The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 8, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Kelly Surtees
Episode originally released on July 18, 2013
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: email@example.com
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released February 25, 2022
Copyright © 2022 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, I’m Chris Brennan, and this is The Astrology Podcast. Today is—what is it—Wednesday, July 17, 2013, and our topic today is the issue of house division in Western astrology. My co-host today is Kelly Surtees. Kelly, welcome to the show.
KELLY SURTEES: Thanks, Chris. It’s good to be back.
CB: Great to have you back. So yeah, I guess before we get started about our main topic of house division, I just wanted to quickly mention in a little news segment I’ve always meant to do a couple of things that recently happened or developments in the astrological community; one of them is that I started a new Professional Astrologers group on Facebook. You can find the link on the podcast page for the show. Otherwise, just search for ‘Professional Astrologers’ on Facebook and you’ll find us.
It’s a helpful group for talking about issues that relate to the practice and profession of astrology amongst other professional or aspiring, would-be astrological professionals. It can get a little bit crazy and it’s a little overwhelming because of the number of people who have joined recently, but from time to time, we still happen to have some decent discussions there.
The other piece of astrology news is, on a sadder note, the astrologer and author Michael Baigent passed away last week. And most know of him for the book he wrote with two other authors in the 1980s, which is Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and that actually became the source book Dan Brown’s famous novel, The DaVinci Code, where he argued that, what, Christ survived—Jesus survived and that there was a bloodline that went down for thousands of years into the present day.
So Baigent, though he was most known for that, however, he also wrote in 1984 a book on mundane astrology with Nicholas Campion and Charles Harvey that was very important. And later in, I think, 1992, he wrote a really great book on Mesopotamian astrology titled, From the Omens of Babylon. And even though this was published about 20 years ago now, it’s still actually one of two or three best books on the market that cover Mesopotamian astrology, so I definitely recommend checking that out. And from that perspective, it was actually a big loss for the astrological community because he had done some good work in the field of astrology in producing at least two books and teaching classes and mentoring a number of students.
An interesting bit of sort of astrological trivia is that his co-author on Holy Blood, Holy Grail—that he wrote in the 1980s—was Richard Lee. And Richard Lee—who passed away in 2007—is actually the brother of Liz Greene. So he has another interesting, weird sort of connection to the astrological community through that.
Okay, so I guess that’s it for the astrology news segment. Now we’re onto our main topic, which is a topic that came up recently in the Professional Astrologers group on Facebook, which is the issue of house division. Oh, yes, quickly, I forgot to mention that you obviously can find and subscribe to the show at TheAstrologyPodcast.com, and you can also subscribe to us on iTunes. And actually if you like the show then please go on iTunes and give us a good rating, since that will help other people to find the show. Yeah, so onto our main topic, which is the issue of house division, which came up in the Facebook group.
Obviously, it’s kind of a controversial topic because many people have different opinions about how you should divide the houses into different sectors in the chart. And I think this is something that both myself and I think you are definitely very interested in, right, Kelly?
KS: Absolutely. Yes, I’m fascinated by this topic.
CB: Yeah, it’s kind of a crucial topic, since the houses play such a huge role in the system. I mean, Western astrology basically can be divided largely into four sections—four technical sections for the most part, which are planets, signs of the zodiac, aspects, and houses. So it really takes up how you divide the houses and how you, I guess, end up with 12 different houses, and where they are in the chart becomes almost at least a quarter of the foundation of your approach to delineating or interpreting charts.
And depending on what system of house division you use, the beginning of each house could start at a completely different degree in the chart. So it’s very important to narrow that down and determine what system of house division you use, so that you know exactly where the houses are, and thus, your delineations flow from that and are accurate.
So I guess the starting point for this is that I did a poll recently to see what the dominant forms of house division are and what the spread is. And in the poll, I was limited to 10 options, but I think there’s between 10 and 20 major competing forms of house division in the astrological tradition. Maybe that’s too much, I don’t know. How many would you say there is, Kelly?
KS: Yeah, I mean, I think I would agree there’s more than most people realize. Just doing a little count. One, two, three, four, five, six—yeah, there’s probably close to 10, I think, that come up very regularly in discussions.
CB: Okay. Yeah, that’s probably more accurate in terms of ones that are actually being used or have a significant—or what you might call a significant following.
CB: So I’m trying to find the poll again. Do you happen to have the poll in front of you?
KS: Uh, let me grab it.
CB: Yeah, I mean, the list was something like at the top, obviously, it’s Placidus, which is currently still the dominant form of house division in Western astrology. I mean, one could argue perhaps that it is—if you’re a proponent of that system—but it’s not necessarily due to its efficacy as a system of house division or how well it works. Some historians have pointed out that Placidus is the most popular system of house division today in the early 21st century because that’s the only system for which there were tables of houses in order to actually calculate the houses in the early 20th century.
CB: You had heard that as well?
KS: Yeah, I actually was doing a bit of just reviewing references in preparation for our talk today, and I think it goes back to the astrologer Raphael in the 19th century who published an almanac that included the Placidus tables.
KS: So from that, just from pure availability, I think, they became fairly accessible to people and then that fed into, I guess, the 20th century emphasis on them.
CB: Sure. Yeah, and that availability led a lot of people to use that system of house division because for some systems of houses, you really need tables in order to be able to calculate them at all, and in order to determine the Ascendant and the IC and the MC and then in order to calculate the intermediate house cusps. So I just found the list, and the list of houses…
KS: Just discovered them too.
CB: Okay, it was Placidus at the top in terms of just the ones that were options for people to choose. Well, actually, no, this kind of follows usage in terms of how people responded. So the top respondent was Placidus, then whole sign houses, then Koch, then Porphyry, then Regiomontanus, then equal houses, then Alcabitius, then it looks like topocentric, then some other system, and then possibly Campanus.
So there’s a few of these I think that people will recognize or that I’m familiar with and I recognize right off the top. For example, I think Campanus was the system that was used by Dane Rudhyar and that he advocated, if I recall correctly. Other houses—I think we already mentioned Placidus as being the most widespread, and that one, about 105 people responded that they used Placidus. But the big surprise was that whole sign houses actually came in second, just below Placidus. It had almost about 50 people who responded saying that they used it; it’s almost about half as much as Placidus. But then below that, the next highest one was Koch, which only had about 20 people.
