“Water is life's mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.”


first appearance in The Mountain Astrologer, 2012 copyright 2012 Jodie Forrest, all rights reserved
“Water is life's mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.”
—Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Hungarian biochemist, 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

“When you drink the water, remember the spring.” —Chinese proverb.
Emotion is the chief source of all becoming-conscious. There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.”
—Carl Jung, Psychological Aspects of the Modern Archetype (1938).


Most of the twelve houses refer primarily to activities that we perform in the outside world. Travel. Teaching. Creativity. Job-hunting. We can watch people pursuing these behaviors. We can follow them all day and track their progress through nine of the houses. But the three associated with the water signs, Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces, are different. Someone deeply involved in fourth, eighth or twelfth house behavior could conceivably be, from an observer’s point of view, just sitting there doing nothing. Someone engaged in eighth house behavior might be hunkered on her sofa processing a recent and painful breakup, or a particularly intense therapy session. A shaman in trance is in his eighth house, too. A man immersed in the fourth house might be dreaming and sound asleep. A Buddhist nun at a meditation retreat, almost motionless on a cushion all day, is exploring twelfth house territory. These houses refer to inner
processes more than outer ones. They are more about
being, feeling, observing, remembering, imagining and evaluating than about doing.
So is the water element. Water is a symbol of the emotions, but also of many other things: sensitivity, receptivity, vulnerability, openness, subjectivity, empathy, inwardness, imagination, merging—the list goes on, and I’m sure you can add to it. But
underneath them all, much like water itself which always flows to lower or common ground, there’s an archetypal meta-symbol for water: the unconscious. Our emotions, the imagery of our dreams, and our ability to fantasize, to “dream” while we’re awake, all have roots stretching down to the unconscious mind. Which is a big topic! Think of it in the following way, although this preliminary interpretative summary is predictably fluid; we’ll explore it in the rest of the article.
The fourth house refers in large part to your personal unconscious and your understanding of how your family of origin and ancestral roots affected your emotional makeup. It refers to your personal, private self, and how that self developed within the cradle of your family. Who are you when you’re home alone? Who are you when you’re with the family who raised you? Those are fourth house questions.
How did your upbringing affect your attitude toward the primate instincts we all share? Your sexuality? Your choice of mate? The inner image of marriage or the equivalent that you bring into a relationship? Those are eighth house questions, and you need some understanding of your fourth house to be able even to begin to answer them. The eighth house is more connected to the archetypal and instinctual unconscious, especially to the archetypes that most influence your own unconscious and conscious minds. This is the house of unintegrated psychological material or wounds, and of unintegrated life experiences. It’s the house of the instincts: sex, survival, and whatever we human primates do with the uncomfortable awareness that we’re going to die, regardless of our vitamin consumption.
The twelfth house is connected to the entire collective unconscious, and also to what we might call the soul or the spirit, of which we are usually unaware. We might call it our innate Buddha-nature. We might call it our mystical awareness of our spiritual essence, which is seldom at the forefront of most people’s conscious minds. We might call it the part of the mindstream which continues beyond death, that core which is reincarnated, which lies beneath the changing details of the outer self’s lifetimes. This term is imprecise, but think of it as something like the “karmic unconscious,” which arguably contains the most deeply buried memories of all, although not the most deeply buried issues. With whom might we have the most karma? Our families and long term sexual partners—our fourth and eighth house relationships. A genuine reorientation of one’s attitude toward those relationships—earned by conscious attention paid to our fourth and eighth houses, not just a “flight into light”—can be instrumental in working through them.

