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The Clockwise Interpretation of Houses

originally published in The Mountain Astrologer, October/November 2000


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Ever since Zipporah Dobyns introduced the idea of the 12-letter alphabet approach to astrology, back in the early 70s (1), astrologers have increasingly used signs and houses interchangeably, as though each house were merely a synonym for the correspondent sign. Meanwhile, the increasing adoption of Vedic techniques by western astrologers, and the rediscovery of western astrology's historical roots have encouraged the use of whole-sign house systems, which further blur the distinction between signs and houses. As Rob Hand concludes in a recent two-part series of articles on the use of whole signs (2), "there is something satisfying about the possibility that the entire house controversy may have been a mistake from the beginning, and that the resolution of the controversy is to not use houses at all as separate from signs."

Undoubtedly the 12-letter alphabet approach to astrology has made the entire subject less daunting for a great many would-be practitioners, and whole sign houses do have a certain appeal in the elegance of their simplicity. On the other hand, signs and houses measure very different astronomical phenomena, which in turn give rise to an entirely different set of symbolic connotations. To reduce one system to the other, or to eliminate one altogether is, in my opinion, to dumb down the language at the expense of its capacity to model the complexity of real life.


The Astro-Logic Underlying a Separate House System

According to the 12-letter alphabet approach to interpretation, the Sun in Pisces means essentially the same thing as the Sun in the 12th house, since Pisces and the 12th house represent the same letter of the alphabet. If, however, we consider the astronomical basis for the symbols we are assigning to this letter, the symbolic logic underlying the proposed equivalency is untenable. Signs represent a 12-fold division of the ecliptic (the apparent annual path of the Sun as the earth revolves around it), while houses represent a 12-fold division of the daily rotation of the earth about its axis. The Sun in Pisces is in the last phase of an annual cycle that began at the vernal equinox almost a full year ago; while Sun in the 12th house marks the very beginning of a daily cycle, in which the Sun just rose into visibility above the horizon. If the meaning that we ascribe to these symbols has any basis in their relationship to the cycles in which they participate, then these two astrological placements cannot be equivalent.

Clockwise Houses 1

Furthermore, if we track the apparent motion of planets through the wheel of houses, we must note that they are moving in a clockwise direction. As the earth rotates about its axis, the Sun, and all the planets appear to move through the houses in a clockwise direction, rising in the east, culminating at the zenith directly overhead, setting in the west, and anti-culminating at the nadir, all within the span of a 24-hour period. (See Illustration 1). Meanwhile, each planet is simultaneously moving through the zodiac in a counterclockwise direction, at a much slower pace that depends upon the sidereal period of its orbit around the Sun. Jupiter in Libra in the 5th house, for example, is moving in a counterclockwise direction through a 12-year revolutionary cycle toward the sign of Scorpio. At the same time, it is also moving in a clockwise direction through a daily rotational cycle toward the nadir. (See Illustration 2). Because houses are traditionally numbered in the same counterclockwise direction as the movement of planets through the signs, we typically interpret planets in houses as though they were moving counterclockwise, and do not consider their clockwise motion at all. But what we actually have, depicted simultaneously on the same wheel, are two contrary motions representing two distinct pieces of information that cannot be fully understood by reference to the same alphabet.

Clcokwise Houses 2

To understand the symbolic difference between the alphabet of houses and the alphabet of signs, we can again make reference to the astronomical basis from which each alphabet is derived. The clockwise motion of planets through houses are derived from the rotation of the earth around an internal axis, symbolically representing an orientation to life that is subjective, specific to the individual, and taken to a deeper level, can be identified with the soul and its spiritual agenda. The counterclockwise motion of planets through signs are derived from the earth’s revolution around an external focal point (the Sun), symbolically representing an orientation to life that is objective and collective, and that requires an adaptation on the part of the individual to the ever-shifting panorama of external reality. (See Illustration 3.)

