Where do we come from, and when all is said and done, where is it that we shall return? What is the source and summit of our sojourn through life? What is our center of gravity?
These weighty matters are the purview of the fourth house in astrology.
But before we get too far into the weeds, it’s time for a useless piece of information that I find delicious.
そっこんは、日本語をならいます．(I’m learning Japanese right now). In numerous east Asian cultures, Japan included, the number four is associated with death, partly because the number four (四, pronounced shi in Japanese, except when it’s pronounced yon) sounds like the word for die (死, also pronounced shi). Considering where we’re about to go with the meaning of the fourth house, you might want to keep this in your back pocket.
Unlike the third house, which derives its meanings from the planet that joys therein (namely the Moon), the fourth house in astrology derives its meaning from its astronomical features. No planet joys in an angle, save Mercury in the first, who strides across the realms of death and life with fleet feet, bridging the matter and spirit as a psychopomp.
The other three angular houses derive their meanings from the way in which planets encounter turns in their diurnal courses there. Remember that these angles are, to the ancient mind, the four stakes upon which the world is founded.
In quadrant-based house systems, the fourth house is centered around the lowest possible point in relation to the Zodiac, called the imum coeli, literally “the bottom of the sky.” This point marks the cusp of the fourth house. In sign-based systems, the fourth sign counter-clockwise from the ascendant fulfills this role.
This point is as far below the earth a planet can descend before it begins to ascend once more. If you’re standing in the middle latitudes of the northern hemisphere and facing south (i.e., facing the midheaven), the imum coeli, is under your feet and behind you a little. In middle and tropical latitudes, this point generally falls within the fourth sign from the ascendant as well.
The IC is as far out of your field of vision as it can possibly be. Planets at this point are hidden deep within the earth, but because they take their position at one of the celestial stakes, planets placed here have a subtly stunning impact on the unfolding of the narratives promised by a chart.
This point is a turning point. The transition that occurs here is one that is subtle, invisible to mortals on the surface, known only to those who understand that an uncanny transition from death to life begins at this point.
It’s worth noting that the Latin term “medium coeli,” which refers to this point’s opposite point in the visible sky, is not, as you might expect, called “cacumen coeli” or “apex coeli,” either of those meaning “top” or “highest point” of heaven. The ancients understood the place where planets reach their heights as primarily the middle of the sky, where planets were at their most visible and influential (beside the ascendant).
The base of heaven, then, is not just the lowest point—it is also the terminal point where the journey of a planet around the sky according to the diurnal march of the heavens around the celestial sphere end their journey and begin a new one. In this sense, the IC and the fourth house form the alpha and omega point, the beginning and the end.
The mythic power of the fourth house is floating right on the top of this soup of symbolism.
Dane Rudhyar, the 20th century astrologer and composer, evocatively described the fourth house as “the center of the globe,” that is, the center of gravity. Our center of gravity. The point draws our attention to the planet on which we stand, its gravity, its cycles, the raw material from which our experience emerges and unto which we will return. “Ashes to ashes.”
The fourth house symbolizes our center of gravity and everything upon which our experience of this lifetime stands; it is our point of deepest sustenance. Bernadette Brady, a British astrologer, describes planets and stars tied to the imum coeli as related to our “foundations,” fixtures that ground us and root our entire experience.
Because of its location, the meanings of the fourth house are shot through with the myths of the underworld. When I say “underworld” here, I don’t mean the fire-and-brimstone realm that is the darling of so many fundamentalist Christians. In fact, this version of “hell” is largely a medieval rhetorical invention that borrowed heavily on the description of a place called Tartarus which Vergil’s Aeneid described and which Dante Alighieri and those who followed in his footsteps so colorfully and horrendously describe in art and verse. What I mean, rather, is Hades, what the Hebrews called Sheol.
The early Christian conception of the underworld was much more in line with the Jewish view they inherited, itself influenced in large part the Greek understanding of Hades which was in the drinking water of the Mediterranean basin in the first century CE. In this view, the underworld is not a place of conscious torment, but rather a prison, a gravitational well.
