THE ASTROLOGICAL HOUSES: AN ORIGIN STORY

Having heard from several deep and insightful astrologers that Deborah Houlding’s The Houses: Temples of the Sky offers an enlightening perspective of the astrological houses based on their origins in antiquity, I eagerly ordered the book and then began to fear I was destined never to read it. Weeks passed, and the book refused to land in my mailbox. Not one to overly assert myself (Mars in Cancer), I finally sent a polite e-mail to the book provider. I promptly heard back with a “so sorry, and we will file a complaint with the Royal Mail.” Huh? The complaint to the Royal Mail must have fallen on deaf ears, however, for weeks more refused to bring me Ms. Houlding’s brilliant tome. Tapping into that Mars in Cancer, I tried a reliable passive aggressive approach, e-mailing the book provider my disappointment over failing to receive the book I had been longing for months to read. This awoke the ever polite Brit on the other end of the e-mail (or maybe an equally polite Indian or Malaysian), and I was assured that another book would be sent out and placed in my eager hands in “ten to fifteen business days.” In exactly fifteen business days, my mailbox yielded fruit, and I dove right into the Temples of the Sky. The next day, a weary, battered, water-stained package arrived stamped “The Royal Mail” with a second copy of the book, which was in perfect shape despite all evidences that the package had experienced the rigors of a three month long journey across the Atlantic probably not dissimilar to the Pilgrims’ exigencies on the Mayflower.


All this to say, I have two copies of the book and am at a loss as to how to get it back across the ocean. If anyone would like one of my copies, please let me know. I can meet up with you at NORWAC and personally deliver it, or we could maybe explore the option of mailing it – although I am reluctant to put the poor defenseless book through another harrowing journey.


Was The House: Temples of the Sky worth the wait? Most definitely. I love to study the houses and treasure my copies of Howard Sasportas’s and Dane Rudhyer’s books on the houses, but Deborah Houlding takes us back to the origins of the houses, when ancient astrologers were watching the planets cross the sky as they configured the symbolic meaning of each part of the sky. We think of the movement of planets in our printed chart, as they begin at the Ascendant and then shift counter-clockwise through the houses in numerical order, relinquishing their energy as they cross through the 12th house and meet the Ascendant to begin their journey again. This is called the “Secondary Motion” of the planets, based on the planets moving through the signs of the zodiac.


Ancient astrologers looked first to the sky, however, and at what is called the “Primary Motion” of the planets. We see them first become visible in the east at sunrise, and then travel in clockwise motion, reaching their maximum brightness around noon, fading from the sky at sunset, and diving into the darkest part of their journey at midnight. Astrologers identified the four angles of the chart as an indication for each phase of a planet’s passage. It rises at the Ascendant, culminates at the Midheaven, sets at the Descendant, and then is at its darkest at the IC. The side of the chart beginning at the IC and reaching the Midheaven is therefore the rising hemisphere, and from the Midheaven to the IC, the planet is setting. The IC was thought of as the point of inception, the Ascendant is the birth, the Midheaven is our emergence as an adult (think first Saturn Return), and the Descendant is the beginning of old age (think second Saturn Return). We then travel back to the IC for an end – and a beginning. The meaning of each of these points in the chart defines the houses and their topics or areas of life. It is this motion, Houlding writes, which carries “a far deeper significance.” At the Ascendant, we find “life and vitality;” at the Midheaven is “power and fruition;” at the Descendant is “death;” and the IC indicates “underworld mythology.”


The fourth house is an angular house, which is considered to be, along with the first, tenth, and seventh houses – also angular houses – the most powerful houses for the planets to lodge. This is where the important new chapters in our lives begin. The fourth house, where planets are most hidden from view, became associated with land and things deep in the earth, with our home, parents and genetic roots, with our private life. On a deeper, soul level, it is our return to the Source.


By primary direction (clockwise), the third house “falls away” from the fourth house, and so is called a cadent house in which planets are given weaker strength. As the house that is entered after a planet has traveled through the house of home and family, it is the domain of our siblings and of the immediate world as we venture out from our home. Neighbors, the community, short journeys all fall within the third house. After we have connected with the Source, the third house contains our efforts to learn about our physical new world and to connect with those who inhabit it through language.


Planets in the second house, however, are preparing enter the first house, another strong, angular house. The second house is considered a succedent house because planets there are “rising up” to a new angle and so have medium strength. The second house became associated with the resources we need to support ourselves and meet our physical needs as we prepare to live as an independent entity. Money, our income and ability to earn, our possessions, food and sustenance we need for life are all the province of this house.


