First published 2007 by the CPA Press, BCM Box 1815, London WC1N 3XX, United Kingdom, www.cpalondon.com. Copyright ©2007 by Clare Martin.
Lesson One: An Introduction to the Houses
It is good to see everyone again for the next stage of our astrological adventure. This term things get really interesting because we are going to add two major new levels to our astrology, both of which explain how the birth chart actually manifests in real life.
Just to recap: last term we explored the meaning of the planets - the characters in the play of our lives - and by putting them in the astrological signs, we explored how each planet seeks to express itself, its motivation, values, desires and goals. We looked at the way the zodiac signs are constructed, by polarity (positive or negative), modality (cardinal, fixed or mutable), and by element (earth, air, fire or water). This term we are going to bring our astrology down to earth - literally. We are going to see how the planets and signs function in the world. It is not until the moment of our birth that the astrological houses and angles are created, and it is at that moment that the universal pattern becomes personalised, setting the scene for the unfolding drama of our lives. In addition to the two axes created by the angles, we will add a third major axis to our charts, that of the Moon's Nodes. With the angles functioning as our personal doorways into the world, we will see how the nodal axis functions as a doorway into other dimensions that appear to hold our pattern and remember our soul's purpose.
When we have identified the houses and the three axes in the chart, we will go on to explore the aspects, the relationships between the planets, and consider whether they support or do battle with each other. The aspects describe the dynamic tension, struggle, talent and potential in every chart. They tell stories that are both intensely personal and yet reflect universal themes which, to a greater or lesser extent, we all recognise. Finally, with all the components in place - planets, signs, house, angles and aspects - we will spend the last evening of this term on the general interpretation of a birth chart, integrating everything we have learned so far.
Audience: There just seem to be so many layers to all this. I think I am beginning to lose my confidence. I used to think I knew a great deal of astrology, and now I increasingly feel as if I know nothing.
Clare: Well, you can now join the club, because you are not alone. When we first come across astrology, we tend to approach it just as we would with any other kind of learning - we seek to master it. We feel that once we have learned the grammar, we should be able to speak the language fluently. But ultimately, astrology is a living and constantly evolving tradition that cannot be mastered in this way; we can only hope to participate in its wonders and mysteries. Astrology teaches us to question, to open our minds to multiple and subtle layers of meaning. It is one of the ancient mystery traditions which leads us into a dialogue with living forces which are sometimes opaque or hidden from us, sometimes capricious, often humorous, and occasionally overwhelmingly astonishing and meaningful. Our best approach is one of enquiry and humility - we can ask astrology questions and wait patiently for the answers. If we attempt to impose our own preconceived notions upon it, then we will not hear it speak to us. So don't despair - I think this is an excellent sign.
Incarnation and the angles
We are going to add a new dimension to our astrology tonight. Up until the moment of our birth, the planets and signs are disembodied - they are of universal, collective significance only. They exist as principles, unable to take any particular, specific shape or form. However, at the exact time and place of our birth, the forever-changing pattern of the heavens becomes fixed, in what is the most powerful, seismic moment of our lives. At the moment of birth our undifferentiated wholeness comes to an end, and we find ourselves quartered, nailed, as it were, to the cross of matter, to the two major axes which are the angles of the chart. From that moment on we are concretised, caught in the drama of opposites, which is also the drama of life itself.
Every birth chart is a reflection of the symbol for the earth, the
cross within the circle, describing the precise nature of the specific
material, solid, concrete world into which we have been born and through
which each of us must manifest ourselves. It is the angles which make
time and space comprehensible, which give us our orientation, our east,
west, north and south. The horizon, or east-west axis at that moment,
forms the Ascendant-Descendant of the chart, and the meridian, or south-north
axis, forms the MC (Medium Coeli) and IC (Imum Coeli). Simultaneously,
the twelve astrological houses come into being, taking their starting
point from the Ascendant. The houses describe every area of life and
all the relationships that we will encounter - they describe 'where'
or 'in what area of life' we will meet, experience and express the
planetary principles. It is the angles and the houses that turn the
universal picture into a highly particular and specific map of the
individual psyche and into an entirely personal life story.
