Sooner or later, every true cosmic student ditches the basic big three and goes deep, worshiping the curves and collisions of the astrology chart. Once you know your ascendant, planets and aspect patterns, you’ll start to get a sense for the look and feel of your chart. How does everything fall into place? Astrologers arrange charts through houses, which act as symbolic chapters of the epic, or rungs on the ladder of consciousness. But which layout of houses works for you? We break down houses, house systems, and how to find your starlit symmetry, below.
What are houses in astrology?
An astrology chart functions like a compass, or a clock, frozen at the moment you were born. The clock is broken into twelve numbers, or hours, each functioning as a lens of perspective, or a step in the hero’s journey. Based on which houses host which planet, we can glean endless knowledge about your path in this lifetime. Because you share your birthday with many people, you won’t really be able to get personal specifics until you understand your house arrangement.
Say you were born with Jupiter in Libra, like most of your classmates. There’s plenty there to work with. But once we know that you, personally, have Jupiter at 15 degrees Libra, in your tenth house of career and public glory, we’re really cooking with gas (and it looks like you should start practicing your Oscar acceptance speech now).
How are houses arranged?
The chart begins and ends at the eastern horizon, the dawn point. Once you have your birth time, you’ll know your ascendant — the sign that was rising over the eastern horizon when you landed here. The chart is governed by the four angles of the sun’s daily revolution, and the surrounding houses will have some thematic resonance to the angles around it. No matter which house system you use, these lines remain the same.
The ascendant: Dawn. Completing the 12th house and rebirthing the chart anew at the first house. Intrinsic selfhood and the launching of one’s individual mission.
Midheaven: Noon. At the top of the chart, representing the peak of one’s public life and career ambitions. Look for this line around the 10th house of career and 11th house of community and audience.
Descendant: Dusk. It’s time for happy hour. We head to the seventh house of relationships and others to engage our social directives.
Imum Coeli: Midnight. Around the fourth house of home, roots and foundations, we tuck ourselves in with our family.
Before you try to master all twelve houses, get a lock on the four angles of your chart, what’s going on around them, and how they may get activated by current transits.
Why are there different kinds of house systems?
Oy. Because we construct charts based on the earth’s rotation around the sun, we’re not dealing with a perfectly ordered system. Based on the season and part of the world you were born in, days may be longer or shorter, as the earth continues its uneven, wobbly orbit. Different house systems break this into different visual languages. In one, you may find your Mars in the fourth house of home, while in another, it lands in the fifth house of creative expression. That can make for a vastly different interpretation.
Most astrology calculators, like astro-seek, offer a wide variety of house systems. As you experiment with different systems, remember: the fundamental rules still apply. As with any art of self-understanding, you’ll have to break from ideas of true or false, and hone in on what feels intuitively right. Your chart is your own. Which arrangement feels most like you?
Whole sign houses
This system has been around since Ancient Greece, and adheres to that culture’s love of all things harmonious and orderly. Every house is exactly thirty degrees, and will entirely contain its corresponding sign.
This form of chart arrangement dominates Indian astrology, and is of great use to astrologers when writing horoscopes. It’s excellent for getting a clear framework for looking at your chart. If you are an Aquarius rising, then you have Aquarius as your first house, Pisces is your second house, and so on. This keeps things simple and (supportively) formulaic. If you’re chatting with friends about current transits, you can more or less imagine their chart makeups in your head through a whole sign point of view. It’s the best place to start.
Equal Sign Houses
A similarly-ordered system to whole sign houses. But in an equal sign system, the chart begins at the degree of the ascendant, and not its sign. For instance, if you were born at 23 degrees Leo rising, your chart will begin at that 23-degree point, not at 0 in Leo. This system allows for the same general cleanliness of Whole Signs, while bringing in more variation.
Likely originated in the second century AD, then cultivated during the Renaissance, this system allows for more messiness. In this format, house sizes are determined geocentrically (based on our POV of the heavens, from here on earth); marking each house based on two-hour intervals. Some houses will be larger than others, and signs can spill into multiple houses. If you were born Virgo rising, the sign of the Virgin may occupy parts of the 12th and first houses, thus affecting the placement of the planets therein.
Placidus is said to be the most popular form of astrology on the planet. Because the ascription of signs to houses isn’t necessarily assumed, every planetary placement feels a bit more bespoke. Though cusps aren’t a thing when it comes to signs, they do become relevant in the layout of houses. The whole sign system may feel like a good way to understand the basics; Placidus can really give you specifics.
More house systems
Koch, Campanus, Regiomantus, we could go on. Give yourself a chance to play around, but don’t get bogged down in the equatorial calculations or degree breakdowns. Pay attention to how this set-up feels. Like arranging furniture in your bedroom, it’s less often about logic and more about getting a lock on you.