The 10th House
by Dana Gerhardt
"I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody-instead of a bum, which is what I am."
Who among us does not ache with Marlon Brando, as the has-been prizefighter Terry Malloy, when he utters these famous lines in On the Waterfront? Every astrological house has its secret anguish. In the 10th house it's failure, the discovery that we didn't make good on our dreams. I'll never forget the chilling confession of one of my high school English teachers, the one with the impressive Jesuit education and the faint smell of alcohol always on his breath. He stared at his folded hands one day and quietly told me that his life was second rate: "I settled for a second rate job, a second rate wife, a second rate home, and second rate kids." I stammered a vague reply. But inwardly I vowed-as perhaps he did at my age?-that I would never do the same.
What you make of yourself is a 10th house matter. The 10th describes your career, your public reputation, your worldly status. It suggests your optimum contribution to society, the qualities for which you'd like to be admired and respected. To investigate the "name" you might make for yourself, look to planets in the 10th and the sign on your 10th house cusp. The cusp of the 10th is known as the "Midheaven," one of the four important angles of the chart. Early Egyptian astrologers associated these angles with the daily circuit of the Sun. The Ascendant signified sunrise; the Descendent, sunset; the bottom of the chart, or the IC, midnight; and the Midheaven at the top, high noon, when the Sun reaches maximum glory and strength. The Midheaven represents the Sun's culmination, its highest reach on the day you were born. Correspondingly, it signifies how high you can go this lifetime. But it doesn't say how high you will. And therein lies the drama. The 10th describes how society measures your life. Are you a hero? Or a bum.
So intimately is the 10th house tied to success or failure, we can use it to predict success in simple horary questions. Whatever the endeavor ("Will I succeed on my test tomorrow?"), assess the relationship between the planet signifying the questioner and the planet ruling the 10th house cusp. Good aspects promise a good result. But the natal chart is not nearly so definitive. Planets in (or ruling) the natal 10th don't assure us of anything. They will be prominent, but for what reason, and how widely they'll be seen, is much less clear. The Moon in the 10th could make you famous. Or notorious. Your face could be on the cover of People magazine. Or the neighbors could discover you sleeping in the hedges as they drive off to work.
The 10th shows how others see us-especially those who don't know us too well. It suggests our reputation among acquaintances, bosses and coworkers, our mother's book club, distant relatives, strangers too. We don't care enough about these people to get to know them better. Yet if their opinion of us is poor, it will bother us greatly. We care about our public image. And it's nice to have an impressive 10th house calling card. Walk through any graveyard, however, and the 10th house quickly loses its importance. You won't see "wealthy banker," "top insurance salesman," or "the sexiest guy on the block" etched onto any headstone. All the worldly success people struggle for and achieve dissolves at the cemetery into more personal descriptions: "beloved husband," "loving mother," "devoted sister." These terms belong to the house opposite the 10th, the 4th, which rules not only family, but endings. In deathbed scenes, people rarely express regret or gather comfort from their life's career choices. They don't wish for a little extra time to finish up that memo or earn another few thousand dollars. Rather, they wonder if they loved well enough, if they used their time to touch life deeply enough, if they traveled far enough on the spiritual path. Rarely do the dying obsess about 10th house things.
Yet among the living, preoccupation with the 10th is perhaps unmatched by any other house (except of course the 7th of relationships). Career matters are often the reason people schedule readings. "What's my life direction? Is it time for a change? Am I in the right field?" Into the 10th we're pushed and prodded more than any other area of life. Meet someone new and you can't help asking a 10th house question: "What do you do for a living?" And if that person is young: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" When Branden was in my womb I vowed not to torment him with this line of inquiry until he was at least 27. I know many people at ages 37, 47, even 57, who still don't know what to do with their lives. Yet parents will often ask astrologers to look at a child's chart and divine what Junior will be when he grows up. Why apply the pressure so soon?
