Ascendant falls somewhere in Cancer. What that means from the perspective of whole sign houses is that the entire sign of Cancer becomes the 1st house from the beginning of the sign all the way to the end of the sign.
Then the next sign in zodiacal order–because zodiacal order always goes counterclockwise– is Leo, and that sign becomes the 2nd house from 0 to 30 degrees of Leo. Then Virgo becomes the 3rd house, Libra becomes the 4th house, Scorpio the 5th house, Sagittarius the 6th, and so on and so forth. There ends up being 12 signs and 12 houses and each of the houses begins at the beginning of the sign and the house ends at the end of the sign, so the cusps of the houses become the cusps of the signs.
Part of the rationale for this is that the Ascendant in ancient astrology, in Greek, originally in the 1st century, was referred to as the horoscopos which means ‘hour-marker’. And the reason they chose that specific name of ‘hour-marker’, they had a specific reason for doing so. It was because the functional purpose of the degree of the Ascendant or the ‘hour-marker’ in ancient astrology is that it would mark or designate the rising sign. So whatever sign the Ascendant falls in, it marks or designates that entire sign as the rising sign, and thus the first whole sign house.
In the whole sign house system, the Ascendant is no longer the starting point or the cusp of the 1st house. Instead, the Ascendant just acts as sort of a floating, sensitive point which can fall anywhere in the rising sign and anywhere in the first whole sign house. It still retains some of the power that it has as a sensitive point just like other sensitive points in the chart– such as the Vertex or let’s say the Part of Fortune or something like that–but it no longer acts as the starting point for the 1st house. Instead, it’s just used to designate the rising sign.
So the other houses are assigned in zodiacal order and there end up being in 12 houses in 12 signs. This is actually the reason why there were 12 houses; that’s the reason why we have 12 houses to begin with. It’s because the houses were originally supposed to coincide with each of the 12 signs, otherwise we might actually end up having some other number of houses like 8 houses, or 4 houses, or even 36 houses as one potential option depending on how things went. But the specific way that things worked out, the houses were supposed to coincide with the signs.
At this point, sometimes people ask, “Well, what about the degree of the MC and IC?” What happens with those is that the degree of the MC and the IC also become floating, sensitive points, but they’re actually able to float around and land anywhere in the top- or the bottom-half of the chart. And what happens is that instead of acting as the starting point for the 10th or the 4th house as they do in other forms of house division–especially in forms of quadrant house divisions such as Placidus or Porphyry or what have you–they do not act as the starting points for the 10th or 4th houses in the whole sign approach. Instead, the MC and the IC just import 10th house and 4th house significations into whatever whole sign house that they fall in. So what that ends up doing effectively or practically-speaking is that it doubles up the significations of that house. To give you an example, if the MC, the degree of the MC falls in the 9th whole sign house then it will import 10th house significations into the 9th house whole sign house.
This is actually the whole sign house birth chart of Robert Hand who is an advocate of whole sign houses, and he has Cancer rising. We see that the Ascendant is located in Cancer, so that means Cancer becomes the 1st house, then Leo becomes the 2nd house, Virgo is the 3rd, Libra is the 4th, Scorpio is the 5th and so on and so forth, all the way until we get to Pisces which is the 9th whole sign house. And the 9th house, of course, one of the primary things that it’s associated with is education, teaching, but also things like astrology and other mystical or metaphysical arts.
What we see happening here is that Rob Hand’s MC, the actual degree of the MC, falls in the 9th whole sign house, and so it imports 10th house topics pertaining to career and social standing and reputation into the 9th house of astrology and education and teaching. So what you end up with then is a famous astrologer and somebody whose career is very much dedicated towards 9th house pursuits and who builds up a reputation within the context of the 9th house. So you get a doubling-up of the significations in the 9th house with both 9th and 10th house significations in Pisces and then in Aries where we have the 10th whole sign house. We have a separate house that has pure 10th house significations which is a second thing that we look for in terms of career.
The other example is when the MC will sometimes fall on the other side of the 10th whole sign house. So this is an example of somebody where they have Scorpio rising and the degree of the MC falls in the 11th whole sign house. In this instance, we have the MC importing career significations or importing 10th house significations into the 11th house of friends and groups and alliances. So what you get is somebody then that becomes involved in some career sense or in terms of her reputation with groups and alliances and organizations, and she is in fact involved in and is one of the leaders of one of the major astrological organizations.
This is sort of a digression because it’s one of the first questions that people have in terms of what you do with the MC and IC. I don’t want to focus on it too much, but I did want to at least give you some idea of how that’s dealt with from a whole sign approach. We’re not completely jettisoning the MC and the IC. We actually still incorporate those and use those as floating, sensitive points; we’re just not using them as the cusp of the 10th and the 4th. What we are jettisoning is the intermediate house cusps that some people draw in between the MC and the IC and other angles which is how you come up with other forms of house divisions such as Porphyry or Placidus or what have you. You try to divide the space between the degree of the MC and the degree of the Ascendant or between the degrees of other angles.
So that’s how you calculate whole sign houses. Basically, you identify the rising sign, that sign becomes the first house then rest of the houses are assigned in zodiacal order. so I wanJust one last digression before we get into our specific arguments about why whole sign houses is the best. I wanted to give you a little bit more of a historical backdrop so that you understand what I mean when I say that whole sign houses is the original system of house division, or what people actually specifically and tangibly mean by that because it’s a really important point and it will become one of our first points.
One of the things that most people don’t know, especially if you haven’t studied the history of Western astrology, is that Western astrology was essentially created in the 1st century BC, based on a fusion of the earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian astrological traditions. While it’s true to say that certain aspects of astrology go back 3,000 or 4,000 years–about 3,500 years actually is some of the earliest recorded evidence for ancient Mesopotamian astrology and to a lesser extent Egyptian astrology–the types of astrology that they were developing and practicing and using at that point were somewhat basic and somewhat rudimentary.
What ends up happening is that it’s not until the 1st century BC that you see somebody in the ancient world fusing those two different traditions together in order to create a new type of astrology. And so, this fusion of ancient traditions to create a new type of astrology resulted in what is usually referred to as Hellenistic astrology which was practiced from approximately the 1st century BC until about the 7th century CE. And at this time, in the 1st century BC, the concept of houses was first introduced.
So one of the things that you have to understand is that the concept of houses is essentially, for all intents and purposes, a technical concept. It’s a technique. It’s an astrological technique just like any other technique, just like secondary progressions, or synastry, or solar arc or something like that. The concept of houses is a technique that was first introduced at a specific point in time, probably somewhere around the year 75 BC. It didn’t seem to exist prior to this; we have no evidence for it. In fact, we have a lot of evidence of astrologers practising astrology without any concept of houses prior to this. But we can see how the system seems to have evolved or developed out of the previous traditions, and how the concept of houses and the technique of houses probably emerged as a result of a synthesis of the concept of the zodiac from Mesopotamia with the concept of the decans from Egypt.
Let me show you what I mean by that. Most people know that the oldest origins of Western astrology go back to and originated in ancient Mesopotamia about 3,000 or 4,000 years ago. At this point, they started collecting omens where they would make an observation about something that happened in the sky and then they would record it on a clay tablet and record what happened on Earth at that time, or they would do the opposite. They would say such-and-such event happened on Earth and this event was happening in the sky at the time.
