January 24th, 2014

Astrology’s House of the Rising Sun

“And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy and God, I know I’m one…” — Alan Price

“Mystery is the only addiction I wholeheartedly recommend.” — Scott Peck

My friend and colleague Wonder Bright posted a post on her site yesterday where she dove into the contradictions related to astrology’s 12th house. The sort of diving a lot of 12th house Sun people do. An inquiry that’s easy to understand, given astrology’s grab bag of 12th house horrors.

As defined by classical astrology, the 12th house of the birth chart is a cluster of fallen positions, people and milieus. And modern interpretations are no better, creating what I call a ‘death-by-euphemism’ blanketing; where New Agers and their notions of transformation and the collective unconscious (huh?) have defanged the 12th house to the point of parody.

Traditional astrology explains that because the 12th house makes no proper Ptolemaic aspect to the ascendant, the 12th house and its activities go ‘unseen’. This same idea applies to the 2nd, 6th and the 8th house too. Over time, the life events and conditions associated with each of those houses can become problematic. In other words: If I am not consciously aware and actively involved with the circumstances involved with each of those houses I will, most likely, fuck things up.

Jesus, there’s nothing like an individual’s relationship to money (2nd and 8th houses) and the consequences related to finances, to drive said person to the brink of addiction or crime; which, of course will land them in the 12th house, that of prisoners and jailers and drunkards and debtors (and a bunch of other Charles Dickens‘-like characters), where he or she will abide and live like a slave (a classic 6th house theme.)

So all of this seems valid to me because the ascendant is the particular lens through which I view reality and reality views me. If certain of my activities and affairs fall beyond my eye of awareness (my ascendant), well, most likely there will be blood. And sweat. And certainly tears.

Personally, and maybe because I have Leo rising and Leo doesn’t like to think of anything related to the self as being artificial, I have never jibed with the Jungian confluence of the first house with the persona, the mask that one wears to present himself to the world.

Mmmmm. No, sorry. My Leo nature is the real deal.

Tho I think it was a Jungian, UK astrologer Liz Greene who once described the ascendant as being similar to a kind of school or university that one is sent to, to better learn and integrate the various qualities of that sign and how to successfully express those qualities in life.

In other words there is work (a 1st house application of self) involved with the ascendant, a deliberate focus and coming to terms with. Now that I can relate to. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I understood the intricacies of my rising sign and how, when expressed consciously, I sensed more of my totality of being, my unique mark and mark-making as a human being. All of that relates to the ascendant as a kind of gathering and filtering point for the totality of the horoscope.

From a Gurdjieffian perspective the entire chart can be viewed as a mask. If an individual is not living from a place of presence — his or her essential expression of Being — then all of the planetary positions, including the Sun, would be shaded or dimmed — operating at a level of sham.

If I am bereft of presence — my “I am-ness” — all that’s left to tether me to my chart is the Moon. That is to say, my lunar nature with its instinctual scratching and clamoring; and memories cobbled together to create a glop of identity. A ‘me’ that’s actually an ‘it.’

As Gurdjieff often explained, a soul is not one’s birthright. A soul must be forged. To modernize this notion you could push it through the Jungian lens and say: One must individuate to consciously connect with one’s unique qualities and expression. All of which implies a movement from the lunar to the solar.

If my life is simply an expression of acquired traits and reactions, emotional states that I’ve absorbed from my mother and father, my teachers and the culture in general, then my life is, indeed, not my own. I’m a fake. My horoscope then becomes a promise of what could have been.

But what of the 12th house? If the 2nd, 6th and 8th houses of the chart denote the potential for disconnect, what exactly is the 12th cut off from?

Are there clues in that list of keywords: self-undoing, ruin, imprisonment, exile and suicide. And what about the places you will go? Monasteries, hospitals, nut houses and nunneries. Oh, and there are critters, like elephants, clomping around here too. Imagine a nun riding an elephant. (No, don’t.)

A hero of mine, traditional astrologer John Frawley has also added masturbation to this peculiar set of mutations, and, well, as I told Wonder in my reply to her post, that was when I balked. Not that I never masturbate (TMI), but that the 12th house would have jurisdiction over a normal sexual pastime is wonky to me. I think (hope) what Frawley alluded to was the Judeo-Christian guilt that taints ‘the act,’ so, yes, why the hell not toss onanism into the 12th house’s bucket of tears. Everything else sad is in there.

Switch the scene for a moment.

It was a sunny day in Seattle when another colleague, Heather Roan Robbins was visiting. We’d had coffee and I was driving her back to her daughter’s, when I broached the 12th house theme. She also has a 12th house Sun, and I was curious to hear her take on the dreaded zone.

