Wednesday, May 30, 2018
“He went like one that hath been stunn’d
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn.”
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (lines 623-626)
The atmosphere in the Marriott Magnificent Mile hotel conference room where Dutch astrologer Karen Hamaker-Zondag taught her United Astrology Conference 2018 post-conference workshop on May 30, 2018, definitely felt gloomy and funereal. In many ways, the dimly lit and shockingly cold space would be a fitting Plutonian environment for delving deeply (six hours’ worth of learning in a single sitting) on the subject of “What Do You Really Want with Your 8th House and Pluto?”
Stated starkly in its simplicity, the 8th House in a horoscope contains the extremes of the best and the most destructive parts of ourselves. A highly educated Jungian psychologist fluent in several European languages, Karen walked us through the psychological dynamics expressed through the 8th House polarity of the urge to live and the (unconscious) death-wish. The messages brought by 8th House planets are resolute and uncompromising: If we don’t use them properly, we condemn ourselves to a living death of unactualized potentiality.
Clearly, for ourselves as astrologers and certainly for our clients, we simultaneously feel fascinated and afraid by our 8th House planets, a grouping into which Karen includes the House Rulers connected with the 8th, whether placed there directly or in aspect to the 8th by the Ruler. One of the little-known topics or keywords associated with the 8th House is actually courage, which Karen said has three forms: (1) Physical courage is the courage to fight; (2) Moral courage is to choose to align ourselves with our inner integrity, especially in the face of external antagonism; and (3) Social courage, the most difficult of the three, is revealed through the process of investing one’s Self over time in relationships that demand increasing openness and vulnerability.
Pluto, the modern Ruler of the 8th House, calls our attention to issues and figures of authority: whether we are aligned with and working from our own authentic position of inner authority—speaking Truth from Power—or whether we are having to contend with external forces of authority. Karen showed us, via detailed natal chart examples of notable political leaders (for good or ill) like Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, and Nicolai Ceausescu, that the 8th House makes a constant demand of how we will choose to lead: Will we choose the life aspects of the 8th House or the death ones? Be conscious of this recalibration process. Many political leaders started out well/on the “life” side of the equation, but then became “death”-affiliated in their expressions of power through leadership, becoming dictators. (Ceausescu was the most extreme example of this dynamic: he was a Communist agitator before World War II who ultimately lurched Far Right, becoming an oligarchic, extremely paranoid, brutal dictator after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990-1991.)
The moral courage the 8th House requires of us involves the courageous act of facing and integrating our own Shadows. The Shadow, as Karen put it, represents everything we don’t like to see or acknowledge within ourselves, and we tend to project those traits and behaviors onto other people when we won’t admit them within ourselves. The problem with people who refuse to integrate their Shadow selves is that, should they fall into positions of political power, they always place blame externally and can’t take criticism, making for the worst kinds of political leaders possible. (If you’re a fellow American and you’re reading this, yes, Orange Foolius’ natal chart bears this out as well. [sighs])
Planets in the 8th House or planetary aspects to the Ruler of the 8th in your chart serve as your tools for fully developing the majesty that is YOU. Instead of merely marking the presence of your Shadow or Plutonian hidden motives you might harbor, these planets indicate your powerful talents as well as the methods by which you can cope with your Shadow.
“There are no bad planets. All are instruments.”—Karen Hamaker-Zondag
The 8th House strives for power but also deeply emotionally intimate relationships that are on equal footing; there is a powerful longing for openness and honesty. The best of Pluto’s promise in relationships is to be wholeheartedly open and aware of your vulnerability, being willing to share in a spirit of deep authenticity. One of the unfortunate ways that the “death” energies of the 8th House can manifest is not just through death in terms of literal losses (of people, homes, jobs, status, etc.), but metaphorical deaths such as shutting oneself off from others, refusing openness.
