The Twelfth House: Art and the Unconscious September 25 2016
Katy Bohinc, NYC, 2016
This paper is forthcoming (December 2016) in a leading Western Occult publication, The Fenris Wolf, which is available for purchase here. First presented as a talk at the "Psychoanalysis, Art and the Occult" conference in London, March 2016.
I had last night, personally, a new moon in the 12th house; the timing of this talk is coincidentally apt.
Forgive me, as I begin with a disclaimer and a thank you. First, thank you to Vanessa Sinclair and Carl Abrahamson. Their project of connecting Western Psychoanalysis with Non-Colonial psychological practices - otherwise termed “occult” in Western Enlightenment brandished English - is to me of paramount relevance. Since my earliest studies as a poet I have sought to uncover unifying threads in human culture in order to understand human history with less bias and more permission; to understand with more truth. Poetry, a non-commercial and in this way non-regulated art (for better and worse), was one entrance. The other was astrology. Western astrology (discussed herein) is of course specific in cultural detail but the originating principles – math, measurement and scientific precision – are shared across astrological systems. The vast majority of early civilizations studied the literally sparkling unknown of the night, and with little more than the eye, a ruler and writing utensil, developed majorly complex measurement schemas; a feat which tells me all humans have the propensity and capacity to measure their worlds systemically. Let it be noted, that while certainly in the eye of the beholder I’ll argue staunchly that the similarities in cross-civilization astrological symbolisms overwhelmingly outweigh the differences. Astrology has fundamentally taught me how similar ancient civilizations are in a "universal grammar" kind of way.
In this spirit I will say further that when I talk about astrology I have little patience for the ones who say “but if this one thing isn’t true doesn’t this disprove the whole?” Or really, this is what they mean but it is phrased something like “but my sister is a scorpio and she isn’t vindictive!?!?” My response to this is very seriously “call Becky with the good hair.”
(from the 2016 visual album, Lemonade)
Herein's expose of astrology is not in any way meant as a proof to indoctrinate you. I am not here to show that astrology is scientifically valid, whatever you may think scientific means. I see astrology much more poetically: as providing a window of vision for a possibility of reality. I see it as a historical study of the foundations of ancient civilizations and cross-cultural similarities. And, to the logical positivists out there, there does exist the incompleteness theorem & yet we have not completely rejected mathematics. So if finding one or many logical loopholes is your project, I dare say you are missing the big picture for a penny or your ego.
Godel’s 1st Theorem of Incompleteness, which mathematically proves that the larger the mathematical system, the greater the certainty it will contain mathematically unverifiable statements.
My own interest in astrology began a few years out of undergrad. I was – swear to god – thinking back to my undergrad math courses which frequently covered early Greek mathemes – and wondering “why were they so interested in, of all things, Triangles?” Imagine the Greek landscape: a very busy metropolis, with some large-scale structures but not too many yet at 3 B.C., bustling trade and markets in dirt and stone streets, fancy silks on overcrowded wheelbarrow carts, more or less stinky fruits, some Plato and Aristotle sitting around. What geometric shape would be most useful to this society? Probably wheels for carting and transporting things. Maybe squares for building large structures. But triangles?! How, operationally, the triangular shape would become such a multi-century obsession of study as to give rise to Trigonometry – which I assure you was not something that fell out of the sky – it took some serious earthly effort – until I realized: It completely came out of the sky.
A Brief List of Important Trigonometric Formulae, or “Triangle Obsessive Disorder”
What I’ll term “Triangle Obsessive Disorder,” arose from an obsession with the starscape, those fantastical night time creatures which made patterns and, if planets, caused dramatic speculation with their traveling. Recall that originally there was no linguistic difference between astronomy and astrology. Further, the astronomy/astrology term also frequently indicated what we differentiate today as “Mathematics.” A great example being the incredible Hypatia, an Alexandrian woman who by studying the stars developed several complex geometric formulae which would not be proven accurate until centuries after her death. (Only freak egoists like Aristotle and Plato branded mathematics with a unique linguistic term, denying math’s affiliation with astrology and confusing historians. One of these jerks also banished poetry.) Today of course we cull out linguistically “math” from “astrology,” because astrology layers symbolism on top of math. In this sense, astrology was the original “Tao of Physics,” putting human meaning to mathematic structure.
The Unit Circle, the formative structure of trigonometry and western mathematics juxtaposed against the western zodiac. One can see how measuring the stars developed into a system to measure angles.
So we have established that study of the stars developed trigonometry. But what was the rhyme or reason to the great symbol of astrology, the Zodiac? How did this grand and infamous zodiac come to be? It was not whipped up willy nilly by early proponents of LSD, dreaming stories about star creatures. Although astrological symbolism is frequently interchanged with the term “mythology,” it also developed quite differently from the faith-based mythologies of other major religions, like say, the one around the Christ dude.
