The 11th House
by Dana Gerhardt
From my cozy vantage in one of the overstuffed reading chairs at the local Barnes & Noble, I heard a strident voice, followed by a distinctly snotty laugh: "No you're not. That's silly. You're just a little boy." Likely it was the seven-year-old girl who'd been holding court at the children's table, organizing puzzles and, with an oozing superiority, instructing the three and four year-olds not to fold pages or run in the aisles. What poor child was she humiliating, I wondered. Then I heard the voice of my then three-year-old son: "I am too. I am Batman."
Instinctively I got up, my hand in a fist. I sat back down. A middle-aged woman shouldn't take on a seven-year-old girl, no matter how badly she wants to preserve her son’s innocence. Better of course to watch what he would do. "I'm Batman," I heard Branden repeat defiantly. A moment later he was running circles around the aisles of books, issuing guttural hero sounds and stabbing at the air with an invisible sword. Another boy joined him. "I'm Batman and you're Superman," Branden sang. He had found a friend and all was well. His super powers had been preserved.
The 11th is the house of friends. Opposite the 5th, that sandbox of child-like innocence and fantasies of our specialness, the 11th house describes our first experience of tribal society, the playground where we meet the world. In the 11th we discover we're not alone, which, as my son had just found out, can be both good and bad. The 11th house brings us allies, the comforts of shared experience, the strength of a collective stand. It also turns a critical eye on our behavior, makes us vulnerable to group opinion, and defines us as "out" or "in." The house of groups and organizations, the 11th immerses us in the society of others. Like a jeweler's wheel, it grinds and polishes the individualism and creativity of our 5th house self, fitting us to the larger world.
But that's not all. There's a garage sale of concepts associated with this house. When I began this series, a colleague wrote to say she couldn't wait to read what I'd make of the 11th house. I replied, "Me too!" For if there’s a theme that strings its varied keywords together, it has mostly eluded me. We’re told that the 11th symbolizes the social codes that bind a society and the revolutionary zeal that breaks it apart. It rules both astrologers and the legislators who would outlaw them. It describes what we have in common and what makes us different. It's a future-oriented house, but its social web is often sticky with the past. We’re told the 11th is about warm and loving relationships and the ones about which we feel much less. Here we’re detached. And we subordinate ourselves to collective aims. Yet we’re also acknowledged. Astrologers like to say that the 5th is where we give love, and the 11th is where we receive it. Then there’s that most curious assignment, which says the 11th is the house of hopes and dreams. As if that weren’t enough, the 11th also rules airplanes, computers, varicose veins, electricity, galaxies, ballots, advisors, humanitarian causes, and unexpected gains.
Multiple keywords are a bothersome feature of many houses. But what troubles me most about the 11th is how little confirmation I’ve gotten from matching its keywords to my clients’ experiences. When this house is active, I cannot confidently state, as some astrology cookbooks do, that a person will be inspired to join a 12-step group or volunteer for the PTA. Or that when this house is challenged, it signals difficulty with friends. When a friendship becomes so problematic that an individual needs to discuss it with an astrologer, often enough the 7th house of partnerships or the 5th of playmates is involved. Perhaps the most surprising feature of this house is how differently it’s described by classical astrologers and contemporary ones. Modern astrology is often accused of white-washing all traditional forecasts of misfortune. But the 11th is one house which modern astrology has actually stripped of its happy fairy wings!
Classical astrologers called the 11th “Bona Fortuna” (“Good Fortune”) and the “House of Good Spirit.” The logic, according to Deborah Houlding1, a modern expert in traditional astrology, is that a planet in the 11th is distant enough from the Ascendant that it can be seen clearly. Symbolically, it has passed the danger of being combust the rising Sun. And, it has freed itself from the 12th house hazards of incarceration or invisibility. Planets here are elevated above earth, and in their diurnal motion, are heading toward the Midheaven. Attaining one’s desires are the promise of this position. Manilus considered the 11th the most fortunate of all the houses, superior even to the 10th. The Midheaven suggests completion; power in the 10th has nowhere to go but down. A planet in the 11th, however, is on the way up. And so this house is festooned with hope, optimism, faith, ambition, and triumph. Lucky, benevolent Jupiter is said to “joy” in this house.
According to John Frawley, another modern expert in the traditional approach, the 11th’s good fortune further derives from its position as second house from the 10th. It therefore indicates gifts (2nd house possessions) that come from the King (10th house). By extension, the 11th holds all manner of lucky breaks, from pennies on the sidewalk to lottery wins, any bounty that drops unexpectedly from above. It’s this logic that first put “friends” in this house too. Friends are natural benefactors. Full of goodwill for us, they’re ready to help whenever we’re in need; a man rich in friends is indeed wealthy. But it is a mistake, says Frawley, to keep adding people to this house, going from friends to all the groups and organizations to which we might belong. The Chaldean order of planets makes the Sun ruler of the 11th. “As is only fitting,” writes Frawley, “for as the eleventh shows the good things that descend to us from Heaven, so the Sun is the image of this endless, inexhaustible bounty permeating and sustaining the cosmos.”2
Classical astrologers saw a rainbow in this house and a pot of gold. But what happened to them? How did we fall into that more turbulent modern zone where we do—and sometimes don’t—belong?