Clockwise Houses 3.jpg

Dane Rudhyar called the clockwise motion of planets through houses, "motion in time, or subjective motion, as it does not create any change of location. It is motion within the confines of the self; thus, by extension, interior or subjective motion. It symbolizes inner changes, and... refers to subjective being, to the individual. The second type of motion, on the other hand, is definitely motion in space, or objective motion, as it brings about change in location and displacement of the center of the being.... It is the substratum for all relationships, for all interchanges. Through motion in space, through actual displacement of one’s own center, one... becomes aware of the reality of the larger collective whole of which one is but a part (3)". If this distinction is a valid symbolic basis on which to differentiate signs and houses - and I believe it is - then houses deserve to be considered on their own terms, as a unique frame of reference ideally suited to understanding the subjective, internal, spiritual dimension of life.

When we speak of signs and a sign-based approach to house systems, we are essentially discussing the way in which the individual adapts to an external reality shared by the collective. This is true whether we are examining the pursuit of career in the outermost 10th house, or the cultivation of domestic life in the innermost 4th house. From within the context of this perspective, the sum total of our life circumstances constitutes a pattern of individual adaptation, symbolized not by the rotation of the earth around its axis, but by its revolution around the Sun.

Each individual, however, comes into this life, not merely to adapt, but also to evolve according to an internal agenda which requires increasing differentiation from the collective, and growing allegiance to a process that is specific to each of us. Jung called this process individuation, by which he meant a journey of self-actualization, in which various unconscious resources are integrated and then more consciously utilized in the living of a creative life. From an astro-logical perspective, the evolutionary process that facilitates individuation is revealed by a clockwise consideration of the houses.


Assigning Meaning to the Houses From an Evolutionary Perspective

To understand the clockwise meaning of each house, it is helpful first to divide the wheel of houses into quadrants, and then consider the movement of the Sun through each quadrant as a metaphor. Astrologically, the Sun represents the "I" or protagonist of the individuation process, which essentially proceeds along a continuum from a limited, egocentric awareness of self at the lower end of the spectrum toward the more fully-realized Self that Jung postulated as the holy grail of psychological development, at the higher end.

Jung himself was no stranger to this metaphor, although he probably did not fully appreciate the astrological ramifications of his understanding. He did, say, however, that "Our life is like the course of the sun. In the morning, it gains continually in strength until it reaches the zenith of high noon. Then comes the enantiodromia: the steady forward movement no longer denotes an increase, but a decrease in strength.... In the (morning), it is enough to clear away all the obstacles that hinder expansion and ascent; in the (afternoon), we must nurture everything that assists the descent (4)".

Though Jung was referring to the distinction between youth and the second half of life, his statement also refers to the distinction between a Sun that is rising in the eastern hemisphere of the birthchart, and setting in the western hemisphere. The other obvious piece of astro-logic from which our metaphor can be derived is the distinction between day and night. When the Sun is above the horizon, it illuminates a process which is visible, manifest and played out upon an external stage; when the Sun is below the horizon, it enters a realm in which the process is invisible, unmanifest, and experienced internally. Putting these two metaphoric statements together creates a symbolic framework in which to understand the meaning of each quadrant from an evolutionary perspective.

Traditionally, the quadrants are numbered in the same direction as the houses, but to avoid confusion, I will refer to them instead by their directional designations. That is to say, the 1st quadrant will be referred to as the NE quadrant; the 2nd as the NW; the 3rd as the SW; and the 4th as the SE. Moving in a clockwise direction from the nadir then, in the NE quadrant, the Sun is invisible and rising; in the SE quadrant, the Sun is rising and visible; in the SW quadrant, the Sun is visible and setting; and in the NW quadrant, the Sun is setting and invisible. (See Illustration 4.) These considerations, in turn, form an astro-logical basis on which the meaning of each quadrant can be understood.


