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A Guided Tour of the 12 Astrological Houses

Photo-Illustration: by Preeti Kinha; Photos: Getty Images

Astrology is more than a cute parlor trick — it’s a tool for self-actualization, healing, and compassion. It’s also, um, complicated. Once you’re ready to dig in deeper beyond your Sun sign (that is, the zodiac sign associated with your day of birth), you’ll find yourself in an astrological black hole, complete with planets, symbols, shapes, and interpretations animating your birth chart (that is, the map of the sky at the exact moment and location of your birth). Like I said, complicated.

Among these dozens upon dozens of meaningful nuances, there are the elusive Houses. The 12 Houses of the zodiac help us discover exactly where planetary energy manifests in our lives. But what is a House? And who, or what, lives in it? In this economy? (It’s not that kind of house.) Read on, my friend, for everything you need to know about the 12 astrological Houses.

What is an astrological House?

When you pull up your birth chart (I recommend the TimePassages app for iOS or Android, or, you’ll notice that your 360º wheel is subdivided into 12 sections, like pie slices. Before you ask: Yes, the number 12 surfaces often in astrology; however, the Houses are not the same as the 12 signs of the zodiac. The Houses actually mirror planet Earth’s 24-hour rotation around its axis. Each House is equal to approximately two hours within a 24-hour period. The math is mathing!

On your birth chart each planet, asteroid, and celestial point falls within a House, which illuminates the spot it occupied at the exact time, date, and location you made your earthly debut. The Houses activate these planets by revealing where that energy shows up in your life.

Here’s another way to think about it: The planet is the what (for example, the Moon represents emotions, nurture, and safety), the zodiac sign is the how (the Moon in Virgo, for instance, experiences emotions through structures, systems, and dependability), and the House is the where (if the Moon in Virgo is in the seventh house, it will express these attributes through partnerships, collaborations, and contracts).

Okay, how do I find my Houses on my birth chart?

I recommend starting with your Ascendant, also known as the Rising Sign. The Ascendant reflects the zodiac sign emerging over the Eastern Horizon at your exact moment of birth, which reveals your perspective on reality, along with the recurring themes that show in your life. What’s more, the Ascendant is not only what shapes our character, but also the architecture to our individual birth chart. From the position of the Ascendant (which appears at the 9 o’clock position on the wheel), we read the chart counterclockwise, with the Ascendant’s horizontal line delineating the First House. From there, we read down and around the Houses — the bottom of the chart (the 6 o’clock position) marks the Fourth House, emerging on the west side of the horizon (the 3 o’clock position), which marks the Seventh House — the chart’s halfway part. Then we make our way to the top of the chart (the 12 o’clock position), locating the Tenth House and, finally, concluding the cycle with the Twelfth House, the section that borders the Ascendant from the top.

The Houses anchor the birth chart by providing a framework for your lived experience. They offer depth and dimension, illuminating which spheres of influence are most meaningful in your life. You may notice that some Houses contain lots of different planets. Since many celestial bodies travel together based on the season, they often show up near each other in the birth chart. (By the way, three or more celestial bodies in a House are referred to as a stellium, which reflects a special concentration of energy relating to the themes of that House.) Alternatively, you may also notice that some Houses are completely empty — that’s also totally normal. An empty House doesn’t mean that you don’t have that domain in your life (after all, all 12 Houses exist within our birth chart for a reason), it just means that it’s not one of your default domains where you store energy.

What does each House of the zodiac represent?

The First House: Identity

As established by the Ascendant, the First House is, well, you. It symbolizes the body you were born with, physical appearance, and general recurring themes in your life. Likewise, planets that occupy the First House tend to show up in very obvious ways in our lives (for instance, someone who has the Moon in their First House will likely wear their emotions on their sleeve, or someone with Venus in their First House will care deeply about aesthetics and personal taste). This is also the House of manifestation, so when transiting planets move through this domain, we feel inspired to take action and set things in motion.

The Second House: Values

The Second House is related to all that we value, including personal finances and material possessions. Beyond its connection to money, the Second House also speaks to what we need in order to feel safe, protected, and supported. Natal planets located in the Second House are motivated by concepts of security, while planets transiting the Second House reveal changes in resources or perception of importance.

The Third House: Communication

Siblings, peers, and friends are governed by the third house, along with communication, transportation, and early childhood education. Natal planets in the Third House are anchored through dialogue and discussion, and when planets transit the Third House, we are likely to receive important information … especially juicy gossip.

