Mysteries of the Twelfth House:
The Gods Must Be Crazy
© Kenneth Johnson
Fortune and Daimon
It is the nature of the astrological Twelfth House to be enigmatic. Throughout most of astrology’s history, the Twelfth has been called the house of sorrow, servitude and loss – sometimes it is said to be the house of one’s own self-undoing. And yet contemporary astrology regards the Twelfth as the most mystical of all houses, a place of deep spiritual realization, of transcendence – and thus in a certain respect the most positive house of all.
What shall we make of this? Were all of our astrological progenitors purely and simply “wrong” for 2,000 years, incapable of rendering proper judgment or interpreting a horoscope properly? Or are the moderns merely sugar-coating the pill? Were all the great astrologers of ages past just hopelessly in need of a positive thinking class at the local New Age center, or does the contemporary taste for maddeningly vague terms such as “transformation” and “transcendence” allow us all too easily to imagine whatever we please, cloaking a house of difficulty in all sorts of pleasant fantasies?
The ancient sources provide an important clue. In Hellenistic astrology, one of the earliest terms for the Twelfth House is “the place of the evil daimon.” [i]
This rather unnerving name for the Twelfth House does not stand alone; it is part of a paradigm. The Fifth House is “the place of good Fortune,” while its opposite, the Eleventh, is “the place of the good daimon.” The Sixth is the “place of bad Fortune,” while its opposite, the Twelfth, is the place of the bad daimon.
Fortune and the Daimon emerge as principal players in the most ancient horoscopic philosophy. Nor is their role limited to the four houses we have mentioned. We are all familiar with the Part of Fortune, but among modern astrologers, Dane Rudhyar was somewhat unique in stressing its mirror image and counterpart, the Part of Spirit.[ii] Rudhyar may well have known his Greek; in Hellenistic astrology, the Part of Spirit is called the Part of the Daimon.
The image of Fortune has not changed much over the centuries. We still know this goddess somewhat as the ancients knew her – the beautiful but fickle diva of luck. But the concept of the Daimon has become unfamiliar to us in modern times. If we are to understand the earliest meaning of the Twelfth House, we must first define the Daimon.
Let us not be uncomfortable with the resemblance to the word “demon.” In Latin, “daimon” is “genius,” signifying an indwelling potency common to all human beings. Christianity was unable to eradicate this annoyingly pagan concept from the popular imagination; it was too widespread throughout the ancient world. The Christian fathers did, however, soften its meaning by renaming it “the guardian spirit” or even “guardian angel.”
Plato tells us all about it in The Republic.[iii] When we are between lives, the gods assign us a guiding spirit or daimon. When we return into incarnation, the daimon will accompany us. It is with us always. Thus our daimon is our inner deity, an archetypal imprint with which we are born; it accompanies us throughout our lives.
The daimon’s job description is a simple one. She or he is responsible for guiding us along the path to our destiny – the unique, thoroughly individual purpose for which we have once again entered into human incarnation. No wonder early astrologers placed so much importance on the concept of the daimon, scattering it liberally throughout the horoscope! If astrology is destiny, the daimon ought to play a starring role.
But if there is but daimon for each of us, why split it between two houses, “good” in the Eleventh but “bad” in the Twelfth?
It would be extremely convenient if the daimon would always behave itself, ensconced like a like a nice, well-mannered child in the comfort of the Eleventh House, engaging in social activities that the current social consensus regards as moral, upstanding, and respectable.
Every now and then, it does precisely that. But not always.
Plato describes the daimon as a “fiery spirit.”[iv] This archetypal template is made of pure energy. It is neither intrinsically good nor bad; it is simply energy. It can impel us toward the heights of glory or inspiration. Alternatively, it may also impel us toward eccentric, unbalanced, or downright peculiar acts. The daimon doesn’t care about being socially acceptable or even (gasp!) politically correct. When the philosopher Socrates was on trial, it was his daimon that impelled him to speak out with brutal honesty rather than with soft and conciliatory words; in other words, it was his ultimate destiny and part of his life’s immortal purpose to be condemned to death and drink the hemlock; the daimon was only watching out for his destiny.
The daimon is concerned solely with guiding you to your purpose; it doesn’t particularly care if that purpose runs contrary to the mores of society. When you’re at your favorite Thai restaurant, eating tofu while discussing recent meditation classes with your friends, it’s the daimon who shouts: “What I really want is a hamburger!”
Most of us repress the impulsions and instincts which threaten our comfortable social interactions and relationships. We value our social networks and our friends, and all of these matters rest with a kind of self-satisfied ease in the Eleventh House, where the daimon behaves itself. When other, wilder, and less comfortable notions intrude upon our well-defined and well-ordered realities, we try to bury them as deep as we can.
