What is your matter of ultimate concern?

What is most important in your life? How do you derive value, meaning, soulfulness, and depth from your experiences, and what structures do you employ to make those values and meanings come alive in your day-to-day experience?

Who teaches you? Who are your mentors?

In short, what illuminates your life?

These are the questions we’re asking when we come to the ninth house in astrology. This part of the chart is my peculiar specialty, considering my life and livelihood as an astrologer, a priest, and a student of the world’s religious traditions.

A little philosophy goes a long way

The German theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich uses the phrase “matter of ultimate concern” to describe the factor or factors in our lived experience that compel us forward and give shape, meaning, and depth to our understanding of both ourselves and our world. In Tillich’s view, the content of one’s religious beliefs belongs to this category. Note that the word “concern” here is not meant in its sense of “worry,” but rather “matter for discussion,” or “topic,” or “interest.”

We can, however, expand that outward to look at whatever it is in our lives that gives us a sense of narrative cohesion. What’s most important to us? What stories, events, and life-ways are especially meaningful for us? What is the nature of our relationship with those stories, events, and life-ways?

Tillich’s label of “ultimate concern” is an apt starting point for discussing the ninth house, because throughout the astrological corpus of the West (with some corroboration from the Jyotish tradition as well), the ninth house has had a tight association with the question of religion, spirituality, illumination, dreams, and wisdom.

Yes, it’s got something to do with travel, too, but we’ll get to that presently.

Where the ninth house gets its meanings

The ninth house derives its meanings primarily from its status as being the joy of the Sun. Of all the places in the sky, the Sun most delights to be here. Simple daily experience will corroborate this, because when the Sun is falling away from the midheaven in the mid-afternoon, we experience his heat and brightness at their maximum.

This is the part of day when meteorologists advise us to double up on sunscreen and eye protection if we must be out and about. It’s the time of day when we see our world with the most sensory clarity. It’s the time of day our world is illumined most brightly.

Additionally, for the Sun to be the ruler of the ascendant vis-à-vis Leo and to be placed in the 9th house means that it is likely to be in Aries, resulting not only in a Sun who is in his joy but likewise his exaltation (I know several people with this configuration, and they are exactly the way you’d expect them to be).

Of course, given the Sun’s status throughout human history as “the big bright thing that fuels the engines of life,” a natural association developed between the Sun and concepts of the transcendent, namely, that which is bigger than us and upon which we depend. The Sun, to wit, is a figure of the sky father that imbues the earth with life; it’s a simple step from there to concepts of “god.”

If the Sun imports its natural significations to the ninth house, then it’s easy enough to figure out how the ninth house became associated with such matters as religion, philosophy, law, and our relationship thereto. Those are easy enough.

I would add, however, that the ninth house is not the only house that speaks to spirituality; if you recall the post on the third house, remember that the third house’s emphasis on communal observation as governed by the cycles of the Moon import a dynamic spiritual element to that part of the chart as well.

The difference between the third and the ninth house is this: while the third house is focused on communal experience of spirituality (really, communal experience of anything, inclusive of spirituality), the ninth house represents an individual’s engagement with spiritual life and praxis, in accordance with the nature and condition of its ruler.

Let’s bring this back to the concept of illumination and the single-pointed nature of the Sun. The question asked here is, “what do I believe? How do I make meaning? What people, processes, and stories illuminate my life?”

One of the other things that the ninth house governs is matters of higher education. Naturally, this also has ties to illumination, because the process of higher education is a process of expanding one’s horizons of what is known (such a ninth house keyphrase!) by undertaking a course of study under the guidance of a teacher. Anyone who illuminates us or serves as an illuminating solar figure in our life can be assigned to the ninth: clergy for sure, but also lawyers, teachers, professors, and so forth.

“Wait, why law?”

Think of the Sun as the cosmic judge (at least within the context of the tropical zodiac—that’s a diversion we don’t have time for right now). The Sun’s light shows things as they appear through means of sensory apprehension, objectively, and without bias. Such non-bias allows the Sun to adjudicate issues well. If in a horary chart about a court case the Sun is in the tenth (or the ninth) house and not in poor condition, chances are very good that the judge’s decision and the verdict of the jury will be just.

“But what about travel and the ninth house? My horoscope columnist says Jupiter in my ninth means I should go on trips!”

Sure, okay. Yes, the ninth house has associations with distant travel, namely, trips that you need to plan for and won’t be able to come home from quickly. But where does that meaning come from?

Think back to the ancient world: if you were an everyday person (namely, not one of the ruling class, a government official, or cleric), chances are very good that you never went “on vacation.” You rested with your family at home and anything resembling a vacation was likely due to a communal celebration of a feast day.

Unless you went on a pilgrimage.

Medieval Europeans stan a good pilgrimage. And pilgrimages, of course, are not just “vacations” but are rather an opportunity for an individual to invest in their relationship with their divinity of choice. The pilgrimage allowed the individual to expand their horizons, see new places, meet new people, and return home weeks or months later having had their world blown wide open.

Modern Westerners don’t really go on pilgrimages all that much unless they’re part of a religious tradition for which pilgrimage is a major element (Catholicism and Islam are the ones that come to mind, but many other Christians and Jews also make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and environs). But lots of us do distant travel, and the ninth house is a natural fit for that topic as a result.

Just remember that’s where the connection came from.

