Interpreting the Natal 8th House (Part 2)
Updated: Mar 26
Difficult to Interpret Series
This is a continuation of an article examining the 8th house. In Part 1, we summarized the historical and modern meanings of this house and set up some rules for interpreting the signs, rulers, and any planets in this house. Now in Part 2, we apply these rules and our knowledge of the 8th in case studies to try to understand what the 8th house is communicating in real world sample charts. All charts were calculated using an Equal house system.
Study Case 1: Anonymous Chart
In this chart we find that Libra is on the cusp of the 8th house. This tells us that the source of this person's anxiety (the 8th) involves the need for fairness or balance, which we know is lacking because signs are always compensatory. So wherever you find Libra, it will mean you NEED the Balance in that area because its principles are lacking there. When we look at Venus, the domicile lord of the 8th, we are told that the anxiety-provoking need for equanimity came about because of the acquisition (a Venus action) of resources (its object in the 2nd). Now, we have two money houses involved, so we should automatically think that finances may be a source of anxiety for this person. Seeing how Jupiter is cojoined with Venus tells us that overindulgence of this Venus action is problematic. We also see that the other house ruled by Venus is the 3rd, meaning that it creates anxiety-producing documents in the process of buying things. Our conclusion: this person has a lot of unpaid credit card debt! It does not matter that Venus is a benefic and bonified by a greater benefic (Jupiter). Venus is still the generator of the turmoil by virtue of its rulership of the 8th. This will be true of any planet ruling the 8th.
Now we turn to any planets in the 8th. In this chart, we see that Neptune is present, but in the sign of the 9th house. That means these two houses are linked. So debt is linked to legal matters. We can deduce that the legal matters are connected to the anxiety over debt from two clues: first, because Scorpio indicates a need to purge something that is not working for us and it is partially over the 8th; and second because Venus is also located in the other sign ruled by Mars, connecting the 9th and the 2nd houses together. So in this particular case, having Neptune in Scorpio specifically ties it to legal debt.
We've said that planets in a house signify actions that come to bear upon the anxiety shown by the 8th. They are essentially, attempts that the native makes at dealing with the anxiety. But Neptune is the least effective planet at handling anything unpleasant, for Neptune is king of denial. What it will do here is to deny that the legal toxicity is present and continue its fantasy-like-approach, believing unrealistically that things will get better. Neptune is also a planet that rather than implementing limits and boundaries, it dissolves them. So it will just cause confusion, rather than limits, around the issue of legal debt.
The Reveal: This is the chart of a woman who is addicted to shopping. Over the years, she accumulated large balances on many credit cards until she could not keep up and had to declare bankruptcy. However, some of the debt was not resolved and turned into a legal case against her. But because she avoided collection calls and avoided opening her mail, she did not know there was a legal judgement against her until she noticed that her wages were being garnished at work. (Neptune denial indeed!)
If we were to read this chart traditionally, first we wouldn't acknowledge Neptune's presence in the 9th and would miss the native's misguided attempts at dealing with the matter by denying its existence (just as some traditional astrologers continue to do with the outer planets :-) ). Secondly, even if we were to literally account for Venus' detrimental condition by giving it a lower score on a dignity scale, its placement and conjunction with the great benefic Jupiter in the 2nd, might still mistakenly lead us to conclude that this person might be financially well off, when the opposite is far more likely. Now, it is true that Venus indicates the type of misfortune, as Paulus indicates. But contrary to what is indicated by Hellenistic authors, it is not Venus as a planet placed in the 8th house which depicts this situation; it is rather, Venus as domicile ruler of that house. In reality, there is a poor distinction in the traditional literature, just as there is in the modern literature between planets ruling the houses and placed in them. Thus, if we were to read this chart using a modern approach (which tends to ignore rulerships altogether) it might lead us to say that this person has an addictive personality, but we might also mistakenly conclude that the addiction has something to do with partnerships (Libra) and sex (8th house). This of course would be far from the truth, as this person has had a single partner in 35 years and has never been married!
Study Case 2: Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. is one of the most popular and successful actors today with one of the greatest Hollywood comeback stories. Although he has always been a talented actor, he has had to fight off some dark demons that led him to a very public struggle with substance addiction. Let's look at his chart and try to follow our rules, while trying our best to avoid reading what we already know about his personal struggles.