“Traditional astrology speaks feebly of the eleventh house as the house of ‘hopes and wishes.’ How weak a conception for one of the most vibrant of all the houses!”3 That’s what the father of modern humanistic astrology, Dane Rudhyar, had to say about the 11th. And what did Rudhyar believe was more vital than good fortune? "(B)anding together with friends, with companions fired by a similar yearning for vision and creative social or religious change.” Which makes me think of a beer commercial full of visionaries and humanitarians. The 11th lost the benefits of its position between the 12th and 10th houses, its planets out of danger and on their way up. Modern astrology uses the “alphabet” system. That means the 11th house is allotted the attributes of the 11th sign of the zodiac: visionary, humanitarian, and future-oriented Aquarius. That’s how “friends and benefactors” grew to include “community” in general. And how we got the assignment to join with others here, to work for the greater good. In the 11th, says Rudhyar, “the power of society, of the collectivity or the group, is released through the individual … or more specifically, through the activities the individual performs through the social unit.”4 Gone are personal hopes and dreams, also gifts from the king. We’re now meant to join with our brothers and sisters and map a shiny future of the world. Go to PTA meetings! Join Overeaters Anonymous! Save the Whales!
Trained as a modern astrologer, I discovered this house’s legacy of good fortune only recently. If planets here attract unexpected blessings, my eyes have not been trained to look for them. I would like to tell you happy stories of fortunate 11th house planets and transits. But it’s perhaps an occupational hazard that clients rarely call astrologers to say good fortune has struck them and they’d like to know what the devil is going on. Nor am I experienced enough in the art of horary astrology, for which the 11th’s fortunate meanings are largely intended. Horary erects a chart for the moment a client asks a question of an astrologer. If the question is “Will I get what I’m hoping for?” the condition of the 11th house ruler will indicate whether the answer is yes or no. What I did learn from my clients was that planets or transits through this house do not always signal a particular delight in saving humanity, joining groups or even sharing good times with friends. In fact, a number of clients have even told me that after reading the astrology books, they wondered if their birth chart was wrong. Despite their Sun or Moon, or Mercury or Venus, being in the 11th, they often felt lost and unhappy in social situations.
Invariably people’s stories about the 11th, their journeys to connect with the family of man, are filled with vulnerabilities, and more than one emotional scar. Eleventh house memories often go back to that first experience of a social unit, one’s family of origin. And planets here, by way of aspect or archetypal qualities, hold these stories in succinct astrological code. Jean has Pluto in the 11th squaring her Sun. Pluto’s position shows where we must change. It challenges us to find our power, though for a long time we may feel powerless in this particular area of life. Jean always felt like an outcast in her family. She's been dogged since childhood by the feeling she doesn't fit in, that perhaps she doesn't deserve to belong. She’s spent most of her adult life working as a freelance computer consultant, never settling in one place too long. But her real passion is working as a healer. Her greatest success and joy has been finding the “tribe” who welcomes and accepts her gift.
My friend Bill has both Moon and Saturn in his 11th. Bill's Moon wants to nest in the comforts of a convivial circle of friends. His greatest joy is sitting at the corner espresso bar, listening to lively debates about politics and culture. Bill once told me that he’s often had a deep desire to throw himself into a pile of people and merge. But his Saturn has given him an equally strong need to erect barriers between himself and others. As I watch Bill move through the world, his rigid body language often sends a Saturn message: "Don't look; don’t touch." For as long as I've known Bill, he's been searching for community, but his Saturn insists it must be the right community, the right company, the right neighborhood, the right book discussion club. After years of looking, he hasn’t found it yet. While his North Node in Aquarius supports, demands, the search, his South Node in Leo holds back in royal isolation.
Moon and Saturn can be reflections of one’s mother and father in a chart. Bill's parents make a spooky haunting of his 11th house world. Both upstanding Christians, they cared what the neighbors thought, but never mixed with them. For years they roamed the churches of their town, but never joined one. Bill's father opened a one-man law office and stayed in that isolation his whole adult life, shaking his head at "all the lunatics out there." Mom planted more seeds of distrust, "Your friends don’t really like you. They just want to play with your toys." Despite an upper middle class income, the family lived in a lower middle class neighborhood, like nobility in exile. The "rich boys" the other families talked about, Bill and his brother became the targets of playmates who should have been friends. The neighbor boys used to lie in wait to throw rocks as they walked home from school.