Heather is one of those inventive astrologers who teach using a ‘full-bodied’ system, meaning every part of the student’s being is involved: The head, the heart and the body. She will often have her students theatrically enact the force of a particular planet, or the style of particular sign; or she will position two students across from one another in the room, with an: “OK, so you’re Venus in Pisces and he’s Jupiter in Virgo — what does this opposition feel like and how does it show up?”

Regarding the 12th house, she explained to me that she’d learned the most about all of the horoscope’s houses by considering and feeling out the time of day or night that each house is associated with.

And the 12th is linked to that that magic hour of the morning (between 6am and 8am) when the Sun’s radiance is soft and the light incrementally establishing, stirring to spread — having moved away from the midnight’s darkness.

Think about it: People don’t run around yaking and tossing their bodies about like bumper cars at 6 o’clock in the morning, as they do, say, at noon when the fervor of the day is buzzing, convincing us that full sunlight is the realm that defines our collective world.

Heather’s notion touched a chord in me, and triggered a long reevaluation and appreciation of the 12th house and what that early morning light conveys, the very stage that it sets and illuminates.

Student Solita Solano recorded in one of her diaries that Gurdjieff explained: “…morning Sun is best for us, the only time of day when the rays contain certain properties necessary for our understanding.”

And as I explained in the comment to Wonder’s post:

“Coming from a man I respect, when it comes to the difficult work of awakening, I put stock in Gurdjieff’s declaration — and those ‘properties’.”

I continued, from my experience, “dawn — like dusk — is a period in the day’s cycle that is akin to sacred time.” And I’ve found this to be true: There’s a palpable stillness to the early light’s aura, a quiet that is both fragile and vibrant with potential. And this is how a Sun in the 12th might expresses itself in the world.

Or not.

My father (an Aries) says that when I was born, he left the hospital and headed back to the family house, driving with his car’s top down, yelling out his excitement and honking his horn throughout the neighborhood, announcing to anyone who could hear him that early, that he now had a son.

As the Sun is our father in our horoscope, I was able to surmise from my dad’s behavior another unusual quality related to a Sun in the 12th, one that might explain more about the house’s problem-making potential. That being an “out of synch” condition that often marks a 12th house Sun.

The 12th houser is asleep when others are awake, or she is going full throttle when everyone else is in bed. Or she sees and then announces insights that others miss or deliberately want to ignore. It’s as if that bardo, that netherworld zone of the dawn, translates into a kind of exemption from the grind that the wheel of time traps day-timers in: Up at 8, lunch at noon, back home, dinner, TV, to bed and then do it all over tomorrow.

And my father certainly personified this peculiar ‘out of synch-ness’. He was everything but a normal father — he struggled with alcoholism, was wild about Immanuel Kant, so Kantian ethics colored every event in our household, to the point where my brothers and I, every Sunday, would have to choose between staying home with my agnostic father — to watch football (freedom being the closest one can come to experiencing God) — or go to church (which my father considered foolish, being something ‘for the pious masses’) with my Catholic step-mom. (Loathing football, I went to church).

But my father also worked tirelessly on trying to make the world a better place. After a full day of engineering for the Edison company, he would come home and devote hours to a project that he remained committed to most of his life: Inventing the world’s first artificial heart that would use the body’s own electrical signals to galvanize the device’s pump. Again, another 12th house Sun theme in action: Working behind closed doors on a project that might help all of humanity.

But that’s a story about a father.

What of an individual with the Sun in the 12th?

As Wonder points out in her second post on this theme, one wants to study where Leo falls in his or her chart (and I would add, also where Cancer falls, as I feel the Sun co-rules that sign along with the Moon — [I know, I know — don’t go there, you can read about it in my new book]) to have a clue as to what the Sun in the 12th must relinquish, sacrifice or suffer loss through.

Something else Wonder suggested: Having Leo on the ascendant is an antidote to the disconnect between the ascendant and the 12th house. The ruler of the 1st in the 12th gave those two resonance, a way to actually link up. And perhaps this is true, and explains why I might be able to suss out specific details, or offer specifics about the Sun in the 12th that are blurry, or have gone missing, for someone where Leo falls elsewhere on the wheel. Maybe.

But regardless of where Leo (or Cancer) lands on the chart, one condition I’ve seen repeatedly with all 12th house Suns is the ability to almost effortlessly self-destruct. Or, sensing their proclivity for ‘self-undoing,’ there is an ease in committing to a process of inner work as an antidote: Therapy, 12-Step, counseling, meditation, contemplation or prayer (which explains all the monastic themes associated with the 12th). Interestingly all of these generate self-awareness and supply, perhaps, that missing sense of ‘is-ness’ that the disconnect from the ascendant generates.

