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The Fifth House
by Dana Gerhardt

If you've seen the movie Chocolat, you'll understand an essential problem with the 5th house. This is the house of joy and spontaneous self-expression. It's the house of risk-taking, creativity, children, and love. There's a simplicity and innocence in this house that revels in the unbridled pleasure of being alive. What could be wrong with that? This is the house about which many are curious when they schedule astrology readings: Is a romance on the horizon? Will a child be conceived? Will a creative project come to fruition? The allure of 5th house territory is undeniable. Yet just as the heroine discovered in Chocolat, strangely, unhappily, many people resist their 5th house garden of delights.

FiveIn the movie, Vianne Rocher is a scandalously single mother, whose wanderlust takes her to a sleepy village in post-war France. It's the kind of place where people know what's expected. They go to confession. They dig their flowerbeds. They understand their place in the scheme of things (and if they forget, someone will surely remind them). When they see things they shouldn't see, they know how to turn their heads. When life disappoints them, they learn not to ask for more. But one day, following a sly wind, Vianne arrives with her daughter. Wearing bright red capes, they bring vital new energy to this stone gray town. Soon enough Vianne opens a chocolate shop. During Lent! Made from ancient Mayan recipes, her chocolates have mysterious powers. They unlock hidden yearnings, awaken passion, instill new conviction and strength. The priest condemns her as Satan's helper. The mayor wants her run out of town. Her daughter cries "Why can't you go to church and wear black shoes like the other mothers?"

chocolatVianne is a wild one. Within your 5th house lives a wild spirit too. It wants to shake up your sleepy life. It wants to stimulate your ecstasy for being in the moment. Vianne has an affair with a gypsy. She is clairvoyant too, knowing exactly which chocolate remedy - the rose creme, the chocolate seashells, or the cacao and chili drink - a person's soul might be craving. Your 5th house likewise holds a gypsy spirit that knows just how to make your heart sing. Traditional astrology gives this house a double association with Venus, planet of pleasures and passions. Venus "joys" in this house, which means her natural tendencies find fortunate expression here. The Chaldean order of planets, which assigns Saturn to the 1st house and Jupiter to the 2nd, gives fun-loving Venus to the 5th. It is well known that when transits or progressions energize the 5th house, people do uncharacteristic things. They have affairs. They buy flashy new cars. They dream of running away to the circus. They behave, in short, like children.

There is vital life force energy in the 5th house. This is a natural progression in the wheel of the houses. The emerging self is given a supportive container through 4th house home and family. When the emotional life is thus nurtured, power gathers. There is energy to create. Or procreate. There is enthusiasm for life. One is vibrant and radiant. This may be why modern astrologers assign rulership of the 5th house to the Sun. The Sun has star quality. It says "I am here!" It needs to express itself dynamically. It wants to feel special. It wants to love and be loved. Do we really need to choose either Venus or the Sun when judging which matters more in this house? It might be wiser to keep both in mind. In the 5th, you must express your Sun without apology. And you must pursue what brings your Venus joy.

People often come to astrology readings because they feel stuck. A question I usually ask clients before the session is "What, if anything, have you been neglecting lately?" The stuck ones usually reply "Myself." What they typically mean is they aren't having any 5th house fun. They aren't taking time off to play. They are being good little girls and boys and doing what's expected of them. They're working without a break, in hopes that some day, all the delayed gratification will pay off. They are like the villagers before Vianne arrives - the widow still wearing mourning black forty years past her husband's death, the village mayor who drinks bitter lemon water and writes sermons about the virtues of denial. They are gripped by a sneaky malady known as "anhedonia," the inability to indulge in fun.

Among working adults in particular, this disease may have reached epidemic proportions. JumpAt some point people realize something is missing from their life. Maybe they respond by placing an ad in the personals column. Maybe they visit a therapist and try to locate their inner child. Maybe they buy a book like The Artist's Way to help release creative passion. If they visit a good astrologer, they will be encouraged to open the chocolate shop in their 5th house. Its sweets are no mere luxury. They're critical. When 5th house happiness no longer feeds the psyche, there is little power to move forward in other houses. One's 10th house career grows stale. One's 7th house partnership feels unfulfilling. One's 2nd house income stays flat. Deny your 5th house and your whole chart may suffer.

