From House to House

Quite often disputes among astrologers focus on such themes as which house system is better, or how wide orbs should be or whether planets can aspect each other out of sign. Particularly the perennial discussion on house systems usually reaches an impasse as one authority, ancient or modern, is set against another.

It is of course important to understand when which house system arose, how it was used and who used it. These are scholarly issues. But it seems with all attempts to find the “original” system that another more essential level is overlooked, that of basic principles.

It might be worthwhile to look at where astrology, as a system of knowledge, is generally placed. Helpful is to consider how it was embedded in what in the medieval period were called the Seven Liberal Arts. These Liberal Arts were divided into two groups; the Trivium which consisted of Grammar, Dialectics, and Logic; and the Quadrivium which was formed of Geometry, Arithmetic, Music and Astronomy. John Marenbon in his book on Boethius gives a very succinct description:

“Arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music had long been linked together. They were seen as mathematical subjects. Arithmetic studied multitude (discrete units of quantity) in itself; music studied relative multitude, since its concern was with arithmetic ratios of harmonics. Geometry studied magnitude (continuous quantity) at rest, and astronomy, in charting the movements of the stars, studied magnitude in motion. Boethius invented the word ‘quadrivium’ (‘four-fold path’) to capture the relation between the four mathematical subjects – they were regarded as ‘paths’ because, in Boethius’s words, they lead ‘from the senses… to the more certain things of the intelligence’ ; they were steps on the way to the Neoplatonic philosopher’s grasp of the intelligible world.” (Boethius p. 14)

We see that astronomy, and in the period in question this also meant astrology, belongs to the mathematical sciences which help to grasp the intelligible world on the one side and which lead to Intelligence. Seen in this context we see in the “construction” of the houses an intimate interplay with:

  • geometry – the division of the celestial sphere considered on the basis of varying factors, each peculiar to the system in question
  • arithmetic – how the discrete numerical divisions fit with one another (two hemispheres, four quadrants, three divisions in angular, succedent and cadent, etc.)
  • music – the harmonics between houses in the various aspects

So it is not centrally important whether the house system you use is “the original” or better than others. What is truly important is how consistent you are in applying it in the context of the underlying symbolical structure that is the core of astrology. You need to consider its arithmetical, its geometrical and its musical qualities. How does the system you use divide the celestial sphere? Are particular points such as Ascendant and MC considered and how? That should be the starting point of any enquiry, and likely to be more productive. It is not a question about whether the houses you use are correct but whether you use them correctly!

Don’t get bogged down with trivia, turn instead to the Quadrivium. And while you are at it add a good dose of the Trivium.


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