As we have already seen, the 4th and 10th houses are the parental houses, with the 4th house describing the family background and the environment within which we grew up, and the 10th house describing our family's social status and relationship to the world. These houses also describe our perception of the parental relationship itself, and it is likely that, to some extent, the roles played by our parents were or are interchangeable. Biologically, of course, we are the product of the union between our parents, so the 4th and 10th houses reflect the tension and the creativity of the meeting of opposites which resulted in our conception. The conflicting demands of our private life and public life, our home and our work, our inner and outer worlds, create the kind of tension and stress that I suspect we have all felt from time to time.
No matter which house system we are using, it is worth pointing out that
the meaning of the MC/IC axis is not identical to the meaning of the 4th
and 10th houses, which describe the qualities and attitudes of our parents
and what we learned on our mother's or father's knee. At the end of the
day, the MC/IC meridian is a uniquely personal axis. It is our vertical
axis, our central pillar, describing in the deepest sense where we are
coming from and where we are going. And although this may very well be
an extension of our parents' goals, ambitions and achievements, eventually
our task appears to be to extract ourselves from the parental matrix, put
down our own roots, and find our own place in the world.
The MC describes our true vocation or 'calling', that 'something' we need to achieve in the world in order to fulfil our unique potential. Unlike the 10th house, it is driven from within, rather than from without. And the IC describes the roots of our being, which support and sustain and nourish us on an inner level, and which are the source of our potency and power in the world. As the midnight point in the birth chart, it is the point where the Sun dies and is reborn, and in traditional astrology it signifies 'the end of the matter', which also makes way for new beginnings. The vertical axis of the MC/IC can be compared to the chakra system, our central pillar, with the IC functioning as the base chakra. As with all axes, the MC and IC depend upon each other, because our capacity to grow upwards will always depend on the strength of our roots.
In the Equal House system, the MC/IC axis will normally be found in the 10th and 4th houses, in which case our own direction in life may well be an extension of that of our family and parents. But if it falls outside the 10th and 4th houses, then our direction in life may be very different from that of our parents. If, for example, the MC/IC axis falls across the 9th/3rd houses, then our vocation may involve education, teaching, law, philosophy, travel, or any of the themes associated with these two houses. We might be the one person in the family, for example, who has gone to university, or who lives in another country or culture, or who adopts a different religion or philosophy from the rest of the family. With the MC-IC axis across the 8th/2nd houses, we are unlikely to feel particularly comfortable with the traditions and values of the culture we grew up in. We will want to plunge deep into the buried issues which that culture or society is not looking at and, with the IC in the 2nd house, to live according to our own inner values, which will be described by the sign on the 2nd house cusp, the planetary ruler of the 2nd house, and any planets in the 2nd house. If the MC/IC axis is in the 11th and 5th houses, then we are likely to have a more political, socially conscious or creative vocation and path in life than that of our parents and family. No doubt we will find ourselves kicking against the old traditions, assumptions, and perceived complacency of the 10th/4th house culture into which we were born, and seek to make our own unique contribution (IC in the 5th house) to the development of political or social awareness (MC in the 11th house).
The curious thing about the MC/IC axis is that it seems to describe talents, goals and potentials which our parents have denied or suppressed; what they would have liked to have been or done if they had only had the opportunity. And so this axis can put us directly in touch with particular gifts and challenges we have inherited from our parents but which have not been lived out by them. There is a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke called Separate Lives, which expresses this beautifully:
Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.
And another man, who remains inside his own house,
dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.
There is always a powerful ancestral 'charge' around this axis, and it is on this axis that we seem to inherit the as yet unfulfilled, incomplete, still to be manifested or resolved, destiny and calling of our family line. In this sense the MC/IC axis connects us to the archetypal parents which always stand behind or beyond our ordinary human, mortal parents. The parental archetypes, the male and female principles, are symbolised in astrology by the Sun and Moon, which leads us back to questions about the spirit and soul. It would be symbolically valid to suppose that the spirit and soul might be made manifest through the MC/IC axis.
Diagram of the seven chakras in the human body,
from Titus Burckhardt, Alchemy 
For example, if we relate the MC/IC axis to the ancient system of chakras, there is a correlation between the MC, spirit, and the crown chakra, which relates to consciousness as pure awareness. When fully developed, this chakra brings us knowledge, wisdom, understanding, spiritual connection and bliss. 'It is our place of mergence with God, the Oneness, the All.' By the same token, there is a correlation between the IC, soul, and the base chakra, which, in the body, is located at the base of our spine. As such, it is related to our survival instincts, to our sense of grounding and connection to our bodies, our ability to be present in the here and now. It also relates to our ability to draw nourishment and strength from within, through our physical bodies, and describes how we feel about being incarnate, about being on the earth. Tension here often points to a fundamental sense of insecurity, fear, or threat to our survival.
Audience: But it is difficult to think of the MC/IC axis as our central pillar because in charts it is always veering around, changing its relationship to the Ascendant/Descendant all the time.