If resisting pleasure is not your problem, congratulations. Put this magazine down right now. Go out and have some fun! But if your days are overwhelmed with obligations, if your romantic life feels dead, if you have children who drive you nuts, read on. I'll share with you what I've learned from bouts of 5th house anhedonia of my own.

Astrology books make intriguing claims about signs and planets in the 5th. They say that 5th house placements show how you like to be creative and the ways your creativity is best brought out; they reveal your attitude towards children and how you treat your child within; they indicate the ways you like to create romance; they describe how you tackle the "art" of living. There is truth in these assertions. When you catch yourself having fun, you'll find your 5th house archetypes indeed are tingling. But when you're not having fun, trying to strategize from astrology keywords in order to shift your life can be close to hopeless. Try buying a book with suggestions about how to have fun and you'll see what I mean. It's like when my eleven-year-old complains "I'm bored." With loving intentions and all my best creativity, I brightly list several delightful things that he could do. Naturally, he glares back at me, daggers shooting from his eyes. Sorry: there are no pre-fab instructions for waking up a dulled 5th house. It can only be discovered by doing it.

I have Capricorn on my 5th house cusp, which means that Saturn rules this house. From my astrology books, I learned that this is an unfortunate placement. Nothing squashes fun like grim-faced Saturn. (Now you know why I'm writing about 5th house anhedonia!) With Capricorn on the 5th, the astrology books said I likely couldn't have children; if I did, they would bring me grief. I did have my son late in life (Saturn can delay matters). But so far Branden has brought me far more joy than trouble. The books further suggested I would experience inhibitions and insecurities in my creative life. Because I knew nothing about astrology, I spent my twenties as a freedom-loving hippy, I wanted to be creative. I wanted to write the great American novel. Then I decided to be a short story writer. Finally I was hoping to at least write some haiku, but none of these artistic dreams, even as they shrunk, panned out.

Eventually circumstances required I take a job in the corporate world - the very thing I had avoided for years. To my complete surprise, it was fun! I loved it. I found the joy that was missing from my hippy decade. I stayed at that job for 16 years and happily climbed its corporate ladder. Even more surprising, in my spare time, my artistic life blossomed. I finally became a published writer. The structured Capricorn world stimulated the energy in my 5th house. Had anyone suggested this beforehand, I would have thought them nuts. Nor do I think working in the corporate world is the solution for everyone with Capricorn in the 5th. You have to experiment. Especially you must be willing to try things you might otherwise resist. The key to this house is spontaneity - and the willingness to take new risks. Pleasure often arrives in surprising packages.

For many people, opening the 5th house chocolate shop starts up a chorus of inner voices: "You shouldn't! How dare you! Who do you think you are?!" There's a logical reason for this. The 5th house describes one's experience of childhood. And most childhoods are filled with "No's." Parents need to fit a child's wild spirit into society. Their own wild spirits have already been tamed. Some will project their unfulfilled 5th houses on their children, trying to foist on them their repressed ideas of fun. When your 5th house gypsy goes underground in childhood, anhedonia takes over. You doubt your instincts. You deny the very things that would make you feel glad to be alive. You worry that if you tried them, others would call you naughty or self-indulgent - even when you're not.

I learned about this when my son was two (and my progressed Moon, incidentally, was traveling through my 5th). It was a typical day. I was rushing to get us both out the door, taking Branden to daycare and me to work. I asked my son which jacket he wanted - the red one or the gray. "Red one." I put the gray one back on the hangar. Branden shook his head and cried, "No!" So I gave him the gray one and put the red one back on the hangar. He stamped his feet, "No!"

