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Houses of the Horoscope: An Introduction

Houses of the Horoscope: An Introduction

by Alan Oken

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Astrology is an amazing tool for better understanding yourself, your friends, your planet, and the nature of Life itself. But how does astrology work? In HOUSES OF THE HOROSCOPE, Alan Oken explains that the natal horoscope is a blueprint and guide that creates a clear map to the self. He further explains how the positions of the astrological planets affect your life


Astrology is an amazing tool for better understanding yourself, your friends, your planet, and the nature of Life itself. But how does astrology work? In HOUSES OF THE HOROSCOPE, Alan Oken explains that the natal horoscope is a blueprint and guide that creates a clear map to the self. He further explains how the positions of the astrological planets affect your life here on earth. Calculated for a person'¬?s date, time, and place of birth, the natal chart reveals a detailed portrait of an individual'¬?s relationship to the world. The various components of your natal horoscope reveal who you are, what you have to offer, and with whom you are most likely to share your talents, abilities, and love.

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By Alan Oken

Nicolas Hays, Inc.

Copyright © 1999 Alan Oken
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-89254-156-0


What Are the Astrological Houses?

Everything in the universe is energy, expressing itself in many qualities, shapes, and forms. The natal horoscope may only be a two-dimensional diagram printed on a three-dimensional piece of paper, but it brings us to understand the multidimensional universe in which we live, and puts us in touch with the life energy of which we (and the cosmos) are composed. The horoscope is an illustration of the what, how, and where of our life. We can say that the "what" is represented by the planets in our chart. The planets tell us "what" particular type of energy is at work. In studying the planets in our natal map, "what" part or parts of ourselves are we examining? Is it our aggressive and assertive energy (Mars), our instinctual and subconscious energy (Moon), or the vital energy of the life principle itself (Sun)? The signs of the zodiac tell us "how" the energies of the planets are being expressed. Is the assertive part of our nature coming forth into our immediate environment boldly (Mars in Aries), timidly (Mars in Cancer), expansively (Mars in Sagittarius), or unpredictably (Mars in Aquarius)? We could also say that a sign is to a planet what an adverb is to a verb: It describes or modifies the action taking place.

To complete our picture of how the various energies of our life reveal our character and destiny, we have to look at "where" these cosmic energies land. Of course, they land on earth: where they land—in which sphere of our life's activities they most strongly express their nature—is revealed by the astrological houses. Understanding the complex nature of the horoscope's house structure is essential to our appreciation of how we function in our daily life.

Let us say that you are a person born in late April with the Sun in Taurus. When a man or a woman is born in the sign of the Bull, the life message is clear: This is an individual who has come to earth to learn about the real values of life. Such values may take a material or monetary form, but external financial considerations may also be a test—a veil which the Taurean has to pierce in order to understand his or her true self-worth. The house position of the Taurus Sun will reveal where in one's life such lessons are most likely to occur. If the Sun is in the Ninth House, or example, this particular Child of the Bull would most likely uncover her real life values through higher learning, publishing, and achieving a practical philosophy of life. If the Taurus Sun were in the Eleventh House, this person would be much more inclined towards accomplishing his goal of self-awareness through social work, group interactions, and a wide range of friendships. Let us say that you have Mars in Aquarius. Would your rather unpredictable urge for self-assertion most likely express itself through your relationships (Seventh House), your career (Tenth House), or in terms of your sexuality (Eighth House)? In effect, the house position tells us "where" on earth Mars is going to land in your life.


A House Divided

Just as we divide the nature of solar energy into the twelve zodiacal types (the sun signs), we also divide the 360 degrees of the wheel of the natal horoscope into twelve houses. This division is based on the date, place, and, especially, time of birth. The date of birth will give the positions of the planets in their signs in the heavens. The place of birth tells the astrologer the longitude and latitude of birth so that this point may be fixed in relationship to the planets. But without the time of birth, the astrologer cannot determine the actual house divisions and anchor the exact relationship between "heaven and earth."

There are any number of methods and systems of house division in current use by astrologers. The differences are based on the way the astrologer chooses to differentiate the heavens into their appropriate sections. Remember that astrology is an art as well as a science, and that the astrologer has a choice in the way he or she interprets the zodiacal "painting." The lines in the heavens, which the astrologer marks on the horoscope to separate the houses, are called the "cusps." Before the advent of computerized astrological software in the late 1970s, all horoscopes had to be mentally calculated, using complex mathematical tables, and then manually drawn upon the wheel. Depending on the astrologer's nationality, generation, and personal preference, one method of house division is usually favored over another. The author, and most other American and many European astrologers born after 1940, generally use what is called the "Placidian system," named after Placidus de Titus, the 17th-century Spanish monk who invented it. Many other astrologers prefer to use the "Koch system," first published in the early 1970s. Neither system works well for births in extreme northern and southern latitudes: Thus, some northern European astrologers like to use the "Equal House method." As this is primarily an introductory text to the meanings of the houses of the horoscope, I will not go into the technical differences between these three and the other half-dozen or so methods of house division in current use. Those readers who are interested in exploring the more mathematical dynamics of the houses are welcome to consult the books recommended for this purpose in the Reference Guide.

