Thursday, February 25, 2010

Good Idea Not Forgotten: What the House Cusps are Saying

These are the house cusps for the time of publication of this article. Click on image if you wish to enlarge it.

How many of you remember Debbi Kempton Smith’s famous astrology cookbook from the 1980’s, Secrets of a Stargazer’s Notebook? Her book was packed full of information for the novice, and the hip, funny writing style kept the reader going. One of her best ideas was a guide to the house cusps, but the information was never organized in one place in the book. Instead, it got buried under loads of information in various chapters, and today is largely forgotten.

Here are Kempton-Smith’s unique interpretations of the house cusps – I haven’t seen anything like it in “how-to” astrology books published in the last couple of decades. It’s a quick “house at glance” technique that helps the consultant keep the house cusps simple, and a handy little trick up an astrologer’s sleeve when one is too tired to remember anything else about the house cusps.

The house cusp with Aries on it shows where we are boss.

Here's a picture of Bruce Springsteen, the original Boss.

The house with Taurus on the cusp shows what we want more than anything else in the world when you are young. Around the age of 40 or so, we may finally start to get the things of this house, although many discover that they no longer want those things the way they did when they were younger.

Here is where we “can do one only if it’s good enough”.

We need to nurture and be nurtured by the people or things of the house that has Cancer on the cusp, and we get rather moody and depressed if we don’t get nurtured here.

This is where we are proud. Kempton-Smith connects the pride associated with the house that has Leo on the cusp with where we should work for a living, but in my experience, this doesn’t happen very often.

This is where we are either insightful and analytical, or picky and critical.

This is where we see-saw back and forth. Some years we work very hard on the things of this house, and other years we just don’t care. This is where we are lazy, basically.

Kempton-Smith writes that we have a choice “between the scorpion or the eagle” regarding the people or things of the house with Scorpio on the cusp.

This is where we have fun - pretty uncomplicated.

There are limitations associated with this house. Some overcome them; others don’t.

Here is where we keep others at arm’s length. We stay detached in the house with Aquarius on the cusp, often for our own sanity. Another meaning that shows up for many people has to do with getting something singular, unique, or one-of-a-kind related to the things of this house.

This is where we are kind, and it comes back to us.


When I used this interpretation framework on my own horoscope, I noticed that some of the meanings “clicked” right away, and others didn’t. Planets placed in the various houses did not appear to negate the interpretations of the house cusps, however. As I continued to work with this framework, I started to see how all of Kempton-Smith’s interpretations fit my house cusps, but the relevant associations were pretty obscure at times (in other words, I had to really dig). Yet the meanings were accurate – I didn’t have to “stretch” my experience to fit the interpretations.

Using these interpretations to consult for others had some surprising results. A number of people said that one or two of these interpretations fit their own personal experience of the astrological houses perfectly. These people “believed” in the framework because they got some very strong “hits”. A few people I talked to said every one fit – I think these folks may have been exceptionally self-aware.

Other people said it was hogwash – they didn’t see where any of the descriptions were relevant to their own lives. With these folks, I wonder if they even spent a decent bit of time trying to find the “fit”. Because I work with four different astrological systems (western, Vedic, Mayan, and the Sabian Symbols) on a regular basis, I encounter this attitude more often than I would like, even among open-minded folks who believe in astrology. If they are unfamiliar with the system, they have to be “sold” on it. Until they are “sold” on it or have heard a lot about it from respected astrological authorities, the system isn’t personally relevant or “doesn’t work” for them. In some cases, their internal bias toward one particular astrological system prevents acceptance of a new one.

Yet Kempton-Smith’s interpretations do appear to work, and the genius of these simple observations is worth another look. Here’s an example from my own horoscope, which has a Virgo Ascendant, with no intercepted houses.

When I consult using this system, this is the first piece of advice that I give. The house with Taurus on it represents strong yearning and desire, and the unfamiliar often sense the “fit” here immediately – it “jumps out” at them.
In my western natal chart, Taurus is on the 9th House cusp. Long distance travel and higher education are the two main themes of this house. I had a very strong desire to pursue education beyond the undergraduate level, even though I did not obtain actual advanced degrees, but I did this well before age 40.

It was with the other theme of long distance travel that Kempton-Smith’s description really “resonated” for me. When I was in my twenties and thirties, I dreamed of seeing the world, but never had enough money to really just take off and travel lots of places. In my twenties, all of my savings from low-income jobs went toward trips that I carefully saved pennies towards – the time I drove across the U.S. for the first time after graduating college, or the time I worked a paid internship that I had little interest in so that I could buy a plane ticket and a Euro-rail Pass. My yearning was channeled into Peace Corps service, so I could live and work in Africa, but even then I only got to see a tiny fraction of what I wanted to see in Africa.

