House Keys: A Basic Introduction to the 12 Places


Astrology pretty well agrees on the basic meanings of the houses; but the nuances and application of the ideas differ from astrologer to astrologer. The delineations below are based on 22 years of practice in several areas: consulting astrology, forensic astrology as a news reporter, and writing horoscope columns.

The meaning of the houses evolves over time. There were no telephones the first time someone delineated the Third House, but we need a place to fit it. So that would go with the nearest approximation by topic and functionality of the thing or event.

Think of the houses as “the game of life.” There’s nothing abstract, astrophysical or mathematical here. The houses are about us, living our lives on Earth — often in a house.

First House
Also called the ascendant, this is your personal boundary: what distinguishes you from the rest of the world. Sometimes called the house of self-concept, it goes deeper: one must aspire to become and master one’s ascendant, in a kind of quest for incarnation. As the beginning of the chart, it’s a personal boundary or entrance to self. The precursor would be the Twelfth, which has the feeling of gestation, subconscious or unconscious; one should become fully aware, alert and breathing in the First. So in essence one is born into this house, and when it’s working well, it has that sensation more or less ongoing. There’s that sense of questing, and “that which is being discussed is also arising.” Appearances (both innate and contrived), names and identity, how you present yourself, what you call yourself, and what you identify with are covered here with many clues elsewhere. Sexual identity and orientation have a role. The phenomenon of “it becomes what you call it” is a First house thing.

Second House
Value, things of value, available cash and self-esteem. The Second is about what you have, and whether and how you value it. It’s a direct extension of the First, taking things to a deeper or more established level. The Second is one of the most reliable sources of information and questions about how a person feels about herself. It describes the sensation of lack or of abundance; how hard you think you have to work for what you have; your idea of what you don’t have; and what personal assets assist or limit you. The relationship of money to self-esteem is an important keynote of this house, under the general rubric of what you’re working with. Any planet placed in this house, particularly close to the cusp, can describe a challenge, which would be addressed in the style of that planet (and its sign).

Third House
This is a local zone, such as your neighborhood, village or stomping ground, and who shows up (or who you discover) there. Neighbors, siblings and what they say to one another give the house its theme of communication. Also covered are messages and the devices that convey them (starting with notes, postcards and letters), though generally distribution is to an audience of one, or a few. The daily routine activities of the household are covered here. It represents the childhood phase when you’re crawling around and bumping into things. The Third and its rulers describe talent for writing and communication. The Third, particularly late in the house, can describe the unresolved psychological issues of the father.

Fourth House
The Fourth describes emotional response of the child to the early environment, which is then carried forward as imprinting that manifests in the adult experience. The Fourth represents the structure and grounds of the ancestral home, out to the garden wall. In one sense, it expands the Third (where one bumps into people’s legs under the table) and in another, it’s little smaller and even more local than the Third (the household set within the village). The Fourth, particularly the nadir and its ruler, often describes the father’s lineage, homestead, estate and so on. (This resonates with the calcium group of remedies in homeopathy, which delineate the relationship between father and one’s sense of security.) The overall result is a house that describes one’s feeling of safety (or lack thereof) in one’s physical dwelling, physical body and emotional body. It’s the house of secrets that are confined to the household or immediate family.

Fifth House
All things fun, exciting, entertaining and a little risky, like art, rock music, teenage sex and the babies that come from this activity. The Fifth is fun, though it always runs the risk of things getting real, risk itself being much of the allure of this dimension. It’s about more than fun: Fifth House fun needs an edgy quality. Some can get this from sculpting boldly or scaling a cliff. For some, the thrill of unprotected sex obviates the notion of rearing a child for the next few decades. (Isabel Hickey references theosophical literature describing the Fifth as the house of ‘esoteric karma’.) That aside, think of the Fifth as the art studio, the playroom, the practice room, the rock wall, or any recreational space, what’s done there and who it’s done with. It’s OK to get paint on the art studio couch, and it’s a great place to fuck. Herein lies a clue to the origin of the universe.

Sixth House
Ritual de lo Habitual. The house of important everyday things which must be done mindfully, such as the work you do and how you feel about it. Sickness, health, healing and recovery are described here. Commitment to service or to “the process” is a meta theme. The ideal nature of the work environment is also described, particularly by the sign on the cusp. Collegial relationships are included; and, to some extent, supervisory, such as sergeant-level (lieutenants, captains and generals are in the 10th). Relationships to healers, physicians and health practitioners of all stripes will be described by occupants of the house, ruling planets, and aspects to these. The Sixth describes one’s relationship to one’s health and wellbeing, and will provide clues to how the notion ‘psychosomatic’ manifests. Qualities of wellness, of weaknesses and of points of healing can be read here as well. Wellbeing means a positive relationship to life how one spends one’s days.

