Sometimes I think my job as astrologer is to act as White Rabbit, bidding my clients to fall into the wonderland of their own worlds, worlds magically described by the houses of the chart. Some have rooms with keys too big and potions that will shrink us; others have windows on gardens that we're forever trying to reach, or threshold guardians like the Caterpillar who demand "Who-o-o arrre you-oo! "These are the rooms that we'll continually revisit and reinvent whenever we study the houses of our natal charts, or when we cycle through them via our transits and progressions. They become our very own Wonderlands!
The Twelfth House
The First Emperor of Chin was an ambitious, cruel, and powerful man who conquered plenty of territory and greatly expanded the Chinese empire. He was anxious to conquer death as well, and to that end located an esoteric spiritual book that contained the secret of everlasting life. The book, however, was written in cryptic language, and the emperor could understand just one sentence: "The one who shall come to destroy Chin is Fu." Thinking "Fu" referred to a tribe from Northern China, he mobilized his entire country to build a great defensive wall. It stretched across thousands of miles to keep the presaged invaders at bay. But in the end, it was not the northern tribe of Fu that destroyed him -- it was his second son, whose name was also Fu. Talk about blind spots! The danger was in his very own home.
Most of us make a similar mistake when reading the 12th house of our charts -- for it, too, is an esoteric spiritual text. This is the house of invisible potencies, after all, matrix of divine unity, our oneness with all. It is the wellspring of archetypes, zone of the collective unconscious and of the personal subconscious, our inner dream factory. It is also the repository of karma, the spiritual laws of cause and effect. Yet from this rich but very cryptic place, we may first glean just a sentence, a twinge of intuitive awareness that we may too quickly decode as a warning of some outer danger in the visible world.
It is odd, isn't it, that the one sentence the emperor should grasp in his great esoteric book should be such a threatening one. But this is fairly typical of mystical entrances. Mystic beginnings represent the start of a journey, and the spiritual world always tests one's readiness before it offers up its goods. The 12th house has been testing its natives for as long as charts have been calculated. Those who fail to read it correctly will find it forbidding; they'll consult their old astrology books and shudder. And like the emperor, they may exert a lot of effort escaping from phantom enemies while missing the real situation.
Ultimately, the 12th-house path is meant to transform us. Behind its darkness lies a brilliant light, but it takes time and faith to develop our spiritual eyes. If we insist on negotiating this world with our material values intact, we'll operate blind. We'll be beset by secret enemies, limits, confinements, and loss. The emperor's son fits the picture of a hidden 12th-house enemy. But if we ask what really brought this cruel ruler down, his own character appears the more likely cause.
Buddha said, "We are either our own savior or our own enemy." The foundation of the 12th house, and of all spiritual development, is the self. So what about that first cryptic sentence we read there, that twinge of intuitive awareness? Most likely it will be reflective. A mirror. When the emperor learned that a force would destroy his empire, he got a bit of truth. But it was his inclination towards domination and force. It not only turned his second son against him; it took root there and propagated. The emperor's story represents a classic spiritual irony. One walls oneself off from something feared in the outer world and winds up losing touch with the inner, where the secrets of spiritual bounty (or self-undoing) actually reside.
So when exploring your own 12th house, bring a healthy suspicion of blind spots. Approaching its mysterious gates, be prepared to meet yourself, as you've possibly never seen yourself before. You may get the chance to see the thing you've missed for years. Actually, this is not so strange a process. Simply wait until you find yourself talking with great passion about someone else's blind spots. Then check your chart -- you might just be standing on a planet that's in or ruling your 12th.
Case in point: I work with two women, Katie with Moon in the 12th, and Ingrid with Moon ruling her 12th. Each has a similar "enemy" in the outer world. Katie's enemy is an actress in her community theater group. I've never met this woman, but I've listened to Katie complain about her countless times. "Maggie drives me nuts! She's always feeling sorry for herself. She's just a high school teacher, but all you hear about is how hard she works, how stressful her job is. She keeps bringing homework to rehearsals and cast parties and then falling asleep on a pile of papers. Does she think they give an Oscar for martyr of the year?!"
Meanwhile Ingrid's nemesis is Katie, whom she talks about constantly. Her complaint is surprisingly similar. "I just can't stand her. Listening to her is like fingernails on chalk to me -- she's always playing the victim. Can't she ever stop whining and feeling sorry for herself?" When I asked Ingrid why she thought Katie had such an effect on her, she replied, "I guess it's because I've always had it so hard. My mother was an alcoholic, you know, and I had to take care of myself. I never got to whine like that... No one ever cared if I cried."