Clockwise Houses 4

Because the wheel of houses is a circle, a plausible argument can be made for conceptualizing the beginning of the evolutionary process at any one of the four angles of the birthchart. Personally, I've always liked the metaphor that compares the evolutionary process to the life cycle of an oak tree, since it implies that human development is a natural flowering of our participation in a larger web of life. Within the context of this metaphor, the individuation process begins at the Nadir, with the planting of the acorn.

As the innermost pole of the birthchart, the Nadir represents the root or ground of our being. On one level, this place of rooting can be construed as the ancestral soil out of which we will emerge and grow. Biologically, it is the point of conception, the critical juncture at which sperm and ovum come together to form a new individual being. Psychologically, it is the family matrix, representing the collective out of which we will emerge to define ourselves as individuals. Spiritually, the nadir can also be construed as the place where the soul enters the realm of time and space, bringing with it the unfinished business of previous lives. It is my sense that the metaphysical implications of the evolutionary journey are mirrored by the ancestral heritage into which we are born, while the opportunity that each soul has to address unresolved karma in this life is already conveniently waiting for us within our family matrix. From this perspective, the Nadir represents the point at which a family matrix serves as psychological launching pad for the soul's evolutionary journey.

Leaving the nadir to enter the realm of time and space, the soul then moves clockwise through a gestation phase in the NE quadrant. In the NE quadrant, the Sun is rising, but not yet risen into the visible, manifest realm. Within the 24-hour cycle upon which the wheel of houses is based, this quadrant is analogous to the dead of the night, in which the new day is taking shape in dream time. The acorn is sinking its roots, drawing nourishment and gestating underground before pushing up into the light of day. Inside a mother's womb, an embryo is gradually evolving into a fetus and then a recognizable human being. From the evolutionary perspective, the NE quadrant is the subliminal void in which individual destiny takes shape, the gathering place where body and spirit fuse to form the vehicle though which the soul's journey will be experienced.

Within each quadrant, the evolutionary process becomes further differentiated by house. In the 3rd house, for example, are what Ram Das refers to as the "uncooked seeds" of previous incarnations, which serve as the nuclei of karmic conditions, often uncannily reflected in the belief system of the family matrix, absorbed throughout childhood by the growing individual, and some would say, subliminally from the mother while still in the womb. In the 2nd house is the cumulative sense of self-worth that will be reflected in the quality of the individual’s relationship to material plane reality, and reinforced by early messages affirming or negating the worth of the child. In the 1st house is the spiritual intention, the potential waiting to be actualized, and the sense of purpose that drives one to incarnate.

At the Ascendant, the soul assumes a physical vehicle and rises into the manifest realm, an event that can be associated with sunrise and with birth. In the SE quadrant, the Sun is now not only rising, but also increasingly visible, and the soul is moving through a phase of its evolutionary journey analogous to morning. The acorn is pushing up above ground, and growing through season after season to become the oak tree that it has always potentially been. As the soul moves through the SE quadrant, it enters an actualization phase, where the evolutionary goal is to manifest the creative seed potential of the gestation phase within the external world. Within the SE quadrant, the soul is emerging, and moving out into the realm of doing, where each of us is challenged to find our place within the world and make a contribution.

In the 12th house, the incarnating soul must face all the gestating karmic conditions of the womb in actual fact, and confront the obstacles - both inner and outer - that arise to block the path toward self-actualization. In the 11th house, we enter the realm of the collective, the larger culture into which we are born, and seek to find our place within it. In the 10th house, we strive to individuate and make our contribution to the collective, as the soul undertaking this journey reaches for the highest possible pinnacle of conscious expression attainable in this life.

