In the spirit of the eighth house, let me get this out of the way at the beginning:
There are forces in your life over which you have no control. You can only control how you respond to these inevitable influences. The eighth house deals with powerful forces which lie beyond the ken of our ability to manage or mitigate, and the attendant emotions that those forces conjure within us.
It’s time to talk the Unavoidables: death and taxes.
Understanding the eighth house in astrology
The reality is that most people in contemporary Western culture don’t know how to talk about death.
At least, they don’t know how to talk about death in any kind of helpful capacity. We fight it. We fear it. Rather than learning to greet Death as an old friend (who does not have the final word), we resist, we fight, or worst of all, we ignore it. We consent to be left on ventilators while our bodies wither away—or rather, we make that decision on behalf of loved ones who cannot make that decision for themselves.
We ignore making a living will and durable power of attorney because we have somehow convinced ourselves that debilitating accidents, even death, couldn’t possibly happen to us. We chase after treatments and medical interventions that prolong life at the cost of quality of life. We’re afraid to admit that there comes a point at which our life will be demanded of us. Whose then will our power and resources belong to?
Step one to dealing with the eighth house is acknowledging the fact that you will die. And I think we could all do with a little more death positivity. Attempts to control, ignore, or subvert death serve only to delay our bodies’ inevitable return to the dust of the earth.
“Nate, this is kind of heavy.”
You’re right, it is. And I need to start with this conversation because the eighth house has death as one of its primary indications. It exists as part of the wheel of celestial life as much as profession, money, creativity, and love; every planet travels through the house of death on its way through the sky.
The ancients observed the way that planets fall from the midheaven, through a season of quiet sagacity in the 9th, through a period of deep ineffectiveness in the eighth. They then reach the seventh house and the descendant, where they are re-joined to the earth to begin the cycle of resurrection anew.
However, this period of deep ineffectiveness, as opposed to the angular dynamism of the seventh house, is why matters of death belong properly to the eighth. Because of the directionality of the celestial sphere, the eighth house was called epikataphora in Greek texts, which simply means “lowering down to the ground.” This implies active lowering, not simply things that are being allowed to fall: the eighth house is succedent and actively moving towards the seventh.
Death (and debt, as well as fear and power) is something endured, something which actively engages, something to which one is subject. It lies outside our control.
The cultures that developed and codified astrological techniques understood this motion of the heavens intimately. To be sure, grief, loss, and mourning have always been part of human experience, but the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Hellenistic Greeks from whom we inherit our astrological tradition in the West had the benefit of cultural technologies that allowed them to engage more deeply and more meaningfully with death. In fact, the goal was to maintain such an awareness of death that it enabled one to have a good death.
Historically a “good death” was not what we imagine in our modern western medical model, viz., quick, gentle, and painless at the end of a full life; a “good death” was a death that was preceded with enough time to settle one’s affairs and settle up with God (whichever facet of God that may have been). This would, of course, have included attending to matters of inheritance and succession, but it also would have provided time to ensure that appropriate rituals were in order to assure one’s passage into the next life and to prepare adequately for the resurrection.
“Preparing adequately for resurrection” is not the exclusive purview of Christians, mind you. A brief glance at the funerary technologies of Egypt demonstrate that the idea that consciousness continues after bodily death has been a long-standing part of human experience. But if one remains willfully ignorant of one’s own mortality, naturally one’s patterns will not be given to preparation for a good death.
The second primary consideration of the eighth house, at least from the traditional Western astrological perspective, is “other people’s money.” This signification is derived from the fact that the eighth house is the second house in relation to the seventh house, which, as we saw previously, represents the Other. Some writers suggest that the eighth represents “money held in common,” but I would counter that “money held in common” is not really one’s own money, is it?
Eighth house money is money that can be accessed only vis-à-vis other people. It of course suggests money one would receive by entering into contract with a lender or creditor (the seventh house again, which implies the contractual nature of that relationship). This also suggests that this is money that you would have to ask for from someone else. For instance, when one is judging a horary question as to whether they’ll receive the money they’re owed, judgment is taken from the eighth.