For many 12th housers this is a welcome relief, to engage with a spiritual practice or to undergo therapy. Once that commitment has been engaged; it allows that quirky ‘off the beaten path’ part of their nature a structure to work within, to be enthused about.

Of course our culture still casts a wary eye on someone who would voluntarily choose to explore his or her psyche in protracted detail. It’s almost un-American. “Why don’t you just take a pill?” And the 12th houser responds, “Christ, don’t get me started talking about pills…” Or booze or pot or…

Also on the 12th house Sun menu: Long stretches of solitude … quiet, study and the joy of doing nothing (one of my favorite pastimes, which of course is the devil’s workshop!) The later offering another clue as to why older cultures associated the 12th house with weirdness; if someone was spending so much time alone — and enjoying it — something unseemly must be afoot. She must be masturbating!

But enough about my 12th house, how did you like this post?

I mean — ha! — please share something of your Sun in the 12th house. Help unravel the question of what falls out of sight for the 12th house Sun soul. Where is Leo in your chart and do the affairs of that house take you down the rabbit hole of traditional 12th house themes?

We’d like to know. There can never be enough data gathered on the 12th house, for like its nascent morning light, as soon as one facet of illumination flares, another bit of radiation lifts off and disappears into the blaring glare of the noonday Sun.


Photograph Second Take by John Curley

23 Responses to 'Astrology’s House of the Rising Sun'
Filed Under: Astrology and Gurdjieff
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  • Louise

    I have a Cancer ascendant, second house Cancer, Leo sun in 3rd. XII th boggles me, in my chart it is in Taurus and Gemini floats in there, all alone, intercepted ! In older french astrology terms the word “occulté” is used instead of “intercepté” ! Double wammy in a 12th house! The eternal teenager trapped, secluded and misunderstood ?! I love what you wrote about the ascendant, but i have never been able to totally embrace my ascendant, ashamed to admit that i felt a pang of envy that you understood the intricacies of your rising sign ! My first house Cancer south node still torments me with this question : to be Cancer or not to be Cancer ? in a loop …

  • Jenn Zahrt

    Here’s another one to add to your 12th house grab bag: Libraries. What could be more 12th house than the solitary combing through (mostly, by now, dead) people’s written contributions to our knowledge of the world? And as Rilke pointed out, those never-ending lines of text are like so many prison bars…

    The Panther
    by Rainer Maria Rilke
    (translation by Aeryn Martin)

    His gaze has, from the passing of the bars,
    gotten so tired that it holds nothing more.
    To him it is, as if there were a thousand bars
    And behind a thousand bars no world.

    The soft stride of smooth strong steps,
    that spins round in the tiniest circle,
    is like a dance of strength around a center,
    in which, numbly, a great will stands.

    Only sometimes the curtain of the pupil
    rises silently. — Then an image enters,
    goes through the limbs’ tense silence —
    and in the heart ceases to exist.

  • Elizabeth Agren

    I do love libraries! 12th house cancer sun, leo in second, self value, relationship with money has been my undoing, I struggle with feeling seen, or really known by others.
    Enjoy the article, thanks. Remember conversing with Heather many years ago about our 12th houses!

  • Bonnie Simms

    Brilliant article regarding the mystical mysteries of the 12th. I have Leo rising and Saturn in the 12th in Cancer, with a Pisces moon. I seem to gravitate to a life of serving others, volunteering at hospice and doing astrological counseling. I thoroughly enjoyed your wisdom…If you plan to visit New York, we would love to have you speak at our NCGR Long Island chapter.

  • frederick_a_woodruff


    I appreciate your feedback. Saturn, of course, has his ‘joy’ in the 12th house, so I find the conditions of the 12th help Saturn do what he does best, as evident your career with hospice and counseling.

    Thank you for the invite to speak at your NCGR chapter, I would love it. We’ll stay in touch when I’m on tour for the new book.



  • frederick_a_woodruff


    Some good news for you! From a fellow Cancer no less.

    I began using the Whole Sign system several years ago, after nearly 40 years of working with and being flummoxed by Placidus. Everytime a set of intercepted signs would appear on the wheel I would groan as I instinctively knew something was ‘off’ and not germane to astrology’s matrix.

    The Whole Sign shift came by the way friends using the system and the stamp of approval from Robert Hand. If Hand’s doing something you just know it’s gotta be good.