The modern 11th house is a complicated place. Instead of that warm and benevolent pair, Sun and Jupiter, presiding over its activities, we have Uranus and Saturn, the ruling planets of Aquarius. The mythology of these two suggests a never-ending conflict. Uranus had the nasty habit of eating his children. Saturn (as Kronos) was the son who escaped this fate and struck his father down. Uranus is lord of the sky. Indeed, all innovation, all progress, all revolutions begin as creative concepts—sky god stuff. When we are filled with Uranian inspiration in this house we are like Prometheus, stealing the fire of the gods. We are brilliant and daring. But sure as Uranus was cut down by Saturn, so must our lofty ideals inevitably fall to Saturn’s limits. That’s how it ended for Prometheus too. He was punished and bound to a rock as birds pecked his liver. The rock is Saturn, the hard reality of this house. Here is the establishment—the group that disapproves. Uranus may inspire us to breakthroughs, but Saturn resists change or co-opts it. The tension between these two planets suggests our experience in this house will have its ups and downs. At times our progressive and unorthodox inclinations will find the utopia of likeminded community that Rudhyar celebrated. Other times we’ll be the oddball surrounded by a forbidding Saturn crowd.
The 11th house gives us friends and community, but it requires something of us in return. It expects us to periodically relinquish self, to balance individuality with “hive” mind. What's striking about indigenous cultures is how they can live in exactly the same way for hundreds, even thousands of years. Indigenous (earth) cultures are heavy with Saturn. The tradeoff is that in such tribes innovating individuals are shunned. There are no parades for being different; individuality is death to the group. In the myth, Saturn follows in his father’s footsteps and eats his children too, until his son, the new sky god Zeus eventually cuts him down. The tension between earth and sky is always present in society. The too rigid community makes it impossible to individuate. The too individualistic society makes for a dangerous, unstable world.
I once read (so long ago that I don’t remember where) that prominent 11th house and/or Aquarian placements suggest a significant experience of social rejection, a suffering of banishment at the hands of the tribe. Starting out as an astrologer, whenever I met someone whose chart carried this potential, I’d ask if this were true. Most indeed had at least one painful story of being drummed from a social circle. Years later it occurred to me that I might have gotten the same response had I asked everyone this question, prominent 11th house placements or not. The needs of the 5th house individual are inherently antagonistic to the needs of the 11th house group. Who among us hasn’t been wounded by this collision? Indeed, it’s often this very experience that puts us in touch with our own humanity. Rejection makes us question our 5th house creativity. It also calls in question the rules of our 11th house community. We might suffer in this house, but such suffering increases our sensitivity to the sufferings of others. Experiences here inspire us to dream of a better world.
The modern 11th house is a turbulent and changing field. Its feedback keeps us on our toes. The social organizations ruled by the 11th are forever in a kind of flux, the tension between the inspiration that set them in motion and the forces of time that pull them apart. Friends are a constantly shifting circle. Groups are good for a couple years then fall apart. In the 11th we meet the constantly changing world. Whatever self we set up in the 5th gets jostled here, tested, to stand or sink in its shifting ground. The 10th describes our role in society. But the 11th shows how we actually do it, how we must "realize" ourselves in shifting circumstances, over and over again.
When planets transit or progress through the 11th, people often feel the urge to take their interests, gifts or skills into a larger world. Whatever sandbox they’ve been playing in is no longer big enough. They need to see a new reflection of themselves. With 11th house transits, we grow bold enough to enter a new field or widen the circle we’re already in. Something may happen to us that radically shifts our priorities. We may indeed meet fortunate allies and benefactors. Or we may encounter resistance—especially from the group we might be leaving behind. In her excellent book about solar returns5, Mary Shea suggests that planets in this house signal a year when you should question all the rules, particularly your own. Let Uranus challenge your familiar Saturn structures. Investigate what holds you back. Let yourself ask daring new questions. Why not quit your job and start a new business? Why not sail around the world all by yourself? You don’t have to act on every crazy impulse that pops into your head. But if don’t have any crazy ideas stretching your sense of what’s possible, how can wonderful surprises happen in your future?
One way to reconcile Uranus and Saturn is to refine your wild ideas into realistic goals. It is wise to think about your future whenever this house is emphasized by transit or progression. And that takes us full circle. It brings us back to the classical view that this is the house of hopes and dreams.
For years I avoided this phrase until I discovered it’s actually useful and true. I was inspired by Robert Cole’s wonderful book on the annual path of the Sun through the houses.6 Each year, for approximately one month, the Sun returns to your 11th house. This is the month, says Cole, when you should choose the seeds for whatever you want to plant in the year ahead. It is the time when hoping and dreaming are most beneficial. The Sun has just transited through your 10th house—representing an annual peak, when your work has ripened and is most visible. Now you must start preparing for the next year’s harvest. What do you want to grow in the year ahead? This is the month to list everything you’d like to accomplish.
What’s even better is that you don’t have to start working on these goals right away. You get a month to think about them. When the Sun leaves the 11th and enters your 12th house, you need to let these visions soak into your dreams, like germinating seeds. It’s common, during the 12th house month for your hopes to turn into doubts and fears. But we’ll talk about that next time, when we reach the final installment of this series!
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