Topics for Houses
In the fourth lesson, we discussed the houses of the planets (their domiciles). The houses of the planets are the signs of the zodiac. Additionally, we looked at the notion of “stakes”. The stakes are the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th houses of the chart. You’ll recall that planets in a house, ruling a house, or in the stakes of a house have a strong influence on the house. In the last lesson, we looked at relationships that planets and houses have with each other based on angular distances. We also discussed how these configurations interact with rulership. In this lesson, we will look at the most important and common method of assigning life topics to houses, the places.
Finding Your Place
The Primacy of the Rising Sign
Planets signify whole categories of things in themselves. Signs signify in relation to their feature bundles and the planets ruling and regarding them. However, there is still more to the significations in a chart. Ancient astrologers had ways of associating the affairs of earthly life to signs and planets. This was done by a system of places and by special assignments called lots. The most important system assigned topics to the signs themselves based on their place in order from the rising sign.
The rising sign was the most important sign of the chart in ancient astrology. The system of places is based on the rising sign and the order in which signs rise. The rising sign is the 1st place. The next sign to rise is the 2nd place, the third sign to rise is the 3rd place, and so on.
The rising sign is relevant to the topic of the individual person, including their body, character, temperament, and preferences. The other signs are assigned topics to represent other matters or circumstances in the life of the person based on their relationship to this 1st place of the individual.
The places of the chart are numbered in a counter-clockwise manner. It is as if the signs are runners and the Ascendant is the finish line. For instance, if Pisces is rising, then it is the first place (first to rise). The next sign, Aries, would be the second place, and so on until we get to the twelfth place (Aquarius).
I usually won’t number the places in the charts. They are obvious enough after some use. Beginners should count forward or backward from the 1st house (rising sign; left side of the chart) and the 7th house (the setting sign; right side of the chart).
First House Example: Jimi Hendrix
For instance, see the chart below (natal chart of Jimi Hendrix, AA-rated). We see that Sagittarius is rising, as it is on the left side of the chart straddling the boldline (i.e. the Ascendant). Therefore, Sagittarius is the first place, or first house, signifying the self.
We look to Sagittarius, the planets in Sagittarius, the ruler of Sagittarius, and those planets regarding Sagittarius (especially those in its stakes). These are particularly relevant to Jimi’s appearance, character, preferences, basic skills, etc. (i.e. “who he is”). Consider the significations of Sagittarius, Venus, the Sun, and Mercury. These directly characterize Hendrix’s self. Also, consider Jupiter (ruler; conjunct the Moon in Cancer) and Saturn (in a stake in Gemini) as characterizing more indirect but important influences on the nature of the self.
Quadrant Houses = Different First House
Note that with quadrant houses (as in the chart on the Astrodatabank site) Venus, the Sun, Mercury, and Saturn all become relatively insignificant to the matter of the self. This is because they fall into the 6th and 12th houses in that system (because they are retreating). In whole sign houses a planet may be extremely prominent for the topic of the self (such as a planet in the first), or over some other specific topics (through occupation, rulership, or regard of a place) while not prominent over life circumstances in a more general way (i.e. it may be retreating). This is very apparent in assessing career significators (Jimi’s career significators are dealt with here in another article).
Sidereal Zodiac = Different First House
Hendrix’s natal chart in the sidereal zodiac is below.
Notice that Sagittarius is still the 1st house using the sidereal zodiac. However, Venus, the Sun, Mercury, and Saturn become much less significant in relation to the individual as they are now in Scorpio, the 12th house.
Find the Remaining Places
Let’s return to Hendrix’s chart in the tropical zodiac. The next house after the 1st would be Capricorn (2nd house), then Aquarius (3rd house), then Pisces (4th house), then Aries (5th house), then Taurus (6th house), then Gemini (7th house). I want to pause here because it should be pointed out that the 7th house is always opposite the 1st house, and is always straddling the setting point (Descendant or western horizon; shown by the bold line on the right). After Gemini, there is Cancer (8th house), then Leo (9th house), then Virgo (10th house), then Libra (11th house), then Scorpio (12th house).
