Think you know your chart? You may have your planets — from the sun to Pluto — down. You keep a long-running list of your ex-lovers’ signs. You know all about the retrogrades under which you were born. But how well do you know the houses in your chart?
You can think of your birth chart as a night out to dinner: if the signs are the table setting, and the planets are the food, then the houses are the dishes on which they’re served. Ideally, the bread basket will arrive several courses before the tiramisu, and all on separate plating, or else it’s a big mess. Houses, similarly, mark the progression and evolution of your chart. Without them, there’s no order to your cosmic development. If you want to progress from amateur to master, or just get a real handle of what’s going on in your chart, you’ll have to understand the basics of all twelve houses. Follow our guide below, and you’ll be on your way to a higher level of chart proficiency.
WHAT ARE HOUSES?
Here are the players in an astrology chart: the signs, planets and asteroids, and the houses. Because many people share your birthday, they’ll also share your same sign and planetary placements. But what about your specific cosmic-karmic assignment? Enter the houses, which act as twelve lenses of consciousness, each with a different theme. An astrology chart functions as a cyclical epic; a vedda or hero’s journey of personal development, beginning and ending and beginning again at the ascendant, or rising sign. Once we can see where the signs and planets fall, in which houses, we’re really cooking with gas.
Say you were born with Venus in Cancer. Sure, we can probably spin some assumptions about your propensity for romantic despair and self-sacrifice. But once we can look at your chart and see Venus in Cancer in your eleventh house of community and audience, we can meet your Venus in her domain — as a tribal mother, elder, and great connector. By valuing houses, you’ll be able to read your chart as a beautiful geometrical story, and ditch the dull tables and grids of apps. You can calculate your chart at sites like Astro-seek, and determine which house system fits you with our House Systems guide.
HOW TO READ HOUSES
This may sound heretical or counterintuitive, but when you’re looking at your chart, begin training yourself to slightly…disregard signs. The first question you want to ask is: where is everybody? Do you have a cluster of planets, better known as a stellium, in a specific house? Which one? Check out the major planetary feuds and alliances — known as aspect patterns — and consider where they go down. Is your moon-Neptune opposition hitting between your first and seventh houses (self and others), leading you into rabbit holes of romantic delusion, or does it bind your third and ninth houses (daily life, travel and spirituality), making you a bit of a wandering dreamer?
Once you’ve assembled context via location, you can add flavor through the signs. We understand the what and where of the planetary interactions; now we can glean the subtleties and characteristics by seeing which signs are involved. But without first situating the planets in the houses, you’ll have less than half of the story.
Some other essentials to keep in mind: the first six houses form the bottom half of the chart, and deal largely with the self. Houses seven through twelve, meanwhile, represent the relational and public interface. The four angles of your chart (ascendant, IC, descendant, MC, as explained in our House Systems guide) act as the key compass points of your chart. Get to know whichever houses host them, as these will be some of the major metamorphic arenas of your chart.
The houses correspond to the original order of the zodiac. Consider the fundamentals of the signs to get to know the houses, before the more interesting correspondences develop. If Aries owns the first house, what can you make of a Libra rising’s chart, in which every sign is in its opposite domain? The possibilities are endless. Speaking of oppositions, you should always consider opposing houses as two sides of a coin. Don’t view any single houses as an island — all are in sequence and dialogue, ready to be further unpacked.
If you have houses with no planets, that doesn’t mean that you were born with some sort of cosmic deficit. Consider that throughout the year, planets move through all the houses. There’s always action going down. Even if your fifth house Libra has no natal occupants, what could the current presence of Mars spell out for you? If you have an empty house, look to where its planetary ruler is. Maybe your 12th house Cancer is vacant, but Cancer’s ruler, the moon, is in your second house Virgo. What is the connection between those signs? What other planets does your moon interact with? There’s always plenty of context to work with.
Houses, like signs, carry long histories and endlessly fascinating interpretations. But the fundamental rules are set. These aren’t supposed to further confuse you, but give you a lock on the essential ingredients. Start with the basics, and let the deeper meanings come in time.
THE FIRST HOUSE
The chart launches at the ascendant, or rising sign, and then it’s off to the races. The first house represents the primal hatching of the egg, the intrinsic self ready to face the world. Any planets in the first house will be embodied and projected in your immediate character. If you’re born with Jupiter in the first, there’s a gregarious and possibly-precarious lust for life at play. With Saturn here, you may have taken on a role of adult responsibility at too young an age — or forged for yourself a rebel-punk identity to spite your parents. Get to know this as the house of the core you. Without the first, there can be no self-discovery or cultivation, no declaration of who you are and what you’re here to do.
THE SECOND HOUSE
This is what I own, which makes me me. In the sandbox or playpen, toddlers claim toys as their own. By stating what we have, we can define who we are. The second house corresponds to Taurus, and deals with finances and possessions. What we possess, of course, extends far beyond funds: consider your values, your beliefs, and certainly the clothes which fill your closet to be key elements of this domain. Here is where you awaken, recover, and fully realize your self-worth.