About the water element

After that quick overview of each water house, which we’ll amplify later in the article, let’s step back and take a more wholistic look at all three of them for a moment. Water finds a common level. Water seeks a container. Emotions are subjective, not linear; and, like water, they can be released, suppressed, expressed, dammed up . . . sometimes a trickle, sometimes a tsunami. Similarly, the water houses all swirl into and out of each other, forming something like a subterranean aquifer of the unconscious mind, and of the conscious emotional life which is rooted in it.
Material from one water house can slowly or suddenly surface in the other two, or be diverted to or submerged in them. I imagine these houses as underwater architecture: three great rooms with a common atrium in the middle where they all connect, where all their water pools together. But the walls of this three-room-and-an-atrium container are neither linear nor smooth; they hold pockmarks and extrusions, ripples and dents, barnacles and odd little niches. The water houses are not dead sunken ruins with perfectly engineered walls and corners, nor are they the subject of dry archaeological study (although they are connected to our past). They are living and fluid currents in our psyche. We’re aware of much of what’s in our water houses, and we may or may not be aware of the common aquifer that lies under them. Each house has some common ground with the other two, and ignorance or blockage of the material in one house can affect our responses to the others. Such blockages can send anything from bubbles to ripples to tsunamis up to the surface—to our conscious mind—as well. As the psychologist Carl Jung said, “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as Fate.”
Given how the water houses run together, it’s not surprising that I had trouble figuring out how to separate my analyses of them for this article—the other two houses kept seeping into whatever I wrote about any one of them. Finally I gave up. The water houses are so thoroughly dissolved into each other in that aquifer below the chart that I’ll have to use each one to help me illustrate the other two.