In the first house, planets are again angular and preparing to emerge at the Ascendant into the light of day. One can think of an actor backstage, putting on makeup, checking his costume in the mirror, rehearsing lines and examining his expressions, strutting a bit to warm up, with the whole focus being on the self, the body, the uniqueness of the person and what he intends to project. Classically, the first house was given to the body, the character, the life and spirit. Today it is also given to what is called the “personality,” what others see.


A planet falls away into another cadent house when it enters the twelfth house. A planet is weak and vulnerable here, just emerged into the shadowy world of the early dawn, exhausted from the birth process and unable to see anything clearly, with no frame of reference yet. Unable to take care of ourselves during a 12th house phase, we could falter into an addiction, a prison sentence, require a hospital stay for our physical or mental health, or experience some other misfortune. Or, we could learn to hold on, trust that life will unfold, and flow through the uncertainty and doubts, seeking connection with fellow strugglers and offering to serve. Houlding writes that once considered a house of “bad spirit,” a modern interpretation is that the twelfth house is the area of “Seclusion, service to others, charity. The unconscious; self-sacrifice, escapism, mysticism.” Releasing our need to control outcomes and accepting our lot as part of a larger story, whether we can perceive this story or not, is key to negotiating a passage through the twelfth house.


After a planet falls, it rises up again, however, into the succedent eleventh house, which ancients called the house of “Good Spirit.” We have more light now, and more clarity. We begin to hope and form objectives for achievement. Just as we were preparing to live as an independent being in the succedent house, in the eleventh house we are preparing to take our place in the Sun. We find allies here, friends who will help us on our way. We find groups of people who want what we want and who motivate each other, our tribe. It’s joyful here, and optimistic, and all our dreams lie ahead.


Reaching another angular house, the tenth, we emerge as a professional person, with a career or a significant role to play in our world. We are not our past, our fourth house roots, or our personality, our first house manifestation. We engage as a unique individual with gifts we bring to the collective. We are identified by this role and receive a certain status. We may receive honors, or we may encounter infamy. It is easy to become absorbed into one’s public life or career to the exclusion of all else when the tenth house is being heavily featured in our charts.


As we fall into the following cadent house, the ninth, the question arises, “Is this all there is?” Leaving behind the responsibilities, the honors, the occupations of the 10th house, we realize the answer to this question is that there is a whole world out there away from the workplace. We explore other cultures and learn a new language, return to college for higher learning, turn to a religion seeking answers to big questions, or we write and publish our memoirs in an attempt to understand our journey so far. We expand our horizons.


At the succedent eighth house, we are again rising up to an angular house, the seventh. What are the things we need as we are preparing to partner with another? We develop contracts, and ways to identify and merge assets. In the sky, the light is starting to fade and we are facing the prospect of total darkness. How do we prepare for darkness? We form bonds and formalize them, and we face death. We insure against loss, and we write wills. We cling to each other and develop intimacy.


At the setting of the Sun in the seventh house, we can lose who we are and where the other begins. We seek a partner to survive in the darkness of our life’s journey, of a new business venture, or to lead us through the labyrinth of therapy or a legal battle. We see ourselves in the eyes of the other, or with see the Other in ourselves. As the darkness approaches, we can encounter the enemy who challenges who we are. But in the brilliance of the setting Sun at the descendant, there is also a celebration, a wedding, a feast and dancing.


Once the Sun is set, we fall into the darkness and encounter the cadent sixth house. We have lost the light, may feel ill or disabled, and must rely on whatever skills we can acquire to make it through each day. Good habits are important, being mindful of our health is crucial, and work must be consistent and dutiful. Ancients equated this house with servitude, illness and infirmity, the house of “bad fortune.” Houlding writes that the modern interpretation includes “Work; subordinates. Domestic chores. Health.” The matters of this house are what my mother used to call “nitty grittys” and we must either deal with them – or hire a “subordinate” to do the job – or we will pay for our neglect in poor health, breakdowns, accidents, “bad fortune.”


Yet, finally, we enter another suceedent house, the fifth, and are preparing to return to the source, to go home after our long journey, to reach the end of life’s cycle. If you knew today that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do? Your answer to this question describes your fifth house. Would you make love and procreate? Visit a favorite vacation spot? Play a musical instrument, cook a gourmet meal, read a cherished book or go out for a big night on the town with your dearest friends? Would you play a video game one last time, or catch a movie you had been dying to see? Would you just sit quietly in nature and hold a loved one’s hand? In the fifth house, the house of “Good Fortune,” we turn to what we love about life and relish to the core of our being. Any experience of the fifth house demands we seize the day because the curtain will eventually fall.


