Meanings of the Houses
What are Houses?
Just as the zodiac provides a framework for talking about the positions of the planets against the heavens, the houses of an astrology chart are the framework for talking about positions of bodies relative to the observer here on Earth. This perspective is sometimes known as local space, since the houses are defined in terms of one's personal horizon and compass directions here on the Earth's surface.
This local space all around a person is divided into 12 distinct regions called houses. These are usually represented in an astrology chart as a circle divided into 12 pie-shaped wedges, with planets in the chart placed inside the wedge-shaped houses. These houses are numbered 1 to 12, starting at the 9:00 o'clock position and going counter-clockwise, as shown in the diagram. (In 3 dimensions, the 12 houses look like the sections of an orange that come together to make the entire orange.)
Each house governs a particular area of your life (as described in the profiles below). These meanings are often quite mundane and down to earth, since the local space perspective is about the person's everyday life, not about grand, cosmic themes. Planets that are placed in a house generally express their energies through the affairs of your life described by that house profile. Similarly, when planets move or "transit" through a house, especially the slow moving planets, the affairs of that house seem to take on extra importance.
What is the Ascendent, MidHeaven?
The point of the ecliptic (the circular path of the Sun in the sky that forms the backbone of the zodiac) that intersects the eastern horizon is called the Ascendent. In the diagram, the circle represents the ecliptic and the horizontal line (from 9:00 o'clock to 3:00 o'clock) is the horizon. The ascendent is labelled "Asc". It gets its name because it's the point of the zodiac that is rising ("ascending") above the horizon, just as the Sun rises in the east each morning. The point of the zodiac opposite the Ascendent, where the zodiac meets the western horizon, is the Descendent ("Des").
Similarly, there's a plane that goes north-to-south and straight over your head that is called the Meridian, represented in the diagram by the vertical line (12:00 to 6:00). The point of the zodiac where the ecliptic and the Meridian cross overhead (at 12:00) is called the MidHeaven. This is abbreviated "MH" or sometimes "MC" (from the Latin phrase "medium coeli" or "middle of the heavens"). The opposite point below you (at 6:00) is the IC (Latin for "imum coeli" or "lowest part of the heavens").
These 4 points, collectively called the Angles, are considered some of the most powerful and important points in a person's birthchart, even though they are not planets. They represent the ways you express your energies in your local world, or ways that you experience your local space. Any planets that are close to these angles are strengthened and made more prominent because of this proximity.
The 4 quarters of the circle defined by the angles are called Quadrants and are numbered 1 to 4, starting at the Ascendent and moving counter-clockwise.
What are House Cusps?
In simple terms, the cusps are the boundary lines between houses. Each of the lines from the center out to the circle in the diagram represents a cusp. In practice, however, these cusps are more like "fuzzy boundaries". As you move counter-clockwise from one house to the next, the new house's influence starts to check in about 5 degrees before the actual cusp position. In fact, the cusp itself is often considered to be the strongest point of influence for the house, not the beginning of that influence. The influence of the house gradually tapers off as you approach the next cusp.
As the Earth rotates each day, the entire zodiac appears to rotate over our heads. Hence, the zodiac points that correspond to each of the 12 house cusps move completely around the zodiac every 23 hours and 56 minutes. On average, a house cusp changes zodiac signs every 2 hours, which is why accurate birth times are necessary to set up a birthchart. The zodiac position (degree-sign-minute) of each house cusp in a chart is usually printed just outside the circle, next to the cusp line.
What is a "House System"?
A house system is a particular geometrical scheme for calculating the 12 house cusps, based on the place (latitude and longitude on the Earth's surface) and time of the chart. These rules for calculation are often complex and need not concern us further, since your favorite astrology program on your computer handles all the details for you.
Unfortunately, the subject of house systems is one area where astrology suffers from its bounty. There are literally dozens of systems available (giving slightly different house cusp positions). The most popular systems are called the Placidus and Koch systems (each has a large following of rabid fans), though every astrologer seems to have his/her favorite. Because of the "fuzzy" nature of the cusps, it's probably impossible to say with certainty which is the one true house system for any particular application.
Most systems (though not all) agree that the Ascendent is the 1st house cusp and the MidHeaven is the 10th cusp. All of these systems give the same zodiac position for the angles and hence the cusps of houses 1, 4, 7 and 10. It's just the intermediate house cusps (2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12) where they disagree. Generally, this is not a problem, unless a planet is in one house under one system, but in a different house under another system. In such a case, you need to rely on your intuition and judgment to decide which house the planet is "really" in.
