When a sign is completely swallowed up by a house – never touching a house cusp, in other words – it is said to be “intercepted.” I get a lot of questions about that astrological situation so I thought it would be a good topic for a newsletter.
Let me start by saying that in some systems of house division, interception is just not possible. Many astrologers nowadays are drawn to the old ways, using traditional “Whole Sign houses.” No interceptions are possible there, since, if you have Gemini rising, everything in Gemini is treated as being “in the first house.” Houses and signs are conflated in that Whole Sign system, so interception is simply not relevant.
Similarly, in the Equal house system, all houses are thirty degrees wide. The math precludes interception since no house is wide enough to completely swallow a sign.
In all the other systems of house division, the houses vary in width. All circles are of course composed of 360̊, so if one house is only 25̊ wide, another house is going to have to take up the slack. As birth places get further away from the Equator, those differences in house width become more extreme. That phenomenon is easy to understand if you just reflect for a moment upon “the midnight sun” in the arctic or antarctic regions, The Ascendant – also known as the cusp of the first house – is where the sun rises. So what if it never rises? There is then no Ascendant as we would traditionally understand it. The result is that houses disappear.
Eskimos born in June have birthcharts, of course. There is a mystery here, and I suspect that a close study of our very northern cousins would eventually crack it – and maybe lead to that Holy Grail of astrological theory: a house system which works universally. Until then, we have the Tower of Babel, and perhaps the most serious loose end in modern astrological practice.
By the way, if the sign Taurus is intercepted, so will Scorpio. Opposite houses are always symmetrical. No one can have only one intercepted sign. If you have one, you will have two.
I use the Placidus house system myself. I insist on it when I am teaching my serious students, although I know some of them secretly switch everything to Koch or Porphyry when I am not looking. The reason I insist on Placidus in my classes is simple: we all have to speak the same language or confusion reigns. In reality I am not actually so dogmatic. I know and respect many astrologers who use different house systems. I’d never say that “Placidus is the right system” and all the others are wrong. I would only say that Placidus is the one that has always worked most consistently for me. Bottom line, it is the one that explains my own life to me most honestly and clearly, and for all of us, looking into that personal mirror is the acid test.
Whatever house system you choose to use, unless it is Whole Sign or Equal, you will soon hit upon the phenomenon of interception: a sign is swallowed up completely by a house; none of its degrees appear on any house cusps.
How can we understand such situations? When I was a young astrologer, I heard that with such a configuration, we would “have a hard time expressing the energy of that intercepted sign.” It wasn’t a good thing, in other words. I don’t like that attitude toward interception, but I’ll get back to that quibble soon. Right now, I want to use the idea of our “having a hard time” expressing that energy as a jumping off point. There is some truth in it; it is just that such wording is loaded with inappropriate and unnecessary negativity.
What is fundamentally right about saying that intercepted signs have trouble expressing themselves is that all of the houses are indeed about expression. They are behavioral; they are about taking action in the world. Another way to say it is that houses are about the sorts of brutally one-dimensional decisions which actually give shape to our lives.
Take the seventh house, the traditional “house of marriage,” as an example. How many people can you be married to at the same time? For most of us, the answer is pretty obvious. Now ask yourself a second question: how many people have you met with whom, if the stars of circumstance had aligned differently, you might have spent your life? But the seventh house said, “choose one – and forsake all others.”
Ouch – but that’s life.
Similarly, at how many careers can you achieve excellence simultaneously? At some point, you’ve diluted your energy so much that you become the proverbial “jack of all trades, master of none.” There’s the tenth house and the midheaven. Hard choices again. Making our stand in the world. Saying “this, but not that.”
All houses are that way; all of them ask us to choose. All of them reflect the undeniable fact that life is short. All of them, in the modern phrase, offer you a chance to “live your best life.” And no one in the history of the planet has ever accomplished anything like “living his or her best life” by keeping all the options open. In the words of the song, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.
Astrologers who say that intercepted signs “have a hard time expressing themselves” are right about one thing: if house cusps are points of behavioral expression, then a sign that has no connection with a house cusp is indeed a lot less likely to have visible expression in one’s life.
There’s one glaring exception to that notion, but we will get to that in a moment. First, there is something much more fundamental that needs to be said:
Your chart is perfect.
You yourself aren’t perfect. Me either. But your chart itself perfectly reflects your karmic predicament and your optimal path forward from that starting point. Your chart is perfect; your personal imperfections can be best understood as your imperfect response to the challenges and evolutionary opportunities your chart represents. It models “your best life.” That is the gold standard – and like most gold standards, we can only approach it, never fully achieve it.
To me, all healthy approaches to astrology in general begin at this same philosophical starting line: there is nothing wrong with anyone’s chart, ever. If you have intercepted signs, then you need them. Try to understand and appreciate why you have them, and you are aligning yourself with your soul’s purpose. Wish for anything else, and you are a race horse wishing for lead hooves or a painter wishing for blindness.
Intercepted signs “have a hard time expressing themselves.” It is impossible to hear those words and avoid the subliminal message that you would have been better off if neither of those signs were intercepted. Try turning the idea on its head: if you have intercepted signs in your chart, you need to have them. The expression of that energy – and the subsequent entanglement of your life in its results – would interfere with your optimal path of evolution in this lifetime.
There are two major caveats in this way of thinking about interception. If we don’t grasp them, all that I have said so far will only confuse and mislead you.
First, we are talking about the biographical expression of that energy, not the more general psychic experience of it. There is a big difference between the two. One of the great strengths of astrology is how it holds a mirror before our inner lives as well as our outer ones. A person might, for example, have Gemini intercepted. Everything else being equal, I might point out to that person that we learn a lot more with our mouths closed than with them open. Deep reflection and insight are quite available here – but getting caught up in the role of “expert” might be counter-productive from an evolutionary point of view.
Our second caveat is also critical. There is one simple astrological reality which overrides all that I have been saying about intercepted signs keeping quiet. That is having planets in the intercepted sign. Planets are always active, at least to some degree. Planets represent energy. In physics, they say that “energy is the capacity to do work.” And planets always “work” in some sense of the word. They are inherently self-expressive biographically. Some – such as Neptune intercepted in the 12th house – might have a very subtle, internal orientation. Like the famous iceberg, 90% of what such a planet represents is invisible in the outer life. But 10% is visibly expressed – and needs to be. With any strong response to Neptune in the 12th house, there will be something that resembles meditation in the behavioral repertoire. The behaviors and experiences which we associate with a spiritual life are critical triggers to such a person’s evolution.
Bottom line, if a sign is intercepted in your chart, it is supposed to be intercepted. Don’t frame it as a problem, frame it as your path. It may very well be a big part of your inner life – but in living “your best life,” you do not let yourself get too enmeshed in its outward expression. Life is too short for those kinds of entanglements. Practice non-attachment there, as best you can.
All that is true unless you have planets in that sign. Planets need worldly experience. We have to honor that fact. There is no way to contain them.
Beyond that point, there is good news and bad news about those intercepted planets.
The bad news is that they may indeed have a tougher time finding meaningful behavioral expression in the world.
The good news is that, when they do find it, it comes from a very deep, creative, individuated space inside of us. Their expression is worth waiting for, in other words. Their “births” might be hard ones – but the baby is likely to be a genius.
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