The Fourth House

First of the water houses, the fourth house is ruled by the Moon and associated with the sign Cancer. This is the house of the personal unconscious, and of the activities and places in which it’s most active or accessible. Our family of origin, our childhood. Dreaming and daydreaming. Privacy. Home. Our old age, when childhood becomes much
more vivid again. The fourth house is also our home base now, our hobbit hole, the place where we feel most secure, where we sleep and dream, our inner or outer fortress.
The fourth house has much to do with the environment that first affected you: your childhood home and family. Your first emotion after the birth trauma was probably love for your mother, also ruled by the Moon. Then you became aware of any other people in your family. You learned your family system: what emotions and behavior were encouraged or suppressed, and how? What did you need to do to earn love? Who held the most power, and why, and how did they wield it? What was your role in the family—hero, rebel, clown, etc.? What was the family mythology? Did your family “always produce” athletes, musicians, scholars or engineers?
Later, we learned about our family’s cultural or ancestral or historical background —our roots, and their effect upon us, reach from our grandparents all the way back to the Cro-Magnon humans. We learned this system by living in it, not necessarily by what anyone said out loud. We experienced our roots before we knew they were roots, and knew that they differed from other people’s family backgrounds. For a long time, when our psyche was the most impressionable, those roots and that family system were simply Reality—and that reality helped to shape our emotional nature and our conscious and unconscious minds.
For some illuminating and thought-provoking analyses and examples of how far back those family roots can stretch, as well as how they might affect us today, read the European psychoanalyst Anne Ancelin-Schutzenberger’s book, The Ancestor Syndrome: Transgenerational Psychotherapy and the Hidden Links in the Family Tree. Astrologer Lynn Bell has written a wonderful book on the astrology of the extended family: Planetary Threads: The Living History of Family Dynamics in our Patterns of Relating. I’ll give you a couple of examples of my own here.
An acquaintance of mine is a doctor, one of whose patients told him, “All the men in my family die of a heart attack at age 51. My grandfather did, my father did, his brother did, and I’m going to die of one then too. So there’s no point in dealing with this other condition that could be a problem in my old age. I won’t have one.”
This patient was perfectly healthy, heart and all. But sure enough, he died of a sudden cardiac arrest at age 51.
In another family, for at least the past five generations, all the women named either Susan or Tabitha lost either a first husband, a brother or a son, and in some cases more than one of those loved ones. Moreover, all the men died either as war casualties or by suicide—either way, violence and intentional killing were involved.
Schutzenberger mentions one French patient with whom she did a “genogram” of
his family. Genograms are a kind of life-history map of each generation, with notes about how people died, what conditions or traumas they may have had—phobias, assaults, depression, war, stillbirths, PTSD, how many marriages and how they ended, how many pregnancies and how they ended, etc. (Note that unintegrated fourth house patterns or material aren’t limited to a certain manner of death. They can “come from the outside” as abandonment, or a very early marriage, or losing a limb, to name only a few examples.) The analyst and her patient discovered that many of his relatives, in the generations about which he already knew something, had been decapitated. This man did some digging, and found that the pattern continued back to an ancestor who had died in the French Revolution almost 200 years ago—at the guillotine.
Is this Fate? Or some ancient family trauma discussed by no one for so long that the current generations no longer have conscious knowledge or memory of it? If something momentous and damaging happened somewhere in a family, and its members don’t understand how it may have affected them all, then a more sensitive and less differentiated member of that family may end up carrying or symbolizing something about that trauma, perhaps psychologically, perhaps literally. That particular kind of trauma or its manifestation can feel like such a person’s “Fate.” (We don’t choose our relatives—can anything feel more like “Fate”?) Psychologically, it seems that we can actually inherit an “elephant in the living room,” even though the elephant’s original shape may have shifted over time. Put another way, the childhood and/or ancestral flotsam and jetsam of the fourth house, if not integrated, can wash up in the eighth house. (As usual with the water houses, it can work both ways: if we’re homeless—our fourth house is hurting— because we are psychologically disturbed, then the eighth house has flooded the fourth.)
The fourth house is the symbol factory that’s active in the majority of our dreams, although the eighth and twelfth houses can show up there too. Dreams hail from the dreamer’s personal Other World or mythic world. Regular logic and the rules of the linear outer world do not apply there. In dreams, we can be back in the house where we grew up, or at our old job. The dead may still live. Perhaps we can fly. Eighth house dream material may include an old lover, or something we haven’t quite noticed in our waking lives, such as a clue about someone’s intentions towards us. Nightmares are usually connected to eighth house content: almost any deeply disturbing situation that we haven’t fully processed. If you are open to the idea of reincarnation, dreams may have some karmic (twelfth house) content, too. They may have some roots in the collective unconscious, too, such as dreaming about a motif in another culture’s mythology about which you consciously know nothing.
Any planets in the fourth house, and the planet or planets ruling it, can indicate:
1. how we experienced our family system; the psychological lenses that we wore there. Regardless of how distant, or how warm and supportive, your family may have actually been, if you have Saturn in the fourth house, you saw them through Saturn-tinted glasses. You experienced them somewhere along a range from the healthiest to the least healthy manifestations of Saturn in that particular sign. Were they wise and stable Elders, asking for excellence, and providing detailed, practical guidance and inspiration about achieving it? A family of Gandalf the Wizards . . . Or were they judgmental, cold and oppressive taskmasters? Or psychologically or physically absent, leaving you to cope on your own? A family like the terrible orphanage where the fictional Jane Eyre suffered from hunger, cold and typhus as a child . . . How did that family affect you, for good or ill?
2. our psychological inheritance from our family. A Saturnine apple doesn’t fall far from a Saturn tree. Some of your family’s Saturnine traits are yours, too. Part of your journey as an adult is figuring out which traits and how best to express them yourself, rather than either denying or blindly copying them.
3. how we can best take the above journey. A Saturnine background is best understood by Saturnine methods: study, objectivity, realism, patience.
4. our ancestral inheritance from our entire background. What’s your family’s mythology, self-image or shared blind spot? With Saturn there, you might come from a long line of stiff-upper-lip types, recluses, engineers, high level public servants, CEOs, paupers, self-made men and women, Scrooges, “cold fish,” parents who had children quite late in life or so many children that they couldn’t adequately attend to all of them, or parents who had crushing responsibilities. The ancestral “elephants” may be related to abandonment, harsh circumstances, unavailability, an underdeveloped feeling function, or cripplingly high standards.
5. what home environment suits us. Saturn in the fourth may take some time, effort, trial and error to work out the kind of hobbit hole it prefers. It should feel like a protective, well-managed “castle” where we can have as much solitude as we like, rather than a sadly lacking, restrictive and impersonal lodging full of
thankless responsibilities.