That which laid in the grave was inert: “the grave cannot praise thee, Death cannot celebrate thee,” sang the psalmist. However, in the Easter mythos, the underworld is emptied of its dead as all its inhabitants are raised to new life at the resurrection of Christ, the great turning of the world—which unfolds at the cosmic imum coeli, the point where death pivots into life.
This myth has a similar flavor to other dying-and-rising myths found around the Mediterranean basin during astrology’s heyday. Because so many stories from around the world have subterranean dying-and-rising baked in, there’s a thread to pull here.
I’d go so far as to conjecture that every human narrative has some form of dying-and-rising experience. In that sense, the fourth house serves as the setting for the unfolding of that turn in our personal mythology. Keep in mind that the fourth house and the eighth house, which describes death, are configured to one another by a trine.
It is at the imum coeli that the roots of the world tree run their deepest; it is at the imum coeli that the waters under the earth gather as they flow from cloud to spring to mountain to ocean. It is in the bowels of the underworld that death is changed to life as all life flows there through its course. That which returns to the grave is transformed into the raw material of new life. The cosmic cycle begins anew.
The Astrological Meaning of the Fourth House
Ultimately, the fourth house in astrology describes the places we come from, and the place that we will return at the end of it all. It’s our source, our summit, our center of gravity. And for that reason, the fourth house picked up three primary significations:
The first is our roots, specifically our parents and the legacy that we inherited from them (and that we inherit from the living in general). Our parents are the closest humans to us, and we emerged from them, as humans emerged from the Earth (figuratively). The peculiar relationships we have with our parents are described by the nature and condition of planets involved with the fourth house, whether the house’s ruler or any planets placed therein.
The second is our home, both in the sense of the place that comes to mind when we think of “home” but also our daily dwelling place—so, our actual house or apartment. That’s because the home is our daily center of gravity; it’s where we depart in the morning to attend to our daily activities, it’s where we return to sleep in the evening, and it serves as the center of gravity around which our day-to-day activities revolve.
The third is the land, for all the reasons I cited above. We gain our sustenance from the land, our bodies transform material that is drawn out of the earth into our embodied life, and upon our death, we return to the land. Because of the connection to the land, we can also see how any matter related to the land is signified by the fourth house: material resources, real estate, speculative assets.
Sidebar: in horary astrology, there’s one additional signification that gets thrown around when the fourth house is highlighted in a chart. That signification is the “end of the matter.” Often folks want to go here to determine what the final outcome of a question is, but that’s not quite what this Jacobean turn of phrase means. Rather, this phrase signifies the legacy that a question will leave for the person who asks it, and the ripple effects that a given course of action will have for those who come after them.
How to interpret the fourth house in astrology
Given the three major significations I laid out, we’ll be looking at three primary questions when it comes to dealing with the matters of the fourth house:
- What is this person’s relationship to their parents and ancestors, and what will they pass on to those who come after them? In other words, what psychic baggage did they inherit from their parents, and how will they adapt, transform, and heal that psychic baggage to hand it on to those who come after them?
- What its this person’s relationship to home? Where is their center of gravity? Are they fixed in one place, or do they have a fire under their tail that drives them from one place to another? Are they given to settling or constant motion?
- What is this person’s relationship with the land itself? Do they feel a connection to the land on which they walk, or do they travel through their unique geography as a sojourner?
Remember that the ruler of a house expresses its purposes among the affairs of the house that it is placed in and in accordance with the style and priorities of the sign in which it falls. How well or poorly a planet can do its job depends on its condition. (Do I sound like a broken record on this point yet?)
Meanwhile, planets placed in the fourth house have a direct impact on a person’s relationship to those three areas spelled out above.
Let’s look at an example. Say that a native has Virgo rising, with their IC falling in Sagittarius in the fourth sign (keeping it easy here). In this case, their fourth house ruler is Jupiter. Suppose their natal Jupiter is in Virgo, right in the first house. This suggests that their connection to their parents is deeply influential to them, sitting right on the steering wheel of their chart. This ensures that they live up to the expansively scrutinizing standards of their parents becomes a major theme throughout their life, and something which they as a parent will pass on to their children.
