Unmasking the Mystery – The 12th House of the Horoscope

Marilyn Muir, LPMAFA

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Recently I have seen several online astrology articles with multiple approaches to the reading of the 12th house. Some of those articles were quite good, but some left me questioning whether the general basics of the 12th house were fully understood. It is truly not one of the easier houses to understand and read. This article will take you back to basics, 12th house basics, and all remarks will be based on the Tropical Placidus system. First of all, what are astrological houses?

The sky is full of stars at the most amazing distances from each other and from Earth, yet through the centuries we have been able to generate an “as above, so below” set of references. We study the patterns of the sky and their general effect on our earth and its inhabitants, and the energies in signs and aspects. That is the “as above” part of astrology. What about the “so below” part of the process? My description starts with the fact that when we look at the area of chosen effect, our local physical space and our lives, we must therefore make our reading physical. As a planet in a solar system, we are contained within those sky bodies we see, but because this is our common footing, we don’t count ourselves among the stars. This footing is physical reality for us, earthly experience. Cosmic energies are continually bombarding and influencing us, affecting and sometimes infecting us, the physical inhabitants of the physical earth. The first realization should be that houses have to do with our physical reality.

When you look at any standard chart, the entire sky is laid out in its actual circular pattern, usually around the outside of the wheel form. We have an arbitrary starting point, the Ascendant, but it is a complete 360-degree circle. What is not readily understood is that the center of that circular chart contains the Earth itself. Let me repeat that. Earth and its inhabitants are in the very center of every chart. You are in the center of your chart and the point that represents you individually is the Ascendant. To attempt to study all of human experience in one bite is just too difficult, so we must break down that experience to smaller increments to achieve understanding. The whole of the chart is you and your experience. The divisions we use to create understandable compartments are the houses, arenas of physical reality and experience.

We use the number 12 for houses just as there are 12 signs. Our wheel is 360 degrees and 12 conveniently divides evenly into that number. Equal house charting reflects those equal 30-degree segments. Have you ever noticed that life does not seem all that equal? When you add the dimensions of longitude and latitude, as well as date and time, those houses change in size and range – what was once equal becomes unequal. To me, equal reflects ideality and unequal reflects reality. There are many scientific ways to mathematically measure the division of space but that is too large a subject for this article. I chose the Placidus house system because it works for me.

Just to paint a clear picture, date determines the broadest stroke of a chart. Time of birth refines it to some degree, but it is longitude and latitude that further refines it to the personal. No two objects can occupy the same space at the same time, so each chart cast must be different. Occasionally, they will be only marginally different as in the case of multiple births. When you add time of day to location of birth (longitude and latitude) a unique map emerges, one based on that local space at a particular moment in time, individual in nature. The local space is clearly defined and the increments (houses) of that specific space at that specific moment are created for that chart.

The 12 increments commence at the Ascendant and proceed counter-clockwise around the chart, traveling a full 360-degree circle back to the Ascendant. Why counterclockwise? This is because the signs and their natural motion are measured clockwise (just look at any chart) and the Earth rotates one full circle every day bringing each degree of the zodiac to all points of possible charts every day. As the Earth spins on its axis, the point of the zodiac that signifies birth moves forward in the signs (clockwise) as the Earth rotates on its axis within (opposite direction for rotation or counter-clockwise). As you progress in your growth, your Ascendant and the balance of the houses attached to that progressing Ascendant move forward in the zodiac and your whole chart view changes. You experience, grow and become and that is reflected in your changing signs and bodies (as above) as well as your houses (so below).

There is a natural, predictable order to your growth and progress. You start as a helpless infant, reach out into life gradually, involving others and experience, through the full range of human activity until you reach your sunset years and the end of that particular life cycle. If you are a believer in continuing consciousness, then each end must also mark a new beginning, hopefully on a much higher turn of the spiral of life. The houses reflect that growth and progress sequentially. You would be wise to additionally study hemispheres and quadratures, the 6th/12th house axis, and the common house breakdown of life, wealth, association and abstract to deepen your understanding of houses. I will be featuring these concepts in future articles.

The first house is I/me. The second house is mine. The third house is my immediate environment and my communication. (I am, I want, I communicate that want.) With whom do you communicate? The fourth house brings in the whole family. You hopefully grow in grace and talent in your fifth house. You learn there is no free ride in the 6th house. You develop socialization skills in the 7th house. The mine of the 2nd house must give way to yours or ours in the 8th house. Outside environments and communications develop in the 9th house. You will make it or break it in the 10th house. Your rewards or lack of them accrue in the 11th house and you wind down in the 12th house as you prepare for the coming change of cycle. See the natural sequence? Not all segments are equal or easy, hard, rewarding, frustrating, or any adjective you choose for any segment.