The Fourth House: Family

The Fourth House is delineated by an angle referred to as the Imum Coeli — IC for short — which directly translates to “bottom of the sky.” At the base of the birth chart, the Fourth House symbolizes home, family, childhood experiences, and the way we metabolize our upbringing. Natal planets in the Fourth House are largely influenced by our parents (specifically the mother figure), while transiting planets moving across the Fourth House will inspire us to reconsider our relationship with private, domestic space.

The Fifth House: Pleasure

The Fifth House is associated with creativity, romance, artistry, and children. This is the area of the birth chart that invites us to connect with inspiration, joy, and impressive accolades. Natal planets in the Fifth House illuminate play, imagination, performance, competition, and theatricality. When planets transit the Fifth House, we’re encouraged to find new outlets for our artistic expression, especially through love and romance.

The Sixth House: Health

The Sixth House corresponds with health, wellness, schedules, and daily routines. While the First House speaks to the body you were born with, the Sixth House reflects the body you create through your choices. Those with natal planets in the Sixth House are often motivated by organization, structure, and calendar management, while transiting planets moving through this domain enable us to pay closer attention to how we’re spending our time.

The Seventh House: Partnership

The Seventh House is demarcated by an angle referred to as the Descendent — the opposite of your Ascendant. Likewise, this House is located directly across from the First House of Self and exposes life-changing partnerships. The Seventh House introduces the concept of perspective: It’s you relative to outside circumstances that go beyond your immediate circumstances. When natal planets are located in the Seventh House, they tend to focus deeply on relationships, both romantic and professional. When transiting planets move through the Seventh House, we may find ourselves closing deals, signing contracts, or defining relationships.

The Eighth House: Transformation

Traditionally called the House of “sex, death, and transformation,” the Eighth House is associated with deep psychological experiences and hidden passions. Those with natal planets in the Eighth House may find themselves attracted to supernatural or esoteric subjects and drawn to passionate relationships, and will likely reinvent themselves many times throughout their lives. Additionally, the Eighth House has to do with “other people’s money,” so those with planets in the Eighth House may unearth unexpected assets throughout their life — both by way of their own inheritances and unearthing others’ hidden treasure. Planets transiting this area often signal a powerful emotional phase that prompts us to reimagine wants, needs, and expectations.

The Ninth House: Philosophy

The Ninth House is the area of the chart associated with travel, philosophy, higher education, and theology. Those born with natal planets in the Ninth House are often defined by their wanderlust and curiosity as they pursue an insatiable quest for knowledge. When transiting planets move through the Ninth House, we can find new inspiration by being exposed to individuals and concepts that exist beyond our day-to-day realities.

The Tenth House: Legacy

The Tenth House is delineated by an angle referred to as the Medium Coeli — MC for short — which translates from Latin to “top of the sky.” The Tenth House, located at the very top of the birth chart, is the apex of your unique story: It’s your legacy, reputation, and how you’ll be remembered in this lifetime. The Tenth House is associated with public image, career ambitions, and professional accolades. Natal planets in the Tenth House reveal a deep desire to succeed, and — when planets transit this domain — we can expect meaningful changes to occur for how we’re viewed and perceived by others.

The Eleventh House: Humanity

The Eleventh House is linked to humanitarian pursuits. Technology, innovation, medicine, and social media also exist within this zone, which helps us understand the large-scale, macro influence of this domain. Those born with planets in the Eleventh House are on a perpetual mission to save the world, and these folks often have revolutionary, groundbreaking, and even radical ideas for how to shape society. Transiting planets through this domain inspire us to broaden our reach and help others outside our immediate community.

The Twelfth House: Psyche

The Twelfth House is considered the “unseen realm.” This domain — the last House in the cycle — contains all things that exist without physical form (dreams, secrets, emotions … along with affairs, addictions, and psychological ailments). The Twelfth House is considered the most psychic, spiritual, and mysterious area of the birth chart, so those born with planets in this area are often highly intuitive individuals who encounter psychic and spiritual experiences. Planets transiting the Twelfth House invite us to release what is no longer working; take a deep look at our emotional truths; and find time alone to rest, recover, and recuperate.

How do these astrological Houses play a role in my horoscopes?

Keep in mind that although our natal planets in the birth chart don’t change, the planets in the sky are constantly moving across our different Houses. These are called the “transiting planets,” and the placement of the transiting planets moving across the Houses in our birth chart is actually how horoscopes are calculated. In other words, your daily, weekly, monthly, and even annual horoscopes are determined based on which Houses are being activated in your chart — so Houses aren’t just about personality, they can help illuminate your future!

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A Guided Tour of the 12 Astrological Houses