If the birth chart is a portrait of the sky at the moment you were born, then the 12 houses of astrology is the canvas. Along with planets, signs and aspects, the houses are foundational to astrology, providing an underpinning for the whole chart. It’s one thing to know your rising sign, but do you know what it means that your sun is in the first house? Or that Venus is in the fifth house? Let’s take a look at what the 12 houses of astrology are and what each of them actually means.

What are the 12 houses of astrology?

If you’ve ever looked up your birth chart, you’ve likely been met with the image of a zodiac wheel divided into twelve sections. Because all the glyphs and aspect lines are confusing, you probably just scrolled down to a list version of your placements. But the zodiac wheel is the actual birth chart! It’s where you find all the juiciest information. Those 12 sections of the chart are the 12 astrological houses, each representing different topics in your life.

Houses are determined based on the exact time and location of your birth. In modern times, house systems were developed to divide the zodiac from east to west on the horizon line, symbolically depicting the sun’s journey through the sky each day. Your rising sign is always found on the left-hand side of the zodiac wheel. It represents the eastern horizon, or quite literally where the sun rises each morning. No matter what house system you’re using, the rising sign always falls in the first house (or, the house of the self). The houses are then identified moving counterclockwise on the wheel from the second house all the way to the twelfth house.

It might be helpful to think of a birth chart like a tarot spread. The houses—like the position of the cards—provide the form. The time of your birth—and therefore which planets and signs fall within each house—provides the content. The houses ground the planets and signs into a lived experience, allowing for interpretation.

The 12 houses of astrology: Explained

You now understand that the 12 houses divide the birth chart into sections and speak to different topics in your life. Now the question is which topics does each house represent? The houses cover all areas of life, from personal growth (self, pleasure, travel), to survival methods (money, labor, career), to relationships (siblings, partnership, friends), to the existential (ancestry, loss and self-undoing).

The houses found below the horizon (1 through 6) deal with private matters in our life, while the houses found above the horizon (7 through 12) deal with more public matters in our life. Those on the eastern side of the chart (10, 11, 12, 1, 2, 3) are about personal development ,while houses on the western side of the chart (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) are about interpersonal development. The houses’ individual meaning derives from their relationship with the other houses, each building upon each other. Here’s a deep dive on what each house really means.

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First: House of Identity

Known as the helm to ancient astrologers, the first house is the only house in the chart that is 100 percent about you. This is the house found on the eastern horizon, containing the rising sign, or the sign that “came to meet you” at the moment of your birth. While every other house gives information about places you go, people you meet and experiences you have, the first house describes what it’s like to live inside your body and mind. This includes topics like personality, appearance, wellness and self-expression. I like to say that the first house is who you are when you wake up in the morning—what you look like, what you’re thinking about and how you’re taking care of yourself. The planet Mercury, which more than any other planet tends to fully embody the sign it finds itself in, is said to find its joy in the first house. The first house is about how you articulate who you are.

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Second: House of Income

Next up is the second house, which is one of the two houses in the chart that has a lot to do with money. In a poetic sense, the second house is about what feeds you. Whether that’s the income you earn, the fine dining you crave or the values that guide you through your life. Ancient astrologers labeled this house as one of the two Gates of Hades, because it’s where we let desire take the wheel. This is the place in the chart where you contemplate whether that thing is something you want or something you need. Another keyword for the second house is security. This is the place of the chart where you indulge and where you also might run into a scarcity mentality, where you go on a shopping spree and also where you hoard. The second house ultimately is about worth, both in your bank account and in your self-esteem.

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Third: House of Communication

The third house was called The House of the Goddess by ancient astrologers because it is the place in the chart where the moon finds her joy. The moon is a satellite: always on a journey, yet always returning back where she began. It’s because of this that the third house speaks to topics such as short trips, local environment, siblings, close friends and of course, communication. The third house is familiar. Social media lives here. I like to think of it as the town square. It’s your Cheers!—the place you go where everybody knows your name. Early childhood education, crafts and skills also inhabit the third house. It’s where you run errands, flirt with your barista and keep busy.

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Fourth: House of Home

The very bottom—or, the nadir—of the chart is the fourth house. This is the house of home, family, ancestry and privacy. Here you find your roots. The ancients referred to this house as the “lowest heaven” as it is the place where the sun finds itself at midnight, shrouded in complete darkness and ready to be reborn in the morning. Poetically, the fourth house represents both our beginning and our end. If you have planets in the fourth house, you are likely very focused on your family, your ancestors, geographies and real estate. I like to describe it as the “basement” of the chart and find that people with fourth house planets tend to find comfort in the subterranean, whether that’s the literal lowest level of a house or a secret organization. The fourth house is about creating a private world.