Whether or not we believe, as the ancients did, that our souls choose the specific time and place of our birth, nevertheless from the moment of birth our lives are circumscribed and defined within the limits of our birth chart. We cannot trade in or exchange any of the positions of the planets, or decide to have another birth sign or a different house placement of Pluto, for example. We are literally stuck with our birth charts, which means that nothing can come to pass which is not already present as potential in our birth charts. In this sense, our birth charts are indeed our fate. But they are also a tiny and unique piece of the great project, the magnum opus of collective human evolution. What is of interest from this point of view is not the birth chart itself, but how each of us engages and actively participates with the unique part of the whole which has been allotted to us, knowing that the way we live our own lives will add to the sum total of all human experience and existence.
The astrological birth chart remains exactly the same for our entire lives. There is no guarantee that we will be any more integrated, evolved or conscious at the end of our lives than we were at the beginning. The question is whether our lives are going to make a difference, 'for nature's continued existence depends ultimately on the kind of consciousness we bring to bear on it'. Ultimately, it is up to each one of us to decide what to do with our birth chart and how to live it.
Once a vision of life as an organic whole is accepted in principle, humanity becomes in one sense a co-creator with nature, in so far as it can foster, ignore or destroy its identity with nature. 
If we are working alchemically, then there is work to be done. Our job is to work against the blindness of our natural state in the service of increased consciousness:
Things are created and given into our hands, but not in the ultimate form that is proper to them ... For alchemy means: to carry to its end something that has not yet been completed; to obtain the lead from the ore and to transform it into what it is made for. 
Let's see how a horoscope is created at a particular time and in a particular place. I thought it would be interesting to use today's astrology as an example of how this works. Have a look at the positions of the planets in this chart. On this day, no matter where in the world we happen to be, the Moon, Sun, Neptune, Uranus and Mercury are all in Aquarius. Mars is in Scorpio, Pluto and Chiron are in Sagittarius, Venus is in Pisces, Saturn is in Taurus, and Jupiter is in Gemini.
24 January 2001, 6.00 am GMT, London
Equal House system
From what we learned last term, we can already get a good sense of the astrological themes described by the planets in these signs, and the many millions of people born today will carry these themes with them throughout their lives and live them out in a variety of specific, individual ways. However, the houses, or areas of life in which these themes will be expressed, depend upon the exact time and place of each person's birth. I have fixed this horoscope in time and space by setting it for 6.00 am this morning, in London.
The east-west horizon: Ascendant/Descendant axis
Imagine that you are standing right in the centre of this
horoscope. The Ascendant is on your left, which tells us that at 6.00
this morning, 0° 24' of the sign of Capricorn was rising over the eastern
horizon. The Descendant is on your right, and you can see that 0° 24'
of the sign of Cancer was setting over the western horizon. The Sun
ascends over the eastern horizon every day at dawn and descends over
the western horizon every day at sunset. You can see from this horoscope
that it is still dark because the Sun is under the horizon, which is
something we know anyway, because the Sun does not rise in London in
January until just before 8.00 am.
From our position at the centre of the chart, the entire zodiac and all the planets and stars appear to rotate around us in a clockwise direction every twenty-four hours at an average rate of approximately 1° every four minutes. The Ascendant is also the starting point of the twelve houses, with the first house beginning at the Ascendant, and all the houses follow anti-clockwise around the chart, until you can see that the 12th house ends at the same point that the 1st house begins: at the Ascendant. Houses 1 to 6 are below the horizon, hidden from view under the earth, and houses 7 to 12 are visible above the horizon.
The south-north meridian: MC/IC axis
The other major axis of orientation is the point where the Sun's path crosses the north-south meridian, the points due north and due south at the moment of birth, known as the MC/IC axis. Once again, if you are standing in the centre of the chart, with the east on your left and the west on your right, then you will be facing south, and the Midheaven or MC (an abbreviation of Medium Coeli, the Latin for 'middle of the heavens') will be directly ahead and above you. The IC (an abbreviation of Imum Coeli, the Latin for 'lowest part of the heavens') will be directly behind you and under the earth. At 6.00 am this morning in London, the MC was 5° 46' Scorpio, which means that the IC was exactly opposite, at 5° 46' Taurus.