Seventh House
Relationships and projections, meaning your connection point to others, whether real or imagined. You might think of it as a holographic mirror, which reflects your reality back to you by way of the external world and the people who show up in your life. Understanding the binary between projection and experience is essential to understanding the Seventh (and why it can be so confusing). While it’s not quite accurate to say that everything that happens in the Seventh is merely a figment of the mind, how we perceive things certainly is, and that’s almost always a matter of projection. Traditionally, this house is about relationships, partnerships, marriage partners and open enemies. Because the Seventh cusp is on the horizon, this house can serve as an “event horizon,” describing what is manifesting or developing and which will soon have a direct influence. The Seventh covers the local courts, which would mediate between individuals, or handle cases involving individuals.

Eighth House
The Second of the Seventh, hence, shared finances and resources, mutually agreed or contested values, matters of inheritance and dowry, and thus, sex as a property right. In practice rather than theory, this house describes the sex one needs the most and is willing to do the most for. Strong placements here can make someone appealing to a shocking degree, who is followed home from school by guy in the slow-moving car, and so on. The death element, which enters initially through the concept of inheritance, describes relationship to orgasm as well as attitudes toward death. Many shades of ego transformation, surrender to the other, and what one lives and dies for can be read here. In horary and event charts, it can point to the ‘nature and cause of death’. I think of the Eighth as the house of the secrets one shares with others, if only in whispers.

Ninth House
The first of the ‘wide world’ houses, this is the region of religion, international affairs and travel, and all things exotic. This is the house of one’s personal ethics. The origins of the Ninth center around the church, and its officials, which expands into beliefs and belief systems, philosophies, theories and the ideas one lives by (and one’s life vision). The Ninth describes one’s relationship to higher learning and professors. Think of it as a meta-Third, with a worldly feeling instead of a small-town feeling, and where the mimeo machine is left on for a lot longer. Instead of the communication being local, gossipy or individual, the Ninth includes publishing and broadcasting, including to a global audience. The Ninth covers national and international law, maritime law, and the higher courts in general (specifically, federal and appellate courts). The worldliness of this house expands into cosmic or universal consciousness when someone is doing their spiritual work. The Ninth, particularly leaning up against the Tenth, can peer into the unresolved psychological material of the mother.

Tenth House
If the Ninth is about the church, the Tenth is about the government, and the feudal government structure, the corporation. It describes one’s relationship to government and corporate authority, as a direct derivative of parental authority. It can describe whether one will be part of official establishment. Structurally, the Tenth represents high command, officers, the board, the president, the admiralty and anything that goes ‘all the way to the top’. In everyday practice, it’s about one’s highest aspirations, one’s reputation, being known for one’s work, and what you must do to get there. Tenth house effort involves establishing one’s reputation through sustained effort and cultivation of relationships, talent and integrity. Whatever happens in the Tenth can be subjected to special scrutiny, exposure and public evaluation. There must be an attitude of noblesse oblige, of example setting, and of mentorship.

Eleventh House
The Eleventh is one’s personal public, one’s friends and acquaintances, one’s client base, and an audience out to a countable number of people. Borrowing from Alice A. Bailey, it represents the group rather than the mass. As the Second of the Tenth, the Eleventh describes income and benefits from one’s professional activities (which often accrue as a result of cooperation and popularity, both functions of this house). The Eleventh is described in some books as the house of hopes and dreams, which you might think of as a positive vision for life. It’s the space into which one expands oneself; the house it’s opposite is the Fifth, the creative studio, so you can think of the Eleventh as the gallery space or performance area (though smaller than a statium). Anyone who has not done the work of the Ninth (cultivating ethics and a vision) and the Tenth (working to earn one’s reputation) may feel brittle and insecure in the Eleventh.

Twelfth House
Existence in any parallel dimension: in utero (before birth), dreams, the creative imagination, astral projection, hallucinations, drug trips and related experiences. It’s called the ‘dustbin of the zodiac’ because the Twelfth is a common place to accumulate karma, on the basis of out of sight, out of mind. You think of it as the as the ancestral attic, or the secret room behind the drawing room bookshelf. (Everyone loves secret rooms, and you have one!) In the artistic sense, we can be transported to another dimension though this house, for example, the magical experience of a movie seeming real is a perfect Twelfth house experience. It’s also the house that describes one’s relationship with the nonphysical realm. In the most practical sense, what’s located in the Twelfth can have the feeling of having gone missing. Planets there can represent cloaked, veiled or hidden elements of one’s psyche, including missing people and things. In physical space, old books say it describes overwhelming institutions, such as the government of New York City, a large hotel or resort, or any space so big that it takes weeks, months or years to explore it. Vedic astrologers say this house is about the pleasures of the bed, which can manifest as an alternate reality that can be vividly real and then vanish into another dimension, sometimes barely memorable, by the time daylight arrives. The Twelfth is the most encompassing and cosmic of houses, where the difference between truth and illusion is blurred. Twelfth house events are recognizable by their internal logic (like dream logic) that doesn’t hold up outside of the space where it originated. It’s one of the houses associated with secrets; to wit, the secrets you don’t even dream of telling other people, and that you might keep from yourself.

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