These were pretty basic observations that they built up over the course of several generations and over the course of several hundred years, several centuries, and eventually, one of the concepts that the Mesopotamians developed was the concept of the zodiac. By the 5th century BC, they actually standardized the zodiac to incorporate or to include 12 signs of 30 degrees each. So the zodiac became standardized so that were just 12 signs and each of the signs consisted of exactly 30 degrees. The important point here basically is that the Mesopotamians invented the zodiac, for all intents and purposes.
Over in another area, a little ways away, we have Egypt. Egypt was developing its own form of astrology that was a bit different from what they were developing in Mesopotamia. In Egypt, they were focused on this set of 36 fixed stars or fixed star clusters that later became known as the decans. The decans were 36 discrete divisions that were associated with specific stars or specific asterisms, specific clusters of fixed stars, but the way that they were using them was not necessarily the same way that the Mesopotamians were using the zodiac or the fixed stars that they were focused on. Instead, the Egyptians were using the decans to time religious rituals, especially at night, by focusing on certain decans that were rising over the eastern horizon at a certain point.
So they would focus on a specific star that was rising over the horizon, or another fixed star, or another decan that was culminating overhead at a specific point in time. This deals with the diurnal rotation, which is the periodic or the daily rising, and culminating, and eventually setting of not just the Sun, but also each of the fixed stars and each of the planets. Essentially what was happening is that the Egyptians were focused on the diurnal rotation which is essentially the thing that we today associate with the houses, whereas the Mesopotamians were focused on the zodiac.
A few centuries later, we get an important development that takes place where Alexander the Great takes an army of Mesopotamians and Greeks and storms out of Southern Europe and goes on to conquer most of the Middle East, Egypt, Persia, all the way over to the western-most portions of India. Then suddenly what happens as a result of that is that you get these two areas that were previously developing these very long traditions of astrology in their own regions–in Mesopotamia and Egypt–suddenly under the control of the same rulers. They were basically under the control of Greek-speaking rulers. This united these lands into what’s usually referred to as the Hellenistic Empire, starting in the 4th century BC.
As a result of this, and as a result of there being a much closer connection between Egypt and Mesopotamia, we see a few centuries later astrologers starting to merge the two traditions that had been developed in those two areas. So basically, somebody started to merge the zodiac together with the decans. And what happens when you merge those two systems is you’re essentially merging two different frames of reference. You’re merging the zodiac, which deals with planets moving across the ecliptic, and you’re merging it together with the system of diurnal rotation, which is planets rising and culminating and setting each day.
One of the interesting side effects of merging those two systems is that the astrologers started paying attention to specific decans that were rising at certain points in time, and they started especially paying attention to certain signs of the zodiac that were rising at certain points in time. Whatever sign of the zodiac was rising at a certain point in time, they turned that into the starting point for a system of houses. That’s essentially where you get whole sign houses from, from that merging of these two different reference systems of the ecliptic which is connected to the zodiac and the diurnal rotation which is connected to the houses, so then you get whole sign houses.
Somebody at some point in time, somewhere around the 1st century BC came up with this idea. They introduced the concept of starting the counting of the houses from the rising sign and then having all twelve houses associated with one of the signs relative to that, and they also introduced some of the first significations or the first meanings of each of the houses. Because this was a new concept or a new idea, there were initially only a few significations that were associated with each of the houses, just maybe a handful each. Later on, some other astrologers added more significations, but initially it was a small cluster of basic ideas about what they thought each of the houses meant.
All right, so that’s the historical backdrop to give you some context of where we’re coming from and what we’re talking about when we say that this is the oldest system. Now let’s get into some of the actual specific arguments about why this is relevant to us today in the early 21st century, and why whole sign houses 2,000 years later may still be the best form of house division for astrologers to adopt.
Argument one is interesting because it’s actually an appeal to antiquity which is technically a logical policy, but I think it’s actually still a reasonable argument to make. I wanted to make it here because it actually becomes relevant and tied into other arguments that you could make about whole sign houses which are actually not logical fallacies.
So this is our starting point. As I’ve just demonstrate it with that little historical overview, whole sign houses was the original form of house division. In fact, it actually goes beyond that. It wasn’t just the original form of house division, it was in fact the dominant form of house division for approximately the first thousand years of the practice of Western astrology. And when I say Western astrology, what I mean by that is essentially the system of astrology that all of us use today that incorporates the fourfold system of planets, signs of the zodiac, houses, and aspects. That fourfold system did not exist as a system prior to the 1st century BC, and when it was developed or invented that was also the point where whole sign houses was introduced.
When whole sign houses was introduced it was actually widely successful. The original system of Western astrology was largely practiced in essentially the same form for about a thousand years, basically spanning from the entirety of what we usually consider to be the Roman Empire all the way until about the 7th century CE, when the Roman Empire has fallen apart at that point and is not quite what it used to be.
All of what we refer to as the Hellenistic astrologers or the ancient astrologers that practiced astrology during the Hellenistic and Roman period used whole sign houses as their primary form of house division, and this actually includes some of the most famous and influential astrologers not just from antiquity but also in the history of astrology, just altogether hands down; this includes Claudius Ptolemy. Ptolemy did arguably use whole sign houses as his primary form of house division. I have a long article on that where I just go through and point out every instance in which Ptolemy used whole sign houses in his four-book work on astrology. If you want to read that it’s on my website at hellenisticastrology.com under the blog section. Other famous astrologers that used whole sign houses were astrologers like Vettius Valens, Dorotheus of Sidon, Rhetorius of Egypt, and Marcus Manilius, as well as basically any other author you could mention during that time period.
In addition to that it wasn’t just all of the Hellenistic astrologers but many of the early Medieval astrologers also used whole sign houses. This includes famous astrologers such as Masha’allah, Sahl Ibn Bishr, and Theophilus of Edessa. These three basically are the core authors of the early Medieval tradition and they were all primarily using whole sign houses.
So then one of the arguments that you can make is that for the first thousand years of the practice of Western astrology, all of the major astrologers were using the same form of house division. That’s not a death blow in terms of an argument, but it’s certainly an argument that one could make that has to be taken into consideration. Were a thousand years of astrologers wrong, or were they onto something? Did they have some particular insight into astrology when they had adopted this specific form of house division?
It’s not that other systems of house division didn’t exist or that they weren’t capable of calculating them, in fact, they did have the ability to calculate other forms of house division. In some instances, they used other forms of house division within the context of specific techniques and that’s actually how quadrant houses and systems like Porphyry houses, or Alcabitius houses, or other forms of house division were first introduced. They were supposed to be used only within a context of certain techniques in order to accomplish very specific things. So they did use those other forms of house division for certain things, but for the most part, their primary form of house division for just interpreting a natal chart and what the placements meant was primarily whole sign houses as part of a deliberate choice or a deliberate decision. So that’s argument one. Let’s move on to argument two.
Argument two is connected with argument one and it’s basically this. Many of the core significations for the 12 houses are actually derived from whole sign houses. So part of this argument involves the point that because whole sign houses was the original system of house division–because it was the system of house division that was used when the concept or the technique of the 12 houses was first invented–many of the core significations of the houses were actually first developed within a whole sign framework. Not only that, but even though many of the significations, the same significations, are still attributed to each of the houses today, it’s basically the same in many instances as they were 2,000 years ago. In fact, many of the significations of the houses only make sense conceptually within the context of whole sign houses.
