Monday, 22 June 2009

House Systems

Following the publication of the House Systems' Poll in The Tradition NEWS , Peter Stockinger has made some interesting comments on his web log. I should say straightaway that I agree with him completely and because I think his post is important, I would like to take up his discussion from another perspective.

When I read the results of this poll, I was reminded of the situation with house systems when I began in astrology in the early 1980s when Equal House and Placidus were the dominant systems. Campanus, Koch, Porphyry and many others were discussed and written about, new systems were presented each supposedly answering doubts found within the others. Regiomontanus came to the forefront because of the indefatigable work of Olivia Barclay in her attempts to promote the work of William Lilly, thus it was that this system became popular, and I will say more about this below. With all the arguments about which was the definitive house system, most students were left confused and unsure about what to do, until someone (I don't know who) came up with the solution of the 'no house' house system. That is, the angles of the chart would be calculated and then left at that; the chart being delineated through the quadrants. (Porphyry itself was seen as a compromise between Equal House and Placidus and thus as a solution.) This, too, became fashionable and I recall that it held its ground for a little while.

If I were to list the order of popularity of the house systems from 20 or 30 years ago, you'd see that little has changed in terms of the understanding of house systems. The choice for most people seems to made on the basis of who it is that is recommending the system, and little to do with the system itself.

I began my studies before the advent of the personal computer and astrological software. A few years later we did have some software for certain
scientific calculators, but that was it – we used tables. This probably was beneficial because to be able to generate these other, more novel systems, one needed the tables to go with them. Tables of houses could only be found by going to a bookshop, although sometimes we could buy through mail order. Also, calculating manually did tend to slow down some of our more eccentric activities; I could calculate and draw a chart in about 15 minutes (this is very fast), but even I was disinclined to calculate lots of charts simply to test some new-fangled technique.

Peter Stockinger has brought up the idea of fads and fashions in astrology and I agree with him, but this doesn't only extend to the house system, it also extends to the astrological method in totality. Modern, Traditional, Medieval and Classical (Hellenistic) attract their own adherents or followers, but the largest proportion of each are those who use a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Mixing systems or methodologies is a mistake and does no justice to any of the systems or methods employed. You might think that the mixing takes place between the Modern system and one of the earlier methodologies, but this isn't completely true. There are many practitioners who mix, say, Medieval with Traditional, or either of these with Classical which displays a lack of confidence and understanding.

Working astrology on a 'pick 'n mix' basis is understandable these days because there is so much information so easily available through the internet. But what needs to be said, I think, is that its recent manifestation began with the rising success of the Tradition in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. Whilst the Tradition was encapsulated within horary astrology, and stayed there, no questions or antagonisms were raised; it was a specialised field that required its own 'rules' and no-one disabused the Modern practitioners of that (readers might not know that when I began my studies in the Tradition, horary was an astrological pariah). Later I began to lecture and write on the use of the Tradition in nativities and mundane work. It became clear to me that the idea that the same system could be universally applied was causing some people problems, particularly as other Traditionalists began to do the same, and as natal courses became available. It seems to be at around that time that the divisions of application were set, that is, that the Traditional system was to be used for horary and perhaps mundane, and the Modern system for nativities. As this happened, so too did decisions about house systems – one for each astrological application.

There is only one astrology and it encompasses nativities, horary, elections, and mundane. Choose your period and stick to it, learn it thoroughly and cleanse your mind of everything else you've learned about astrology. Do not be tempted to introduce techniques from other periods ('bolt ons' don't work in astrology), use the house system associated with that period, and understand the historical and cultural context for that period. Just because we have access to all these historical periods, doesn't mean that we have to make porridge of them. Astrology is the language of the stars, not Esperanto.


Peter Stockinger said...

Dear Sue

Thank you for picking up the thread from my web log entry and for the addition of another strand to it. It is very interesting to hear about your experiences as a true practitioner of the Tradition. Being of the generation who had to learn to calculate and erect a chart by hand myself, your descriptions raised fond memories in me. Nothing in the world could make me regret this, as it taught me more about the heavens than any computer programme ever will.
I do of course agree with you that there is only one astrology and all I want to add to this is the fact that there is only one way to learn and to practice it successfully either. This way, and no usage of how ever many different house systems or any other supposed shortcuts will ever replace it, is of course called hard work. The old masters were correct in what they taught. If this does not seem to be true for some, my advice would be to go back and study harder, until the discrepancies are resolved.