First, Downey has Pisces on the 8th house cusp. Anyone with Leo rising will have Pisces on the 8th, so please let's not say: "Well, here we have the reason for his substance abuse!" Pisces, does not indicate addictions. It signifies a need to transcend limitations, boundaries and definitions, which can occur in many different expressions. These perceived limitations and overly-defining boundaries are often a result of too much objectivity and inclusivity (a legacy of a previous excessive Aquarian need). In other words, we basically want to go beyond what we perceive to be limiting us in some shape or form. And since signs are compensatory, we can say that Downey's demons are created out of a need to escape perceived limitations because they probably actually do exist. And because it is on the 8th, we know this need will tend to become obsessive or anxiety-ridden in some way. Jupiter is in charge of servicing this need and it is well-equipped to do so, because it is a planet of exaggerated reach. Now, here we find Jupiter in the 10th house. That means that the limitations Downey wants to transcend are created in the place of his occupation, that is, in Hollywood. Perhaps he feels there is not enough creativity in Hollywood or it is too commercialized (that is, too objective and inclusive - excessive Aquarian). Jupiter in the 10th certainly links it to attempts to persuade and to take things in a definite direction. It has also been statistically linked to actors and politicians in the Gauquelin professional data. The reason for this has to do with the fact that Jupiter is "the revealer of truths", whether they are true or not. It is Jupiter's job to make you believe what he says is true and to make you follow him. This is why he is the guide, the priest, the lawyer, the actor, and the teacher. A second indication that Jupiter might be convincing as an actor comes from the fact that it is also lord of the 5th house, a place of entertainment and leisure. In addition, Jupiter is driven by a need to secure worth and value in his profession (Taurus on the 10th). So he doesn't just want to be an actor, he wants to be a quality actor that is in high demand. Whatever limitations he encounters in this house, they will come from his attempts to convince you he is someone of value.
So what's wrong with wanting to be a good actor? Nothing -- unless it happens to create the 8th. The Moon, which is co-present with Jupiter and rules the 12th house of imprisonment, is really at the root of why Jupiter becomes problematic in this case. The Moon represents the receptive principle and shows us what we take into ourselves from around us -- that is, what we become invested in and emotionally attached to. Because it is fast and repetitive, it creates habits and a sense of familiarity and comfort. It is in a partile opposition with Neptune in the 4th, that is, in the place of family and of the father. Neptune is about letting go of the ego and of the self to merge with something larger. Moon and Neptune together indicate an ease and receptivity to habitually lose one's sense of self. Together with Jupiter, this is a phenomenal combination for an actor. It means he has the capacity to leave himself easily (Neptune) and is perceptive enough about the world (Moon), to do it with conviction (Jupiter). Moon/Neptune also points to reflections of light, which often translates to work in cinema or photography, especially when at the angles of the chart, such as here. But it is a terrible combination for asserting one's willpower and identity because essentially one easily gives that up -- at least in his work.
So what we find with this Jupiter/Moon conjunction is that there is a strong emotional need to reveal to others and convince them that he can become someone else. Because Moon is at close degrees to a square with his ASC, it is likely that Downey learned to escape himself at an early age. We know that both Downey's parents took drugs and that his father was a famous director of cult art films, who introduced his son to drugs right around the same time that he was introduced to acting through his films. From wikipedia we read:
"As a child, Downey was 'surrounded by drugs.' His father, a drug addict, allowed Downey to use marijuana at age six, an incident which his father later said he regretted. Downey later stated that drug use became an emotional bond between him and his father: 'When my dad and I would do drugs together, it was like him trying to express his love for me in the only way he knew how.' "
When Downey was 6, his ASC was exactly squaring the Moon in this chart, thus confirming that this "acting" configuration is also linked to the source of his addictions. In other words, for Downey, becoming a different persona, bonding with his father, and taking drugs recreationally, are all echoes of the same cathecting experiences from childhood. It is no wonder then, that at the same time that the public adulation and the respect from his colleagues grew from his acting in the 1980s, his substance abuse also spiralled out of control. Group bonding is a large part of this acting dynamic because it echoes the family acting projects that he was exposed to as a child. You can see evidence of this in the fact that his 80s success involved an honorary inclusion as a member of the "Brat Pack" and that his current success involves his inclusion in the Marvel dream team of superhero films. While Downey can certainly carry any movie he sets his mind on, we can see that he's most comfortable in these types of collaborative projects. But all of this context would not be available to an astrologer if she were reading the chart without this history. We would simply have to trust in our rulership rule that the Jupiter/Moon/Neptune configuration was at the root of his anxiety and troubles and having the 6th year activation as a marker, work with him as a client to unearth this professional and family history dealing with those themes.