Moreover, because of the eighth house’s extant connection with death, this also has obvious connection to inheritances received from the dead, and the “wills, legacies and testaments of Men deceased” (Lilly, 54).
In short, if the money is not in your bank account, it’s eighth house money.
The third main consideration we need to keep in mind when interpreting the eighth house in astrology is this: death and taxes are fearsome. I specifically use the word “fearsome” here because, to be sure, death and taxes elicit a fear response. We have, however, lost the more positive connotations of the word “fear” amid the sea of self-improvement jingo that possesses discourse around emotive realities.
Think of the phrase, “the fear of God.” For some of you this might trigger some uncomfortable feelings, but stay with them for a beat. In this context, what is meant is not “fear” as in “being afraid of,” but “fear” as in “reverence for a power which is greater than you.”
Part of working with the eighth house, its ruler, and planets in the eighth house in astrology is understanding that those significators are inviting particular parts of your life into a relationship of reverence for powers that are greater than you, powers which you have no control over—powers which can, indeed, undo you if you do not handle them with due reverence.
When I was sixteen, I had to go to the Prince William County Courthouse to receive my driver’s license in a formal ceremony with about thirty of my peers. We did not simply go to the DMV, pass the test, and get it on our birthday. The presiding judge, robed and seated at the bench, called each of us up one by one to receive our licenses directly from his hand. As he slid the plastic rectangle into each of our hands, he reminded us to maintain proper reverence for the power that we now had.
Indeed, putting a sixteen-year-old at the helm of a 3,000 pound piece of metal hurtling down the road at 70 miles an hour should rightly be a fearsome thing. This exchange reminded us that we are not greater than the laws of physics, and each of us had a responsibility—to ourselves and to the general public—to use our newfound access to power to drive safely. We now had access to power.
This is why it is absolutely crucial that we recognize that death is not always the primary signification of the eighth house; it is, rather, the intersection of our lives with fearful power.
Excuse me while I get on my soapbox for a moment.
The challenges of using judgments on the eighth house well is the reason why it is especially important for astrologers to get it right when it comes to understanding our own relationship to power. As astrologers, we have access to data that must be interpreted soundly through good technique and sensibly through good people skills.
Individuals turn to astrology not because everything is going right in their life, but because there is a measure of dissatisfaction, fear, or difficulty with this or that life process. To be sure, sometimes the situations are self-inflicted through patterns of poor decision making on the client’s part, but sometimes life is just hard, grief and loss are real, and wealth distribution is horrendously imbalanced. Lilly reminds the student of astrology to deliver difficult judgments by degrees and not to add to the misery of those who have come to the astrologer seeking help.
But at the same time, we do our clients an incredible disservice if we gloss over the fact that there are events in life that are rightfully fearsome, factors which lie outside our control. We have more agency than we believe in navigating challenges, and yet, our agency remains limited by factors external to ourselves.
The call here is for the astrologer to understand that they have access to power that does not lie totally within their control. The responsibility of an astrologer is to use the ability they have wisely and diligently for the aid of those who have come to us for help. If we are only astrologers because we are seeking power for its own sake, we will be consumed by it. This isn’t only true of astrology; it’s true of the human condition.
”But what about sex? I thought that was an eighth house topic!”
“But la petite mort—”
“But modern astrology and Freud—”
Sex belongs to the fifth house in the classical Western tradition of horoscopic astrology, et in saecula saeculorum amen, alleluia.*
“Your strong opinion on this is making me feel bad and I disagree!”
I’m sorry you feel that way! You’re welcome to disagree with me—that doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does it mean I think any less of you. Just know that eighth-house-as-sex is not supported by the bulk of the available literature, and the deathliness of the eighth house makes it thematically contradictory to the sensory delight, enjoyment, and fun that are part and parcel of sex. Note the asterisk on the last declaration, too.
“Okay, fine, geez. So how do I interpret the eighth house in my chart?”
