Border Patrol: Working With Cusps

There is a very common misconception in astrology today concerning the usage of cusps in interpretational matters.  It seems there is a very popular myth running around that says that someone who is born on a “cusp” of a Sign can carry characteristics of both the Sign Sol is counted as being in or the one adjacent to it depending on the day.  Basically, it is assumed that someone born around August 21-24 is supposed to have characteristics of both the Signs Leo and Virgo based on the idea that Sol is too new into Virgo to have completely left behind the influences of Leo, so there are still some Leonine influences intermingled into the Virgo.  While this is a very incorrect idea, I can see some ways to explain the original misunderstanding; however, I do think the assumptions made about cusps are based on a certain degree of unforgivable ignorance.

First, I think it’s wise to take a moment and define a cusp because I feel it is obvious where the first mistake is being made concerning this grave assumption.  Deborah Houlding is an expert on classical astrology, so in times of need, I often turn to her writings, and I’ll do so here.  In her book The Houses: Temples of the Sky, Houlding defines a cusp as “the dividing line between one house (or sign) and the next.  Planets close to the house cusps are considered to have more powerful influences than those removed from the cusps.”  This definition perfectly illustrates what I believe is happening with this cusp influence myth.  As you can see, Houlding does define a cusp as “the dividing line between one house (or sign)…” so we do see an automatic similarity.  I believe what happens is people understand that a cusp is the same thing for a house and a Sign (the dividing lines between) and assume that the same rules apply to them.  However, the fact of the matter is that house cusps and Sign cusps are similar only in the manner of the duty they perform in dividing them from one another.  In this way, the cusps are as similar as apples and oranges, they are both fruit, but that’s about it.

In Houlding’s definition, she is sure to put a distinct difference between house cusps and Sign cusps when she says that planets close to the house cusps have a more powerful influence.  She says nothing about planets being close to Sign cusps being more or less of an influence in any Sign, so it would seem that there is no interpretational difference, only spatial.  Also, in William Lilly’s book on natal astrology, he offers no differences for planets near the beginning or ending of a Sign.  Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos doesn’t even contain the word “cusp” and Robson’s treatise on electional astrology only speaks of cusps in relation to houses.  So, it seems that the idea of carried-over influences from one Sign to the next is not at all founded in astrological traditional history.

Now that the idea of cross-overs occurring across Sign cusps have been dispelled from the astrological tradition, I feel it’s necessary to explore a bit more in the area of “where does this come from”.  I can think of a couple situations in which a planet or cusp being near the end or beginning of a Sign has some special interpretational value.  However, it is necessary to specify that these rules and situations are only applicable to the fields of horary or electional astrology and are not translatable to the field of natal astrology which is the field where this argument is based. Continue reading