All computerized software programs offer a wide variety of house systems: All the modern student of astrology has to do is to push a button, or click a mouse, and the horoscope will be instantly cast, in any method she chooses. It is that simple. Most computerized astrological services, including my own, will send a print-out of a horoscope using the Placidian method, unless otherwise specified by the client. The virtual elimination of the more technical portions of astrological study is a boon, as it allows astrology to be much more accessible to everyone. Yet I still advise serious students of our ancient science (especially those seeking to become professional astrologers) to become familiar with the celestial dynamics of house division, so that the horoscope may be seen inside of your head as a living sphere, and not as a flat series of circles and lines on a piece of paper.

In June of 1970, I met an old swami from Madras, India, who asked me to do his horoscope. I was very young at the time, and just beginning to practice astrology professionally. The request from this venerable holy man took me somewhat aback. With great hesitation, I asked the gentleman, "How can I read for you sir, when the astrological system that I use is so much different from the Hindu system of your country?" "My son," he replied, "the universe is a single image but we all look at it through different lenses. Now you look at my horoscope through your lens and tell me what you see."

No matter what system, no matter which lens you may come to favor, all the house cusps of the chart will be calculated from the "Midheaven," also called the Medium Coeli, the Tenth House cusp, or, most commonly, the MC. If a person in the northern hemisphere is facing due south at the time of birth, the MC corresponds to the point that is directly overhead in the sky. This point will correspond to a degree in the zodiac of the twelve astrological signs. The point of the horizon exactly to your east would correspond to the degree of the zodiac called your "Ascendant," the degree of your rising sign. The cross made by your MC and its opposite point, the IC (Immum Coeli or Fourth House cusp), and the Ascendant (First House cusp) and its opposite point, the Descendant (Seventh House cusp), is the same for all systems of house division. It is only the "intermediary cusps" of the houses that differ, but these differences are important, because they can change the house position of the planets in your chart!

What to do when the time of birth is unknown?

As the degree of the sign on the Midheaven changes approximately every four minutes (one sign every two hours, all twelve signs in the space of a full 24-hour day), the exact time of birth is very important. A few minutes' variation does not matter much for most interpretive purposes, if the signs on the house cusps (especially the four major house cusps) do not change. But the exact time of birth is very important for many methods of astrological predictive work. A variation of more than four minutes in the time of birth is most important, if this time difference will change the Midheaven or the Ascendant. A 4:06 PM birth may give a chart with 29° Aries rising but a 4:10 PM birth time for that same individual would yield a 0° Taurus Ascendant.

Most people born in American or Canadian hospitals after the end of the Second World War will have the time of birth recorded on their official birth certificates. In the large majority of cases, this is the document you have, or your family has. In some cases, however, only the official birth certificate contains this important piece of information; the birth time is not stated on the document handed to the parents when they leave the hospital. An official certificate of birth, with the time of birth, has been recorded (Hospitals hold these for many decades, depending on the laws of their locale). When this time limit is passed, or if the hospital no longer exists, such records are transferred to an office in the hall of records in the county of birth. Birth times are often officially recorded (and many times appear on the family's copy of the birth certificate) in the United Kingdom, Australia, Scandinavian countries, and many other countries of Western Europe. Sometimes birth times go unrecorded or are lost: An individual is then left without this knowledge, or with the vague notion that she was born "some time after lunch," or "just before your father came home from work."

There are three recourses for an individual without a proper birth time.

1. A "Solar Chart" is cast. This is a simple process by which the 360 degrees of the wheel are divided into twelve equal parts of 300. The Sun is placed at the Ascendant, and its degree becomes the one used for all the twelve house cusps. Thus, if one were born on January 13, 1968, the Sun would be at 22° Capricorn. This then becomes the Ascendant. The Second House cusp is thus 22° Aquarius, the Third House cusp is 22° Pisces, the Fourth is 22° Aries, and so on, around the entire wheel. The positions of the planets are calculated for sunrise on the day of birth and put into the chart accordingly. Using a computerized software program makes this step a snap.

2. A "Natural Chart" is constructed. This is an even simpler process that does not require a computer. You will need an ephemeris—a book found in any astrological book shop and some libraries. An ephemeris shows the positions of the planets on any given day of any given year. Divide the Natural Chart into twelve equal parts, placing 0° Aries (the first degree of the zodiac) on the cusp of the First House, 0° Taurus on the Second, 0° Gemini on the Third, and onwards around the wheel, along the natural order of the signs. The planets can then be entered into the house by either their noon or midnight positions on the day of birth, depending on the type of ephemeris you have.