Now, let's finally look at that Saturn in Pisces in the 8th. Again, planets in the 8th represent attempts at solving the obsession, anxiety and turmoil of this house. Knowing that the problem was created from the need to transcend boundaries and definitions (Pisces), then it makes perfect sense that Saturn should be the planet to be placed here. Saturn is an attempt to bring back structure, discipline, boundaries, rules and definitions to a place that lacks them. Because it rules the 6th and 7th, we can assume that this attempt at discipline comes from others in his life, particularly from partners, co-workers and those living with him. We also see that Saturn is opposite Mars, Uranus and Pluto, a very volatile and erratic combination were it not for the support from the stilling nature of the Saturn opposition. The Saturn partile opposition to Uranus promises liberation from these disciplining efforts, given a lengthy struggle (Saturn is slow). Mars rules the 9th (laws) and 4th (homeland) and in this context, can indicate the state laws that are requiring that he break free from his attachments, resources and means of making a living (2nd). This is not an easy thing for him because as we've seen from 10th house Taurus, Downey's need for value comes from his occupation and status. But Pluto promises an eventual transformation of his personal sense of worth. Let's look at the timing to get a sense of how this plays out:
The Ascendant directed to an exact partile conjunction with Mars in 1998. This was right at the peak of the period that marked his troubles with the law (Mars rules 4 & 9), which lasted from 1996 to 2001. In 1999, the ASC directed to the Uranus/Saturn opposition. This was the first time (after several arrests) that he was given an actual prison sentence of 3 years. He ended up serving only one year and was released in 2000. But it was when the ASC directed to Pluto in 2003, that his 3rd wife (recall that Saturn rules the 7th) gave him an ultimatum that resulted in a complete transformation into his current state of sobriety. True to Saturn, these efforts did not come overnight. They were a long time in the making and required Downey to learn focus and discipline. Saturn, which is a planet of slow motion in the 8th house of idleness, argues for a need to become still and focused. He credits learning focus from a martial arts technique (Mars) called Wing Chun. In a letter to his sister, we can hear echoes (highlighted) of the Saturn/Uranus opposition: liberation through stillness:
"It is my newfound experience that in order to get things done, I must be still. When that is afforded by an imposed restriction (illness, weather, incarceration, generally being grounded), I now believe it is God’s way of giving you some true freedom to ‘catch up’ on what you need to accomplish … inwardly.”
If we were to examine the 8th house using only traditional techniques, the Moon would appear to us to be the most dignified planet in this chart and its conjunction in the 10th with Jupiter would argue in favor of good fortune in one's profession, from the mother and from women in general. However, while it is true that these two planets are largely responsible for his acting successes and accolades, they are also largely indicative of his excesses and lack of self-integrity when considered in the way we've outlined, something that would have been missed in a purely Hellenistic reading (that is, placing emphasis on planets in the houses rather than on rulerships). In terms of his 8th house misfortunes, traditionally examining Saturn in the 8th would have argued for losses, abandonment from the father, and probably a violent death. And while the family and the father in particular, were certainly factors in his drug addiction, addiction to drugs is specifically a modern disease that would never have been delineated from Saturn, given its contrary nature. In terms of how it played out in his life, it makes far more sense that this planet fall into a functional class of attempts to deal with the obsession, rather than be the indicator of it.
Study Case 3: Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer who liked to dismember and perform necrophilia on his victims. Knowing this a priori, makes it quite difficult to explore this chart and to study his biography. But his also happens to be a very technically informative chart with regard to 8th house dynamics. But before examining it, we need to understand that no chart ever prescribes acts of violence toward others. Charts are blueprints for a life. A blueprint for a house may, for example, prescribe a room that houses problematic winged creatures. Yet one builder following that blueprint may decide to house endangered butterflies, while another may decide to house killer, fire-breathing dragons. It is the same way with birth charts: we always have the freedom to select the diverse materials out of which to construct our earthly homes.
Dahmer has a Libra rising chart with Taurus on the 8th house cusp. We can start as we do with any sign on a cusp, by looking at what need that sign argues for within the context of that house's realm. Here, we can say that his obsession or anxieties in life (the 8th) have something to do with the need to attain security and a sense of attachment, because chances are, this was probably missing in his life. Since Venus is also placed in the 8th, it will try to create this sense of security and attachment by acquiring something from the 8th house. While there are a number of acceptable ways this could have expressed, for Dahmer, (who had other quite complicated psychological problems) it expressed as a macabre need to have sex and possess a morbid relationship with the dead (an 8th house signification). But because Venus also rules the 1st in his youth (via Libra), it will play a significant role in shaping his psychology.