As I reached 40, I finally had the experience to get the overseas contracts that paid enough for me to be able to really travel, only to discover that the desire was no longer there. There’s a very bittersweet quality to the house cusp with Taurus as one gets older – some of us get the thing we always wanted, only to discover that it is no longer what we want, or perhaps we don’t want it in the same way.


Here are the interpretations for my remaining house cusps. Readers with a Virgo Ascendant and similar house cusps will find this section a bonus. Readers with other Ascendants may be able to apply the insights of this section to their own individual house cusps, so resist the urge to skip it entirely. Examples of Kempton-Smith’s descriptions as they apply to other house cusps will be included in a later section of this article.

GEMINI on the MC (Mid-heaven)
Here is where one does “one” only “if it is good enough”. Definitely true – I found the career that was going to be “good enough” for me, but I wasn’t able to complete the training. Instead, I ended up doing a lot of different jobs – working as a personal assistant, doing administrative gigs, consulting in astrology, substitute teaching, teaching overseas, etc…

Most people seems to experience the “multiple” quality of this house – striving for “The ONE” doesn’t seem to get fulfilled all that often with Gemini. Every once in a while there is an exception to this, and these people always seem aware of their exceptional luck and blessing.

This is a nice placement on the house of friends. Since the 11th House also rules long-distance friends or friends on the Internet, I get a lot of nurturing from my Facebook account and my astrology blog and my interaction with online forums. Plus I have a real need to nurture here as well, which is why I have made so many quality astrology articles available on the Internet for free.

The 12th House represents places of confinement, like hospitals and prisons. It is said to represent large institutions in general. Kempton-Smith calls it the “God Box”, because of its association with spirituality and suffering.

On a personal level, I wanted to be a doctor, so the “pride” associated with this house cusp placement was relevant. But I didn’t end up as one, although I have spent a lot of time on contracts with large institutions.

NOTE: This house cusp may have manifested more obviously if events in my life had worked out a little differently. In other words, the instinct was there, but the energy wasn’t. Of those I have consulted with, a number have mentioned this possibility with several of Kempton-Smith’s interpretations.

As a consultant, I advise people that it can frequently be hard “to see yourself” when you are trying to understand how well the Ascendant sign fits your life. The same is often true of Kempton-Smith’s interpretations – we don’t always see how the description relates to our view of ourselves. Use it if it works. Don’t worry if it doesn’t.

In my case, this article is all about self-analysis, although I do want to make it relevant for others, and not turn it into “all about me”. Virgo gets a clear channel here.

This one made immediate sense. 2nd House is earnings or salaried income, and it is very true that I work very hard some years when I know I am going to have the opportunity to earn well, and “sit back” during years where the economic environment appears to be stacked against me. It also made sense to me that I am always in the process of trying to strike a balance in this area of my life. When I have the energy to work hard and earn well, I do it. But there are other years when it is just as easy to stare at my navel, or pick my nose, if you know what I mean.

The description for Scorpio is one of the more obscure ones. I had a client ask me, “Don’t we all have a choice ‘between the scorpion and the eagle’ on pretty much everything?” She has a point.

Still, it may be worth considering if you have more of a struggle than usual with taking the high road, the path of the eagle, versus scuttling along the low road, like the scorpion, when it comes to the things of this house.

Suffice to say, my siblings and I are not close as adults. To some extent, I don’t take this personally – a number of my siblings are not close with each other either. But I do notice that I have to really focus on the eagle’s path during the infrequent occasions when we get together, and they have definitely pulled some stunts as adults that have fired every last nerve of my inner scorpion.

In fact, I do have a lot of fun at home. I love just curling up on a couch, or puttering around the garden. But who doesn’t?

Nonetheless, I have noticed that having Sag on the cusp of a house can alleviate the impact of some pretty heavy planetary influence in the house. One of my good friends has a fallen Jupiter in the 4th house of her Vedic chart, and she has always had to live in crappy, sub-standard housing, but she has Sagittarius on the 4th house cusp of her western chart (the way I do), and she always seems to have fun in her far-from-posh accommodations. Having a cup of tea in her shack, I always feel as if I would love to stay longer. There could be some synergy operating here – she has the Sag energy for fun in her home, and the same Sag energy allows me to enjoy the qualities of other people’s homes, including hers.

