The 3rd house: If I only had a brain!

Dorothy, just like the Fool in the Tarot, starts her journey with nothing but a basket and her little dog, Toto.

By the time we reach the third house, we’ve accrued quite a little bundle we’re now carrying around with us.

In the first house, the Fool begins the journey of her lifetime, declaring some version (garbled or articulate) of “I am,” which she will spend her life defining.

In the second house, she starts to gather her possessions about her, those that she’ll need to make the journey more pleasant; perhaps nice soaps and her Starbucks mug?

In the third house, however, she’s begun to realise that good intentions, a map, and a backpack, aren’t enough. She’s going to have to start reaching out to others, and develop her mental faculties too, so as to be able to communicate. If you ever get on a plane, you enact this journey; you, your ticket, and bag are insufficient to deal with the trip.

You’ll have a seat mate or two to talk to or ignore; you’ll also have to talk to the ground crew when they lose your luggage, and later convince the TSA that you are not a terrorist. This is where the 3rd house comes in handy, since it symbolises your ability to communicate and cope in the world outside of your head.

How well or poorly you do that will make the difference between being kept overnight in the lockup or remaining free to wander the streets, once the TSA decides you have, or have not, made your case adequately.

So, if we follow the analogy of the chart as the compass of our life’s journey, we’re now at the part that requires that we actually talk to others and notice there’s a big world out there. We’re not ready yet to actually be held responsible for our thoughts—that won’t come until we reach the 9th house—but in the 3rd, we’ve begun to think them and speak for ourselves. However, this knowledge comes with what I consider to be an important astrological caveat, which I think we have to consider now that we’re in the 3rd house. I will explain.

There’s a problem when we try to make the houses correspond neatly to their ‘traditional’ rulers. In other words, there are times when Aries ruling the 1st, Taurus ruling the 2nd, and Gemini ruling the 3rd and so on, just isn’t going to compute.

One answer might be to blend the sign on the cusp of the third in the natal chart with the ‘essence’ of the traditional ruler; after all, one of the reasons we follow astrology at all is to get reasonably predictable answers so that we have a kind of guidebook by which to live our lives. If we’re not going to follow the rules of this game, then what’s the point of studying it at all, some ask?

I've come for my brains!
I’ve come for my brains

Gemini as the third house ruler presents a few problems, however. For one thing, this notion that the third ‘rules’ siblings, short trips, books, research—essentially anything Gemini is known to have an interest in—is far too reductive, in my opinion, as are all the house ‘rulers,’ which, in my opinion, are far too specific to be taken seriously. Honestly, is there a house that rules cupcakes? And please do not answer: ‘the fourth, of course, since it’s Cancer’s house, and only Cancers make cupcakes!’ Rulerships of houses, from my perspective, start to get silly and pedantic after awhile, but we are sort of stuck with them, so we shall soldier on and hope for the best.

I would prefer, however, for each house to be much more broadly defined. If that were the case, then anything to do with cognition would be part of the 3rd house experience, and we could then discuss science’s answer to astrology, which is that we all suffer from cognitive bias if we’re interested in (or, god help us, believe in) astrology. However, belief is a 9th house subject, so we’ll deal with that later; for the moment, we’ll focus on thinking, speech, and cognition, shall we? I think that’s enough to be getting on with for one post.

To study astrology, an arguably 3rd house task, we engage in a process of accepting logical inconsistencies, just like when we study the tenets of certain religions (although I am NOT conflating astrology and religion! See this post if you’re confused about which is which; I am not). Heuristics (things like saying the traditional third house ruler is Gemini) create a rule that is simple for the brain to compute, but nonetheless create ‘systematic errors.’ All astrology falls under this heading, but if you have accepted astrology as a subject that interests you, you begin not to notice, or care, about logical inconsistencies (or you find ways of explaining them away).

In the 3rd house, then, we encounter this aspect of ourselves: the part of us that must think our way through situations, and be able to (eventually, in the 9th house) answer for our thoughts. When it comes to thinking about astrology, we employ all sorts of biases to make this “pseudoscience” make sense. Here is a partial list:

  • Framing by using a too-narrow approach and description of the situation or issue.
  • Hindsight bias, sometimes called the “I-knew-it-all-along” effect, is the inclination to see past events as being predictable.
  • Fundamental attribution error is the tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior.
  • Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions; this is related to the concept of cognitive dissonance.
  • Self-serving bias is the tendency to claim more responsibility for successes than failures. It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests.
  • Belief bias is when one’s evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by their belief in the truth or falsity of the conclusion.

Now, the silliest thing of all about house rulerships is that strictly, I should not muddy the waters of this discussion by bringing up what are broadly believed to be 9th house issues, such as philosophy, belief, published research, etc. When you begin to see the limits of atomising, which is what rulerships force you to do, you start to see that you cannot have a proper, all-encompassing conversation about cognitive bias in astrology and stick to the rules set down about following the rulerships of each house. Eventually, of course, conversations—a 3rd house topic—become increasingly complex, and that conversation you entered into with your neighbor or your sister becomes philosophical, taking on a dark psychological tone, perhaps, at which point, you’ve blended 8th and 9th house issues, to make an astrological soup.