Another problem with every house system that I know of is their tendency to "break down" for some locations on the Earth, especially near the North or South Poles. This is simply a geometrical problem -- all coordinate systems on a sphere (like the Earth) break down somewhere. This is normally not an issue (I haven't done any birthcharts for people born above the Arctic Circle in my 30 years as an astrologer), but watch out for bogus results in the calculations for extreme latitudes. Generally speaking, you can wind up with charts where some houses are very big and others very tiny -- sometimes unreasonably so. If you go too far north or south, you may not even be able to define the cusps at all. Heck, at the North Pole, you can't even define north, south, east and west -- all directions are "south" at the pole!
In short, the whole idea of houses is beautiful in theory, but quite messy in practice and often mired in controversy. Don't sweat the details.
Why are the Houses such different sizes?
If you look at a typical astrology chart and figure out the sizes of each house (as measured by how many degrees along the zodiac it stretches), you'll find there are big houses and small ones (unless you're using an off-brand house system such as the Equal House System). For any "reasonable" system, unequal sized houses are normal. It boils down to the issue that the MidHeaven and the Ascendent are hardly ever exactly 90 degrees apart. For instance, here in Minneapolis (latitude 44N59), the distance between the MH and Asc can vary from 78 to 112 degrees throughout the day; farther north, the discrepency is even larger. With the Angles bent out of shape like this, it's impossible to get equal 30 degree houses.
The reasons for this discrepency are strictly geometrical, again. They are the same reasons why the days of summer are so much longer than winter days -- the Sun has a farther distance to travel from the horizon to the its high point in the sky in the summer. This is because the ecliptic is tilted 23-1/2 degrees from the equator and because of peculiarities of the geometry of a sphere. Generally speaking, houses tend to approach 30 degrees near the equator, but become really distorted as you move towards the poles. The exact details are unimportant, however.
When you're dividing up the 4 quadrants defined by the Angles into the 12 houses (in effect, dividing each quadrant into 3 parts), the details of the particular house system you're using also come into play. Some systems seem to make the inequality of house sizes even worse.
In general, unequal house sizes are simply a fact of life on planet Earth.
What is an Intercepted Sign?
Occasionally with a big house, it's large enough to completely swallow up an entire zodiac sign. Such a sign is called an Intercepted Sign. For instance, in my chart, the 5th house cusp is at 25Le51 and the 6th cusp is 1Li54 (using Koch houses). The sign of Virgo (which is between Leo and Libra) is totally contained inside the 5th house. The opposite sign of Pisces is also intercepted.
An intercepted sign and any planets in that sign represent a kind of hidden or repressed energy, since that energy doesn't have a direct path through a house cusp in order to express itself. These intercepted influences can be hard to express, may develop later in life (as part of your psychological growth process), or may be a "behind the scenes" factor in your behavior. Needless to say, it's probably something you need to work on throughout your life.
What is the "Ruler" of a House?
Pick a house, any house. Look at the zodiac sign for its house cusp. Each zodiac sign has a ruling planet. This ruling planet for the sign on the cusp is known as the ruler of that house. The ruler of a house (which may be in another part of the birthchart entirely) exerts a powerful influence on the affairs of that house. In situations where no planets are in a house, the condition of the ruler may be the only clue as to how these areas of life work.
Element: Fire / Mode: Angular / Quadrant: 1
Your basic personality or energy that is projected into the world (especially the ascendent itself); your characteristic manner of self-expression; how you present yourself to the world as a separate and unique individual.
Habits, mannerisms, characteristic quirks; instinctive behavior, your unthinking, habitual mode of acting; self-image; your public "persona" (or "mask") that you present to others; the physical body, the impression your appearance makes on others; drive, (physical) vitality, health.
Element: Earth / Mode: Succedent / Quadrant: 1
The things and resources you bring into your life to support your existence here; how you value things, the ego attachments you make with them, attitudes toward wealth and abundance.
Money, possessions; things that make life easier, more pleasant, productive, or abundant; the manner in which you use resources, lines of work that bring income (along with houses 6 and 10).
Element: Air / Mode: Cadent / Quadrant: 1
Habitual interactions with immediate, everyday surroundings; workings of the mind in a habitual mode, the Lower Mind; your skills for dealing with day-to-day living.
Communication, use of language; social skills, education, learning; short journeys, moving about in your immediate environment; neighborhood (where you feel at home); brothers, sisters, family (except parents), neighbors.