Topics Associated with the Places
The places above the horizon (upper half of the chart; above the earth, in the sky) pertain particularly to matters of “spirit”. These are mental and social matters, such as friends, religion, and career. Those below the horizon (lower half of the circle; below the earth) pertain particularly to matters of “fortune”. These are more physical circumstances like family, wealth, and health.
Stakes of the Chart
The 1st house (rising sign) straddles both worlds, as does the 7th house (marriage, partnership; which symbolically stands directly across from the self). The 10th is in the social realm above the earth. It pertains to career, goals, authority, and recognition. The 4th is in the material realm below the earth. It pertains to father, family, home, and ancestry. These four signs (1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th) form the main cross of the chart (the stakes), encompassing matters of the self, family, partner, and social standing. They are the most personally significant life areas.
The Four Aristotelian Causes
I personally associate the four stakes of the chart with the four Aristotelian causes. For instance, in a natal chart, what causes or defines the identity of the self? The effective cause (agent) is the character and will (1st place). The material cause is the family and origins (4th place). The formal cause is the close relationships and partnerships with other people (7th house). The final cause is our calling and achievements (10th place). There is no evidence that the Hellenistic astrologers thought of the stakes this way, but I find it helpful. If it works for you, use it. If not, don’t worry about it.
Topics of the 12 Places
According to Valens
Vettius Valens (2nd century CE) noted numerous significations of the places so we will follow his lead in this (from Anthology, Book IV, Ch. 12, Riley trans., 2011, p. 80):
I the Ascendant, life, steering-oar, body, breath.
II Life, the Gate of Hades, shadowy, giving and receiving, association.
III Brothers, travel abroad, kingship, authority, friends, relatives, rents/revenue, slaves.
IV Rank, children, one’s own wife and older individuals, activity, city, home, possessions, lodgings, alterations, change of place, dangers, death, confinement, religious matters.
V The Place of Children, friendship, association, slaves, freedmen, the completion of some good deed or benefaction.
VI Slaves, injuries, hostility, disease, sickness.
VII The Descendant, marriage, success, an affair with a woman, friendship, travel.
VIII Death, benefits from the deceased, the Inactive Place, law, sickness.
IX Friendship, travel, benefits from foreigners, God, king, magnates, astrology, oracles, appearances of the gods, mystic and occult matters, associations.
X Occupation, rank, success, children, women, change, innovation in business.
XI Friends, hopes, gifts, children, slaves, freedmen.
XII Foreign lands, hostility, slaves, injuries, dangers, tribunals, disease, death, sickness.
My Take on Key Significations
I would summarize the key significations of the places in a few words as follows:
I – body, skill, temperament
II – finances, personal property, income
III – siblings, neighbors, trips
IV – family, home, elders
V – children, works, philanthropy
VI – illness, injury, labor
VII – marriage, sexuality, partners
VIII – death, stagnation (wasted time), inheritance
IX – religion/mysticism, advanced learning, travel/foreigners
X – occupation, achievements, status
XI – friends, assistance, rewards
XII – enemies, dangers, exile
Good and Bad Places
The Relationship of Places and Regards
The positive and negative associations of the places are consistent with the Hellenistic aspect system. Those places signifying the greatest difficulty are the houses that the self (Ascendant) does not see (regard). These places are also called the “dark” places. By contrast, fortunate places regard the Ascendant.
Additionally, houses retreating from the stakes (places 3, 6, 9, and 12) have a sense of weakness and removal associated with them. They are called the cadent places.
