The sixth house in astrology is a fun one, if you’re into discipline.
Let’s just get this out of the way up front: the sixth house is one of the places that reminds us that a balanced life is one that has crummy parts to it, but amidst the garbage we can still find diamonds in the rough.
A few weeks ago, I had a dream that was straightforward in its imagery but powerful in its implications. The dream found me in a conference room somewhere in the electric wilds of Tokyo (Akihabara, to be specific) delivering a lecture on horary astrology to a room full of entertainment executives who had flown me in to train individuals on their staff in the art of horary and elections for business purposes.
Final Fantasy creator Shironobu Hakaguchi was in the room, taking copious notes and asking an endless stream of questions. By the end of the dream he was so taken with the lecture that he invited me to elect the launch date and time of the next entry in the Final Fantasy series. It was a fun dream, to be sure, but this dream was made even more interesting by the fact that it was entirely in Japanese.
Now, in the waking world, my ability with Japanese is rudimentary, despite having been enamored with it since, oh, 1999. When I made that first puerile attempt to pick up the language I had no idea what I was getting into and the fervor of a young weeaboo could only take me so far. The only point of contact I had with learning a language was the old Berlitz “Japanese for Travel” cassette and phrase book sets that I could get from the library. I knew how to say good morning and ask where the bathroom was, but beyond that, I had no idea what a part of speech was, or how to conjugate, or what to do with word order.
Everywhere I turned I hit a brick wall, defeated, disappointed.
Twenty years on I now have the chops to learn a language, and those chops come from years of study, practice, and discipline. Ever since that dream, I’ve been throwing myself into the rigor, tedium, and reward of learning a difficult language from the ground up. 結果は成功しますよ。The work is bearing fruit, but that doesn’t make memorizing thousands of kanji or drilling conjugation forms any less labor-intensive.
This is our first point of contact for the sixth house in astrology.
I joked on Twitter the other day that the sixth house is “big D energy:” disease, drudgery, duty, discipline, and drive. This collection of meanings comes from a confluence of factors, just as we saw with the fifth house.
First, because the sixth house is cadent and in aversion to the ascendant, not only is it considered “ineffective,” but it also can’t connect with the place of the chart associated with life and vitality. For that reason, it has natural connections to illness, disease, and the process of falling away from vitality and activity.
Not everything can be sunshine and daffodils all the time, as much as the “love and light” folks want to make it out to be. Sometimes we get sick, y’all. We’re squishy organisms in a universe that, by and large, is not conducive to life unless you’ve got lead plating for skin. Disease is part and parcel of being human. We have to acknowledge that we have limitations, and the sixth house reminds us of the physical elements of these limits.
The second is that the sixth house is named the “house of Bad Fortune,” according to ancient authorities. The idea of “bad fortune” acknowledges that the accidents we suffer are not the effect of us “manifesting” ill fortune for ourselves; sometimes, shit happens. Chaos is part of the package of existing in a universe where chance and probability is an operating assumption, and there come times in your life where the odds are not in your favor.
However, bad fortune, illness, and injury are sometimes the result of us making poor decisions, using our authority, agency, and drive to put our health and wholeness into jeopardy. When we’re not exerting energy in a disciplined, focused, and honed manner, we’re often toeing the line of disaster. In this way, the sixth house is the part of the chart that describes the risks that are ready to strike when we’re not taking proper precautions, or when we’re a little too confident in our ability to avert fate.
People who were in “bad fortune” situations in the ancient world were often the unlucky people who had been captured and sold into slavery in Hellenistic society. Remember that slavery in the ancient world was quite unlike chattel slavery in the Americas (it was still slavery, though). In the Greco-Roman slavery model, masters had a moral and legal obligation to attend responsibly to the needs of the individuals who were part of their household, working on their masters’ behalf.
If we port this into a 21st century context, the connection here becomes obvious: people who work for us and workers themselves belong to the sixth house. It’s the house of the proletariat. It’s also the house of people for whom we are responsible who are not otherwise related to us by blood. The power dynamic is baked in.
The third factor is that the sixth house is the joy of Mars. Mars is naturally associated with illness, accidents, injuries, and explosive disasters: of all the planets who are wont to cause problems, Mars especially delights in discord, bringing it with him into battle wherever he shows up. For us to avert Mars’ disastrous impact through the lens of the sixth house, we need to build a relationship with his energies that is focused, disciplined, humbled, and honed through diligent application of effort and tedious practice.
Think about it this way: Mars, the ruler of fire and iron, delights to be in the forge. A forge is a hot, sweaty, sooty, dangerous, and tedious place to be; the blacksmith’s hammer pounds away into the night as they shape a chunk of crude iron into something that can be used. With each shower of sparks that flies off the glowing metal, the form of the tool comes more clearly into focus. What will it be? Will it be the blade of a sword? Of a kitchen knife? Will it be a blade at all—what if it’s a nail, or a horseshoe, or a key blank? We won’t know until the blacksmith has finished the work at the anvil and plunged the finished tool into a trough of water, after which the final form will be revealed in a burst of steam.
Even then, the work isn’t finished yet. The blade must be honed on a whetstone. The horseshoe must be fitted to the horse. The key blank must be fit to its lock.
