The Modern Confusion about Astrological Houses

Alan Leo did pioneering work in re-introducing astrology into the modern world at the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately in his zeal to simplify astrology, Leo introduced many misunderstandings into the modern astrological lexicon.  The most egregious of these errors is the equation of signs and planets with astrological houses.  It is nearly impossible to pick up a modern textbook about astrology or to read a current astrology website that does not contain the falsehood that Mars represents 1st house matters.  This statement is only true if one has Aries or Scorpio rising or if Mars resides in an individual’s 1st house.  Otherwise, Mars does NOT signify  first house matters.  Since many modern astrologers do not bother to read the history of astrology or its primary texts from the two thousand years prior to Alan Leo, they remain unaware of the misinformation which Leo inserted into astrological tradition.

My guess is that Alan Leo had a copy of Zadkiel’s abridged version of Lilly’s Christian Astrology (1647) in which Lilly discussed consignifcators of the houses. Lilly noted that the signs of the Aries-rising zodiac used in the West since the time of Ptolemy run in order from 1 to 12.  He then paired the signs with the houses in numerical order and said that Aries (1st sign) shares an ordinal number with the 1st house, thus Aries is a con-significator of the 1st house.  And so on for the rest of the houses.

As for planets con-signifying the 1st house, Lilly never mentioned Mars as having a generic association with 1st house matters.  Instead, Lilly noted that the planets also have an ordinal arrangement dating back to the Chaldeans: Saturn is the 1st planet, Jupiter the 2nd, Mars the 3rd, etc. all the way to the Moon which is the 7th planet.  Then the pattern repeats.  Thus, SATURN, the 1st planet, (and not Mars which is never mentioned) is the con-signifier of the 1st house.

Finally, Lilly incorporates the ancient system of JOYS of the planets, which is most likely based on ancient mythology and the Hellenistic perception of good and bad houses.  This is what Lilly actually said:

“The Consignificators for this house are Aries and Saturn; for as this house is the first house, so is Aries the first signe, and Saturn the first of the planets… Mercury doth also joy in this house, because it represents the Head and he the Tongue, Fancy and Memory.” (CA. p.151, bold lettering is mine)

Here is a table which summarizes what traditional Western astrology believed about associations between planets, signs and houses before Alan Leo introduced his misunderstandings into modern astrology a little more than 100 years ago:

 HOUSE Consignifying SIGN Consignifying  PLANET Planetary JOY
1 Aries Saturn Mercury
2 Taurus Jupiter
3 Gemini Mars Moon
4 Cancer Sun
5 Leo Venus Venus
6 Virgo Mercury Mars
7 Libra Moon
8 Scorpio Saturn
9 Sagittarius Jupiter Sun
10 Capricorn Mars
11 Aquarius Sun Jupiter
12 Pisces Venus Saturn

This table assumes that we are using the tropical zodiac which starts with Aries rising.  It also assumes that we can make a correlation between the order of the houses, signs, and planets (in their Chaldean order).  The connection lies in the ordering of signs, houses, and planets.  Thus, for example, Gemini as the 3rd sign of Ptolemy’s zodiac shares in the archetypal principle of “third-ness” with the 3rd astrological house and the 3rd visible planet Mars (in the Chaldean ordering of the planets).  What they all have in common is that the fall in third place in their respective orderings.

With regard to Mars, note that traditionally the red planet was a consignifier of the 3rd and 10th houses and it rejoiced in the 6th.  Traditionally Mars was never a consignifier of the 1st house as Alan Leo and his modern followers falsely claim.  Thus, when you see Mars in a chart you are justified in saying that it has some generic significance for 3rd and 10th house matters.

Unfortunately, this error has become ingrained in the minds of modern astrologers.

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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7 Responses to The Modern Confusion about Astrological Houses

  1. polyphanes says:

    You have my heart for writing this. Having to explain traditional astrological rules when reading someone’s chart, then having to defend them against modern use/misuse of the rules, is never a fun thing.

  2. Franr2 says:

    This is so helpful. I’ve been having the most difficult time disassociating the sign rulers from the houses. Thank you for posting this.

  3. james says:

    tony – i think this is worth focusing on. i have a hard time appreciating the idea that the natural order of the houses and signs overlap like that for this.. once astrology makes a direct connection between houses and signs in this manner, it is not much of a jump to them muddle it further with connections between the signs and the planets. on the other hand, if astrologers were able to understand or keep in mind the daily movement of transiting planets thru the houses in a counter clockwise manner, as opposed to the yearly movement of the same planets transiting in a clockwise manner, it would go a long ways to appreciating what i believe is an important consideration in these 2 corner stones of astrology – houses verses signs.. for me – saying aries is the cosignifying sign for the 1st house just creates more muddle.. when did that start? with lilly, or? – unforunately i have yet to read lilly although i have his 3 ca books.. if someone would put these books out in a more readable font, i am sure i would have read them by now!

    thanks for the post! i love the opportunity to ask pointed questions~!~

  4. James,

    I don’t know how old the idea of consignificators is. Lilly tended to summarize older authors rather than invent new techniques of his own. The idea of Chaldean order of the planets is very old. Morin, a contemporary of Lilly in France, never mentioned consignificators as far as I recall, but Morin saw himself as a scientific reformer of astrology rather than a traditionalist. Maybe someone expert in the history of astrology has an answer.


    • james says:

      thanks tony. i know the chaldean order is indeed quite old.. however i believe it is only one small jump to go from the cosignifying concept to equating mars with the 1st house.. i have difficulty with laying all the blame at alan leo’s feet. part of this is my unhappiness as those who like to create divisions in astrology down -modern verses traditional – line.. the fact is people do or don’t have the resources available to understand the history and how it has unfolded to be able to appreciate why someone says what they have said.. knowing how to translate from the greek, arabic, latin and etc. is indeed a helpful tool if the older astrology books are written in these languages.. fortunately we now have ben dykes to help us to learn more about the history of astrology then was ever possible in alan leo’s time, or perhaps william lilly’s for that matter..

  5. Jay says:

    I don’t know, modern i’ve sseen astrologers dropping “the 12 letter alphabet” in recent years, so that is a generalization.

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