Beginners Corner: Cusps and interceptions

Posted & filed under Beginners, Learning Astrology, Morning Pages, Question and Answer.

“I am totally stymied by cusps and interceptions,” confided a reader in a recent email. Let’s see if we can sort out this out for you, shall we?

Cusps and Signs

on the cuspPart of the problem is the term cusp. Specifically, misuse of the term by people who greedily lay claim to two Sun signs.  You may not realize this, but when you talk about “your sign,” you’re actually saying, “The sign of the zodiac through which the Sun appeared to be moving at the time of my birth.” (Didn’t know you were so smart, did you?)

Problem is, because the earth’s annual journey around the Sun doesn’t take precisely one calendar year, the date the Sun moves from one sign to another changes (within one day) from year to year. So if you were born on March 20, then yeah, you might be a Pisces or you might be an Aries.

But let’s be clear: When you were born, the Sun was in one sign, or it was in the next. The only way to know for sure which one is to find out what time you were born and calculate your birth chart. Now yes, if you were born within, say, an hour of the moment when the center of the Sun actually enters a sign, then okay – maybe you could make the case that you are “born on the cusp.” Otherwise, one Sun sign per customer!

And now for something completely different: Cusps and Houses

Since most astrologers wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near this “born on the cusp” business, when we use the term “cusps” you can be pretty sure that we’re not talking about signs at all. Rather, we’re referring to the lines that separate houses in the horoscope, much as fences separate properties from one another:

astrology cusps

And so on, proceeding counter-clockwise, for a total of twelve. When astrologers refer to house systems, we’re talking about different methods of cutting up the sky, and where the cusps should go. And we can get pretty animated on the subject.

Four of the cusps have special names. Sometimes called the angles of the chart, they are:

  • First House cusp: Ascendant
  • Fourth House cusp: IC or Nadir
  • Seventh House cusp: Descendant
  • Tenth House cusp: MC or Midheaven

The houses of the horoscope symbolize areas of the sky. For instance, the cusp of the first house represents the eastern horizon, and the cusp of the seventh house represents the western horizon. The cusp of the tenth house represents the highest point in the horizon any planet can reach at a given location, and the cusp of the fourth house represents its opposite point.

So the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth houses actually have a basis in physical reality. As for the rest… look up in the sky, right now; do you see lines there? (I sincerely hope the answer is no.)

It’s true: House cusps are fictional. Convenient, but open to interpretation.

Signs, degrees, and house cusps

Think of the chart wheel as a big ribbon with all 360 degrees of the zodiac lining the inside like dots on wallpaper.  The twelve house cusps are like hands on a clock attached to the middle of the circle, each pointing to a specific dot, or degree, on the wallpaper. If you were born with 15 degrees of Sagittarius rising, that means the first house “hand” was pointing at the middle of Sagittarius. If you were born near the equator, the 2nd house “hand” would be pointing at about the middle of Capricorn, the 3rd house at the middle of Aquarius, and so forth.

The catch: The farther north or south you were born of the equator, and depending on which house system you use, things can get wonky. Some houses can be very large, some very small. Perhaps Sagittarius is on the cusps of both your first and second houses, then Capricorn gets skipped altogether and the third house has Aquarius on the cusp. This is called an interception. Capricorn is still there – it’s just that all 30 degrees of the sign are hidden in the second house, with no clock hand pointing at them. Intercepted signs are like silent partners of the houses that they’re in; the sign on the house cusp does the PR work, while the intercepted sign works behind the scenes.

intercepted sign

Next: Can planets be “on the cusp”?

Using house cusps

Some astrologers feel that when a planet falls within a certain number of degrees of a house cusp, it makes its presence felt in both the houses that flank that cusp. How many degrees? Depends on which astrologer you ask – some say as few as three degrees, others as many as ten.

Venus on the cusp

Me, I’m torn about the whole idea. On the one hand, it takes us right back into dreaded “on the cusp” territory, with the same people who are inclined to claim ownership of two signs now claiming that “my Venus is in TWO houses.” Eyeroll.

On the other hand, as mentioned above, houses and their cusps are largely imaginary anyway, and other than the angles, it doesn’t make sense to get too rigid about where one ends and the other begins.

