Astrology: Houses versus Signs

A long time ago (in October of 1950, to be exact) the noted astrologer Dane Rudhyar wrote an essay distinguishing astrological houses from the signs of the zodiac.  Rudhyar’s insight into this matter has been largely ignored by modern astrologers.  Pick up almost any of the modern “psychological” books on astrology and you will almost invariably find this confusion being perpetuated.

The houses are a way of dividing the ecliptic with reference to the horizon of the point of earth for which a chart is cast.  The most common systems of house division is to place the Ascendant as the beginning of the 1st house and the Midheaven at the beginning of the 10th houses.  This creates four quadrants of the chart, which are then divided into three houses each by various methods depending on the choice of house system.  The houses are usually of variable widths whereas the zodiac signs are always 30-degrees each.

Rudhyar makes clear in his essay that the signs represent “modes of life-energy” whereas the houses represent “particular fields of experience.”  In astrology there are twelve basic modes of life-energy (the signs) and there are twelve basic fields of experience (the houses).  To quote Rudhyar: “The zodiac is a field of forces; the circle of the houses is a framework — something in and through which life and events take place.  The two should be clearly defined and never confused in the kind of astrology which deals with individual problems and psychological realities.”

To be clear about the distinction, let me present some basic ideas.  The signs are equal 30-degree divisions of the ecliptic, which is the apparent path of the Sun in its annual journey around the earth (from a geocentric viewpoint).  The zodiac is a belt of constellations after which the signs are named.   The zodiac belt is the fairly narrow region centered on the ecliptic, in which the Sun, Moon, and planets appear to travel around the earth.

Here are a couple examples from modern astrology books I pulled at random from my bookshelf.  (I have omitted the authors because I don’t want to single out any individuals, as the majority of modern authors seem to fall into this error).  To be consistent, I looked up Virgo, my sun sign:

  • “Chiron and Virgo rule the sixth house.”
  • “Virgo is the sixth sign and rules the sixth house…where astrologers look for information about work and service to others.”

If we already know that “Virgo rules the 6th house” for everyone, why bother to calculate houses at all?  By this logic, Aries rules everyone’s Ascendant, Taurus rules everyone’s 2nd house, etc.  Individuality is done away with because we all have the same house structure.  Unfortunately, this kind of mushy thinking and lack of awareness of thousands of years of astrological tradition pervade much of the current literature on astrology.  Before you know it, some modern astrologer, unschooled in the grand history of the celesial art, will call unaspected planets “peregrine” in total ignorance of the well-established use of this term to mean “without essential dignity.”  A lyric from the musical about Alice in Wonderland comes to mind:

“Don’t cloud your mind
With any facts…”

About Anthony Louis

Author of books about astrology and tarot, including TAROT PLAIN AND SIMPLE, HORARY ASTROLOGY, and THE ART OF FORECASTING WITH SOLAR RETURNS.
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4 Responses to Astrology: Houses versus Signs

  1. stardreamer says:

    Such a brilliant post. I’m a huge fan of Rudhyar. When I first started delving into Astrology (70s), I found a used copy of An Astrological Triptych at The Bodhi Tree in Los Angeles. I’m not sure I ever completely understood it, but Oh, how I treasured it. Later, I discovered Michael Meyer (Humanistic Astrology) who was also a big fan of Rudhyar.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you regarding the importance of differentiating between sign and house…

    Thank you!

  2. stardreamer says:

    Reblogged this on Stardreamer Stararts & Tarot and commented:
    Another brilliant post from Anthony Louis. Yes, there is a difference between house and sign 🙂

  3. Astrologers are obsessed with the Houses, and relegate the Signs to secondary or even tertiary status after the Aspects. I’m essentially a Sign-Rulership astrologer who uses the Tropical setting, beginning with the first point of the first Sign at the Vernal Equinoctal Point. In this version of astrology, the Sign’s are firmly numbered for Numerology purposes; they have Modes, Elements, images, keywords, and, above all, Rulership. For me, Aspects are second and Houses third in consideration. The Houses are about the mundane struggles and travails of daily existence; Sign-Rulership is about how to deal with them without losing sight of our Higher Purpose. I’m quite certain you’ll disagree, but I would appreciate feedback from your point of view. Thanks!

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