Element: Water / Mode: Angular / Quadrant: 2
Roots, family, home; the "ground" that supports and nurtures you in the world; the deep or collective unconscious; sense of belonging, support; a place to retreat to for renewal.
Private, personal life; home (both childhood and adult); your family, genetic and emotional background, support from the family; your deepest emotional patterns (from childhood upbringing); ancestors, your native land, tradition, the past; real estate; both the beginning and ending of life; the nurturing parent; urgings from the unconscious, the "still small voice within" of the soul; instincts, archetypes (the heritage of our species); Mother Earth.
Element: Fire / Mode: Succedent / Quadrant: 2
Play, self-expression, things done "just because of who I am"; creative or artistic expression; love affairs as an expression of self.
Activities carried out for their own sake, as a creative outpouring of your inner nature; children; art; gambling, speculation, investment; amusements; love affairs, sexuality, especially expressing yourself through the role of Lover.
Element: Earth / Mode: Cadent / Quadrant: 2
Activities carried out for some other purpose or to benefit someone else; service, helping; dealing with "mundane details" of living, adjustments to physical reality, health issues; self-sacrifice.
Health, illness, nutrition, exercise; taking care of yourself (body and mind) so you're a "fit vehicle" for doing your real work; service or work done for someone else, work others do for you; sickness as a symptom that you aren't adjusting to life skillfully, need to change; employees, servants; "house of slavery"; defered self gratification; small animals.
Element: Air / Mode: Angular / Quadrant: 3
Relationship, partnership, living with the Other; understanding the rejected, disowned parts of yourself through projection on others; others as a "mirror" for yourself; experience of self within relationships.
Close one-to-one partnerships; marriage or business partners; counselors and therapists (people who "mirror" you, help your self-awareness); open enemies, conflicts, lawsuits; your Shadow side, the parts of our personality that you deny or ignore.
Element: Water / Mode: Succedent / Quadrant: 3
Self-transformation, renewal, breaking ties to the past; overcoming old limitations; resources and support from partners; the transformative effect of relationships.
Death, inheritances; challenges to your personal status quo, especially due to partners; letting go of possessions and resources that no longer suit you; ego-death, illumination, rebirth; sexuality, especially the momentary ego-death of orgasm; deeply emotional house, dealing with one's strongest feelings of who you are (which are limitations to overcome!).
Element: Fire / Mode: Cadent / Quadrant: 3
Higher Mind, consciousness expansion, learning, wisdom and insight; new experiences that cause you to change your limited viewpoint; journeys to new realities.
Religion, philosophy, higher education; longer journeys that take you out of your everyday reality; the law, the social contract that puts you in contact with others; peak experiences, inspiration; personal insight, new awareness of the workings of your own psyche; fully conscious, non-habitual workings of the mind; spiritual disciplines; reaching out to new experiences.
Element: Earth / Mode: Angular / Quadrant: 4
Making your niche in the world-at-large; achievement, reward, prestige for your labors; issues of authority; your public self.
The disciplining, socializing parent; authority figures, bosses, government heads; honor, social status, recognition; career, profession, "what you do"; reaping the benefits of hard work, the fruition of plans; integrating yourself into society at large; transcending your boundaries by becoming part of a larger whole; the experience of "fathering".
Element: Air / Mode: Succedent / Quadrant: 4
The fellowship of like-minded people, friends and groups that share your values and ideals; banding together with others to achieve your collective goals; group identity.
Hopes, ideals, wishes; groups or organizations; relationships with groups (as opposed to one-to-one relationships in the 7th house); your roots and attachments to the social world; friendships; experiencing the role of the Beloved, being the object of another's love.
Element: Water / Mode: Cadent / Quadrant: 4
Testing of new energies or skills; dealing with the setbacks related to new directions or abilities; the personal unconscious, repressions, disowned or denied parts of the psyche; realizing limitations or transcending them.
The first outer expression of immature or untried abilities, which may be successful or lead to defeat; repression of parts of the self that led to failure, denial due to shame or fear; having to relive these old wounds, overcome old limitations, usually in projected form or via "selfless" (i.e., ego-denying, since the ego denied the original energy) activities; self denial, altruistic service, sacrifice; hospitals, prisons, asylums; old karma that limits the present life; shameful secrets; secret, covert enemies, circumstances leading to your "undoing"; illness (mental or physical); being cut off from the world, "a monk's life"; on the positive side, when the original energy is not met with defeat, it can become an important strength; old limitations can be transcended and become your greatest strengths.
Source BioPsciences Institute