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Astrology Basics - Houses & Cusps

The Signs are constellations of stars, and Planets are (of course) planets. In other words, they are constellations (Signs) or points of light (Planets) in the whole sky.  

In the previous two articles, I have referred several times to “where,” “what area,” or “what part” of a chart a particular Sign or Planet is in. Houses are what define “area” in a chart. 

Each House is approximately one-twelfth of the sky, and a House’s Cusp is the border between it and the House before it. 

The vast majority of astrological systems divide the sky into twelve Houses (though the Houses are not always equal in size), and as far as I know all of them define Cusps the same way (a Cusp is the beginning of a particular House). 

Looking at the chart below, the middle wheel of the chart is divided into twelve fairly equal divisions. 

Astrological ChartEach of these divisions is a House, and each House—each “area” of the chart—speaks about a particular “area” of the native’s life (more on that later in this article). 

You may notice that in the chart four particular Cusps—four of the lines that divide one House from another—are darker than their companions. 

These four Cusps have special names, and most astrologers give them special significance. 

The Houses are numbered 1 through 12; since the software I used to generate the chart above does not print the “number” of each House, let me tell you that the First House is the division on the left of the chart that is directly below the darker horizontal line, and that the Houses proceed numerically counterclockwise from there. [I've added labels for the first and second houses - Ken]

The Second House is the House below and to the right of the First House, the Third House is the one to the right of the Second, etc. all the way to the Twelfth House, which ends at the Cusp of the First House.

We will begin with a brief description of what part of a person’s life each House refers to, followed by a short description of Cusps, including the names and significance of the special Cusps mentioned above.

First House   The First House represents the face a person shows to the rest of the world. It talks about the person’s physical appearance, and what kind of impact the person makes when face-to-face with others.

Second House   This House talks about money and possessions; how, and if, the native (The person the chart is made for) earns money, saves money, spends money, and how, or whether, material possessions make a big impact on the native’s life. 

Please note that this House talks about the native’s own money and possessions, not the money and possessions of others that he or she may have access to. Therefore taxes, borrowed (or lent) money of any kind, inheritances, and money used jointly with a spouse or business partner are the province of a different House (the Eighth).

Third House   The Third House describes the native’s day-to-day life. It describes what approach the native takes to interacting with people on a daily basis, how he or she communicates, how he or she gets around, and what kind of activities he or she engages in regularly.

Fourth House   This is the House describing home, and what the native keeps secret from the rest of the world. This House can give a glimpse of what the native’s early home-life was like, and what the native needs in order to make a home.

Fifth House   This House can show where the native’s creativity lies; sex, children, artistic endeavors, theatric ability and the life of the imagination are all covered under this House.

Sixth House   The Sixth House talks about work, health and service. It describes the kind of job or employment the native will be drawn to do day-to-day, how the native stays physically healthy (or unhealthy), and what kind of service to others the native finds most fulfilling.

Seventh House   The House of partnerships, this House describes how the native works with a partner, and what kind of impact a partner or partners will have on the native’s life; these can include marriage partners, business partners, or anyone else (individuals, not groups) the native works with closely over a period of time to accomplish something.

Eighth House   This House can describe experiences the native may have that he or she can’t fully control or doesn’t fully understand. Transpersonal property (money that is borrowed or lent, taxes, inheritances, property shared with a partner of any kind), supernatural experiences, the exploration of mysteries, and sometimes even the circumstances around the native’s death can be discerned by studying this House.

Ninth House   This is the House that talks about how the wide world impacts the native’s life. Religious experiences, higher education, long-distance travel, and direct interactions with foreigners and other cultures are all described by this House.

Tenth House   In the Tenth House, the native’s social standing and long-term vocational goals are described. This House will often show how important a native may become in his or her community, what kind of a reputation he or she will tend to acquire, and what overall “role” the native may gain for him or herself in society.

Eleventh House   Often, the eleventh House will describe how the native interacts with large organizations, such as political or professional organizations. It can also describe what kind of long-term goals or dreams the native may have, and how important these are in the native’s life.

Twelfth House   In this House, the chart shows the things that the native hides from him or herself. This placement will often show unconscious behaviors, beliefs, or feelings. It can also show how the native views institutions (hospitals, jails, monasteries, etc.), and what kind of a role they will play in the native’s life.

Cusps are the lines that mark the borders of each House; the Cusp that is important to a particular House is the one that begins the House, and is generally called the “House’s Cusp”. 

The Sign on the Cusp of a particular House will often show how the native approaches that part of life. As mentioned earlier, there are four Cusps astrologers consider particularly important: The Cusp of The First House (called the “Ascendant” or “Rising Sign), the Fourth House (Nadir or IC), Seventh House (Descendant), and Tenth House (Midheaven or MC). A brief description of each follows:

Ascendant   Also called the Rising Sign, this is the Cusp of the First House (the dark horizontal line at the left of the chart), and represents the Sign on the eastern horizon. This position has the strongest effect on a person’s appearance and demeanor of any part of the First House. Due to how much it affects the native’s relationships with others, it is usually considered the third most important part of a person’s chart (after the Sun and the Moon).

Nadir   Also called the IC (Imum Coeli, or “lowest part of the heavens”) this is the Cusp of the Fourth House (The dark vertical line at the bottom), and represents what was in the sky over the opposite side of earth from where the native was born. The Sign on the Nadir often speaks of what lessons the native learned from his or her early experiences, and what (often unconsciously) motivates the native.

Descendant   The Cusp of the Seventh House , the Descendant is the Sign that was on the western horizon, the western horizon being represented by the dark horizontal line on the right of the chart. The Descendant is usually about what the native needs from partnerships.

Midheaven   Also called the MC (Medium Coeli, or “middle of the heavens”) it represents what was directly overhead at time of the native’s birth. The Cusp of the Tenth House (The dark vertical line at the top), it will often show what kind of reputation the native will gain for him or herself over the course of their life.    

With all of the information discussed in these articles so far—Signs, Planets, Houses and Cusps—a person can begin to make sense of what a chart is telling him or her. 

This is done by taking a look at the synthesis of each chart elements' position. For example, in the chart above Venus is in Capricorn in the Third House. 

Venus talks about the native’s romantic nature and what he or she values (since the chart above brlongs to a man, Venus will also talk about what impact women will have in his life). 

Capricorn is all about being responsible, staying the course and building to last. The Third House is about day-to-day life. From all of this, we can conclude that the native is probably not a terribly romantic individual; he probably often knows the women he dates in his daily life (Third House) before he dates them, and probably doesn’t like wasting time when he does date (Venus in Capricorn, valuing responsibility and “value”—what one person can do for the other--over fun).

However, looking at each individual element will only give a partial picture of the native; it will show each individual element, but not how or whether different parts of the native’s life interact with other parts to create the “story” of the native’s life. 

For example, in the chart above, the Sun is in the Third House. So, he probably defines himself (the Sun) by what he does day-to-day (Third House), which probably has to do with fitting all his activities into a Big Picture (Aquarius). 

This is very informative, but there is much more an astrologer can learn from a chart. For example, does this self-image match what others perceive (whether by reputation or by direct interaction)? When the native is “being himself” (expressing his Sun), what kind of reactions can he expect to get from lovers, or employers, or his family? 

Although he has a sense of the Big Picture (at least for himself), how does that match up with his long-term goals or dreams (if he has them)? Does he share his Big Picture with anyone, or does he keep it to himself? To answer these questions and many others, astrologers look to the last class of chart ingredients that will be covered in this series of articles: Aspects.

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