House Keys: A Basic Introduction to the 12 Places

By Eric Francis Coppolino | Link to original

Western astrology pretty well agrees on the basic meanings of the houses, but the nuances and application of the ideas differ from astrologer to astrologer. The delineations below are based on my 22 years of practice in several areas: consulting astrology, forensic astrology as a news reporter, and writing horoscope columns.

The meaning of the houses evolves over time. There were no telephones the first time someone delineated the 3rd house, but we need a place to fit this modern invention. So, that would go with the nearest approximation by topic and functionality of the thing or event. Think of the houses as “the game of life.” There’s nothing abstract, astrophysical, or mathematical here. The houses are about us, living our lives on Earth — often in a house.


Also called the Ascendant, this is your personal boundary: what distinguishes you from the rest of the world. Sometimes called the house of self-concept, it goes deeper: One must aspire to become and master one’s Ascendant, in a kind of quest for incarnation.

As the beginning of the chart, it’s a personal boundary or entrance to self. The precursor would be the 12th, which has the feeling of gestation, subconscious or unconscious; one should become fully aware, alert, and breathing in the 1st. So, in essence, one is born into this house, and when it’s working well, it has that sensation more or less ongoing. There’s the sense of questing, and “that which is being discussed is also arising.” Appearances (both innate and contrived), names and identity, how you present yourself, what you call yourself, and what you identify with are covered here, with many clues elsewhere. Gender identity and sexual orientation have a role. The phenomenon of “it becomes what you call it” is a 1st-house thing.


This house covers value, things of value, available cash, and self-esteem. The 2nd is about what you have, and whether and how you value it. It’s a direct extension of the 1st, taking things to a deeper or more established level. The 2nd is one of the most reliable sources of information and questions about how a person feels about herself. It describes the sensation of lack or of abundance; how hard you think you have to work for what you want; your idea of what you don’t have; and what personal assets assist or limit you. The relationship of money to self-esteem is an important keynote of this house, under the general rubric of “the resources that you’re working with.” Any planet placed in this house, particularly close to the cusp, can describe a challenge to self-esteem, which would be addressed in the style of that planet (and its sign).


This is a local zone, such as your neighborhood, village, or stomping ground, and who shows up (or whom you discover) there. Neighbors, siblings, and what they say to one another give the house its theme of communication. Also covered are messages and the devices that convey them (starting with notes, postcards, and letters), though generally, distribution is to an audience of one or a few. The daily routine activities of the household are covered here. This house represents the childhood phase when you’re crawling around and bumping into things. The 3rd and its rulers describe talent for writing and communication. The 3rd, particularly late in the house, can also describe the unresolved psychological issues of the father.


The 4th describes the emotional response of the child to the early environment, which is then carried forward as imprinting that manifests in the adult experience. The 4th represents the structure and grounds of the ancestral home, out to the garden wall. In one sense, it expands the 3rd (where one bumps into people’s legs under the table), and in another sense, it’s a little smaller and even more local than the 3rd (the household set within the village). The 4th, particularly the IC and its ruler, often describes the father’s lineage, homestead, estate, and so on. The overall result is a house that describes one’s feeling of safety (or lack thereof) in one’s physical dwelling, physical body, and emotional body. It’s the house of secrets that are confined to the household or immediate family.


All things exciting, entertaining, and a little risky — like art, rock music, teenage-style sex, and the babies that come from free and spontaneous sexual activity — belong to this house. The 5th is fun, but it always runs the risk of things getting serious (such as pregnancy), though risk itself is much of the allure of this dimension.

So, the 5th is about more than fun: 5th-house fun needs an edgy quality. Some can get this from sculpting boldly or scaling a cliff. For some, the thrill of unprotected sex obviates the notion of rearing a child for the next few decades.

In her book Astrology: A Cosmic Science, Isabel Hickey references Theosophical literature describing the 5th as the house of “esoteric karma.” This implies that there’s a deeper undercurrent to this house — for example, being lured in by spontaneous sex and getting pregnant, or going to Las Vegas to gamble and losing everything.

That aside, think of the 5th as the art studio, the playroom, the practice room, the rock wall, or any recreational space, what’s done there, and whom it’s done with. It’s okay to get paint on the art studio couch, and it’s a great place to fuck. Herein lies a clue to the origin of the universe.


This is the house of “Ritual de lo Habitual” — important everyday things that must be done mindfully, such as the work you do and how you feel about it. Sickness, health, healing, and recovery are described here. Commitment to service or to “the process” is a meta-theme. The ideal nature of the work environment is also described, particularly by the sign on the cusp. Collegial relationships are included and, to some extent, supervisory ones, such as sergeant-level (lieutenants, captains, and generals are in the 10th).

Relationships to healers, physicians, and health practitioners of all stripes will be described by occupants of the house, ruling planets, and aspects to these. The 6th describes one’s relationship to one’s health and wellbeing, and will provide clues to how the notion “ psychosomatic” manifests. Qualities of wellness, of weaknesses, and of points of healing can be read here as well. Wellbeing means a positive relationship to life and how one spends one’s days.