At the Midheaven, we potentially fulfill the purpose for which we were born, actualize our soul’s agenda, and reach a peak of personal accomplishment. This is where the seed potential of the acorn is actualized in the fully grown oak tree. Continuing its journey through the SW quadrant, the Sun is still visible in the daytime sky, but setting. The oak tree is home to birds and squirrels and the focal point for an ecosystem of relationships, while season after season of lightning storms and droughts, woodpeckers and termites, gypsy moths and blight, all begin to take their toll.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the SW quadrant is where we experience what Jung referred to as the enantiodromia, and undergo a fundamental shift in our relationship to life. "At the stroke of noon," he says, "the descent begins. And the descent means the reversal of all the ideals and values that were cherished in the morning" (5). Within the context of the evolutionary journey, the concept of "descent" implies a journey into the underworld of our own psyche where, like the Sumerian love goddess, Inanna, we are stripped of all our worldly attachments by Ereshkigal, the goddess of death. In the SW quadrant, we have not yet entered the underworld, but we are heading toward Ereshkigal's gate at the Descendant, and growing awareness of our inescapable mortality changes the nature of our journey.

The evolutionary challenge in the SW quadrant is to extract meaning from our accomplishments (and our failures), and to reclaim the lost parts of the Self we have sacrificed on the altar of worldly success, rejected as unworthy, or disowned and projected onto others. The SW quadrant is traditionally the area of the birthchart associated with relationships. From an evolutionary standpoint, it represents the domain of the Other, through which we receive the feedback that makes our contributions meaningful, and encounter the lost parts of self mirrored back to us by others. In the SW quadrant, we reap what we have sown, and harvest the fruits - both good and bad - of our SE quadrant labors.

In the 9th house, we encounter our teachers and our guides, and face whatever lessons the School of Life has to teach us. In the 8th house, we meet the shadow, projected onto our partners in relationship; exchange vital energies with the Other through the vehicle of sexual intimacy; and undergo the many small ego-deaths that open the door to a larger, more all-encompassing sense of Self. In the 7th house, we encounter the anima (or animus) and to the extent we have taken to heart our lessons, and reclaimed our projections, we experience the sacred marriage, or hieros gamos, in which male and female, light and dark, and all the opposites are fused into a more all-encompassing dimension of wholeness. This, of course, is the ideal; not every cycle around the wheel of houses will produce such a quantum leap up the evolutionary scale. To the extent that we consciously undertake the clockwise journey, however, in the SW quadrant is tremendous opportunity for psychological and spiritual growth - mostly experienced within the context of our relationships.

From the standpoint of traditional house systems, the Descendant is the angle most often associated with relationships, but from the evolutionary standpoint, it takes on another meaning entirely. At the Descendant, the Sun sets, symbolically suggesting a counterpoint to the birth we experienced at the Ascendant that can only be understood as death. In many cultures around the world, west is associated with death, and with the journey into the underworld. But just as most cultures also make allowances for an afterlife, the passage of the Sun into the NW quadrant is not the end of the evolutionary journey. It is merely a critical juncture, where we leave the world of human involvement behind and embark upon a much more solitary journey inward and homeward.

In the NW quadrant, the Sun continues to set, but now is no longer visible in the daytime sky. Our oak tree has finally succumbed to the ravages of time, fallen to the ground and begun to compost. Here, in the quiet sanctuary of our own hearts, the lessons of life are contemplated, absorbed and assimilated. We ask ultimate questions about the meaning and purpose of our lives and go within to find the answers. We make peace with the path (or paths) not taken. We forgive those who have hurt us, and seek the forgiveness of those we have hurt. We tie up all the loose ends still within our grasp, and let go of all that we must inevitably leave undone, unspoken, or unexperienced. To the extent that we resist the letting go process, we experience breakdown, decay, and an unravelling of the outer structures of our lives, and are forced anyway by inevitable necessity to let go of that which is passing beyond our conscious control.