Ordering the Places in Terms of Benefit
Dorotheus (1976, Pingree trans., I.5, p. 164) noted the following (emphasis and bracketed info are my additions):
“…the best of the places is the ascendent [1st house], then the midheaven [10th house], then what follows the midheaven [11th house], which is the eleventh from the ascendent, then the opposite to this eleventh place from the ascendent [5th house], which is the fifth from the ascendent which is called the house of the child, then the opposite to the ascendant [7th house], which is the sign of marriage, then the cardine of the earth [4th house], then the ninth place from the ascendent [9th house]. Thus these are the seven places which are preferred to the places which are not recognized as good [good places in order from best are 1, 10, 11, 5, 7, 4, 9]: the third from the ascendent [3rd house] because it is said that it is the place of the joy of the Moon, and the second from the ascendent [2nd house], then the eight from the ascendent, which is the sign of death [8th house]. Of these places which I told you, the first is the strongest [mediocre places in order from best are 3, 2, 8]. There remain equal to this two places which are the worst of the worst, and they are the sixth and the twelfth [6 and 12 are the “bad” houses].”
Notice the combination of the ideas of regard and the stakes in the above schema. All of the stakes are good houses. The two worst houses don’t regard the Ascendant and are cadent from the stakes. Astrologers differ in terms of how they order the houses in between, but the 4 houses that don’t regard the ascendant are most associated with unfortunate matters.
Understanding Dark Houses
The symbolism connected with the dark houses (places 2, 6, 8, and 12) is that of something disconnected from the person and in the dark or shade. This comes through in their symbolism as they tend to pertain to things which can impair our ability to live our lives (money, illness, death, imprisonment). When they crop up in a configuration they can point to hostile or secret things. The dark places tend to symbolize things we worry over and may try to keep suppressed or secret.
Together with natural planetary signification and sect, the symbolism of good and bad places points to fortunate and unfortunate states of affairs. As in life, there is room in ancient astrological symbolism for a whole lot of nuanced grey area and mixed sentiments. This is part of the expressive power of ancient astrology.
The Joys of the Planets
Each planet is said to rejoice in a place in the chart. These are called the “joys of the planets”. The joys of the diurnal planets are above the horizon while those of the nocturnal planets are below the horizon, opposite those of their diurnal counterparts. Here is a diagram of the joys. For further reading, I recommend the article by Chris Brennan, The Planetary Joys and the Origins of the Significations of the Houses and Triplicities.
Mercury’s Joy: 1st Place
We have previously looked at Mercury’s association with the self and the mind. Additionally, Mercury is neither diurnal nor nocturnal, so it has its joy in a house that is on the horizon, both above and below it. Its joy is the first house of the self.
Diurnal Joys: Sun, Jupiter, Saturn
The diurnal planets have their joys above the horizon. The Sun, the sect light, has its joy in the 9th place, that of God and revelation. Jupiter, the sect benefic, has its joy in a good place, the 11th place, that of friendship and reward. Saturn, the sect malefic, has its joy in a bad place, the 12th place, that of enemies and exile.
Nocturnal Joys: Moon, Venus, Mars
The nocturnal planets have their joys below the horizon. The Moon, the sect light, has its joy in the 3rd place, that of Goddess and siblings. Venus, the sect benefic, has its joy in a good place, the 5th place, that of children and works. Mars, the sect malefic, has its joy in a bad place, the 6th place, that of labor and injury.
Interpreting Planetary Joy
Planetary joy is a type of strength condition. The planet’s significations are made stronger by way of analogy with what is signified by the house. This is not a condition in which the planets are made more benefic, as is clear from the interpretations given for a malefic in the 6th or 12th (where they have their joys).
Rhetorius on the 6th house (Ch. 57, 2009, Holden trans., p. 75):
“The malefics there make sicknesses or injuries involving the feet and the loss of money.”
Valens on the 12th house (Book II, Ch. 5, 2010, Riley trans., p. 27):
“If the malefics happen to be in this place, they will cause great wounds and traumas […]”
I give these examples to illustrate that a malefic in its joy is not expected to provide benefit. Rather its natural significations are reinforced. However, note that you should not interpret a chart based on stray factors such as these. These indications are given by the Hellenistic astrologers, and shared by me, to illustrate the type of thing symbolized by the isolated factor. In an actual chart, there are other factors that can mitigate and modify the indication.
