Admittedly, my posture towards the third house has been one of, “…well, we can get to that later.”
On the surface, it’s such a grab-bag of significations throughout the astrological tradition that doesn’t lend itself well to focused interpretation in the way that, say, the second house does with money matters, or the tenth house does with career.
It never feels certain which direction to go when interpreting third house matters in the situation that a person presents you with in a nativity or in a horary question. Whenever we come to this part of the chart I have to take a beat and figure out how to use words again, because they often fail me.
Are we looking at siblings? Family? Paperwork? A short trip? What if the person doesn’t have siblings? What do we do with the third house then? Or if a concern is about a communication between a person and their relatives: what’s the issue with the third house here—is it communication, or is it relatives?
But in preparing this article I’ve come to a deeper understanding of what the third house is actually about, and if we break it away from the “third house equals Gemini equals communication” model that is prevalent in most of the beginner astrology books out there, it takes on a particular richness that is easily missed if one stays purely at the surface level.
Then again, that’s to be expected from a house that is cadent and under the earth: it’s easy to overlook.
The starting point for understanding the meaning of the third house is this: this house is known as “the joy of the Moon.” In the classical astrological tradition the joys of the planets were particular parts of the sky where it was understood that each planet “rejoices” to be in.
For example, Sun rejoices to be in the ninth house because when the Sun moves through the ninth house during the day his heat and brilliance are at their maximums. Mercury rejoices to be in the first house because it is the bridge between the realms of the invisible and the visible, the mundane and the sacred, the alembic in which the deep alchemy of life manifests its elixir.
For the Moon, this is the third house—the house which opposes the Sun’s joy in the ninth. If we break apart the tradition to look at how the third house sausage is made, we see quickly how the signification of a planet being “in its joy” imported that planet’s meanings into the house where it rejoices.
So, let’s start talking about the third house by not talking about the third house at all; let’s start with the Moon instead.
What then, is the Moon?
Deborah Houlding includes a compelling discussion on this subject in her book, Houses: Temples of the Sky (affiliate link) that I think bears drawing out here for sure. She describes the nature of tribal and community experiences in the ancient world as being deeply tied to the cycles of the moon, a facet of life together that most Westerners have lost touch with.
But consider: for the major world religions, the lunar cycle is one of the most important calendrical features, working in concert with the Sun to describe shared communal experiences of fasting and feasting. The dates of the Islamic month of Ramadan, the Jewish feast of Passover, and the Christian celebration of Pascha/Easter are all determined in large part by the Moon. And it is during these fasts and feasts that we see much more emphasis being placed on community togetherness and tribal celebration.
In my own tradition it’s something of a joke that Easter is the best-attended Sunday of the liturgical calendar. But if we take a step back to consider this from an astrological perspective, it’s almost as though this phenomenon is a literal manifestation of the symbolism here. This feast is carved into the wheel of the year by the Moon herself bringing people together as a tribe to celebrate an important component of tribal identity. The same is true of similar lunar feasts in other traditions. While this is an anomaly to the contemporary Westerner, in the ancient world these cycles of the Moon were part and parcel of living in communities with one another as individuals whose survival depended on maintaining tribal cohesion and identity.
We see that one of the first functions of the Moon is to gather and unite in a community what Deborah Houlding describes as “lateral contemporaries.” In the ancient world, your immediate lateral contemporaries were your siblings and relatives. They served as your peers, your colleagues, your coworkers, and the social medium in which you grew up and came to understand the world.
The second major function of the moon is to transfer, translate, and transmit: the prefix “trans-“ in all of these words suggests crossing lines to facilitate communication between parties who have no other means of talking to one another. Another application of this principle is the fact that the Moon, throughout traditional astrological literature, is viewed as “the transmitter of celestial influences,” with Guido Bonatti going so far as to call the Moon a “mediatrix”—a title Catholics know as one of the epithets of the Virgin Mary, who very quickly got packaged in lunar symbolism as Christianity expanded through the Middle East and into eastern Europe.
The reason for the moon’s status as celestial go-between is twofold: one, the Moon is changeable, adaptable, and fast as hell compared to the other seven visible planets, taking only 28 days to make it around the wheel of the zodiac once compared to the average year that it takes the next fastest planet, Mercury. She can get around. As she does, she picks up the influence of the planets she aspects and transfers that influence to everything else she encounters. She also serves as the intermediary between the realms of heaven and earth, and any celestial influence must get through her. Her carrying and gathering nature, combined with her immediacy, changeability, and direct visibility make her a fabulous medium.