    Your Sun is the first house. Let it shine!



  • frederick_a_woodruff


    Yes, my god. As you know my home is more a library than a dwelling space. I’m the equivalent of the crazy cat woman, but with books. Help me Jesus!

    Rilke, whoa — I love how you segued from your point to the poem. Shocking and lovely. Thank you!


  • frederick_a_woodruff


    Please see my comment above to Elizabeth.

    And good luck with your exploration of the Whole Sign system. It will literally change your orientation to your chart — and life.



  • Tasha

    12th house Cancer Sun, Leo Ascendant here. It’s a strange life. People assume that I am psychic sometimes. I’m not, just mentally astute and very sensitive to nuance. I have made public decisions that for some would wreck their perceived “reputation.” But it’s all just so much salt tossed over the shoulder. Take a social nap, dust off, begin again. Because who knows anyone really, and the more you think you know yourself, the less progress you’re making into who you are at the diamond point. I have been told that I heal people. I have been told that I understand them. I have been told that I know too much. I have slept for months at a time, just digesting, coming out when it’s dark, ruminating. I am a flow more than a form. I have been a serious meditative Buddhist, an occultist, a yogi, a nihilist. But I know it can all be gone in a second, so if it ever is, or if they ever are, well, I hardly blink.

  • Jenn Zahrt

    Many of the traditional shamans (sangomas) in South Africa who I’m friends with also have Saturn in the 12th!

  • Wonder Bright

    Frederick, I sifted through SO many emotions reading this. I was especially moved by the story your father tells about your birth, thank you for sharing that.

    What I want to share is how the early morning light wakes me from my slumbers every day. My apartment is eastern facing, you see, and the only thing which stands between me and the early morning sun is a pair of black out blinds which have proven utterly inadequate to the job. So I woke this morning with one thought very clear: though the early light may be gentler in scope and more subtle in apprehension than the light which comes later in the day, the most important thing about it is not the light that is to come, but the darkness it follows. Compared to the dark of the night, morning light, no matter how soft or beautiful, is nothing short of piercing.

    To my mind this perfectly describes the ways in which 12th house Suns have a difficult time UNseeing what we see and are potentially so prone to seeing only what we want to. In that regard small wonder that we are prone to self-destruction or unintended consequences. Our little mind’s eyes are illuminated by a light which focuses our attention on things in the most blinded fashion.

    As Venus begins her direct station four degrees away from my Sun I find myself so incredibly grateful for this conversation, it’s been a stalwart companion this week. Thank you, my friend.

  • Debbie Ridgeway

    This is probably the best set of 12th house ideas I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve read just about everything I can find on the shadowed zone. With Saturn in Virgo in my 12th I’ve always felt compelled to do as much research as possible on the house. I also appreciate the humor in this article (and learning some more about your early childhood Fredrick, your father sounds like a very complex, but lively, character). Thank you for this steady stream of always-surprising material on your site: the posts, the music, the art, the poetry,…it’s one of my favorite stops on the internet. And it’s appreciated.

  • Dave of Maryland

    Masturbation in the 12th is related to the Hindu view of sex in the 12th, being what is hidden from outsiders. Masturbation is a most hidden thing. (Sex in the 5th? At the 50 yard line, of course! Get out the video cameras and sell the tapes!)

    12th house is institutions. And horsies and big animals in general. Get out Hand’s Planets in Transit and look at his chart. See the polarity between Sag in 6 and Gemini in 12? He’s been going back and forth his whole life between being a philosophical workaholic (6th), and a would-be student or employee of some institution or other (12th). Astrolabe, Hindsight, Kepler, the Catholic college in DC, etc. Significant time with each of them. Six and twelve, twelve and six.

    Get out William Shatner’s chart and you will find a 12th that turned into horses. Equestrians have it prominent. The Twelfth House: It’s not just for mental patients! In that first two hours of the day, horses, horses everywhere!

    Also, were you ever awake at sunrise? Back when I was a kid we had a paper route (gee this sounds just like Leave it to Beaver) and I saw lots of sunrises. There is an indescribable tension just before the sun first peeks out and a great joy when it finally does. Worth getting up for, frankly. The one supreme moment of the day.

    Which is quickly lost in a flat blandness, which is quite distinct. I often have a hard time sleeping just before sunrise, but once it’s up, I can sleep like a baby. Taurus in 12, otherwise empty. Ruler Venus in Capricorn in 8, not that I could ever make anything of the rulership or my 12th.

