Modern muddleheadedness about ‘natural’ rulers of the astrological houses

I have a few pet peeves about astrology that center mostly on the sloppy use of language rooted in a lack of awareness of the history of the art.  Pick up almost any modern text and you will likely read distortions and misunderstandings of the historical traditions of astrology, as if our past was irrelevant in the present.  One glaring example is the inaccurate use of the term ‘peregrine’ by the Tyl school of modern astrology, as if two thousand years of history and tradition do not matter.

Even  more egregious than the misuse of ‘peregrine’ is such incessantly repeated nonsense as “Mars is the ‘natural’ ruler of the 1st house, Venus of the 2nd, Mercury of the 3rd, Moon of the 4th,” and so on around the wheel — the so-called ’12 letter alphabet’ of astrology popularized by the late Zip Dobbins.  This oversimplified approach equates houses, signs and planets as if they all signified the same thing.

Despite the eloquent writings of such modern astrological giants as Dane Rudhyar, many modern astrologers can’t tell the difference between a zodiac sign and an astrological house.  They mistakenly assume, for example, that the Sun is the ‘natural ruler’ of the 5th house because Leo is the 5th sign of the zodiac.  Signs are not houses, planets are not signs, and the natural planetary rulers of the signs are not the natural rulers of the analogously numbered houses.  Here is what Rudhyar had to say:

‘The zodiac symbolizes in astrology the entire cycle of the yearly modifications of the “Life-force”, which surrounds, pervades and animates the earth and all organisms living on its surface. A zodiacal sign or degree is a mode of life-energy; it is always “energy” — or rather “energy-substance,” as today we know that the two elements, energy and substance, are one and interchangeable.’

‘An astrological house, on the other hand, is a section of space — and, in reference to the birth-chart of an individual person, a particular field of experience. It is always and in any case, and wherever the person is born, a twelfth part (or 30-degree section) of the entire space surrounding the place of birth. It is space, not substance; space which “contains” zodiacal energy-substance, planets, stars and any conceivable celestial object. It represents also symbolically a twelfth part of a man’s total outlook on life.’

It is not clear to me who started the confusion (e.g., ‘the Sun is the natural ruler of the 5th house’, etc.).  It probably goes back to Alan Leo and was perpetuated by Charles Carter, two of the early giants in modern astrology who did much to popularize the art of astrology in the English-speaking world.  These early modern astrologers cannot be blamed for misunderstanding the traditional literature which is vast and often hard to understand.  If it weren’t for them, astrology might have remained illegal or completely gone out of existence.  But now that much of the tradition has been safely excavated, it is time for modern astrologers to stop perverting what years of historical research has helped us to understand.

What did William Lilly, the great 17th century horary master, have to say?  Here are Lilly’s comments about the 1st house:

The Consignificators for this house are Aries and Saturn; for as this house is the first house, so is Aries the first sign, and Saturn the first of the planetsMercury doth also joy in this house, because it represents the Head and he the Tongue, Fancy and Memory. (CA. p.151)  Lilly, who had read all the extant historical astrological literature available in England at the time never mentions Mars in relation to the 1st house.

Here is my explanation of “consignificators” which I published in an online glossary a couple decades ago:

“CON-SIGNIFICATORS (from A Horary Glossary by Anthony Louis):
A sign or planet believed to have an affinity with a mundane house because it falls in the same numerical order as the house.  Not to be confused with co-significators.  The sign of the zodiac naturally paired with a house is its CON-significator (based on the congruence between the numerical ordering of the signs, houses, and planets). For example, Aries is the consignificator of the 1st house, Taurus of the 2nd, etc. The planets taken in Chaldean order (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon) are consignificators of the houses falling in the same sequence.  Thus, Saturn is consignificator of houses 1 and 8, Jupiter of houses 2 and 9, Mars of houses 3 and 10, sun of houses 4 and 11, Venus of houses 5 and 12, Mercury of house 6, and the Moon of house 7.”

Thus, in Lilly’s mind, the 1st house is associated with Aries as the 1st sign of the tropical zodiac, with Saturn as the 1st planet in the Chaldean ordering of the seven traditional visible planets, and with Mercury because Mercury has ‘joy’ in the house associated with the head where the tongue (Mercury) naturally resides.  (Saturn is also associated with the 8th house because the Chaldean list repeats around the wheel; and Mercury is associated with the 6th house because it is the 6th planet.)  Mars is nowhere to be found in a discussion of signs and planets associated with the 1st house.