Basically, if you tried to figure out the logic of why let’s say the 8th house signifies death, both in ancient and modern astrology, or why the 6th house can signify illness or sickness, you can actually only figure out the original rationale for why that even makes sense or how you could come up with that in the first place if you look at it from the perspective of whole sign houses. If you look at it from the perspective of quadrant houses, you wouldn’t necessarily come to the same conclusion, or you wouldn’t have originally developed the same significations for those specific houses. This is actually due to the connection between the houses, the signs, and the aspect doctrine in ancient astrology where all three of these areas of the system essentially were integrated together and were tied together as an actual system or as a functioning whole.
Let me show what I mean by that. The significations of some of the houses are actually partially based on the aspect or lack of aspect that certain whole sign houses have with the rising sign. So in ancient astrology, the 1st house was the primary house that was associated with the native and their physical vitality. Even though in modern astrology, we’re used to conceptualizing the entire chart as being like different parts of the native or different parts of the native’s psyche, in ancient astrology the first house was really the primary house associated with the native themself and their physical well-being, whereas the other parts of the chart and the other houses primarily were related to either other parts of the native’s life or other people in the native’s life, but the 1st house is the ‘house of self’.
Part of the rationale for the houses and part of the rationale for how they came up with the significations of the houses is that they said that any of the whole sign houses that aspect the rising sign by a sign-based aspect, those houses will be positive houses that are supportive of the native, whereas any of the houses that do not make one of the designated major aspects to the rising sign–so that would be a sextile, square, trine, or opposition, or conjunction, any of the five major Ptolemaic aspects–any of the houses that does not make one of the Ptolemaic aspects as a sign-based aspect to the rising sign then that whole sign house will have some negative significations associated with it.
Any whole sign house that aspects the rising sign is seen to be supportive of the life and the physical vitality of the native since that’s what the 1st house signifies, whereas any house that does not aspect the rising sign is seen to not be supportive of the life and the physical vitality of the native, at least not in any direct way.
So this is actually the reason why the 6th house and the 8th house and the 12th house were originally developed and even today maintain some negative significations, such as the 6th house being associated with illness, the 8th house being associated with death, and the 12th house being associated with loss. The only house that lost many of its negative significations–even though it still had some in ancient astrology–was the 2nd house, which is actually interestingly the house associated with financial matters, which in modern times, and in our society, we don’t necessarily recognize as negative or problematic, but in certain contexts, certainly could be seen as such depending on how it affects your life or doesn’t affect your life.
One of the things that I’m pointing out here is that this rationale for explaining why the 6th house and the 8th house and 12th house have some negative significations associated with it, it only works conceptually if you’re using whole sign houses. That’s the only system where those specific signs or those specific houses are not going to have any major aspect with the Ascendant, whereas if you’re using quadrant houses–because quadrant houses can shift and become so distorted–it would actually be really easy for the 6th house or the 8th house or potentially even the 12th house, if it’s big enough, to aspect the rising sign through some sort of major Ptolemaic aspect. One of the problems here is some of the basic significations of the houses that astrologers still used today are based on rationales that only makes sense within the context of whole sign houses and that should be kind of a problem or that should be kind of troubling to anybody that uses quadrant houses today and who doesn’t otherwise have a good explanation of why the houses originally came to mean what they mean today.
Now you may have some alternate rationales for why certain houses mean what they mean today, or you may have some alternate access point, such as referring to let’s say the ‘natural houses’ or certain zodiacal signs that you associate with certain houses. But one of the things that’s interesting is that when the significations of houses were first developed, they didn’t actually make many of those connections. They didn’t associate the 8th house with Scorpio, or they didn’t associate the 6th house with Virgo. This was really their primary access point, the aspect between the rising sign and the whole sign house. That was actually their primary, not entirely, but almost their sole access point for developing the meaning of the houses. So the issue that you run into is that you have to find a way to justify it within that context, otherwise, you run into a bit of a problem.
And just to explain this a little bit more clearly, part of the reason for this is that the aspect doctrine was not purely based on geometrical angles between planets in ancient astrology. In actuality, it was primarily based on the relationship that certain signs had with each other based on an affinity between having similar qualities. So the aspect doctrine was basically predicated on the idea that planets that are in signs that share similar qualities have a relationship with each other and that’s why they’re able to aspect each other, whereas planets that are in signs that do not share any similar qualities do not share any relationship with each other.
When you don’t share a relationship with somebody that opens up the possibility of antagonism between the two of you, or becoming enemies, or becoming counter-productive or against what the other wants to accomplish. This is why the 6th whole sign house starts developing some negative significations, or why the 8th whole sign house, or the 12th whole sign house starts developing some negative significations. It’s because the signs that occupy those whole sign houses share no affinity with the qualities associated with the rising sign. This actually goes further; so that’s one element of how the significations of the houses were actually derived from a whole sign framework.
There’s other ways that you can only derive certain significations of the houses from a whole sign framework as well. For example, in Hellenistic astrology, the 1st house was associated with both the body of the native and their physical vitality as well as the spirit or the intellect of the native; so things that we would associated with their personality or their character.
That’s still true to some extent in modern astrology where we’ll associate both the character or the mannerisms of the native and their appearance, as well as their body and their physical vitality with the 1st house. One of the problems though is the reason that they originally assigned both of those significations to the 1st house is that the 1st house is one of the only houses where–in whole sign houses, the Ascendant can fall anywhere in the 1st whole sign house–part of the house is going to be above the horizon and part of the house is going to be below the horizon.
This is important because, originally, part of the conceptual structure of the houses is that the ancient astrologers believed that the top-half of the chart that’s above the horizon is connected to what they implicitly refer to as the ‘solar hemisphere’, which they associated with the soul, and the mind, and the spirit, and the intellect of the native, whereas the bottom-half of the chart below the horizon is under the Earth. So the top-half of the chart is basically the sky and the bottom-half of the chart is obscured because it’s under the Earth. The bottom-half of the chart they associated with the body and matter, and the physical incarnation of the native, and physical things associated with a person’s life. So top-half of the chart is basically the spirit and the mind, bottom-half of the chart is the body and the physical incarnation.
What makes the 1st house special in Hellenistic astrology from the perspective of whole sign houses is that part of the 1st house is always going to be above the horizon and part of the 1st house is going to be below the horizon. The 1st house becomes the meeting point essentially between the realm of the spirit and the realm of matter, or the realm of the body, and thus, results in the physical incarnation of the native themself. The 1st house subsequently becomes associated with that meeting point which is the native’s body and the native’s mind.
The problem with this is that it doesn’t work that way in quadrant houses because in quadrant houses, in every single form of quadrant houses, the 1st house is entirely below the horizon. So the 1st house, if you start it right at the degree of the Ascendant–as you do in Placidus, or Porphyry, or even Equal houses, which is different than whole sign houses–then the entirety of the 1st house falls below the horizon in the realm of the body. And so, you don’t get any of this other element of the spirit, or the mind, or the soul, or the intellect which is also a very relevant component when you’re talking about the 1st house.
So that’s one of the additional arguments you could make about how certain significations that were both associated with the 1st house and other houses in ancient astrology, as well as in modern astrology, only make sense conceptually within the framework of whole sign houses. I hope everybody is still with me at this point. That was argument two. Let’s move on to argument three. I’ve actually got a few to get through here. This is actually still early in this, so I should probably increase my tempo a little bit.
