The Transformational Sixth House
Coming as it does between the 5th and 7th houses, the Leonine roar and the Libran charm, the 6th house often seems a bit lost in some astrological texts. Employment, daily routine, health, diet, and pets are among the most common rulerships assigned to the 6th house. Dane Rudhyar, though, writes that the 6th house “shows, more than any other factor in the whole of the astrological field, how an individual can grow and become transformed.”1 This is quite a powerful statement, considering that many have traditionally associated the 6th house with more earthbound, less transformational Virgoan pursuits. However, transformation means, literally, a change of form.
Coyote, the Trickster
The Native American trickster named Coyote was also famous for “shape-shifting” (transforming his outer persona). In The Inner Planets: Building Blocks of Personal Reality, Howard Sasportas wrote a chapter titled “Tricksters, Thieves, and Magicians: The Many Faces of Mercury in Mythology“; here, he deconstructed, with considerable skill, the myth of Hermes (the Greek equivalent to the Roman Mercury). Mr. Sasportas stated that “Mercury represents the archetype that can be any of the other archetypes.”2 Mercury is the natural ruler of the 6th house. The 6th house , rather than functioning simply as an astrological day-planner or the office cubicle of the zodiac, is instead a place where one can use Mercury’s archetypal transformational power, in Sasportas’s words, to “rise to the heights of Olympus…[or] descend into the depths of the Underworld.”3
In a fascinating book titled Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art, Lewis Hyde examines the myth of Hermes and also notes Hermes’ trickster nature.4 Hyde explores several Native American myths and legends where the figure of Coyote behaves in much the same way as does Hermes. In Native American mythology, Coyote was a trickster and a con artist. Noting the predictable upstream trajectory of spawning salmon, for example, Coyote invented a salmon trap that he placed in just the spot where he knew a salmon would soon be swimming by. He “psyched out” the salmon and allowed the fish to trap itself.5
Another of the stories related by Hyde tells how Coyote unsuccessfully tried to imitate Kingfisher’s way of catching fish. When Coyote failed in his fishing attempts, Kingfisher told him, “This is my way, not your way. I do not imitate others, like you do.”6 Coyote has the ability to copy others. Hyde notes several advantages of not having a way of one’s own: building a “repertoire of ways,” becoming more versatile and adaptable in a changing world, and having a “plasticity of behavior.”7 Also, people who have no way of their own cannot be trapped in old ways that no longer work. While many other, less adaptable species fight extinction, the coyote, a “consummate survivor in a shifting world, [is] eating purebred poodles in Beverly Hills.”8 Another word for this skill is “mutability” (the ability to mutate, i.e., change form)–certainly one of the qualities of the 6th house.
Comedian Andy Kaufman
The late comedian Andy Kaufman provided a good example of mutable “plasticity of behavior.” He was a gifted copier who had the Sun, Jupiter, and Mars in the Mercurial 6th house. )Mercury can denote “…a talent for mimicking the archetypal nature of the other planets”).9 In fact, many critics say that Kaufman went beyond comic mimicry to actually inhabit his “ways,” including his shape-shifting transformations into a darkly misogynist wrestler and a vituperative lounge singer. (His Moon conjuncted Saturn in Virgo, and Pluto rising opposed his Mars-Mercury conjunction on the Descendant–yikes!) It is interesting to note that, even at the height of his fame, Andy Kaufman (subject of the R.E.M. song “Man on the Moon”) tried to bring himself back to Earth by working periodically as a dishwasher at a small restaurant.