Relationships and projections, meaning your connection point to others, whether real or imagined, are covered by this house. You might think of it as a holographic mirror that reflects your reality back to you by way of the external world and the people who show up in your life. Understanding the contrast between projection and reality is essential to understanding the 7th (and why it can be so confusing).

It’s not quite accurate to say that everything that happens in the 7th is merely a figment of the mind, but how we perceive things certainly is, and that’s almost always a matter of projection. Traditionally, this house is about relationships, partnerships, marriage partners, and open enemies. Because the 7th cusp is on the horizon, this house can serve as an “event horizon,” describing what is manifesting or developing and will soon have a direct influence. The 7th covers the local courts, which would mediate between individuals or handle cases involving individuals.


This is the 2nd house of the 7th — hence, it covers shared finances and resources, mutually agreed or contested values, matters of inheritance and dowry, and thus sex as a property right. In practice rather than theory, this house describes the sex one needs the most and is willing to do the most to have. Strong placements here can make someone appealing to a shocking degree, someone who is followed home from school by the guy in the slow-moving car, and so on. The death element, which enters initially through the concept of inheritance, describes relationship to orgasm as well as attitudes toward death. Many shades of ego transformation, surrender to the other, and what one lives and dies for can be read here. In horary and event charts, this house can point to the “nature and cause of death.” I think of the 8th as the house of the secrets that one shares with others, if only in whispers.


The first of the “wide world” houses, this is the region of religion, international affairs and travel, and all things exotic. This is the house of one’s personal ethics. Themes of the 9th center around the church and its officials, which expands into beliefs and belief systems, philosophies, theories, and the ideas one lives by (and one’s life vision). The 9th describes one’s relationship to higher learning and professors.

Think of it as a meta-3rd, with a worldly feeling rather than a smalltown feeling. Instead of the communication being local, gossipy, or individual, the 9th is about wide-scale publishing and broadcasting, including to a global audience. The 9th covers national and international law, maritime law, and the higher courts in general (specifically, federal and appellate courts). The worldliness of this house expands into cosmic or universal consciousness when someone is doing their spiritual work. The 9th, particularly leaning up against the 10th, can peer into the unresolved psychological material of the mother.


If the 9th is about the church, the 10th is about the government and the corporation, which is a feudal form of government. It describes one’s relationship to government and corporate authority as a direct derivative of parental authority. It can describe whether one will be part of the official establishment. Structurally, the 10th represents high command, officers, the board, the president, the admiralty, and anything that goes “all the way to the top.” In every- day practice, it’s about one’s highest aspirations, one’s reputation, being known for one’s work, and what one must do to get there.

Tenth-house effort involves establishing one’s reputation through sustained effort and cultivation of relationships, talent, and integrity.

Whatever happens in the 10th can be subjected to special scrutiny, exposure, and public evaluation. There must be an attitude of noblesse oblige, of example-setting, and of mentorship.


The 11th is one’s personal public, one’s friends and acquaintances, one’s client base, and an audience out to a countable number of people. Borrowing from Alice A. Bailey, it represents the group rather than the mass. As the 2nd house of the 10th, the 11th describes income and benefits from one’s professional activities (which often accrue as a result of cooperation and popularity, both being functions of this house). The 11th is described in some books as the house of hopes and dreams, which you might think of as a positive vision for life. It’s the space into which one expands oneself; the house opposite it is the 5th, the creative studio, so you can think of the 11th as the gallery space or performance area (though smaller than a stadium).

Anyone who has not done the work of the 9th (cultivating ethics and a vision) and the 10th (working to earn one’s reputation) may feel brittle and insecure in the 11th.


This house represents existence in any parallel dimension: in utero (before birth), dreams, the creative imagination, astral projection, hallucinations, drug trips, and related experiences. It has been called the “dustbin of the zodiac” because the 12th is a common place to accumulate karma, on the basis of “out of sight, out of mind.” What ends up there is often left unresolved, hence karma accumulates.

You can think of it as the ancestral attic, or the secret room behind the drawing room bookshelf. (Everyone loves secret rooms, and you have one!) In the artistic sense, we can be transported to another dimension through this house; for example, the magical experience of a movie seeming real is a perfect 12th-house experience. It’s also the house that describes one’s relationship with the nonphysical realm. In the most practical sense, what’s located in the 12th can have the feeling of having gone missing. Planets there can represent cloaked, veiled, or hidden elements of one’s psyche, including missing people and things. In physical space, old books say it describes overwhelming institutions, such as the government of New York City, a large hotel or resort, or any space so big that it takes weeks, months, or years to explore it.

Vedic astrologers say this house is about the pleasures of the bed, which can manifest as an alternate reality that can be vividly real and then vanish into another dimension, sometimes barely memorable, by the time daylight arrives. The 12th is the most encompassing and cosmic of houses, where the difference between truth and illusion is blurred. Twelfth-house events are recognizable by their system of internal logic (like dream logic) that doesn’t hold up outside of the space where it originated. It’s one of the houses associated with secrets — to wit, the secrets you wouldn’t dream of telling other people and that you might even keep from yourself.