I don’t know if you can tell it or not, but I’m on a mission in this series of articles to provide basic explanations for the rudimentary principles of astrology. This is my fourth Astrological Choices article having already presented tropical or sidereal system, heliocentric or geocentric perspective, and types of charting available. For this article we will look at the tropical system of both equal and unequal houses. I am not a sidereal astrologer so please rely on someone who is skilled in the sidereal system for an explanation of sidereal house layouts.
The outside of a typical astrology wheel shows the positions of the zodiac for a single date at a specific moment in time, at a specific longitude or latitude. If any of those four elements, date, time, place by longitude and latitude are changed in any way, the zodiac positions around the wheel itself will change. No two objects can occupy the same space at the same time so an exact duplication of charts is not possible unless a team of doctors do something amazing and that would present a conundrum to astrologers everywhere. The universe emphasizes individuality and this specificity of birth based on the four elements given allows for the individuality offered by the universe to be mapped. Within our solar system it takes just under 26,000 years for a pattern to apparently repeat itself exactly. By that time we will have moved so far along in the galactic spin that no real duplication is remotely possible. Individuality is the norm; only mankind works hard to develop conformity out of individuality.
There are two general types of tropical house systems, equal and unequal. The equal house system divides the 360-degree circle into 12 equal compartments of 30 degrees each. I don’t know your experience of life but mine is that life certainly is not equal, just look around you at the variety of possibilities and the rampant inequality. While I can see value in any house system (they could all serve a specific yet perhaps unknown purpose), I do not practice the equal house method. One of the best personal readings I ever received was from an overlay of equal and Placidus, I do not discount the value of the equal system, but it is my choice to read the unequal.
It is important that you understand the difference between the Midheaven (Medium Coeli – MC) and Zenith as well as the Immum Coeli (IC) and Nadir, which are different in measure and application but are often confused with one another, In order to do this we will assume an accurate Ascendant, let’s just say 29 Gemini. If I look straight overhead to 29 Pisces, that is Zenith. If I look straight down at my feet at 29 Virgo that is Nadir, each an exact 90 degrees from the Ascendant. The opposition to the Ascendant is the Descendant in all house systems, in this instance 29 Sagittarius. All the houses would read 29 degrees starting with the Ascendant proceeding counterclockwise around the wheel in zodiac sequence. This is an equal house chart. You may choose to “float” the traditional Midheaven if known to you in the house it naturally falls or you may choose to ignore it. Personally, I can’t imagine life without a Midheaven!
The Earth revolves on its axis while it orbits the Sun, a dual motion that is in play every moment of every day. This orbital path is called the ecliptic (path on which eclipses occur) and it travels through the middle of the 12 zodiac constellations we use astronomically and astrologically. The rotation of the Earth on its axis is not in a 90-degree relationship with its orbit, instead Earth is tilted approximately 23 ½ degrees to the path of its orbit. This tilted rotation causes the Earth to spin in and out of that exact 90-degree relationship with the center of the zodiac, distorting the way the zodiac is experienced here on Earth. The reality of the situation is the natural distortion that reflects itself in the unequal distribution of space for houses. The Midheaven may or not be at a 90-degree angle to the Ascendant. My own is almost a trine (120 degrees).
In tropical tradition the IC is the exact opposition to the MC including sign, degree and minute. The Midheaven represents the highest point to which a planet can rise before it starts to descend toward the western horizon, termed setting. The IC represents the lowest point to which a planet can fall before it starts to ascend toward the eastern horizon or rising. This distortion produces an unusual and unique distribution of zodiac degrees around the wheel of the chart that reflects in the unequal house systems. Technically next would come the division of that distortion by either space or time but that will have to wait for another article as it requires more space than I have available. This article is only intended to help you understand equal and unequal houses.
Date, time, and place are the three essential ingredients to a unique birth map. Date is easy, place is given by longitude and latitude; time is defined by the time standard in play at the moment and place of birth. The Ascendant is set for the moment of birth intersecting a specific point of the zodiac on the rising (left) side of the wheel, the rising sign. That point may be empty or occupied by a planet. Empty of a body has no particular meaning that I can determine; it essentially allows that point of the zodiac to operate as the “ruling” or dominant energy in that person’s life. When I mention the degree of the zodiac as dominant, it is the “ruling” planet of that zodiac degree that assumes dominance. If there is a physical planetary body present at that degree, the zodiac degree ruler and the planet in question “co-rule” or are dominant energies in that person’s life. Is there more than one planet at that rising zodiac degree? Now the chart gets really interesting as the dominant qualities more or less vie for top dog position.
In my own wheel, the first house contains only 19 degrees, the second house only 20 degrees, the 3rd house only 24 degrees, or about 63 degrees for that first quadrant. That is accurate. The closer you are to the equator, the more equal the houses are. The farther you move off the equator north or south, the less equal the houses are. This variation is what causes interceptions in houses. Close to the equator there are few if any possibilities of interception. As you move north or south from the equator for a birth location the distortion of the houses increase and the probability of interception also increases. As you move into the latitudes of say northern Europe, the British Isles, the northern part of EurAsia, etc. multiple interceptions are possible. The same is true of the southern hemisphere although the population density decreases as you approach Antarctica.
The closer you get to the more heavily populated north polar countries, the Midheaven and the Ascendant can be on top of each other. This is cause for equal house proponents to show the inadequacy of unequal houses. To the contrary I believe this proves the validity of the unequal house system. As we travel northward (or southward) toward the polar regions life gets more difficult and hostile in nature. Since the Ascendant represents our physical self and the Midheaven represents our goals in life, I believe to have them close to conjunct would translate to personal survival as the goal of existence. That close proximity of the Ascendant and Midheaven would squash the 11th and 12th houses into that physical survival mode.
Since all intercepted houses are a pairing by axis the same situation would be true as the IC cozied up to the Descendant with the 5th and 6th houses squashed into that tight grouping. It is not my intention in this article to define intercepted houses, but it is important to your understanding of equal and unequal houses that interceptions occur naturally but only in unequal charts.
Equal houses are easier to construct. Unequal houses take math skills or a good computer program. Equal houses are more generic in quality but quite effective if you are doing quick min-readings such as a fund-raiser, a psychic fair, radio or television work. The pairing of equal with unequal as mentioned previously was an extraordinary reading for me. Each astrologer chooses what works best individually but that is not a judgment on a system, it is a personal preference. Each has value, each has a place in your skill set, but you will choose one as primary.