Temples Of The Sky

Friday July 17th 2015
Paestum Oliver Bonjoch

Paestum by Oliver Bonjoch. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I have been reading Deborah Houlding’s book The Houses, Temples of the Sky. It’s an excellent reference and should be on every astrologer’s bookshelf. Although Houlding is a traditional astrologer and her focus is on the horary and mundane, her research and ideas are relevant to her modern, more psychologically inclined colleagues.

She has gone back to pre-18th century source material — specifically Manilius, Firmicus, Al Biruni and Lilly but many others also — and tried to decipher what these astrologers had in mind for the meaning of houses. Of course, these writers were all trying to make astrology fit between the pages of a book or into the lines of a poem. To abridge such a vast and unwieldy subject inevitably leaves some lacunae, distortions and mistakes. Houlding is refreshingly aware of this and unafraid of asking questions.

Astrology can be a land of received ideas: “this means this because I read it in a book, and the person who wrote that book, read it in another book”. On the other hand, we are lucky to be working with such an ancient system of knowledge and to have so many sources from which to learn. By returning to original sources, Houlding has turned up some interesting inconsistencies. A couple caught my attention because they show that astrology evolved during the Roman period, and prove that it has never been a fixed science.

Each of the seven traditional planet is said to “joy” or be empowered in a particular house. But that has changed over time.

The first century poet Manilius is our earliest written source on astrology. In his poem, Astronomica, he gives rulership of the 10th house to Venus and of the 4th house to Saturn. By the time of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, this system had changed. Venus was “joying” in the 5th house and Saturn in the 12th.

Now I have observed in practice that a Saturn transit of the 4th house is strong, maybe the strongest Saturn transit, and maybe the toughest. This is consistent with Manilius, and with the meaning all astrologers assign to the 4th as the house of endings, agriculture and fathers. Those are all Saturnian.

I have not found transiting Saturn in the 12th so powerful, but that puts a slant on what later astrologers wrote. Ptolemy argued that the power of Saturn needed curbing, so he’s better above the horizon – that is in houses 7 through 12. So a 12th house Saturn might be well-placed – that is able to do less harm – not strengthened. Ptolemy also argued that Mars – the other malefic – was better placed below the horizon where his hot passions were cooled.*

The other point of interest is Manilius’ assigning of Venus to the 10th house. Again in practice, I have found that 10th house is to do with marriage. A positive transit to the MC is just as likely to mean marriage as promotion, a negative one can show divorce. However, this is about status and a public declaration of commitment, so it does fit in with the idea of the 10th house as status. But later astrologers did not have any planet joying in the 10th house at all.

As for natal charts, a quick look on Astrotheme yielded this.

Venus in 10th: 1961 entries. (To compare Sun in 10th: 2134 entries) The top ten are a mix of holy, ethereally beautiful  and one top scientist. Oddly enough even Einstein is an icon: we all know what he looks like. You can buy icons of Abbe Pierre and Soeur Emmanelle too. Julie Gayet’s face has been plastered on the front of every French magazine because of her affair with the prez.

Johnny Depp

Abbe Pierre

Iconic: Abbé Pierre

Abbé Pierre — France’s most famous religious intellectual
Nicole Kidman
Albert Einstein
Uma Thurman
Tom Cruise
Soeur Emmanuelle — the nun who lived among the garbage collectors of Cairo
David Bowie
Julie Gayet — Francois Hollande’s actress paramour
Kristen Stewart

Venus in 5th: 1528 entries (more than 400 fewer). (Sun in 5th: 1439 entries) The top ten here are far more political. Two presidents, two royals, a presidential spouse, the richest man on the planet, and four full-on performers.

Barack Obama
François Hollande
Diana, Princess of Wales
Bill Gates
Carla Bruni Sarkozy
Bruce Willis
Megan Fox
Robbie Williams
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge
Mick Jagger


Conclusion from that little exercise? It’s as well to remember that the 10th is the house of fame and reputation and you only get listed on Astrotheme if you’re well-known for something, especially acting or singing. Clearly, it helps to have a planet in the 10th if you want to be famous; especially the Sun, but Venus is good too.

On the whole, I don’t think this tells us much about the relative value of natal Venus in 10th or 5th in terms of talent or luck (rather than fame) though. You need the whole chart.

These are the planetary “joys” of houses according to traditional astrologers after Ptolemy.

1H — Mercury

3H — Moon

5H — Venus

6H — Mars

9H — Sun

11H — Jupiter

12H — Saturn

You can see that no one joys in 2H, 4H, 7H, 8H, 10H in this scheme. There are not enough traditional planets to go round. As Houlding points out, classical astrologers were keen on making systems balanced and orderly, hence the changes of house for Saturn and Venus. It just did not make sense to them, perhaps, that a female, “nocturnal” planet should be most comfortable the top of the chart. In other systems of astrology – Mesoamerican, Tibetan – Venus is not a female planet at all though. She is a warrior star.

As ever, the most useful thing in practice is to know as much as possible, but to realise that astrology is like music: when it comes to actually making the chart sing, you have to trust that instinct, insight and knowledge will come together in the moment.

*Both of these are for charts that are cast for daytime events.

Deborah Houlding’s site Skyscript is a fount of information. Here is a link to the section on houses.


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  1. Jem says:

    Oh joy, I’ve got mars in 6th house, saturn in 12th and venus in 10th, ……sounds great but I don’t fully enjoy the attention of the venus in 10th (I have a 12th house moon sextile venus – and I prefer solitude in religious retreats)