In summary…

  • “Cusps” refer to the division between signs of the zodiac or houses in the horoscope.
  • Don’t talk about being “born on the cusp.” It makes you sound silly, not special.
  • The cusps of the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th houses – also called “angles – have special names and a basis in physical reality.
  • The rest of the house cusps are a convenient fiction that give astrologers something to fight about over drinks.
  • Intercepted signs are those that are fully contained in one house and don’t appear on a house cusp. They express themselves in a more indirect and subtle way, using the sign on the cusp as a PR agent.
  • Planets close to a house cusp may be interpreted as being in either or both houses.

Questions about cusps or interceptions? Leave ’em in comments!

37 Responses to “Beginners Corner: Cusps and interceptions”

  1. L Michaels

    How I see it is that like a clock, 00 degrees belongs not to the sign it is leaving but the one it is entering. You wouldn’t say it is 11:60PM Sunday night but 12:00AM monday morning.

    Reply
    • April

      Nice way of explaining it, L Michaels – and I’m sure Maria will make room for you on her silly, special, awesome bus! 🙂

      Reply
  2. L Michaels

    @Maria ooh,, I wanna be on that bus, sounds like a lot of fun. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Merryweather

    Question in relation to the intercepted signs… When that happens in a chart, then there are also “intercepted houses.” For example, say Sagittarius is enclosed completely in the 6th house. Then Capricorn gets to rule both the 7th & the 8th, and the 7th house gets enclosed completely in the sign of Capricorn.

    So does that have a similar effect on the houses as on signs? Meaning, since this would effect the 1st & 7th house axis (i.e. the 1st & 7th houses are enclosed completely in a sign), do the 1st & 7th houses sort of fall behind the scenes?

    I hope I’ve explained my question accurately. I’ve never been able to find any info on this at all. Thanks!

    Reply
    • April

      Merryweather, I see the point you’re making, but houses are never “intercepted” in the same way; interceptions are about 12 house cusps not matching up with 12 signs. But of course, there are always 12 house cusps. As for the “behind the scenes” part, no, I wouldn’t interpret it that way. I would, however, say that the two houses that share the same sign on the cusp, which are yoked together by the a common ruling planet, might be connected in a way they wouldn’t normally be – rather in the same way that a house is connected to the house that contains its planetary ruler. I hope that helps!

      Reply
  4. pdw

    I agree, ‘bicuspid’ Sun sign thinking is just too much fiction for an astrologer to tolerate. However, I’m not so sure this is a silly notion; after all, much of astrology resists This or That categorizing, in my experience anyway. Thinking more on this.

    Theoretically, I consider your example Venus, at the doorway between two rooms (i.e.houses), both a 12th House gatekeeper and 1st House greeter – but I’m pretty sure I’d weight the greeter role in practice.

    Reply
    • April

      pdw – “bicuspid” is the word that kept coming to mind for me, but I couldn’t find a way to work it in, so thanks! But yes, and that’s why I’m very flexible about house systems; attaching exclusively to This One or That One just doesn’t seem to bear up under close scrutiny. We’ll disagree on the greater greeter, but I can certainly understand the reasoning for it and would hardly tackle you to the mat about it. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Maria Alexander

    Ever-boddy board the awesome bus! Woooo!

    Also? I’m really glad that you explained all of this. I have the same reaction whenever anyone tells me, “I’m on the cups! I’m both (this sign) AND (the other sign).” It makes me want to six-pack them with a copy of THE INNER SKY.

    Reply
    • April

      Maria – Heh. Six-pack ’em! Mostly it’s that people just don’t understand, but there’s often this whiff of “I’m too special to be one sign” (as we all are, of course) about it that grates. Then again, I’m a mean old hag!

      Reply
  6. Anonymous

    I have my Jupiter intercepted in my 12th. in Taurus & a Gemini rising. Since Aries is on the cusp of the 12th,house & not Taurus, does this weaken my Jupiter?

    Reply
  7. Merryweather

    “I would, however, say that the two houses that share the same sign on the cusp, which are yoked together by the a common ruling planet, might be connected in a way they wouldn’t normally be”

    Thanks April! That makes sense. I appreciate the explanation!

    Reply
  8. Madeleine

    What house system do you prefer? I have begun using the WHOLE SIGN system..does away with interceptions and appears to be accurate.. what’s your take on house systems?????

