Astrology – Houses put a Human Face on our Experience

by Marilyn Muir, LPMAFA

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Astrologically, I love reading houses in a sky map. I cannot imagine trying to read any sky map without the ability to use house placement for my understanding and delineation of the life of an individual. Yes, houses are only one factor in reading any sky map, but houses put a human face on physical experience and that makes it a valuable asset to an astrologer.

Four of the five basic human questions: how, what, where and why are answered by what I call the astrological cornerstones. The fifth is answered by motion itself… when.

  • How The most popular segment of astrology is signs, which describes “how” something acts: a shading, a coloring of behavior, an attitude.
  • What The controlling factor (rulership) in a sky map is planets, the “what” of the wheel: energy, function, human urge.
  • Why Aspects tell us why things are happening the way they are happening. Some activations are pleasant, some are not; some lessons are pleasant, some are not.
  • Where Houses represent the arena of our lives, the place where experience occurs, the issues associated with or affected by experience.
  • When As movement occurs within a sky map by transit, secondary progression, primary direction, eclipses, etc. it can act as a trigger for experience. What do these activations trigger? Natal and sometimes progressed positions in the wheel.

Houses Draw a large circle and divide it into twelve pie-shaped pieces. The easiest way to do this is to draw a centered vertical line and a centered horizontal line inside the circle. With each stroke you have divided the wheel into two segments: first left and right, and then top and bottom.

  • The halves of a sky wheel (left to right or top to bottom) are called hemispheres (half a sphere).
  • Using them together gives you four divisions called quadratures (quad = four).
  • Divide each of those quarters into three grapefruit-shaped segments and you have the twelve house divisions.

(Divide the circle in half and in half again, then divide the quarters by three.)

Cusps Briefly, the sky map you construct by hand or generate by computer will diagram the coordinates for each division at the cusp line that indicates the beginning of a house.

  • Usually we start with the ascendant (left, center line, 9 o’clock position on the wheel) and list the calculated house cusps counter-clockwise around the wheel at each division line.
  • Once the house divisions are complete, the planets and lunar north node are dropped into place by sign and degree.

House and sign axis Please note that cusps that are directly opposite have the same degree and minute on both ends of the house axis but the sign symbol is changed from one side to the other.

  • Aries is opposite Libra, Taurus is opposite Scorpio, Gemini is opposite Sagittarius, Cancer is opposite Capricorn, Leo is opposite Aquarius, Virgo is opposite Pisces.

Unequal houses Because Earth’s equator and the ecliptic (the path of Earth around the Sun, the centerline of the zodiac) do not coincide exactly at every point on our spinning globe, the size of any axis of houses may not be equal. This is not an error.

Interceptions As the house size differential reaches extreme ranges, interceptions may occur. Interceptions always occur in pairs on opposite sides of the wheel, and more than one pairing is possible as we approach high north or south birth latitudes. Again, this is not an error.

An astrology wheel is based on Earth’s view of the sky at a moment in time at a specific location on Earth. Therefore, Earth is represented as the core of each wheel, down to earth, physical reality, our tangible, material, physical life. Every issue in one specific life is contained within that 360-degree wheel. To attempt to read all of a life without some guidelines would be daunting to say the least. The divisions of the wheel allow us to see life in segments, a more manageable proportion. Theoretically each of the twelve houses represent about 1/12th of our earthly experience and life issues.

  • The 1st house is the self, how others see you, immediate response to the environment, coping skills, self projection. I Am
  • The 2nd house is your stuff: social and financial values, personal possessions, money or valuables in your pocket or that you can carry. I Have/Mine
  • The 3rd house is your communication function, the people in your “neighborhood” such as siblings or cousins, motor functions such as walking, riding, movement, basic education. I Think/I Communicate
  • The 4th house is home, hearth, family, the internal security parent, your roots, your base of operations. I Feel
  • The 5th house is creations of your mind and your body such as physical children, books, paintings.  It is:  ideas, responsive, fun, affectionate, speculative, risk-taking. I Create/I Lavish My Attention on…
  • The 6th house is service-oriented, your work-a-day issues, the job you do to balance out what you take from your environment; illness or disease.  I Serve
  • The 7th house is partnerships: business or personal, networking, alliances, the point of the not-self that you project onto others. I relate/We
  • The 8th house is partnership values and finance, borrowing and lending, how others handle your money, long term finance, insurance, death and taxes. We Have/Ours
  • The 9th house is communication of others, group communication, religion, law, higher education, foreign relations. We Think/We Communicate
  • The 10th house is the mountain you climb to succeed, your goals, ambitions, title, stature, career, your external security parent. I Achieve or I Fail
  • The 11th house is friends, groups, associations, results of career, hopes, wishes and dreams come true. We create/We Lavish Our Attention on…
  • The 12th house is hidden, secretive, behind the scenes, the point of self-sabotage because it is hidden from your direct view. Before you decide this is a negative house, this is also where you find your second wind when the going gets tough and where you give greater service. We Serve

The sign on the cusp will describe your mannerisms in handling the affairs of that house. You may be expansive, secretive, traditional, cavalier, emotional and many other possibilities. The sign itself will provide the basic description. The sign describes the affairs of that house. Be sure to read both the positive and the negative expression of the sign and the affairs of the house. We are not here to go to school because we do all things perfectly. We are learning throughout all our life experience. We are students of life. 

Empty House One question that seems to confuse budding astrologers is how to read an empty house. A specific house question raised many times is whether an empty 5th house (no planets within) means no children for that person. What do I mean by an empty house?

  • There will be ten planets or the North* lunar Node (eleven placements) within many of the twelve houses but not all houses can be occupied in every wheel. Some houses will hold one or two planets, some will hold many, some will be devoid of planets, The planets/node add to the description of that house and indicate there will be more activity in the affairs of that house. It will be a busier area of life for the owner of the sky map with lots to read and understand.
  • A house with many planets (four or more) can be overwhelming in activity. This is called an overloaded house and will be the subject of a future article.
  • A house that is empty may be read by the sign on the cusp, along with the ruler of that sign and any aspects in which that cusp ruler is involved. It does not matter if the 5th house is empty; that does not translate to an absence of children.

*You can also include the South lunar Node in these instructions if you choose.

Interceptions One last point I would make on houses in general is that the interceptions mentioned above can complicate a house reading. Why? Because in that particular wheel there are actually two layers of meaning and the expression of both must be addressed.

  • One layer is dominant (the sign on the cusp) and the other layer (interception) is recessive or hidden but alive. It will make itself known over the period of a lifetime so it is a good idea to read it as well.
  • If there are a great many planets in the intercepted sign, sheer weight of numbers may overwhelm the cusp and its ruler with overemphasis on the intercepted sign, its ruler and the intercepted bodies themselves. In other words, a multiple in the intercepted sign can take over the reading of that house.

All of the astrological principles are important: planets, signs, houses and aspects, plus all the rest of the astrological indicators. I doubt if the universal consciousness that created all of this did anything inconsequential or unimportant. I find the houses to be very valuable in terms of reading, with an easy information flow, down to earth and very readable. This article is offered as a simple primer on the concept of house readings.

Recommended article reading on house subjects:

“Astrological Choices – Equal and Unequal House Systems”

“Cornerstones of Astrology – Planets, Signs, Houses and Aspects”

“Astrological Choices – Planetary Rulership of Signs and Houses – the Old and the New”

“Astrology Cusps – More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Cusps”

First published: All Things Healing website April, 2011, republished with slight editing.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.