The Western Zodiac was not born by faith of miracles, but of the world’s largest dataset – world’s largest until Google and the NSA. For three millennia the largest data crunch in the world was the zodiac. For 600 years every single day, day in, day out, the Sumerians wrote down the position of all the planets and the constellations at least 5 times a day. It was these tablets of data which bore the data patterns that generated the zodiac.
The new NSA center in Utah holds a Yottabyte of data. 600 years of Sumerian astrological data was probably around 20 Gigabytes which fits on a thumbdrive.
Interestingly enough, every day since the big data boom decisions are made based on empirical analysis. Today it matters what the data says; The “why” it is true is irrelevant. Google constantly revamps its hiring practices because the data says “being friends outside the office increases team performance.” The methodology for generating the zodiac was the same as the practices leveraged by Google and contemporary data science. Astrology can be deemed true based on whether it works, especially in the absence of a greater “why”. As for the “why,” if the moon can give me my period and make the tide come in, I see no reason why the planets’ gravitational pulls aren’t affecting my chi except that chi is not studied by Western science. This is all to say, because the “why” has not yet been discovered, it doesn't render a thing false; in the absence of a Newtonian “why”, I’m most concerned with whether it “works.”
Big data technologies are providing the “what” is true faster than science can provide the “why” it is true.
If one is not willing to consider astrology within the science category, well that is fine and dandy, you are not the first! A mid-point would be to consider it a thought system much more scientifically-based than the faith-based miracles of Christ (not that I am disinterested in faith-based miracles - o the contrary! But that is a separate essay).
What differentiates astrology (ancient and modern) from being a simple mathematical system is its propensity to be used as a divination tool, which allows people to grant it an almost deistic power. (Trust me, it's addictive.) Hence, in ancient times astrology directly competed with authority, particularly mono-diety Christianity. Astrology was thus banished. Like most banishments, it was genuinely ideological and directly related to power.
In an interesting sidenote, even after Christian rulers completely outlawed astrology, for centuries throughout the Dark Ages the vast majority of Western medical advice still held elements of it. For example: if you have a stomachache take ruddy metallic medicine on Tuesday because the gut is related to Taurus and indicates a lack of redness in the liver. I find it pretty astonishing that astrologically-related medical advice lasted so late in the game. But then again, “Modern Western Medicine” is so preeminent we don’t consider how recent a development it is.
Anyway, I’m not advocating the use of astrology to treat cancer. I mean to elucidate how deeply ingrained astrology was in Western culture. More examples – The Three Wise Kings who found Jesus under three stars? The Three Wise Kings named Magi? “Magi” is the Egyptian term for Astrologer. And the three stars? Even fundamentalist Christians today use the rare conjunction of the three stars (believed to be Jupiter, Venus and Mars) in order to date the birth of Christ.
To make a long story short, astrology was super potent in the ancient West. However, (largely Christian) authorities were not as keen. So, Astrology was outlawed, exiled and practitioners burned alive time after time – the first expulsion of astrologers from Rome being in 139 B.C. Throughout the advancement of Christianity, added to the mix was “Witches” and “Shamans”. Also “Spells,” which were deemed “the Devil’s Art” and subsumed into private corners of the Catholic Church where they became the worst grimoires ever written - by popes. (A grimoire is a book of magic spells.) Again, the power of the occult never faded; it was outlawed and subsumed by the Church. When I look at it this way, it seems like the yin of Christ’s love, spawned the outright yang totalitarianism of Christian Rule.
A Grimoire is a book of magic spells. This grimoire, intended to be used by a priest, was written by Pope Honorius III in 1760. It arguably contains some of the most perverse spells ever recorded in human history, partially for their inaccuracy. Papal and Church grimoires were published as late as the 18th century.
Which, and I swear to god this is all relevant because, it dovetails into understanding the rejection of the modern astrological experiments of Michel Gauquelin.
In 1955 French statistician and astrologer, Michel Gauquelin published the book “Les Influences des Astres” which was the first modern study of astrology presented formally and publicly to intellectual journals and committees and so on. It used the modern form of mathematical inquiry, statistics (itself a field of mathematics about 100 years old).
Michele Gauquelin (1928-1991), French statistician and astrologer who performed the first modern tests on astrology.
Gauquelin ran a whole bunch of statistical tests on a fairly small dataset – around 2,000 sample size. He was analyzing natal charts. Natal charts are the bedrock of astrology.
A natal chart is comprised of the position of the planets at the moment of an individual’s birth. The theory is that the position of the planets, and the angles these planets make to one another comprise a sophisticated set of meaning which determines a propensity towards a certain personality. This personality is not set in stone; it is not one’s fate. It is the energy that we each have a tendency towards but is in no way finite.