As with many of the things I vowed not to do with my own child (like threatening Santa Claus would skip our house if Branden didn't go to sleep on Christmas Eve. it was two in the morning), I succumbed. There I was, walking with my dog and my then 3-year-old Branden. The red-tailed hawks floated in wide circles above us, the curious ravens rattled and cawed from the eucalyptus trees. Suddenly, the dreaded question came out of my mouth: "So, uh, what are you going to be when you grow up?" Branden's expression was blank, so I offered a few suggestions. "A fireman?" "Yes," he said. "Or how about a trash truck driver?" "Mm-hmm." "A space man?" "Sure." Part of me felt defeated that I'd asked. And part of me felt this was exactly what we should be talking about. Giving my son a sense of destination seemed a responsible plan.
Perhaps it's not the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" that's so bad. It's the expectation of nailing down an answer. I like what Bill Herbst has to say about it: "The question is relevant whether one's age is nine or ninety, for 'adulthood' usually seems oddly far off, in the distance yet to come."1 This is especially true for the always-a-child Pluto in Leos; for them, being four or forty can feel strangely similar. Their Pluto in Cancer parents would select a career in their twenties and stick with it until retirement. Pluto in Libras and Pluto in Virgos are being advised to prepare for a future of two or three different careers, in order to keep pace with the changing world ahead of them. Whatever the generation, where is it written that we're supposed to answer the 10th house question just once? This is the house of destiny, after all. When you look at a real life, it's clear that several destinies can appear in the course of it.
I have a friend with Neptune closely conjunct his Libra Midheaven. He is currently in the enviable position of having reached one of the few goals of his life: to retire in his early forties with a six-figure income. Yet, surprisingly, Gabriel recently admitted that reaching that milestone hasn't made him particularly happy. Nor does it much delight or impress his friends, who seem oddly uncomfortable with him. This is partly due to the circumstances surrounding his retirement. Gabe's career dissolved with scandal and betrayal, resulting in a lawsuit against the former business partners with whom he shared ownership of his company. This brought on a severe depression during which Gabe virtually disappeared from the world. He is beyond that funk now, and though his friends don't much press him, to each other they frequently pose the question, "So, what is he going to do with his life now?!"
As the most elevated planet in a chart, the one closest to the Midheaven exerts a potent influence on an individual's life. When Gabriel was born, Neptune took position as sentry to all his future 10th house passages. Neptune works with veils, sometimes idealizing, sometimes disguising material realities. Neptune acts by dissolving, quite different from the confident structuring we usually want for 10th house activities. Scandal, betrayal, disillusionment and dropping out of the world are certainly Neptune-appropriate themes. Gabe's business was Neptunian too-advertising and marketing-fields that invent fantasies and sell them to consumers.
Gabe's early retirement wasn't the first time Neptune wrote itself into his life script. A decade or so earlier, Gabe left his position as a successful brand manager for one of the top packaged goods companies in the country. He voluntarily dropped out of corporate America to work at a dive shop in Mexico, under another cloud of betrayal. His fiance had been lying and cheating on him. Here was Neptune again, dissolving one public persona, and summoning him to another. To recover and renew himself, Gabe led tourists on dives into Neptune's sea. He knew nothing about his chart, but there was that planet, guiding his choices again. Is it cosmic chance, comedic fate, or a kind of divine love that keeps drawing these planetary energies so vividly into our dramas, timing their unfolding too?
When Neptune and Uranus conjoined in the early 90's, they squared Gabe's Midheaven/Neptune exactly, bringing the sudden change, disillusionment, and disappearance that followed. Astrologers interpreted the sudden changes the Uranus/Neptune conjunction brought as somehow necessary, liberating even, despite their sometimes trauma or shock. Gabriel's experience of the transit was no exception. Though he hadn't planned on leaving his company so soon, for as long as I'd known him he seemed unhappy in his 10th house corporate role. Neptune on his Midheaven had always been hard for me to reconcile with his businessman image: "You should be a poet or a mystic, or a liar and alcoholic" I would tease. The latter was not too far off. He drank alcohol and smoked pot heavily. In the final months at his company, rumors about his substance abuse and mood swings were high. His psyche was begging him to shift his professional course.