By laying out each house in relation to the four angles of the chart as the ancients did, Houlding has given us a deep understanding of each house. What once had seemed a random assignment of “health” or “career” or “children” or “siblings” to the houses now emerges as a logical progression which is mirrored in the primary direction of the planets across the sky.


Houlding further clarifies the strength or weakness of the houses by linking the relationship of each house to the Ascendant, which is the strongest point of the chart, the emergence into the light. The angular houses can “see” the Ascendant by 90 degree or 180 degree aspect and so are strong. The fifth house, while succedent, and the ninth house, a cadent house, are strengthened because they fall at a 120 degree angle to the Ascendant. Likewise, the third and eleventh houses, while cadent and succedent respectively, are at a 60 degree angle from the Ascendant and so are seen. The succedent eighth and second houses, however do not have a Ptolemaic relationship to the Ascendant and so are weakened, and the cadent sixth and twelfth houses are similarly challenged and so become the weakest placement for the planets.


We can further understand the significance of each house by examining which planets were believed by the ancients to find joy in a house, in which house a planet finds its “Temple.” A planet rejoices in a certain house because if offers “a celestial environment that is appropriate, supportive and in keeping with the natural influence of that planet.” Venus, a benefic ruling pleasures and good fortune, finds its joy in the fifth house, the house where we find the activities that make life good. Jupiter, the greater benefic ruling optimism and expansion and growth, rejoices in the eleventh house where we are finding the friends and allies and hopes and dreams to carry us forward.


The struggles to keep life going as we fall into the darkness of the sixth house are aided by Mars in its joy, giving us the will and grit to roll up our sleeves and get the job done. Saturn finding its joy in the shadowy twelfth house gives us the discipline to confront what is ending or is out of our power, and also the will to serve others.


The Sun rejoices in the ninth house, where a light is shone across expanding horizons, enlightening us about cultures and ideas and beliefs beyond our everyday awareness. It also was considered the house of divination and prophesy, as the Sun connects us to the greater power at the heart of all life. The Moon, which travels swiftly through the zodiac, always close by, familiar, carrying the light from one planet to the next, finds its joy in the third house of our surrounding environment and our efforts to adapt to and communicate within it.


Mercury, the planet which is symbolized by the god who traveled between the realm of the gods and the human realm, from the underworld and back again, finds its joy in the first house, in which we are still in the underworld but preparing to emerge into the light. The in-between nature of the first house, that tentative, newly forming selfhood, is assisted by Mercury’s intelligence and awareness that we live in dual worlds.


So, how do we put this together into a coherent journey as, for example, we watch the Sun travel through the zodiac signs in our chart over the period of a year? As the Sun reaches the Ascendant, it is a kind of birthday for us, connecting us to our point of “life and vitality.” During the following month, the Sun in the first house focuses us on ourselves and whether all our life choices are best reflecting who we authentically believe we are. At the soul level, the energy here is of the newly formed being preparing to be born. If we are shopping for a new wardrobe, launching into a body building program, researching new careers or having conflicts with long-term friends who seem stuck in a life you feel you have outgrown, this energy is at the heart of our efforts.


The next month, our Sun enters the second house which the ancients described as rising up to the first house by building the resources we need to sustain our new being. We may focus on developing our earning potential to enhance this new direction we discovered in the first house, or we may be paring back to learn to live on less so we can pursue our new path. We may make purchases or build collections to reflect our new idea of ourselves, or we may reorganize or purge what we own.


As the Sun reaches the third house, our daily life may become busier as we communicate more with those around us or seek information to negotiate through our lives more effectively. By primary direction, at a deeper level, this house has fallen away from the fourth house of home and describes what we encounter in our immediate environment and our efforts to learn about it and communicate within it. How we are going to communicate this newly authentic self to the people we see on a regular basis becomes important, as does learning about our options to follow new paths. This may even involve some traveling to satisfy our curiosity and connect with others.


At the fourth house, the Sun enters the territory identified by the ancients as the darkest part of the night, where a planet is least visible. This is the home, the roots, the Source, and the beginning and end. We may look at our home at this point with new eyes and decide to renovate or move. We may experience a conflict between this new identity we began to form in the first house and the person our family expects us to be. We may visit our home or ancestry to learn about ourselves, we may confront and deal with troubling issues from the past, or we may just feel the nurturing of our home and bask for a few weeks.


