You’ve written about the 6th house before in that funny piece about waiters, so I’m sending you question about the 6th house again, hoping you’ll answer it online.
I’ve read the older astrologers saw the 6th house from the ascendant as being the house of service and ‘unfortunate’. Do you think there’s any truth to that? What do you think about that as a way of explaining why we are often disinclined to offer help or volunteer?
– Das Servitor Sue
Okay, first off — volunteering is generally an 11th house activity; friends helping friends. But what sort of help they might offer shows up in the 6th.
Here’s a question: what’s the difference between ‘service’ and ‘servitude’? A: Economics and Attitude.
The 6th house has a history as a troublesome or ‘unfortunate’ place, sitting there as it does under an angular house. It’s unable to be like the 7th house, who is an equal, a peer, to the 1st house.
Assuming you read the chart counterclockwise, the 6th looks up at the 7th, and (if dissatisfied with their lot) develops resentment. “Why am I not as good as she?” he wants to know. “Why do I always have to wash the dishes?” he whines.
Besides feeling like servants here, the 6th house also describe the kind of ‘help’ we want (volunteer or otherwise). Impatient? Noble? Idealistic? Folks with a 6th house emphasis frequently find themselves giving a hand no matter their station, whether they want to or not.
Inequalities implied in this House might seem easier to accept when viewed through a pinkish haze of Ye Olden Dayes, when a moderately well-off family had a least one servant or apprentice around; or in royal households where the idea of servants and service got handed down like ancestral Qing Dynasty soup tureens. Folks at least gave some credit to the claim that everyone had a proper place in the chain of being-ness. It was cold comfort for most, but the prevailing worldview. Your place might be the 6th house. Sorry chap, but it’s Servant City for you.
Today we feel differently about the 6th, and like to emphasize the transitional nature of life there. It’s less a final judgment of drudgery and more a self-improvement zone. We learn to jog here, take Pilates, walk our dogs, and brush our teeth. All you need is a hot, up-tempo playlist and a Fitbit! If we only take care of the little things, we can become more adaptable, more powerful, more profitable.
Which is only part of the story.
The 6th is still sitting under an angle and a cadent (or falling) house, making it obscured and weaker. Imagine in an age before electricity, the dim, twilight hour after the Sun sets. Not the right time, surely, to start projects or set out to see the neighbors. It’s a quiet hour or two where we do the washing up and finish the homework. The time, like the horoscopic house, lacks force and so we find ourselves only able to act in small ways here, even if we want big gestures.
If occupied by aspirational planets in active signs (like Capricorn or Aries), those planets will more likely feel stuck, held down, or held back, like a kid who keeps jumping on the furniture well after bath time. The resulting contrast between the nature of the planets and the role of the house/hour may feel insurmountable, or at least a big pain in the derriere unless they link elsewhere in the chart and find an outlet.
Saturn (though hardly a candidate for aspirationalism) is an interesting example here. Saturn in the 6th seeks comfort from routine and ‘stability’. He fears standing up or standing out, so rarely aspires to middle management or his own company, unless he overcomes that fear. So for most folks it’s a grumbling scene: all effort takes effort with Saturn in this house. Even Saturn feels stuck here.
And thus, for a variety of reasons, Attitude creeps in. When you get ‘attitude’ you’re feeling the 6th house as ‘servitude’. Work is seen as enforced effort. This is where we get the sullen sales clerk, or the ‘soulless’ cubicle wage slave, convinced that nothing they ever do will make a big mark on the world. They see the boss as someone who plays around, as they toil all day. And because the 6th is hidden from the 1st and 7th houses, neither the Seller nor the Buyer of a product typically sees the efforts of the 6th house person.
Servitude as the 6th house experience denies some degree of personal volition and suppresses individuality. Servitude feels like cogs in a machine. Sadly, even most post-post-Industrial ‘work’ also fits this description.
How? Servitude also denies peer relationships of equal standing and comparable investment in a venture. Economics are key. Without equal financial stakes, the 6th house person is not an equal partner in the relationship or bargain. Servants were not masters, slaves were not owners; and the typical cubicle-dweller or retail staffer is reduced to the role of quiet disruptor, a Bartleby the Scrivener, whose only bargaining power or aggression is some passive variant of, “I would prefer not to.”
Can you see how, for some, this experience de-motivates them enough to disconnect from pleasurable and satisfying service in their communities — or even simple generosity! They ‘slave’ away all day; somebody needs to serve them now!
Service, however, is a complex matrix of 6th house work/craft, plus 9th house inspiration, and 12th house surrender to the wide, Piscean fish-eye lens of the Everything. Service comes from a place of conscious offering, and is not resentful of the effort. True service recognizes the dignity of everyone and does not seek to distinguish value between parties based on economic strengths or advantages.
Service understands proportion and scale, and thus is wider than the 6th house experience, which can’t see the forest for the trees. People who successfully serve see their offering as one stroke in a large tableau of human experience, and aren’t intimidated or diminished by the scale of the picture. This is why many teachers, for example, still feel their work is important and personally satisfying despite the disadvantageous, onerous (and often dangerous) conditions of their work.
However, let’s not confuse this attitude of Service as a paycheck-free platform of personal dedication. Teaching is not volunteerism, not by a long shot: teachers are trained professionals, as are many people who see their work in the context of service to others. Service is an attitude and perspective, but it is still effort and craft (6th house).
While the 6th house can never shake its weaker position in the chart, our modern life (at least our modern middle class values of personal advancement and opportunity) has recast this place in the horoscope as a scene of self-improvement and personal adjustment. Today, it seems, you can choose: is your 6th house an active agent of your craft, health or purpose, or the place where you’re caught in the crossfire between the slings and arrows of life?
However, if you have few (or no) opportunities for personal economic advancement and opportunity, if you’re continually struggling for rent and down to your last ramen packet, what’s the 6th house to you? Most likely, servitude without the veneer of middle-class choice.
So I answer your question by saying this. Your relationship to the 6th house is colored by your daily experience: if your daily work feels degrading and spiritually impoverishing, your 6th house is a depressive drudgery and there’s likely little left in your empathy tank for extra-office community service. Rather than helping others, you’re looking for a little help, yourself.
Whatever a person can do to improve the quality of that daily experience can only help them address the imbalance of personal power within their own lives. This imbalance is often hinted or stated in the 6th house, or by its ruler. So perhaps a talk with an astrologer is due if you know someone who feels powerless.
That said, I’m keenly aware that much astrological advice is implicitly written for a middle class audience. As we see the economic power of the middle class erode worldwide, will the old 20th-century-based middle class 6th house assumptions about self-improvement for the sake of opportunity persist? Or will we declare this area returned to its explicit, older designations of servitude and slavery?
In the future will the 6th house describe our relationship to Artificial Intelligence? Household robots? Neuro-genetic homeopathic medicine? Will you walk into a doctor’s office and your physician check that moment’s 6th house for the nature of your persistent headaches?
The service element of the 6th comes from its association with the army, in classical astrology. Then it became associated with other forms of service, including health care (plenty of that in the army) and then to healing tables and operating rooms; in modern astrology it’s the house of ‘health and well being’ and also associated with work and work environments. This is how houses evolve. The feeling of the 6th house at its best is getting ‘lost in your work’ where you look at the clock and three hours have gone by, but you didn’t notice because you were being so productive.