Er, excuse me while I get my violin. I don't mean to be unsympathetic, but I've got a 12th-house Moon, too, which is why I'm writing about Katie and Ingrid -- their whining about whiners bugs me! Of course, it's not unusual to find a victim vibration in a 12th-house Moon. And Katie, Ingrid, and I are all quite tuned in. But as long as the irritant is just "out there", one is stalled on the 12th-house path. This is the inner world, after all. No matter how we're provoked in the outer, transformation is an inside job.
Of course, because of her mother's alcoholism, Ingrid was robbed of much of the emotional comforts of her Moon. Typically, 12th-house Moons aren't allowed their neediness as children. They learn to cope well, become masters of self-sufficiency, and are often especially gifted at taking care of others. But repressing their neediness doesn't make it disappear. It just slips behind the 12th-house veil. Rejected by the ego, it is no longer recognized as a conscious aspect of personality. Like most 12th-house planets, it operates in shadow -- which means its immature expression will have an uncanny ability to act out just when we're not looking.
Someone with a 12th-house Mars, for example, isn't blessed with an anger-free psyche. Their outer personality will be gentle and agreeable, for the most part lacking the sharp attacks of Mars. Cross them several times, and you'll get no reaction. But one day, someone, possibly you, will receive a full-blown Mars explosion. At that moment, though they might technically be 35-years-old, you'd swear there was a tantrumming two-year-old in front of you. Hidden in the 12th-house shadows, their Mars didn't get the opportunities to develop like the planets in other houses did. And as long as Mars sits in their blind spot, they won't even know what hit you. The planet has to reach consciousness first.
I like to think of 12th-house planets as energies in waiting. In some respects, this house is not so much a place as a process, with planets here tagged for a special initiation. It begins with a crucial deprivation. In some way, the early environment won't support the expression of 12th-house energies. They may be stolen, denied, or shamed by our caretakers; somehow we get the message they're unsafe to express. With Mars in the 12th house, I may fear the expression of my competitive drive or try to deny my selfishness. With Pluto, I may be too embarrassed to reveal my passion, my sexuality, my personal power. With Mercury in the 12th, I may decide to keep my mouth shut. With Uranus in the 12th, I'll cover up what makes me different and keep my creative genius under wraps.
The 12th House In Your Chart
by Dana Gerhardt
Continued from Part I
Whatever the rejected planet, the subconscious awareness of its loss leads to a kind of victim consciousness, a conviction, in fact, that it's morally right to feel sorry for ourselves. Weren't we robbed after all? A businessman I know with a 12th-house Mars was keenly aware of his inability to embrace his assertiveness ("My mom owned all the anger in the household, she never let me be me.") So when he learned that he had a reputation among his co-workers for being thoughtless and cruel (his shadow Mars), he was actually thrilled. "Doesn't it bother you that you might actually be hurting people?" I asked. There was a momentary confusion in his eyes before they glazed over. Lost in the memories of his past and unable to fit them with a different picture of his present, he spaced out and forgot my question.
But what is it in us that actually builds this expansive or constricting world? If we're serious about mastering the 12th house, it's a necessary question, though not an easy one. Poets, scientists, and mystics have been weaving answers to this mystery for as long as humanity has been thinking. I won't pretend to have anyone's answer. Actually I think we're each free, in fact required, to know the 12th house on our own terms. Gurus and priests fall in the 9th house; in the 12th we're on our own. The image stream of dreams, the sixth sense of intuition, this field is something more and less than our memories. Perhaps the 12th house is composed of what's just below the mind, like subatomic quanta particles that drive the electricity of thought. Perhaps it's the field of consciousness itself, and below that, whatever it is that gives birth to consciousness. Perhaps it's the invisible plenum that connects me to you and you to me. Maybe all of creation derives from here. Perhaps this is Ultimate Reality. Or maybe God. Whatever this invisible field means to you, on this at least we might agree -- this world doesn't operate like the visible world of matter. So we probably shouldn't act like it does.
In the material world if I am harmed, I can go about crying and blaming. If I am just a material being, and my early environment didn't support the expression of Venus or Uranus or Mars, I can consider myself a piece of genetic material that had the bad fortune to be born in a bad situation. Not so in the world of karma. If I decide I am a spirit being, then I must consider my existence before the womb and after, and accept perhaps it is my choices or actions that bring my soul into exactly the right situation for its next stage of development, that what I do now can affect what happens after I die. When we shift perspective beyond this lifetime, the 12th house takes on a whole new look. We acquire new responsibilities. And planets here are not just deprived.