Gauquelin studied natal chart data from all possible variables to see if any planetary patterns indicated professional success. In other words, he looked to see if any natal chart data statistically correlated with real world outcomes. The results were clear, counter-intuitive and, unsurprisingly, contested. Controversy went on for decades – the official complaint was the math was faulty. However, from a political view, it is not shocking that “Enlightened France” (home of the Pope Grimoire) officially rejected Gauqulin’s results, official body after official body, despite repeated evidence to the contrary. In my opinion the controversy around statistical methodology is moot because the sample size should have been much larger. Today this is possible. What should be done is additional studies leveraging “big data” – and I do mean big, like millions of natal charts. The Astro.com database is a place to start.
Gauquelin’s findings were not at all intuitive. The answer was nothing to do with a planet and nothing to do with the zodiac. It was to do with a house.
The houses are one of the least well known parts of astrology in contemporary culture. Today, we all know sun signs. Sun sign horoscopes - essentially the cheapest, most reductive form of astrology - entered into popular consciousness in the 1800’s as a way for newspapers to make money. True astrology is based on a much more comprehensive analysis which considers all the planets, not just the sun. Again, the thing being analyzed is called “the natal chart.”
The houses in astrology are based on the precise minute of one’s birth. There are twelve houses, each with a different meaning: The first house of personality; the second of money and values; the third of communications; the fourth of home and family; the fifth of romance, creativity, children and risks; the sixth of work and health; the seventh of deep relationships; the eighth of inheritances and taboo; the ninth of study and travel; the tenth of professional standing; the eleventh of dreams and friendship; and the 12th house of the unconscious.
One version of a natal chart house system. The twelfth house is 9 to 10 o'clock.
Gauquelin’s findings were surprising on many levels. One would assume planets in the 10th house of public standing would correlate to professional success. However, Gauquelin found that the 12th house of the unconscious was the leading indicator. Sublimely weird, because in ancient astrology, the 12th house was associated with prisons, mental hospitals, monasteries, orphanages, places of solitude and general underworldliness.
Depiction of the 12th house from an ancient astrological wheel: sitting in the stocks.
In contemporary astrology, the 12th house, the last house, is the house of Persephone’s underworld. It is the house of Carl Jung’s Red Book. It is the house of contemporary poetry. It is the house of our dreams, secrets and fantasies. It is still the house of our solitude, our truly individual adventures, or our solitary mental adventures which render us truly unique individuals. The 12th house is the house of prophesy. It is the house of the unstructured zeitgeist. It is the space we go when truly alone. It is the house of the soul.
And, the twelfth house was the only aspect of the natal chart Gauquelin found to have any bearing on a person’s IRL professional success. So at first, while seeming highly unlikely that this lonely, damned house would make us great, on second thought, that the section of the chart which ultimately stands for true individualism would reckon us notable figures, makes a damned lot of sense to me. I think of it like this: it is each of us who makes the choices to become notable figures, but with 12th house planet(s), one is also original so they differentiate from the rest of the famous fucks out there. In short, being famous isn’t enough. One must produce something of value via connection to the unconscious and truly independent thought. (And, one must have put themselves in a public position, whether this be a community role or blog or presidential position for this originality to become noted.)
Gauquelin’s key experiments released in the 1955 book “The Influence of the Stars” and termed “The Mars Effect.” Gauquelin’s results were repeatedly rejected by French intellectual society.
Gauquelin’s findings were incredibly specific to the planet and the exact vocation (see above). However, in my personal investigations of the 12th house, I find it useful to broaden the search to any planet in the 12th house and particularly, multiple planets in the 12th. Let’s look at some examples, beginning with my favorite example of the 12th house archetype: David Bowie.
Bowie was the best example of the 12th house. He had “David Bowie” versus “David Jones” denoting a deep understanding of public versus private selves. He could cull from the zeitgeist a public desire even before the public knew they wanted it. He was an utter individual, weird and unpredictable, distinctly alien. He was a phoenix, constantly re-inventing. He was remarkably honest. And he had soul.
David Bowie natal chart. Sun and Mars conjunct in the 12th house. Mercury on the cusp of the 11th house (planets on the cusp of houses typically interpreted as part of the next house.)
Another deeply archetypal example is Gertrude Stein. Stein infamously began her intellectual career studying under philosopher William James. But the first paper she published was on psychology (titled “Normal Motor Automatism.”) It theorized that an action can be completed by a second “unconscious” personality. Or, in other words, that the unconscious can act. Stein then flunked out of medical school where she studied neuroscience (the unconscious) before becoming “The Genius” she was known as in Paris. Little surprise this “poet of the unconscious” has not one but four planets in the twelfth house.
