After planets and signs, the most important factor in all systems of astrology is the houses. The signs are a fixed twelvefold division of the zodiac and are the same for all charts. The houses are a changing twelvefold division of the zodiac, as the point at which they start varies according to each chart. The houses reflect the position of the Earth in its daily rotation relative to the heavens. As the Earth rotates during the course of the day the whole zodiac is gradually drawn to rise in the east and set in the west. Depending on the time of birth during the day, any point in the signs may mark the beginning of the houses. The houses are determined by the cardinal points of the Earth's orientation to the heavens at the time of birth. The point of the zodiac rising on the eastern horizon at birth becomes the cusp or the determining point for the first house. The point of the zodiac directly overhead becomes the Midheaven or the cusp of the tenth house. The other houses are usually determined mathematically from these two points.
The term "house" arose as each of these areas delineates a domain of our life on Earth, the fields of our activity. The Sanskrit term is "bhava", which means a field of action.
The point of the zodiac rising in the east or first house, is known as "the Ascendant". It is the most variable of the major factors used in astrology, and so the one that gives the greatest specificity in prediction. The Sun passes through one sign in a month; the Moon in two and one-half days; but the sign of the Ascendant changes every two hours. The Ascendant is the most important factor in prediction in Vedic astrology, with the Moon-sign second and the Sun-sign a distant third. This is logical as it is the most specific factor in differentiating charts. Two people born the same day but at different times will have different Ascendants, though the other planets will change little if at all. A difference in Ascendants makes a major difference in chart interpretations. Two people born in adjacent days but the same year and at the same time of the day, say 10 am. on September 18 and 19, will usually have more in common in their chart interpretation, than two people born the same day and same year but with a difference of an hour or more. This is because those born at the same time of the day, in days not far removed from each other, will have the same Ascendant.
The Ascendant is a spatial factor. It varies according to place on Earth and reflects geographical positions. Two people born at the same time but different places will have different Ascendant points, the more so, the greater the distance between their places of birth.
The Ascendant shows the orientation of the Earth in the astrological chart. As such, it determines the outer domains of life and our action in the material world. We might say that it represents the Earth as a planet in our chart. The Ascendant indicates our physical incarnation and how we project ourselves into the world at large. The twelve houses delineate the different domains of action in life and our potentials within them. The signs reflect more our nature or character, the houses how we express and manifest it. The deeper and more cosmic aspects of our mind and soul relate to the signs and the stars. The more personal and outer expression of who we are comes through the houses and the Earth. In Vedic astrology we usually judge personality types not by the Sun sign but by the Ascendant. As the Ascendant determines the entire field of action for the individual, it becomes the lens through which we interpret all the different aspects of life.
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