Audience: I am having difficulty with this, because in normal maps the west is on the left and the east is on the right, with the north above and the south below. How does a natal chart fit in with the normal way we look at a map?
Clare: That is a good point. Imagine that you are looking at an atlas. Where are you actually looking from?
Audience: Well, I suppose you are looking down at the earth from some place in space?
Clare: Exactly. You are disembodied - looking down at the earth from somewhere outside the earth, and indeed from somewhere outside your body. Astrology is geocentric, so we are looking out at the heavens from our place on the earth and in our bodies. Now, imagine that you are standing in a wide-open place, somewhere like Salisbury Plain. Facing due south, the MC will be directly ahead of you and the IC, or north point, will be directly behind you, invisible, under the earth. All the constellations and planets will appear to rise over the eastern horizon to your left; they will gradually rise higher in the sky until they cross the MC, and then their height will gradually diminish until they set somewhere over the western horizon. Imagine that the entire zodiac is moving around you in a clockwise direction. At 6.00 am this morning, the five planets in Aquarius were all in the 2nd house, and Chiron had just risen over the Ascendant and entered the 12th house. You can also see very graphically that there is about to be a new Moon, because the Moon is just over 3° behind the Sun and, since it moves very rapidly through the signs, at approximately 1° every two hours, we can immediately see that there was a new Moon today, at about 12.00 noon.
24 January 2001, 2.00 pm GMT, London
Equal House system
We are now going to look at the situation eight hours later, at 2.00 pm this afternoon. All the planets in Aquarius have moved from the 2nd house through the 1st, 12th, 11th, 10th and 9th houses, and across the MC. The Sun and Moon are now in the 7th house, with Neptune, Uranus, and Mercury still in the 8th house. The new Moon has already occurred, and the Moon is now ahead of the Sun and quickly approaching Neptune. Incidentally, it is most auspicious to begin a new term in a new year at the new Moon. So this is a perfect time for our new beginning.
24 January 2001, 7.00 pm GMT, London
Equal House system
By 7.00 pm, which is the moment when our class and the second term of this course began, the picture has changed again. You can see that all the planets in Aquarius have crossed the Descendant and entered the 6th house, which means that it is now dark, as you can see by looking out of the window. Saturn is just about to cross the MC, to be followed by Jupiter. The Moon has already crossed over Neptune and is now more than a degree away, moving rapidly towards Uranus and then Mercury. In actual fact, of course, the signs and planets are not revolving in a clockwise direction around us every twenty-four hours - they just appear to do so from our position in the centre of the chart. Rather, it is the earth itself that is turning on its axis every twenty-four hours. So another way of seeing the same thing is to focus on the fact that the east-west and north-south points are moving anti-clockwise at a rate of approximately 1° every four minutes against the backdrop of the planets and signs. This means that the Ascendant gradually moves anti-clockwise from Sagittarius to Capricorn to Aquarius to Pisces, and so on right around the zodiac, until it returns to the same point in Capricorn once again, roughly twenty-four hours later.
Understanding how all this works in practice is very helpful, because then we can visualise for ourselves exactly what a birth chart is from an astronomical point of view. It is worth visiting the Greenwich Observatory or the London Planetarium, just to experience for yourself how this mechanism actually works. It can be confusing until you understand that the east-west and north-south axes are moving in an anti-clockwise direction around the chart, whereas all the planets and signs appear to be moving in a clockwise direction from your place of observation.
Audience: Looking at a chart in this way helps to see the whole thing visually. Does this mean that people born at night, with the Sun under the horizon, are more comfortable in the dark?
Clare: Well, it is certainly true that people with the majority of
their planets under the horizon tend to be more private and to draw
their strength and their meaning from within themselves. This is a
good example of the way that our astrological interpretations are put
into context if we understand the astronomical structure of a birth
Audience: Can you say something about the different house systems? I find this particularly confusing and don't really know where to start.