    Reply
    • April

      Hi Madeleine – I use Koch, mostly because it’s what my teacher used and it’s worked fine for me. I know a number of people who are using the Whole Sign system, and Rob Hand’s advocacy of it is a strong recommendation! I always ask my clients if they prefer a particular house system (few even know what I’m talking about) and I’m happy to use whatever they like; I’m uncharacteristically flexible on the subject (plenty of stubborn about other things!).

      Reply
  9. Lua Astrology

    Excellent explanation April. I was ‘born on the cusp’ so to speak – grew up believing I was an Aries until I found out I was a Taurus (00Tau25!)

    I’m quite fixed (literally) in how I practice astrology. I use equal houses because of the issues with other house systems so I never use intercepted signs. Similarly with planets that sit at the very edge of a house, I only interpret them for the house they are actually in however close to the cusp of the next house they are.

    Reply
    • April

      Thanks, Leah – I can definitely see the beauty of equal houses! And my only complaint about the otherwise marvelous reports I sell by Steven Forrest (Sky Within and sky Log) is that it’s programmed to interpret planets within a few degrees of a cusp as being in the next house – and you can’t change this option. It drives me mad!

      Reply
  10. Gordana Milosavljevic

    Hi, i enjoy reading, thanx for posting.
    But also must say that i am born on cusp and i am so special :))) Ya, and my venus is also in TWO houses- i told u: sooooo special :))))

    Reply
  11. Phyllis

    Re” Anonymous…………I have Jupiter in Taurus in 12th.also w/ Gemini rising, I would be interested to know how this works for you?

    Reply
  12. Cassandra

    I have cap rising with intercepted aquarius. I’ve always felt more like an aquarius rising, a rebel to be sure. I’ve heard before that an intercepted sign isn’t expressed, or difficult to express. This explanation of behind the scenes with the actual cusp sign as PR makes more sense.

    Reply
  13. Luna

    Funny thing about cusps 🙂
    I have a friend who has spent many years doubting if she was a Scorpio or a Saggitarius. Technically she is a Scorpio, though a couple of hour later and she would be a Saggitarius!

    Reply
  14. virginia

    29° moon in leo in 6th house, ruled by leo. however, virgo is intercepted within the 6th house, sooooo…. while “technically” it appears pretty clear, just curious as to what the technicalities are as far as intercepted planets… are they defined as such because they reside in the sign that in contained… or because they reside in a house that contains an intercepted sign? nit picky, eh? yes i am, the only two planets i have that dont straddle house cusps are saturn 15° scorp and uranus 12° sag (saturn uranus venus all in a row… juuuuust far enough to remain unaspected to the rest of the planets… sorta…. if you stick to basic major aspects and smaller orbs… well, throw venus out i suppose, 7° would be conjunct to nept/jup). haha yup and my sun is in capricorn 29°…. capricorn MC but sun in 11th house. mercury 5° cap neptune/jup 0° cap venus 23° sag… mars 4° pluto 2° scorpio….

    Reply
    • April

      Virginia, I think intercepted planets are more accurately called “planets in intercepted signs.” The idea is that intercepted signs may be ones whose energies are more difficult for us to access and express. Here’s an excellent article on intercepted signs from Joanne Wickenburg.

      Some feel that planets in intercepted signs may suffer from the same disadvantage. Zane Stein, on the other hand, has written that planets in intercepted signs are actually more powerful but that we might be less consciously aware of how to use them. However – say you have Venus in an intercepted sign: Venus still has a clear voice via the houses with Taurus and Libra, the signs it rules, on their cusps (though some believe a planet in an intercepted sign doesn’t even have this power). I haven’t studied this in great depth, but I would imagine the most truly “intercepted” planets are in an intercepted sign and are the ruler of that sign and only that sign – say, Capricorn intercepted, with Saturn in Capricorn.

      Reply
  15. Sue

    April, thanks for the link to that excellent article by Joanne Wickenburg.

