by Robert Wilkinson
Recently a reader asked me what it means when a planet in our chart seems to be in two different houses based in what house division system we use. In other words, if our Sun is in the 8th using one system and the 9th using another, what does it mean?
Actually this is a very common occurrence, due to intercepted signs and a wide divergence in the size of houses based in where we were born. Still, there are ways to sort through what creates the phenomenon so that we can understand possible meanings when we see this happening in a birth chart.
First, let's examine the different meanings of planets, houses, and cusps. The planets symbolize our inner functions, or "lights," of personality, from the innermost sensitivities and feelings (the Moon) to the outermost transpersonal transformative forces beyond our control (Pluto). The houses are the areas of our experience in the outer world, and cusps are the edges of where the houses touch each other.
So how do we interpret the possible meanings of when a planet falls on the cusp of a house? Furthermore, how do we interpret the planetary influence when the cusps change degrees due to different house systems in use, shifting the planet from one house to the adjacent house?
One of the first things I learned is that only the Ascendant-Descendant axis and the Midheaven-Nadir axis are set by the time of birth. All other house cusps are determined by whether we use a space-based system of dividing quadrants, a time-based system of division, or a space-time system of division. (A complete exploration of all possible house division systems is way outside the scope of this article, and would bore most readers.)
Depending on which system(s) we use, we'll get a variety of points that mark the cusps of the houses. Some are fairly close to each other, while some systems produce different signs on different houses than other systems (though never more than one sign apart except in extreme latitudes.)
So we might be a Leo rising with either late Virgo or early Libra on the 3rd house, late Pisces or early Aries on the 9th, depending on which house division system we use. I've seen spans as wide as 20 degrees involving two signs, even wider in extreme latitudes. You can see how this could set up some dilemmas in how to interpret what rules the house, and how to sort through the various influences of different planets straddling two houses.
Why is knowing what house(s) a planet affects important? Well, besides showing us our areas of self-realization through various experiences associated with those houses, it can also help us understand why we have certain major lessons to learn from one area and not another.
If a planet is solidly in one house, then it shows us our inner "light" lessons associated with events connected with that house. A planet on a cusp area is involved in our lessons in both houses rather than just one, since then it's triggered as either an entry or exit energy.
But if it occupies a degree that puts it in one house in one system and an adjacent house in another system, then that planetary function involves how those adjacent houses affect each other. Rather than being in one or the other, it's actually in both simultaneously.
For example, when I first computed my chart I found that if I used the Placidus house system, my Saturn is in the 3rd house. But if I use other systems, such as Porphyry or Equal, it is in the 2nd house. That led me to the question, which house is my Saturn actually in?
When I read the texts, it seemed as though I have elements in my life of both positions. I can definitely identify with Saturn in the 2nd, as well as Saturn in the 3rd. So I began to explore the deeper meaning of the houses, and came up with a system that has worked for me for many years, and satisfies most of my clients who wonder why certain things are so apparently contradictory in their lives.
Simply put, I use two or three systems of house division at the same time. This gives me a span of degrees between houses, a zone where the two houses touch each other and overlap to an extent just as the areas of our lives do overlap somewhat. The span is defined by the gap between the two systems yielding the widest result.
Thus the zone between my 2nd and 3rd houses extends between 28 Virgo (Placidus) and 11 Libra (Equal). Anything that transits that zone exerts an influence in both houses, and blends those two areas of my life. Since that is true for my 2nd and 3rd houses, it is also true that the zone between my 8th and 9th houses covers the area between 28 Pisces and 11 Aries. There are other zones between houses, some wider, some narrower, depending on many variables.
When a planet falls in the zone where two houses overlap, that planetary function learns in both areas and has an impact in both areas. It is no longer simply that we have a part of us that is identified with one area more than others; we have to learn how those areas interrelate through the lessons and qualities of that planet.
To offer a musical analogy, the frets on a guitar neck are unnecessary to play the instrument. A note is a note, However, there are zones where by sliding up or down the string you move into areas showing the subtle differences between the whole notes.
As we move from A through A-sharp into B-flat and B we find both obvious and subtle distinctions, So it is as we move from 2nd house experiences through where the 2nd and 3rd influence each other into our 3rd house experiences.
Taking this approach makes apparent contradictions in the planetary birth positions as well as the progressions and transits more easy to understand. It can also help us understand why, after spending many years in one of our houses, a slow-moving planet begins to affect the neighboring area while still exerting an influence in the old area, and over time seems to link those parts of our lives together in a set of lessons.
(Rewritten extensively from an article originally published in March 2006)
© Copyright 2010 Robert Wilkinson