Another important meaning of the 4th House is that it represents conditions at the end of life. Having Sagittarius here gives me something to look forward to.

Although it is a bit of a downer, this is the house cusp I would check second after looking first at the one with Taurus. Do you see obvious limitations here?

Keep in mind that not all aspects of a house are ruined when Capricorn sits on the cusp. Some people with this placement will have great relationships with their children, even though they’ve never been all that happy with lovers.

In my case, the major themes of this house are real limitations for me. I don’t have children, even though I teach and enjoy them, and would love to have had my own. As far as lovers go, I am increasingly weary of single life, and would much rather be married. This makes sense when one considers the likelihood that a 5th House Capricorn cusp will have Pisces on the 7th House cusp – marriage is where I am kind “and it comes back to me”. Lovers are where I tend to feel I am wasting my time.

This one really resonated for me, even though my sixth house is empty. The sixth house represents day-to-day jobs rather than careers, co-workers, servants (or those who are lower status than you are at work), health in general, and pets. I definitely have a detached, “arms length” attitude toward many of the things in this house. I don’t socialize with co-workers outside of work if I can help it. I don’t go to the doctor very often because I don’t have health insurance. I make quick distinctions between career opportunities and jobs that will pay the bills, and I don’t get emotionally vested in the latter – my motto is “see the job, do the job, stay out of the misery”.

The “silver lining” is also true for me – I have been blessed with some singular, wonderfully individual, one-of a kind pets. My dear cat Maui, now deceased, used to be able to “follow like a dog” for miles when we lived in the country – in her next life, I just know she is someone’s favorite dog now.

Because I’m not married, it’s hard for me to judge this house. But the 7th House is also said to represent intimate friendships and even “open enemies” in some cases, which may be why the 7th House is also linked to lawsuits. I have never sued anyone, or ever been sued either, so “kindness” could be said to be manifesting in this sense.

I have always been lucky with close friends though, and have had more useful things given to me by close friends, things that I could not have gotten along without.

My advice is to those I counsel is to be generous to those represented by the house with Pisces on the cusp, because it always comes back around here. This typically isn’t a house where you are going to feel “used”. Freedom from this fear makes many people naturally generous in the area of life represented by this house.

It took me forever to understand the meaning of this house cusp. Aries is where Kempton-Smith says you are boss. The 8th House represents legacies, inheritances, the spouse’s money, other people’s money, taxes, insurance policies, etc… None of it seemed to fit. I wasn’t married. I don’t have inherited money or property, or anything more than a mandatory car insurance policy. I don’t work with other people’s money. I don’t even have a will. For a long time, I just wrote this one off.

Then a couple of years ago, someone on an astrology forum posted a link to a great little article that David Roell wrote about the 8th House on his website at The link to this article, which talks about Alan Leo’s partial understanding of the occult nature of this house, is provided below.
(After clicking on the link above, scroll down to the article “How Did Sex Get Into the 8th House?)


After reading the above, I started working with magic, and discovered intuitive talent in this area, which was aided by a “magical” Sabian symbol for the degree of my Jupiter, 4 Scorpio, “A Youth Holding a Lighted Candle In a Devotional Ritual Gains a Sense of the Great ‘Other World’” (see my earlier January, 2010 article “Sabian Symbols in Action” for further explanation of this concept).

In a way, it was almost as if I was “boss” – this was something I had a good deal of talent for, and the other world responds easily to me, for better or for worse. I had the power to get results here.

However, as with Pisces, there is a recycling current of energy frequently operating in the house with Aries on the cusp. You may be boss here, but you are also bossed or controlled by the things in this house, sometimes more than you might like to admit.


Now for some topics that will be relevant to readers with an Ascendant other than Virgo.

Yes, it does. As an experiment, I selected a Sagittarius Ascendant, and used Isabel Hickey’s seminal work, Astrology: a Cosmic Science, as a basis for comparison.

Hickey mentions that Sagittarius Ascendant very often feels that they are never paid what they are worth, and this dovetails with the possible limitations of a 2nd House Capricorn cusp. With Gemini on the 7th House cusp, she notes the likelihood of more than one marriage. With lazy Libra on the 11th House cusp, she remarks that “too much socializing…may take one down the primrose path…and away from the goals and objectives that were meant to be attained.”

Hickey notes that a 5th House Aries cusp will tend to dominate their kids. She doesn’t note the Aries tendency to “recycle”, a more recent observation made by this author. A dominating Aries parent may have a tendency to see it go both ways as the children get older – I know a lady whose landlord is now her daughter.

