I was recently teaching the lesson in The Real Astrology Academy Online Natal Astrology Class when I introduce the houses. When I got to the 8th house, I reminded my students that the 5th house is the house of sex and love affairs, and commented that the only sex that belongs in the 8th house involves an extensive leather wardrobe and safe words.
I’ve always liked that joke. But then one of my students commented on it, and I started to realize that it’s not, in fact, remotely accurate. More importantly, it’s not remotely practical. I realized that there is no situation where you would ever look to the 8th house for information about a sexual relationship, no matter how adventurous or unconventional that relationship is.
And the worst part about this was I realized I could no longer tell that particular joke.
On the plus side, I get to explore the whole issue in the Talented Astrologer Blog, so it’s not a complete loss. But I really liked that joke.
To understand why I can’t tell that joke anymore, we have to explore two different questions. The first question is where you find sex in the natal chart, and how it ended up in the eighth house in the first place. But the second, and more important question is how, why, and when you would actually use that information.
A Brief History of Sex and Astrology
For thousands of years, sex belonged in the 5th house, and no one ever thought to question it. The 5th house is the house of children, after all, and children are one of the results of sex. The 5th house is the house of gambling and risk, which, in the centuries before reliable birth control, further linked the topics of the 5th house, because having sex was a risk that could result in children. In general, though, the 5th house is the house of fun — and let’s face it: if sex isn’t fun, you’re not doing it right. Finally, it made sense to put sex in the 5th house because marriage belongs in the 7th house, and the idea that sex and marriage have anything to do with each other is very recent. (You don’t think any of those famous, epic love poems were written about the poet’s wife, do you?)
And then, at some point in the 20th century, sex ended up in the 8th house, along with death and taxes.
So what happened?
Well, I don’t think anyone can answer that question definitively. I have a theory, which I’ll share in a moment. What I can answer definitively is when it happened.
J. Lee Lehman had cited references in some of C.E.O. Carter’s books from the 1950s that begin to link sex and the 8th house, but I found an even earlier reference, from Alan Leo’s The Key to Your Own Nativity, first published in England in 1910. Here it is, in its entirety (from page 142 of a 1927 edition):
“The Eighth House of each nativity governs legacies, and money coming from others, such as co-workers, partners, etc. It is also concerned with occult affairs, mysterious and secret undertakings; it indicates the sex tendencies.”
That’s it. A total of five words, and so far, it’s the earliest example of anyone associating sex with the 8th house. It’s fitting that it was Alan Leo who started this whole confusion, since Leo is the father of modern natal astrology.
Or, perhaps, more accurately, modern natal astrology is the bastard stepchild of Alan Leo, hastily conceived in an ultimately futile attempt to stay out of prison.
An Even Briefer History of Natal Astrology
There’s more to this story, of course, but here is the Cliff Notes version.
Astrology had been suppressed and disparaged for more than a century, until the first New Age hit in the late 19th century in England. Along with a renewed interest in Spiritualism, Theosophy, and (after all, this was England) the existence of fairies, came a renewed fascination with astrology. Alan Leo began selling astrology lessons and became quite well known.
There was one small catch, however. Astrology, at the time, was entirely predictive, and fortune telling was illegal in England. When Leo was prosecuted for trafficking in illegal information, he proclaimed that he wasn’t teaching fortune telling; instead, he was teaching how to use astrology for personal development — you know, like that nice Viennese fellow, Freud has been touting for the past few years?
Leo was only able to evade the law for so long before he was, ultimately, arrested and convicted of fortune telling in 1917. But between his first arrest in 1914, and his death in 1917, shortly after the second trial, he had revised his extensive writings about astrology, moving from what he called “event-oriented” astrology to an astrology of character analysis.
And that’s how natal astrology was born.
What Does This Have to Do with Sex and the Eighth House?
First, let me be clear that we’re now in the land of speculation. But here are some of my thoughts about this.
I think the original impetus for putting sex in the 8th house of death was Freud. Freud’s theories were immensely popular at the time, and one of Freud’s biggest assertions was the connection between sex and death. I can’t think of any other reason why Leo would have dumped sex in the 8th house. It’s worth noting that he didn’t remove sex from the 5th house, although he shifted the emphasis of the 5th house to “matters of the heart” which encompassed the traditional areas of love affairs and children.
The idea obviously took root, as Charles Carter elaborated on it in his books in the 1950s.
I suspect, however, that it was the advent of so-called “modern” astrology in the 1960s and 1970s that really cemented this idea in people’s minds. The most insidious concept that emerged from this time period was presented by Zip Dobbins as the “Astrological Alphabet” where the meanings of the planets, signs, and houses are hopelessly, pointlessly, and clumsily merged into single entities. This is responsible for the idea that the 4th house is the mother (because in this system, the 4th house means the same thing as Cancer, and who would ever associate the father with the Moon or Cancer?). I think it’s also responsible for deepening the association of sex with the 8th house because it assumes that the 8th house is the same thing as Scorpio, and Scorpio is the only sign in the zodiac that has anything to do with sex.
(Excuse me a moment — I’ve dripped some contempt on my keyboard, and I have to wipe it off before it stains.)
So that, in my opinion, is how sex became associated with the 8th house. Apparently, I buy into those connections myself, at least on some level, because I still made the joke that there are certain types of sex that arguably would have more to do with the 8th house than with the 5th house.
I could, in fact, make an excellent case for this connection. The problem is that it would all be hypothetical. Metaphorically, defining parameters for the kind of sex that belongs in the eighth house would be engaging in the kind of sex that doesn’t require a partner (but often requires an internet connection). Sure, it’s fun, and everyone does it, but in the end, it can’t produce anything useful.
To understand why, we have to look at how (and when) we use houses in the first place.
How to Find the Right House for Sex (Or Anything Else)
The houses represent different areas of life. Grammatically, the houses are prepositions. But prepositions (and prepositional phrases) are part of the predicate of the sentence. Every sentence in the language of astrology must have a subject, and the subject of a sentence will always be a planet. When you’re asking a question about a specific area of life (i.e., a house), the planet that will be the subject of the sentence is the planet that rules that house. Once you know which house describes the question or the issue, you’re off and running. The planet that rules that house becomes a proxy for the affairs of that house (and in particular the specific question you’re asking), and the predicate of the sentence (the sign of the planet, the house occupied by the planet, the overall condition of the planet), gives you the answer to your question.
Where it can get confusing, however, is finding the right house in the first place—and that depends on the nature of the question.
Questions about sex (and there are many reasons that a client may have a question about sex) have to be judged based on the primary nature of the relationship. If you’re married, or living under the same roof as your sexual partner, it’s a 7th house relationship, and you would look to the ruler of the 7th house. If you’re not married, and not living together, but you are having sex, then it’s a 5th house relationship.
The kind of sex you may be having in the relationship doesn’t define the relationship itself. My student brought up observations about the power dynamic in dominant/submissive relationships, and while that certainly involves intense emotions and deep levels of trust, it doesn’t put that relationship in the 8th house, and it doesn’t mean the ruler of the 8th represents your partner. If the relationship really were defined by the power dynamic — for example, a full time master-slave type relationship — that would belong in the 6th house, not the 8th, because the 6th house explicitly governs relationships with servants. You could also make a case for the 6th house being the house to use in a question involving (ahem) “professional” sexual services.
The theory of sex in the 8th house is all well and good, but in practice, I can’t think of a single scenario where the 8th house would do a better job of describing the relationship than the 5th or 7th house would.
So, in conclusion, the next time I teach a class on the houses, I’m going to need another joke.