Character Analysis with Places
As you might suppose by its significations, the 1st place is the most important place for character analysis. Planets in or ruling the sign are very important for the character. I personally consider planets ruling the 1st house to be ones for which there is a personal identification. Those planets in or regarding the 1st place are those with the most direct signification describing character, skill, body, temperament, and influences on the self.
Character Analysis in Persian Astrology
I recommend the study of medieval Persian astrology because the Persian astrologers were like us. They were looking at a variety of Hellenistic principles and techniques but coming away with their own preferences and approaches.
There are two main approaches to character analysis in medieval Persian natal astrology. The prominent planet approach of Abu Bakr and the Lord of the Ascendant approach of Masha’allah and Abu’Ali Al-Khayyat.
Prominent Planet Approach
The approach of Abu Bakr (On Nativities, Book II) is to examine the most prominent or dominant planets in the chart, especially those occurring in the 1st or 10th places. By this approach, Saturn strongly advancing in the 10th place would signify Saturnine character traits, whether or not it had rulership at the Ascendant.
I don’t recommend this approach. While prominent planets say much about the life circumstances, it is too often the case that a very prominent planet in the chart has little to say about the character of the individual. However, a prominent planet that also has rulership at the Ascendant is a planet that is very influential and connected to the individual’s character.
Lord of Ascendant Approach
In the approach Masha’allah (On Nativities, Section 5) and Abu’Ali Al-Khayyat (The Judgment of Nativities, Chs. 5 and 34), the Lord of the Ascendant and Mercury are the two primary significators of the quality of mind.
“If you wished to know the character of the native’s mind, look at  the Lord of the Ascendant and  Mercury (who is the significator of the intellective power, speech and oration). […] And these signify the matters of the soul, and the morals of the native, just as the Moon and the Ascendant signify the body.” (Abu’Ali Al-Khayatt, Ch. 5, 2009, Dykes trans., p. 236)
Abu’Ali’s approach appears to come straight from Masha’allah who recommended the same in his On Nativities. As mentioned previously, the use of Mercury for the rational mind comes from Ptolemy. Mercury also has natural significations related to the intellect and speech which make it an important planet to look at in regards to skill in those areas.
The Lord of the Ascendant is the dominant ruler of the 1st place. The 1st place signifies the body, skill, and temperament. Its rulers direct the affairs of the house, so it follows that its main ruler symbolizes the mind, that which directs the body and temperament.
Let’s review a number of the principles we’ve learned so far by briefly analyzing some charts. Many articles could be written on any one of these charts, so we’ll just look at a few salient factors. Note that I’m going to be looking at the zodiacal twelfth-parts, as it is important to take a look at them in every chart. I mentioned them in the lesson on the signs as being a twelve-fold division of each sign into a micro zodiac. I use them as projections of the planets into other signs and houses. Their position shown in the following charts is from placing the planetary position in the micro zodiac on the outside of the chart.
Hendrix was born during the day, so the chart is diurnal. The Sun is the sect light and is in the 1st house, signifying a very powerful and dynamic persona. There is a strong sense of the hero and leader tied with the persona (Sun in 1st). The Sun is in its own triplicity (it rules fire signs by day). Overall, the Sun plus the fire element of Sagittarius makes for a persona that is driven to influence.
The Sun is joined by Mercury (dexterity, voice, ingenuity) and Venus (arts, sensuality, drugs) in the same bound, so they have their significations mixed together. Note that Mercury-Venus has associations with fingered string instruments (Mercury pertains to digits). The Sun is also associated with stringed instruments (see Apollo). All three are in the bound of Jupiter, pertaining to fortune, benefit, and faith.
There were no appearances, disappearances, or stations within a week of birth.