Loss or Sacred Rite?
In fact, what looks like loss on the material plane may be a sacred rite, a necessary sacrifice, in the spiritual realm. There's a 12th-house Aries Sun that I know. His 12th-house loss was his father's abandonment at three; his dad walked out the door and never returned. It was this loss, this missing piece of solar influence, that shaped him differently from the other boys in his neighborhood, that made him, among other things, a varsity basketball player who leaned toward poetry. As a young man, one of his first major works of poetry was addressed to this missing father, whose absence had served as a kind of muse, forever calling his spirit from the dark. It is said of 12th-house Suns that they are meant to serve or they will suffer, that they should work behind the scenes. Such simple formulas often miss the real depth of a life. Gary is a strong and opinionated Aries, who, like a true Aries individualist, founded his own company. The publishing market is tough to succeed in, yet his small press has become one of the most prestigious in the country. His poetry is admired, too. But what is especially remarkable about Gary is the way he connects, supports, and nurtures other writers. Having lost his father to the 12th house, he has become a father to many, especially his own two precious sons.
His is one of many stories that make me think of 12th-house planets as especially chosen and blessed. It is as though their early deprivation gives them a deep spiritual marking. Perhaps what the ego wants no part of is left more pure. The victimization of the 12th house makes a great training ground for compassion. But in developing the 12th-house planet, there is always more than one ego surrender. After the first loss, at some point, the shadow must be confronted. Gary's alcoholism got the better of him for years. He almost lost his own family before he was able to draw his addiction out of his blind spot and confront it. The dragons at the spiritual gate will patiently wait, but they offer no guarantees. Some of us may never fulfill the promise of our 12th-house energies. But for those who walk the path of transformation, this house seems to grow in strength over the life, reaching for consciousness, as dreams toward awareness, as a flower unfolds to the sun.
I know a writer and photographer with Neptune in the 12th. I described Neptune to him once and suggested that its imprint may have been knowledge he gained in the womb. His eyes lit up. His mother had played the piano throughout her pregnancy, he said, and he always felt this had made a deep impression on him; his thoughts tend to move in musical patterns. So what was his initial Neptune deprivation? An intensely private man, his Scorpio Sun is squared by a Saturn-Pluto conjunction and, not surprisingly, he is known for bouts of intolerance and rigidity. As one might surmise from his chart, his father was strict. I don't imagine Paul was allowed much Neptune as a child. As a young man he served in the military and later went to school for a business career. But in the past ten years I've watched him steadily withdraw from Saturn-Pluto to submerge in the Neptune world of his art. For the past two years he has been so deep in Neptune that he disappears for months at a time. Yet whenever you see him, he is intensely alive. More than anyone else I know, he lives an artist's life, completely on artist's time. He will spend hours catching just the right light for a photograph. He will go days without sleep, living with the characters in his novel as though they were roommates. His 12th-house Neptune has become the center of his chart. It is the sunken treasure he has been working his whole life to retrieve. It is something truly divine.
Special Quality of 12th-house Planets
Sometimes, when one comes to appreciate this special quality of 12th-house planets, the territory of the other houses seems to pale. Ego so greedily appropriates the rest of the chart for its personal desires, but this house refuses to give. It stands both higher and deeper, rings more resonant, more true. If, as the Buddhists say, most of what we worry about is delusion and illusion, then the 12th house may be the only slice of life that's not. We may wonder then, why is the 12th such a small portion of the whole chart?
I'm not sure I have that answer either. But perhaps it's that the direction of creation, from big bang to the cosmic accretion that builds a star, to the one-celled creatures that launched the life forms on this planet, represents an urge towards differentiation. The glory of the universe seems to unfurl in its will to individuate. And in the creative differentiation that moves the universe forward, it seems we have to forget who we truly are. We have to forget this cosmic unity. We must become a self that's separate from the whole. And so we pull away from our divine beginnings. But what the human ego necessarily forgets, the 12th house remembers. Perhaps more divinity than that would simply shatter frail ego's walls. The 12th is uniquely poised in the wheel -- before the beginning and at the end of our chart. It's where we came from and where we're going, out of the unity of creation and back again. It is a place of great measure. Without question, this house of self-undoing, confinement, and loss is my favorite house in the chart.
Note: This article is from a 12-part series started in the October 1994 issue of TMA (The Mountain Astrologer). See www.mountainastrologer.com for back issue ordering information.
?1996 Dana Gerhardt - all rights reserved