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Astrological Houses

Maggie McPherson

David's posting of a summary of the Gauquelins' research prompted me to think about astrological houses. The Gauquelins found that planets traditionally associated with certain careers (or with talents useful in those careers) appeared in the 12th and 9th houses with a frequency greater than chance for people successful in those careers. In traditional astrology, the 12th and 9th houses are considered "weak", and they have little to do with the career or personality type, which are ruled by the 10th and 1st houses respectively. Houses 1 and 10 are also considered "stronger", and so a planet placed in these houses should be more prominent. Planets related to a particular career should be prominent, one would think, in the charts of people who achieve prominence in that profession.

The Gauquelins used a house system that differs from all the systems used by astrologers, but their findings cannot be accounted for in this way. Subsets of their data have been reanalysed using Placidus and Equal House systems, and the results were replicated. (The 10th cusp, the midheaven, is the same for the traditional systems and the Gauquelins' system, but their "rising point" differs from traditional ascendants by as much as 20 degrees for European latitudes.)

How can one resolve this apparent discrepancy between tradition and the statistical findings of the Gauquelins?

One might be tempted to assert that the traditional house system(s) should be abandoned in the face of the published evidence. On the other side, the astrologer whose experience convinces her/him that the traditional houses (e.g., the Placidus houses) are useful might be tempted to dismiss the Gauquelins' findings as a curious anomaly. In other words, one might be tempted to assume that the traditional houses are either right or wrong. But this would be to fall prey to a common fallacy in reasoning: the fallacy of the false dilemma. It need not be true that the traditional house systems are either wholly wrong or wholly right. A possibility exists that different house systems are appropriate when applying different astrological techniques or when addressing different questions.

It may be possible to reconcile the two forms of evidence. Perhaps one kind of house system is useful for determining personality and success in career, and another is useful for other purposes, such as transits. The astrologer who has worked with transits will undoubtedly have found impressive correlations between transits through traditional houses and circumstances in the life of the querant.

I know of one suggestion for an alternative approach to houses that might satisfy both the traditional astrologer and the astrologer who feels compelled to take account of the findings of the Gauquelins.

The suggested approach is the brain-child of the always innovative Axel Harvey of Montreal. An excerpt from an article of his appears below. I present this excerpt without his permission, but I am sure he will not be upset with me for doing so; I have never known Aquarians to shy away from publicity. The excerpt is from an article entitled "Horoscopes in Azimuth" which appeared in the premier issue of the short-lived local publication "Considerations."

In presenting this excerpt, my aim is to demonstrate that possibilities exist for house systems and combinations of house systems that will account for the Gauquelins' data as well as the daily experience of the astrologer. I cannot say whether the particular approach taken by Axel Harvey is the way of the future (although it is certainly worthy of serious consideration).



by Axel Harvey

For over ten years I have been drawing clockwise horoscopes -- that is to say, with the Zodiac going in the usual direction but with the houses proceeding widdershins as in Figure 1.

[Partial reproduction of Figure 1, using the medieval house wheel, which is slightly easier to produce in ascii than a circle; the 10th house follows the MC in a clockwise direction, where the 9th house would usually be; the 1st house follows the Vertex is a clockwise direction, and the 7th house follows the Antivertex in that direction:]

           |\        /\        /|
           |  \ 9  / 10 \ 11 /  |
           |    \/________\/    |
           | 8  /|        |\ 12 |
           |  /  |        |  \  |
Antivertex |/  7 |        | 1  \| Vertex
           |\    |        |    /|
           |  \  |        |  /  |
           | 6  \|________|/  2 |
           |    /\        /\    |
           |  / 5  \ 4  /  3 \  |

The reasons for placing houses this way, contrary to zodiacal movement and to the habits of the profession, did not all come to me at once. Perhaps the best way to introduce the subject to readers is to retrace the steps I followed as I gradually developed my techniques.

Traditional houses are a riddle to anyone who stops to think about them. No sooner has the Sun risen than it is in the twelfth house, having just crossed the cusp of the first. In the following 24 hours it will cross all the other cusps in reverse order, entering each house through the back door. Yet the circle of houses is supposed to be a local image of the great circle of the Zodiac. Why, then, is it so peculiarly arranged?

The question must have occurred to thousands of young astrologers, whose teachers serenely answered, "Ah, yes, a typical beginner's question -- the stars go westwards in hourly motion and eastwards in zodiacal motion, and there's nothing we can do about it."

However, I felt there was something to be done about it. I tried various combinations of house numbering, of placing each house behind or ahead of its cusp, and of assigning starting points. The scheme I settled on had the upper meridian as cusp X, like most systems, but the tenth house lay clockwise from its cusp; then followed cusp XI and so on. Hence Figure 1.

This sort of map had two advantages.

First, the planets now proceeded from one house to the next in rational order, and entered each house by the cusp of that house. Diurnal movement thus resembled zodiacal movement more closely, so that the ancient analogy between signs and houses began to make more sense.