This is argument three. Again, this is more of a historical argument now, so I’m going to alternate between sometimes historical or conceptual arguments and other times practical ones. I will get to some practical ones very soon, for those of you who are waiting for that.
Argument three is that the shift towards quadrant houses actually happened remarkably suddenly and it does not necessarily seem to be very well-considered. As I said earlier, some of the earliest Medieval astrologers such as Sahl Ibn Bishr and Masha’allah, who were both living and writing texts around the year 800 CE, they were still using whole sign houses as their primary form of house division. But by the time of Abu Ma’shar, who lived about 50 to 75 years later–he basically was the next generation of astrologers after Sahl and Masha’allah– in his works, and in the works of his contemporaries and people immediately after him, they’re using quadrant houses all of a sudden. What this means is that the shift to quadrant houses happened relatively suddenly within the course of a single generation.
One of the issues with this, aside from it happening very suddenly, is we also don’t know why. There doesn’t seem to have been a lot of discussions about it at that point in time, or at least in terms of the texts that have survived, they don’t seem to really discuss it very extensively that this shift had taken place. Basically, if you go back and read the texts, you’re reading one set of texts from earlier in the century and they’re using whole sign houses, and then you’re reading another set of texts from later in the same century and suddenly everybody’s using quadrant houses.
After this point, when this shift takes place, it completely displaces the earlier tradition, so that everybody forgets that whole sign houses even existed. In fact, it wasn’t until 1982, when Holden published that paper that anybody even remembered that whole sign houses existed as a concept and was originally used in Western astrology to begin with. So that means for all intents and purposes that whole sign houses was forgotten as a concept or as a technique for about a thousand years. That’s a pretty big deal because that means there wasn’t some period that’s taken place over the past few hundred years where different astrologers used whole sign houses and compared that to quadrant houses or weighed the pros and cons between the two, but we literally forgot that this existed as a concept.
And after that point, interesting from a historical standpoint, this is the point when suddenly in the 9th century and shortly after that there’s this huge explosion of different forms of quadrant houses where there’s more than 20 different forms of quadrant houses. They’re just suddenly introduced over the course of the next century or next few centuries and there’s little agreement in the astrological tradition on the matter of house division from this point forward. So something really major happened at this point in time where whole sign houses got displaced, quadrant houses becomes the next big thing, but suddenly nobody agrees on anything anymore and astrologers have been arguing about this part of astrology ever since that time.
One of the funny things is that this is one of the only areas of the astrological tradition where we have this much contention. You don’t have that much contention when it comes to the outer planets or to newly-discovered planets. We discovered Uranus a few centuries ago and pretty quickly astrologers came to an agreement on what Uranus meant, and there’s not a lot of disagreement at this point in time over the significations of Uranus.
It’s pretty much the same with Neptune. It’s pretty much the same with Pluto. Even though Pluto was only discovered a few decades ago, everybody has largely in agreement about what Pluto means, and that’s only been a few decades. But for some reason, for a thousand years now, astrologers have been arguing about house division and everybody has a different answer to it. So something happened and it wasn’t necessarily a positive development.
“Why did this happen?” is one of the questions that comes up. Why did this switch to quadrant houses take place around the 9th century? Frankly, the answer is we don’t know because it’s not very well-documented. Nobody can come up with a firm answer at this point in time, but there are many different possible theories.
Robert Hand speculated at one point, in his monograph on whole sign houses, that what may have taken place is there may have been a misunderstanding or potentially a translation error at some point in the 9th century where some of the Medieval Arabic astrologers were receiving the earlier Greek astrological tradition and they were translating works from astrological authors from the Hellenistic tradition from Greek into Arabic.
They may have gotten a false impression that the Greek astrologers were using quadrant houses all of the time rather than what they were actually doing, which was just using quadrant houses within the context of certain techniques. Specifically, quadrant houses were first introduced within the context of the ‘length of life’ technique. Really the only time that most of the Hellenistic astrologers ever talk about quadrant houses is within the context of this one technique where you’re trying to figure out literally how long a person will live.
I’m not sure if Hand still entertains this notion or still thinks that this is correct, but it was a theory that he published almost 20 years ago at this point, the idea that perhaps there was a misunderstanding and a misinterpretation of the earlier tradition and that everybody got on board with this interpretation and it caused this huge shift. They thought that they were actually making a positive reinterpretation of the tradition, and they were going back to what the ancients were actually doing, but in fact, they were actually going in a completely different direction than what had been happening up to that point. That’s one possible theory; we don’t know if it’s true. There’s other possible theories as well.
In the early Medieval tradition, in the 9th century, they started to develop horary. The concept of horary as a branch of astrology was getting worked out much more at this point than it was in the earlier tradition, and part of what came along with that is they started introducing new aspect doctrines and new ways for planets to be configured. So the concept of ‘translation of light’, for example, was introduced at this time, also, the concept of ‘collection of light’ and other things related to horary astrology like that.
There was also a move more towards using orbs of aspect and viewing aspects as being geometrical relationships between planets purely rather than viewing the aspectual relationships as taking place within the context of signs. Potentially, this move towards more degree-based aspects could have made it tempting to look at these different forms of house division–whole sign houses versus quadrant house–and make the assumption that if we’re moving away from sign-based aspects then we might want to move away from sign-based houses as well. That could have been, but without necessarily recognizing or realizing that some of the basic meanings of the houses were actually tied into that sign-based model, they may not have understood what they were moving away from or what they were losing.
Other ideas, I was talking with my friend, Benjamin Dykes–who’s a translator of Medieval astrological texts–earlier today, and we were talking about some other ideas. One of the things that he said, not as a very strong theory, but one of the things that he noticed is that sometimes some of the different forms of house division would be introduced by different mathematicians who were almost showing off their skills by creating new systems, and that’s part of the reason potentially why you get this proliferation of different forms of house division at this time. People were doing this sort of intellectual exercise in order to introduce what they thought was a new and elaborate technique or approach conceptually.
This leads to this other possibility which is that part of the shift may have been more of a social shift in some way, or a sociological shift. Quadrant houses, because they take more work to calculate and there’s a lot more math involved, especially if you’re doing some of the more complex ones, they may have come off as more sophisticated or more complex at the time which may have been more appealing. So it may have seemed like a new and more advanced piece of technology and thus snowballed into a fad that everybody was getting involved with because it seemed to be more advanced.
It’s not a great analogy, but a joke that I make at this point is that quadrant houses may have been like the iPhone of the 9th century, where it’s like this new gadget, or this new piece of technology that everybody has to have, but they may have lost something in the process. It may not necessarily have been an improvement so much as it was just an elaboration or something that seemed more complicated and more effective than it actually was. All right, that’s argument three. Let’s move on to argument four.
Argument four ties together this whole historical section and this series of historical arguments which is that whole sign houses solves a long-standing dispute amongst astrologers. After the 9th century, we get 20-plus different systems of quadrant house division introduced, and from that point forward, as I said earlier, house division becomes one of the most hotly disputed topics in astrology for over a thousand years. So literally a thousand years of disagreement, even though in other areas of astrology–like with the significations of the planets, or even to some extent, the meaning of aspects or other things like that–astrologers really don’t have that much disagreement.