This article is about the 12th house as one of the least understood segments. Each of what are referred to as the natural “water” houses, the 4th, 8th, and 12th, are naturally ruled by Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces respectively, the water signs. They are categorized as “abstract” houses. Now we are getting to the heart of why they are not easy to understand or read. Only part of the 4th house is confusing. We do understand home, hearth, family, and roots; but endings is such an abstract concept that we struggle. Part of the 8th house contains easily understood categories such as death, taxes, insurance, joint finance and indebtedness. Keywords such as catastrophe, destiny, or fate versus free will are abstract enough to be confusing. As close as I can tell, the 12th house does not contain any easily understood concepts and is just full of abstract concepts that double the confusion. One thing for sure – the three abstract houses just mentioned as natural water houses are not as easy to define as most of the other houses.

When I am teaching, I use a keyword concept to create mental hooks for the beginning student. This “cookbook” approach is frequently frowned upon by astrologers; however, I think it gives a jump-start to the prodigious amount of information an astrology student must learn just to get started. I see it is a temporary crutch that can be discarded once it has served its purpose or retained because it makes it easy to find a beginning point for your readings. I teach three specific memory hooks for the 12th house.

Common 12th house references are self-undoing, self-sabotage, karmic, mental, and hidden. Why? No single house is totally good or totally evil, and I’m not seeing any nice concepts in that list. When reading the 12th for a new client, I whimsically say, “Into each life a little rain must fall,” and then talk to them about their shortcomings because that’s largely how I see that energy. If their 12th house is really difficult you might say, “The 12th house represents just how I shoot myself in the foot.” Make it first person rather than making someone else the bad guy in this story. It makes it easier to swallow what you need to tell them.

I would like you to do a simple exercise I teach my students. Place one open hand a few inches in front of your face and then circle it around to the back of your head. At first, can you see your hand clearly and then you lose direct view? You know your hand is there, but you can’t see it. When your hand is directly behind your face (Ascendant) at the back of your head (behind the Ascendant), you can’t see the territory or the issues. The 12th house is therefore your blind spot. You may need another pair of eyes to see what you can’t see for yourself: a friend, a counselor, someone to peer into your own potential darkness. That’s how we self-sabotage. We don’t see how we misuse or misapply12th house energy. The sign on the cusp and planets in the house do give us clues to our blind spot. Hidden means just that, not easily accessed or understood or private, it doesn’t mean anything dire or foreboding.

Earlier I mentioned the sequencing of the houses. Use that sequencing information to organize the flow or stages of a life. What are you working on to bring to balance in this lifetime? Look to the 12th house. Additionally, there is another way to use sequence. The 12th could be what was present in experience just prior to physical birth represented by the Ascendant. That could be the two hours prior to birth, prior incarnation or experience, prior debits and credits to our spiritual bankbook, the potential of past lives with karmic implications. This is one form of karmic reading. A child born with a malefic (difficult energy) planet on the 12th house side but close to the Ascendant could have experienced pre-natal birth trauma. Your reading can be as simple as a specific fact and still be valid, perhaps abrupt, but absolutely valid.

My third theme is that of our so-called second breath. If we have used all that we consciously knew we had at our disposal, have expended all our time, experience and energy and are exhausted from the effort, some of us are able to reach back inside ourselves and find a new wellspring from which to draw. In the west, we call that our second breath. I think that when you reach back inside yourself for qualities and abilities you didn’t even realize you had available, you reach into your 12th house, sort of a fall-back position.

When looking at any 12th house, my three immediate themes to explore are:

  • the source or pattern of self undoing, that which can sabotage us through our ignorance of its existence, hidden, unconscious, invisible;
  • sequencing in all its forms: the natural sequencing of the houses, the past as it relates to the present immediately prior to birth or perhaps in prior experiencing such as karma and rebirth, as well as the drawing to a conclusion of any life cycle as it prepares for the new cycle to come;
  • that second breath, a source of strength and resilience that we occasionally find within, our fall-back position.

I’ve covered all the originally listed descriptions with the exception of mental. I do want to bring this forward, but this is a subject that takes much study and which must be handled delicately. If you are not a trained psychological counselor, recognize your limitations but do learn from your charts. Leave diagnosis and prescription to the trained professionals. Over the years, I have done many unusual charts that have taught me much about the 6th/12th axis. For example, I did the charts of several psychologists and their patients over several years. I noticed that the 6th/12th axis was always heavily involved, so to me this became the psychological axis. I’ve also researched the charts of over 100 serial killers in the last three years. The 6th/12th axis is heavily involved in their horrific activities. That does not mean that a strong 6th/12th axis will make you either mentally deficient or a serial killer, but I think it does point out the psychological implications. Put this concept in the back of your head to observe through countless charts and learn before you believe you are entitled to an opinion.

Hopefully you have developed a better grasp of houses in general and the 12th house in particular. As I mentioned previously, no one house is ultimately bad or good – each is a mix of experience. Those houses that are not as easily understood and take a little more effort and practice are definitely worth the effort. The 12th house is our house of mystery, but mysteries were meant to be examined, explored and solved.

First published on All Things Healing website published May, 2010, republished with slight editing.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.