It is often in the 6th house, experienced from an evolutionary perspective, that this breakdown is experienced - through the ending of a relationship, the loss of a job, the onset of disease, or some other life crisis which forces us to re-evaluate our priorities and our life strategy. To the extent that we are successful in integrating our life lessons and letting go, in the 5th house, we gradually heal and reclaim the unpremeditated wholeness of the inner child. It is my sense that when Christ told us that "unless ye become again as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" he was speaking of this clockwise journey through the 5th house. In the 4th house, we enter heaven (or hell); finally go home; return to the Source and Ground of our Being; or however else you might want to conceptualize the "final" destination of the evolutionary journey. To the extent that we still carry our unfinished business (6th house residues) and unfulfilled desires (5th house residues) with us, the 4th house can become a kind of bardo state between lives, in which our "uncooked seeds" propel us past the Nadir into our next incarnation.

Whether viewed within the context of a single lifetime, or a series of incarnations, this clockwise schema provides a framework in which it is possible to understand a life process not just in terms of its outer events, and our adaptation to them, but also from within as a vehicle for the soul’s process of self-realization. (See Illustration 5). As the placement of individual planets, and larger planetary patterns are considered from within this framework, they begin to reveal themselves as subjective barometers of Rudhyar's "motion in time," marking the footsteps of a life in progress, not as bits and pieces of the choreography of our collective life, but as statements of intention around which the soul of the individual seeks to actualize itself.


Clockwise Houses 5

The Complementarity of Clockwise and Counterclockwise Perspectives

Having outlined this evolutionary approach to understanding houses, I want to reassure more traditionally-oriented astrologers that the clockwise system is meant to complement, and not replace the counterclockwise association of houses with signs and life circumstances. It is, after all, through the circumstances of our lives that we experience the opportunity to evolve. There is no guarantee, of course, that we will recognize this opportunity. Once we begin to awaken to the fact that we are souls on an evolutionary journey, however, we will naturally begin moving around the wheel in a clockwise direction, like salmon swimming upstream to spawn, and the alternative meanings I have ascribed to these houses will begin to apply.

Meanwhile, to some extent, the necessity for dealing with the mundane nature of life circumstances - paying bills, raising children, meeting deadlines, etc. - will require a clockwise orientation. When we choose to incarnate, and descend into matter from the realm of Spirit, we essentially choose to move around the wheel in a counterclockwise direction, for this is the direction of the involutionary process. As we engage the involutionary process, we necessarily become more involved in the circumstances of our lives. As we become more involved, we learn and grow, and begin evolving in a clockwise direction. As we evolve, the circumstances of our lives will evolve with us, and we will be called upon to involve ourselves more consciously in these circumstances. And round and round we go.

We cannot engage movement in one direction without also triggering a movement in the opposite direction. In a sense, this is a manifestation of Newton's second law of thermodynamics - for every action, there will be an equal and opposite reaction. For every deepening of involvement (acceleration of counterclockwise motion), there will be momentum toward evolution (clockwise motion). Meanwhile, for every step forward we take upon the evolutionary path, there will be an inner prompting toward a qualitative shift and a deepening of our involvement in the circumstances of our lives.

Each of us will at times be conscious of the journey, and at other times relatively unconscious; each of us will be more conscious in some areas of our life than in other areas; each of us at times will perceive the underlying spiritual dimension of the circumstances of our lives; at other times, we will simply be attending to the business of life. As a consequence, each of us will be simultaneously moving around the wheel in two directions at once. Most people tend to be more counterclockwise in their youth, and more clockwise past mid-life; but to some extent, as long as we are souls living in a body, our movement through life will necessarily involve a bit of both.

This is one of the greatest paradoxes of the human predicament - we come here to learn and grow and ultimately transcend the necessity for being born within the realm of space and time; but we cannot do that without first entering more deeply into the realm of time and space, becoming more consciously involved in our lives, and immersing ourselves in that which we seek to transcend. In the end, the only way beyond is through. This paradox is encoded in the concept of dual motion of planets around the wheel of houses. From the standpoint of traditional house systems that lend themselves to the 12-letter alphabet approach to astrology, and from the standpoint of counterclockwise, sign-based house systems, this spiritual paradox at heart of our existence is lost. I re-introduce the clockwise perspective in this article, because I believe it holds an important astro-logical key to understanding the underlying spiritual dimension of everyday life.