So this is actually really interesting to me because it points to a recent phenomenon that I’ve witnessed myself in my relatively short astrological career over the past 10 or 15 years, that whole sign houses has really started to take off over the past, I would say, three to five years. When I was lecturing, let’s say, five years ago, in 2008—or even 2007, six years ago—I would ask people in a room to raise their hand if they knew what whole sign houses was, so I’d figure out if I would have to explain it or not; everyone in the room would raise their hand saying that they didn’t know what it was. And so, I’d have to explain in almost every lecture that I did in different parts of the country or even the world.
But then recently, in the past, I’d say, a couple of years, those numbers have diminished significantly. So now, in a room full of astrologers, when you ask, “How many people know what whole signs houses are?” everyone will raise their hand, except for two or three people. So that’s a huge shift not just in that now all of a sudden everybody knows what whole sign houses are, but there’s huge amounts of people that are suddenly converting to whole sign houses, which is really striking to me. Have you noticed that as well, Kelly?
KS: Absolutely, and even the fact that we’re sitting here having a discussion about house systems. Because when I first started teaching maybe five or 10 years ago, nobody even questioned it. You just used your software program, Placidus used to come out default in a number of the software programs, and you just went on. People kind of skipped straight into, “Now I’ve got a chart, I’m going to interpret it.”
KS: And so, there has been a lot more debate even about the house system issue and then, yeah, the switch to doing it perhaps differently. And that may have something to do with some of the research that has come out in that time as well.
CB: Sure. Yeah, like maybe some of the historical research which has given us greater insight into the origins. And then you have this push towards astrologers looking at types of astrology that were practiced prior to the 20th century where other forms of house division were more prominent, and therefore, maybe you get more people who are suddenly interested in using those systems because authors that they’re reading are using Regiomontanus or Porphyry or equal houses or whole sign or what have you.
CB: That would make sense. So as part of that historical research, I guess, or the most interesting facet of it is that in about 1984, James Holden published a paper on house division in the American Federation [of Astrologers Journal] in which he pointed out for the first time—as far as I can tell in any astrological literature—that the original form house division was whole sign houses. And this was sort of a landmark paper for me because I don’t think anyone had pointed that out before.
And I’m not sure even that a lot of people noticed it at the time because it wasn’t until about 10 years later, when Project Hindsight really got started and got going that all of a sudden they were able to confirm that Holden was correct when they started doing translations of the earliest texts in Greek and Latin from the Roman period. They were able to confirm Holden’s argument that whole sign houses was the earliest form of house division because that was virtually all that was being used in the Hellenistic and Roman periods as far as we can tell.
So just in case anybody’s not familiar with it, whole sign houses is actually a pretty straight forward form of house division. You just have to find what degree the Ascendant is located in and find what sign it’s located in and then that entire sign becomes the 1st house, from 0 to 30° of that sign, regardless of how early or late the Ascendant is in the rising sign.
So the rising sign itself becomes the 1st house, then the 2nd house in zodiacal order—or the second sign becomes the 2nd house. Then the sign after that becomes the 3rd house, the sign after that becomes the 4th house, and so on and so forth. So you end up having 12 signs and 12 houses. And this is probably the reason why we have 12 houses to begin with because the houses—according to this whole sign house framework—were originally meant to coincide completely with the signs.
Yeah, so this is kind of a new concept to a lot of people, and it makes sense, I think, conceptually to a lot of people and does some interesting things in astrological practice, and I think that that’s why a lot of people are switching to it suddenly. I guess you’re somebody who’s still sort of working with the idea or wrestling with the idea, right, Kelly?
KS: Yeah, I know we spoke about this back in May at NORWAC, and it had been coming up for me a lot. And so, I have been using it, and probably the more that I do it, the more I’m just defaulting to the whole sign system. There is something about the simplicity of it that really sort of seems very coherent within the context of the chart. And something we’ll talk about as we go today is just the idea of the philosophy and some of the techniques that exist within our astrology are really based on the concept or the framework of the whole sign house system.
CB: Right. Yeah, and that’s sort of the main argument that I often have in favor of whole sign houses, which is the system that I switched to a number of years ago now, back in, I don’t know, 2005, after using Placidus for a number of years and other quadrant systems.
It’s interesting because it was the original system of house division, and it was the dominant system of house division for the first thousand years of the practice of what is essentially Western astrology—what we recognize as Western astrology—which is the type of astrology that originated in Hellenistic Egypt in the 1st century BC that had planets, signs, houses, and aspects, that fourfold system.
That system was largely predicated on the concept of whole sign houses. And a lot of the reasons why the houses mean what they mean is because they were originally developed in a whole sign framework, and if you had developed them, let’s say, in a quadrant framework with Placidus or Porphyry or something like that, you wouldn’t have attributed the same meanings to each of the houses or some other things. So yeah, we’ll have to get into that. I guess before we do, let’s see if there’s any other distinguishing mark as we lay the baseline for this discussion, just in terms of some of the other systems of house division and what their calculations involve.
CB: So whole sign houses is definitely the oldest. The second-oldest seems to be Porphyry houses. Actually it’s a fight between Porphyry or equal houses. Equal houses we’ll probably start with because it’s the easiest to explain, but people need to understand that whole sign houses and equal houses are not the same, that those are actually two separate systems.
So with whole sign houses, the rising sign becomes the 1st house, the entirety of that sign, but then the cusps of the signs become the cusps of the houses. In equal houses, you find the degree of the Ascendant and then you count forward exactly 30°, and then 30° after the Ascendant, you’ll find the cusp of the 2nd house. Then you count another 30°, and you’ll find the cusp of the 3rd house, and another 30° and you find the cusp of the 4th house, and so on and so forth. So like whole sign houses, equal houses have equal 30° segments, however, they’re measured exactly from the degree of the Ascendant; whereas whole sign houses basically the Ascendant marks the rising sign as becoming the 1st house, and so on and so forth.
