Masha’allah’s Simultaneous Use of Whole Sign & Porphyry Houses

There has been much debate in recent years about the use of quadrant houses in Hellenistic times. The 8th-century Persian Jewish astrologer Masha’allah ibn Athari (740 – 815) was well versed in the writings of Dorotheus of Sidon, a 1st-century Hellenistic astrologer, and so we can look to his work to see how the Hellenistic tradition was understood and used by Persian astrologers in the 8th century. Fortunately, Masha’allah’s texts have been preserved and translated into English.


In 1971 Kennedy and Pingree published a scholarly translation of Masha’allah’s work on mundane astrology “On Conjunctions, Religions and People” in which the 8th-century astrologer presented a series of charts of Jupiter/Saturn conjunctions and Aries ingresses, with explanations of how they correlated with major world events.

What becomes clear in reading the text and reconstructing the charts in the book is that Masha’allah used both Whole Sign and Porphyry houses. Not being astrologers, Kennedy and Pingree made a mistake in stating the following: “There are two methods of reckoning the twelve places or δώδεκα τόπος. The simplest way (‘by counting’) merely counts each sign as a place; the other (‘by division’) uses equal arcs of 30 degrees along the ecliptic measured from the ascendant degree …” (The Astrological History of Masha’allah, Harvard University Press, 1971, p. 92). This statement is incorrect. If you study the charts in the text, it is clear that the method of assigning places by division is in realty the method ascribed to Porphyry in which the MC is the cusp of the 10th place and the intermediate cusps are found by dividing the angles between the horizon and meridian into equal thirds.

In other words, Masha’allah used two systems of house division simultaneously:

  1. By counting: the equivalent of Whole Sign houses in which the entire sign containing the Ascendant (horoskopos) is considered the 1st house, the next whole sign is the 2nd house, and so on around the wheel. The Midheaven (upper meridian) may appear in the 9th, 10th, or 11th house of this system.
  2. By division: (this is not the system of Equal Houses from the Ascendant, as Kennedy and Pringree mistakenly suggest).  Houses by division is the Porphyry method of assigning the degree rising (horoskopos) as the cusp of the 1st house and the degree of the Midheaven as the cusp of the 10th house. The number of degrees along the ecliptic between the Asc and the MC is divided by three to determine the size of the intermediate houses.

Here is an example. The first horoscope in the book is for the date February 11th at about the latitude of Baghdad. According the Masha’allah this chart has 19 Sagittarius rising, and has Mars Rx at 27 Libra and Jupiter Rx at 12 Libra, both planets lying in the 11th place by counting (Whole Signs) but in the 10th place by division (Porphyry). Because Libra is the 11th sign from Sagittarius, Mars and Jupiter are in the 11th place by counting as measured from Sagittarius, which is the 1st place.

If we were to use Equal Houses, as Kennedy and Pingree suggest, the the cusp of the 10th would fall at 19 Virgo (10 signs or 30-degree segments from 19 Sagittarius). Then the 10th place would go from 19 Virgo to 19 Libra, locating Jupiter in the 10th and Mars in the 11th. Clearly Kennedy and Pingree got it wrong for this and the other charts in the book. In fact, Masha’allah was using Porphyry houses in which the MC at 4 Libra begins the 10th place and the cusp of the 11th lies at 29 Libra, encompassing both Mars and Jupiter, as Masha’allah tells us in his text. This comparison of Equal and Porphyry house division for the date of February 11th illustrates this point.


Here is a list of the values Masha’allah used in the original of this chart (p. 41 of the Kennedy & Pingree text) for the “World-Year of the Shift [of the Jupiter/Saturn conjunction], being the conjunction indicating the Deluge [Noah’s ark deluge].  The original chart is allegedly cast for February of 3380 BCE when the great Jupiter/Saturn conjunction shifted from the Air triplicity into the Water triplicity in the water sign of Scorpio, with Saturn Rx in the disastrous 12th house, marking the onset of the epoch of the Great Deluge:

  • Horoskopos at 19 Sagittarius
  • IC at 7 Aries 47 (I got about 5 Aries, setting the chart for Baghdad)
  • Venus at 26 Pisces 16
  • Mercury at 3 Pisces 24
  • Sun at 0 Aries 01 (a vernal equinox chart)
  • Moon at 23 Taurus 13
  • North Node at 8 Cancer
  • Jupiter at 12 Libra 39 Rx
  • Mars at 27 Libra 17 Rx
  • Saturn at 1 Scorpio 56 Rx

Presumably, Masha’allah was using houses by counting (Whole Sign) to determine the topics which the houses and their planetary rulers and occupants signified, and the houses by division (Porphyry’s method of dividing semi-arcs into thirds) to judge the strength and business (or weakness and inactivity) of the planets. I need to study his discussion of the various charts to be sure. Interestingly, the 17th century French astrologer Morinus also used both Whole Sign and Regiomontanus houses to judge his charts; he regarded the Regiomontanus system as the true or “formal” method of house division and the Whole Sign house system by counting from the Ascendant as providing “accidental” houses — most likely an analogy to essential and accidental dignities.

A take-home lesson from Masha’allah for modern astrologers is that instead of wasting our time debating which is the single best system of houses, we should be learning how to use both Whole Sign and quadrant houses simultaneously, as did the great Persian astrologers of the Middle Ages.

Addendum (2 Sep 2018):  Astrologer Alan Annand made an interesting comment about this post on Facebook and gave permission for me to reproduce it here:

Among well-trained Jyotishi (Vedic astrologers), it is common practice to use both the whole sign house system for general analysis, and the Sripati house system (identical with Porphyry) for more specific analysis.
In applying the latter, attention also shifts from sign lords to sign and nakshatra lords, thus allowing another level of specificity different from western systems.”

All original material in this blog is copyright Anthony Louis 2018.

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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6 Responses to Masha’allah’s Simultaneous Use of Whole Sign & Porphyry Houses

  1. James says:

    I have been working with both WSH and Alchabitius Semi-Arc for a decade now. I work with a single chart in which I can easily see both systems.

    • James,
      Thanks for the comment. How has the combination been working for you in practice?

      • James says:

        Where this way of working comes in handy in the type of astrological work I do, is by using predictive tools: profections and solar returns. For example I study the Solar Return chart by division and by counting. So say if one planet would be in the 11th by division and the 12th by counting I would advise a client seeking information on a possible deal with a friend that there could be a possible ‘threat of disloyal actions by a friend, who is really a hypocritical secret enemy’. Of course I would also need to confirm that info by studying carefully L11. As for profections both charts give me useful information. A Lord of the Year in the 1st WSH might find itself in the 12th by division: so my interpretation of the LOY would account for both positions.

  2. Pingback: Using Two House Systems – Student of Astrology

  3. paulo says:

    But Valems says in book 9 that Mc in 9th has double job referring to religion and action and honors at same time.So it wasnt simply for strenght but for topics as well

    • Paulo,
      Thanks for your comment. You make a good point. It is clear that Valens uses both Whole Signs as houses (“by counting”) and what appear to be quadrant houses (“by division”). The example you cite has the MC in the 9th quadrant house but symbolizing 10th house matters at the same time. Kennedy and Pingree in their 1971 text on Masha’allah note that he uses both types of houses as well, a technique which he probably learned from the early Hellenistic texts at his disposal. Sometimes one hears the argument that Valens must have used only whole signs as houses because he most often cites only the Asc and not the MC degree when giving chart data. This argument has always struck me as dubious (as I have commented elsewhere) because any Hellenistic astrologer worth his salt, knowing the degree of the Asc and the longitude of the Sun at a given birthplace, could easy calculate the MC or simply recall it from memory, having calculated many charts. Thus, the omission noting the MC degree does not mean that whole signs were being used as houses.
      I’ve read Valens and studied many of his charts but not in the depth I’d like to. My impression is that Valens used whole signs to derive symbolic meanings from the chart but relied on quadrant houses for more precise predictive work. It seems that reliance on quadrant houses for mathematic precision in predictions continued to grow and became dominant when astrologer reached Europe and expanded in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It’s hard to imagine doing horary astrology without quadrant houses.

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