This psychological motive comes, Karen explained, from the “life fear” as expounded by psychologist Otto Rank. Life fear is the fear of living autonomously, the fear of being abandoned, and cultivating a need for dependency on someone else. When this life fear becomes a dominant personality trait, a person has no real psychological development and loses him- or herself in a mire of co-dependent relationships. “The fear of life is the fear of self-actualization,” Karen said.
Conversely, there is, of course, a “death fear” that Rank described in his teachings. This is the fear of losing one’s autonomy or independence, of being totally absorbed by the Other. When this fear becomes a dominant personality trait, a person feels the urge to dominate and assert their personal power in an intense way—the bigger the fear, the greater the level of intensity.
And thus we see, astrologically, where the Plutonian connection to POWER comes from, the death fear. Again, the natal chart examples of tyrants like Ceausescu bear out this death fear trajectory into political dictatorship as the worst-case expression of these energies. These leaders-turned-dictators had undeveloped personalities (non-integrated Shadows) and they allowed themselves to wholly fall prey to the death fear.
Pluto does get a bad rap for power-tripping in this regard. But as Karen explained, every planet in our charts can be used to rule and keep control over others. For example, Neptune can also trigger a death fear, and as the Master of Illusion He likes to deceive people with ill-aspected Neptune placements that they’re “doing God’s work.” It’s the guru mentality of exceptionalism and secret access to special information. It, along with ill-aspected Jupiter, fuels religious wars, jihads,etc.
An 8th House Sun could reveal the person’s relationship to power as being one of courage and heroism (Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel) or, again, one of despotism (Ceausescu). The chart doesn’t show the choices one makes, but the possibilities. “Every morning, you make the choice for life or death,” Karen reminded us.
The fear of life and the fear of death are fighting each other constantly, our whole lives, and are expressing themselves as 8th House energies. We can choose regeneration and transformation or we can choose annihilation. Even in the midst of crises, we can choose to get to the deepest essence of things. During sex, we can choose to be wholly who we are while fully committing ourselves to surrender and openness with our partner(s).
The opposite of fear is desire. The 8th House is also the locus of where we have what Otto Rank called “the Life Urge.” We live our lives intensely as our fullest and truest Selves, compromising for no one. We take heart that our existence does make a difference, to ourselves and to the world at large and the people we impact. We operate from a knowing place of inner authority and have a strong drive towards self-development, competing with no one. In this place of healthy Ego, we have a welcoming attitude of openness towards that which is hidden (all senses of the word “occult”), both within ourselves and externally. We create from that all-encompassing, wholly absorbing, pleasurable NOW that I like to call “being in The Zone.”
“Creativity of the 8th House is always destructive but not necessarily negative.”
We looked at more examples of famous people (for good or ill) with notable 8th House planetary placements that clearly showed narratives of the life fear and death fear or the life urge being dominant. The chart of former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover clearly presents an individual who lived the dark expressions of 8th House energies. As does the chart of psychopath and murderer Charles Manson.
Planetary transits in the 8th House or certain aspects to Pluto in one’s chart are hardly “fun” events when they translate into life losses, but when moments of crisis hit us, Karen urged us all to dare to feel depressed, to dare to acknowledge the uncertainty prevailing in our lives, and to feel those emotions fully—with no self-judgments and without resorting to medications like antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications as coping mechanisms. I really felt myself move from a place of intellectually admiring her to loving her for saying that.
“When things go wrong, you are always able to handle the pain and life goes on.”
The summary slide of Karen’s PowerPoint presentation on 8th House dynamics really could be rebranded as “The Life Instruction Manual Your Parents Never Gave You and Probably Wish They Had Themselves”:
- Everybody has enormous dormant creativity.
- Everybody has an intense life calling.
- Accept inner struggles—moments of questioning and self-doubt—as gifts, not pains.
- Your biggest enemy is living within you: your Shadow.
- With the help of the 8th House, you can learn about and come to unmask your Shadow.
- Enter relationships fully empathically, knowing that nothing is permanent (no relationship on Earth will last forever) and that confrontations are inseparable from relating to the Other.