So equal houses is pretty early, but it shows up about the same time as Porphyry does. And Porphyry is the simplest form of what we’ll call ‘quadrant houses’; and quadrant houses is when you find the degree of the Ascendant and you find the degree of the other three angles—the MC, the IC, and the Descendant—and then you divide that naturally into four sections or four quadrants. And the quadrant systems all have a tendency to then divide or to trisect each of the quadrants into three portions. Porphyry is the only one that divides all of the four quadrants into three equal portions in order to end up with 12 houses that are divided in between the actual degrees of the angles.
And one of the things that’s interesting is Porphyry’s one of the oldest systems, but it’s actually having a revival recently, we learned at NORWAC, because, evidently, Porphyry has been chosen as the designated house system for evolutionary astrology. So evidently, there’s a lot of evolutionary astrologers who are using Porphyry nowadays.
KS: Which is interesting given it’s such an old system.
CB: Yeah, given that it’s such an old system. And the joke I made with one evolutionary astrologer—I think with Mark Jones at NORWAC—was that it’s funny because originally Porphyry—if you read the actual text and where it comes from—it appears to have been introduced specifically within the context of the length-of-life technique, the technique that they employed in order to determine how long you would live or when specifically you would die; the point at which they pulled out Porphyry houses and started using them in the chart was specifically within the context of that technique.
So it’s simultaneously kind of funny in terms of how it’s being adopted and used today, and then also there’s technical questions because that really seems to be historically how quadrant houses developed as far as I can tell. It was a specialized thing that you did—quadrant houses—only within the context of the length-of-life technique, but then for most other things, you used whole sign houses for virtually everything else.
For just interpreting planets in houses or planets ruling houses, that was all whole sign, but then they had this separate quadrant system of division for the length-of-life technique. But then eventually, the quadrant system sort of leaped outside of that one technique, and they started using the quadrant systems on top of or at the same time, as a sort of secondary system of house division in addition to whole sign houses. So sometime late in the Hellenistic tradition, you see them referring to both whole sign houses and quadrant houses at the same time, in the same example charts.
KS: Yeah, and it’s interesting, too, just to think about the fact that the quadrant house system developed in relation to a particular technique rather than as an absolute in terms of dividing the chart into its 12 places.
CB: Yeah, I mean, as far as I can tell, it was relegated originally to that one technique, whereas for everything else you were supposed to use whole sign houses. And that raises a lot of interesting questions just in terms of how we are to interpret that today and how that should be applied today, because you could argue from different perspectives—depending on what your preferences are—that that was a mistake. You could say that quadrant houses were always supposed to be restricted to this one technique, and they were never supposed to leak outside of that; and therefore, it was a historical mistake that quadrant houses ended up coming to dominate at some point, probably around the middle of the Medieval tradition.
Or you could argue the opposite. You could say that it was a gradual development and evolution, or you could say that it was, I guess, a good—not mistake—but a good development that took place that happened naturally because that was the more superior form of house division or what have you. I think you could argue it either way. But at least to the acknowledgment that whole sign houses was the original form of house division and understanding why that is and how whole sign houses informs some of the basic house meanings is kind of important—and we’ll get to that—even if you don’t use whole sign houses as your primary form of house division.
So let’s see—equal houses, Porphyry, then it’s kind of a toss-up. Alcabitius might have come after that, I think, based on some interpretation of Ptolemy. That’s something that comes up a lot in some of the work that Robert Hand and Robert Schmidt and James Holden have done, which is that after this point—by the Medieval period—once you get this shift where they start using quadrant houses in addition to whole sign houses, and especially once they make the shift so that whole sign houses kind of gets forgotten about and quadrant houses becomes the primary system of house division.
Then you start getting a bunch of arguments about how to trisect the quadrants and how to actually calculate the house cusps, and you start getting some very elaborate mathematical arguments about what reference points you should use in order to determine exactly where the house cusps are. I mean, the MC and the Ascendant are pretty fixed, as well as the Descendant and the IC; it’s the intermediate house cusps which become subjects of debate.
And what’s interesting, though, is some of the systems of house division were developed based on different interpretations of Ptolemy, of what they thought Ptolemy meant in his chapter where he’s talking about the length-of-life technique; and of course he does what every other Hellenistic astrologer does—that’s when he introduces his system of quadrant house division. But this chapter where Ptolemy outlines his quadrant house division is notoriously complicated and difficult, and many people have had different interpretations of what Ptolemy meant when he outlines those calculations.
And this has actually led to some of the different forms of quadrant house division that are actually interpretations of what the authors thought that Ptolemy meant and thought in terms of what system he was trying to explain that chapter; although some of those, unfortunately, were—at least as far as current translators are concerned, in terms of what Schmidt and Hand have said—were mistaken interpretations of what Ptolemy said. Some people thought he meant this, and so they created this system of house division based on what they thought Ptolemy meant, but then it turns out that they were mistaken in their interpretation.
So that creates some complications when it comes to the creation of some of the quadrant house divisions because you have to figure out which ones are based on different astrologers trying to use different reference points and arguing that those work best versus which ones are just sort of historical developments that are almost mistakes because they were based on misassumptions about what earlier authors thought and did.
KS: Yeah, it’s very interesting when it comes down to it that the subtleties we’re talking about, again, they are to do with the intermediary house cusps rather than, I guess, the main angular points or the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th. It’s all a matter of opinion and there’s a lot of conjecture in how some of these techniques formed.
CB: Right. Yeah, and that’s just weird that some of them didn’t necessarily form empirically. I mean, some of them were developed, like I said, based on interpretations of Ptolemy or based on conceptual or theoretical arguments that it makes more sense to trisect the quadrants based on this rationale rather than this other rationale, and there’s just a lot of weirdness.
Once quadrant houses take over there’s a much greater sense of disparity. Like sometimes you’ll notice when the topic of house division comes up, some astrologers will just throw up their hands and say, “Well, there’s so many different forms of house division, everybody chooses what they want or what works best for them,” or “To each his own,” or what have you. And everyone sort of treats house division as this big area of mystery or this area of discord because there’s so many different options and because it looks so random.
But it’s just weird because you don’t really get that until about the 9th or 10th century, right about the time that there’s this switch to quadrant houses, and then there’s all this controversy about how to trisect the quadrants. But earlier in the tradition, it was pretty straightforward. Everybody used whole sign houses primarily, and then either for some techniques or some instances, you would bring out quadrant houses as a secondary overlay, so it’s interesting just watching the historical timeline and seeing how that development went.
