The 6th and 12th Houses: Making and unmaking the self
Often called the temples of the soul, the astrological houses fix the spiritual you (Higher Self) within the “house” you live in: your body, your mind, your history, where you live, and all of the specific circumstances and details of your life. They give the astrological chart structure, context and meaning and describe what astrologer Dane Rudhyar called the “full spectrum of human experience.”
The 6th and 12th astrological houses mirror the human dilemma of how we negotiate the mundane realities of daily living, while at the same time cultivating an awareness of our more ephemeral spiritual needs and longings. Eastern philosophy refers to this predicament of ensoulment into a human form as karma, and the journey of recognising one’s true spiritual nature as dharma. The difficulty of this task can be intuited by the way ancient astrologers regarded and classified these astrological houses. They had, and largely still have, a forbidding reputation as places of ill-omen, sickness, disease and infirmity.
Bad astrological houses
Both the 6th and 12th astrological houses were considered unfortunate and lacking in effectiveness, due to being in adverse angle to the ascendant and positionally cadent. These astrological houses were said to lie in darkness as they form no traditional aspect to the ascendant, which was regarded as life and vitality in the natal chart. Since these places received no light from the ascendant, they could not be “seen” and their activities and meanings were often shrouded from view. Cadent houses were considered inauspicious because they were seen to be falling away from the strength and superior influence of the angular houses (astrological houses 1, 4, 7 and 10), which were thought to be the most influential. The word cadent is derived from the latin cadere, which means “to fall, sink, decline, perish”. Interestingly, in ancient Greek, cadent astrological houses were called apoklima, which is derived from the Greek word apokalyptein, meaning to uncover, to lift the veil, to reveal that which has been hidden. Together these two meanings — falling and uncovering — suggest that through difficulty and by bearing the burden of our human frailty, we might uncover inner bounties in evermore revealing spiritual dimensions.
The 6th House: The house of bad fortune
Ancient sources called the 6th House “the house of bad fortune” due to it being the place in the West where the Sun was seen to die each day, sinking below the horizon to cause the phenomenon of twilight, when the Earth’s atmosphere is neither completely lit nor completely dark. Our rational minds know that the Sun will return the next day, but there’s a primal fear of approaching night. The twilight hour is considered by many folklore traditions to be a dangerous time when the boundary between worlds is at its thinnest and when evil spirits wander. It is a self-reflective time known in France as l’heure bleue (the blue hour), symbolising the transition from the rational daytime domain of the Sun into nighttime consciousness and the more subjective, intuitive influence of the Moon.
By tradition, associations with the 6th House include servitude, servants, labour, toil, illness, and small animals. Modern astrologers tend to transform these negative associations into more positive versions, including everyday working life, our place and methods of working, daily rituals and habitual routines, physical health, hygiene, and pets. What unites many of the ancient and modern meanings in a spiritual context is the concept of self-perfection through sacrifice and surrender. The 6th House describes how and why we surrender to the demands and necessary adjustments of daily living. This house asks, how well are we at living life on life’s terms? How well do we handle our responsibilities, in essence, our karma? The theme of surrender is evidenced by the tension inherent in the natural square the 6th House makes to the 9th House of god, spirituality and higher powers. Nature itself is included in this pantheon as we are always striving for survival against its entropic forces.
The 6th House depicts our efficiency and effectiveness with life. Study, repetition, practice, planning, tending to, apprenticeship and discipleship all fall under this house. These are all ways we delay gratification by sacrificing time and effort in the present for the hope of a more perfected future. The 6th House speaks to our ability to keep our projects moving forward, integrate new experiences and information, and generally keep things from falling out of existence. Oftentimes it takes a concerted effort to become conscious of and change our habitual and reflexive behavior patterns. This need for awareness can be linked back to the disconnected nature of the 6th House in relation to the ascendant.
The 6th House is not easy terrain. It’s like having weeds that keep growing back in a beautiful garden. You could either be annoyed at the constant tending of it, or accept that if you want to have a beautiful garden, you’re going to have to pull out some weeds every so often.
The 12th House: The house of the bad spirit
The 12th House has perhaps an even more ominous reputation. Like the 6th, its cadent receives no light from the ascendant. Ancient astrologers called it the “house of the bad spirit”. This house is famously and mysteriously referred to as “the house of self-undoing”. We can already tell that we are in interesting, if trepidatious, territory. Traditional associations for this house include danger, enmity, exile, imprisonment, and the house of one’s secrets and secret enemies. Modern astrologers have attempted to improve the outlook of this house, but not by much. Modern significations include prisons, hospitals, seclusion, service and self-sacrifice, totality with the universe, and the collective unconscious.