Using the Clockwise Perspective in Actual Practice

Interpreting houses from a clockwise perspective is a largely a matter of looking beneath the surface of life circumstances and external events, and our adaptation to them, to try to understand what the soul is hoping to accomplish within the context of external reality. Because a clockwise consideration of houses is derived from motion around an internal, subjective axis, it provides a sound symbolic basis upon which to ask these kinds of questions. To explore how this works in actual practice, let's consider the experience of a student I will call Sherry (6).

Sherry has a 5th house stellium involving two pairs of planets - a relatively loose conjunction between Mars and the Sun in Scorpio, and a very tight conjunction between Mercury retrograde and Jupiter at 9° Sagittarius. The first conjunction is square to Uranus in Leo in the 2nd house; while the second is square to Pluto in Virgo, also in the 2nd house. Sherry began my correspondence course as her life was plunging into crisis, and as Pluto was transiting her Mercury retrograde/Jupiter conjunction for the first time. In our work together, we chose to explore her process during this critical transit, from an evolutionary perspective.

A traditional astrologer would not be surprised, at this point, to learn that this crisis outwardly revolved around her relationship to her children, a realm of experience reflected by the 5th house, considered from a counterclockwise perspective. Sherry grew up, "the oldest of four children in a very traditional family setting where dad went to work and mom stayed at home." At age 9, when her youngest brother was born, Sherry began assuming greater household and childcare responsibilities, and although she "was somewhat resentful of that," it became her chosen way of relating to the world. With a strong 5th house stellium, and a northern-emphasized chart with singleton Moon in the 12th house, it was natural that Sherry should grow into adulthood without "a strong vision of a career path other than always wanting to be a stay-at-home mom and leaving the dog-eat-dog world of business to those with tougher skins than (she)."

With two potent squares from transpersonal planets to her 5th house stellium, however, this seemingly benign choice of path through life was not meant to be your stereotypical stay-at-home mom's experience. The true nature of her 5th house focus became apparent as Pluto was transiting the first two planets in her 5th house, Mars and the Sun in Scorpio. As Pluto began its transit of Mars, she and her husband became foster parents to two emotionally disturbed girls, rescued from biological parents who had been "serious substance abusers," and from a mother who was mentally ill. Both girls had "neurological damage that required constant attention and ongoing treatment," and from day one, Sherry was taxed to her limit by the extraordinary demands that the care of these children entailed. In addition, over the course of the next four years, Sherry and her husband fought a grueling custody battle with their daughters' biological parents, eventually finalizing their adoption a couple months after transiting Pluto moved beyond a 2° orb of exact conjunction to Sherry's natal Sun for the last time.

As Sherry described these early years of her involvement with these children, she was "completely focused on nurturing them and healing their physical and psychological wounds and fiercely determined to protect them from any further harm." When Pluto went into Sagittarius, her focus shifted from custody battles and healing to "helping them succeed at school and in their socialization." When Pluto began transiting her other 5th house conjunction (Mercury/Jupiter), she entered a second major period of crisis in relationship to these children, both of whom were suddenly experiencing major problems with socially inappropriate behavior at school.

Given that Sherry had not fully recovered from the first crisis, and that her life with these intensely problematic children could never really be considered entirely free of crisis, it is understandable that by the time Round Two began, she found herself "less patient, less determined, more frustrated and basically burned out much of the time." From an astrological perspective, it seems safe to say that the entire 11-year period of Pluto's transit of her 5th house stellium has been and will continue for awhile to be one long 5th house crisis.