And actually I think we’re seeing something similar. We’re seeing a weird reversal of that process now, not just in the poll we took in the Professional Astrologers group, but also I saw a poll on Skyscript just a few months ago that had similar results. And obviously, Skyscript is not good for a litmus test of the general astrological thinking because it tends to be more traditional, but at least for a traditional forum, I was shocked to see that the overwhelming majority of astrologers said that they were using whole sign houses—of traditional astrologers, presumably, said that they were using whole sign houses.
So what we’re seeing is now whole sign houses has been rediscovered; astrologers didn’t know about it until about 10 or 20 years ago. Holden published that paper, but it was an AFA journal, which not a lot of people got at least at that point because of the split in the 1960s and ‘70s between the AFA and some of the other astrological organizations, where all of the younger astrologers left the AFA and set up these new organizations like ISAR and the NCGR and AFAN and stuff like that.
So not a lot of people knew about Holden’s paper, but when Hand and Schmidt started talking about whole sign houses in the mid-‘90s, people started paying attention. And then more recently, in the past five or 10 years since I started lecturing, I’ve also been promoting whole sign houses and getting people interested. And the guys from Astro.com, from Astrodienst, came to my lecture at UAC in 2008 and they said they were really impressed, and they were going to add whole sign houses in as an option in Astro.com, and that ended up happening in 2008, just a few months later that summer. And so, things have kind of opened up since then, so that it’s really easy to calculate whole sign houses in mainstream products like Solar Fire or Astro.com.
And I think we’re just seeing this complete switch where suddenly people are taking it up in large numbers. And I really want to start taking polls because I feel like the numbers are changing so rapidly that unless there is hard data showing how many people were using Placidus or whatever forms of house division in the early 20th century, it’s not going to be as clear how drastically things changed in just a decade. Like even five years from now, it’ll be interesting to see those numbers and where they’re at and if whole sign houses hasn’t displaced Placidus.
Because again, we run into this issue where most people are using Placidus simply because that’s the system of house division that they learned from their teacher. Now you could still make some argument that maybe it’s the best form of quadrant house division after, let’s say, 10 or 15 different options. You can make that argument, but I honestly don’t think that many astrologers test it out and are really trying a bunch of different systems of house division.
And plus, many of the quadrant systems hardly move the house cusps. I mean, in all reality, you’re just talking about a few degrees in many instances unless the person is born very far north or very far south. In which case, the MC and the IC are much closer to the other angles, and therefore, you’ll get much more displacement in terms of the house cusps.
But I guess what I was saying is just that people seem to be picking up whole sign houses because it gives a viable and kind of stark alternative to whatever the system of house division that they’d been using up to that point. It’s not usually for most people just a difference of a few degrees; for a lot of people it really changes their chart substantially. And so, they have an option to look at two wildly different forms of house division and how that reacts with their chart or the charts of people they know, and sometimes the starkness of that contrast can be compelling.
In addition to the fact that whole sign houses, as an alternative to Placidus or whatever, you know immediately what the math is for whole sign houses; it’s not like a mystery. You’re not testing two different mystery forms of house division where you don’t understand the math involving them, but you’re just checking to see how the house cusps fit in your chart. It’s pretty clear how whole sign houses is calculated, so therefore, I think it’s appealing to people both because it’s clear how it’s calculated, but also it provides a stark contrast to what they’ve been using up to that point.
KS: Yes. And when you do talk to other astrologers about different house systems, some people can be quite attached, I guess, to whatever house system they originally trained in or discovered their chart in, because changing house systems can mean planets can move from one house to the next, the rulership of a sign of a house can change substantially, which then changes the whole potential. And it takes some getting used to, I think, for people who have charts where the house system change does create substantial shifts.
CB: Yeah, it’s a huge change because most people get into astrology and they want to study their birth chart first. And so, they’re learning about themselves and they come to identify with the birth chart in general, but the house placements in particular as, “This is my life, and this is what the chart is saying about my life,” and they come to identify with that. So changing house divisions—systems of house division—can be a huge psychological shift. And I think you have a joke about that actually.
KS: My joke is a little bit crude.
CB: No, I mean, it’s a good joke because I think it accurately represents what happens. Because I’ve seen other astrologers like Demetra George or Rob Hand or different people who had been committed to a form of house division and suddenly coming across whole sign houses and feeling so compelled about it and feeling like it was so accurate that they felt compelled to drop everything that they’d been doing for 10 or 20 or 30 years in their astrological practice and change, and I think there’s some good analogies that you could draw to that.
KS: Well, yeah, I should share, shouldn’t I, the analogy that I had made, but changing house systems is akin to having a sex change operation in terms of the level of the shift in the philosophy and the practice that goes with that. And I know having chatted or heard Rob Hand’s thinking about this that he now advises people to make this change slowly rather than how in the past people did it very quickly.
KS: It takes some getting used. It is a whole different worldview. It’s funny, I know we’re talking about how it can change a lot for some people, and I have one of those charts that doesn’t change; nothing really changes for me. Whichever system, I basically have houses that are 30° in space, all nice and evenly-spaced.
And I was reflecting on my own personal process with this, and I never got into this debate before now because, as you mentioned, most of us get into astrology to learn about ourselves. And the little bits that I picked up on early on in the piece, I worked out very quickly nothing in my chart was going to change, so I didn’t need to know more about that. And then of course getting into practice, you look at some clients’ charts where things do change substantially.
KS: Yeah, take your time with the house/sex change process rather than diving in. You want time to adjust. It’s a bit of a head shift, that’s for sure.
CB: Yeah, exactly. To whatever extent astrologers come to identify their chart with their own lives, having a shift of that can be a huge process and can be something that you do want to take slowly. And that’s one of the reasons why people are so resistant to it because of that identification, but that becomes problematic because then sometimes you have to question whether you’re sticking with this form of house division because it actually works best and is accurately reflecting not just your life, but the lives of the people around you, or clients, or what have you best, or are you sticking with it because that’s what you originally learned and you’ve come to identify with it and on some level you’re resistant to thinking that it could be different than what you had assumed or always thought.
KS: Of course. I’ve heard people at conferences say, “Well, I like my chart better in this house system.”