Clare: That is certainly how it seems, and this is simply because, in modern birth charts, it is the convention to keep the Ascendant/Descendant axis horizontal. However, from a geographical point of view, it is the north-south meridian, the MC/IC axis which stays the same, while the Ascendant/Descendant axis veers around this meridian, with the Ascendant being anywhere from south-east right through to north-east, as we stand in the centre of our charts looking south.
Audience: But what if you have nothing on the IC? Does that mean you have no root system or that you have to wait for a transit to get that going?
Clare: We all have important stories around the IC, whether or not there is a planet there. The IC will be in a sign, and that sign will have its planetary ruler or rulers, which will be in certain signs and houses and make certain aspects, so that is where we would look for the IC story. Let's have a look at some planets on the MC/IC axis.
Tom: I have two planets on the IC: Saturn and Uranus. Can we have a look at one of those?
Clare: Yes, let's have a look at them both and see how they function. This is a good example, because your MC/IC axis is in Sagittarius/Gemini and falls in your 11th and 5th houses. This indicates that your own personal vocation in life has been very different from that of your parents and from the themes described by the 10th/4th houses. No doubt your personal journey has led you to discover your own ideas and your own particular talents and capabilities (IC in the 5th house), and to develop and explore them across a wide spectrum of society, or even of the world (MC in Sagittarius in the 11th house). I would imagine that your life has been lived on a much larger scale, and with more political or social involvement than your parents.
Chart data omitted for reasons of confidentiality
Tom: That's right and very interesting. Can you say some more about this?
Clare: Let's have a look at the parental background first, to try to understand something about your family background and the role of your parents in your life. Your 10th/4th houses are ruled by the fixed signs of Scorpio and Taurus, the axis of exchange. Taurus on the 4th house cusp indicates stability in the family, and Venus, which rules your 4th house, is in Scorpio in the 10th house, which indicates that your father may have had a powerful role in the world - perhaps dealing with other people's money or resources. Scorpio on the 10th house cusp, ruled by Mars and Pluto, indicates that you saw your mother as a powerful, determined, ambitious and opinionated woman, since the Mars ruler is in Aries in the 3rd house, and the Pluto ruler is conjunct your Descendant in the 7th house. Perhaps you experienced her as rather controlling and invasive?
Tom: Yes, that is certainly true. I do come from a large landowning family who have been farmers for generations, although my father was a merchant banker in the City. He was certainly a very powerful man, and he was determined that I would also become a banker and follow in his footsteps. My mother was an intelligent woman who ruled the roost at home, devoting all her energies to her family and children. Had she been born in another era I suspect she would have been a successful career woman.
Clare: From the point of view of your MC/IC axis, I imagine that you may have found your family background and your parents' expectations rather oppressive. The Gemini/Sagittarius axis is one of space, expansion and exploration, and with Saturn and Uranus conjunct your IC, it looks at if, in order to forge your own way in the world, you have had to sever your family connections and learn to stand on your own feet. This cannot have been easy, with Saturn on your IC, but no doubt you have felt compelled to break away from family ties.
Tom: I think this all started when I was sent to a Jesuit boarding school at a young age. That was a huge shock to me at the time, but it also opened up my mind, and I will always be grateful for the education I received. I learned to think and to question and to challenge ideas, and that has stood me in good stead throughout my life. And I did cut off entirely from my family for a while, because I refused to go into banking and there was a huge row. In fact, my father did literally 'cut me off' and out of my inheritance.
Clare: This is a very graphic description of Saturn in Taurus and Uranus in Gemini on the IC. Saturn in Taurus in the 4th house describes your duty to your family, the importance of tradition and the heavy sense of responsibility imposed upon you by your father as well as the denial of your inheritance. But Uranus in Gemini is even closer to your IC, and that describes the rebel and the free thinker, and the fact that you had your own ideas. I think we can see why you had to break free and follow your own path, which is very flexible and expansive and autonomous. It is particularly interesting that both Saturn and Uranus are your chart rulers, since you have Aquarius rising, so no doubt this has been a major theme in your life.
Tom: And as it happens, I went into marketing, and ended up being the managing director of a multinational company. I have been travelling extensively my entire career, negotiating and dealing with people from all over the world until recently, when I was suddenly and unexpectedly asked to take early retirement. But at least it has given me the time to study astrology.
Clare: Well, that is a perfect description of your Sagittarius MC, with its ruler in Gemini in the 5th house. It is also another example of being suddenly cut off at your roots and from your income. But Uranus is often associated with astrology, so perhaps this is also about finding your vocation in life, or a way of making sense of it all. But the MC/IC axis can also indicate where we have inherited the unlived lives of our parents, or particular gifts and talents from our ancestors, so I am wondering whether your father may have been a free spirit himself, who was unable to escape his family responsibilities and duties, and whether your mother, who was such a powerful force in your life, was unable to fulfil her intellectual or educational potential. If so, then on a deeper level, by breaking away from the expected family pattern, you may even have been fulfilling and living out the unlived lives of your parents.
Tom: Well, certainly it is true that my father was obliged to follow in his father's footsteps, and my mother met and married my father when she was very young, and at that time married women did not pursue their own careers. This has given me a great deal of food for thought.
Clare: That is a wonderful example, Tom. Thank you.