Despite all these lovely things being associated with the ninth house, and despite the ninth house itself being considered a “good house” (because it forms a trine aspect to the ascendant), it’s still a cadent house, and it’s a place where there’s not typically a lot of activity. If you’re on a trip, you’re not doing a lot relative to your day-to-day life, right?

It’s not a house that has significant impacts in the world on its own, but rather its topics undergird how we choose to impact the world and what we prioritize as a result of our “ultimate concern.”

Concerns about Ultimate Concerns

It’s important to note too that the nature and condition of the planet ruling the ninth house and planets placed therein result in situations where matters of illumination are fraught with difficulty, as we’ll see presently. In my research, I’ve found numerous examples of individuals whose ninth house is occupied by the out-of-sect malefic, or whose ninth ruler is afflicted, who have suffered trauma as a result of their experiences with religion and spirituality (organized or otherwise).

William Lilly’s judgments on this house in the third book of Christian Astrology are interesting to note here for the simple reason that they speak to these issues in a roundabout way. After all, in 17th century England, astrologers had to tread very carefully on the matter of whether someone would be Christian or not, considering the theological predilections of the dominant stream of Christianity (viz. Calvinism).

In Lilly’s judgments, he indicates that the negative influence of Saturn tends towards an individual holding marginalized belief systems (“heresy”), the same of Mars tends toward an individual rebelling against religious taboos (“blasphemy”), and the negative influences of Mercury tend toward skepticism and suspicion (“atheism”).

But Lilly’s remarks here are not just on how good of a Christian one will be. Remarks on the ease or difficulty with which a native engages with matters of religion are culturally important because they describe, in part, how good an Anglican a person born in England will be, namely, how well their individual route for illumination will align with the culturally authorized routes, and therefore how good of a model English citizen they will be.

When we import these considerations to the 21st century in the United States in a post-Christendom context, what seems to emerge is a commentary on one’s ability to engage with matters of transcendence, the possibility of religious or spiritual trauma, and the fluency (or lack thereof) with which one is able to find larger meaning, depth, and what Thomas Moore calls “soulfulness” in their engagement with larger narratives.

How to interpret the ninth house in astrology

When we begin interpreting the ninth house, we’re working with the following questions:

  • What is the individual’s “matter of ultimate concern,” and how might they go about finding it?
  • What is the individual’s relationship with questions of belief and skepticism?
  • What are the kinds of sources, teachers, mentors, and traditions that the individual will find especially compelling?

Once again, we judge these sorts of questions based on the nature and condition of the planet ruling the ninth house and likewise for the planets placed in the ninth house.

The placement of the ninth ruler suggests the part of life through which an individual engages with matters of spirit most readily.

The houses ruled by planets placed within the ninth house suggest those factors in life which express themselves primarily through one’s illumination process.

For example, suppose that we have an individual with the ninth house cusp in Sagittarius with Jupiter in Pisces in the twelfth in a day chart, with the Sun in Sagittarius. Aries rises and Mars is not configured to the Sun or Jupiter. Jupiter applies to the sextile of Saturn in Capricorn in the tenth.

Jupiter as the 9th ruler describes the individual’s easy-going fidelity to their religious tradition, with a natural predilection towards faith. This configuration suggests the kind of person who could become a renowned leader in a monastic spiritual community; here, the ninth ruler is functioning well but is placed in the twelfth house, which has positive associations with isolation or contemplative spiritual practice (meditation or silent prayer). Saturn as the ruler of the 10th and 11th here brings stability and success to matters related both to individual profession and to that person’s status within community or among friends.

Another example: suppose that we have another individual with the ninth house cusp in Cancer. Say that Mars is there too, and it’s a day chart; the Sun is in Leo in the 10th house, so the Moon is decreasing in light, and the Moon is conjoined the South Node with Saturn in Aries. Suppose also that the Moon is besieged by Mars ahead of it and Saturn behind it.

This is a tricky example but let’s start by unpacking it a step at a time: The Moon is the 9th ruler, so already this individual has a deep emotional security process fulfilled by their illumination/religious process. The Moon is in the 6th, so they feel a deep sense of responsibility and physical labor on behalf of their tradition (think inexhaustible church ladies).

This might also be the signature of someone for whom physical expressions of spirituality such as yoga, fasting, or martial arts (Aries!) become significant for their process of illumination. Because of the Moon’s affliction by Saturn (the 3rd and 4th ruler), deep issues arise in this process’s expression as a result of their local community or overbearing, doctrinaire parents.

Fallen Mars’ highly malefic process in the 9th causes them tend towards the transgression of religious taboos. Things are not looking very positive for this individual being a “good Christian kid,” and we might surmise that it comes from a tendency toward questioning why religious taboos exist.

Here, because the Moon applies to Mars with reception, this individual’s questioning and challenging of religious expectations in fact assists them in finding a sense of purpose, meaning, and depth, because Mars is obligated to to help the Moon accomplish its purposes.

To recap:

The matters of the house where the ruler of the ninth is placed form the ground in which one’s search for ultimate concern takes place.

The matters represented by planets placed in the ninth house show which slices of life will express themselves most clearly through an individual’s search for illumination.

Where’s your ninth ruler? What’s happening with it? I’d love to hear from you! I’m actually presenting a paper closely related to this topic in February 2020 in India, so I welcome your stories!

Meanwhile, if you’ve got some heavy-duty religious stuff you feel like you need to untangle but don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place. This is my specialty, and I’d be honored to work with you in the next leg of your journey of illumination.

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