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The Fourth House
by Dana Gerhardt

When I was growing up, at least once or twice a summer my mother would command my sister and I to toil on the big hill in our backyard, weeding the dandelions and mustard grass that flourished there. Weeds must be pulled by the roots or they'll just grow back again. But perched on the hill with my cardboard box, while the kitchen window that held my mother's warden eye was so small and distant, and the earth below was so hard and rocky the weeds were fixed to the ground, I took the easy way out. I yanked the damn things off at the stem.

Unhappy feelings are a lot like weeds. Neglect to take them up by the roots and they'll just grow back again. Yet who probes willingly into the soil where emotions grow? Finding the roots of feeling can be hard. You might learn this under the gray skies of a Saturn/Moon transit. If you're like most people, you'll try to ignore your depression. You'll put on a happy face for loved ones. You'll pretend to be caring, cool-headed or commanding at work. You'll send energy to your 1st house image, your 7th house partner, or your 10th house career. But eventually, inexorably, you'll fall. And the 4th house is where you'll land.

The 4th is where we go when we collapse. It rules home and family, ancestors and homeland. It provides a literal retreat. Push ourselves too hard and we'll likely end up at home, sick in bed. Suffer a devastating loss and we may knock on the door of a family member and ask to be taken in. But the 4th is just as much a retreat of the imagination. It is our psychic hearth. It holds the memories that both comfort and haunt us. As the base of our chart, it represents both the ground and mystery of our being. If we lean over the chasm of the 4th, we'll find, as the poet Rilke wrote, “something dark and like a web, where a hundred roots are silently drinking.”1

This is not the definition I got from my astrology books. I have a 4th house Sun. The books said this meant I'd care deeply about my family. As a child I did, but then most children do. As an adult, I was never happier than when my family moved a thousand miles away. Holidays became a spacious new ground. The books said family relationships would sustain me. I've seen my father twice in twenty years. My sister has cut me out of her life a dozen times. And now my adventurous Aries mother is buying a home in Slovakia. When I hear others speak in gooey tones about how they miss their families, I am an anthropologist observing an alien culture. I have knowledge of their rituals, but I don't understand them.

The books said I might cherish my extended family or get into exploring the family tree. Family celebrations with aunts and uncles and cousins stopped when I was five. Aunts from both sides of the family have done extensive genealogies. I've had little curiosity about those pages full of names. Nor do the old photos of great aunts and grandparents inspire much connection. When my son was born, I gave him neither my last name nor his father's. I made one up, something alliterative. I liked the sound of it - which seemed more interesting than his carrying the name of ancestors I didn't know.

The books also said with a 4th house Sun, I'd be lucky in real estate. This was interesting. For years this was my dream. Not that I wanted to chauffeur Lookey Lous around or hold "open houses" every weekend. I just wanted to be gifted enough to buy my own home. In my twenties and thirties, I couldn't walk or drive down a residential street without feeling pangs of envy. How was it all these people managed to own homes? Why hadn't I? It seemed an impossible dream. If it's true the Sun's house identifies your hero's journey, then perhaps buying a home was mine.

It was definitely a milestone when I bought my first property. I sold it during a market slump and lost money. On the next home I made triple what I'd lost before. But my luck seemed more market-based than astrological. Everybody made and lost money at the same time I did. Last night a friend called with an urgent investment opportunity. “Rogue Valley is starting to boom!” he said. “If we pool our money and buy some rental properties in Grants Pass right now, in five years we'll be set for life. Really, we should do this!” I remembered my 4th house Sun. It was tempting. I searched for some inner confirmation of my destiny as a real estate magnate. There was no affirming spark.

None of the textbook readings for the 4th house seemed quite right. I needed to go deeper--back to the basics. The Sun in the 4th house literally describes a birth near midnight. This was in fact the origin of the horoscope's angles. With the four angles, the ancient Egyptians marked the Sun god's daily round. The Ascendant symbolized sunrise and beginnings; the Midheaven, the Sun's noontime zenith and one's public success; the Descendant evoked sunset, the descent and dissolving of the solar self. The angle marking the 4thhouse, the IC, recalled midnight, a time when the Sun god lay hidden between death and new life. The IC represented a transformation point, between the old day and the new.

Whatever your birth time, any planets in the 4th will have this “midnight” reality. Fourth house territory is what you find when, late at night, you close your eyes. It's what you encounter when you're all alone in the dark. Planets here lie beneath your surface. They are as deeply private as those in the opposite 10th are inescapably public. It's difficult to talk about 4th house planets with clients. The meanings are clear enough. Pluto in the 4th suggests a childhood full of hidden agendas and power struggles. Neptune indicates a family secret that permeated the air but was never spoken. Saturn suggests a home suffused with the dynamics of fear and control. You can talk about such histories with clients. But opening them up and touching them, for they do live on, is difficult.

