I have read a lot about each house system, some say that they are time-based, others space based and then there is a long explanation about dividing the ecliptic either on the meridian or the equator. It made me wonder when it comes down to creating the actual chart, does it matter?
It all started with Porphyry
The Porphyry House system dates from the 3rd Century AD and is named after its creator, Porphyry (233-305 AD) a neo-Platonist and student of Plotinus. He devised his system from the writings of Greek astrologer named Orion (150-175 AD) before Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos was written in 295 AD. It is the oldest house system and uses Equal Houses like the Ancient Egyptians, but the Midheaven is always the Tenth House Cusp and the remaining houses are determined by trisecting each hemisphere so it can be used with northern latitudes unlike Placidus. The Ascendant does not form the first house cusp and may not even fall within the first house.
The earliest house known house system is the Whole House System where the houses as such basically disappear and each house equals a sign. The Ascendant is not tied to the first house but falls in the house it is found. This method is used by the Hellenistic Astrologers and has no interceptions.
Alcabitius liked Ptolemy
Alcabitius is “time-based” system i.e. it is based on the diurnal (sun day) arc of the ascendant. A Syrian Christian c. 950 AD, he wrote a book on astrology and created his House System to replicate the Ptolemaic one as stated in the Tetrabiblos; it does not have interceptions but does have unequal houses (i.e. each house cusp has its own start. In the true Equal House system, all houses are exactly the same size & have the same start, see the slideshow for more). What is nice about Alcabitius is that it causes no distortion at high latitudes so people born in Russia, Scotland etc. can use this method without getting wide distortions — though some actually like that. See Mary Ann Trump for examples. The NeoProphyry house system fixes that.
Michel de Nostradame (Nostradamus) used the Alcabitius System for his predictions.
Alcabitus is out…the Latins move in
The Campanus House System was created by two Mathematician brothers, Johannes and Matthias Campanus, born around 1250 AD. The Campanus method is “space based” a term that refers to when a House System uses the prime vertical — the great circle that passes through the east and west points of the horizon as well as the zenith (midheaven) and nadir at right angles. The prime vertical starts at Greenwich England and is what all longitude is based upon. See this set of Naval cartoons — they are a set of three — for more.
While the Campanus brothers based their method on the Alcabitius House Method, they made significant changes including being the first to incorporate the idea of Intercepted Houses.
A problem with Campanus (and its success egiomontanus and Placidius) is that half of the system (zenith to nadir) is equatorial and the other half (east to west) is ecliptic based. They also broke with Alcabitius that that the cusp should mark the center of a house rather than its start. Campanus, is still rather popular in Europe today (thanks to French-American Dane Rudhyar).
Regiomontanus changes that
Next up was the German Regiomontanus (aka Johann Mueller), a contemporary and supporter of Reverend Martin Luther. He announced his system as a further improvement on the Campani by changing the cusps from the middle of the house back to the start and also making them fixed — they were immovable because they were space based (like the Campanus ) and not (birth) time or (birth) place based (like Alcabitius), thus it is typically used in horary work
Brother Placidus enters the Fray
Benedictine monk Placidus de Titis (1590-1668) was also a mathematician & he rectified his predecessors mistakes with a “time based” system based on a tri-section of arcs i.e. he literally calculated the time any degree would take to go from the ecliptic to ascend to the Midheaven and then from the ecliptic to the nadir.
Mathematically his method rather complicated, astronomically, according to Mr. Carl Tobey “this was just as bad,” and despite his effort was similar to his predecessors as it made unequally divided house systems — each house has a different start point so houses can be very big or small depending upon the location. Despite that Raphael (Robert Cross) based his ephemeris on that one, probably because it was the most modern and not French, and all the major astrologers followed suit i.e. : Charubel, Alan Leo, Charles E. O. Carter and Marc Edmund Jones because they used his tables.
It is still the most popular one around, though in America the German Walter Koch system is a close second.
Placidus is wrong!?
The French medical doctor, Jean-Baptiste Morin, better known as Morinus, caught & fixed Placidus’s errors based on a manuscript he got from a fellow Scottish doctor who knew of his interest. While Morin was born seven years after Jerome Cardano had died, he did the most pioneering work in that area. He was Kepler’s contemporary and correspondent and was the first to design a longitudinal system, but he was vilified by the powerful Cardinal Richelieu & Etienne Pascal and his work was banned. Until the 20th Century Morinus’s was the most mathematically accurate with houses that are uneven but slightly so and can be used at all latitudes. The Australian David Cope re-discovered his work and corrected minor issues within for the Meridian House System.
It is doubtful though that the Britisher’s Raphael and Alan Leo would have used a French system no matter how accurate because of historical prejudices, and despite Carl Payne Tobey et alia’s objections, I like it and use it.
Technology and the 20th Century
Sydney Omarr was good friends with fellow astrologer & astronomomer Carl Payne Tobey, (see here for his picture and wedding announcement). In Omarr’s autobiography, My world of Astrology,¹ Tobey discusses the key to their choice of house system was based on the ecliptic North Pole.
So what is the ecliptic North Pole?
It is a mathematical point that is 90º north of the artic circle that is often seen on globes as where all the lattitudes converge.
The distance from the Artic Circle to the regular North Pole is exactly the same as the distance of the Tropic of Cancer from the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn to the Antartic Circle.
All of this also explains why on the horoscope bottom is North, top south and the left is East and the right is West. So why do they feel that’s important?
- It divides the horizon into twelve equal sections and has the great circle passing throught he zenith and nadir just like it would in the sky.
- The cusp of the first house will not be the ascendant because that comes after the house division and should not influence it.
It does have a relationship to the Campanus system, so a Table of Houses created for that house, can be used by the Zenith or Equal House system but I have seen it called the Whole House System as well. It was created around the turn of the century by Australian astrologer, Zariel (David Cope).
Going back in time
In the meantime our reference chart of President Bill Clinton is problematic as it does not have interceptions no matter which house system we try and we do want to highlight them, so, we are changing our reference point from the Democrat Bill Clinton to the 1940 Republican Nominee Wendell Willkie who ran against the incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940.
If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Wilkie, read his obituary from the New York Times where they hailed him as “businessman who put politics aside” and ran for office. Boy had that tune change 75 years later. NYTimes — Wilkie dies
Now that with all of that under your belt, click on the Slideshow to see how the various house systems handle the same horoscope. I tried to put the slides in chronological order, so the key things to notice is that the house cusps change which affects Mars in particular. When the Ascendant is marked as such (ASC), it is the start of the first house. I hope this helps.
- Omarr, Sydney. My World of Astrology, 1969 edition. Published by: WIlshire Book Company, 8721 Sunset Blvd. Hollywood CA 90069.
- Another Equal House system was created by the Dutch esoterist A. E. Thierens. He has a rather unusual tarot system that is worth reviewing.
- The Meridian System is found in Matrix WinStar series — that Michael Erlewine sold to the Cochrane’s who maintain it, Kepler, Sirius and Solar Fire. I have never the Meridian online but like Porphyry, Morinus and Whole Sign it does not tie the ascendant to the first house. I have never seen the “Zenith” House system mentioned as such.