And no place is deeper than the Twelfth House!
The problem is: We can’t keep things buried forever. We can call it a “bad daimon” and hide it in the misty oceanic depths of the Twelfth House, but the fact remains that the daimon is our archetypal template and represents the most valuable and unique parts of the self. If even a few of these unique elements of our being are repressed, some poor planet must surely bear the burden of that repression. Whether through our Mercury, Venus, Moon, or something else, the dark cloud of repression will fall upon us somewhere. And it is the business of that cranky daimon who dwells in the Twelfth House to make us feelingly, painfully aware of it.
When a planet becomes sufficiently frustrated, unable to express itself according to its true nature because we’re keeping it hidden, it will eventually stand up and complain. It will howl at us like a wolf in the night.
And this, of course, is when we have the opportunity to meet the gods.
When the Gods Go Mad
It is one of the premises of neo-Jungian or archetypal psychology that the ancient gods now reside upon the therapist’s couch. In other words, our inner deities or archetypes only become noticed by our ordinary day-to-day consciousness when they are out of balance and start behaving in peculiar ways. We don’t meet our inner deities while we are sitting comfortably n front of our newly acquired high definition TV. Our most powerful planets can remain remarkably silent while we are playing golf, only the cheerful but ultimately meaningless small talk of Moon and Mercury prevail while we are chattering away at a party and allowing our deeper stirrings to remain hidden. But let us deny our destiny, and anger that “evil” daimon of the Twelfth, and just watch how quickly the gods will appear! They may appear through obsession, through some mad pilgrimage, through the pangs of impossible love or the scatter-brained practice of tilting at windmills, but appear they shall. They are “acting out” in a state of wild caprice because we have ignored them for far too long.
But isn’t how the gods behave in myth as well? They seldom act with the bland mediocrity of a local politician at a fund-raising dinner. Instead, the gods raise storms, cast lightning bolts, pierce us with the arrows of passion, or impel us to acts of wild abandon. The gods are larger than life. And it is only when our own inner deities – the planets in horoscope – also behave in an outsized or larger-than-life manner that we truly become aware of their existence and their power.
When the gods act crazy, we can no longer ignore them. If the Twelfth is the house where our daimon behaves badly, then this is the place where we are most likely to confront our inner archetypes, our personal deities. This is where the gods cry out for healing. This is where they force us to acknowledge their extraordinary power in our lives. If our Twelfth House Venus or Twelfth House Mercury is the planet most likely to present us with challenges, it is also the planet most likely to bring us into direct experience of the gods within us. The Twelfth House is the place where our “guardian spirit” acts out in problematical ways.
The most obvious manifestation of this phenomenon, of course, is seen directly through planets that occupy the Twelfth House. But not everyone has planets in the Twelfth House. Sometimes our search for the archetypal source of our challenges, for the planet or inner deity out of sorts and out of balance, will lead us to other factors in a horoscope which may carry Twelfth House themes. And there are several of these.
Even if one is not an advocate of the astrological alphabet (and I am not), it must still be acknowledged that Neptune carries a great deal of Twelfth House symbolism. In fact, Plato explicitly tells us so, in his dialogue Phaedrus.[v] He says that there are four different types of “madness.” Interestingly enough, all four of them can be logically correlated with astrological planets. There is the madness of poets which comes from the Muses (Moon), the madness of prophets which comes from Apollo (Sun), and the madness of Eros (Venus) which Plato asserts is the “highest” form of madness, for only Eros draws the soul directly to the Divine. While most of us might see these “manias” as form of inspiration rather than madness, there is yet one aspect of madness which we would currently describe as psychological – that which embodies our family problems, emotional imbalance, anguish and addiction – is said by Plato to “come from Dionysus.” Liz Greene[vi] and others have clearly articulated the similarities between the planet Neptune and the archetype of Dionysus. Planets in a challenging relationship with Neptune carry the imprint of the “crazy gods.”
We do not ordinarily think of Saturn as a Twelfth House factor, but it should be remembered that Neptune was only discovered in the 1840s. Before that time, astrologers looked elsewhere for Twelfth House themes that lay outside the confines of the Twelfth itself. From the very beginnings of astrology until the late 19th century, Saturn was the natural significator of the Twelfth, the planet that “rejoices” in the Twelfth House in the sense that it is symbolically associated with the Twelfth House and its themes in a very powerful way. (This is still true in Vedic astrology.) Saturn problems often carry the same themes as Twelfth House problems.