About house systems
Clare: This is turning into a rather technical lesson but, as you can see from our own chart this evening, that is not really surprising. Saturn is the most elevated planet in the chart at the moment, and it is strongly emphasised because it is on the MC. And since Saturn is in the fixed earth sign of Taurus, we are working to bring the chart down to earth, to understand the structure. Jupiter in Gemini indicates that we all want to learn, and with all the Aquarian planets in the 6th house of work, this also tells us that we are interested in bringing the heavens down to earth and making them work for us.
There are many different house systems in astrology, and no doubt you have already come across this and wondered which is the 'correct' house system to use. However, house systems, like everything else in astrology, are subject to fashion and to personal preference. The only contribution I can make here is to suggest that a horoscope is like a hologram - no matter how it is divided, the overall pattern and structure remain identical, since the meaning of the whole is reflected in each of its parts. Perhaps the major house systems used today are the Placidus, Koch and Equal House systems. Placidus and Koch are quadrant systems, which means that the meridian, or MC-IC axis, is always found on the 10th and 4th house cusps, with three complete houses in each quadrant of the chart.
For the purposes of this course, I am using the Equal House system, in which the zodiac is divided into twelve equal sections of 30°, beginning at the Ascendant. This means, as you can see from the three charts we have already looked at tonight, that the meridian is not anchored to the cusps of the 10th and 4th houses, but 'floats', being found anywhere from the 11th-5th houses to the 10th-4th houses, the 9th-3rd houses, and the 8th-2nd houses. The reason for this is that the angle between the horizon (Ascendant-Descendant axis) and the meridian (MC-IC axis) is constantly changing, depending on the time of day, the time of year, and the latitude for which the horoscope is set.
Have another look at the series of charts above. At 6.00 am this morning,
the meridian was in the 11th and 5th houses, because the angle between
the meridian and the east point of the horizon was less than 60°. By
2.00 pm this afternoon, the meridian was in the 8th and 2nd houses,
because the angle between the meridian and the east point of the horizon
was just over 120°. By the beginning of our class at 7.00 pm, the angle
had altered again to just over 90°, and it will continue to decrease
until 6.00 am tomorrow morning, when it will be around 60° once again.
We will look at the interpretation of the MC-IC axis over the next
few weeks, but for the time being it is just worth noting that, no
matter which house system we use, the meaning of this axis is not identical
to the meaning of the 10th-4th house cusps. This is clear when we use
the Equal House system, but not necessarily so clear when we use a
quadrant system of house division.
Let's have a look at some of the similarities and differences between the Placidus and Equal House systems of house division. Here is the chart for 6.00 am this morning in both house systems. You will see that the positions of planets, the angles of the chart, and the relationship between the planets remains identical. However, some of the planets have changed houses. You can see, for example, that in the Equal House system, the five Aquarian planets are in the 2nd house, with Venus in the 3rd, Saturn in the 4th, Jupiter in the 6th and Mars in the 11th. In the Placidus house system, however, the Moon, Sun and Neptune are in the 1st house, with Uranus, Mercury and Venus in the 2nd, Saturn in the 4th, Jupiter in the 5th, and Mars in the 10th.
Audience: Now I am really confused. Surely these two charts are now completely different and their interpretation will be totally different?
Clare: I am afraid that the answer to this is both yes and no, because as astrologers we are going to find ourselves inevitably confronted with the whole issue of the nature of objective truth, and of the meaning we impose upon the objective world. Astrology does not respond well to any ideas we might have about there being only one truth. At the end of the day, the art of interpretation will always depend upon each astrologer's individual perceptions and preconceptions, and on the particular nature of each astrologer's relationship to factual, symbolic and mythic thinking. Perhaps the best thing you can do is to experiment with several house systems, and no doubt you will gradually find the one you prefer - the one that works for you. It is not uncommon for astrologers to use different house systems for different astrological techniques. So try and hang on in there and see what emerges for you over time.