Venus in its own sign and house is playing two roles in the 8th: 1) it is telling us how the obsession and turmoil are created; in this case out of a need for attachment, and 2) it tells us what he is doing to try to deal with it directly(because it is placed in that house). To have the source of the problem (Venus) trying to deal with it, is counterproductive, since it is basically fueling the problem that already exists. It is like leaving the fox in charge of the hen house. So having a planet in dignity by being in its own domicile, does NOT automatically result in fortuitous events, as both Hellenistic and Medieval astrology teaches us. Additionally, to say that this native has misfortunes due to women, (because Venus is in the 8th) would really miss the larger point. What Venus in Taurus does, is to create a sense of autonomy around the planet's actions that make it easier to achieve its goals. But if those goals result in harm, a dignified planet can just as easily create havoc and misfortune. This is a case in point.
But how did his attachment problems develop? First, we can speculate that Dahmer was probably already physiologically impaired before birth because his mother was taking 27 mind-altering drugs for all sorts of ailments including depression. But speaking more developmentally, Taurus relates to the need for attachment. According to attachment theory, we learn to negotiate our attachment needs to others between the ages of 2 months to 4 years, largely based upon our interactions with our mother. Dahmer's mother was sickly throughout the crucial attachment years and would refuse to hold her son for fear of passing germs to him. His father was pursuing a degree in chemistry and apart from being an alcoholic, was largely absent. This is shown by Saturn in the 4th (we noted a signature for an absent father as Saturn in the 4th in Marilynn Monroe's chart). So from birth, Dahmer spent most of his toddler years alone in his room.
We see that Dahmer has the Moon in a partile opposition to the ASC in Aries alongside Mars. Mars/Moon combinations tend to indicate difficulty being receptive and cathecting, often an inability to listen as well. Basically, Mars is cutting off the receptive principle, which leads to the severing of emotional investment. Dahmer learned early on to cut off his emotional needs and never really had a chance to learn to attach securely from his interactions (or rather the lack of them) with his mother. The Moon, along with an angular Saturn, argue for a very lonely existence as a child. One of his teachers confirmed this by writing on a report card that she suspected he suffered from emotional neglect. Venus ruling the 8th and placed there, certainly is suggestive of difficulties socializing and creating bonds.
There is another fascinating event that can be timed to the activation of this problematic Venus dynamic. It is chronicled in Biography.com:
"He was described as an energetic and happy child until the age of 4, when surgery to correct a double hernia seemed to effect a change in the boy. Noticeably subdued, he became increasingly withdrawn following the birth of his younger brother and the family's frequent moves. By his early teens, he was disengaged, tense and largely friendless."
By age 4, Dahmer's directed Ascendant had reached 22 degrees of Libra, in a partile quincunx with this natal Venus. As stated in the traditional literature, when medical matters are concerned, the 8th house connects to the private parts and the groin area in general. To have an opening quincunx (6th place angle) activate the ruler Venus in the 8th, can certainly support an illness in that area. But what makes this event significant is the fact that it seems to initiate Dahmer's cultivation of apathy and deliberate social withdrawal. Biographical reports about this event and how the family handled it, are scarce. We only know that right after the surgery, the boy became concerned that he had been castrated. Indeed, his father writes in his memoirs that Dahmer became a psychological victim of unresolved castration anxiety. But we don't have to subscribe to Freudian Oedipal theories to speculate that this event must have been extremely traumatizing to a 4 year old child who had previously (and subsequently) known little touch and affect from his parents. The activation of Venus in this house at this age probably did indicate a temporary atmosphere of closeness or concern, which for the neglected child, might have helped to teach him that love is available to those who give up their consciousness and private parts. His repressed need for attachment and possession would from here on out, express in the collection of dead animals as well as macabre sexual fantasies involving the control and possession of his victims. Dahmer stated that his first kill was unintentional and that he only did it because his victim wanted "to leave". Ownership, control and physical possession are all aspects of a Taurean need for attachment.
There is a lot more that can be said about this chart but it would take us far afield from the 8th. What I want to stress here is that any planet that rules the 8th will create problems, whether it is or is not accidentally or essentially dignified. The fact that Venus is in its own sign in the 8th, really exacerbates his 8th house problem, rather than making Venus more "fortunate". Dahmer's life is a real life example in just how much misfortune can actually be linked back to a dignified benefic.