CB: That always makes me cringe—even people that say that they’ve changed to whole sign houses because they think that their chart’s better or something like that.
KS: In whole sign versus Placidus or Koch.
KS: I’m not sure that’s the right reason to make a change.
CB: I mean, you can do that, just don’t say that out loud; that’s what I would ask people. I don’t know. I mean, that’s all right. I mean, there are people where potentially a chart could become ‘better’ or ‘worse’, however you want to define that. One of the things I think people get tripped up on is sometimes people do really identify—either rightly or wrongly—with certain house placements, and they say, “Yeah, that really fits my life. And therefore, this system of house division makes more sense than some other form of house division,” like whole sign or what have you; because in whole sign it would change, and therefore, you wouldn’t have that placement that you think very clearly reflects something you’ve experienced about your life.
And something I’ve noticed that people often overlook is that modern astrology tends to be very much focused on placements of planets in houses. Like a person has Mars in the 7th house, and therefore, the person says, “That really identifies with me because I’ve always had issues with Mars and relationships,” or what have you.
But oftentimes, people overlook that part of the shift towards using some of these older forms of house division that were used prior to the 20th century is also taking into account that astrology was done somewhat differently and that there are additional factors that you also have to take into account, such as, in older forms of astrology, the greater emphasis on house rulership and what planet rules which house in a given chart; because that also can really affect topical delineations of the 7th house.
So in one house system you might have, let’s say, Mars in the 7th house, but in another house system you might have Mars as the ruler of the 7th house, which can still symbolically mean similar things. Or let’s say in one house system you have Mars in the 7th house, but in another house system you have Mars closely opposing the ruler of the 7th house.
So let’s say, I don’t know, Gemini is on the cusp of the 7th house. And so, then, Mercury, the ruler of the Gemini, becomes the ruler of the 7th, and therefore, it represents 7th house topics, such as relationships in the chart. And if it’s getting directly opposed by degree from Mars, that’s going to perhaps coincide with some Mars-related challenges in the sphere of relationships, just as much as Mars being placed in the 7th house would.
And I think that people sometimes overlook that and need to pay attention to those differences when they’re researching the issue of different forms of house division, because sometimes there can be overlapping or repeating areas of symbolism that still say similar things, but they just come through in a different way, depending on what system of house division you’re using.
KS: Yes. And that was one of the points that in our prep had popped into my mind, which was the idea that the debate around which house system to use also kind of leads into, well, what do we do with the houses once we have determined which sign is aligned with which house. And what you just described there is sort of the difference between a superficial, “Just look at the chart. Okay this planet’s in this house, therefore—” versus a more involved or a more detailed or a more complex approach, which is which planet has rulership over the house. And again, it’s just taking it that extra level, but it does reveal so much more.
CB: Yeah. And the point is just it’s more complicated, and you shouldn’t predicate your decision of which system of houses you use entirely on just planets being placed in certain houses in one system versus other houses in another. That can be compelling in and of itself, but it’s not the complete picture. There’s other stuff going on.
KS: A lot of other factors.
CB: Let’s see—some other stuff that comes up when it comes to this debate, that came up in the Facebook thread—and I’ve heard this a few times because this has become more prominent of an argument in the past 10 or 20 years—is that some people think that perhaps there’s different forms of house division that are better suited to different branches of astrology.
And one example of this is there’s some traditional astrologers, some late traditional astrologers that practice Lilly’s style of astrology and practice horary who say that they use one system of house division—let’s say Placidus or something—for natal, but they use Regiomontanus for horary because that’s what William Lilly used. And therefore, because Lilly used Regio for horary, and he had presumably a good track record of answering horary question correctly using that system, then that’s also what we should use for horary.
But then sometimes they won’t necessarily import that into other systems. They’ll say, “Well, I use Placidus (or Porphyry or something) for natal,” as if there are different forms of house division that are relevant for different branches of astrology or designed for or more suited for, or what have you. Have you heard that argument?
KS: Yes, same thing. And I am guilty of the same sort of shortcomings, I guess, when I first started working with horary: Regio is what Lilly did, so let’s all use Regiomontanus. I’ve read about another astrologer who uses Campanus for return charts; I don’t really understand the reasoning why. But yeah, there does seem to be this approach where the house system becomes application-specific.
CB: Yeah, so there’s a two-pronged issue there. One of them is largely people are doing that because they’re basically just copying whatever system the author of the techniques was using. So some people will use Regio for horary because that’s what Lilly used, and he’s the oldest—well, no, he’s not; he is the oldest English manual on astrology. But up until not too long ago, he was the oldest manual on horary astrology period that was available in translation in the English-speaking world. And therefore, for all practical purposes, everyone was treating it as if it was literally the oldest manual on horary; therefore, we should use the system of house division that Lilly used.
So that argument, though, is questionable at this point. Just because some author that you’re drawing on used ‘X’ technique, is that sufficient as your sole reason for using that technique, especially if you’re using something different elsewhere? The other issue is that, then, how far back are you going, and is the source that you’re drawing on the most authoritative source that it could be? That position for me has become problematic now.
20 years ago, I could have seen somebody saying, “Well, Lilly’s our oldest source. So we should use Regio for horary if we’re going to follow his methods,” and you can kind of make an argument for that. But now, due to the work of people like Benjamin Dykes and others who have been translating other Medieval texts over the past 10 to 20 years, we have a bunch of other horary authors from earlier in the tradition: from the Renaissance, from the late Medieval period, and even from the early Medieval period, going all the way back to the 8th century.
So now, the earliest horary texts that we have—the earliest complete horary texts that we have are from the late 8th century. We have, for example, Masha’allah’s work, On Reception, or Sahl ibn Bishr’s work on horary called On Questions, and in both of those works they use whole sign houses. Or we have Bonatti who’s using some form of quadrant house division—I think he’s using Alcabitius or something—in the 12th or 13th century in his work on horary.
So it’s not really sufficient just to go back and say, “Well, Lilly used—,” I mean, I guess if Lilly is your primary guy, you’re going to use his system of house division. It’s just that you’re not making a complete argument from antiquity at that point since he’s not the oldest source. And then you’re basically just drawing on Lilly’s judgment, and you’re deciding to use his judgment and his experience rather than some of the people that he, himself, was drawing on, like Bonatti who was a source for Lilly and used a different form of house division, or like Abu Ma’shar or Masha’allah or Sahl, who were also sources for Lilly, but who used completely different forms of house division, so that argument’s become problematic for that reason.