The Eighth House

Ruled by Mars and Pluto, and associated with Aries and Scorpio, the eighth is the house where we deal with our most charged psychological and emotional issues, not just personally and in relation to our childhoods (unprocessed fourth house material showing up as our very own “boogeymen” in the eighth), but also as a species. It’s the house of the shamanic underworld and of inheritance—the house of “other people’s stuff,” whether those people are living or dead, and whether that inheritance is material or psychological. The eighth house relates to the instinctual and archetypal unconscious, to the common anatomy of the body and the psyche that we “inherit,” to what’s in our physical and psychological hard-wiring. Our personal, individual reactions to and expressions of our commonly held primate drives and instincts are processed here: the survival instinct (and how it reacts to the knowledge of our inevitable death ); and the sexual instinct. They are in our physical hard-wiring. What we might call the psychic or
spiritual instinct, that which seeks out the hidden, unknown and “occult”— often in response to the first two instincts—is probably more in our psychological hard-wiring.

So are the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Just as almost all of us are born with two eyes, two ears, one nose, one navel, etc.—the common anatomy of the body—we have a common anatomy of the psyche. It can be glimpsed in all the similarities in cross-cultural mythology, and in fairy tales. Something deep within us, regardless of our culture, understands what that culture’s equivalent of a naive young man is, and a queen, a bad mother, a wise old man, the goddess of love, and a knight in shining armor, to name only a few of these energetic patterns of which our psyche is composed. Think of them as mind parts, rather than body parts, if you like. Some of those archetypes might be near the surface of your unconscious, and help form your basic nature in healthy ways without unduly influencing your psyche. Others may be lying on the very bottom of that aquifer beneath the chart and never float up, not even in dreams. Some of the arrangement of these psychological patterns is innate and individual, some of the arrangement appears to be cultural, and probably all of it is affected by how we were raised.
There is a way in which, provided we have enough resources and time, we have more choices in the eighth house than in the fourth. The fourth house is ruled by the Moon, which is not as concerned with choice and will as are Mars and Pluto, which rule
the eighth. We don’t choose our relatives; we can choose our mates. We don’t choose the circumstances of our childhood; we can choose how we assess them and how much they continue to influence us. We don’t choose our basic nature; we do have choices about how well we understand it, adapt to it and express it. We don’t choose to be born, and we do have some options about choosing when and how we die. The less that we can or do exercise those choices, the more that our fourth house material can show up in our eighth house as troubled and murky water, our bête noire, our shadow, our “Fate.”
Any planets in the eighth house, or the planet or planets ruling it, can indicate:
1. the energies we need in a mate, whether or not we also want them in a friend. With Venus here, we need some gracefulness and graciousness in our mates, although we might well tolerate bull-in-a-china-shop sorts of friends.
2. our best attitude toward facing whatever we don’t like about ourselves, or find painful or difficult to integrate, particularly whatever boogey-men have surfaced from our fourth house. With Venus here, we’d benefit from a warm and gentle counselor who regarded us as a genuine partner in that process, not just a patient, or from being fully met and heard and understood by our mates, or from a friend
whose insights are compassionate and calming (Venus) for us, if not always comfortable.
3. our most personally helpful attitudes toward death, the possibility of an afterlife, or anything that falls into the realm of the “occult.” With Venus here, we find that it actually helps us feel more centered and peaceful (Venus), as well as closer to others (Venus), to spend some time thinking about our own death and what is “hidden” (“occulted”) that might lie beyond it. We may also be natural hospice (eighth house) counselors (Venus), although that’s not our official role.
4. how our general attitudes towards eighth house matters (sexuality, death, the occult, and our understanding of our deep unconscious), and what specific part or parts of our psyches (any planets in the eighth), might be most affected by our insufficient understanding of the fourth house influences in our chart. Although we can all see family issues operating in our choice of a mate, if those issues are
left unaddressed, we can let that unfinished family business profoundly affect our sexuality and our choice of a mate. With Venus here, that’s doubly relevant.

