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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

Ptolemy featured in a medieval woodcut Ptolemy featured in a
medieval woodcut

 learn more about Ptolemy

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Part 5: Ptolemy's Stance

The use of houses in classical times is worthy of study, but bear in mind that classical astrology entailed a perspective and methodology of its own. Ptolemy, in particular, exhibits a general resistance to techniques infused with symbolic mysticism; where they are used, he attempts to explain their potency through what he considers to be a more 'logical' approach, such as drawing an association with the aspects and planetary humours. Whereas Manilius, 'the poet', endeavours to express the wonder and mystery of the heavens in majestic phases of poetic verse, Ptolemy 'the scientist' seeks to rationalise astrology and reduce it to first principles by sweeping away any elements that appear to be based on a mysticism older than that of the classical world -

"as for the nonsense on which many waste their labour and of which not even a plausible account can be given, this we shall dismiss in favour of the primary natural causes; we shall investigate, not by means of lots and numbers of which no reasonable explanation can be given, but merely through the science of the aspects of the stars to the places with which they have familiarity" ([12] )

- That aspects are themselves derived from symbolic numerological principles seems to Ptolemy, beside the point.

'Places of familiarity' are the signs of the zodiac or angles in the chart which reinforce a planet's natural disposition. The Sun, for example, has a natural affinity with the signs that are hot and dry, or the areas of the chart that are masculine and diurnal. Since the Sun rises in the east, it attributes to that cardinal the qualities of being masculine, dry, solar and diurnal. Conversely, the west is feminine, moist, lunar and nocturnal; "for it is always in the west that the Moon emerges and makes its appearance after conjunction". ([13] ) The alignment of planets with areas of natural affinity was the kingpin around which Ptolemy's astrology revolved, and establishing whether a planet was in a place of familiarity was not determined through the use of houses, as witnessed in the planetary joys of Manilius, ([14] ) but through association with other planets, places and stars which share common 'humoral' qualities of hot, cold, dry and moist.

Although the houses are not entirely ignored in the Tetrabiblos, there is so little reference to them that the subject appears to be deliberately avoided. In his first book, Ptolemy sets out the general principles of astrology, explaining the power and nature of the planets, aspects, fixed stars, signs of the zodiac, rulership of the signs, triplicities, exaltations, terms and faces. Though he offers some explanation of the four angles related to the seasons, in this vital introduction he fails to give a single reference to the use of the houses. He does, however, place strong emphasis on relationships to the horizon and midheaven, and the correspondence between angles and directions. East, south, west and north, are noted as dry, hot, moist and cold, respectively; the orient, he tells us, signifies youth, the midheaven middle-age, the occident old age, and those who have died. ([15] ) Although Ptolemy doesn't recognize it, he is clearly perpetuating ancient solar mysticism which ties the meaning of the angles to a symbolic appreciation of the Sun's cycle around the Earth. This inherent symbolism cuts through the entire work and can be demonstrated by the stress he places on the condition of being oriental or occidental:

"Their [the planets'] power must be determined, in the first place, from the fact that they are either oriental [eastern] and adding to their proper motion - for then they are most powerful - or occidental [western] and diminishing in speed, for then their energy is weaker. Second, it is to be determined from their position relative to the horizon; for they are most powerful when they are in the midheaven or approaching it, and second when they are exactly on the horizon or in the succeedent place; their power is greater when they are in the orient; and less when they culminate beneath the earth or are in some other aspect to the orient; if they bear no aspect at all to the orient they are entirely powerless". ([16] )

Ptolemy's view of the 'places' that bear no aspect to the horizon accords with the general understanding of the 8th, 12th, and 6th houses as describing weakness and impotency. But whereas a working, predictive astrologer might dwell on the use of the symbolism in describing that condition of weakness, Ptolemy does not. Instead, there is the suggestion that we should ignore these areas in our investigation in favour of the powerful regions.

The midheaven is referred to as the most important angle of all and many spheres of life that we would assign to other houses are assessed by Ptolemy through the use of the culminating degree and the place that is succeeding to it. By this he means the 10th house, as the area that is rising by diurnal motion to the degree of the midheaven. This area is representative of all our outward endeavours and accomplishments: our actions, friendships, children, and everything from which our reputation is established. Second in importance is the eastern horizon from which the bodily form, temperament, intellect and formative years are assessed. Consistency with later tradition is evident in Ptolemy's use of angularity as denoting strength and speed, and the denial of these qualities with cadency:

"For they [the planets] are most effective .... whenever they are passing through the angles or in the signs that rise after them ....They are weakest ....when they are declining from the angles also we must observe whether they are at the angles or in the succeedent signs; for if they are oriental or at angles they are more effective at the beginning, if they are occidental or in the succeeding signs they are slower to take action. ([17] )

Ptolemy further acknowledges that the cadent houses represent foreign places and alien circumstances by his comment that when the Moon is declining from angles "she portends journeys abroad or changes of place". ([17] )