The second reason that’s become problematic is because I object to the general argument that there are different forms of house division that are application-specific, or at least specific to different branches of astrology, like you should have one form of house division for horary and one for electional and one for natal and one for mundane, or what have you. I would question that line of thinking because what is different?
I mean, I get that there’s different applications. But in terms of the actual specifics and how it’s applied, the houses are treated exactly the same, they have almost exactly the same significations and meaning. You’re looking at the same thing. You’re looking at house rulership. You’re looking at planets placed in houses. You’re looking at perfections between significators and so on and so forth.
There’s no good, practical or conceptual argument for why the houses should be divided differently between the branches, like why you should be using, hypothetically, equal house for natal astrology, but you should be using Porphyry for electional astrology, or Camapanus for horary questions, or what have you. Nobody’s made a good argument for why you should use different house systems for different branches in the first place. And therefore, it seems weird to do that just for horary, natal, or what have you.
KS: Yes. And I think many of us are probably guilty of wanting to skip over the house question or the house system question and just dive into the practical without thinking about, I guess, the different energy there, and that’s how we’ve ended up in this situation. And I’ve done it in the past, and I know a lot of people that have published books or we’ve spoken to at conferences have got different systems for different applications, and it does suggest a little bit of a haphazard approach really, doesn’t it?
CB: Yeah, I was in New York recently, and I was talking to a couple of older astrologers who were in their 60s, and so they’re in the upper range; they’ve seen a lot of changes in the astrological community after being in practice for 40 years or what have you. And one of the things that they noted was that there used to be a barrier in the ‘60s and ‘70s, prior to the 1980s. Prior to the advent of the personal computer and the ability to calculate charts with computers, there used to be this barrier where you had to be able to do the math in order to calculate a chart by hand.
CB: And that was the barrier to entry to get into the astrological community, and that had a way of weeding out—I don’t want to say ‘weeding out’ because that sounds derogatory. I guess the point that the person was making was kind of derogatory, because you could say that now there’s a lot more people in the astrological community that have access to it, that don’t need to be good at math in order to calculate charts because you can just get a computer to do it instantly.
But this ties into this issue because for most of these systems of house division—basically any of them besides the simplest ones like Porphyry or whole sign or equal houses, anything beyond that you really need to know your math a little bit in order to be able to calculate the house cusps if you were doing it by hand.
And if you were able to do it by hand, you would actually understand to a certain extent the difference, I think. I’d like to think that you would be able to understand the difference—when you’re calculating them—in what you’re doing. And therefore, you might be able to tell differently, or you might have a different judgment about what you’re doing if you’re presented with 10 different forms of house division. You have to calculate each of them by hand, and therefore, you get intimately familiar with how each is calculated and you might develop preferences based on that.
KS: Yes. I mean, you make a great point; there’s two things I could say in that regard. Absolutely, you’ve kind of hit the nail on the head in terms of what I was describing where we can jump straight into the chart now in 30 seconds, or push a few buttons and the chart pops up. Whereas even when I started in astrology, when I took my first courses about 15 years ago, nobody had PCs.
I mean, I remember coming into astrology, and if I could get online, I could use Astrodienst; but if I couldn’t and I was at home, I had to calculate the chart by hand, which does slow you down. It makes you think about what you’re doing, as you were saying. And then the other point is there is a reference that I had read somewhere that in terms of calculating Placidus by hand, it’s a little bit easier to do with how the tables are put together perhaps.
KS: So I think there is actually perhaps a mathematical factor with the popularity of Placidus, if you did have to take the time to do it by hand. One of the authors—and I can’t remember exactly who it was—had made the comment that once you’ve done a certain amount of the calculating, you can then just read the house cusps straight out of a table with Placidus. So that probably makes them a little bit more accessible in that environment where people are doing it by hand.
CB: Sure. And that, then, may weaken the argument in saying that if a person’s doing it by hand that they might understand better what the astronomy is going into it.
KS: No, you’d just be wanting to rush through it.
CB: Yeah, so maybe that’s actually a bad argument on my part—which it probably is. Then it explains how you could say that because Placidus was the only table available in the 1920s or ‘30s that’s why Placidus became so prominent in the 20th century.
KS: And then we’ve all followed that lineage. We’ve all followed the lineage of the astrologers in the ‘50s who then trained the astrologers in the ‘70s and ‘80s, who then trained people like ourselves.
CB: Right. Yeah, for me, and I think for a lot of young people, most people use Placidus because that’s what Astro.com uses as the default.
CB: And that will probably continue to be the case for as long as they use that as the default. So it’s almost like a recapitulation of what happened in the early 20th century where that was the main form of house division that was available easily, and that is also still the main form that’s available easily today.
But that’s why I’m so fascinated—not just as a proponent of whole sign houses, but also just as somebody that’s interested in the history of astrology and the shift of ideas from time to time—how many people are picking up whole sign houses because you don’t see shifts like that happen in astrology.
And it’s happening so quickly that I’m just kind of shocked by it after many years of just asking everybody in the room to, “Please raise your hand if you know what whole sign houses is,” and everyone looks bewildered, even though it was rediscovered 10 or 20 years prior to that. I thought that this was a huge discovery and nobody knew that it had happened. Now, all of a sudden, five years later, everybody knows what whole sign houses are.
KS: Yes. And it’s great that Astrodienst has added in whole sign houses at least as an option.
CB: Yeah, definitely as an option, even though that’s not the default that there are people using it. So one of the things that I want to say that came up I thought that was really interesting is that somebody was questioning—I think it was Maurice Fernandez or somebody—or trying to defend what he was using, which was a quadrant house division. I think he was using Porphyry because he’s an evolutionary astrologer, and he was pointing out how the Ascendant is this important intersection point where the sky meets the Earth.
His objection to whole sign houses—and I think somebody else mentioned this as well—is that if you use whole sign houses, then the degree of the Ascendant does not mark the 1st house cusp. But instead, the 1st house cusp starts any number of degrees above that at the cusp of the sign, or the cusp of the rising sign. And he said that this bothered him conceptually because that was an important distinction that the person was born at that moment when a specific degree is being marked by the Ascendant, and that acts as a dividing point between the sky and the Earth. And due to my recent work, it turns out you can flip that argument around because it actually becomes more of an argument in favor of whole sign houses.