Likewise their relationship to their physical house and dwelling place is of the nature of Jupiter in Virgo: they have a deep, abiding desire to have a house to call home but it may be that other factors in their life, possibly their marriage partner’s job (since Jupiter is also the 7th ruler, as well as the turned 10th ruler) prevents them from being able to own a home and put down roots in the way that they would truly prefer. Finding a place to settle down will require a herculean effort and it’s likely that having to pack up and move every so often will simply be part of their life narrative. When it comes to maintaining their home, only perfection suffices: they have an overblown standard of cleanliness, and heaven forfend anyone leave their crap laying around.
The ruler of the fourth house through the houses
- Fourth house ruler in the first house: your parent’s desires and expectations, your relationship to your dwelling place, and your level of engagement with the land all have an unyielding influence on your personality and your attempts to create the best circumstances for yourself. It might be difficult for you to differentiate from your parents if your fourth ruler is afflicted, but if it’s in good condition, this may suggest that you enjoyed a wonderfully supportive upbringing that has carried you into adulthood.
- Fourth house ruler in the second house: your relationship to parents, home, and the land is as a resource to you that you can access to support overall outcomes in your life. If this planet is well-placed it can indicate that you’ve got access to estate; if poorly-placed, home can become a money pit.
- Fourth house ruler in the third house: you’ve likely never strayed far from home, and your old stomping grounds are probably still your current stomping grounds. You find a sense of family identity especially among your siblings and lateral contemporaries.
- Fourth house ruler in the fourth house: you’ve got roots that run deep and you know precisely who you are and where you came from. You don’t need the Disney musical to tell you who you are, and carrying on that legacy to the next generation is a major part of your sense of identity and purpose.
- Fourth house ruler in the fifth house: home is a source of fun and creative drive for you. Your relationship you’re your parents was likely pleasant and supportive, depending on how well the planet that rules the fourth is doing here.
- Fourth house ruler in the sixth house: home, family, and the land are areas where you feel a certain sense of drudgery and responsibility. This may manifest as being asked to return home to care for an ailing parent when your fourth ruler is activated by timing techniques, or it may signify that you work within the family business.
- Fourth house ruler in the seventh house: your sense of home and center of gravity is tied up in forward motion and it’s very unlikely that you’re one to stay in a single place for a long time. One of the reasons for this is that, in relocation horary questions, the 4th house is “stay” and the 7th house is “go.” This could also mean that you are more likely to follow your partner’s career and call wherever they land “home,” because for you, there’s a good chance that “home” is where your partner is if this is the case. (This is my 4th ruler placement, by the way.)
- Fourth house ruler in the eighth house: you have a strong sense of what it is that you inherited from your family, and it is a present possibility that there is some element of fear or loss connected to the story of your upbringing. Interpreting that story in life-giving ways then becomes part of your own dying-and-rising myth.
- Fourth house ruler in the ninth house: home is far away, either far away from where you grew up or far away from where you are now. The land you tread serves as a teacher and a spiritual nexus for you as well.
- Fourth house ruler in the tenth house: your family and land story plays out in the actions you take for which you are most remembered, whether within the context of your career or the ways in which the legacy you inherited from your parents drives your public actions.
- Fourth house ruler in the eleventh house: home and lineage is a source of good fortune for you, and you find yourself among friends when people know who your parents were (or among enemies, if the fourth ruler is afflicted here). Pay attention to the way that stories from your upbringing play out anew among your friends, groups, and chosen family.
- Fourth house ruler in the twelfth house: distance. Distance between you and your roots, you and your parents, you and the land on which you tread. Bridging that gap of isolation requires long, thoughtful, considered effort, and can be wildly fruitful if the condition of the planet so promises. The other niche interpretation is a strong connection to livestock and animal husbandry, but that’s going to be fairly unusual.
Where’s your fourth house ruler? What’s its condition? How do you see the story of your fourth house playing out in the overall arc of your story? Let me know in the comments!
Featured image by Jared Rice via Unsplash