Houses, Signs, and Planets

In order to understand how astrology works, we first have to break it down into its component parts and see if we can come up with some core definitions. We can begin with an overview of three of the most basic components: the houses, the signs, and the planets.

The earth has two motions: it spins on its axis once each day, and travels around the sun once each year. These motions define two planes (equatorial and equinoctial, respectively) which inscribe two Great Circles when projected onto the celestial sphere. These circles are used by astrologers to derive the houses and the zodiacal signs.

The houses are created from a terrestrial perspective. This means we look up to the heavens from the standpoint of the surface of the Earth to divide the day into 12 equal sections. This view seems to imply that the house meanings are naturally grounded in worldly experience. The Earth's motion about its own center (or daily rotation) parallels the human tendency to center ourselves around relatively immediate needs. From this, it is evident that the houses are symbolic of continually changing conditions, sensory relations, and the limiting or optional affairs of the moment.

The houses correlate to the appearance of the World-Idea as individualized experience. They represent the unique patterning of interweaving relationships encountered by each person in everyday life. These are the underlying rhythms of self's relations to itself, to the not-self, and to a larger social reality. Marc Edmund Jones defines the houses as "the distribution of self in objective being." Lenny Silver calls them "the mystery of identity as presented."

The signs, on the other hand, are created from a celestial perspective. This means we look to the heavenly dance of the Earth and Sun from a standpoint independent of the Earth's surface to divide the year into a 12-fold. This view seems to imply that the sign meanings are naturally related to a more general or inclusive kind of existence. The Earth's motion about a center not its own (its annual revolution) parallels the human condition of dependence upon a source that is far beyond our ability to control or even comprehend. From this, it is evident that the signs are symbolic of a kind of permanence and stability in the more enduring orders of selfhood.

While the houses are the indicators of differentiation within the individual, the signs indicate the sustaining regularity that is common to all individuals and to all existence. If the houses address evolution, the signs address immutable law, which correlates to the presence of the World-Idea within soul as well as of soul within the World-Idea. In distinguishing the houses from the signs, Lenny says, "The houses are the realm of creativity of the individual just as the signs are the realm of creativity of the planetary logos."

But though the houses and signs are present in every manifestation of the being, they have no power in themselves to manifest their intelligence. This power is the exclusive privilege of the planets - the manifesters of all life and being.

The planets reveal the intelligence of the degrees, and only through the planetary powers do ideas achieve living expression. They represent the activity of consciousness, and are the actors in the play of life without whom props and plots would have no use or meaning. Their function is to project the psychic structure of the self, and in so doing construct the vehicles that the soul will employ for its own divine purpose. Properly understood, the planets are deific powers. Their orderly circulation in the Solar System symbolizes soul motion, "as it imitates the sameness of the Gods, by a perpetual motion, which is invariably the same." (Iamblichus, On the Mysteries).

As the planets move through the two Great Circles, they blend these influences like a great cosmic zipper. In this way, the three components work together to portray human consciousness in cosmic terms. As Jones puts it, "consciousness is the aggregate of experience [houses] and potentiality [signs] as these are expressed in awareness [planets]." This is the stirring of life itself, the life of the cosmos as homologous to our own.

© December 2000 Greg Kramer