Jupiter is the most advancing planet in the chart and is a lord of the Ascendant (house ruler, second triplicity ruler). So there is a sense in which Jupiter is met in many spheres of life and many forms. Jupiter is also identified with due to its rulership of the 1st. This two things together can convey profound faith and spiritual experience. Jupiter’s prominence and the fact that it is in sect and exalted connect it with good fortune and opportunity. Note also that the twelfth-part of the MC is conjunct Jupiter, symbolic of elevated status.
Jupiter with the Moon in the 8th
Jupiter is with the Moon and in her house (Cancer), so their significations can be blended. The Moon signifies the mother, the body, the irrational mind, and audiences, among other things. However, they are both in the 8th place of death and stagnation, so the benefits are attended with difficulties. They are in a cardinal sign so changes come in bold and sweeping ways. Hendrix’s mother died when he was 15. Interestingly, he acquired his first guitar the same year.
Saturn and the Twelfth-Part of Mars
The Ascendant is in the bound of Saturn and Saturn opposes the 1st house. Saturn rules the 2nd of money and the 3rd of siblings. Hendrix grew up in poverty (ruled by Saturn) and was deeply affected by it. All of his younger siblings were given into foster care. Saturn very closely opposes the 1st house Venus, and Saturn is in the 7th of sexuality. Saturn is in sect and in a good place, but the out of sect malefic (Mars) also has its twelfth-part in Gemini (7th place). So there are multiple indications of sexual difficulty. Hendrix was reportedly sexually assaulted by someone in uniform at a young age.
Out of Sect Malefic
Typically, the greatest difficulties will be symbolized by the out of sect malefic. In this case, it is Mars. Mars is not only out of sect but also in the dark 12th house which it additionally rules. Therefore, Mars, while not prominent in the life in general, rears its head in terms of difficulties with enemies and undoings. Mars has its twelfth-part in the 7th house so it can pertain to relationship and sexual problems. As the ruler of the 5th of children and works and the exalted lord of the 2nd of money Mars may show problems with children and works, as well as monetary issues.
Mars, Jupiter, and Age 15
Rather than coming up with blanket conclusions, such as Jupiter is good and Mars is bad, we need to examine the good and difficult possibilities. Life is mixed. Indications from any given planet will also be mixed. When we recognize this then we can determine what type of indications are forecasted by predictive techniques. For instance, Jupiter has the immense symbolism of success, fortune, and expansiveness in the chart. However, it is also in the 8th place of death which is a vulnerable place, one in which benefits can stagnate and be attended by difficulty. Additionally, the twelfth-part of Jupiter is in Aries, which is ruled by Mars, the out of sect malefic.
Volumes can be written on Mars and Jupiter in the chart, but I just wish to point out some interesting activations at age 15. The twelfth-parts of Mars and that of the Moon are together in the 7th place. Additionally, the Moon and Jupiter overcome Mars from the 8th place. One activation of Mars is at age 15, due to the fact that the planetary years of Mars are 15. Age 15 is also the activation of the 4th house by the annual profection, which is Pisces, making Jupiter the lord of the year for that year. As noted, at age 15, Hendrix’s mother died (Moon in 8th; Mars twelfth-part with Moon twelfth-part) and Hendrix bought his first guitar (Jupiter overcoming Mars; twelfth-part of Jupiter in the 5th of performance ruled by Mars; Jupiter rules the 1st place of self). This is a life-changing year with negative and positive developments.
A Note on the 8th
Elements of Hendrix’s death are symbolized vividly in the chart. The cause of death was asphyxiation from vomiting while intoxicated on sleeping pills. The ruler of the 1st is in the 8th possibly signifying being the cause of one’s own death. Jupiter signifying abundance both pertains to the fact that he took 18 times the recommended dose of sleeping pills and the fact that he had probably been lucky in the past with overconsumption of drugs. The Moon in the 8th is interesting given that sleeping pills were the cause of death. The cardinality of the sign indicates suddenness. Water can symbolize drowning (asphyxiation). Additionally, Hendrix was buried in the same cemetery as his mother (lord of 1st in 8th with the Moon).