Even the choice as Aries as the 1st sign is rather arbitrary.   The zodiac is a circle without being and without end.  For convenience sake, we like to say that the zodiac has a starting point.  One tradition begins the zodiac at the vernal equinox, the 1st day of spring which starts a new cycle of growth and decay in the natural world.  In this scheme Aries is the 1st sign.

Another scheme from the Hellenistic period claims that at the start of creation Cancer was rising in the east and Aries occupies the 10th house.  This is the so-called thema mundi in which the 1st sign is Cancer rather than Aries.

Thema Mundi (from wikipedia commons).  Note how Mars rules Scorpio in the 5th house and Aries in the 10th house and has no connection with the 1st house in this scheme.

The Thema Mundi shows:

  • Cancer rising with the Moon in Cancer, the 1st sign
  • The Sun in Leo, the 2nd sign
  • Mercury in Virgo, the 3rd sign
  • Venus in Libra, the 4th sign
  • Mars in Scorpio, the 5th sign
  • Jupiter in Sagittarius, the 6th sign
  • Saturn in Capricorn, the 7th sign

Getting back to the modern idea that Mars is a “natural ruler” of the 1st house, we can see that in Lilly’s day Mars was associated with (or numerically congruent with) the 3rd house, and in the Hellenistic thema munda Mars was associated (or numerically congruent) with the 5th house.   But I doubt that Lilly or the Hellenistic astrologers regarded Mars as a “natural ruler” of any house.  Mars is the natrual ruler of the 1st sign Aries, however.  Maybe a modern Hellenistic astrologer can weigh in on this question.

Addendum (17 Oct 2012):  Here is a copy of a comment I posted on the Facebook Traditional Astrologer’s page in response to a discussion of con-significators:

” Lilly uses the word “co-signficiator” differently.  On p. 124 of CA, for example, he says “In every question we do give the Moon as a Co-significator with the querent or Lord of the Ascendant…”  He has in mind: Moon = querent = planetary ASC-ruler.  “Con-signficators” are different and simply refer to a planet or sign that happens to fall in the same numerical order as a house.  By using the prefix “con-” Lilly has in mind: 1st house ~ first sign (Aries) ~ first planet (Saturn).  He means there is an analogy or congruence among the 1st house, Aries and Saturn simply because they all fall first in their particular sequence.  When Lilly says “co-significator,” he means two planets that signify the same matter.  When he says “con-significator,” he means corresponding signs, planets, or houses that share the same ordinal number in their sequence.  He does not specify what con-significators actually signify or how to use them.”

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.
This entry was posted in Astrology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Modern muddleheadedness about ‘natural’ rulers of the astrological houses

  1. chirotic says:

    Hello Tony,
    I have a view on these topics that you’ve raised, I hope you won’t mind my sharing them.

    With regard to Tyl’s definition of peregrination, my understadning is that he has not attempted to replace the classical meaning with a new modern definition, but rather that he considers the case of un-aspected-ness to be an extension of it. It creates the same fundamental sluggishness with expressing the key energy concept that the planet would experience if classically peregrine. I am not sure how this sits with you. For my part, I am a strong believer in Noel Tyl’s theory of peregrine planets, but I do rather wish he had used a different term for the sake of not confusing the accessibility of fundamental and ancient concepts. The problem with it is that many people seem to dismiss Tyl’s logic as muddle-headed (and therfore wrong) because they belive him to have been unable to apprehend the basic concept of peregrination (classically). I think their argument goes: if he can’t understand what peregrine means, then he must be a dumbass!

    In respect of signs vs. houses, your position brings to mind Alexandre Volguine. Now I have read your books, so I know you respect him a great deal, and Volguine gave considerable strength to planets in the numbered signs. For example he believed that the Sun was better able to express its essential quality in the 5th because it is an area of expression that is broadly compatible with the quality of Leo.

