Joy and Houses throughout ages

 Reading her book “The Houses Temples of the sky” – and excellent book, by Deborah Houlding, I learn that Manilius, a Roman astrologer who lived in the first century wrote a poem as big as five books, the Astronomica, or Astronomicon, which is one of the most ancient sources that talks about the houses extensively. 


And well, Manilius, bless him, said that Venus is in joy in the 10th house, and Saturn in the 4th. 


Joy is one of those traditional concepts. Traditional astrologers will tell you that Venus rejoices in the 5th house, and Saturn in the 12th. Jupiter rejoices in the 11th house, the Sun in the 9th, the house of God, the Moon in the 3rd, the house of the Goddess, Mars in the 6th and Mercury, at the helm, rejoices in the 1st house. 


Deborah Houlding doesn’t think, like some other historians do, that poor Manilius was just mistaken. Other ancient astrologers, including Ptolemy (the Most Famous), attributed marriage to the 10th house. It makes sense for Venus to rejoice in it.


As for Saturn, it suits its dark, cold and heavy nature to rejoice in the 4th house, the lowest of the chart. Manilius wasn’t designing his own system, he was taking pride in handing over ancient knowledge to his contemporaries.


How come Venus ended up rejoicing in the 5th and Saturn in the 12th then? According to Deborah Houlding, and I am happy to believe her, I quote:


“Philosophers of the classical period were concerned with neat, balanced and philosophically pleasing schemes, particularly in the case of aligning planets to sects, an issue with sets the astrology in Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos apart from the more ancient texts of star lore” 


Basically the problem was that the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn were considered diurnal planets, and the Moon, Venus and Mars nocturnal. How could Venus, a nocturnal planet, rejoice in the 10th house, above the horizon, in broad daylight? And how could Saturn, a diurnal planet, rejoice in the 4th, in the middle of the night? 


As a modern astrologer, I have been having a chronic existential crisis due to the return to fashion of traditional astrology. How could we be so naive, they say, and so lazy, with our oversimplified system of correspondences between houses and signs?

Mars, Aries, First House, Venus, Taurus, Second House and so on. Pure betrayal of the ancient beauty! 


Reading about Venus and Saturn being displaced and told to rejoice somewhere else makes me feel better about modern notions like that of natural rulership. 


Systems and cultures evolve. That’s my point. 


If we believe there was, once upon a time, a pure original system of absolute astrology made of unchangeable rules expressing the eternal will of God, that’s just a belief. We don’t know of such a system. 

Listening to Chris Brennan’s Astrology Podcast, I learned that the concept of houses originated in texts belonging to the Hermetica – Texts attributed to the legendary sage Hermes Trismegistus. 


In the Renaissance, they believed Hermes Trismegistus was a very ancient guy who lived at the time of Moses or even before. The idea was that the more ancient something was, the closer to the original and undiluted Truth. Hermes Trismegistus was thought to be the three times Great one who had understood it all and passed sacred knowledge of magic, astrology and alchemy to his disciples. It’s not clear whether he had been a man or was the God Hermes or Thoth himself. 

Later on, historians demonstrated that texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistus were actually written in Hellenistic times. Historians can argue about the extent to which the ideas contained in the Hermetica are influenced by Greek thought or by Egyptian tradition. The zodiac comes from Babylon, the Egyptians had their own system, with more emphasis on the daily cycle. In Hellenistic times, the Egyptians were not their own masters anymore. The mixture, aka syncretism that happened as a result of Greek domination would nowadays be called “cultural appropriation” by a certain brand of activism. 


As you see, the astrology of the Ancients is not as clear-cut as we may have wished. 


Systems, cultures and traditions evolve. 


If we use cards for divination, we can decide on a system. We can say: The First card I’ll draw will describe the present, the second will be about the future and the third the past. Or we may say: the first will be the past, the second the present and the third the future. 


We make the rules, and then we draw the cards according to our conventions. I believe cultures do the same thing, collectively. 


Once upon a time, Venus was rejoicing in the 10th house and Saturn in the 4th. Later on, it was established that Venus rejoiced in the 5th and Saturn in the 12th. And now the moderns see Venus as the natural ruler of the 7th house, and also of the 2nd. There is some truth in all views…


Actually I prefer to think of “natural association” than “natural rulership”. There are common threads of meaning, that’s all it means. 


If I was looking at a horary chart with a precise question about a partner, I would take the ruler of the sign on the cusp of the 7th house as significator or this partner, and not Venus (unless Libra or Taurus are on the 7th house cusp indeed). 


But if I am looking at a natal chart for someone wondering why their marriage has been such a mess throughout the years, I would look at the 7th house indeed, and also at Venus, and at a few other indicators in the context of the whole, looking for indications of conflicts between psychological drives. 


Traditional astrologers attribute death to the 8th house, and also issues that bring, according to William Lilly , “Fear and anguish of mind”. Then they blame modern astrologers for connecting sexuality and the 8th house. Sure all of us would prefer our sexuality to be exclusively a 5th house affair, as the way not only to bring about children, but also to have fun and enjoy, to love and be loved. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy… 


In her critique of this modern connection of the 8th house with sexuality, Deborah Houlding gives the example – that could be funny weren’t the potential suffering involved – of using astrology to choose the best possible time to have sex and electing a time with 8th house emphasis. But modern astrologers focus more, as far as I understood Liz Greene, Howard Sasportas or Stephen Arroyo, in understanding people to help them come to terms with their issues. 


Life is multilayered enough to be looked at through various lenses. 

The moderns have been inspired in their own style.


The symbols of astrology, the zodiac signs, the planets and the stars, the rising sun, the phases of the moon… are there for us to contemplate with our own living eyes and hearts, when the time is now. 

Jean-Marc Pierson