My head I'd be scratchin' while my thoughts were busy hatchin,' if I only had a brain.
My head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin,’ if I only had a brain.

So we will continue to look at the houses, but first I had to stop and make these moans of proviso, indicating that I am not okay with traditional rulers, which narrow our scope too much and make a real conversation about a subject almost impossible—that is, if we follow the rules strictly. If we don’t follow the rules, we can do whatever we want, but then, why would we study astrology, a rule-based system?

We’ll probably have to begin to answer that question soon, but I go back to what I said a long time ago—astrology is great for insecure people. The metaphor of what the 3rd house is about can be used to discern the difference between what we think and what matters. Assess now that we’re discussing how one thinks, whether or not you employ cognitive bias in your study of astrology, and then come back next time and we shall move on to the 4th house, which is a very different place to be. The life of the mind is to be found in the 3rd, so I expect you to find a way to justify or be rational about (as opposed to ‘rationalise’) your use of astrology. I do think we have to be conscious of why we use astrology, and now that we’re in the 3rd house, there’s no better time to question our thinking process.

 A 3rd house-style conversation between the Scarecrow and the Wizard:

“I’ve come for my brains.”

“You don’t need them. You are learning something every day. A baby has brains, but it doesn’t know much. Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.”
“That may all be true,” said the Scarecrow, “but I shall be very unhappy unless you give me brains.”

The false Wizard looked at him carefully.

“Well,” he said with a sigh, “I’m not much of a magician, as I said; but if you will come to me tomorrow morning, I will stuff your head with brains. I cannot tell you how to use them, however; you must find that out for yourself.”
“Oh, thank you–thank you!” cried the Scarecrow. “I’ll find a way to use them, never fear!” —The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

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6 thoughts on “The 3rd house: If I only had a brain!”

  1. Somewhere in your wonderful series about the Lunar Nodes you introduce the reader to an article written by Joe Landwehr titled “The clockwise interpretation of the houses”. I do try to keep an open mind to any interpretation but it becomes difficult to combine the counter-clock-wise sequence you describe here and the clockwise interpretation of the 3rd house as given by Mr. Landwehr: “In the 3rd house, for example, are what Ram Das refers to as the “uncooked seeds” of previous incarnations, which serve as the nuclei of karmic conditions, often uncannily reflected in the belief system of the family matrix, absorbed throughout childhood by the growing individual, and some would say, subliminally from the mother while still in the womb”.
    Do we indeed have to make our personal choice either to adapt to clockwise or counterclock-wise or do you see an opportunity to take the best of both systems?

    1. Basically, if you’re going to interpret the chart from a Western tropical perspective, you’re working with planets transiting through the chart in a counterclockwise direction, since the ‘movement’ you’re seeing is shown against the tropical Zodiac. The fact that the Zodiac is ‘fixed,’ and immovable, means that the planets appear to be moving against it, almost with the Zodiac as a backdrop. In fact, the planets in the heavens are actually moving counterclockwise. But the difference in the chart’s usefulness to the astrologer lies between the astrological version of reality, and reality itself.

      Reality itself, in the heavens, bears little relationship to astrology. Evidence of this disconnect between reality and astrology is that in the chart, the Ascendant marks the time of birth, where the ecliptic hits the Zodiac sign present at the moment of your birth, yet the 1st to the 2nd house does not mark the place where the sun is rising (the houses being purely symbolic and not, of course, existing anywhere except on the chart); the sun in the sky is, technically, ‘rising’ in a clockwise direction from the Ascendent (the ‘dawn’ position) up through the 12th to the zenith (the Midheaven, Medium Coeli, or ‘noon’ position). The sun ‘sets’ at the cusp of the 7th house, and then dips down under the earth to the ‘midnight’ position at the nadir, Imum Coeli, or 4th house cusp.

      Joe Landwehr apparently sees something significant in the two motions as they ‘contradict’ one another, and in one sense, especially if you read Dane Rudhyar, I think you can see his analysis as a comment on physics, that astrology is not necessarily ‘only’ spiritual, or ‘just’ about fate; it is also indicative of the human relationship to the heavens, both in the construct we’ve created of the Zodiac and the named constellations, but also in the interplay between time and space that the chart represents. The chart is actually highly symbolic, and I think that’s one of the things he’s getting at.

      I personally would not ever want to tie someone down, though, and make them think, well, now you have to read the chart this way. If a system of thought is overly elaborate, and it doesn’t speak to you, and you cannot work with it, there’s absolutely no reason to try to push your foot into that glass slipper. Not all approaches work. I hope that scratches the surface of what you were asking. I appreciate the question, and thanks for reading!

      I’m going to include a few explanatory links as background info for anyone reading this comment who might not know what the ecliptic is: and also Joe Landwehr’s page: and counterclockwise info:

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