During the early days, and particularly during the period when transiting Pluto was conjunct Sherry's Sun in Scorpio, this ongoing crisis in relation to her children brought out the best in her, despite its difficulty. She became a fierce mother bear defending her cubs, as well as a potent force for healing and redemption in their lives. In order to do this, she had to reach down deep inside herself, access her power, and pull up the very best she had to offer. This monumental effort was acknowledged by friends who stood in awe and called her "a saint." During this same period, Sherry did some additional child advocacy work, and throughout this period, her soul was shining in all of its fully empowered glory.

During this second round of crisis, however, the feeling was very different. As transiting Pluto conjuncted Mercury/Jupiter and activated the entire Pluto-Mercury/Jupiter square in her natal chart, the process was not one of empowerment, but rather of gradual depletion of resources, enthusiasm, and self-esteem. Whether we speak of empowerment or of depletion, however, it is important to note that we are no longer simply speaking of a crisis in relation to the outer circumstances of Sherry's life. We are also speaking of an internal crisis in which she is being given an opportunity to evolve to a higher, more conscious, more spiritually mature expression of her being, and take another step on the path toward individuation.

Unquestionably, it is important what happens to Sherry's children through this rite of passage in their lives, and as Pluto transits through the 5th house stellium in Sherry's chart, her focus is necessarily and appropriately directed outwardly to their needs. But what happens within the outer arena of her life circumstances throughout this period is really only half the story. To get the other half, we must consider this same process from a more internal perspective, according to which the outer crisis was the catalyst to an important transformational process that she was choosing, on some level, to undergo for deeply important spiritual reasons of her own. The 5th house is not just about our children; it is - from the clockwise perspective - also about returning to that place of innocence within ourselves that existed prior to our inevitable wounding in childhood.

When we probed a little deeper into Sherry's process, it was clear that dealing with her children was merely the tip of an iceberg that had its roots in a wound she carried with her since her own childhood, and that festered below the surface until this moment in time. The core issue that cried out to be healed at this juncture was reflected by her natal Pluto-Mercury/Jupiter square, while this current crisis we were exploring (transiting Pluto's conjunction to Mercury/Jupiter and square to its natal position) was a critical phase in the cycle related to the unfolding and gradual resolution of this issue. The opportunity existed here for a healing and a new beginning, but not before something dysfunctional in her died. The feeling of cumulative burnout that Sherry had been experiencing for some time, and that was intensifying during this critical transit, was a signal that the deathing process was underway.

In further dialogue with Sherry around these issues, it became clear that she was attempting to hold her daughters to the same standards of social behavior and academic performance that she was held to as a child, and feeling frustrated because her daughters were more overtly resistant to this agenda than she had allowed herself to be. As she put it, "I may be stifling them at times like my mother did with us regarding schedules and routines and a lot of nagging! I do stress good manners and appearance and the social graces in general like my mother did with me as well. I can become over-involved and controlling at times, but with their special needs I often feel justified in doing so, even if it is just a rationalization!"

Yet despite these ostensibly noble intentions, the harder Sherry tried to control her children or get them to conform to the codes of behavior she herself was raised to uphold, the more fiercely they rebelled and the more burnt out she became. Her self-esteem also began to suffer, since she was quite identified with her role as mother, and feeling ineffectual and powerless in that capacity. Astrologically, this was transiting Pluto making her painfully aware of the need for letting go of the educational and social goals (Mercury retrograde/Jupiter In Sagittarius in the 5th house) that she was subjected to as a child, and that she was now attempting to pass on to children for whom they were clearly untenable.

Beyond the necessity for shifting her attitude in relationship to her children, however, a clockwise interpretation of this 5th house transit would necessitate directing this awareness of the need for change back to her. For if the patterns of conditioning to which she was attempting to hold her children were wrong for them, then chances are they were also wrong for her. By focusing on her children’s behavior, and her efforts to get them to be "good," it is easy to ignore the fact that Sherry was also straining with all her unconscious might to be "good" herself. This strain was starting to take its toll, and beyond whatever monumental problems her children must sort through in their own lives, they were also mirroring rather dramatically the untenable nature of the standards to which Sherry held herself.