How to interpret the eighth house in astrology
Many of the traditional judgments on the eighth house dealt primarily with the manner of death a native was going to endure and their economic picture as far as inheritances or dowries. I’m going to leave those off for now because the last thing Internet Astrology needs is more out-of-context judgments on such matters floating around higgledy-piggledy.
Instead, I’m simply going to offer these two starting points for judging the eighth house:
The location of the eighth house ruler by house signifies where one experiences being subject to intractable power.
The second is like unto it:
Planets placed in the eighth house express the topics belonging to the houses they rule through one’s engagement with power, fear, and the unavoidable.
For example, say that the eighth house cusp in a chart falls in Pisces. This makes Jupiter the ruler of the eighth house; engagement with matters of power, fear, and the unavoidable, then, is closely attuned with matters of faith (which is the natural character of Jupiter). Jupiter, in this example, is placed in the eleventh house in Gemini in a day chart. Jupiter then expresses the matters of the eighth house through matters of fidelity, aspirations, friends, groups, and community. Remember that Jupiter in Gemini has his powers attenuated, as though he must travel through the world in disguise.
We might surmise in this instance that one’s closest friends and sense of values emerge from a community that comes together to wrestle with a common experience of loss, death, or fear. This chosen family becomes a significant source of support (financial or otherwise) in the individual’s life.
For another example: say an individual has their natal Sun in their eighth house in Virgo, ruling the seventh house cusp. The Sun, of course, represents the native’s essential life motivation, which in this case, because the Sun rules the seventh house, is deeply tied to matters of partnership. However, because the Sun is in the eighth, it has trouble expressing itself adequately, and matters of partnership will be situations where the native feels like they are encountering powers far beyond their control.
That’s all you need to start with to begin working with the eighth house, to be completely honest: an understanding of your own limitations, and where the powers greater than you exist in your life. If you can access those powers responsibly and with utmost fear, you’ll be able to cultivate a relationship with death and financial obligation that empowers you to experience soulfulness and depth throughout life.
Here’s a house-by-house breakdown of eighth house ruler placements to get you started thinking (and as always, there is way more that a full consultation with me can add for context):
- Eighth house ruler in the first house: fearsome power rests in claiming my own vitality and agency, and I might feel that I am beyond my own control.
- Eighth house ruler in the second house: fearsome power rests in my relationship with my finances and resources.
- Eighth house ruler in the third house: fearsome power rests in my local neighborhood, siblings, communication, and powers of mind.
- Eighth house ruler in the fourth house: fearsome power rests in my family legacy and what I inherited from my ancestors.
- Eighth house ruler in the fifth house: fearsome power rests in my creative potential, sexuality, and love of aesthetic beauty.
- Eighth house ruler in the sixth house: fearsome power rests in my engagement with discipline, responsibility, and the people for whom I feel responsible.
- Eighth house ruler in the seventh house: fearsome power rests in the Others who engage with me.
- Eighth house ruler in the eighth house: fearsome power rests in my own reflections on the Unavoidables and healthy engagement with death, loss, and grief throughout my life. (This is a signification of, perhaps, someone who has a deep understanding of the fearful majesty of death and gives Sister Death her proper regard).
- Eighth house ruler in the ninth house: fearsome power rests in my search for knowledge, truth, wisdom, and illumination, as well as in any capacity in which I am a distributor of wisdom.
- Eighth house ruler in the tenth house: fearsome power rests in the impact of my conscious actions on the world around me and I am known as someone with access to power, for good or for ill (either that, or you’re a funeral director or CPA).
- Eighth house ruler in the eleventh house: fearsome power rests in my relationship with chosen family and my aspirations.
- Eighth house ruler in the twelfth house: fearsome power rests in my engagement with matters of sorrow, isolation, retreat, and all matters hidden.
Where’s your eighth house ruler? How do you experience fearsome power? Leave a note in the comments below, and if you want to dive deeper into your relationship with power, fear, and the Unavoidables, book a consultation with me!
*The one exception is if the eighth ruler is in the fifth, or vice versa; judge accordingly. In this instance, sex may indeed be a source of fear or even shame until such a time as benefic transits/progressions/revolutions involving those rulers take some of the pressure off.