The Twelfth House

Before we move on to the twelfth house, ruled by Neptune and Jupiter, have you noticed a progression among the water houses in terms of how they relate to our feelings? The fourth house is my own feelings and needs, and figuring out how my background affected them, and where my relatives end and I begin. It’s necessarily rather self-absorbed. The eighth house is my feelings and needs and those of others, particularly the ones with whom I’m very close, and figuring out where I end and they begin, including whether sex can merge us or death separate us. It’s both self-absorbed and intensely aware of those others. The twelfth house is “Where might my feelings and needs originate, and where do I end and everybody and everything else begins?” In this house, we can be unsure we even have a self, and what that self is. A lot of examination of and experimentation with boundaries can ensue.
Terminology can get pretty woozy here. I’ll paraphrase an analogy I’ve heard Buddhist teachers use to illustrate how the mindstream that reincarnates isn’t exactly the same person as before, yet still carries karma and inclinations from its previous incarnations. You are no longer a child. But where is the child, indeed all of the children, whom you were while you grew up? Is the person that you are now identical to the child that you were then? No. Then are you and that child two different people? No. You are no longer the child you once were, yet that child and your current adult self are both you. You’ve just changed form. Some essence of awareness, of a psychic core, of the memories, attitudes, experiences and emotions of that child-self you still carry with you, although you’re not conscious of or don’t remember all of them.
The twelfth house refers to that core. Call it the house of the “karmic unconscious,” if you like. It has more to do with the collective unconscious than the eighth house does. It has more to do with an underlying sense of unity with all of existence, too, whether you think of that unity in mystical or psychological terms. Some of our dream material may float up from this level, as well as from the fourth or eighth house material. With whom might we have the most karma? Arguably, with our families (fourth house) and our lovers (eighth house).
If the Ascendant relates to our physical birth, then the twelfth house, which precedes it in the ever-turning wheel of the houses, relates to that which came before our
birth. It can also say something about us in utero, our mother’s attitudes toward us then, and her circumstances before our birth. (Circumstances around the birth itself are more connected to the Ascendant and the first house.) What energies, emotions and atmosphere were afoot in the family (fourth house) during our mother’s pregnancy? What about her relationship to our father? How did that ambience affect her, and of course affect us as well? Strong emotions are accompanied by a biochemical reaction in the mother’s body that the baby experiences too, through its connection to her. However Mom was influenced by and felt about her family system, or her lack of one, we experienced too. We just didn’t have any words to describe those feelings.
How is that meaning of the twelfth house different from the fourth house? Again, there’s a lot of flow among and intermingling of the content of the water houses. The twelfth is how we felt when we were still merged with our mothers, and by extension what she felt then too. The twelfth is also how we feel about blurring our separate identities and dissolving into something larger now, outside the womb. In the fourth house, we experience the impact of the whole family system upon us after we are separate people, out of the womb, and have begun a slow process of emotional as well as physical differentiation. It takes a lot longer to be “born” psychologically than it did physically. Perhaps each water house is like a womb, out of which we are “born” both into the immediately following house, and into the next water house. Indeed, perhaps physical birth is the only one that’s fully completed.
In the womb, we are not separate from our mother. We are part of something larger than ourselves. The boundaries between Self and Mother, between Self and Other, are quite permeable then. Our ego or identity isn’t fully formed or existing on its own yet, any more than our body is. During our mother’s pregnancy, we don’t have to concern ourselves with food, elimination, hygiene, locomotion or even breathing. Awake or asleep, we can just be.
Does this description remind you of another meaning that astrologers assign to the twelfth house? It should. Being in the womb, being merged with something greater than ourselves, not having to deal with any of the needs and impulses of a separate body, let alone with our eventual responsibilities, probably feels much like the state that a mystic is trying to attain through meditation. (The twelfth house relates far more to mysticism than to organized religion, which is ninth house territory.) Consciousness without thought, without physical distractions, without conceptualization . . . Some people believe that a desire to return to this merged and floating state, to surrender, check out and let someone else handle all the worldly and physical details, lies at the bottom of all religions and all forms of mysticism.
Whether or not we share that belief about the twelfth house, it can definitely symbolize a desire to lose our ego-boundaries and dissolve into something larger. Maybe that’s the soul’s desire to return to the sort of core that we mentioned above, and then experience oneness without separation. Maybe it’s the psyche’s desire to escape the outside world and, whether we know it or not, return to the womb. Sometimes a “flight into light”—loosely defined as someone’s decision to forgive everyone and transcend everything yesterday, without having to go through all those complex and difficult fourth and eighth house emotions—signifies a desire for this sort of escape, rather than a true mystical vocation. And sometimes, like everything else in life, that vocation is a mixed bag: partly sincere, and partly a flight away from one’s personal boogey-men.
The twelfth house room of the aquifer beneath the chart includes a kind of undifferentiated state. The imagination may roam there; people with a strong twelfth house can be fanciful and creative, as if they’re channeling something via their art form, or are “pregnant” with it. We may not have many boundaries between ourselves and others; a twelfth house person can be unusually empathic and impressionable, and not just with relatives and loved ones. If the bottom of the twelfth house room of the aquifer reaches down to a level where we’ll all one, sometimes water from that level can try to seep into the waking psyche. Psychic awareness can be strong here, as it can in the eighth house. Empathy and intuition are particularly powerful.
The more unconsciously and/or egocentrically a twelfth house planet operates, the more likely we are to shoot ourselves in the foot via that part of the psyche, then feel as if it’s our “Fate” that the gun was loaded. (To a lesser extent, this applies to the sign on the twelfth house cusp, although signs are motivations and attitudes, not parts of the psyche). Without some sort of reorientation towards the mystical, the transpersonal, or the humanitarian, a twelfth house planet can be a blind spot, an unseen obstacle that trips us, a rug that can be pulled out from under us.
Imagine, however, that your very own guru is doing the pulling. For example, if Mars is here, think of Mars as your guru, telling you that you need to re-examine your relationship with your own will in order to grow. If you don’t listen and don’t rethink where you’re directing that will, and how you express anger or your desire to be first, you may blow up at the wrong person at the wrong moment and profoundly embarrass yourself. Perhaps that problematic relationship to Mars has karmic elements, or is triggered by situations that remind you of how you had to defend yourself with Martian fireworks and bluster when you were younger (fourth and/or eighth house material). You might overhaul that Mars by taking up the challenge to do inner work, which may be frightening to you, or to defend and champion people who have trouble defending