Like a stone falling slowly through water, a planet in a house drops through all the years of our experience there. It will somehow touch us at each life stage. Gabe's earliest experience of his Neptune Midheaven was at seventeen months-he lost his father. In a child's chart, the 10th represents the parents. Neptune here suggests some loss, confusion, or deception with one's parents. Modern astrology designates the 10th as the father's house; traditional astrology says it's the mother's. An in-between view is that this house describes the "shaping parent," the one with the greatest influence on that child's social persona. In Gabe's case, both parents were clothed in Neptune's garb. One day, Gabe's mom left her husband a good-bye note on the kitchen table and took the kids a thousand miles away. Gabriel didn't meet his real dad again until many years later, at his Saturn return. When Gabe was six, his mother remarried. Cornering him in his bedroom, her instructions were emphatic: Gabe was never to let anyone know, under any circumstance, that her new husband was not his real dad.
This is Gabriel's first memory of a Neptune family message he would hear many times: Hide who you are. He adopted his stepdad's last name. Here was Neptune again, for "Harper" wasn't even a real family name. It was the stage name of his step-grandad, who had tried to make it as a Hollywood actor under that handle and failed.
A planet in a house is a cosmic transmitting station. It draws down that energy from the cosmos, and through us, sends it out again. Gabe claims he can't remember much of his childhood (Neptune can stimulate the imagination and depress one's consciousness). Gabe does remember figuring out the smartest policy was to pick a neutral corner and stay out of the way. Watching his older sister on the losing end of many battles with his judgmental, look-good-on-the-outside mother, he learned how to hide. With Libra on his Midheaven he got good at hiding in a charming, sociable way. He discovered how to be what people wanted him to be. He carried a world inside his head that rarely spilled outside of it. Given Gabriel's 10th house, he might have been an artist or a spiritual devotee. Like an artist, he has a rich inner life. Like a mystic, he can be in the world, but not of it. Yet Gabe spent most of his professional life hiding his true nature. This was the child's 10th house strategy, not the expression of a confident adult.
Whatever the sign in your 10th house, add the adjective "professional" and that's what you should be when you grow up. If you've got Gemini on the Midheaven, you should aspire to become a "professional Gemini." Be talkative, be curious, be versatile. Be a good listener. Tell lots of stories. Surprise people with your multiple skills. These requirements can serve you well in lots of occupations. But be advised: Gemini traits can make you unsuccessful too. Perhaps you can't stop gossiping. You can't pick a single direction and commit. Maybe you're too restless to finish what you start. You change your mind so much, no one trusts you with a responsible position.
How do you ensure your expression of your 10th house is a positive one? Whatever the sign in your 10th house, you've got to grow your professional image beyond your childhood strategies and take your place in the world with maturity and strength. To do this, you must take a journey as old as myth. Just getting older won't do it. You have to kill the king, or in modern parlance, face the boss. Modern astrologers give Saturn the natural rulership of this house. Saturn is the planet of authority. And claiming your authority is THE 10th house passage. A child has no choice but to listen to its authority figures. An adult must grapple with these figures, good or bad, and overtake them.
Long ago, the link between your parents and your professional status was easy to understand. In other days and other cultures, your birthright, your family's social standing, had everything to do with who you would become. Many literally joined the family business or followed the family trade. Today we're told we can be whatever we want; we can go as far as we're willing to take ourselves. Yet the shadow of our family legacy still must be faced. Opposite the 10th is the 4th house, that midnight place which whispers to us in the dark, echoing with old, remembered voices that tell us who we really are. It's these voices we need to examine and confront on the way to claiming our authority. Think of John Lennon in his 10th house onstage at the Madison Square Gardens. It didn't matter that he had won the acclaim of millions. There he was alone with a piano, in a howling infantile rage, screaming, "Mother, I loved you, but you didn't love me," ending with a pain-filled chorus of "Mama don't go, Daddy come home!" One's psychological inheritance defines the new 10th house battlefield.