Close your eyes now. Who or what is there? That's your 4th house reality. And that's how I've asked people to enter this house for years. Your family will be there, in your memories. Your ancestors will be there, in the rhythmic pulse of your blood. Your home will be there, as the secure base that allows you to connect with your innermost self. But you'll discover even greater mysteries. In the 4th you'll find your spirit center, your life source, your inner country of renewal. There will be times when you need to recreate yourself - and you'll do this by descending into the 4th house first. With the Sun in my own 4th house, it's taken me years to learn that my hero's journey was not so much to buy a home. Rather it was to learn about creating home and being at home in my world. I've had to learn this not just once, but many times.

The easiest way to discuss transits or progressions to the 4th is to start with the literal home. Pluto or Uranus in the solar return 4th is a likely indicator of moving to a new one. Neptune in the 4th may imply plumbing leaks or water damage, the discovery of toxic substances in the basement - perhaps an infestation of ghosts! Saturn transiting the natal 4th suggests a period when the house feels cramped or burdened with family duties and obligations.

What happens in the outer house often mirrors its domestic situation. Pluto transiting a 4th house planet can inspire both renovations and marital struggles. Jupiter transiting the 4th can bring a year of feeling blessed--with a spacious home and an abundance of family support. Mars in the 4th might bring an intruder, but more typically it suggests conflict. This is a time when family anger won't be suppressed.

Less easy to articulate, but perhaps more universally true, is how transits to the 4th are experienced on an inner level. Unwanted memories may flood to the surface. Dream imagery may be particularly shrill. Your body may feel exhausted. You might notice a persistent urge to stay at home with the bedcovers pulled over your head. These are signs. They're calling you to the task of “homing” - the cyclic return to oneself.

The homing process is described in rich detail by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run With the Wolves.2 As archetypal template for this recurring need, she offers “The Seal Maiden,” a story that appears in various forms across many Northern cultures. It goes like this: One day a lonely hunter discovers a remarkable sight--a group of laughing, shimmering, and utterly naked women dancing on a cliff. They are seal sisters, who have shed their skins to dance briefly in the topside world, before returning to the sea. The hunter can't help himself. He steals one of the skins and strikes a bargain with the hapless seal maiden. If she agrees to be his wife and bear his child, he'll let her go in seven years.

What can she do but say yes? In the seventh summer, when it's time for her to don her pelt and go back home, the hunter changes his mind. He refuses to return her sealskin. Her human skin begins to dry. Her hair falls out. Her eyes grow dull and her body withers. Limping and nearly blind, she is like one of the homeless ones from whom we typically avert our gaze.

“ Homelessness haunts us all,” writes J. Edward Chamberlin. “One of the reasons we walk so nervously around the homeless on our streets is that we don't want to get too close to something we fear so deeply.”4 Or is it something we already know. Chronic depression and fatigue are epidemic. They suggest a kind of psychic dispossession - an inner form of homelessness. It is what happens when we go too long without touching the life source in our 4th.

We've all experienced a sealskin theft. We've said yes to something in the topside world. Perhaps it was a promotion that would bring more money. Or a relationship that stole our heart. Maybe it was a pregnancy. Sometimes it's naivete or sheer stupidity that makes us vulnerable to psychic theft. We might have gone on an over-the-top buying spree. Or joined a questionable religious group. But not all our sealskin thefts are bad deals. It could be anything - even good things - that take us away from ourselves.

There is an inevitable conflict between the needs of the soul and the demands of public life. From the 4th we're called to serve society in our 10th house role. Our 2nd house wants us to put food on the table. Our children call us into the 5th. Our partners want attention in our 7th. In the seal maiden's story, we can read the hunter as ego. It's his job to take us into these outer worlds. But if the hunter leads us too far from our psychic skin, we will lose sustaining spirit. It doesn't matter how good our initial choices were.

Transits and progressions to the 4th can restore our spirit. This includes transits to the Midheaven. We often forget that these are also transits to the IC, so focused are we on problems of career and public identity. But to keep our outer lives informed by soul, we cannot neglect our psyche's foundation. To live in balance we must stay close to our sealskins and keep a natural rhythm of going and returning.

The sign on our 4th suggests how best to replenish ourselves. It hints at what it feels like to have our sealskin on. Taurus on the 4th will need to ground in earthy sensuality, to be nourished by touch, familiar habits, or the security of material things. Aquarius on the 4th will feel restored by shaking up routines or having the freedom to think and move without entanglements. Aries on the 4th must periodically don the pelt of “me, me, me!”

I can forget the most important things I know.

Some months ago, past midnight, I awoke suddenly. It was dark, I was alone. My partner had gone on a book tour. The stepkids were with their mom. My own son was with his father. For the first time in the two years since I moved to Oregon, I was sleeping by myself. With a start, I remembered this was my definition of the 4th house. Okay, I said, it's time. Inwardly, I felt for the familiar walls of my midnight self. But it was awkward, strange. Like that uncomfortable period of silence with an old friend that lets you both know you don't really know each other anymore. I didn't like the silence. I wanted to get back to sleep, read a book, turn on the TV.