To get back to that place of innocence and reclaimed wholeness that her clockwise 5th house promised was her birthright, the real challenge here was to let go of the outmoded educational and social agendas that were no longer working, for her or for her children, and reclaim the natural instincts and desires of her own inner child that were suppressed in their adoption. Beyond the outer 5th house melodrama she was experiencing with her children, this was the true meaning of her crisis from a clockwise, evolutionary perspective.


The Astro-Logic of a Clockwise Interpretation

Although the concept of the inner child has made its way into the vocabulary informing our standard interpretation of the 5th house, this is a concept which only really makes astro-logical sense from a clockwise perspective. From a counterclockwise perspective, the momentum within the 5th house is up toward the Descendant, which then becomes a point of entry into the above-ground realm of external reality and the life of the collective. From this vantage point, the act of having children, which takes place in the 5th house, must be understood as an act of deepening involvement in the life of the collective, a movement beyond one's own childhood, out into a more "mature" level of participation in society.

Anyone who has ever raised a child, however, will attest to the fact that children have an uncanny knack for bringing up issues left unresolved from their parents' childhoods. Beyond the outer pressure that new parents feel to grow up and assume adult responsibility for raising their children, there is a more internal pressure within this 5th house experience that serves as a catalyst to personal growth. In order to consciously parent one's own children, one must inevitably find a deeper level of commitment to the resolution of one's own childhood wounds, healing and releasing them, and then gradually returning to a place of joy, spontaneity, and child-like wonder about the creative possibilities inherent in life. This process, which at heart is a return to the family matrix, and a reclamation of the unwounded inner child, is a process that is symbolized by a clockwise movement through the 5th house back toward the nadir, where the evolutionary journey began. In the end, though Sherry's crisis with her children easily fits the standard counterclockwise interpretation of her 5th house transit, in order to truly understand what it means for her, as an evolving soul, we need to switch directions, and look at the situation from a clockwise perspective.

When the orientation of the astrologer is exclusively toward a counterclockwise understanding, attention is automatically drawn to the external events of a life in progress, and the evolutionary dimension of the experience is easily overlooked. This is necessarily so because a counterclockwise consideration of houses is based upon an astro-logical model which stresses adaptation to external and/or collective circumstances. Where adaptation is the focus, the evolutionary significance of life experiences as stations on the journey toward a more individuated sense of wholeness is sacrificed, and our interpretations become impoverished.

Obviously astute, psychologically-oriented astrologers manage to avoid this pitfall, but in being limited to a counterclockwise, sign-based consideration of houses, we are nonetheless forced to struggle against an interpretive system that makes our task more difficult, because of the inherent assumptions about the nature of reality on which it is based. How much more conducive to an in-depth spiritual interpretation of the birthchart would it be to work within a system of houses that acknowledges the internal evolutionary agenda of each client as the axis of meaning around which that client’s life experiences can best be understood?



1) Zipporah Pottenger Dobyns, Ph.D, Finding the Person in the Horoscope, Los Angeles, CA: T.I.A. Publications, pp. 8-13.

2) Rob Hand, The Oldest House System: Whole Sign Houses, Part 2, The Mountain Astrologer, August/September 1999, p. 111.

3) Dane Rudhyar, The Astrology of Personality: A Reinterpretation of Astrological Concepts and Ideals in Terms of Contemporary Psychology and Philosophy, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970, pp. 162-163.

4) Carl Jung, On the Psychology of Consciousness, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (Collected Works, Vol. 7), Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959, p 114.

5) Carl Jung, The Stages of Life, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (Collected Works Vol. 8), Princeton, NJ: Princeton, 1959, p. 778.

6) All quotes from this point forward are taken from written correspondence with "Sherry."


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