    By the same token, he gave no especial credence to the joys of the planets (as you do here), nor even to mutual reception, neither of which I personally agree with, so I am not trying to make an ‘appeal to authority’ or any other such fallacy, but I am convinced by Volguine’s perspective also, that there is merit in it, while at the same time agreeing that planets, signs and houses are not simplistically interchangeable.

    It’s also noteworthy that Volguine assigned less comfort to Saturn in the 1st, I assume because of his fall in Aries, so it seems that his logic was based upon the exact perception that you here decry. In practise I am inclined to agree with Volguine, but my mind is not closed on the subject, rather I am now keen to understand, is Mars improved in the 1st, above and beyond the experiential truth that any planet rising (or indeed, angular) is lent force? In my experience it appears to be. For example I have two boys with Mars rising: one in Capricorn and one in Libra, they are both very forceful in their ways. Indeed I have a stepson with Mars in Aries (in the 9th) and Mars in Libra in the 1st is equally apparent and forceful, albeit in a more ‘charming’ manner.

    Thanks Tony for the interesting topic, I almost never comment on astrology posts, it can be hazardous to one’s health, so be kind!

    With respect,

    • Jeremy,

      Thanks for your comments. I welcome them and don’t mind at all that you responded. Regarding Tyl, I did not mean to imply that he is a “dumb ass.” I know Mr. Tyl and have had conversations with him over the years at various conferences. He is clearly a very bright and articulate man. My objection is his use of the word “peregrine” in place of the expression “unaspected planet” which was in the literature long before he started using “peregrine” incorrectly. Peregrine and unaspected are not equivalent concepts.

      I do respect Volguine and I have no objection to his point about the Sun and the 5th house. Perhaps I did not make point clear enough, My objection is to the use of the term “natural ruler” as applied to houses. In my view the signs have natural rulers. In Western astrology Mars will always rule Aries because it is considered the “natural ruler” of the sign Aries, but Mars will have only an accidental connection with the first house because Mars rules Aries, which by convention happens to be the 1st sign of the zodiac. If we were Hellenistic astrologers, Aries would be the 10th sign of the zodiac and we would have to say that Mars is the “natural ruler” of the 10th house — this is not natural but is accidental due to the convention we are using.

      In practical terms, consider a person with Libra rising. Then Venus rules the 1st house in this particular nativity. To say that Mars (very different in nature from Venus) signifies this person’s 1st house matters would be very misleading, to my mind. But if we believe that Mars is a “natural ruler” of the 1st house, then Mars will always have 1st house significance, and I believe it does not.

      Sorry if I sounded a little too dogmatic in this post. It’s just that the sloppy use of language in astrology tends to annoy me.

      Take care,


      • chirotic says:

        No need to apologise Tony, it is possibly more to do with my missing the point that it is not principles which have caused you consternation, but terminology. I entirely agree. Thank you for your patient explanation!

  2. Pam says:

    Ah, ha, ha! What a can of worms I opened. My errors led to great and wide education. Bien Proveco!

  3. Eric says:

    Thanks for this – while modern astrology has many good things to offer, the planet/sign/house conflation isn’t one of them! One thing I’ve wondered is whether Lilly’s planetary consignificators were ever actually used in any fashion? They seem to be one of those things that are mentioned once and never applied.

    • Eric,
      Great question. I don’t recall Lilly’s using planetary con-significators of houses in his horaries, but to be honest I haven’t examined all of them with this question in mind. Maybe a traditional horary maven has the answer. I’ll post this question on the Facebook Traditional Astrology group to see if anyone there knows for sure.

  4. Pingback: Modern muddleheadedness about 'natural' rulers of the astrological ... | Astrology Education |

  5. james says:

    if one identifies too closely with something, maybe it’s to be expected that they will want to reject what is perceived as not that.. i love watching all the angst amongst ‘trad’ astrologers who periodically get into a rant about the problem with ‘modern’.. it is fair to be concerned about the use of language in the example you gave, but remember that the availability of many of these ‘trad’ texts has been only very recent with the first big one being lillys ‘christian astrology’ offered up in about 1985 or thereabouts.. so, while it is fun to see so many astrologers want to identify with a particular brand of astrology, to me looking at it with a wider angle lens, it is quite silly too! why not skip the categorizations and do the astrology and forget about the labelling? if you have a problem with the mis-use of terminology – i’m with you on that..