The Moon as one of the natural significators of communication and the mind is one of the planets that we look at to describe a person’s ability to intuit information. In Egyptian mythology, the ibis-headed deity Thoth was associated not with the planet Mercury, but the Moon, and Thoth himself was regarded as the god of writing, magic, and wisdom. In like manner, the Moon performs these roles exceptionally; we often see the Moon placed well in the charts of individuals who are notable writers or communicators.
I’ll go off-script to note here that, yes, Mercury is associated with the mind as well, but primarily with the rational, thinking functions of the mind that discern, label, and assemble information into cognitive constructs. The Moon functions differently, instead representing the gathering and dissemination of information itself, often by force of intuition.
With all of this in mind, I want to suggest that the basic signification of the third house is “medium.”
Not “medium” as in the size, or a bleach-blonde woman from Long Island, but rather “medium” as in the field that facilitates communication, exchange of knowledge, and shared tribal experience. That is, what is meant by the word “media” in “social media.” For example: Twitter is a social medium.
Think of the average person in the ancient world: they lived a tribal existence, found their identity as part of a communal experience governed by the cycles of fasting and feasting dictated by the Moon, and were educated in such a way as to maintain tribal cohesion. The main people with whom they exchanged words, ideas, and concepts were their peers, namely their siblings, cousins, and neighbors (who were often one and the same).
We can see now how the third house has accreted this peculiar cluster of significations, then: as the Moon rejoices to be here, so matters of the third house take on her priorities. She travels quickly, gathering people into a community as she does so, using words, concepts, and daily activities to stir us into a shared experience. As she whips around the Earth she causes the ebb and flow of water across the planet, that medium without which no life as we know it can exist. All the while, she serves as a mediatrix between the immense and unknowable wisdom of the cosmos and the blessedly mundane situations we encounter in our day to day lives.
Now, let’s land the plane.
How to interpret the third house
Interpreting houses in astrology effectively is a matter of asking the right questions at the right time. Just as we asked, “who is driving the boat, where are they steering it to, and how good of a job can they do?” with the first house, we asked “where is the golden vein, and how easy is it to access?” with the second house. In like manner, we need to figure out what the right questions to ask with the third house are, but because of the span of this house’s meanings, we can go in several different directions.
When we’re looking at the third house in astrology, we’re asking this core question: What describes the medium in which you find the narrative of your life story unfolding? Think of what the Moon in her joy is doing: what processes of gathering, transferring, fluctuating, and communicating are playing out with you, and where are they taking place?
If you don’t have siblings in your life, who are your “bros?” Who are your neighbors? What kind of people are they?
What describes the media, both in terms of platform and style, with which you choose to communicate your own ideas and experiences?
Which aspects of your life find themselves occupying the collective mental energies of your zip code?
Which concerns fade into the background of your day to day life, shaping it from the shadows?
Because of the variable nature of the third house in astrology, it’ll be a little bit more difficult to give line-by-line delineations of the third house ruler throughout the houses, and your individual context is going to give shape and nuance to these interpretations that just isn’t possible within a blog post. But I’m going to give it my best college try!
Just to remind you of the significations again, the third house describes:
- your local zip (postal) code, your neighborhood, and places within commuting distance or “there and back in a day”
- people who live in your local zip code
- your siblings and close relatives, or people who fill those roles for you
- your day-to-day environment and its background processes
- communication style and priorities
- the fasting and feasting cycles of your local community, aka the tribal religion
Let’s think through an example. Say a person has their third house cusp in Taurus, with no other planets in the third house. The third ruler is Venus in this case, and Venus is in Pisces in the person’s first house in good condition in a night chart (so, Sun in Aries in the 2nd, this makes Venus a morning star and she’s bright, fast, visible, not afflicted by malefics, etc.).
- This person’s local zip code and neighborhood is a place of comfort and peace for them and they feel most “themselves” when they’re on their old stomping grounds.
- This person has strong relationships with the people who live in their neighborhood and delights in building relationships with their neighbors. They’re the kind of person who brings cookies or casseroles to new families on the block.
- This person, if they have siblings, enjoys a close and supportive relationship with them or with the individuals who fill that role in their life. They also feel that their siblings’ input is extremely important in helping them to “steer the boat” in the direction of successful overall outcomes.
- This person probably has a rich and luxurious day-to-day environment with a lot of comfort and ease in their background processes.
- This person has a communication style that is geared towards gentleness, pleasure, ease, and matters of the heart and spirit.
- This person probably maintains a strong connection to the faith tradition of their upbringing, even if they have gone through a deconstruction phase. Their practice of the tribal religion is sincere.
I’m kind of jealous of this fictive person, to be honest!
But remember that, because of the geometry of the zodiac, Venus is probably also their eighth house ruler, and so part of their experience of abundance and ease in life may be due to having come through to the other side of some deeply challenging experiences relative to death and poverty.