Secondly -- and this must be the decisive point whenever anyone talks about houses -- it worked better. Even though I applied the most literal, old- fashioned interpretations to the houses, those interpretations gave better results with the houses in their new places.

You will have noticed that I took the Vertex, rather than the Descendant, as cusp of the first house. Originally I made this choice on aesthetic grounds. Edward Johndro, Charles Jayne and others had studied the prime vertical and found that its western branch (the Vertex proper) was more sensitive and important than its opposite (the so-called Electrical Ascendant or Antivertex). Now if I were to choose the horizon to define my cusps I and VII, the first cusp (Descendant) would end up being secondary to the seventh (Ascendant); but if I chose the prime vertical then the first (Vertex) would be more powerful than the seventh (Antivertex) -- and this certainly seemed to be the more proper arrangement. It should be added that the Ascendant continues to be a major point in the new system: but it is no longer a cusp and moves around in houses V, VI, VII and VIII.

As it turns out there are more rigorous reasons for preferring the Vertex as Cusp I; we shall return to this issue at the end of this article.

Since the Ascendant is no longer a cusp, I could not take just any popular house system and number it backwards. However, the Vertex is always 90 degrees from the meridian as measured along the horizon; therefore it seemed natural to use a house system where the cusps were all 30 degrees apart in azimuth ("azimuth," a term familiar to sailors, simply means "distance measured along the horizon"). Such a system of houses must be the simplest of all to demonstrate in the field. Stand up and face due south. Raise your arm overhead and lower it until it points straight before you, and you have drawn the upper meridian: cusp X. Now swing your arm towards a point 30 degrees to the right and move it straight up and down again from that point: you have drawn cusp XI. Go another 30 degrees to the right and make the same gesture: there is cusp XII. Do this once more: by now you have moved your arm thrice 30 degrees, or one quarter-circle, from the meridian and you are drawing the prime vertical in the West -- cusp I. And so on around the horizon.

The Azimuth houses must be older than the constellations. You have just repeated the gestures which would come naturally to a prehistoric queen dividing a berry patch between clan houses, or to a shaman dividing a hunting territory between twelve villages.

The mathematically-minded will turn to the Appendix at the end of this article for information about calculating the longitude of Azimuth cusps and related matters.


There is no room in an introductory article to discuss all the fine points of interpreting Azimuth maps. The following notes are a rough-and-ready guide for astrologers who wish to try Azimuth horoscopes but fear the confusion which can arise from the simultaneous use of two maps.

1. The Ascendant governs personality -- that is to say, how we appear to reasonably acute and compassionate observers. It also indicates our unconscious goals -- the values we adhere to even if we never think about them, and to which we will remain loyal even in the most difficult times (and even if we don't realize we are doing so).

2. The Vertex answers the question, "Who do you think you are?" It also corresponds to our will -- that is to say, the choices we make with open eyes -- and the values we adopt consciously. Whether or not we can defend these values successfully depends on various circumstances, such as aspects to the Vertex and its ruler.

3. Similarly the whole Zodiac map, with the Ascendant as cusp I, points to: fate, heredity, social and physical influences, things that happen to us. The whole Azimuth map points to: intentions, desires, opinions, how we try to organize our lives, what we do.

One can look at the stars passively, as coming from the East, or one can think of oneself as a star like Paracelsus, and direct oneself westwards. That is Zodiac-wise and clockwise thinking. To hold the first view exclusively makes one a vegetable; the second, a fool.

4. Since the planets, by diurnal motion, pass through Azimuth houses in rational order, the Azimuth map is the ideal one to use for primary directions. On the other hand, traditional houses are the correct ones to use with transits. The general rule is: in predictive work, use a house system that goes in the same direction as the significators.

Solar returns are a special form of transit and should therefore be handled entirely in the traditional framework.

(Unfortunately I can't deal with primaries in this issue. Primary directions mentioned in this article are directions in Azimuth, which differ from classical methods.)

5. The most useful map for delineation is the Zodiac map with Azimuth cusps (e.g., Figure 1). It combines fate and will.

6. The Ascendant usually, but not invariably, governs physical appearance. A good example of a physique strongly coloured by the Vertex is that of musician Mick Jagger, whose spare frame and de'sabuse' features owe more to his Saturn-Vertex opposition than to his Jupiter-Ascendant conjunction. (Data: 04:30 UT, 26th July 1943; 51N27 00E12.)

7. The lords of the Descendant and the Antivertex represent the two possible types of spouse in the native's life.

8. Zodiacal aspects may be reflected in totality or in great part by identical aspects in the Azimuth map; or they may be almost entirely absent from the Azimuth chart, being replaced by different aspects involving different pairs of planets.

In the first case we have a subject who always appears to know what he or she is about; whose resources and ambitions are evenly balanced; who is comfortable in the environment he or she was born to.

In the contrary case we have both great over-reachers and under-achievers; people who rebel against society, or who simply deny the importance of historical or cultural roots.