    • James,
      You make a good point. The word “modern” has several connotations. All of us who practice astrology today are modern astrologers in the sense that we practice in the 21st century, a modern century. In astrology “modern” can mean in a technical way those astrologers who reject or ignore astrology as it was practiced before the 1700s as if traditional ideas were irrelevant. My own view is that we should acknowledge when we are changing ideas in astrology and give our reasons for doing so.

      • james says:

        thanks tony! trad astro is like the new religion.. i read this on another site just a moment ago.. “I’m very interested in looking at charts using theTraditional approach.”
        in 50 years i think it will be a moot point!

  6. Caleb Kent says:

    i don’t see from your post here why signs are associated with a “mode of life-energy” and houses are “section of space”. it seems to me they are both sections of space and if we want to say they are also modes of life-energy then i don’t see a difference between them except one is 365 days and the other is 1 day.

    you can begin counting a cycle at any point — more likely one of the angles — but it seems all those points are convention wether they be referencing the day, year, or precession.

    how is any correlation of sign to planet anything other than convention?

    i think many people have characterized Zipporah Dobyns ideas into a ‘straw man’ to be conveniently torn apart, but the 12 Letter she espouses seems to be more an act of compression than conflation. all of astrology can be compressed further and further and eventually into One — being — but that is not to say everything is the same. Compression implies the loss of detail for the sake of clarity of the big picture which is not conflation.

    Can not Mars simply embody the qualities in a dynamic point that Aries expresses in the relationship of Sun to Earth’s center and that the 1st House expresses in relationship of Sun to Earth’s surface? All three deriving their qualities from the same source — the beginning of a process — which is perhaps not related to a traditional notion of rulership at all, but certainly more easily defendable to the modern mind than Lily’s explanations of Mercury taking joy in the 1st because it is like a tongue in the head or even Rudyar’s arbitrary distinction of modes of life and fields of space.

    • Caleb,

      Thanks for your comments. You write: “i don’t see from your post here why signs are associated with a “mode of life-energy” and houses are “section of space”.”

      The key word here is “associated” and it has a long tradition in the history of astrology.

      Signs are 30-degree segments of the ecliptic or path of the sun, which lies at the center of the zodiac belt in a geocentric model. There are 12 such divisions of 360 degrees.

      The houses are a 12-fold division of the horoscope wheel. The oldest version of houses used each sign as a house, starting with the ascending sign. Houses were also a 12-fold division of the circle but viewed from a different perspective.

      Thus, from the beginning signs and houses were conceived as representing different facets of reality.

      You ask: “how is any correlation of sign to planet anything other than convention?”

      In a sense you are correct but there is a reason (or reasons) for the conventions. Astrology did not suddenly arise but had a long gradual development which included many cultures and religious world views. By the time astrology reached Hellenistic Egypt from Babylonian, it incorporated centuries of observations of the heavens with correlations to world events as well as the mythology and religious views of the times.

      The Greeks mathematized astrology to make a scientific theory of the age-old celestial observations and beliefs. Thus, astrology is a melding of ancient beliefs about gods and emerging scientific ideas about spherical trigonometry.

      I read Zip Dobbins years ago and was initially impressed by the simplicity of her ideas, but on further reflection I believe she has done a great disservice to astrology by lumping together ideas that are in reality distinct.

      For example, the very first “universal” horoscope wheel, the thema mundi, has Cancer rising, so that Cancer is the first sign of the zodiac. Thus, in Dobbins system, historically corrected, Cancer = Moon = 1st house. Upon reflection, this make a lot of symbolic sense since life begins in the womb of the mother, which are related to Cancer and the Moon. The next sign of the thema mundi is Leo, which in Dobbins system would render Leo = Sun = 2nd house, which again makes sense since Leo and the Sun are associated with gold and the royals who have all the gold. If convention had included the original historical sources, Dobbins system would give very different equivalences than the one she presented.

  7. Pingback: Analysis of the 6th House/12th House Nodal Axis Through the Signs | Beyond the stars astrology

  8. I’m elated people are talking about this, related 12-letter alphabet. The sloppy use of language at conferences really gets my Aries up. Or is that the 1st House? just kidding. Thanks Tony.

  9. ScienceAndMagic says:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s