What are the angluar houses?
In Hellenistic astrology the angular houses refer to the 4 ‘places’ that correspond to the 1st, 4th, 7th and 10th houses of the chart (using whole sign houses). In ancient astrology these angular houses (houses were originally called ‘places’) had special significance.
The conceptual meaning of the angles
The original Greek term for the angles is ‘Kentron’, which has no direct equivalent in English but can be roughly translated as meaning “pivot”, “stake”, “sharp point”, or the center of something (the meaning as the center of something is relevant when considering the concept of the angular triad).
These words capture the essence of what the angles do in a chart, which is to strengthen planetary influence herre, or make them more active, as if a sharp point goads the planets into action when they arrive here. Planets here shout ‘Look at me!’ and and tells us to pay particular attention to whatever is happening in these spheres of life, whether we are looking at a natal delineation or transits.
Significations of the angular houses
The significance of the angular houses, and the angles of the MC, Ascendent, IC and Descendent, appears to come from an association with the movements of the Sun and planets at particular points as they journey through the ecliptic. Their movement underpins the philosophical concepts of astrology and is thought to have it roots in Egyptian solar philosophy. The bodies rise up out of the invisible underworld at the rising sign (1st house). Moving on they reach a peak state of heat, light, visibility and maturity at the midheaven (10th house). After this they sink out of sight below the horizon in the east (7th house), entering the underworld again and reaching the lower midheaven (the 4th house). This movement is repeated and seen symbolically as the never ending cycle of birth and death, light and darkness.
One school of thought is that the solar philosophy is the basis for the Hellenistic significations of these four angles, and that the remaining house significations are derived from their relationship to them:
• 1st House: This is where the sun rises up as if from death beneath the earth and so symbolically represents the birth and coming into being of the native or event; their identity, character or soul.
• 4th House: At the lower midheavent on the ecliptic the Sun is hidden from view, therefore the beginning and end of things, and the foundation of all things, are associated with it. From this we get the concept of the ‘root’ of things, or home.
• 7th House: Here at the western horizon we see the Sun sinking out of sight at the end of each day, disappearing below the horizon, giving rise to the associations of completion, endings, and death.
• 10th House: The Sun culminates here, the midheaven, where it is most visible in the sky. This therefore becomes associated with distinction, success, or the most publicly active or prominent part of life.
I’ve only touched on core significations here. There are of course others ones that are applied too. But it’s interesting to consider how other significations may be derived from these foundational ones.
For example mining, private life, and the father or parents are associated with the 4th house. The 10th house significations include career, reputation and social status. As a place of endings the 7th house significations can include banquets and social events, and could be why marriage is typically associated with this place.
The relationship of the angles to each other also seems to inform house significations through the nature of opposites. The first as the house of the native, or the self, is opposite to the 7th, of the ‘other’, those who we join with in life such as our partners or spouses. The 10th house as the area of public life or action in the world is opposite to the sphere of that which is private or hidden at the 4th house: the home, secrets, or underground places such as mines.
Alternative rationale for the significations
I recently came across an alternative rationale for the significations of the angles and other places in the writings of Abu Ma’shar, a Persian 9th century astrologer. In his work ‘The Great Introduction’ (translation by Benjamin Dykes ) he states that ‘the masters of this art’ attributed the meanings according to what we call the descending Chaldean order or the planets, which orders their relative speeds as seen from earth (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon).
Saturn, representing darkness and absense, is assigned to the 1st house with the reasoning that this place is dark as it is situated below the horizon and then rises into appearance. This symbolizes the native in the womb appearing to the world at birth, and by extension the physical body, it’s condition and appearance.
The Sun is associated with the 4th house. Since the Moon appears to have a close relationship with the Sun from our perspective, and since the Sun was considered male and the Moon female, this house indicated consumation between a man and woman, in additional to fathers and origins.
As the Moon appears to be in opposition to, or in conjunction with, the Sun in its monthly cycle it indicated the joining of people in the 7th house, for example marriage or making friends.
Lastly, because Mars is associated with war, leadership, and authority the 10th house takes on the signifcation of “the house of authority”, which we can infer to mean positions of rank or success.
As you may have noticed in the diagram above, there is no planet assigned to the 12th house. This is because Abu Ma’shar omits to state which planet is in this place of “the house of enemies”. Following the Chaldean order this should be Venus. Benjamin Dykes argues that this indicates the the rationale can not be the correct one for deriving the place meanings.
Nevertheless we can see that the meanings of the angles is relatively the same as that suggested by the Egyptian solar philosophy, and that even in the 9th century astrologers were trying to figure out the underlying reasoning for the significations.
The angles were also seen as centers of angular triads which are a grouping of three places (the term was coined by astrologer Robert Hand). An angle in the center is flanked by two houses on either side:
• A ‘Succedent’ house prior to it (as this place would succeed to the position of the angle in time)
• A ‘Declining’ (cadent) one following it (as this house has already fallen out of the position of the angle).
Along with the relationship to the angles, these distinctions contribute to the meanings of the remaining non-angular places.
Angles in Medieval and Indian Astrology
I’ve often seen the square format of birth charts in books and online but before my deep dive into astrology they had not made much sense to me. This type of chart has the appearance of an outer square with an inner square rotated 45 degrees, divided into the 12 places: 4 in the inner square and the remaining one arranged around this. This format is used in traditional Hindu system of astrology know as Jyotisha or Vedic astrology, and a similar format is found in Medieval and Renaissance astrology (usually drawn with an additional square over the centre in which the native’s details were written).
Both systems have roots in the Hellenistic tradition. What is interesting to see is how the importance of the angles was retained in both. The charts show the angles at the points of the 45 degree rotated center square, as if highlighting the ‘Kentron’ meaning of ‘sharp point’ or ‘pivot’. Placing them in the middle of the chart visually gives them more prominence, and it certainly makes sense to do so considering the significance placed on them.
- LJS 202 Primum Mobile, available from https://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0001/html/ljs202.html
-  Ma’shar, A. The Great Introduction to the Science of the Judgement of the Stars, Translated by B.N. Dykes, The Cazimi Press