Two themes give us clues into a deeper meaning of the 12th House. The first is vulnerability. While the 6th House corresponds to the Sun’s symbolic entry into the underworld each day at dusk, at dawn the Sun is born anew as it passes through the 12th House. Dawn is usually linked with positive symbolism, but in this case the rising Sun represents a new birth — a vulnerable state of existence.
Newborns are incredibly fragile and in need of constant care. The 12th House’s association with hospitals and seclusion can be linked to those times in life when we are either very young or very old and in need of care. As part of the cycle of our daily lives, dawn is the time when we must brush off the dreamworld of our sleeping, leave the safety of home and meet the harsh realities of the world. A more celestial testimony for vulnerability comes from astrologer and mathematician Ptolemy, writing in the 1st century. He suggested that the 12th House “injures the emanations from the stars”, that rising stars located here “do not appear in either their true colours or magnitudes” due to atmospheric conditions just above the horizon. He was not only saying that planets and stars located here exist in a compromised and low-vitality state, but also that their true natures were somehow obscured.
The second theme that can help us understand a deeper meaning of the 12th House is the concept of psychological shadow and the projection of unwanted aspects of the self. Many of the meanings and situations having to do with the 12th House are uncomfortable or socially taboo subjects — mental illness, addictions, confinement, helplessness, and defects real or imagined. Carl Jung called the shadow the unknown dark side of the personality. He described it as an instinctive and irrational realm of the psyche that was prone to reject difficult and unwanted aspects of the self, projecting those qualities onto others or the environment. Jung felt that if these projections were allowed to remain hidden, they would cause harm by acting as a “thickening veil of illusion” between the ego and the real world.
In many mythological traditions, unwanted or untamable forces are cast out of the social order and cast into a deep abyss. In Norse mythology, the realm of Niflheim, meaning “World of Mist”, was an underworld of eternal cold and darkness inhabited by those who did not die a heroic or notable death. In Greek mythology, the abyss of Tartarus was the dungeon adobe of the monster Typhon, described as having a hundred dragon heads. He was conquered by Zeus and cast into the underworld. In Judeo-Christian mythology, the serpent Leviathan is described as an enormous sea monster dwelling in the watery abyss threatening all of God’s creations. Collectively, these stories describe forces of unimaginable power and point to a spiritual truth, expressed by Marianne Williamson as: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” The 12th House points to this realm of untapped and unrecognised power and potency.
Finding a balance
A common theme shared by the 6th and 12th astrological Houses is sacrifice. In the 6th House, we sacrifice our time in the pursuit of becoming useful and competent. We’re seeking mastery in the world form; over our bodies, workplaces, diets and schedules. In the 12th House, we may be forced to make sacrifices due to circumstances beyond our control and, through suffering, grow in spiritual dimensions. The 12th House confronts us to find out who we are when we lose access to our earthly abilities — when we become inefficient. The task of the 6th and 12th astrological Houses axis is to balance the worldly demands of efficiency with the soul’s need for loving kindness, compassion and divine revelation.
Making and unmaking
As human beings, every cell in our bodies is replaced every seven years. We are always in the process of being made and unmade. In the natal chart, the sign on the 6th House describes what we need to work at and keep in existence in order to strengthen our inner being; this is what we need to make. The sign located on the 12th House indicates what we need to unmake. These qualities represent the fearful shadow aspects of our personality. The opportunity here is to become aware of these qualities and release them. Doing so brings a newfound sense of freedom and self-expression.
Aries Rising (Virgo 6 — Pisces 12)
Aries is an enterprising and independent sign with tremendous courage, with a readiness to jump into action. Virgo in the 6th and Pisces in the 12th indicates a need to learn discernment, organisation and practical approaches to problem solving, and become aware of a tendency towards hyper-sensitivity, scattering of energy and irrational emotional responses. This has a stabilising and an esteem-boosting effect on Aries.
Taurus Rising (Libra 6 — Aries 12)
Peace-loving Taurus is known for being practical and down-to-earth, with an ability to gather and hold energy within itself. For this reason, Taurus can be somewhat self-contained. When Libra is in the 6th and Aries is in the 12th, Taurus benefits from cultivating airy Libra’s talent for openness, social engagement and generosity, while becoming aware of repressed anger, self-indulgence and self-centeredness. Doing so enables Taurus to relate more deeply and intimately with others without fear of emotional overwhelm.
Gemini Rising (Scorpio 6 — Taurus 12)
Gemini is the first air sign and represents the mind and the intellect. Geminis enjoy the novelty and excitement of new thoughts and ideas and love to be “in the know”. Because of Gemini’s association with pure thought, this sign can be disconnected emotionally. Scorpio in the 6th asks Gemini to cultivate depth, focus and commitment, while becoming aware of a tendency toward superficiality and fear of stagnation. This helps Gemini form meaningful attachments and cultivate inner security.