    Reply
  16. Virginia

    Thank you!
    I apologize, i had forgotten i had posed my question on your site. Nothing like mercury retro to shake things up and test our acceptance and understanding of the way the universe works against the way wikipedia says it does 😉
    I have the book. i am a little ashamed to admit i hadn’t delved into it as much as it deserves, so thank you for reminding me to open my eyes before i ask someone to turn on the lights! I returned to the book and reread with more attention and focus on simply receiving her wisdom-not looking for my answer. What’s the point of asking a question if you already know the answer?
    On a side note, thank you for the article on being a stranger in your own home. Comforting to know I’m not the only “stranger in a strange land” feeling even stranger because it’s my own reality (Body, home, hometown) in which i am estranged. My skin is not my own, as frank Herbert also assured me.
    Again, thank you, thank you for your attention.

    Reply
  17. Mariella

    Hi April, I have a 27º Taurus rising, and since my 1st house only has 3 degrees of Taurus and the rest Gemini, I wonder if that means that my image is more of a Gemini, or what’s the interpretation?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • April

      I think it probably means that people initially experience you as a Taurus, but very quickly encounter Gemini and probably get a little confused. 🙂

      Reply
      • Mariella

        Thank you! I was a little confused too, because I feel I am more Gemini and many of my friends are air souls 🙂

        Reply
  18. Stephanie

    Hey…Something has been bugging me. So on my 6th house I have Sagittarius 1.16 degrees so I would think being with a Sagittarius is more work than hanging out with a friend or having an emotional bond between them. I’ve seen that. Always felt I wanted to tell my Sagittarius friends what to do than to bond with them. But I’m dating a Scorpio, I was wondering since I have a very little degree in Sagittarius I would feel the same with Scorpio? So far I haven’t seen her as work.. Or a work related thing. But I was wondering if it does have an effect on our relationship that makes it seem like work rather than a relationship.

    Reply
    • April

      I’m not exactly sure whether you mean you have 1.16 degrees on your 6th house cusp or if there is only 1 degree of Sag *in* your 6th house. If 1.16 Sag is on the 6th house cusp, then your 6th house is *mostly* flavored by Sag, because presumably the other 28 or so degrees of the sign are in that house. In that case, Scorpio people would mostly fall in your 5th house, which is a kind of a romantic/soulmate kind of place. These people teach you about yourself and help open up your heart, but the relationship isn’t necessarily designed to last forever. 6th house relationships can generally be a little tricky because they have a bit of inequality about them, where one person feels they are giving more. I hope that helps…

      Reply
      • stephanie

        Yes! that helps. Sorry if i had the wording kinda weird, i just learned about this. My birth chart has one signs skipped and others repeated. my 1st and 2nd house is in cancer so my 5th house skips to libra rather than scorpio but in other charts, my 5th house is in scorpio and 2nd house in leo (but i truly feel like a cancer 2nd house).That would most likely put scorpio out of my houses. I really don’t know which chart to believe!

        Reply
  19. stephanie

    which was why i was wondering if my my 6 house was affected by scorpio due to it being 1.16 degrees sag.

    Reply
  20. Luna

    I am still confused how one can deny energy influences being born on a cusp between Sun Signs, except cusp of houses…… I believe that the energy influences on a cusp makes sense. For example I am on the cusp of Sagittarius and Capricorn. Although my sun sign is Capricorn I definitely resemble and relate to Sagittarius more so than Capricorn. I have a friend that’s born on the cusp of Aries Taurus. I have other friends that are Taurus. My Aries Taurus cusp friend is very much both Aries and Taurus.

    Reply
    • April

      Usually, the seeming influence of the “cusp” is explained by other planets that are in the adjoining sign – especially Venus and Mercury, which never travel far from the Sun. Also, the ruling planet of the sign adjoining your Sun might be prominently placed in the chart, or that sign might be rising or on another angle of your chart.

      Reply
  21. jen

    I had a full chart reading done and I came away a little confused. I have sun in the 12th house in cancer with leo rising. The astrologer said I had an intercepted chart? Did she mean my sun was intercepted? From what i’ve read, an intercepted sun indicates hidden talents, passive father figure/problems with father, and the list goes on. I think i need a new reading to better understand these placements.

    Reply
    • April

      Hi Jen. I don’t know what would be meant by “an intercepted chart.” If Gemini is on the cusp of your 12th house rather than Cancer, then yes, the Sun is intercepted in the 12th house. I suppose those interpretations of the Sun intercepted could apply to some people, though many other factors in the birth chart could negate them.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

You can use these tags in your comment: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>