Solar and Natural Charts will yield only very approximate horoscopes, but at least you will have some idea of the relative positions of the planets in your chart, and this is a good place to begin to understand the nature of your birth map. As your knowledge of astrology increases and you get the "feel" of the signs, planets, and houses, you can experiment with the house positions of the planets, based on the events of your life and the nature of your personality. Astrology's main purpose is, after all, the development of an ever increasing and expanding sense of oneself in relation to the cosmos.

If, however, you do not have the birth time and you want an accurate horoscope cast, you need to use the third method: This can only be accomplished by a small handful of the most advanced astrologers. This is called:

3. The "Rectification of the Birth Chart." You will need to prepare a list of at least fifteen to twenty of the most important events in your life, for which you have an accurate and verifiable date (and, if possible, a time). These events may have been very positive or very traumatic, but they must have deep significance and meaning in your life. Such incidents may include the dates (and times) of marriages, deaths of loved ones, births of children or other siblings, changes in residence (or the destruction of a home), accidents or operations, graduations from a university, major shifts in profession, or even the day when you purchased that winning lottery ticket (but not the day when you bought a ticket that lost). It is also a good idea to present the astrologer with photos of yourself at different stages of life, because one's physical appearance is very much indicated by the rising sign, planets in the First House, or other planets that make tight geometrical angles ("aspects") to the Ascendant. Once the astrologer has determined your rising sign, he or she has also determined your birth time within a couple of hours and the first major hurdle to determine your birth sign is over. I am very much against some people who use a pendulum to find out the degree rising in the birth chart or who have other "psychic impressions" that reveal this information. Such methods need to be substantiated by solid techniques of astrological rectification. Even then, the experienced astrologer will ask the client to "live and work" with his or her chart (giving them guidelines as to how to do this) for six months or a year and then to report back for some "fine tuning." In the right hands, a correct rectification can be accomplished and is a worthwhile investment to make if you want to have an accurate birth chart for the rest of your life.


The Name, Address, and Quality of a House

No matter which of the house systems you decide to use, the natal horoscope will always consist of twelve houses. Each of these celestial domiciles corresponds to a number of activities, life circumstances, types of people, objects, and ideas. These are gathered together under a collective keyword phrase that makes the entire contents of the house easy to categorize and remember. These key words are a convenient way to represent the major concept underlying the particular influence of each house, but by no means do they express the entire range of influence of each of these twelve divisions of the natal chart. The twelve house names are as follows:

First House: House of Self-Image

Second House: House of Money & Self-Worth

Third House: House of Communication & Travel

Fourth House: House of Family & Psychological Roots

Fifth House: House of Creativity & Pleasure

Sixth House: House of Health & Work

Seventh House: House of Partnership & Marriage

Eighth House: House of Death & Sexuality

Ninth House: House of Higher Education & Philosophy

Tenth House: House of Career & Honor

Eleventh House: House of Organizations & Groups

Twelfth House: House of Secrets

Just as there are several basic groupings into which the signs of the zodiac are categorized, there are four hemispheres and four quadrants where a house may have its astrological "address." In addition, there are three major "qualities" into which the houses of the horoscope may be classified. Let us briefly take a look at these eleven various house particulars, in order to familiarize ourselves with the overall nature of how the houses are viewed in the natal chart.

The Four Hemispheres

As you can see from Illustration 2, the houses are divided by two primary lines, creating the major divisions of the chart by hemispheres. This circle of the houses should also be seen as representing the 24 hours of the day. The East/West axis is the horizon line, with the East point (Ascendant) representing sunrise and the West point (Descendant) representing sunset. The people who named these divisions lived north of the Equator. They called the South/Midheaven the "uppermost" point of the horoscope, because when they looked at the noon sun, they were always facing south. (If you stood at the equator, the noon sun would be directly overhead; in the Southern Hemisphere, it is always north of the observer.) The North/Immum Coeli is the lowest point of the chart and can be said to represent midnight.

Southern Hemisphere (Houses 7-12):

These are known as the "social" or "collective" houses. They deal with those aspects of our life that involve the world outside of our inner, personal life. Activities in these domiciles create opportunities for us to interact with the larger world around us. We could also say that this is the objective hemisphere of the chart. The Ninth House, for example, is the area in the horoscope that indicates international travel and higher education.

Excerpted from HOUSES OF THE HOROSCOPE by Alan Oken. Copyright © 1999 Alan Oken. Excerpted by permission of Nicolas Hays, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

ALAN OKEN forges a new field of study which he calls "soul-centered astrology"—distinct from the personality-oriented approach which is in vogue. This field of study emanates from Alice Bailey's Esoteric Astrology, which calls for a higher level of interpretation, manifestation of the soul, and service. An author, linguist, and translator, Oken speaks and writes in seven languages and has lectured extensively throughout the world. Alan Oken also makes frequent media appearances and had his own radio program in his home city, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Oken is a student of the Work and Teaching of the Tibetan Master, Djwahl Khul, and is a member of the new Group of World Servers.

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