Cancer Rising (Sagittarius 6 — Gemini 12)
Moon-ruled Cancer is the first water sign and is deeply connected to the realms of the soul — feelings, emotions, images and dreams. Cancer’s loving and emotionally sensitive nature can cause the sign to retreat into the safety of home life and limit healthy risk-taking. When Sagittarius is in the 6th, Cancer benefits from exploring ideas, experiences and philosophies outside of the domestic sphere, and making friends with fear of the unfamiliar. Taking healthy risks helps to boost Cancer’s confidence and self-esteem.
Leo Rising (Capricorn 6 — Cancer 12)
Leo is the sign that represents the pinnacle of human creativity and self-expression. The nobility of the personal ego is highlighted here. Leos are generous by nature and exude self-confidence and a passionate joy of life. Capricorn in the 6th encourages Leo to open up to criticism and accept objective feedback, while Cancer in the 12th guides Leo to become aware of childlike narcissistic tendencies. This feedback loop gives Leo the necessary information needed to self-correct and become even more empowered.
Virgo Rising (Aquarius 6 — Leo 12)
Service to others, usefulness, orderliness and reliability are some of the themes associated with Virgo. This sign is known for striving towards perfection, and has the ability to discern, differentiate and categorise the smallest of details. Aquarius in the 6th gives Virgo permission to think more objectively and horizontally, perceiving more of the commonalities between things and less of the differences. Leo in the 12th shows the need to surrender issues of control and authority, which in turn helps to grow Virgo’s sense of inner peace and harmony.
Libra Rising (Pisces 6 — Virgo 12)
As the natural resting point of the zodiac, Libra is known for balance, grace, an appreciation for beauty, and the enjoyment of close personal relationships. In order to maintain inner and outer harmony, Libra often suppresses true feelings and seeks to control environmental factors. When Pisces is in the 6th and Virgo is in the 12th, Libra benefits from learning to express feelings freely and honestly, while becoming aware of the need to manage and cultivate an ideal image. This helps strengthen Libra’s inner resolve and ability to make decisions.
Scorpio Rising (Aries 6 — Libra 12)
The 8th sign of Scorpio is concerned with issues of life, death and rebirth through intense and transformative experiences. A powerful sign of extreme feelings and soulful depth, Scorpio is fascinated by everything that is secretive, concealed and lives below the surface. Aries in the 6th encourages Scorpio to find the courage to live more simply and forthrightly, while Libra in the 12th speaks to the need to bring awareness to Scorpio’s tendency towards obsession. Doing so is an antidote to Scorpio cynicism and helps to cultivate vision and hope.
Sagittarius Rising (Taurus 6 — Scorpio 12)
The seeking of knowledge, experience and meaning are the central themes for the sign of Sagittarius. Known for an exuberant and enthusiastic approach to life, Sagittarius is associated with movement and has the ability to inspire. Taurus in the 6th house suggests Sagittarius will benefit from defining core values and learning to cultivate attachments and earthly grounding, while recognising a 12th House tendency to fear emotional entanglements. Building awareness in these areas tunes Sagittarius’ inner moral compass.
Capricorn Rising (Gemini 6 — Sagittarius 12)
It is not money but Capricorns that make the world go round. The 10th sign is naturally talented at managing people and resources, and is extremely disciplined, faithful and persevering. Gemini in the 6th shines a light on the need for Capricorn to cultivate flexibility, variety and social connections, while Sagittarius in the 12th highlights the need to bring awareness to the propensity of this sign to believe in the absolute rightness of the law and over-broadly enforce moral strictures. Working toward awareness in these areas enhances judgement, fairness and understanding.
Aquarius Rising (Cancer 6 — Capricorn 12)
Innovation, eccentricity and equality are hallmarks of the sign of the Water Bearer. As the most focused air sign, Aquarius enjoys training its ingenious mind on solving big-picture problems. Cancer in the 6th points to the need for Aquarius to develop and connect with an inner emotional life and express care for others, while Capricorn in the 12th provides insight into feelings of inferiority that can lead to isolation and withdrawal. Cultivating these areas gives Aquarius a deep understanding of the human condition.
Pisces Rising (Leo 6 — Aquarius 12)
Sacrifice and selflessness are emblematic of the sign of the fishes. Pisces has an extraordinary capacity for compassion and the ability to listen without judgement. For many people this can be a healing experience in itself. When Leo is in the 6th and Aquarius is in the 12th, the ongoing task is to strengthen and build up the ego center and executive functioning, while processing and letting go of traumatic past experiences, and bring awareness to a tendency to disassociate from the self. This gives Pisces will and courage and strengthens the sign’s connection to higher intelligence.
Words Giulio Pellogrini