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Fifth: House of Pleasure

The fifth house is where Venus—planet of love, connection and fertility—finds her joy. The ancients called this house Good Fortune, and it truly is the place where all good things come to pass. Romance, pleasure, sex, creativity and children are the major topics. I describe it as the place where you give birth, whether that’s to an artistic project or a literal child. Also the house of speculative risks, this is the place where you throw parties, gamble away your disposable income and shout “one more round!” when your friends want to leave the bar. If you have strong fifth house placements (like the sun, moon or your ascendant ruler), you probably prioritize pleasure (hello, sexual wellness) over everything else. What’s the point of life without joy?

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Sixth: House of Maintenance

Taking a sharp turn from the house that comes before it, the sixth house was called Bad Fortune by the ancient astrologers. This is the place where Mars—planet of war, separation, and aggression—finds his joy. Engaging in life’s daily battles—whether that’s as a soldier fighting in an actual war or just folding a giant heap of laundry—is the sixth house’s bread and butter. This is also the house of dis-ease. Though the first house speaks to your body and health, the sixth house is where you manage illness and injury, while also building a fitness regimen. Maintenance is key. This is also the house of coworkers and anyone you hire to work for you. It’s the place where you clock in and clock out, forever participating in the daily grind. The cutest sixth house topic is small animals! Let’s be real: Often it’s your pet that gets you to stick to a routine and routine is what the sixth house is all about.

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Seventh: House of Relationships

The seventh house is located on the western horizon of the birth chart. Sitting opposite the first house, this house isn’t just about romantic relationships, it’s about all kinds of one-on-one encounters. Your partner, your best friend and your sworn enemy are all represented in the seventh house. Contracts and negotiations are also found in this place. The ancients also associated this house with death. This is because this is the place where the sun sets, disappearing under the horizon. Poetically, this speaks to the death of losing your autonomy when you enter a partnership with another person, for better or for worse. This is where we get married, bicker over responsibilities and make major compromises. It’s also a place where we can compare and despair. The seventh house is where we find love and face challenges together.

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Eighth: House of Debt

The eighth house is a complicated and misunderstood place in the birth chart. Like the second house, it was also called the Gate of Hades by the ancients, and it also has a lot to do with money. But the eighth house isn’t about your stuff, it’s about other people’s stuff, how you deal with both generosity and with loss. If the seventh house is about relationships then the eighth house is where you combine your assets with your beloved or your business partner. In an antiquated way, it’s where one would find “the dowry” that a woman brought with her to a marriage. It is also the place where we find debts, loans, grants and unearned income. I also like to call the eighth house, the house of inevitabilities, because it’s where you face unavoidable things like death and taxes. Ultimately, the eighth house is about all kinds of power dynamics and asks the question, “What’s worth going into debt?”

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Ninth: House of Travel

The ninth house was called the House of God by the ancient astrologers because it’s where the sun—the life force of the universe—finds its joy. Sitting opposite the third house, the ninth house is also about journeys. But rather than short trips and special skills, the ninth house is for long-distance travel and higher education. I like to call this the “house of professors and priests” because besides academic institutions, it’s also where you encounter organized religion. Those with prominent ninth house placements tend to be teachers, philosophers and spiritual leaders. The ninth house is not just about your beliefs, but how those beliefs shape the world around you.

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Tenth: House of Career

Located at the very top of the chart, the tenth house is all about your career, public image and reputation. It’s considered the most important house in a chart after the first house because it speaks to your legacy and how you encounter your public world. The midheaven, or career point, is often found in the tenth house; this is “high noon” of the chart where you are most visible. Those who have lots of power in society and in your life are also represented by the tenth house, such as your boss, your doctor or even your favorite celeb. This is where we show off, culminate projects and gain recognition. To put it simply, the tenth house is where and with whom you shine.

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Eleventh: House of Friends

Known as the house of Good Spirit by the ancients, the eleventh house is where you find all the people who support you in your public life. This is the place of colleagues, friends and also your audience. Those with major placements in the eleventh house tend to thrive in group activities and take on leadership positions in community organizations. Unlike the seventh house where you can develop adversarial relationships, the eleventh house is all about hanging out with like-minded friends and building connections. Jupiter—planet of expansion, growth and luck— finds its joy in the eleventh house, so it’s no surprise that this house is also about dreams and ambitions. It’s where your visions—no matter how far-fetched—can be realized.

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Twelfth: House of Unconscious

Like the eighth house, the twelfth house is also severely misunderstood. Known as the house of Bad Spirit by the ancients, this is the place of self-undoing. Located just above the first house on the zodiac wheel, this is the house that was sitting on the horizon just before your birth or while your mother was in labor. This is the house of everything that is not you; it represents the unconscious, the void and exile. I like to describe it as you sitting at your desk at Google, functioning as one cog in a giant machine. This is the house where Saturn—planet of structure and solitude—finds its joy: a place where you sacrifice your personal needs for the good of the collective. You may also run into some unknown enemies here. The lesson of the twelfth house is that you can’t control everything and sometimes what’s best is to let go, surrender and retreat.

Jaime Wright is an astrologer based in New York. Subscribe to her newsletter for more astrological musings.

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