Further, this is also one of the weakest areas of astrology in terms of the rationales that astrologers give for why they use one system of house division versus another. They often have very poor conceptual, or technical, or even practical arguments for that standpoint. “This is the system that I started with, so that’s why I use Placidus.” That’s a very common argument because Placidus is the most popular form of house division in the 20th century.
But one of the things that most people don’t know is the only reason that Placidus became the most popular form of house division in the 20th century is because that is the only system of house division that there were tables for in order to calculate it in the early 20th century. This is an argument actually that James Holden makes in his book, A History of Horoscopic Astrology, as he points out that Placidus became popular just because that was literally the only book of tables that you could find in order to calculate it. So that’s what everybody used and then it just snowballed into being the most popular form of house division to this day.
In other instances, astrologers have other weak arguments. They’ll say, “Well, this is the system of house division that Rudhyar used, or that Alan Leo used.” Or some traditional astrologers will say, “This is the system that Lilly used, so that is why I’ve adopted it,” which is not a very good argument just in and of itself, taken at face value.
Finally, astrologers often sometimes will have really weak personal arguments about their own chart and they’ll say, “Well, X system of houses puts the asteroid Beer on the cusp of my 11th house. And my friends really like to drink, so that really makes sense, and that’s why I use Porphyry houses,” or what have you. That’s not, in all fairness, a great argument I don’t think conceptually or practically speaking.
Certainly, we should make some room for practical arguments, but for practical arguments that pertain to a person’s chart that shouldn’t be the end of the matter. You should have a good philosophical and conceptual argument and technical argument for why you’re adopting a specific form of house division besides just saying that it makes my chart look better to use Placidus over Porphyry, because it puts the Sun in the 10th house, or something like that. There should be other things that go into your argument.
One of the arguments that I want to make here, Argument Four is basically that maybe this is an area of disagreement, maybe we’ve had a thousand years of arguing about this topic because we took a wrong turn in the 9th century. Maybe we’ve been arguing about it ever since because somebody made a mistake. Maybe there was some sort of fundamental mistake about our conceptualization of what we were doing with the houses that occurred at that point in time, and that’s why astrologers haven’t had our act together on this specific area of astrology ever since. All right, so that’s argument four.
Let’s move on to argument five which is that whole sign houses–so we’re now getting into the practical arguments–are arguably more readily testable than other forms of house division. One of the issues you run into if you want to test one of the 20 different forms of quadrant houses is that the cusps are not necessarily hugely different in the different forms of quadrant house division, especially if you’re testing all of them.
So we’re talking about at least 12 or maybe as many as 20 different forms of quadrant houses. When you’re talking about that many forms of quadrant houses, there’s going to be a lot of overlap between the two, and maybe there will just be a degree or two difference between one system’s house cusps versus another. With so many different systems of quadrant houses, how can you actually test them against each other and know for sure that one system of house division is working better than another?
This is where I think whole sign houses is really interesting and presents a really interesting alternative to anything else that’s out there today. Whole sign houses is so radically different in its approach to dividing the houses that it actually makes it easier to test as an accident or a byproduct of using it. Because it’s such a weird form of house division compared to the current prevailing norm of quadrant houses, it’s actually pretty easy to look at it and see if it works. so that’s one aspect of it.
The other aspect is that there’s no question about where the cusps of the houses are in whole sign houses. The cusps of the whole sign houses are the cusps of the signs, so there’s no ambiguity. In some forms of house division, you’ll see some question about when the cusp of the house really begins, whether you should use a 5-degree rule, or whether you’ve got two different forms of house division where the cusps are a few degrees off from each other. With whole sign houses, you don’t have that at all because there is a clear distinction between one zodiacal sign and another, and the beginning of one sign of the zodiac in whole sign houses is also the beginning of a new house. So whole sign houses are more readily testable, arguably, than almost any other form of house division out there.
Next, argument six. Transits through the houses are more clear using whole sign houses. This is a practical argument, but I like it because it is something that you can actually demonstrate and try out, and it’s falsifiable. One of the interesting things about working with whole sign houses is that you realize that the ingress of a planet into a new sign of the zodiac is also an ingress into the new house.
For example, Saturn recently changed signs. It spent two or three years in Scorpio and then it ingressed into Sagittarius. According to whole sign houses that means that Saturn actually changed houses for everybody moving into a different house of their chart as soon as it went from Scorpio into Sagittarius. So that’s a pretty big shift. Not only that, but that’s true for every single one of the planets It’s not just outer planets but also all of the inner planets. Every time Mercury, or the Moon, or Venus changes signs, it’s also moving into a new house of the chart.
So one of the interesting things then you have to realize that make it really useful to use whole sign houses, one of the ways that you can test it is by realizing that the transit of a planet into a new sign immediately begins the transit of that planet through a new house. The end of that planet’s transit through a specific sign also marks the end of its transit through a specific house.
What that means is that you can have really clear, really discrete dates for when the transit of a planet starts moving through one house and then eventually finishes moving through one house. So there’s no 5-degree rule which is always kind of a murky thing that people picked up from Ptolemy that was originally supposed to mean something very different than how it ended up getting applied. It can be kind of this gray area where if a planet’s anywhere within the vicinity of 5 degrees of the cusp, you can kind of BS and say, well, maybe it’s in this house or maybe it’s in another house. You do not have that ambiguity whatsoever in whole sign houses because if a planet is in one sign then it’s in a specific house; if it’s in another sign then it’s in another house.
So one of the great things about this is it makes whole sign houses really easy to test. All you have to do is ask the question, did that specific area of my life–as indicated by that house and the topics associated with that house–become activated or become more prominent when that planet moved into that whole sign house? And then, conversely, did that area of my life and the topics surrounding it become less prominent suddenly when that planet departed from that whole sign house?
Here’s an example. Let’s say that somebody has Cancer rising. Their Ascendant is somewhere in Cancer, so Cancer becomes the 1st house. That means immediately that the sign Capricorn, from 0 to 30 degrees of that sign, becomes the 7th house, and therefore that becomes the sector of their chart that pertains to relationships and partnership, and if they’re married, their marriage partner.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that as soon as the planet Saturn ingresses into Capricorn that will begin a two- or three-year transit of Saturn through that person’s 7th whole sign house. They should start experiencing pretty shortly after that some topics that are of the nature of Saturn, that are in connection with that specific sphere of their life, which are relationships and partnership. Eventually, when Saturn–for the final time, for the last time–leaves Capricorn and moves from Capricorn into Aquarius that means it’s departing from the 7th house, and therefore some of the challenges and the difficulties that they might experience during that transit of Saturn through their 7th house would then fall into the background pretty quickly after that point once Saturn departs from that sign.
And that’s actually what you see, and that was the thing originally that sold me on whole sign houses, primarily by testing it with transits and having this realization–especially if you follow slower, outer planet transits, and also, to some extent, if you follow inner planet transits–that transits really do begin as soon as the planet moves into a new sign, and they really do end as soon as the planet leaves that sign.
That is actually amazing and mind-blowing. It’s so simple and so obvious, but it’s actually very elegant in a way. But despite its simplicity that actually has some huge implications for how we do transits and how you apply the modern approach to transits to a person’s chart. I’m not going to go into all of those here today, but just by starting to apply transits within a whole sign house framework, you’ll see some pretty interesting stuff start to come up. And all you have to do is look at the ephemeris. It’s right there in the ephemeris, which will tell you all of the sign ingress changes.