Let's look at some of the other differences between these two house systems. With the Placidus chart, the houses can be very different sizes, and this difference in size tends gets more and more extreme as the latitude of the place of birth increases. In fact, the Placidus system breaks down altogether at high latitudes, which was never a problem traditionally, since astrological lore was developed around the temperate zones of the Mediterranean. Large houses can contain whole signs, which are referred to as intercepted signs. These signs are considered to be 'buried' in the particular houses they fall into, and the planetary ruler/s of that sign are generally considered to have more difficulty functioning 'in the world' because they are not anchored to a house cusp and do not rule any of the houses. You will see from the Placidus chart that the signs of Pisces and Virgo are intercepted, being 'buried' in the 2nd and 8th houses respectively. When signs are fully contained within a house, the planetary rulers of those signs may not be anchored in time or space - may not have a home, which means that they may not be able to function particularly strongly in the world.
Audience: Can you confirm what you mean by planets ruling houses?
Clare: Each house has a 'cusp' which marks the place where the house begins. In this chart, the 1st house cusp is 0° 24' Capricorn, so Saturn, which rules Capricorn, will rule the 1st house. The 2nd house cusp is 17° 15' Aquarius, so Saturn is the personal ruler of the 2nd house and Uranus is the collective, transpersonal ruler. This is important because we will all have 'empty' or 'untenanted' houses with no planets in them, but this does not mean that nothing is happening there. It simply means that we will look to the ruler of the house for information about the way that house is functioning.
Audience: Can you say how this might actually work out in this chart?
Clare: Let's go back to the first chart I showed you tonight, and imagine that we are studying the chart of somebody born in London at 6.00 am this morning. The signs of Pisces and Virgo are intercepted, and the rulers of these two signs are Jupiter (traditional ruler of Pisces), Neptune (transpersonal ruler of Pisces), and Mercury (ruler of Virgo). As the co-ruler of Aquarius, Saturn rules the 2nd house, so it is grounded in the chart. Taking the intercepted signs of Pisces and Virgo, the rulers are Jupiter, Neptune and Mercury. Jupiter and Mercury are grounded in the chart because they also rule Sagittarius and Gemini, the signs on the 12th and 6th house cusps. But Neptune has no home. And it may be difficult for Venus to find tangible expression, since it is in the intercepted sign of Pisces. So it looks as if this person may be rather disembodied and diffuse and imaginative. This is supported by the fact that there is very little earth in the chart apart from the Capricorn Ascendant - only Saturn in Taurus.
On the other hand, whenever there are intercepted signs in the large houses in the Placidus system, it will also be the case that the same pair of planets will rule two of the smaller houses, and those planets function strongly in the world because they are anchored to more than one house cusp. For example, you will see that Mars and Pluto rule both the 10th and 11th houses, because the cusp of both houses is Scorpio, and Venus rules both the 4th and 5th houses, because the cusp of both houses is Taurus. This information tells us about the relative strength of the planets and where to put the emphasis in our interpretation. Mars, Pluto, and Venus will be strongly emphasised in the chart. But as we have already seen, Venus is in the intercepted sign of Pisces, so we can assume that the person born at 6.00 this morning will be particularly imaginative and sensitive but may have difficulty finding an outlet for this.
Finally, because the Placidus system is a quadrant house system, three complete houses are found in each of the four quadrants. Starting from the angles, these are known as angular, succedent and cadent houses, and the meaning of these terms is not dissimilar to the meaning of the cardinal, fixed and mutable modes. In an Equal House chart, on the other hand, each planet has equal weight 'in the world' because each sign (and therefore the planetary ruler of each sign) is 'anchored' to a house cusp.
- Baring, Anne and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess (London: Penguin/Arkana, 1991) [hereafter Baring and Cashford), p. 681.
- Baring and Cashford, p. 681.
- Paracelsus, Selected Writings, ed. Jolande Jacobi, trans. Norbert Guterman, Bollingen Series XXVIII (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951).
- Idemon, Richard, 'Part One: The Basics of Relating', in Through the Looking Glass: A Search for Self in the Mirror of Relationships (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1992).
- Dethlefsen, Thorwald, The Challenge of Fate (London: Coventure Ltd., 1984).
- Sasportas, Howard, The Twelve Houses: An Introduction to the Houses in Astrological Interpretation (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1985), 'Chapter 15: Grouping the Houses'.
- Von Schlieffen, Alexander, When Chimpanzees Dream Astrology: An Introduction to the Quadrants of the Horoscope (London: CPA Press, 2004).
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