I went through several rounds of asking which jacket he wanted. It was always "That one," which, it turned out, was never the one I had. I tried a new strategy. "Maybe you want the blue jacket?" "Yes," he nodded. But as the other two jackets went back in the closet, the screaming fit returned. After a few more minutes of this, with the terse, exasperated gestures I swore I'd never acquire, I finally grabbed all three jackets and threw them into the car. We drove for five minutes in a steely silence that made me feel far too much like my mom. I tried digging my way out. I explained to Branden that I was frustrated, how I had a meeting to get to that morning, how I needed his cooperation. From the backseat, he seemed to understand. When we arrived at daycare, I thought we'd reached an accord. "Which jacket do you want?" I asked. "That one," he pointed. Instantly, I knew it was starting up again. So I grabbed all three jackets and threw them at his feet. What happened next stunned me. For the first time that morning, Branden looked genuinely pleased. In a voice so innocent and sweet, he said, "Thank you, Mommy."

colorsOf course! It was a three-jacket day. And what was so wrong with that? Breaking the rules is an essential feature of creative action. An outlaw attitude helps us to jump grids and make new connections. What seems unreasonable to an adult may sometimes be necessary to an artist or a child. Tragic of course is how we fail to hear the special call of every moment. Branden wasn't the unreasonable one that morning - it was me!

In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron has wonderful suggestions for unleashing your inner 5th house gypsy. (1) In one exercise, called "Forbidden Joys," she suggests listing ten things you would love but aren't allowed to do. Often, she says, the very act of writing your forbidden joys breaks down your barriers to doing them. Doing them is even more liberating. Last week I did one of my forbidden pleasures. Of course I can't tell you what that was! What I can tell you is that doing it brought a bright smile and new energy to everything else I tackled.

One of the basic tools of Cameron's program for releasing blocked creativity is what she calls an "Artist's Date." This is a fun excursion or play date with yourself alone--that you must commit to once a week. It can be something quite simple and inexpensive, like walking through an unfamiliar neighborhood, just to take in the sights, sounds and smells. You could go bowling or to an art museum, as long as you leave all sense of duty or proper education behind. Watch, Cameron warns, how your inner killjoy wants to avoid or ridicule the experience ("This is a stupid distraction. It's a waste of time.").The trick is letting yourself do it anyway. The rewards, you'll find, are magical. I don't know if Cameron knows about astrology, but it's interesting that she connects the artist date with other 5th house relationships. She notes how play dates can revive a stale romance. And they can increase the affection between a parent and a child. Making time for fun can heal many 5th house wounds.

As you invite more play into your life, you might start recalling some of the dreams you had as a child. These can be another rich source for adult 5th house joy. Sam Keen, author and workshop leader, writes about visiting the circus as a boy. His world stopped when he saw the trapeze artists perform: he wanted to become a flying man too! He rigged pipes and a rope in a front yard tree and acted out his fantasy. Decades later, in his sixties, at a time when his life felt stale, he saw an advertisement for trapeze lessons. The nay-saying voices started up: "You're too old. You're not strong enough. You'll make a fool of yourself." He listened to his inner flying man instead: "Do it!" He enrolled in the school. His body was aching and bruised, but his passion for life was renewed.

Of course, it's fair to wonder: If we jump on all 5th house desires, won't we at times make an ass of ourselves? We've all seen people who've done this: the ridiculously untalented ones at "American Idol" auditions, the software engineer who gets a nose ring in his fifties, the stock broker who leaves a decent marriage for a lap dancer. Shouldn't we apply some 5th house restraints?

In The Golden Ass, the Roman writer Lucius Apuleius tells a pertinent story. The book's hero Lucius visits Thessaly, a place famous for the magical powers of its women. At the home of one such woman, he befriends a maidservant. The maid helps him spy on his hostess as she casts her spells. Lucius watches as she rubs an ointment into her skin, then sprouts feathers and flies out the window like a bird. "What fun!" thinks Lucius. He begs the maid to steal this ointment for him. Unfortunately, she picks up the wrong salve. When he rubs himself with it, he turns into a donkey. He is of course a joyously lewd donkey - and the maid has fun with him. But he remains a donkey for most of the book, enduring many unfortunate ordeals and punishments, until at last he feeds on roses. Roses are sacred to Venus. Eating them restores his human shape.

chocolatThe desire to fly is embedded in our 5th house. It is a call from the inner gypsy who wants to let go and be free. But there is a journey here. You must learn to pay attention to what you want. And you must be willing to learn from the inevitable mistakes you will make along the way. It is significant that a friend gives Lucius the wrong ointment. Friends are ruled by the 11th - the house opposite the 5th. A natural, even useful, tension exists between these two houses.