Hendrix died at age 27. The annual profection comes to the same sign every 12 years, so he also died during an annual profection to Pisces, with Jupiter as lord of the year. In fact, it was the first profection back to Pisces since his mother died and he bought his first guitar. Additionally, Jupiter was transiting in Scorpio (Jimi’s 12th house, ruled and occupied by Mars) both when his mother died and when he himself died. Age 27 involves the sum of the planetary years of Mars (15) and those of Jupiter (12), so it is yet another activation of their combination.
Donald Trump’s birth time has a Rodden rating of AA for source reliability.
How many ways can one have an out of sect Mars as a character factor? Let’s count the ways in Donald Trump’s chart. Trump was born with the last degree of Leo rising. Mars is with the Ascendant closely within 5 degrees so it has a very big direct influence on temperament. The Ascendant is also in the bound of Mars, so there is an identification with Mars’s significations in the chart. The Sun is the main lord of the Ascendant (by house and triplicity) and it is in the bound of Mars and closely with the twelfth-part of Mars, so Mars combines its significations with those of the Sun. The Sun is applying a sextile to Mars as well, with the Sun overcoming.
Thus repeatedly we find the Sun and Mars to dominate the character. Additionally, a fire sign rises. These planets make for a very fiery and choleric temperament that aims to influence and dominate. The Sun is the sect light and is in the fortunate 11th house of friendship in Gemini a mutable air sign. Therefore, the Sun orients the personality toward social and cultural power, influence, and popularity (11th place and mutable sign and air sign).
The strong influence and identification with the out of sect malefic, Mars, make for aggressiveness and competitiveness of an unpleasant sort. This can make him his own worst enemy. Additionally, the twelfth-part of the Ascendant and Mercury, the ruler of the lord of the Ascendant, are both in the 12th house of enemies; additional indications of causing oneself trouble.
A fixed sign rises so the temperament is persistent and the character can be stubborn. The twelfth-part of the Moon in the 1st place may be showing a more off-the-cuff, emotionally-driven, and informal element of the persona also.
Mercury made an appearance just before birth and Jupiter stationed direct after birth, so both are prominent. Mars is prominent because it is so close to the Ascendant in the 1st house. The Sun and Moon are also prominent by advancement. Additionally, the twelfth parts of the Lights are prominent, as the Sun is near the Descendant within 10 degrees and the Moon is in the 1st house. The fact that the Lights are prominent can indicate power and influence.
The prominence of Jupiter and Mercury both can relate to income, as Jupiter naturally signifies wealth and Mercury rules the 2nd house and naturally signifies commerce. Jupiter is in the 3rd place and is in its own bound. The twelfth-part of Mercury is closely with Jupiter linking their significations.
The out of sect malefic, Mars, symbolizes plenty of difficulties. As a ruler of the Ascendant and located in the 1st house it makes his own character a big cause of such difficulties. Mars connects strongly with the 4th of home and family (as well as country) and the 9th of religion and travel (as well as foreign countries). Additionally, Mars is the exalted ruler of the 6th place so can pertain to health difficulties of that type and difficulties with servants (employees).
In this chart, the malefic in sect, Saturn, has just as many ties to difficulties but is less associated with his self and character. Saturn is in the dark 12th house of enemies and undoing. Cancer is the sign so Saturn symbolizes in very sudden and dramatic ways. Venus is close with Saturn, signifying problems with women and sexuality. Saturn is also with Mercury which can symbolize communication issues. As the ruler of the 6th of illness, injury, and servants, Saturn can pertain to health and employee problems. Saturn also rules the 7th, another indication of difficulty with relationships or sexuality. The twelfth-part of Saturn is in the 9th place, further emphasizing the potential for issues with foreign countries and with religion and spirituality in general.
The Name Game
In your studies, you will undoubtedly encounter the confusion that exists in relation to “house systems”. The more dominant house systems of the past 1,000 years in the western world have involved dividing (trisecting) the four regions of the sky between the horizons and meridians of the chart (i.e. the “quadrants”). These are the quadrant houses.