Gertrude Stein natal chart. Sun, Mercury, Venus and Saturn conjunct in the 12th house.
No wonder she wrote like this!
Outside those typically associated with the avant garde, there are some 12th house celebrities.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West Natal Charts. Kim (left) has the genius conjunction and Kanye (right) the conjunction of extreme luck. Both are cusp placements, which per Michelle Gauquelin were the most potent of 12th house positions.
I really do believe Kim is a genius. Her selfie book is proof. I believe her when she says her body is a work of art. Kanye? Who else could make such a jerk of himself time and again without failing except the truly lucky.
Striking is a very small list of notable figures with planets in the 12th house:
Note a few things beyond the unsurprising Nina Simone with a 12th house moon. Of course that woman had soul. Beyond that however, consider that nearly every single major contemporary politician – Obama, Hillary, George W, Trump, Biden, Cameron, Thatcher – all have 12th house placements. Frightening even.
Finally, I note with irony that Freud and Marx, arguably the two most influential Western intellectuals of contemporary thought both tally zero 12th house planets. Our fates are not entirely created by 12th house planets. Then again, maybe I’m correct when I also say Freud and Marx are the two most overrated Western intellectuals of contemporary thought. I suspect their function is primarily as "summarizer" rather than creator. But crucially, the 12th house is not one to one with historical relevance; more simply, indicator of the weird memorable ones on the public stage.
Some other folks on this list I'll call out as simply not surprising: Madonna, Nick Drake, Kant, MLK, Ginsberg, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Janis Joplin, & Joe Biden. All these folks are true originals - nobody else in the world quite like them. Someone else I just looked up - Erykah Badu - jupiter & neptune in the 12th. No surprise. You start to be able to guess them.
Another example of someone I loathe as a wife-murderer, but dear friends in the audience adore so I’ll let them know: your muse William S. Burroughs was a 12th house psycho:
William S. Burroughs' (Wife Killer's) Natal Chart. Five planets in the 12th house: Mercury, Sun, Venus, Uranus and Jupiter.
Planets in the 12th house clearly do not correlate to moral performance.
Just to keep the tension going, a genuinely shocking find: the contemporary king of the unconscious world, Carl Jung, is absent of planetary influence in the 12th. This one would genuinely debunk me except to acknowledge Jung’s childhood in a house filled with mysticism, astrology and meditative studies inclines me to believe he knew the 12th house not by planetary default but by learned awareness. In short he spent his life overcompensating, trying to experience what he knew others could experience but did not come naturally to him. That or Carl Jung’s recorded birthtime is wrong.
Nonetheless, I cannot help but continue my party trick with my favorite example of a major 12th house presence. The one I led with, back at the beginning of this long paper. No surprise. Beyonce is still the queen:
Beyonce Knowles’ natal chart. Saturn, mercury and Jupiter conjunct in the 12th house. (Venus and Pluto on the ascendant, which signifies she is an intensely powerful and adorable persona.)
I leave you with a poem which is perhaps the best elucidation of what is the 12th house. It is by American poet Alice Notley called “I went down there”. Alice has said for years she only writes the voices which speak to her, from her dreams and her unconscious. I imagine Ms. Notley has a very 12th house chart, but perhaps she is another example like Carl Jung: someone who can live in the 12th house because it is not their natal chart tendency. They can go there without being completely undone by it, because they do not risk being overtaken.
(A Canadian poet I love, Lisa Robertson, could also fittingly end this talk, or any Tender Buttons author. Lisa Robertson has four planets in the 12th, similar to Gertrude Stein. All Tender Buttons authors have at least one planet in the 12th. I myself carry a 12th house moon.)
What we poets write when we write about chaos, when we verbalize the fantastical or impossible, when we examine the connectivity of all things, when we expose our singular strangeness: these are all machinations of the 12th house. It is comforting to know the unconscious has been one twelfth of the world view since antiquity.
In a sense, the 12th house is universal suffering. It is the place where by seeing beyond ourselves we become ourselves. By seeing the whole, we find our singular reference. The 12th house is the Koan. The zeitgeist via solitude; the individual via the collective. It is the house of intuition, the avant garde and the mystic. The process of the twelfth house is perhaps the fundamental basis for art.
As for astrology as science, we have the technology available today to examine this beautiful and fundamental knowledge of our civilization. It should be studied further.
Until then, astrology is a fabulous party trick, the 12th house an awesome metaphor, and both a portal into incredible insight. In a way, it doesn’t matter if astrology is “true”, it matters that it works as a vehicle to truth.
Katy Bohinc is a poet, publisher, data scientist, astrologer, activist and booberry. You can buy her book here.