This also works for transits to natal planets. One of the things that you can also take from the whole sign approach and from the Hellenistic approach is the idea that a transit to a natal planet begins as soon as the planet moves into the same sign or a sign that is configured to that natal planet that is aspecting that natal planet by a whole sign aspect, and the aspect or the transit to that natal planet ends as soon as the planet departs from the sign that is configured.
Let’s say, for example, somebody had Saturn at 15 degrees of Libra, so right in the middle of that sign. Then their Saturn return–which is when Saturn returns back to the position that it’s in, in the natal chart–begins as soon as Saturn ingresses into Libra, and it ends as soon as Saturn leaves Libra. So it’s true that when Saturn gets close to the exact degree of its natal position, right in the middle of the sign at 15 degrees by transit, that that would probably be the most intense part of the transit where some of the most important events will take place.
But one of the things that you’ll notice if you pay attention to this is that many of the circumstances and situations that culminate or reach a climax at the exact Saturn return when it gets exact to the degree, those things actually will start to build up as soon as Saturn moves into the natal sign. Eventually, all of those circumstances and scenarios and experiences, even though they’ll start to decrease or become less intense after the exact Saturn return, they won’t be fully wrapped up and fully brought to completion until Saturn departs from that sign. So that’s another way that whole sign framework is tied into this and provides you with an interesting additional perspective on transits that actually gives you new information that you can work with. Also, because the specific implications of it are so stark or are so clear, it actually makes it very easy to test.
One of the things I’d recommend that you do is cast your whole sign chart and follow some outer planet transits. Saturn in particular seems to be really easy and really useful because some of the events that it tends to coincide with tend to be so stark, and so clear, and so tangible that it’s a really good planet for using to test things out. So cast your whole sign chart, figure out what your rising sign is and what the other whole sign houses are, then focus on looking at what happened when Saturn ingressed, especially into the four angular houses of your chart. See if the events and circumstances surrounding the transit Saturn through those houses didn’t start shortly after or not too long after Saturn first moved into that sign, and then see if those circumstances and events didn’t start to fully get wrapped up once Saturn departed from that sign.
Focus especially on transits through the 1st house. One of the primary things they’ll relate to are matters pertaining to your physical health and your body. Check transits through the 4th whole sign house which oftentimes will relate to your home, living situation, and parents. Check transits of Saturn through the 7th house for matters pertaining to relationships or matters pertaining to your partner. Check the transits of Saturn to your 10th house for matters pertaining to your work, and your career, and your general life direction, and I think you’ll find some pretty impressive results.
All right, so let’s move on to argument seven. We’re starting to make it through. We’re getting most of the way, but we’ve still got a way to go. Argument seven is a minor argument but it’s an important one that whole sign houses creates a clear and a better distinction between the 1st and the 12th houses than in quadrant houses.
So we have this issue in all forms of quadrant houses–and basically all forms of house division that are not whole sign houses–where as soon as the Sun rises over the horizon each morning, as soon as the Sun and the other planets rise over the degree of the Ascendant in quadrant houses, they immediately move into the 12th house for some reason. Since the Ascendant, which is the horizon, represents the cusp or the starting point of the 1st house in quadrant houses that means anything above that is immediately in the 12th house. This is a problem because of the way that the 12th house has always been described, both traditionally as well as in modern texts, where they’ll often associate it with matters that are hidden and secret and things like that.
But if you think about it that actually makes very little conceptual sense for a planet that has just risen over the horizon. The Sun, for example, has just risen over the Ascendant, just emerging from underneath the Earth for the first time that day. To suddenly say that that has something symbolically to do with secrets or with hidden matters, it literally does not make any sense. Whole sign houses solves this issue because it’s literally the only form of house division in which planets that rise over the horizon do not immediately move into the 12th house. This is because a planet can be above or below the horizon and still in the 1st whole sign house as long as it’s still in the rising sign. Let me show you a diagram to give you an idea of what I mean by this.
This is an example where the Sun is early in the rising sign. Eventually, at some point, the Sun rises upwards, so this diurnal rotation. It always moves the planets so that they go clockwise. So the Sun rises up over the Ascendant, but as long as it’s still in the rising sign, it’s actually still in the 1st house, even though it’s now moved above the degree of the Ascendant. Whole sign houses is the only system of house division that does this, where you can still have a planet in the 1st house but it can be above the degree of the Ascendant, and I think that’s really, really important.
One of the things that I should clarify here is there’s a specific reason why the 12th house is associated with hidden matters and secrets and things like that. There’s actually a conceptual rationale that’s very interesting, that’s still relevant, that makes sense in the whole sign framework. It relates back to the thing that we were talking about previously about houses that are configured by a major aspect to the rising sign versus houses that don’t.
Part of the reason that the 12th house has those connotations of things that you can’t see, or secret matters, or things that are hidden is because the 12th house does not make a major Ptolemaic aspect to the 1st house. There’s also other reasons that go along with that such as the fact that the 12th house is actually the sign of the zodiac that was rising over the Ascendant in the hour prior to the moment of the native’s birth. So it’s literally the sign that was rising before you are born
In the ancient traditions, it’s connected with that pre-birth state they referred to as ‘in-between worlds’ where the native is in between life and death because they haven’t been born yet; instead, they’re in this in-between stage. That really makes more sense within the context of the fact that the 12th is the sign that rose prior to birth and the fact that it’s a sign that does not aspect to the 1st whole sign house or the rising sign rather than the idea that planets that rise over the Ascendant immediately pop into the 12th house, which in whole sign houses that’s definitely not the case. All right, so that’s argument seven.
Argument eight is kind of a special one; it’s one that others have pointed out. It was one of the things that I noticed when I first came across whole sign houses and other people have commented on it as well, and it requires some additional background that you may or may not have. I’ll try to give a little synopsis really quick. Basically, whole sign houses is the only system of house division that may provide a solution to a mystery that came up in the mid-20th century when some large scale scientific tests on astrology started taking place.
Generally speaking, a lot of the scientific tests on astrology haven’t gone that well. One of the few tests that actually did go relatively well was carried out by a French scientist and statistician named Michel Gauquelin. What he discovered, or one of the things that he discovered that became very controversial was this thing called the ‘plus zones’ and the ‘Mars effect’. Basically, the ‘Mars effect’ showed that eminent athletes, statistically speaking, tended to be born more often when Mars was either rising over the Ascendant or was culminating around the Midheaven.
Initially, that sounds like it’s validating astrology and it makes a lot of sense. On the one hand, it’s showing that there’s some correlation between a person’s birth chart and the career that they will later have, since Mars is pretty commonly associated with athletes. The problem though that astrologers ran into when these results came out is that they actually didn’t really make sense in the context of quadrant houses because they showed in the results that the effect actually peaked on the 12th house side of the Ascendant. That was problematic because traditionally the 12th house is supposed to be much less active and much less prominent than the 1st house. Here’s a diagram to show you what I mean.
On the top-left, well, let’s start with the bottom-left. On the bottom-left, I have a picture of Michel Gauquelin. He’s writing on a board and he’s showing the ‘plus zones’. He shows the cross in the middle and the circle which represents the Ascendant/Descendant axis and the MC/IC axis, and then he shows these peak zones that occur right above that, which is basically the number of people who were born that had Mars in those sectors tend to be really high for eminent athletes. And what he showed is that that was occurring, especially the highest peak, when Mars was just above the Ascendant.