In whole sign houses, it’s the only form of house division where part of the 1st house will be above the degree of the Ascendant—so sort of in the sky—and part of the 1st house will be below the degree of the Ascendant, and so under the Earth. And that actually had importance. That’s actually part of why the 1st house means what it means in that it relates to both the body, but also the character and appearance. And to some extent, the spirit or the intellect of the person come through the 1st house because, symbolically, in whole sign houses, it’s one of the only houses where it includes both parts of the sky, where part of the sign is above the Earth in the sky and part of the sign is below the Earth and sort of hidden.
In the 1st century BCE, they had this sort of Hermetic conceptualization where the Earth itself represented the body and physical incarnation and living in the world, whereas the sky represented the spirit and the intellect and everything that is from elsewhere or is not of this world, let’s say. And symbolically that’s why the 1st house means what it means because it’s the point where both of those two realms come together.
And in whole sign houses, you can have a planet in the 1st house and above the horizon, or you can have a planet in the 1st house and below the horizon. But in quadrant houses, that logic that went into that rationale for why the 1st house means what it means is completely destroyed because the cusp of the 1st house is the Ascendant itself. And therefore, the entirety of the 1st house is below the horizon, so that there’s no part of the 1st house that is above the horizon at all; and therefore, that same sort of logic of why the 1st house originally meant what it meant in symbolically representing the point where the body and the spirit sort of coming together at the moment of birth gets lost.
Then there’s other rationales, like why the 6th house and the 8th house relate to subjectively negative topics; like why the 6th house can relate to illness at all, or why the 8th house can relate to death. And part of the reason for that is because in whole sign houses, the 8th and the 6th whole sign houses will not be able to aspect through a major or a Ptolemaic aspect the rising sign or the 1st house. And it’s because of that lack of major aspect to the 1st house that there are some negative significations associated with the 6th and the 8th. Whereas for the other houses that do aspect the Ascendant, they tend to, by default, signify more positive or at least neutral things because they aspect the rising sign, and the rising sign itself is thought to represent the life and the vitality of the native.
KS: Yeah, it’s interesting. And I’m just thinking back to what you were saying about the Ascendant/1st house paradigm with the quadrant versus the whole sign house system, and also some of the things that you were relaying from the online discussion. It also sort of seems to me the difference, too, between the Ascendant point itself and the 1st house.
KS: The Ascendant point, it represents the horizon, I guess. In the whole sign system, we allow part of the 1st house, if you like, to be above that and part to be below. And I don’t think that importance of the Ascendant is lost in the whole sign house system, it’s just separated, I guess, from the start of the 1st house, which doesn’t diminish it, I don’t think, but I think somehow that’s how it’s misinterpreted.
CB: Yeah, I mean, I think the degree of the Ascendant—and actually the degree of the other angles—become important sensitive points, they’re just not the starting points necessarily of their respective houses.
CB: I think you’re right that sometimes that does get lost in translation. People who use whole sign houses don’t subsequently ignore the exact degrees of the angles, but instead, they become more like sensitive points, like the Vertex or the Part of Fortune that can float freely about those whole sign houses that they’re associated with. And even the degree of the MC—even though that doesn’t become the starting point of the 10th house—the degree of the MC is able to float around through the top-half of the chart, and it will import, or it will designate whatever whole house it falls in, sort of doubling-up on 10th house significations in addition to the other significations that it means relative to the whole sign.
I mean, it’s interesting because even basic whole sign usage requires some level of merging of the two systems, of some ‘quadrant’ thinking and some ‘whole sign’ thinking. While you’re still primarily paying attention to the 10th whole sign house for career matters, you also, secondarily, want to pay attention to where the degree of the MC is and what whole sign house it falls in and what planets it’s close to, and so on and so forth. Ultimately, I think that’s kind of the way forward.
And I’ve been struggling with this for a few years, when people transition into whole sign houses. I saw Benjamin Dykes, for example, a few years ago transition into using whole sign houses as he translated more and more Medieval texts and realized that so many Medieval authors were using it in the early part of the Medieval tradition. And as he experimented with it himself, and found it more and more compelling, I tried to tell him to do it slowly and to slow down that process, like Hand was saying, and your joke.
But I was saying that because there’s some people that jump into it right away, but I think for some of us that do that, it might be problematic because there might be more of a middle-ground, or there might be more of a way to blend the two approaches, so that you use whole sign houses and then you use quadrant houses at the same time, that you pay attention to both placements. But sometimes, if people just switch right away and just forget about their previous work with quadrant houses that becomes not necessary, but there might be some valuable synthesis that could be created between whole sign houses and quadrant houses.
And while I haven’t personally found the need to do that so far because whole sign houses has largely been more compelling to me than quadrant houses, I’m not ruling that out as a possibility that quadrant houses could still work to some extent, and therefore, could perhaps still be used as a secondary overlay on top of whole sign houses or what have you.
KS: Yeah. And I hadn’t even thought about that myself, but I was talking to another traditional astrologer a couple of months ago, and they were saying that they do primarily use the whole sign system, but they check the Placidus house cusps, I guess, just for an extra overlay.
CB: Yeah. I think that it would be difficult determining what system of quadrant houses to use and what your rationale is if you were going to use a quadrant system as a secondary overlay.
KS: It sounded like a lot of work.
CB: Yeah, it does sound like a lot of work, and I’ve seen somebody do that. Maria Mateus, for example, did that at The Blast in 2009, I think, where she demonstrated how she uses whole sign houses and equal houses at the same time. And it does look like a lot of work, and it looks like it leads to complications and some issues with the system. And I’m not personally saying that that’s what I do or that’s what I advocate, I’m just saying that I’m not completely willing to rule it out. I think I’m primarily a whole sign house proponent, and I think that’s the system that works best. I hate saying that, for me, personally, because I hate it when astrologers say that because often it’s…
KS: It’s an entirely subjective thing.