The 11th gives us social feedback. It describes other people - on our playground or in the office lunchroom. Others may join us in 5th house pleasures - at the tavern or the racetrack. But they can also lead us astray, as the maid does Lucius. That Lucius hides behind a curtain and someone else secures his 5th house magic suggests his ego is weak and undeveloped. "Ego" here is not a dirty word. A healthy ego is necessary to face the dangers and vulnerabilities of 5th house risks. Lucius is unconscious when he asks the maid to steal the ointment. But for those consciously trying to fly in the 5th, fears will be strong. Listen to the fears Sam Keen had approaching the trapeze bar at sixty-two. It might sound a lot like your own list before taking a 5th house gamble: "I am afraid of failure. I am afraid of what others will think of me. I am afraid I will lose control. I am afraid I can't trust you. I am afraid I will be abandoned if I do not measure up to your expectations."(2)

Without a healthy ego, we could never face such fears. Ego supplies the confidence and courage to take risks, create art, take up roller blading at fifty-five, or fall in love. Ego is the spark that keeps our passion burning. Children have lots of ego and that's a good thing. Their worlds revolve around their desires. Their innate self-centeredness may be Nature's way of ensuring their survival. Yet all things in proper measure, which is what the 11th house is for. It balances self-centeredness. It will reprimand an out-of-touch ego that disturbs the group and threatens the integrity of the whole. The 11th asks us to be ourselves - but within social reason. If the group likes us enough to applaud our creations, our ego will win the love and appreciation it craves. Yet if we pursue fame and prestige alone, we will eventually lose the self we first expressed so boldly. The challenge of the 5th is to remain an individual.

The 11th represents the love we receive. The 5th is the love we give. The love in our own hearts is symbolized by the redemptive rose in Lucius' story. The arbiter of 5th house success is how freely and deeply we can love - our children, our romantic partners, our creative work. Writes Dane Rudhyar, "In the fifth house the great test involves the ability to act out one's innermost nature in terms of purity of motive and using in a "pure" manner the means available for the release of one's energies." (3) This then is the only restraint: We must do what we do in the 5th from the purity of love. In this way we serve both others and the energy that flows through us. We lose ourselves in a higher purpose, something only a healthy ego can do.

One of the greatest gifts of the fifth house is its invitation to moments of unself-consciousness. This is the divine self at play, moving with spontaneity and joy. We forget ourselves in the moment. Here, children are the masters. Spy on a couple of kids at play for an hour. Watch how easily they move from one thing to another. No plans, just doing what they please. Count how many times they break into laughter. Can you remember the world ever being so funny? If you try to analyze what's funny, you'll get nowhere. Sometimes I think children laugh just because they can. Their inner gypsy is still free. Your gypsy can endure long past childhood, but she must be continually renewed. This is the opportunity in all transits and progressions through the 5th.

Years ago, when the progressed Moon moved through my own 5th house, I gave birth to my son - a golden event that opened my heart like no other. True to the cliché, I "expressed myself" with a flashy new car. I collaborated on a manuscript with a writing partner. I ended a relationship rather than began a new one, but the motive was love. It became impossible to ignore that my relationship had none. By the time the progressed Moon entered the 6th, I was a different woman. I was in love with my life all over again. May your 5th house bring the same delights to you. Now go out and have some fun!

  1. Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way (Tarcher, 2002).
  2. Sam Keen, Learning to Fly (Broadway Books, 1999), pp. 36-37.
  3. Dane Rudhyar, The Astrological Houses (CRCS, 1972), p. 84.


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