By Willard Metcalf – National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., online collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57432861

What follows is a re-print from an issue of ECLIPSE. Have a great weekend!

When I first studied Astrology (back in the last century!) it was hard to get a straight answer about how the 12th House really worked in an individual’s life. Since this House contains the ephemeral (spiritual experiences and practices, dreams, the unconscious) and big concept entities (large institutions, especially those that work in secret or where people are shut away, such as hospitals and asylums, connection to the Collective and to the Cosmos itself) it’s easy to see why it presents such a challenge to define; typically what was passed on for any House was a kind of shorthand formula, keywords that were meant to tell us succinctly what we had to look for. In the case of the 12th, the phrase was, ‘Serve or Suffer’, explained as the attitude that must pertain to any matters or energies connected to the House—either you served humankind through one of the 12th House concepts, groups, entities, or through a spiritual service or practice, or you suffered. And in spite of all your best intentions, with the unconscious material sitting in this House, just above the horizon (and so just out of your conscious reach), there might still be suffering through that mechanism wherein the unconscious sets up circumstances in order to bring us a particular experience.

‘Serve or suffer’ always struck me as too fire-and-brimstone, too much like the kind of religious admonition that sounds a lot like a threat: “Be good, or you’ll go to hell!” That’s no way to win recruits, and it didn’t really make the 12th House any clearer—if anything, it seemed to ask us to choose a sign-related 12th activity or entity and then to give a part of ourselves to that cause and just hope we’d please the gods and avoid being struck by lightning! That seemed fear-mongering at worst, and just generally less sincerely productive than true service could and should be at best, and it made me think a lot about what the House, and the phrase, might actually signify.

The phrase was probably an easier sell to the astrology student a hundred years or more ago, before questioning authority and exploring beyond what we are told became a daily routine. In that space of time, we’ve seen a Collective shift (and the Collective is ruled by the 12th, of course!) toward a development of inner viewpoint and consciousness within the individual that is no longer quite so willing to become a cog in the machine and, eventually, die—instead we see a demand for at least some fulfillment in life, along with the expectation that we deserve it—not a factor for most people to any significant degree before those Collective changes.

‘Serve or Suffer’ is really about choosing between a Universal viewpoint and a personal one, with suffering being the result of concentrating on the individual experience rather than the Collective need. We are asked to give up our own interests only in this area (and intermittently in the 5th, for our children, and in the 7th, for our partner or our Art), and we’re really not given a choice in the matter; we can choose not to have children or not to partner, but we are obligated to acknowledge our part in the Universe (no matter how small we may feel when considering it!)

Placements in the 12th are typically processed in such a way that we have a very hard time seeing them in ourselves; we will often completely project these qualities, at least initially, and the House anything posited in the 12th rules can become a hot line for expression of the unconscious and for projection of the group psyche: with, for example, Neptune in the 12th and ruling the 4th, we may swear up and down that our entire family is crazy (or creative, or deluded, or liars!) when it really may just be us! This kind of response to the 12th House energy makes it ripe for the ‘Suffering’ half of the equation; if we believe that everyone else in the family is wildly imaginative and creative, and we are not (because that energy within us is ‘hidden’ in the 12th) then we suffer with the feeling that we are ‘less than’ within the family dynamic. Only through excavating and recognizing as our own those 12th House energies will we have a sense of wholeness—until then, we may acutely long for the seemingly missing factors and talents.

In this example, the individual’s need and expectation are for a disciplined, controlled, or real-world grounded approach toward the Universe (Capricorn on the 12th) that can be modeled by or learned from Others, or that can be seen as a guide that brings the 12th House attitude into dealing with Others, Art, and/ or the spouse (7th placement of ruler) and this is being disowned; the individual is seeing others as the agents of the experience, rather than directly living it through the example of others (7th) handling 12th House matters. In the case of disowning the energy, the individual sees others as the ones applying restrictive standards in 12th House areas; in the case of owning the energy, the individual learns about or sees in others examples of dealing with 12th House matters—and applies the discipline, control, or real-world grounding on their own (this is, of course, aside from any other meanings carried by that Saturn placement).

With bodies posited in the 12th, look to the position of the ruler(s) and consider how much you may or may not be projecting these energies onto the matters and individuals represented by the House where they sit, or that they rule. If the 12th is empty, look to the ruler or rulers (in the case of Aquarius and Pisces, adding ancient rulers Saturn and Jupiter, respectively, can give a much more rounded picture) for how much one may be seeing the subjects or entities represented by the House where the ruler is posited as imposing 12th House conditions on you, or on the areas of life in the House(s) ruled by the 12th ruler. For instance, ruler of the 12th in the 8th could mean you see others as having sent you to prison—whether or not this is literal, and whether or not you’ve done anything to warrant it! With ruler of the 12th in the 10th, by contrast, you may see spiritual matters, the caprice of the Cosmos, or the role of large institutions as having a big effect on the career or public reputation. Don’t be surprised if you feel some shame surrounding neglected 12th House energies—this is common, as we tend to hide in the 12th, even from ourselves, those things we find less desirable about ourselves–or we place in the 12th the guilt or regret over not having addressed Universal/ spiritual energies as we feel we should, or we store guilt or shame related to matters or others represented by the House where the ruler is placed. The reality is we need to take our time sorting through, developing, and learning how to use all chart energies—to feel bad about what we need to explore only makes us turn away, drag our feet, and maybe blame it on (or project it on) someone else.

The Weekend Word Image is criticism that freezes you in your tracks. If you’ve received something like this lately, and the effect was to stop your forward momentum, please consider: this may actually have had the goal of keeping you where you are. The critique was a feint, a distraction, meant to shake your confidence, with the real point the speaker’s desire to keep you in a place they are comfortable with. If you see it that way, you can free yourself from some needless Self-censorship, and avoid a detour that’s the opposite of helpful.