“ When did you grow uncomfortable with the territory of silence?” This is one of the questions shamans ask of patients who are depressed, displaced, or disheartened. 3 They also ask “When did you stop singing?” and “Why did you quit your dancing?” I was no longer singing or dancing at home--signs that the seal skin woman needed her pelt. There were other signs. I was suffering from unbearable fatigue and so many food allergies I couldn't keep track of them. My life had grown thick with entanglements, new demands on my time, new pressures to succeed; as well, many unconscious attachments had returned, old relationship patterns, inner messages of self worth, an addiction to doing. And the part of my root system that used to extend deep into reverie, wonder, and peace, the part that knew deeply who I was and why I came here, was now withering, nearly dry. Could I draw water into those roots again?

I don't know if what happened next was a step forward or backward in my hero's journey. But with Sagittarius in my 4th house I needed freedom. I moved out. I bought my own home down the street. For the first two months I was in a state of collapse. But eventually I began to sing again, inane impromptu tunes. I started to dance in the way that makes my son roll his eyes and groan “M-om,” like it's a two-syllable word. I could sit in my living room and peel off the outer roles I'm known by, mother, lover, astrologer, daughter, writer, sister, friend. I could dissolve my pressures, fears, the memories of successes and failures, the ache of my desires. I could be nothing but the one who sat there, breathing. And the world around me grew large again. My health and love relationships improved. These things happen when your connection to the 4th is right.

In Deborah Houlding's excellent little book on traditional house meanings, the 4th house rulerships read like poetry: “Everything that relates to the foundation and roots of our existence. ... It rules hidden treasure and the treasures of the earth, such as mines and minerals, gems, oil, wells and water supplies. ... It rules land, the quality and nature of the ground (whether it is fertile, swampy, woody, stony or barren), and all the buildings and structures on it. ... It is said to indicate the beginning and end of all things, representing childhood experiences that give rise to an unconscious emotional experience of life, the vulnerability of old age, the process of death, and funerals.”5

To look only at the 4th for family or real estate matters diminishes this rich legacy, as does the contentious debate over which parent the 4th house signifies - mother or father. The parent confusion springs from a conflict over planetary rulers. In traditional astrology, the Sun rules the 4th - hence, its association with fathers. Modern astrology says the Moon rules this house - hence, its link to mothers. But I agree with Howard Sasportas that it's impossible to fix the 4th house to either parent.6

The role each parent plays in a child's development - not planetary rulerships - may be the safest means for locating parents in a chart. Sasportas makes a convincing argument that we'll find the “shaping parent”in our 10th. This is the one who had the greatest influence on our societal development. The 4th describes the more “hidden parent” - the one whose influence may have been less outwardly visible, but possibly stronger at an unconscious level.

In The Astrological Houses, Dane Rudhyar sidesteps the parental debate altogether. He acknowledges the traditional view of the 4th. It indeed holds our earthy foundations - from the superficial facts of real estate and home, to all that land implies - the soil from which things grow and to which things return. But this view also suggests an archaic “flat land” mentality. It forgets the earth is a spinning globe, not a solid floor stretching on that way forever. If, says Rudhyar, we instead imagine our roots descending into a sphere, we'll reach a new and deeper meaning for the 4th. We'll discover “the experience of center.” We'll find the matrix of our feeling nature. To be in the 4th is to be centered in the self. The 4th house holds the same kind of life-giving rhythmic power as our heart.

The more one explores the depths of the 4th the less it seems like a place one can point to on a map. It seems more like a state of mind. This is not so different from Clarissa Pinkola Estes' definition of home: “Home is that sustained mood or sense that allows us to experience feelings not necessarily sustained in the mundane world: wonder, vision, peace, freedom from worry, freedom from demands, freedom from constant clacking.”8 In this home of the imagination, there is room for both the Sun and Moon. This 4th house nurtures us like a lunar mother, it sustains us like a father Sun. It invites us to sing and dance to its shifting rhythms. It holds that castle where we are king.

  1. Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke's Book of Hours, Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, translators (Riverhead Books, 1996), p. 49.
  2. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves, (Ballantine Books, 1992), pp.256-297.
  3. Angeles Arrien, Gathering Medicine (Sounds True Audio, 1994)
  4. J. Edward Chamberlin, If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), p 78.
  5. Deborah Houlding, The Houses: Temples of the Sky (Ascella Publications, 1998)
  6. Howard Sasportas, The Twelve Houses (The Aquarian Press, 1985), p. 57
  7. Dane Rudhyar, The Astrological Houses (CRCS Publications, 1972), pp. 73-79
  8. Estes, ibid., p. 284

MOONPRINTS by Dana Gerhardt

Go to Moonprints Popular with readers of "The Mountain Astrologer" for almost two decades, this beautiful report takes an in-depth look at your emotional foundations. You will gain new insights into your birth moon - its phase, sign, aspects, and house. Discover your life purpose, hidden talents and danger zones through the moon's nodes. Use the moon to position yourself in time - through transits to the moon, your progressed moon sign and house, dates for two progressed lunation cycles, plus a year of new and full moons around your chart. You'll want to read every page of this report, designed to please both beginners and advanced students of astrology.
Moonprints at mooncircles.com


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