THE THIRD HOUSE
What is the first thing you do in the morning? Which radio station did your mom play while she drove carpool? Who do you text with, all day, every day? The third house comprises our daily culture, routine, and rituals. Think of this as your localized field of influence. Work here calls you to examine the micro, and imbue your day-to-day with intention and care. This is where the seeds of development are planted, even in the most minute interaction. If you’re looking to unblock yourself, don’t think big, but instead start here — with the practices and exchanges that comprise a life.
THE FOURTH HOUSE
Here we deal with tricky themes of home, roots, family, and psychological foundations. This house does deal with your literal childhood home and present accommodations, and can provide plenty of data about real estate and moving. But the fourth also reveals the core tenets of your familial conditioning, and how any distortions therein shape your perception of reality. This is the base of your chart, and will square and oppose your first house (self), seventh house (relationships), and tenth house (career). Deal with your ancient mommy and daddy wounds, so that their shadows don’t haunt the most important angles of your chart.
THE FIFTH HOUSE
Ruled by Leo, the fifth house is the domain of creation and experience, dealing with all gifts and pleasures which move through us. What do you create? Children? Short stories? Bad tattoo illustrations? Insane yacht parties? This is where your talents are realized, pleasures are cultivated, and gifts unleashed upon the world. Athletic engagement, romance, artistic expression, parenting — all of these (should) make us feel alive and embodied. What is your talent, and how do you bring it to life?
THE SIXTH HOUSE
In the fifth house, you realized your gifts. Here’s where you come to negotiate their worth, and protect what you’ve got. This is the final domain of the personal half of the chart, where we set the terms for engagement with the public role. The sixth house can be thought of as the arena of the body and boundaries. How many hours do you put in at your job, and for what kind of compensation? What do you put your body through on a daily basis, and how is it supported and sustained? The sixth house opposes the twelfth house of mental health and unprocessed history; nearly any “sudden” or “strange” physical malady you experience will have a likely explanation on this axis.
THE SEVENTH HOUSE
Libra’s domain corresponds to the descendant, the marker of our debut into public life. The seventh is the house of others, which can include: lovers, friends, collaborators, and nemeses. Here, we consider how your first house self is projected and received by the people in your life. Any blocks on your way to public visibility and relational harmony must be faced here.
THE EIGHTH HOUSE
As we enter into relationships, we cast away our old identities. When you get married, you’re no longer an individual, but part of a unit. When you become a parent, you’re no longer the child, but the head of a new household. The eighth is the house of metamorphosis, in which old identities are surrendered in the face of familial and financial changes. When a parent dies, what do they leave us — metaphorically and literally? This is where the more psychedelic experiences of the chart go down, and is thought of as the domain of the underworld guide. By crossing through the eighth house, you’ll have successfully left behind your old dead self, and announced yourself ready to meet your higher destiny.
THE NINTH HOUSE
We’re now approaching the peak of the chart, and the heat is on. This is the realm of expanding horizons, higher knowledge and education, and, quite simply, God. The ninth house leads you on worldwide voyages and spiritual quests inward, blasting open your consciousness and understanding. The ninth is also where we encounter gatekeepers, guides, guilds, and any person or institution which can equip us with the knowledge necessary to launch forward and far beyond. This is the realm of seeking; make sure it’s wide open, so that you don’t stay stuck in your old provincial worldview.
THE 10TH HOUSE
Governance, public glory, career, and grand ambitions all come to fruition here. We considered your earnings in the second house and your labor output in the sixth. Now we’re really looking at the big picture value of what you do. Remember that the tenth opposes the fourth house of family and roots, which means that if you’re using your so-called success to overcompensate for lonely and loveless Christmas mornings…good luck! Your chart had you read before you could even read. Bring your home life and public standing into harmony, then you can enjoy the spoils.
THE 11TH HOUSE
In the fifth house, we cultivated our talents and gifts. Here, we examine their legacy and service to the world. This is the house of audiences, communities, and tribes. Who are your people? What are the values which connect you? Who is receiving your work? This is the domain of true belonging, where your individual contributions function as stars in a larger constellation. Any blocks to finding your true people — guilt to long-dead friendships, fear of exposure, lack of creative ethos — will be dealt with here, so that you can get to work and serve your higher purpose.
THE 12TH HOUSE
Before the saga of the chart begins anew, we come here for synthesis, closure, and release. This is the house of mental health and the personal underworld. It is known to be the domain of hospitals, asylums, darkrooms, and studios — anywhere we go to heal and deal, and hopefully create something new out of what’s come before. Any repressed or forgotten traumas will be waiting to be dredged up, along with long-lost treasures, gifts, and talents. This is the site of the subtle body, and our connection to our intuitive faculties, with a direct link to our sixth house of physical health. Don’t disregard what’s bubbling up from the shadows.