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The 12th house is a subject that many astrologers prefer to avoid. It’s generally unpleasant, containing, as it does, prisons, institutions, and hidden enemies. Of course, it also contains large animals such as horses, elephants, and killer whales, but it’s hard to work Sea World into a typical astrology consultation.

You can’t ignore the 12th house; it’s a fact of life. But once you understand how the 12th house functions, you may realize that “unpleasant” isn’t the same thing as “bad.”

Meanings of the Twelfth House

The twelve houses of the chart collectively represent all areas of experience. If astrology only included those experiences that we consider to be “good,” it would be useless as a tool for guidance, prediction, or spiritual growth. The truth is that the houses are neutral. There are no “good” or “bad” houses. Whether an experience is “good” or “bad,” or even “pleasant” or “unpleasant” is subjective. The 11th house, which contains your hopes, wishes, dreams, and aspirations, isn’t automatically a “good” house. It contains all of your hopes and dreams: those that are alive and inspiring, and also those that are dead and dying, and that cause you grief and pain.

In traditional astrology, the 12th house is the house of sorrow, imprisonment, institutions, and hidden enemies. Keep in mind that for thousands of years, astrology was exclusively predictive. In this context, the 12th house was very useful. The 12th house could answer questions about the timing of a release from prison, or whether your current circumstances are the result of actions of hidden enemies, which, at the time, also included being cursed by a witch; witchcraft, as opposed to Wicca, was also associated with the 12th house. On a practical level, if you had a question about your horses or cattle, that was a 12th house question as well. (If you were concerned about your chickens, small animals belong to the 6th house).

In the context of natal astrology, however, these 12th house associations are not very useful. On a psychological level, we can view the 12th house as the unconscious, and as the “Shadow Self.” Generally, we fear what’s in the unconscious, even though it’s an important part of us. Most branches of psychology agree that the things that we deny, suppress, and repress about ourselves will eventually demand attention. These shadow qualities operate unconsciously, often disrupting our lives. Your shadow is, effectively, your hidden enemy.

Both psychology and spirituality agree that denying, suppressing, or fighting your shadow is a waste of time. What is needed is acceptance and understanding. When you shine a light on the 12th house, you can uncover powerful hidden truths.

Planets in the Twelfth House

Imagine that you’re wearing a hat with a lamp attached to it. However, this lamp doesn’t face out to illuminate what’s in front of you. Instead, it’s at the end of a crane arm that holds the lamp two feet in front of you, and shines it on you. Your face is always in the spotlight, and everyone can see who you are. And, as is always the case with light, it casts a shadow directly behind you.

Everyone can see your shadow except for you. You can’t turn around and look at your shadow because the light is attached to your hat, and no matter how you turn, the light stays on your face, and your shadow is always directly behind you. You know it’s there, and you can catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of your eye, but you can’t ever confront it directly.

That’s how you experience planets in the 12th house.

Planets in the 12th house are above the horizon, so they’re visible to the world. At the same time, they’re directly behind you, in your blind spot, so everyone can see them but you.

When a planet is IN the 12th house, you are not fully conscious of the affairs of that planet. (And remember that those affairs include not only the nature of the planet itself, but also the affairs of all of the houses that planet rules in your chart.) There are hidden depths to your motivations, and even though they’re clear to other people, you have to drag them out of the dark one at a time. While you can’t access planets in your 12th house directly, you can access them indirectly through meditation and contemplation. Language and left-brain reason aren’t much help when exploring the 12th house, but symbolism, metaphor, and right-brain creativity work very well.

If you don’t have any planets in your 12th house, you may feel like you’ve dodged a bullet, but you haven’t. Planets in the 12th house may contribute to your sorrows, but they’re not the source of your self-sabotage. The real culprit is the ruler of the 12th house.

The Ruler of the Twelfth House

PabloPicassoMoonThe planet that rules a house carries all of the affairs of that house with it, and then dumps those affairs in whichever house that planet occupies. This means the planet that rules your 12th house is the vehicle for your self-sabotage, and your expression of that planet is what creates hidden enemies.

If Saturn rules your 12th house, the ways that you engage with authority or enforce rules and regulations also creates obstacles for you. If Jupiter rules your 12th house, people may resent you because you’re too big. If Mars rules your 12th house, your actions, and specifically, the way that you pursue your goals and the things that you want, may appear hostile and make others angry at you. If Venus rules your 12th house, you may be surprised by the darker side of the things (and people) you love and appreciate. If Mercury rules your 12th house, your self-sabotage will come through your communication or your perceptions. If the Moon rules your 12th house, your feelings and emotions will occasionally get the best of you. And if the Sun is the ruler of your 12th house, well, something about your authentic Self may just rub people the wrong way.

The house that the ruler of the 12th occupies tells you where your enemies are hiding. If the ruler of the 12th is IN your 6th house, they will be among your co-workers or employees. If the ruler of the 12th is IN the 5th, you might not want to accept that “friend” request from the person you dumped in college. The house occupied by the ruler of the 12th can also tell you the particular area of life where you are the most likely to sabotage yourself, or experience the consequences of unconscious choices. If the ruler of the 12th is IN the 2nd house, it might suggest difficulties managing your money and resources. If the ruler of the 12th is IN your 11th house, you might have a pattern of disruptions in your friendships, or a list of dreams and ambitions that you never quite managed to attain.

A Matter of Perspective

Sorrow, loss, unconscious behavior, and self-sabotage: it probably sounds like I’m painting the 12th house in a traditional (and entirely negative) light. That, however, is a matter of perspective and of judgment.

On the whole, the 12th house isn’t a lot of fun. Elephants and whales and horses can only distract you for so long, and then you have to deal with the prisons, the hospitals, the institutions, the hidden enemies, and all of the shadows that lurk in the unconscious, waiting for the perfect moment to trip us up. However, just because the 12th house isn’t pleasant doesn’t make it negative.

The 12th house is necessary, it’s important, and it’s also unavoidable.

Growth, including the growth of the soul, isn’t possible without profound loss, destruction, and elimination. While it’s true that Buddha taught that a great deal of the suffering that we experience in our lives is optional, he also pointed out the truth that life includes suffering. The most painful, gut-wrenching experiences — the ones we desperately try to avoid — are also the ones that facilitate the most significant growth.

Self-sabotage isn’t inherently bad. Your patterns of self-sabotage can lead you to awareness of deeper patterns, and help you to learn lessons your soul is calling you to learn. They’re not pleasant while you experience them. But once you have some perspective on the experiences, their value is undeniable.

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