I said that my original reasons for adopting a new house system were, firstly, the intuitive requirement that planets should proceed in proper order through the houses and that cusp I should be more important than cusp VII; secondly, a crude, empirical satisfaction with the results.

There still remained doubts about the symbolic correctness of the arrangement. Astrologers have long believed that the diurnal cycle is manifested in the polarity of day and night, that the (tropical) zodiacal cycle is manifested in the polarity of Summer and Winter, and that an analogy between these two polarities is significant.

Now if we put the first house in the West, where the Sun begins his descent under the Earth, it can hardly be paired with Aries where the Sun begins his climb to the height of Summer. One might make things work by calling Libra the first sign -- a practice endorsed by Jewish custom, in which the day begins at sundown and the year in September. Such a symbolic revolution, however, would be hard to accept for most Western astrologers: I, for one, find it impossible to associate Mayday with the eighth house.

It has struck me recently that there is no analogy between two polarities. There is just one polarity: North and South. In Aries the Sun begins his vernal ascent to the North. In the West the Sun begins his daily tour -- northwards.

...the horizon, which is none other than the "ecliptic" of the Azimuth house system, [as] viewed from the centre of the celestial sphere ... winds north [of the Equator], then south, then back to its starting point. [When the] Zodiac ... is viewed from outside the celestial sphere [then in both cases] house or signs follow one another in the familiar, natural order: arithmetic and symbol both maintained. [In other words, both the Azimuth houses and the Zodiacal signs follow a sinusoidal pattern with respect to the Equator such that the nodes or zero-points are at Vertex/0-Aries and Antivertex/0-Libra, the peak is in the north at 90 degrees, or IC/0-Cancer, and the trough is in the south at 270 degrees, or MC/0-Capricorn.]

So it turns out that my choice of the prime vertical to define cusps I and VII was more appropriate than I had suspected. In order for a house system to follow the North-South dichotomy rigorously, a point situated on cusp I or VII should be exactly half-way between North and South. This is true of a point anywhere along the prime vertical, which is 90 degrees from both the North and South points of the horizon. It is *not* true of a point on the Ascendant or Descendant, which may lie considerably closer to the southern side (e.g. Sagittarius rising in the northern hemisphere) or the northern side (e.g. Cancer rising in the northern hemisphere) of the celestial sphere.

(Australian readers will be dissatisfied with this explanation. As they can find out on reading the Appendix, I have generalized the discussion by referring to elevated and inferior poles instead of North and South. This still does not answer the old question of whether people in the southern hemisphere should begin their Zodiac in Aries or elsewhere -- a question I leave unraised.)


The following notation is used throughout:

L Geographic (geodetic) latitude

E Obliquity of the ecliptic

a RAMC (right ascension of the upper meridian)

Ap, Dp Right Ascension and declination of a planet or other point

T, N Astrological azimuth and altitude

S Sign ( L ) = +1 for North latitudes

= -1 for South latitudes

n the appropriate cusp or house number

The formulae given below make use of a three-variable function, R (A,B,C), which produces a correct Ascendant when:

A = a, the RAMC,

B = L, the latitude,

and C = E, the obliquity

A practical form of function R is

R (a,L,E) = tan^-1 cos a /-g + H [where ^ means "to the power of"]

where H = 0, if -g >= 0

and H = 180 dg if -g < 0

g = sin a cos E + tan L sin E

The astrological azimuth of a planet, T, measured from the Vertex through the cardinal point of the horizon nearest the elevated pole, is found thus:

(i) Let A = a - Ap - 90 dg

B = Dp

C = 90 dg - L

(ii) Evaluate R. Subtract 90 dg from the result. Finally multiply by S, to obtain T, the azimuth.

T = S(R - 90 dg)

(iii) Altitude is

N = sin^-1 (sin B cos C - sin A cos B sin C)

Azimuth cusp longitudes in the Zodiac are found by using the following variables in R:

In all cases,

B = sin^-1 (cos L sin 30 dg[n + 2])

C = obliquity, E

Now let k = a - tan^-1 (sin L tan 30 dg[n + 2])

Then, for Cusps X, XI, XII and I:

A = k - 90 dg

and for Cusps II and III:

A = k + 90 dg

One can employ the usual formulae for the Midheaven and Vertex instead of following the procedure given here for Cusps X and I.

No further treatment of the result is needed in northern latitudes. For southern latitudes the following shuffle is necessary:

Cusp III + 180 dg becomes Cusp XI

Cusp II + 180 dg becomes Cusp XII

Cusp XII + 180 dg becomes Cusp II

Cusp XI + 180 dg becomes Cusp III.

Azimuth houses are not defined on the Equator, and make confusing maps inside 15 degrees of latitude North and South. On the other hand they are increasingly well-behaved as they approach the poles. One cannot expect a house system to have both (a) the horizon or prime vertical as a cusp, and (b) validity at every point of the globe: it is wanting to square the circle. Besides, if astrological factors interact with the social or physical surroundings then it may be wrong to use the same kind of chart for Colombia and Uganda as for Canada and Finland.