A long time ago (in October of 1950, to be exact) the noted astrologer Dane Rudhyar wrote an essay distinguishing astrological houses from the signs of the zodiac. Rudhyar’s insight into this matter has been largely ignored by modern astrologers.
Pick up almost any of the modern “psychological” books on astrology and you will almost invariably find this confusion being perpetuated.
Houses versus Signs
The houses are a way of dividing the ecliptic with reference to the horizon of the point of earth for which a chart is cast. The most common systems of house division is to place the Ascendant as the beginning of the 1st house and the Midheaven at the beginning of the 10th houses. This creates four quadrants of the chart, which are then divided into three houses each by various methods depending on the choice of house system. The houses are usually of variable widths whereas the zodiac signs are always 30-degrees each.
Rudhyar makes clear in his essay that the signs represent “modes of life-energy” whereas the houses represent “particular fields of experience.” In astrology there are twelve basic modes of life-energy (the signs) and there are twelve basic fields of experience (the houses). To quote Rudhyar: “
The zodiac is a field of forces; the circle of the houses is a framework — something in and through which life and events take place. The two should be clearly defined and never confused in the kind of astrology which deals with individual problems and psychological realities.”
To be clear about the distinction, let me present some basic ideas. The signs are equal 30-degree divisions of the ecliptic, which is the apparent path of the Sun in its annual journey around the earth (from a geocentric viewpoint).
The zodiac is a belt of constellations after which the signs are named. The zodiac belt is the fairly narrow region centered on the ecliptic, in which the Sun, Moon, and planets appear to travel around the earth.