Suppose that this Mary Sue of an exemplar has Saturn in Libra in a night chart afflicting that Sun in Aries by an opposition. That’ll make things squirrelly for them during their Saturn returns; it’s likely that they had some serious engagement with poverty, or possibly had a serious illness (since Leo would most likely be the sixth house ruler here), and it’s as though this person has chosen to embrace the goodness of life because of the meaning and depth that experiences with suffering and loss gave them.
But I think this example illustrates the richness of the third house in astrology, one which it is so easy to overlook if we just leave it at “third house equals Gemini equals communication.” It sets the milieu for a person’s experience of daily living, and that’s not something to be minimized. There’s a narrative component here.
To move forward with interpretation, let’s bring it back to the idea of narrative and the story you’re telling through the medium of your life. This is tentative, so your mileage may vary:
The planet that rules the third house placed through the houses: what are the priorities of the local community in which your narrative takes place?
Planets placed within the third house: which aspects of your life demand that you share your experience of them with your local community?
- Third house ruler in the first house: the priorities of the local community in which your narrative takes place fall on you, the individual in question. Whether this takes the form of support or strife is dependent on the nature and condition of the planet, as always!
- Third house ruler in the second house: the priorities of the local community in which your narrative takes place fall on matters of material resources and financial security; in other words, ensuring that there’s enough to go around.
- Third house ruler in the third house: the priorities of the local community in which your narrative takes place fall within maintenance of the community itself and preservation of tribal practices, narratives, and identity.
- Third house ruler in the fourth house: these priorities fall within maintaining lineage and leaving a legacy, honoring forebears, or establishing a locally rooted place. Your siblings will stay close to home here and there’s a strong center of gravity pulling you towards home.
- Third house ruler in the fifth house: these priorities fall within the realm of creativity, sensuality, generation, children, and nurturing new things. The words “artists’ commune” come to mind.
- Third house ruler in the sixth house: priorities fall within maintaining physical integrity and health, and a sense of responsible service to those in positions of power.
- Third house ruler in the seventh house: priorities fall within establishing and maintaining individual relationships.
- Third house ruler in the eighth house: priorities fall within dealing with the unavoidable factors of death, debt, fear, and taxes. This placement could suggest the loss of a sibling or the loss of connection to a local community.
- Third house ruler in the ninth house: priorities fall within the usual ninth house suspects: travel, expansion of horizons, philosophy. You might have a sibling or relative who is a clergy person, or a professor, or who moves to a foreign country. Or, home for you might be a place you moved far away from.
- Third house ruler in the tenth house: priorities of the local community fall within the realm of achievement and performance. One way to spin this is working in communications, but another way to understand this placement is that your immediate associations are focused on high achievement (I’m thinking of what we call “gifted education” in the States).
- Third house ruler in the eleventh house: priorities of the local community fall within the realm of friends and good fortune. It may be that you identify your friends as more akin to siblings than your actual siblings, if you have them.
- Third house ruler in the twelfth house: this one is tricky, as always. What I’m imagining here is that when you think of “local community” or your experiences with your neighborhood there’s a sense of imprisonment and limitation in how you understand them, but it may be that such a limitation exists in your life as an avenue for integration. It may also just mean that you and your siblings don’t have a relationship to speak of.
What’s the milieu for your story? What’s the medium in which your plot unfolds? Let me know in the comments!
Featured image by Ferenc Horvath via Unsplash
6 thoughts on “How to Interpret Houses in Astrology — Part 4: The Third House”
Thank you SO much for this. It’s funny cause I’m a Pisces rising, so your fictional example was perfect for me 🙂 I’ve struggled a lot with understanding the 3rd house and this post is unbelievably helpful!
Thanks so much, Cari!
MUCH APPRECIATED!! I’m an amateur astrologer and you have helped me engage with the 3rd House more properly.. it has been a murky one for me for some time!!
Wow. Your explanation of the third house gave me such a better understanding of the spectrum of energies held there. I have the moon and Pluto there. Your explanation of the moon’s role made so much sense to me when I connect it to how I have moved through this lifetime. And throwing Pluto into the mix shows me why I am deeply drawn to matters of tribal connection, soul growth, and preservation.
Communicator, medium, etc works for me. Sun/Jupiter and Mars/Mercury in the 3rd, not to mention Juno, and depending on which house cusps you use, Chiron. 6 siblings, journalist, local news, speaker, writer, community organizer, radio station manager, teacher in my career. Virgo ascendant, so Mercury in the 3rd is the ruler of my chart by some methods. Mercury is also opposite MC (Taurus) at 28 Scorpio.
Thank you for these great insights. Your explanations have made this house so much clearer. Wishing you a happy 2021.