Sue Ward said...

Thank you, Peter. Here is a quotation that sums up what you've written:

"Heaven is reached by no brief effort and does not favour short cuts;"
Marcus Manilius, "Astronomica", Heinemann, London 1977.

Anonymous said...

Astrology has shifted in technique through time, because the times themselves have given different virtues that enable a mind to reach its Source. To speak to a person through one era of astrology is to endow them with that particular quality of the time. The Result Is Knowledge - regardless of the time period. There is no law that states that knowledge from various time periods cannot be synthesized harmoniously; just as the time which divides the eras travels as does a stream; nor does Knowledge itself know the difference. The virtue of the artist is to assist another.

Sue Ward said...

Thank you, Anonymous.

I'm not sure that I've understood your point, but you seem to be saying that methodologies can be mixed, or perhaps, should be.

What methods or techniques you choose to use is your business, and I'm sure that you have a wealth of anecdotal evidence to support your view. But then we all have, I suppose. I was talking about the System and the philosophy, not personal preferences.

I'll extend the culinary analogy: two of the most popular foods in the UK are roast dinner and Indian curry. We love them, but we want Yorkshire pudding with our roast beef, not onion bajias. Mint sauce is what you have with lamb, not raitha. There are reasons for this: one's digestion being primary. Much better kept on separate plates. But if anyone wants ice cream covered in chop suey, that's entirely up to them.

Peter Stockinger said...

Dear Anonymous,

Although you have posted your comment on Sue Ward’s web log, I think I should comment here as it was me who published an opinion on the House poll results in the first place. I am not sure if I understand you correctly, nevertheless I will give you my opinion. You state that “astrology has shifted in technique through time, because the times themselves have given different virtues that enable a mind to reach its Source”. Although I find it highly debatable if astrology has shifted in technique or if modern astrologers have only decided to circumvent the real issues by omission and wrap the client into a cloud of psycho-babble, I agree with you that astrology inherently possesses the key that makes it possible for the astrologer to reach the Source. Unfortunately this has not a lot to do with the service the astrologer provides for the client. As I have stated before, the main aim of the astrologer was to become a link between humanity and the Divine. This act of service enabled the astrologer to focus on the source and he hoped to ultimately reach enlightenment. By provision of a service to his clients the astrologer assisted in clarifying the divine will, helped the people to understand their destiny and, as we can see from William Lilly’s Letter to the Student, purified himself in the process.
You are correct in your statement that “there is no law that states that knowledge from various time periods cannot be synthesized harmoniously”. On the other hand you state that “The Result Is Knowledge – regardless of the time period”. If you postulate this to be true, implying that knowledge is unchangeable and ever present, and I agree with you here, than it is unnecessary, even impossible to synthesize something that is existing in its perfect form at any given time.
You may be talking about the accessibility and interpretation of knowledge which has changed over time, and this is exactly where my criticism was placed. Traditional astrology is based on a world view being valid before the time of Enlightenment, embedded in a larger body of knowledge, called the Hermetic arts. This corpus made it possible for the initiated to walk on a path, nearly impossible to find these days. If you study the decline of astrology and the deterioration of the moral standards concerning its practitioners in the late 17th century you will see how the Knowledge you are speaking of vanished under layers of selfishness, ignorance and greed. The new gods called ‘science’ and ‘profit’ were eradicating the old ways, sacrificing the Hermetic arts on the altar of progress. If we want to practice Traditional astrology, tap into the world view and the thought processes, perhaps even try to understand the magic of the old Master astrologers, we should keep it as pure as possible. There is only one astrology but there are many access points to it. Some will bring more desired results than others, therefore we should choose well.

Anonymous said...

I am another Anonymous, not the previous one. I have a few questions to Anonymous #1. I fail to see the point of your e-mail.
Let us consider your statements for a moment.
What do you mean by “virtues that enable the mind to reach its Source”? When you refer to “knowledge from various periods” being “synthesized harmoniously” can you provide some practical examples regarding Astrology? And why do you say that “time divides the eras as does a stream”? Does time really divide the eras? Shouldn't it unite them instead? And do you really believe time flows “like a stream”? Do you think time is linear?
I would appreciate your assistance on this. As you so poetically put it, “the virtue of the artist is to assist another”.

Anonymous #2