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Meaning of Angular, Succeedent, Cadent
Wheels & Signs: Theories on House Meanings

The Houses: Temples of the Sky, by Deborah Houlding
The Houses: Temples of the Sky

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Part 2: The difficulties of ecliptic-based space division

The relevant issue is that houses, as an astrological technique, most certainly evolved from a separate foundation to that of the zodiac and thus demonstrate a different perspective of the heavens. The purpose of the zodiac is to map the secondary motion of a planet as it revolves in its superior orbit around the Earth, but the houses map the primary motion of a planet's daily journey through our skies. Their relationship with the observer is altogether more personal and direct, and through them the affect of a planet in the zodiac is grounded to reveal its specific influence upon any locality.

The difficulties of finding a suitable house system that will work well in all locations are the legacy of our decision to make the zodiac - and hence the ecliptic - the central crux of the horoscopic scheme; an underpinning principle which was firmly established by the classical period and is now so deeply embedded into the core of our art that any perspective but this appears irreconcilable. ([3] ) To understand why the difficulties arise, it is necessary to visualize the variability between the true cardinal directions and those represented by the ascendant and descendant.

As the Earth rotates on its axis from west to east, it appears from our apparently stationary viewpoint that the stars rise in the east, culminate on the upper meridian and set in the west. For an observer in the northern hemisphere the easiest way to observe the planets in the zodiacal belt is to stand facing south - one would then see the stars rising in the east on the left, culminating in the south ahead and setting in the west on the right: this is the perspective that is represented on an astrological chart.

Since the Earth is a globe, an observer from any locality will always be at the center of their own bowl of heaven, but in astrology the midheaven does not represent the point immediately overhead (our local zenith), but the point at which that meridian intersects with the ecliptic (see diagram above). The more northerly the latitude, the further down on the horizon it is likely to be. It will, however, always culminate due south, where the planets reach their highest declination before retiring towards the descendant. ([4] ) With the MC and IC then, there is true alignment between the astrological angles and the cardinal directions south and north, which is not usually the case with the ascendant and the east, or the descendant and the west.

Because of the tilt between the Earth's equator and the ecliptic, the ascendant will only align with cardinal east at two moments during the day - namely when 0 Aries or 0 Libra, the points of intersection between the equator and ecliptic, are rising. At such times the midheaven will be close to a 90 angle to the ascendant for all locations, but when other parts of the ecliptic ascend there is a discrepancy from due east, the ascendant being most northerly when 0 Cancer rises and most southerly with 0 Capricorn. Thus, 90 as measured along the ecliptic does not necessarily reflect 90 in geometrical measurement and there is a distorted angle between the ascendant and midheaven which becomes increasingly difficult to resolve with latitude. In the district of Alexandria (31N) the variation is small and causes no real problems, but in high latitudes it becomes impossible for certain parts of the zodiac to rise at all. Of the signs that do rise, some linger on the ascendant for many hours while others speed by in a matter of minutes.

In the Arctic and Antarctic regions, the inherent problems can be illustrated through the phenomenon of the midnight Sun, which prevents any division of the chart into diurnal and nocturnal hemispheres. And though it may be an extreme example, how does one reconcile the fact that at the north pole, 0 Aries can rise on the ascendant and be on the midheaven simultaneously? Obviously, at these localities, the theory of ecliptic-based methods of house division become impractical in working astrology.

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Notes & References:
  3 ] Some very credible research into the 'Local Space' chart, based upon the altitude and azimuth as a geographically based astrological tool has proved very effective however, suggesting a modern approach which probably has close connections to ancient Mesopotamian methods. For further details see Astro-Physical Directions, by Michael Erlewine, Ann Arbor, 1977; Local Space: A Guide to What it is and How to Use it by Martin David, Astro*Centre Publications 1989, or the introductory article 'The Local Space Chart' by Sean Lovatt, published in the Quarterly of the Astrological Lodge of London, Vol 62, no.4, 1992.
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  4 ] The reverse is true in the southern hemisphere where the planets culminate due north. This rule holds true for all locations outside of the tropics.
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© Deborah Houlding

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Extracted from
The Houses: Temples of the Sky
by Deborah Houlding
print version
Introduction Ecliptic division Morinus Campanus Regiomontanus Placidus Alcabitius/Koch Porphyry Equal/Wholesign Ptolemy's slant Classical system Conclusion

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