The Sun transiting the fifth house is in the house which rises up to the fourth house, where we are relishing our pleasures and all that brings us joy before we head into the Big Sleep. This new evolving Sun is now in trine to the Ascendant, finding energy and opportunities to enjoy itself and grow. We may pick up a hobby, attend a sporting event, go out on the town, binge watch a great TV series, create a masterpiece or conceive a child, affirming that life is good.


The Sun in the sixth house has work to do, as our job demands more of our time and energy, our body requires extra care and attention, or those who do work for us are suddenly more of an issue. This is the house the ancients described as falling away from the setting of the Sun, when we are in the dark and need to sharpen our skills to survive.


As the Sun crosses the Descendant, a challenge may arise to the self which began to emerge as the Sun transited the first house. Just as the ancients identified this point as “death,” we become aware that others can reshape our idea of who we are. A partner may not like who we are becoming and conflict erupts. We may seek to connect with others to the extent that we lose the sense of who we are. We may wish that we could find a meaningful relationship and begin online dating. We may have an encounter with someone who gives us a whole new picture of ourselves. But all these activities are necessary to our growth, because the seventh house is where, faced with the dark, we reach out our hand for another. We lose some sense of our isolated identity but we gain strength as we are partnered and no longer alone.


This losing part of the self to gain security with others is further enhanced as the Sun enters the eighth house. In this house where the light is beginning to fade and we can be fearful or anxious, we may examine our joint finances, face a difficult tax or debt issue, or enter a contract to build our business. We have to learn to trust others through this process and in doing so overcome our fears. We learn to honestly face what has died in our life and move on. We may let go of our reserve to become intimate with another.


Our ego has been winnowed down and reformed by the time the Sun reaches the ninth house where it is in its joy and in trine again to our Ascendant point of life and spirit. We get a fresh start. Even though the ninth is a cadent house, having fallen away from the tenth, planets in this house find strength in their relation to the Ascendant and in the topics of this house, which are many of the experiences we encounter as we realize that life is more than just work and ambition. It’s time to take a trip and see something new, or time to read a great book and have our minds blown. We may get to know the Thai family living next door, or we may decide to go back to college to follow that path we imagined as the Sun was in the first house. We may feel a faith community is missing from our lives and explore the possibilities in our area or online. We may discover an interest in divinatory practices.


Reaching the Midheaven and entering the tenth house, the Sun is in the place described by the ancients as the most visible, where our role in society is found and our status is described. We may become most active at this point in trying to become in our career what we had intended as the Sun was in the first house. We could sense a conflict between where we are and where we wish to be. We may ask for or receive a promotion or we may elect to change careers. We may find a career direction. If there is someone in authority over us, we could experience a confrontation, to our benefit or not. We understand that we have responsibility to contribute to our world, or we dodge that responsibility and pay the price.


In the eleventh house, the Sun has reached that point in its journey which the ancients described as the house of “Good Spirit,” where we find the friends and allies, hopes and dreams to carry us towards the future. We find a community of people at work who share our passion for a sport or a creative activity or a cause, and we have great times together. A friend points us towards a great opportunity for career growth. We may win some honors or uncover a secret wish of our heart that we may carry into the next cycle.


The twelfth house journey of the Sun contains both the beginning and the ending aspects. It is the house a planet first travels after it has crossed the horizon into day. The light is shadowy and the energy, born at the Ascendant, is newly formed and uncertain. Negotiating this house requires faith, acceptance and a sixth sense. The Sun at the end of its journey through our zodiacal year is at the end of its cycle, preparing for new light when it reaches the Ascendant. Certain aspects of our life need to be released, troubling experiences need to be processed and understood, and we must accept that not all of our intentions set at the Sun’s journey through our first house became manifest. A certain disappointment sets in, and our energy can be low. Compassion becomes key, recognizing that our failures are part of being human and we can only reach out to each other and offer what help we can. The humility we experience through this journey purifies, and prepares us to begin again as the Sun reaches our Ascendant, our point of life and spirit.


As you can see from the length of my essay, reading Deborah Houlding’s The Houses: Temples of the Sky was transformative to my understanding of the houses and I feel simply lit up from all I have learned. I wish you all the same experience with this book, and I would love to hear your thoughts on the houses in the comments below

or by e-mail to me at sallyjducharme@gmail.com.