The problem with that is if you’re using quadrant houses–and he recognized this immediately as well as every other modern astrologer who researched Gauquelin’s work recognized it immediately–even though it showed an astrological correlation, it created a problem because it’s said that the 12th house was for some reason more powerful than the 1st house, or that the just barely above the horizon side of the 12th house and the other side of the Ascendant was more powerful and tends to coincide with more eminent athletes than the sector just below that in the 1st house, under the Earth.
So it didn’t really make a lot of sense in the context of quadrant houses, but if you use whole sign houses–which he did not because it wasn’t until a few years after his death that the concept of whole sign houses was fully revived into the public consciousness–it’s only in whole sign houses that those results actually make a little bit of sense. Again, planets can be above the degree of the Ascendant and still in the 1st whole sign house because of the way that whole sign houses are calculated. Because it’s the cusp of the rising sign, it’s 0 degrees of the rising sign which acts as the beginning of the house, not the degree of the Ascendant. The degree of the Ascendant just marks the rising sign.
One of the more exciting implications of whole sign houses is that potentially it could answer one of these weird mysteries that came up during the course of the 20th century. He made these discoveries decades ago, and astrologers, on the one hand, kind of supported them and said, “Yeah, that’s great that he found an astrological correlation,” but then there was this issue where it was disproving a long-held assumption about astrology which is that the 1st house is more powerful than the 12th. It may be that what he found actually didn’t disprove that at all, but we merely weren’t using the right form of house division in order to look at it correctly. All right, so that’s argument eight. Let’s move on to argument nine.
Argument nine is basically more of a bonus. It’s like a fringe benefit of using whole sign houses than it is a conceptual or practical argument for why it’s better, but it can be spun or it can be used in such a way that it actually shows why whole sign houses works better, and this is why. It’s because when you’re doing rectification–which is to say when you’re trying to figure out what time a person was born when you either don’t know or you don’t know for certain the exact moment of birth–using whole sign houses actually makes rectification easier in some instances and more straightforward.
The reason for this is that when you’re rectifying charts using whole sign houses, once you’ve determined the correct rising sign, all of the other house positions for all of the other planets in the chart will also then immediately fall into place. So if you figure out what the correct rising sign is then that means that you’ve also figured out what the correct house placements is for all of the other planets since all of the houses are measured out in a standardized fashion from the rising sign.
This leads to some interesting effects; one of them is that the difference between one rising sign and another is much more stark because as soon as you change rising signs in a chart in whole sign houses, all of the planets immediately change or shift to another house. So that means that the difference between two charts with two different rising signs is very stark compared to if you’re just adjusting it using quadrant houses. Let me show you an example of what I mean by that.
This is a chart from a lecture that I gave on rectification that I did a few years ago, and the chart is set for the same date. So it’s set for Saturday, April 12, 2014. The chart on the left is set for 3:00 PM, whereas the chart on the right is set for 10 minutes later, for 3:10 PM, both in the same location. The chart on the left has 28 degrees of Leo rising, so that means that Jupiter is in the 12th house because it’s in the 12th sign relative to the rising sign, the Moon is in the 2nd, Mars is in the 3rd, Saturn in the 4th, the Sun and Mercury and Uranus in the 9th, Venus in the 8th, and so on and so forth.
However, just 10 minutes later, the Ascendant switches and it moves into Virgo, and as a result of that all of the house positions in the chart switch and they jump to one house over. So suddenly, that 12th house Jupiter becomes an 11th house Jupiter, that 2nd house Moon becomes a 1st house Moon, that 3rd house Mars becomes a second house Mars, the 4th house Saturn becomes a 3rd house Saturn, and the 8th house Venus becomes a 7th house Venus. As you can see, those are pretty stark differences that would lead to very different interpretations depending on which chart the person was actually born with.
What I’ve actually found in doing rectifications is this makes rectification incredibly simple and incredibly easy because all you have to do is design a series of questions. You design a set of questions that would match what you would expect to see if the person matched one chart and then you design a set of questions that would match what you would expect to see in the person’s life if they matched the other chart, and if you do that it’s oftentimes very simple and straightforward to figure out what the correct chart is.
So that’s why I say one of the benefits, one of the fringe benefits of using whole sign houses is that rectification becomes easier and more effective. There’s an additional piece of this which is that I think that this actually then could become one of the best tests of astrology. If not just one astrologer but if a group of astrologers could correctly look at these two charts, for example that we have in front of us, and match the correct one with the person who was actually born at that time with their biography then you could actually demonstrate that astrology is real within a scientific context. You have to have a certain type of training because you have to know what to look for and you have to know the type of questions to ask. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think it actually has a lot of promising potential, I guess. I’ll just leave it at that.
All right, so when doing rectifications, other things like looking at Saturn transits is much more stark so that also makes whole sign houses really useful. So that’s point nine, on to point ten.
Argument ten is that whole sign houses interestingly is still the primary form of house division that’s used in India to this day, and they’ve actually been using it continuously as the primary form of house division for about 2,000 years now. The reason for that is the original form of Western astrology, that was written in Greek, was transmitted to India in approximately the 1st or 2nd century CE. There was a text on astrology written in Greek that went over on a trading ship to the western coast of India, where there were trading colonies set up, and it was translated into Sanskrit.
They took the form of astrology that they got at that point–which was basically Western astrology with planets, and signs, and houses, and the aspects–and they merged it with the indigenous form of astrology that they had which was a form of lunar astrology called the Nakshatras, which was a 27-sign lunar zodiac. So they merged the lunar astrology with Western astrology to create a type of astrology that’s essentially what they use today.
One of the interesting things about this is that they’ve had a much more stable transmission over the past 2,000 years than we’ve had in the West. We’ve had lots of empires rise and fall and different languages come in and out of prominence, and each time the texts on astrology were transmitted to a new language or to a new culture, they were translated but they were also changed and adapted. There’s just been a very spotty transmission of astrology in the West over the past 2,000 years which led to things like that shift in the 9th century where suddenly it goes from everybody using whole sign houses to everybody using 20 different forms of house division.
In India, they didn’t necessarily have that. They had a much more continuous and a much more stable transmission. So one of the interesting side effects of that is whole sign houses is actually still the primary form of house division used amongst the vast majority of Indian astrologers to this day. There’s probably more, technically speaking, Indian astrologers in the world just in that one country because astrology is so much more widely accepted than there are in the West, which, technically speaking, may mean that even though in the West, Placidus is still the dominant form of house division, in the East, in India, there’s more whole sign house users than there are any other form of house division. So that’s argument ten.
Argument eleven–we’re getting towards the end here. I’ll try to wrap it up pretty soon.
Argument eleven is that whole sign houses was actually used not just in the earliest texts on natal astrology, but it was also used in the earliest texts on horary astrology and electional astrology. The earliest complete texts that we have on horary that have survived were written by Masha’allah and Sahl Ibn Bishr around the 8th century, and both of them were primarily using whole sign houses. It’s the same for the earliest texts on electional astrology which was written by Dorotheus of Sidon in the 1st century; he was also using whole sign houses.