Having Cancer on the 8th House cusp gives a nurture and be-nurtured quality to both soul-mate sex and contact with the spirits – this can give a psychic nature, as Hickey notes, but also a susceptibility to negative “other worldly” energy – it gets spooky when the spirits are moody!

Comparisons between the two authors weren’t remarkable – Hickey brings up a lot that Kempton-Smith doesn’t. Kempton-Smith’s house cusp interpretations were meant to be used at a glance, so hers is more of a “one-sentence wonder” approach. Yet there are enough similarities to demonstrate that Kempton-Smith’s underlying paradigm is recognized by other astrologers.

Kempton-Smith predicted it would be the house cusp with Leo on it – but she does say that this is where you should be working for a living, and not necessarily where you ARE working for one.

In my experience, a number of people have it on the house cusp associated with Taurus. This is where they focus a tremendous amount of energy until middle age (around 40), and then find that their goals have changed, or that the career doesn’t mean as much to them as it used to.

In Kempton-Smith’s model, the house cusps with Sagittarius, Pisces, and Cancer tend to bring one good things, so it’s nice seeing people working in areas associated with these houses. They tend to be satisfied customers.

Let’s take a look at a Scorpio Ascendant – these folks will have a choice between “the scorpio and the eagle” in terms of themselves and their actions.

Many of these people with have Sagittarius on the 2nd House cusp – they need to have fun at work. Wage earning has to be fun, amusing, or personally satisfying, or they won’t want to do it. This gets even more interesting when you notice that proud Leo is on the Mid Heaven, and lazy Libra is in the 12th House of suffering and large institutions. Put all this cusp information together, and you often have a profile of someone who is self-employed, or employed at a large institution but paid as a contractor or consultant, with somewhat more freedom to pick and choose work tasks. With Leo on the MC, women with this Ascendant may make a career out of marriage, even if they continue to hold paid employment.

Marriage is very important to this Ascendant. They may spend a tremendous amount of time trying to find the One, or they may really want “perfection” as they define it from a spouse. Taurus is on the 7th House cusp, stamping it with tremendous desire and yearning. Scorpio Ascendants who marry early may change their mind around age 40. Those who marry later tend to see the scope of the marriage change significantly around this age.

Since the 7th House represents intimate friends, this aspect of life is also influenced by the Taurus Ascendant. Expect these people to have at least a few life-long intimates with whom they have been friends since childhood.

Capricorn is on the 3rd House cusp, meaning that these people tend to have significant limitations in relationships with one or more of their siblings.

Aquarius is on the 4th House – there will be a sense of detachment regarding the home. Those with Aquarius on the 4th House tend to hire housekeepers or home-office managers. With the exceptional, one-of-a-kind quality that sometimes shows up on the house with the Aquarius cusp, these folks may at some point in their life own a unique, out-of-the-ordinary home. They also tend to be detached from the idea of old age in themselves, or they may enjoy some unusual or remarkable experiences in old age.

Pisces is a nice one to have on the 5th House, according to Kempton-Smith’s model. Lovers and children are the ones to whom these people are kind, and the generosity and love is returned in some way from these people as well.

With Aries on the 6th House cusp, they will want to be the boss of their daily activities – more evidence of a tendency to be self-employed or “in control” of the work environment. They may also exert firm control over diet or exercise, so they may experience how diet and exercise controls them. Recall that there is a “recycling” quality to the energy of both Pisces and Aries, perhaps because these two signs govern the ending and the beginning of the zodiac.

With Gemini on the 8th House cusp, these folks are likely to be determined materialists. They rarely do only one life insurance policy or tax shelter. Having Cancer on the 9th House cusp suggests a strong desire to nurture or be nurtured through higher education or long distance travel. This association is open to a number on interpretations, anything from the person who takes a vacation to attend cooking school, to the professor who is well-liked by his graduate student assistants or interns.

With Virgo on the 11th House cusp, the Scorpio Ascendant can offer invaluable counsel, because their talent for analytical insight is directed at colleagues, acquaintances, and the Internet community (all represented by the 11th House). Their knack for criticism is directed to the same place, making these people talented observers of the social scene – friends and colleagues who benefit from the Scorpio’s wisdom may also need to be alert to the Scorpio Ascendant for other reasons.


Now that you have seen a couple of profiles using Kempton-Smith’s approach to the house cusps, it should be fairly easy for you to scan your own horoscope and determine its validity. Personal notes from readers on their observations would be greatly appreciated. Let me know what you think.

Kempton-Smith, Debbi,Secrets of a Stargazer's Notebook,Topquark Press, 1999.


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