Beat Writer Jack Kerouac
The beatnik writer Jack Kerouac was a nomadic cultural icon whose life became an extended metaphor for the search for personal transformation, frequently accomplished through drugs, alcohol, and frenetic motion; Kerouac had a strongly accented 6th house. His 6th-house Aquarius Mercury was ruled by Uranus, also placed in the 6th house. Kereouac’s famous 1955 autobiographical novel, On the Road–part of a broader generational challenge to the silent, conformist, and “organization-man 1950s–was really about Kerouac’s search for a “way.” The book tells the story of a freedom-obsessed group of friends who “rushed back and forth across the country on the slightest pretext, gathering kicks along the way…and if they seemed to trespass most boundaries, moral and legal, it was only in the hope of finding a belief on the other side.”10
I read On the Road during my senior year in high school and was fascinated with its romantic, vaguely anarchic, outlaw tales of American highways, train-hopping, and drinking. Kerouac’s liberty-loving 6th-house Uranus forms part of an incredibly powerful t-square that is aligned with the two axes. Virgo is rising. The chart ruler, Mercury, is placed in the 6th house, and its dispositor, Uranus, opposes the 1st-house Moon. Ann Charters comments that, in On the Road, Jack Kerouac managed to find his “place as an outsider in America.”11 Kerouac helped to loosen the prevailing 1950s morality. Carolyn Cassady, Kerouac’s intimate friend, was an astrologer. (Her husband, Neal, was the prototype for the main character in On the Road). Cassady did a very adept posthumous astrological reading of Jack Kerouac’s horoscope; she noted that his 6th-house Mercury in Aquarius signified “the pleasure he gained from a migratory life.”12 Kerouac, like Andy Kaufman, also found a way to periodically ground himself: This questing, asphalt-gypsy puer eternis (Mars in Sagittarius) always came home to stay with his mother (Mars on the IC).
The 6th house, Gateway to Relationships
The 6th house, rightly handled, is a threshold over which we must travel from the self-directed 5th house into the 7th house of relationships. Relationships require us to surrender a part of ourselves to others, to sacrifice our egos. In the 5ht house, our egos strive for personal fulfillment; individual needs and self-expression are paramount. The 6th house enables us to learn to control our own egos, to sacrifice some our own needs in order to include significant others. Those who try to zip-file all their 5th house energy and download it directly into the 7th house wonder why their relationships keep crashing.
Emptiness and craving are a part of the 6th house. The workaholic has an emptiness that craves to be filled. The alcoholic, the comedian, the anorexic, and the saint–all respond in different ways to an inner craving for fulfillment. The 6th house represents an area where we can work at gaining self-control and freedom from the inner hungers that drive us.
If the 6th house fundamentally reflects our human attempts to fill our empty inner spaces with worldly preoccupation, perhaps its polarity–the 12th house–is where we can be filled with the peace and joy of a higher power. According to Howard Sasportas, “…it is Mercury which makes it possible for us to transcend duality…and go beyond the realm of boundaries.”13 Carl Jung, in his study of medieval alchemy, wrote that Mercury “…is the process by which the lower and material is transformed into the higher and spiritual. He is…God’s reflection in physical nature.”14
The raw earth of the 6th house may require us to get down on our hands and knees to work the soil, planting seeds in rows and hillocks, making channels where water can flow. But when we do all that, one morning we might look out and discover that the loose and furrowed dirt has been transformed into a landscape so green and bountiful that it takes our breath away.
References and Notes
Dane Rudhyar, The Astrological Experiences: The Spectrum of Individual Experience, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972, pp. 90-91.
Howard Sasportas and Liz Greene, The Inner Planets: Building Blocks of Personal Reality, York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1993, p. 29.
Sasportas and Greene, The Inner Planets, p. 23.
Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art, New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1998.
Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, pp. 18-19.
Ibid, pp. 41-42.
Ibid, p. 43.
Ibid, p. 44.
Sasportas and Greene, The Inner Planets, p. 8.
Ann Charters, “Introduction” to On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, New York: Penguin Books, 1955, p. xxix.
Charters, p. xx.
Carolyn Cassady, “An Astrological Reading,” in Appendix Two of Kerouac: A Biography, by Ann Charters, San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books, 1973, pp. 372-379.
Sasportas and Greene, The Inner Planets, p. 29.
Carl Jung, Alchemical Studies, Vol. 13 of The Collected Works, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966, p. 237.
By Philip Brown