- Don’t spoil happy feelings with fear.
- Surrender to life events as they are but don’t forget yourself.
- Be open and vulnerable at the same time, sharing your deepest feelings with your loved ones so that you can bring the deep joy of meaningful intimacy in your life.
It was something of a shock to the system to leave the Plutonian Underworld of Karen’s excellent, day-long workshop and exit the hotel for the last time of my UAC 2018 experience, walking right into the heat and humidity of a sunny late Spring Chicago evening. I ran into a couple of my new friends in the lobby of the hotel and hugged them; I predicted that I would need some time to properly readjust to “reality” and I was grateful I had a buffer period before I would need to resume my daily hustle. They concurred with me, noting that this week was absolutely amazing and wonderful. To other people I didn’t know personally, but whom I recognized as being fellow UAC 2018 attendees, I waved goodbye and wished them safe travels as I careened past taxi cabs and departing hotel guests.
My heart chakra began to thud with my rhythmic pattern that accompanies grief. An appalling weight then seemed to drive itself into my chest, between my breasts. I let out a quiet wail. I decided to drive to the hotel that day and I parked at a nearby outdoor lot on Rush Street; I walked briskly to my car and took several deep breaths as soon as I settled in and buckled my seat belt. I was shaky but was immensely grateful that my body-mind went into auto-pilot/Hyper-Responsible Virgo Mode and properly reacted to the immediate stimuli surrounding my need to safely navigate my way home along Lake Shore Drive in weeknight traffic.
The waves of Lake Michigan, seen from my passenger window, seemed calm in their hue of leaden cobalt blue. Joggers, bicyclists, and dog walkers enjoyed the evening air along the lakefront paths. By all accounts, Life was still taking place around me, yet I felt strangely apart from it somehow, that I was in a parallel dimension or something—existing but not integrated with my surroundings.
The nautical setting made me think of the concluding stanzas to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s apogée of nineteenth-century Romantic verse, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” I couldn’t tell if, looking at the characters in that poem, I was more like the Mariner or the hapless Wedding Guest, transfixed by the Mariner’s occult power of fascinatio and who is thus detained from attending his cousin’s wedding. Like the Wedding Guest in the concluding stanza, I felt that the knowledge I’d gleaned from the 8th House workshop all day definitely made me “sadder but wiser” about my own life experiences, karmic lessons, and other Divine wisdom betokened by my natal chart, progressed chart, and planetary transits.
As I wrote in my journal recently, my experiences as a first-time attendee of the United Astrology Conference were nothing short of life-altering for me. Following astrologer Eileen McCabe’s injunction to see my natal horoscope as a “sacred mandala” of my own Self-Actualization, it’s clear to me that the role of the Death Deities I serve—chiefly Nephthys, Hekate Khthonia, Veles, La Santa Muerte, and Hel—claimed my head from the moment I was born. The formative developmental experiences I had as a child—the parade of family deaths, culminating in the horror of my brother’s death when I was 16—all make sense. My education in Serbian culture of having a home ancestor altar and feeding the dead at the cemetery, my early childhood-fostered preoccupation with the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, my mediumship gifts and my serving as a beacon to the dead, my ritual work, my Witchcraft, the fact that I unknowingly bought my first home built over a mass paupers’ grave, my Death Midwife certification process, my Espiritismo training, my Priestess Craft—none of it is surprising, nothing is anomalous when you look at the tell-tale signs in my natal chart. It was literally all written in the stars.
I fully embrace who I am and what I have been put on this Earth to do. The ancient Egyptians had a formula for conscious evolution into the heightened awareness of Eternal Becoming:
“Kheper-i kheper kheperu kheper-kuy m kheperu n Khepri kheper m Zep Tepi…”
“When I became into the becoming, I have become what is to come, the form of Khepri, Who came into Being at the First Time [moment of Creation]…”
It is so! May all attain!