I bring this up because sometimes this doesn’t often come from modern astrologers, it more comes from late traditional astrologers where they’ll say that because one of the later traditional astrologers, like William Lilly, used some form of quadrant house division like Regiomontanus, that’s the reason why they use Regiomontanus for one branch of astrology like horary, but for something else like natal, they might use a completely different form of house division like whole sign houses.
And my point here is that house division is actually not supposed to be restricted to just a certain branch of astrology. All branches of astrology, even though they’re applied to different things and they sometimes have different rules, they’re all still drawing on the same fundamental framework of planets, signs, houses and aspect. There really isn’t any good conceptual reason to use one system of house division for horary and another for natal, or at least I haven’t seen anybody present any good arguments to that effect, and this is the reason why I would argue against that. The oldest astrologers on horary actually used whole sign houses, and it’s actually a perfectly valid system of house division to use for that even still today.
Finally, my last argument, argument twelve is that all the cool kids are doing it. That’s somewhat just a joke, but on the other hand, it’s not because in the past 20 years, a number of prominent astrologers have switched to whole sign houses. For example, Robert Hand, Demetra George, Benjamin Dykes, Robert Schmidt, Rick Levine, Austin Coppock, and other astrologers that range from just about any modern tradition of astrology, or any traditional approach to astrology, or even some psychological or Sun sign astrologers have been switching to using whole sign houses either as their sole form of house division or as their primary form of house division.
This is really important and it’s worth noting, not just as an argument for authority by saying, “Rob Hand is a famous astrologer and he uses whole sign houses, so therefore that’s what I use.” I’m pointing it out because when long-established astrologers like Rob Hand and Demetra George–who have had very long careers in astrology and have been consulting astrologers for 30 year, or 40 year, or 50 years–decide to make a huge change in their approach to astrology like that–which is to get rid of quadrant houses and adopt a radically different system such as whole sign houses–that’s a really big deal. That means that they’re really going out of their way to make a huge shift, and sometimes they’re actually interrupting their lives and their professional practices in order to do it.
I know that Demetra took a year or two off from doing consultations while she was reorienting her practice of astrology once she discovered whole sign houses and realized how well it worked. She really had to take some time off to reorient her approach to astrology because it was such a radical change, not just in how she handled charts, but in how she saw even her own chart and thus her own life.
So that’s one reason why it’s important to pay attention to the fact that some of these significant astrologers have switched to whole sign houses because there’s some smart people that are taking it seriously and finding it useful. On the other hand, it’s also notable that there’s been this huge shift in the past five years where suddenly a lot of just normal astrological enthusiasts, or people that are interested in astrology that have been using it for a long time but are not necessarily professionals, or that are just low level, not super famous astrologers are also making the shift.
I’ve seen two polls recently, as I mentioned earlier–one of them was on Skyscript, which is a traditional forum, but one of them was on Facebook for just practising astrologers–and it seemed to indicate that while Placidus was still the primary form of house division for most astrologers, whole sign houses had actually become the second-most popular form of house division amongst practising astrologers.
That’s very important because there’s no introductory books out there at this point in time where a person can learn astrology from scratch using whole sign houses, so that means that anybody who’s adopted in the past 5, or 10, or 20 years made a conscious decision to look into the matter, potentially to research it, and make the shift. Whereas for Placidus, again, Holden made the point in his book on the history of astrology that literally the primary reason that Placidus is as widely-accepted as it is today is because that’s the only book that tables were available for in the early 20th century. And then because people have a tendency to stick with whatever the first system was that they have learned, Placidus became the main system. But prior to that, in previous centuries, there were other times when only one book of tables was used then there were other systems that were more popular or were the primary systems like Campanus, or Alcabitius, or what have you.
All right, making some of my final points as I reach the end of this lecture, I just want to give you a few pieces of advice. If this is the first time you’ve heard about whole sign houses or if you’re considering testing it out, for many of you, many of the placements in your whole sign house chart are probably going to be the same as your quadrant houses. So on the one hand, that’s going to mean that there’s not really a big shift for you. You may already be using what are essentially whole sign house placements that you’ve just assume meant that the quadrant houses are working. So that’s one thing that you have to take into account and for a lot of people that’s typically the case.
In other instances, one of the things that you need to take into account if you’re having reservations about whole sign houses because of something that it changes in your chart– this is usually people’s primary objection. They’re used to some specific placement of a planet in a certain house of their chart and they feel like that describes their life very well. One of the things that you have to take into account and keep in mind is that there may be alternate ways that the same thing is indicated but from a different perspective.
For example, instead of having Saturn in your 7th house–let’s say you have that in quadrant houses–maybe Saturn is squaring the ruler of your 7th house in whole sign houses. That would essentially result in a very similar experience in terms of your experience of your 7th house, but it would be coming from a different standpoint. There would be different a reason for it. So if you’re testing out whole sign houses to see if it works, you have to pay attention to and make sure you’re being cognizant of potential overlapping issues like that, where something that you thought was indicated by one placement is actually being indicated by a completely different placement in the whole sign perspective.
Ultimately, although I framed this in the form of a polemical series of arguments about why whole sign is the best form of house division and it’s the primary one you should use, you may actually not have to give up quadrant houses completely. We’ve already seen earlier how you can take into account the degree of the MC and the IC and how those actually get integrated into the whole sign framework in order to create almost a hybrid approach. But in the late Hellenistic tradition, they were actually using both whole sign houses and quadrant houses almost at the same time. So whole sign houses was the primary system of house division, but they also to some extent would pay attention to the quadrant house placements as a secondary overlay. In fact, that could be the solution for us today.
It doesn’t have to be like in the 9th century where it’s like somebody makes an observation or a discovery that there’s this alternate form of house division then everybody switches to it and completely forgets the other form of house division for a thousand years. We don’t necessarily need to do that all over again by switching back to whole sign houses and completely forgetting about quadrant houses. Instead, there may still be a way to synthesize the two together, or to use them at the same time or potentially for different things, which is another suggestion that different astrologers have made, that whole sign houses may be more useful for one thing and quadrant houses may be more useful for another.
We’re still very early on in the process of recovering whole sign houses. This is literally the first generation of astrologers who have started using it again, in the West at least, for over a thousand years. So much of this research is still early and there’s still stuff that we’re working out about how to fully revive it, and what position it has relative to quadrant houses, and what the potential is for reconciliation ultimately. So there’s still work to do and there’s no final answers yet.
Despite how I framed this lecture with the title in order to get you in here, unfortunately I’m going to end this on a more conciliatory tone and say that ultimately what’s important here is just having good reasons for what we do. So no matter what form of house division you use, just make sure you’re using that form of house division because you have good reasons for doing so and that you can back them up, and if you do that then I have tons of respect for you in whatever system of house division that you’re using.
If you don’t have that then try working on it and seeing what you can come up with it in order to provide both a practical as well as a conceptual and philosophical defense for or explanation of why you use whatever your preferred system of house division is. And if you do that then I think that your approach to astrology and your experience of using astrology and applying it as a technique and as a system will be improved significantly.
So that’s it for this lecture. If you want to learn more about Hellenistic astrology or my approach to this subject, you might want to check out my online course on the subject, which is at hellenisticastrology.com. I have 60 hours of lectures just like this one, except I go more into detail about specific astrological techniques. And you can find more information about me on my websites, which are chrisbrennanastrologer.com and hellenisticastrology.com.