    A Sun in Leo in 12, remember there is only ever one king at a time. Leos are solitary creatures by definition. They have no peers. So no institution for you, though I have run across one or two reincarnate Mother Superiors with 12th house suns (formerly in charge of cloistered nuns). Wanna be a reincarnate head lama/monk? Mercury in Leo in 12, ruling a Virgo ascendant? A secret library and you’re the librarian. Might be what the commentator was getting at. If Mercury in Leo and 12, double debilitated. Robson would say, a trifle deaf as a result.

  • frederick_a_woodruff


    Just as I’m about to respond the incomparable David Roell appears in this thread and addresses something very similar to your comment about the piercing quality of morning light.

    Perhaps that’s why Gurdjeiff (a hardcore Capricorn liked it so much, it was a ‘shocker’.)

    And regarding this theme, I’ve enjoyed our dialectic very much. Thank you for initiating it. My12th house Sun salutes your 12th house Sun (gently).



  • frederick_a_woodruff


    Appreciate your feedback and I’m especially happy to know the different facets of my site are educational and engaging for you. Thank you!

  • frederick_a_woodruff


    You’ve found a way to successfully maneuver your double solar nature (as I mentioned in the post, I’ve a sense that the Sun co-rules, as a ‘night’ Sun, the sign Cancer, along with the Moon). Especially, as you note, given the difficulty that projection initiates or attracts for 12th house Sun folks; another theme that Heather and I had discussed.

    A favorite image I have re the 12th house and planets there is: The un-manifest made manifest, the manifest made un-manifest. It works.

  • frederick_a_woodruff


    Thanks for this cornucopia of ideas (and images!) The example of the toggling energies between 6th and 12th, as personified by Rob Hand, is a great example.

    AND HORSES! (And elephants).

    Are there books you’d recommend for my readers, that dive into this house. If so, please share the titles so people can order from http://www.astroamerica.com.


  • Barbara Stokes

    I very much enjoy reading your newsletters and this 12th house article really grabbed me. Having my Moon in Taurus conjunct Saturn and Uranus in the 12th, I’m always trying to understand its
    meaning. With my Sun opposite in Scorpio in the 6th, I find that the night and darkness are very alluring.

    I love the long winter nights, and luxuriate in the dawn as I “pull” back from the night; its dreams, images, and happenings (often unremembered except for a residual glimpse and a felt sense). I equally enjoy the dusk as I feel released from the doing of the day to a sense of being
    in the night. For me, there’s magic and mystery in the long winter nights, the 12th house. There is more time for enjoying the solitude; contemplative reading, study, and meditation.

    How much of this is 12th house and how much is a Scorpio Sun, I’m not sure.

  • frederick_a_woodruff


    I’d say with the Moon conjunct Uranus and Saturn you won’t have option when it comes to giving expression (via understanding) your 12th house gathering of forces. You won’t feel comfortable (Moon) until you marry the most extreme (Saturn Uranus) parts of your nature. What a fascinating quest and life path!


  • Sun in 12th, Leo rules sixth house. Interesting that you mention the “devil’s workshop” as defined by long stretches of doing nothing. Anxiety that leads to inactivity has long been my undoing. What I’ve found is that forcing myself to work, even when the work is boring or uninteresting (6th house) is the best antidote to my tendency to self-undo. The trick is getting in the groove and not stopping. It can happen, but it requires work.

  • P.

    Reading this, I can see very clearly just *how much* my ascendant’s ruler Pluto in the 12th affected everything. Crazy. I could take apart every paragraph and see the influence, from mundane to major.

    I’m sorry I can’t contribute more to the conversation at this time – much to do in the real world, ha – still wanted to say Thank You for this study.

  • Barbara Stokes

    Re: Tower of Babel article, I’m reminded of the acronym LCD. It seems the world is now being run by the least common denominator. People just pick and choose what they want to believe and then become the loudest vocal “authorities”. Sad to hear that is true of astrology. People of discernment are hard to find these days in everything, thus the media picks up the loudest and most ridiculous to decide “newsworthy”.

  • whatever

    Only got 1/2way thru and read this: “It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I understood the intricacies of my rising sign and how, when expressed consciously, I sensed more of my totality of being, my unique mark and mark-making as a human being. All of that relates to the ascendant as a kind of gathering and filtering point for the totality of the horoscope.” This is real profound for me right now. I’m at leo too and have fled it all my life. It seems like a lot of work. It doesn’t come easy. That is why I’ve been pretending my birth certificate is off and am really at late cancer. But have had feedback that the energy is operating in my life after all (ie, this random self absorbed bloviation on some random blokes blog might be evidence lol) and your article helps. Thanks. Now on to read the rest