And let us not forget house rulers, either – though “rulership” has taken a back seat in contemporary astrology. Suppose you have no planets in the Twelfth. Your rising sign is Cancer, and the ruler of the Twelfth is Gemini. Take a look at Mercury, at its position, its conjunctions, and its aspects. Chances are good you will find your crankiest planets “hanging out” with Mercury (or perhaps it is Mercury himself).
Battling the Red Knight
If the dark side of our daimon draws upon the energy of the Twelfth in order to make us aware of unassimilated archetypes, gods out of balance, and so on, then what are we to do about it? Can we bury these crazy deities in some cloud-hidden ashram (a Twelfth House location if ever there was one) and subject them to a discipline which will cause them to disappear? Can we give them a Xanax, put them on a Twelve-Step program, and encourage them to be more “well-rounded”?
Of course not. They’re the gods. They’re immortal, and they don’t just go away. In their analysis of the Grail legends,[vii] Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz draw attention to the relationship between Percival and the Red Knight. As Percival wanders on, searching for the Grail, he finds himself confronted, again and again, by a mysterious figure in red armor. The Red Knight challenges him to battle, and each time Percival conquers him and slays him. Much to his own amazement, however, in another magic forest in yet another chapter of the story, the Red Knight reappears – again and again and again. Again and again, Percival does battle and slays his mysterious antagonist, only to encounter him around the nest castle, lurking in the darkness which follows the next miracle. Finally, the Red Knight unmasks, revealing that he looks much like Percival himself. Percival embraces him and calls him “brother.” Then, and only then, can the conflict cease.
And thus it is with the planets who bother and bewilder us from the confines of the Twelfth House. James Hillman, in statements which became wildly unpopular among his psychological colleagues,[viii] went so far as to suggest that maybe we ought not to try and “cure” complexes which are clearly based upon the archetypes, our inner gods. If we try to get rid of them, we risk losing the fiery, creative, magical energy of our inner daimon, our archetypal purpose. If we turn aside from our wilder, more “daimonic” compulsions, bending and twisting ourselves like pretzels in hopes of fulfilling all the dictates of “good psychological health” (which change as swiftly and as frequently as the society which creates them), we may all too easily find our lives filled with pablum and placebo rather than authentic passion. The bland and complacent outlook of one entirely at peace with all of society’s mores may help to produce a perfectly good corporate drone; but such an outlook cannot induce the visions of poet, painter, or musician, and it cannot fill us with a sense of life as an adventure, a mystical quest for the Grail. In order to accomplish such magic, we need the help of those crazy gods who are impelled to action by the “dark” daimon who dwells in the Twelfth House, who refuses to submit to mediocrities, who rages at us in fine dramatic style until we accept and reverence all the various aspects or ourselves, no matter how scary they may be.
Now perhaps such Twelfth House words as “transcendence” or “transformation” cease to be the over-used, shopworn blandishments which they have all too often become in contemporary astrology. Now, perhaps, we may see that a word such as “transformation” may well describe our ability to act in the spirit of Percival, the Grail Knight, embracing those wild and unlovely parts of ourselves which we may not fully understand but which cry out for expression. Now, perhaps we may understand “transcendence” as our ability to “transcend” the mediocre path of ordinary life by dancing a wild, mad dance with our crazy inner gods who dwell in the confines of the Twelfth, thereby becoming the artists, inventors, or mystics we were always meant to be. Now, perhaps, we may understand why the Twelfth House is the most difficult of all houses, but also the most redemptive and the most mystical. This is where we meet the gods face to face.
[i] See, particularly, Vettius Valens, The Anthology (trans. Robert Schmidt, Berkeley Springs, WV, Golden Hind Press, 1993-2001) passim, and Firmicus Maternus, Ancient Astrology: Theory and Practice (trans. Jean Rhys Bram, Park Ridge, NJ, Noyes Press, 1975), also passim.
[ii] Rudhyar, Dane, The Lunation Cycle (Berkeley and London, Shambala, 1971), pp. 85-91.
[iii] In Plato: The Collected Dialogues (trans. Paul Shorey, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, New York, Bollingen, 1963).
[vi] In The Astrology of Fate (York Beach, ME, Samuel Weiser, 1984), passim. This is only the first of many writings in which Greene makes this argument.
[vii] Jung, Emma, and Marie-Louise von Franz, The Grail Legend (New York, Putnam’s, 1970).
[viii] This outlook is inherent within most of Hillman’s work, but is perhaps most boldly stated in Re-Visioning Psychology (New York, Harper & Row, 1975) and The Soul’s Code (New York, Random House 1996).