For years I worked as a manager in a corporate setting. There were over a hundred people where I worked, and just as many family dramas. Some days it seemed that mythical parent-child battles were all that was really going on. Become an authority figure and you'll quickly find this out. Your intentions are misperceived, your praise is never enough, your criticisms are exaggerated and devastating. In fact you're not really you at all, but some god or monster, depending on their filter. If you want to be liked, forget it, because everyone really does need to kill you in order to grow.
Planets in the 10th and/or ruling the Midheaven suggest how you perceive authority figures. Of course this conditions the way they'll see you too. My sister and I shared the same family nest, but Jupiter occupies my 10th, Pluto hers. We saw our parents, and our own positions in the family, quite differently. True to Jupiter, I was the "lucky" one. I was successful. I was encouraged to continually expand my horizons. I won awards in school. I made my teachers happy. Later I found bosses who encouraged, praised, and promoted me. Still, I was dancing to their tune; if I wasn't successful in their eyes, I was a nervous child. Jupiter was expected of me. Wherever I went, I was looking for an "A" from those in charge. It was a highly functional strategy, but a child's nonetheless. Transits and progressions to the Midheaven time significant opportunities in claiming one's own authority. When the progressed Moon opposed my Midheaven, I quit my job and did many months of inner work. When I returned to the company, my boss was no longer the mommy and daddy I was trying to please. He was just a businessman, a plain old human with strengths and flaws. I didn't need his approval anymore. I had my own. Since that time, I began to give my Jupiter to others, continually encouraging those who worked for me to expand their horizons and grow.
My sister breathed Pluto in her childhood, sensing hidden agendas and overt power struggles everywhere, a perception she's carried into her adult universe. Just as bright as I was, she nontheless dropped out of college a number of times, and worked sporadically at dozens of jobs and careers. Donna Cunningham has called Pluto the "fail for spite" planet2, and this is never more true than when it falls in the 10th. My sister has spent years struggling with the powerlessness my parents' authority made her feel. She's lived awhile on money from the state, still supported like a child. When Pluto squared her Midheaven, she began her inner work, including facing incest issues (appropriate for Pluto). When her progressed Moon crossed into her 10th, she made some dramatic changes. She enrolled in school again and started studying for a career as therapist (also appropriate for Pluto). The biggest change in her 10th house was that she'd recently become a parent herself. She was finally ready to become the boss herself.
Getting married, divorced, or becoming a parent will often be indicated by transits to the Midheaven, for these are public as well as personal milestones. They change our social status. But for every outer change there must be an inner resonance. The 10th and 4th houses are in constant dialogue. We could think of planets in both these houses as having before and after pictures-before we "face the boss" and after. Often the "before" picture is something a child's eyes would conceive-idealized or exaggerated. The inner child's need for approval often drives one's early 10th-house dreams. In On the Waterfront, you can hear this child in Terry Malloy's angry and wistful claim that he could have been a contender. For most of the movie Malloy is trapped in the past. He's nothing but a former prizefighter whose career was trashed when he was forced to take a dive. Though a man, he's called "kid" by the union boss who continues to push him around.
According to traditional astrology, no planet "joys" in the 10th house, but Mars is its natural ruler. Mars is the action planet. It goes after and/or fights for what it wants. Through Mars, we express our will. Wherever Mars falls in our chart, we cannot go far in the 10th house, if we don't also apply it there. At the end of On The Waterfront, Malloy finally understands this mandate. He stands up to boss Johnny Friendly and tells the truth about the corrupt union system. He fights Friendly in a climactic scene, a sloppy fight, where he is outnumbered and badly beaten. Yet his fearless testimony ultimately brings the union down, and as Malloy struggles to stand on the docks, supported by a grateful and admiring crowd, he walks like a genuine hero. This is the real fighter he was meant to become. He faced the boss in the 10th and came out a winner.
Such a victory can belong to you, too. For details, check out the story in your 10th house.
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