Astrological Book Review: The Houses – Temples of the Sky (Deborah Houlding)
July 29, 2008 by Nina Gryphon
My copy of The Houses – Temples of the Sky arrived last week from Wessex Astrologer, and because it is a relatively slim book, I expected to have read it in preparation for this review in a matter of a few days. However, it is a testament to the sheer amount of information contained therein when I confess that it took the whole week to really do this book justice.
The book was written by Deborah Houlding, who was interviewed on this blog a few weeks ago. In the interview, Houlding spoke of practicing traditional astrology, and in The Houses, we get a glimpse into Houlding’s sources.
The Houses – Temples of the Sky is highly recommended, especially for intermediate and advanced students of astrology. However, beginners could also benefit greatly from this book, provided they are prepared to do a little more intensive studying than other books on houses require. It is also useful as a quick reference comparing what ancient astrologer XYZ said in contrast with astrologer ABC, without having to find the relevant material in each book. Both modern and traditional astrologers will find much substantial information here. This is the nec plus ultra of books on houses.
Book Contents and Structure
Three introductory chapters begin the book. The first is a foreword by Robert Hand, followed by two chapters on the theory and practice of house division. Here, the author objects to the simplification of house = sign = planet, which is a recent melding together of largely unrelated concepts. We are then whisked through some of the basic terminology of house division, though I suspect that most readers of an intermediate-level book such will be familiar with these concepts.
The text itself then starts with a historical summary of the way houses were used in ancient astrology, followed by a very interesting and rarely seen analysis of the ancient astrologers’ use of the four angles of the horoscope. Houlding links the fourth house to the ancient Egyptian concept of the underworld as the source whence we emerge and to which we eventually return. As a result, traditional astrology sees the fourth house of all things contained within the earth, including graves; and our biological source, our ancestors. Each angle is analyzed and various historical sources are given for the meaning.
The subsequent four chapters address the non-angular house polarities; second/eighth, fifth/11th, third/ninth, and sixth/12th. The opposing houses in the horoscope carry related but different meanings, and Houlding wisely analyzes the houses in pairs, to better compare and contrast the often subtle differences among them. As with the chapter on the angles, multiple sources are given for the meaning of each house, with a summary of each source’s material.
Then, from a practicing astrologer’s point of view, we get to the really juicy part. Each house is treated separately in a section called “House Rulerships and Practice.” The house meanings are categorized according to the main rulerships, horary associations, mundane associations, lawsuits/conflicts, events, medical matters, commerce, colors, qualities (angular, diurnal, masculine, etc.), compass direction, associated planets and signs, and other names of the house.
Following the house attributions, we go on to more chapters dealing head-on with the multiple house systems available to astrologers. Houlding describes the problematic nature of dividing space based on the ecliptic, which becomes particularly troublesome in high latitudes. She then describes some alternatives to this method, and the pluses and minuses of the major house division systems. An interesting chapter is devoted to Ptolemy and his lack of use of the houses, as well as his interchangeable use of the words “place” and “sign”. There is some discussion of the concept of angularity, and whether planets near an angle but not within it can be considered truly angular, based on various sources.
Finally, we get a very detailed glossary of terms, followed by an explanation of the planetary hours, as well as Al-Biruni’s instructions on finding the hour of birth. There is a convenient house rulerships index, in addition to a general index for the entire book.
The Houses is very useful, particularly as a solid reference book. To my knowledge, there are no other books on houses that deal in such depth with traditional house rulerships, as does this one. In particular, the individual house rulerships section will be invaluable to anyone reading a horoscope, whether it is a horary, natal, or mundane chart. Pulling together major sources in one book is no small feat, and clearly a lot of research went into this deceptively slim volume.
As a traditional astrologer, I could have done without the modern house attributions intermixed with the traditional sources in the book. The Houses is a book appealing both to traditional and modern astrologers, while blending the two approaches. At times, this was interesting and enlightening, as with the inclusion of Charles Carter’s mundane house meanings, but other times, the approach wasn’t that helpful, resulting in my glossing over modern house attributions to get to the “good stuff.” Some of the modern house attributions are questionable in their validity, and it is no fun sifting through them to get to more accurate material, even if the book is very even-handed as a result! Still, because the approach to the traditional authorities is so thorough, this was a minor price to pay.
I particularly appreciated the detailed discussion of the pros and cons of various house division systems. Since most of us are familiar with the house systems primarily from the menu in our astrology software, it is very useful to learn more about the history, origins, and rationale behind each method. The useful section on equal houses should invigorate and inform the ongoing debate between proponents of various house division systems.
The value of this book will most certainly last through the years, as good astrological reference books are hard to come by. Ultimately, it is best to go to the original source, but when I want to know what Al-Biruni thought of the 8th house, and how his approach contrasted with William Lilly’s or that of modern astrology, this is the go-to book.
The Houses – Temples of the Sky, 2nd ed. (expanded & revised)
By: Deborah Houlding
The Wessex Astrologer, 2006
Available at astroamerica.com, the Wessex Astrologer, and at Amazon.
168 pages, paperback.
14.50 GBP/25.00 USD
(If you have written or published an astrology book you would like reviewed on Gryphon Astrology, please contact me at nina [at] gryphonastrology.com or write to me here (don’t forget to include your contact info).