Advancement vs. Topics
There are many passages in ancient Hellenistic texts, especially in Ptolemy and Valens, which appear to imply the use of a quadrant system. These may have inspired the actual eventual adoption of the quadrant approach in the west. In India, the whole sign house system is still dominant. In the second lesson, we dealt with some of these passages and how these quadrant divisions were initially used in the context of the length of life technique to assess a type of planetary strength (advancement), rather than for topics.
Signs are Houses
Most of the confusion about early house division pertains to the term “house”. The terminology changed meanings over time. In Hellenistic astrology, a “house” is a sign of the zodiac, as every sign is a planet’s house (domicile). For instance, the houses of Jupiter are the signs Pisces and Sagittarius (i.e. the domiciles of Jupiter). Interestingly, modern astrologers still use the term “domicile” but the fact that it means “house” is overlooked. Hellenistic astrologers used the terms “2nd house” and “2nd sign” interchangeably.
Ancient Astrologers on the Equivalency of Sign and House
Porphyry (Porphyry, Ch. 5, 2009, Holden trans., p. 9):
Houses and zones of the stars [are what] they term the 12 twelfths of the zodiac, which they also call signs.
Ptolemy (Ptolemy, Book I, Ch. 17, 1940, Robbins trans., p. 80):
The system of houses is of the following nature. Since of the twelve signs the most northern, which are closer than the others to our zenith and therefore most productive of heat and of warmth are Cancer and Leo, they assigned these to the greatest and most powerful heavenly bodies, that is, to the luminaries, as houses, Leo, which is masculine, to the sun and Cancer, feminine, to the moon.
Dorotheus (Dorotheus, Book I, Ch. 1, 2005, Pingree trans., p. 162):
Know the houses of the planets: Cancer is the house of the Moon, Leo the house of the Sun, Capricorn and Aquarius the houses of Saturn, Sagittarius and Pisces the houses of Jupiter, Aries and Scorpio the houses of Mars, Taurus and Libra the houses of Venus, and Gemini and Virgo the houses of Mercury.
“House” evidently underwent a metonymic shift in meaning from referring to signs themselves (as domiciles/houses of the planets) to referring to abstract divisions of the sky. This was probably due to its heavy use in the context of referring to the places (2nd house, 3rd house, etc.).
Place as a Technical Term
In Hellenistic astrology, the assigning of topics is best referred to (and translated) as “the places”. The 1st place is the first sign/house to complete its rising. The 2nd place is the second sign/house to rise, and so forth. Throughout numerous Hellenistic texts, we see terms like “2nd sign”, “2nd house”, and “2nd place” used synonymously to refer to a sign in the context of topics.
“Place” is consistent with ancient usage in many Greek and Latin texts. Additionally, it avoids confusion with the so-called “houses” created by quadrant divisions. However, I continue to use the terms place, sign, and house interchangeably as the Hellenistic astrologers did.
Astrologers Referring to the Places as Signs and Houses
Valens (Book II, Ch. 9, 2010, Riley trans., p. 28):
“The VIII Place of Death. Various Views.
Benefics appearing in this place are innefectual and weak, and they do not bestow their proper benefits. […] If Mercury alone is in this Sign and is ruler of Intelligence (as Daimon is called), it makes fools, dullards, those handicapped in speech, illiterates.”
Maternus (Book II, Ch. 18b.3, 2011, Holden trans., p. 63):
“Goddess is the third house, i.e. the third sign from the ASC; that house is called Thea by the Greeks as we just mentioned. But the sign is called God That is located in opposition across from that [previous] sign–that is to say the ninth sign from the ASC. That house is called Theos by the Greeks.”
Rhetorius (Ch. 57, 2009, Holden trans., p. 43):
“The twelfth house is called Bad Daemon and “rising before the ASC” and metacosmic. It signifies things concerning enemies and slaves and quadrupeds, and all the things that transpire before the hour of birth, both to the mother and to the one that is about to be born, since this sign rises before the explusion of the fetus.”