CB: Yeah, it’s an entirely subjective thing, and it’s not impressive or compelling most of the time when astrologers say what works best in their opinion or in their experience. There’s a wide range of different potentials of how much research actually went into that statement from one person who looked at a hundred charts and did some crazy study—and that was the best option that they literally could come up with—versus the other person who likes that fact that the asteroid Sedna is in their 6th house according to this ‘X’ form of house division—and it forms a quincunx with trans-Pluto or something like that—whereas it would fall in their 5th house if it was in this other form of house division.
And it’s just some arbitrary or completely random sense of criteria for how they came to that decision. That’s usually the problem with someone saying it works better in their experience, and that’s why I hesitate to say that. But I think that experience combined with a good conceptual or philosophical rationale can sometimes be much more compelling than just purely saying, “It works best for me.”
And that’s one of the things that I think is compelling to people about whole sign houses; it’s that you have this completely different and this completely unique conceptual motivation for using that system of house division. Also, at the same time, in addition to the conceptual or philosophical differences, it presents a completely different technical approach that introduces some unique technical things that you can actually test, like planetary ingresses, for example.
Once you start using whole sign houses, you realize that an ingress of a planet into a new sign is also an ingress of a planet into a new house. And that’s really important because that completely changes transit work within a modern context; transits being the primary timing technique that modern astrologers use, that we all use everyday. It gives you something you can test. It works best for outer planet transits, especially of Jupiter and Saturn, but it also works even for inner planets, like Mars and Venus and Mercury.
As soon as you have a planet ingressing into a new house, sometimes the circumstances surrounding whatever the main transits are—the main events that are going to correlate with the transit of that planet through that house will start to develop as soon as the planet moves into that sign, and you can really see. That’s like a testable argument or testable hypothesis that can be verified or can be falsified or what have you. So if anyone’s interested in testing that, then go ahead, just look at the past few years.
A common one that’s useful is if Saturn went through your 1st whole sign house recently, anytime in the past few years. It gives you sort of a start date—which is the ingress of Saturn into that sign for the first time—and then an end date—which is the departure of Saturn through that sign. See if that was a period in which some health matters didn’t become more prominent in your life for a couple of years. Or look at Saturn going through your 2nd house and if financial matters didn’t become more prominent for a couple of years. Or Saturn going through your 7th house and if relationship matters didn’t become more prominent for a couple of years in a Saturnian type of way.
Yeah, it’s a real testable thing, and there’s not a lot of complete ambiguities there in the same way that there is with different forms of house division. Apparently, the topocentric house division—which three or four people said that they used in the poll the other day—the cusps of that are always like a degree or something off of Placidus. So there’s a lot of ambiguity there in terms of which one works best, I think you could say.
KS: Yes, it’s really quite a fascinating discussion.
CB: Yeah. So I’m trying to think if there are any other major points to this that we meant to discuss and haven’t covered yet, but I think that was kind of it. We talked about some of the different forms of house division and what their basis is. We talked about the historical development of house division.
And I have another podcast that I did for Traditional Astrology Radio where I talk about specifically the development of whole sign houses and the move to quadrant houses that occurred in the later part of the Hellenistic tradition. So I’ll link to that, if anyone wants to listen to it. Is there anything else that you meant to cover that we haven’t talked about yet?
KS: No, I think we have touched on everything, just how people use the different houses and the common practice which, rightly or wrongly, that most of us are just following our teacher’s guidance or the default option in a software program, except in the last few years where there seems to be more discussion about it.
CB: Sure. Okay, well then I guess my main advice is just that people should really seriously research the issue, and they should research the history of house division, and they should research the origin of the system of house division that they use, like how it was historically developed, how they came to use it, why it’s popular, and so on and so forth. And do that not just for your own system, but do that for other systems as well, and that will help to give you some better background into what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Obviously, you also want to incorporate practical chart work into that. You want to test different systems and you want to try them out and see how they change your chart, and that’s definitely an important component as well. Take some of these systems and apply them to your own chart of people you know and see how they shift things. But also realize that it’s complicated and there’s other things that you have to take into account, like house rulership and sect, and so on and so forth.
KS: Yeah, that just reminded me of one thing I did want to say earlier and didn’t. If you change house systems and you feel like something is ‘wrong’ about your chart, maybe be open to there being something about technique or house interpretations that you may not know yet, that may then explain what you now feel is wrong.
CB: Right. Definitely. That comes up a lot, like people not understanding that there’s other mitigating factors that could be playing a part in what they’re experiencing in that part of their life, which could come through a number of different things, like aspects from other planets that are not taken into account or not realized as important. It could come into play through house rulerships. It could come into play through sect, the distinction between day and night charts; there’s quite a few things.
KS: Yes, and just for people to be open. It may not make sense right away, but those moments of feeling confused or almost frustrated are actually your prime learning opportunities in astrology. So dig a little bit before you just go back to what you’re familiar with.
CB: Right. Definitely. Whatever you’re familiar with—whether you started with Placidus, or whether you started with whole sign. I actually met somebody who started with whole sign recently, which kind of blew me away.
CB: Whatever system you start with, you should try and question that at some point and be open to testing other forms of house division in order to see if they work and what the rationale is, and at least understanding symbolically what they are referring to. And then from that I think you’ll be in a better position to make a more accurate decision about what form of house division works best for you or is right for you in practice.
KS: Yes. So just be informed, I guess, rather than be blind.
CB: Yes. Exactly. I think that’s the point of this podcast and this show in general, to help inform people and to have engaging discussions like the one that we just had about specific issues as to better familiarize people with the topics and the issues and help people become better informed, and therefore, make better decisions.
So I think we accomplished that, and I think that’s about the end of the show. So thanks for coming on again, Kelly.
KS: My pleasure, Chris. Thanks for having me. It’s always a pleasure.
CB: Yeah, so that’s the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. Like I said earlier, you can find us at TheAstrologyPodcast.com, and you can subscribe to get an email every time the show is released. You can also subscribe to us on iTunes just by searching for ‘The Astrology Podcast’ or clicking the link that’s on our website. If you liked this show, then please rate it on iTunes, as that really helps us out. Just give it a five- or six-star rating or what have you and let us know if you like the show.
If you have any of your own thoughts on the issue of house division, then please post them in the comments section on this page for The Astrology Podcast, and we’ll see the comments and engage in the discussion there. So thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.