The extent to which Ptolemy fails to utlilise the houses is most apparent in books three and four where he explains the techniques for judging a nativity. Marriage, for example, is not determined from the 7th house, but from the place of the Sun for a woman, and the Moon for a man. Matters relating to material wealth are not referred to the 2nd house, but the part of fortune. Friendships are not judged from the 11th house, but from the condition of the Sun, Moon, Fortuna and rising sign. Where he discusses the parents and the potential of patrimony, he does not recommend a consideration of the 4th house, but refers us to the place of the Sun or Saturn for the father, and the Moon or Venus for the mother. There are few instances where Ptolemy appears to support our later tradition. In one, he directs us to the 12th house, 'The House of Evil Daemon', for matters of slavery because it is an 'injurious' position which declines from the horizon. In matters of illness he also notes the need to consider the 6th house, saying: "It is necessary to look to the two angles of the horizon, that is, the orient and the occident, and especially to the occident itself and the sign preceding it [6th], which is disjunct from the oriental angle". ([18] )

Ptolemy's reasoning is that the descendant is destructive to vitality, and the sign preceding the descendant shares this influence because it is declining (by diurnal motion) from that angle and unaspected to the ascendant. Most telling of all, however, is an obtuse reference to the influence of the lower midheaven, which we become aware of only through his description of the effect of planetary stations: : "Evening stations and positions at midheaven beneath the earth [IC].... produce souls noble and wise .… investigators of hidden things and seekers after the unknown…" ([19] )

Although Ptolemy makes no attempt to explain why this should be so, the reference to hidden matters suggests that it is drawn from a contemporary understanding of the 4th house, arguing that he had more awareness of the wider use of the houses than he seems willing to impart.

Clearly Ptolemy regarded the houses with some irrelevance but the question of which method of house construction he was referring to has still managed to provoke great debate. His constant overlapping of the words 'place' and 'sign', and the way in which he refers to the midheaven as 'the culminating sign' has been used to suggest that he considered the 'places' to be defined by the signs of the zodiac.

There remains, however, one highly significant passage in which he offers a definition of the houses. It is contained within his method of determining length of life and Ptolemy explains that for a matter of such importance, the planets from which we draw judgement must be located in the powerful places, which he describes as follows:

"In the first place we must consider those places .... in which the planet must be that is to receive the lordship of the prorogation; namely, the twelfth part of the zodiac surrounding the horoscope, from 5° above the actual horizon up to the 25° that remains, which is rising in succession to the horizon [ie., 1st house]; the part sextile dexter to these thirty degrees, called the House of the Good Daemon [11th house]; the part in quartile, the midheaven [10th house]; the part in trine, called the House of the God [9th house]; and the part opposite, the Occident [7th house]". ([20] )

First we should be clear that this is all that Ptolemy has to say on the technical basis of the houses. In assessing its importance, the introductory comment on the 1st house is the one that is most pertinent: the twelfth part of the zodiac surrounding the horoscope, from 5° above the actual horizon up to the 25° that remains, which is rising in succession to the horizon. The 5° misplacement from the ascendant has caused much debate, the only sensible explanation is that the virtue of each house has been assigned a 5° influence before the cusp, as in traditional use. The same approach is used today by astrologers schooled in traditional techniques, so that if a planet is within 5 degrees of the next house cusp, it is considered to have its influence within the context of that house. But on the basis of Ptolemy's comment here, some authorities have sought to formally recognize a new house construction method, the Classical house system, which is generally said to follow Alcabitius, but with the subtraction of 5 degrees from the Ascendant to find the 1st-house cusp. This definition is misleading, because it is clear that the principle of recognising the five degrees preceding a house cusp is written into traditional technique, regardless of the house method in use, so this should be considered a principle of house interpretation rather than a method of division.

The reference to the "twelfth part" of the zodiac appears confusing because we are accustomed to numbering the signs from the ascendant in an anti-clockwise direction following the numerical order of the houses, although the reason the houses are so numbered is because this is the order in which they rise through diurnal motion. Neither Ptolemy nor Manilius attributed numbers to the houses but described them instead by their names and aspectual relationship to the ascendant. The fact that he makes a distinction between the places of heaven and the parts of the zodiac, and that he introduces this numeration here (though not for the houses), suggests that he recognised them as two discrete frames of reference which were not dependant upon each other, even if in practice they were often associated. His further comment, that the first house is counted from 5° above the horizon up to the 25° remaining again shows that the principle of his house system was not based upon a simple association with the signs, as in the whole-sign method, although he was clearly seeking to perceive the houses as equal divisions which would easily compliment their use.

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Notes & References:

  12 ] Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, English translation by F.E. Robbins, Harvard University Press, Loeb Edition, 1980, p.237 (III.3)
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  13 ] Ibid. p.127 (II.2)
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  14 ] Ptolemy omits all reference to planetary joys.
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  15 ] Ibid., pp.175-177 (II.7)
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  16 ] Ibid., pp.115-117 (I.10)
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  17 ] Ibid., p.239 (III.3)
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  18 ] Ibid., p.253 (II.5)
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  19 ] Ibid., p.337 (III.3)
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  20 ] Ibid., pp.273-275 (III.10)
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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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