Additionally, see the earlier quote of Dorotheus on the superiority of the places.
The Original System
Scholarship over the last 20 years has brought to light that the whole sign house system (signs as places) was the original house or place system. Major translators and scholars agree that whole sign houses are the original house system. This includes James Herschel Holden, Robert Schmidt, Robert Hand, and Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum. Additionally, Benjamin Dykes translations revealed that the early medieval Persians were routinely using whole sign houses for topics as late as the 9th century CE.
A Scholar on Whole Sign Places
To illustrate the current scholarly position on the importance and ubiquity of whole sign houses within the original system of horoscopic astrology, I provide a quote from Dorian Greenbaum on the places (2015, The Daimon in Hellenistic Astrology, p. 400, footnote 6):
“By far the most prevalent among Hellenistic astrologers is this ‘one place/one sign’ system (called ‘Whole Sign’ by modern traditional astrologers). This is not to say that astrologers were unaware of the earth’s inclination which put the ecliptic at about a 23.5° tilt and, consequently, often made for a less than 90° angle between the rising and culminating degrees in an astrological chart (depending on the rising time of the sign on the eastern horizon); what is now known as the Porphyry place-system is described in Valens, III, 2 (Pingree, 127.17-128.26). But the whole sign/place system showed areas of life, while the rising or culminating angles (and those that set and anti-culminated) described the relative strength or power of signs or planets within that system. Yet all of Valens’ chart delineations use a one place/one sign system (thanks to Robert Hand for bringing this to my attention). Paulus Alexandrinus (378 CE) showed he was aware of this in his Introduction, ch. 30, ‘On the Midheaven’: ‘But it is necessary to know that the Midheaven degree does not always fall in the tenth from the Hour-marker, on account of the inequality of the zodiac sign’s temporal ascension, but sometimes on the ninth, sometimes on the eleventh.’ […] Olympiadorus, Paulus’s 6th-century commentator, appears to be the first of the Hellenistic astrologers to suggest that the quadrant system (in this case, the one later ascribed to Porphyry) be used for the places as significators of areas of life […]”
Take It Further
Look at your chart and the charts of interesting celebrities. Which planets are the most prominent? With which houses do these planets associate by position and rulership? Which planets are the most relevant for characterizing the self? Don’t forget to consider the different types of rulership. Additionally, look to see if any planet is located in a twelfth-part that is the rising sign. In which houses are the rulers of the Ascendant?
Dig deeper into the significations of the houses by reading Valens, Book II, Chapters 4-15. Additionally, for those who possess a copy, I recommend reading Ch. 57 of Rhetorius the Egyptian.
Dorotheus of Sidon. (2005). Carmen Astrologicum. (D. Pingree, Trans.). Abingdon, MD: Astrology Center of America.
Greenbaum, D. G. (2015). The Daimon in Hellenistic Astrology: Origins and Influence (Lam edition). Leiden ; Boston: Brill.
Masha’allah, & al-Khayyat, A. ’Ali. (2009). Persian Nativities I: Masha’allah and Abu ’Ali. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.
Maternus, J. F. (2011). Mathesis. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). American Federation of Astrologers.
Paulus Alexandrinus & Olympiodorus. (2001). Late Classical Astrology: Paulus Alexandrinus and Olypiodorus. (D. G. Greenbaum, Trans.). Reston, VA: Arhat.
Porphyry, & Serapio. (2009). Porphyry the Philosopher. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers.
Ptolemy, C. (1940). Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos. (F. E. Robbins, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Ptolemy/Tetrabiblos/home.html
Rhetorius of Egypt, & Teucer of Babylon. (2009). Rhetorius the Egyptian. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers.
Valens, V. (2010). Anthologies. (M. Riley, Trans.) (Online PDF.). World Wide Web: Mark Riley. Retrieved from http://www.csus.edu/indiv/r/rileymt/Vettius%20Valens%20entire.pdf
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