That’s the real blessing of the sixth house: it’s our point of contact for the crappy, random things that happen in life. However, our response to those ill-fated accidents draws out some of the best of us, when we apply our energy appropriately. The situations and people that get filed in the slice of life that is the sixth house in astrology are elements that require us to step up to the plate and embody responsible effort on their behalf. They form the anvil on which we’re shaped into effective people.
Enduring the heat, soot, sweat, and labor of the sixth house forges us into stronger, more effective individuals.
How to interpret the sixth house
As always, there’s a series of questions to be asked when it comes to interpreting the sixth house in astrology, and the answer are determined by the planet ruling the sixth house, its placement and condition by house and sign, its connection to other planets, as well as any planets placed within the sixth itself. The usual suspects.
Here are the questions to ask:
- What parts of life become especially difficult for this person?
- To which kinds of diseases and injuries is this person especially susceptible?
- Where might a person best expend labor and responsibility to forge and hone themselves into more effective people?
- To whom or what is a person naturally responsible? What humbles them?
Let’s consider this example: a person has their sixth house cusp falling in the sign Cancer, meaning that the Moon is the ruler of their sixth. Their Moon is in late Sagittarius on the 11th house cusp, peregrine, applying to the conjunction of Saturn in Saturn’s term and face (for advanced readers, this means that there is some very light reception happening here, nothing too strong). We can answer the questions as follows, knowing that the Moon is also naturally the ruler of a person’s emotional center of gravity and coping skills.
- For this person, finding a place to call “home” relative to groups, friends, association, and community becomes especially fraught with difficulty. Not impossible, but it will take this person quite a bit of time to land in a community or circle of friends where they feel like they fit in and are able to form secure bonds.
- Sagittarius rules the hips, thighs, and buttocks (what I like to call “ye olde haunches”). This person will be susceptible to bone and joint problems in this part of the body, because of the sixth ruler’s conjunction to Saturn—and these will likely be injuries due to stiffness and lack of flexibility, or from wear and tear.
- This person can best expend their labor and responsibility to forge themselves into a more effective person through disciplining their interior emotional state and impulse to get the hell out of dodge (Sagittarius Moon) any time things start to go pear shaped. Being able to see things through to the end is a crucial growth point for them.
- This person is naturally responsible to their sense of identity within a collective setting (sixth ruler in the eleventh house in a fire sign). There’s an ideological and spiritual responsibility here too, considering the nature of Sagittarius as ruled by Jupiter. Because of the nature of the Moon-Saturn conjunction this responsibility is one that matures the native by driving them to nurture, protect, and bolster the people in their circles. They’re a consummate dad friend.
For the purposes of getting you started with the sixth ruler, let’s look at the ruler of the sixth house through each of the other houses. The question here is the third one in the list above: Where can I best expend labor and responsibility to forge myself into a more effective person?
I best forge myself into a more effective person through applying rigor and discipline to and through:
- Ruler of the sixth house in the first house: …my health, appearance, and overall circumstances. The disciplines of intense physical training are absolutely vital for my well-being and I become my best self through my body..
- Ruler of the sixth house in the second house: …my finances, resources, and ability to generate income for myself. I must learn how to keep a budget.
- Ruler of the sixth house in the third house: …my day to day environment, my siblings, relatives, and ability to keep my word. Learning to use something like a bullet journal and remembering to check in on my “lateral contemporaries” will keep me on the straight and narrow.
- Ruler of the sixth house in the fourth house: …my relationship with my parents and my efforts in maintaining a stable home environment, regardless of what “home” looks like in my case.
- Ruler of the sixth house in the fifth house: …my artistic endeavors and my “children,” whatever I’m putting out into the world that adds more energy and joy to life. “Enjoy responsibly” is my catchphrase.
- Ruler of the sixth house in the sixth house: …my ability to cultivate effective disciplines across all parts of my life, not just the particularities of other houses. Having another life to be responsible for, like a plant or a pet, will keep me focused.
- Ruler of the sixth house in the seventh house: …my relationship to those with whom I’m in formal one-on-one relationships, whether they are my romantic partner, business partner, or person with whom I’m in open conflict.
- Ruler of the sixth house in the eighth house: …my relationship with spending money and managing the resources of other people. I must learn to be responsible in where the outflow of my resources is directed.
- Ruler of the sixth house in the ninth house: …my search for illumination through higher education, learning, travel, and spirituality. A daily spiritual discipline such as prayer, meditation, lectio divina, or fasting can be tremendous for my overall well-being. Maybe try learning Japanese while you’re at it, too.
- Ruler of the sixth house in the tenth house: …my responsible use of power on behalf of those under my care in my professional life, and through ensuring that the impact I have on others is always in the best interests of my subordinates and the people I serve.
- Ruler of the sixth house in the eleventh house: …my connection to friends, groups, and associations, ensuring that I am responsible to the collective witness of my communities and chosen family.
- Ruler of the sixth house in the twelfth house: …my relationship to people who are suffering, isolated, or mired in sorrow, as well as my relationship with my own unconscious challenges or limiting beliefs. I must discipline my internal narratives.
Where are the places that you’re being asked to discipline yourself? How do you feel about that? It’s not fun, but we’re all in this together—I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Featured image by Robert van der Sluijs via Unsplash