themselves adequately.
Besides a potential blind spot that needs reorienting towards the numinous, a

planet in the twelfth house can indicate:

1. A part of your psyche that’s more attuned to the collective unconscious than is the rest of your chart. Hence, you may be more susceptible to influences from the collective in regard to that planet; you’re more tuned into the zeitgeist here.

2. A part of your psyche affected by your mystical leanings or lack of them. This planet may say something about your own style of flight into light, what you try to “give to the angels” instead of discussing it with a therapist or a deeply trusted and savvy friend. With Mars, this might be your anger or your sexual drives.

3. A part of your psyche more affected by your personal, family, group or collective karma than is the rest of your chart. With Mars, that might be how you established boundaries and how your family did, and/or whether you belong to some group who lived during an extremely stressful or challenging time.


Note that the water houses’ rulers are the Moon, Mars and Pluto, and Jupiter and Neptune, or three personal and two outer planets. Water connects us to our own feelings, our own depths, our own unconscious minds, and also to the larger human family. It reminds us of our past and our needs (Moon, fourth house), and our will and our desires (Mars, eighth house). It nourishes the human capacity to be great-spirited and to have faith in the human future (Jupiter, and to some extent Neptune), and points to where our egos may be inflated and we assume that we’re entitled, special, precious and privileged (Jupiter). It connects us to what is numinous, magical and otherworldly in life, where we can see through the veil to both the multidimensionality and the unity of our existence (Neptune, twelfth house). It symbolizes our desire to merge, or our fear of losing all boundaries and our grasp on “reality” (Neptune, twelfth house). It can also bring us face to face with our deepest personal or instinctual fears, urges, and wounds, our passions, and our deepest levels of self-awareness (Pluto, eighth house). Water symbolizes so much about the feeling core of our lives here on Earth, and how all feelings and all life may ultimately be connected in that subterranean aquifer beneath the chart.