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John Dawson - Brutus, Entrails and Secrets of the Sixth House

“Et tu Brute!” are the supposed famous last words Julius Caesar spoke to Brutus as he lay dying on the blood soaked forum floor. Roughly translated into Yorkshireese, it comes out as “Not you as well yer bas**rd!” Yes, Caesar’s best mate, his old “mucka,” his right-hand man, and the man that slapped him on the back and cheered on the crowds in Caesar’s honor. Yes, the man least likely to—was in fact the man who (with others) buried his knife into Caesar’s back.

Analysed by any “cold-blooded” traditional astrologer, this was surely the work of a secret enemy and would obviously show in his natal chart or a horary chart. On the face of it yes, but I have been harbouring a nagging doubt that has been gnawing away in my brain for a long, long time now. It concerns the generally accepted keywords for one of astrology’s more prosaic houses, namely the Sixth house. I hope to put forward the idea that there is more to the Sixth house than servants, work, health and little fluffy animals. I believe this house has a deeper and more sinister, secret side to it.


As with all theories, I need to qualify my argument so I’ll go back to first principles and start with a blank sheet. As we all know, the ascendant/descendant line divides the chart into what can be seen and what cannot. Anything on the M.C. side of this line is above the horizon and so open to public display. Anything on the I.C. side is below the horizon and unseen; it is the secret or unseen side of a chart. I am not trying to teach experienced astrologers “how to suck eggs,” I am just emphasising a basic accepted tenant of our ideology that forms the nub of my argument. As I’m sure most of you know by experience, if a new interpretation or some new theory goes against the normally accepted basics then it is more than likely it will be incorrect or will fail.

Having put that basic astrological cornerstone on the table, let me add some others. If you ask a horary question about enemies in a chart, almost every astrologer will point to the Seventh and/or the Twelfth houses. The Seventh house is generally accepted as the house of relationships and “open enemies.” I think it’s fair to say that anybody who has gone through a divorce can easily relate to that statement. For instance, there are only two types of people that come up to you directly face-to-face; a lover or an enemy (the Seventh house “faces” the first). Remember what a soldier on guard duty asks when somebody approaches them? “Friend or foe?” and we all know that our lover/partner can easily be both. We know them, love them, but unfortunately we sometimes come to hate them, but they are known to us and everybody knows we know them. They are represented by the Seventh house and that house is above the ascendant/descendant line. Conversely, the Twelfth house is the traditional house of our “secret enemies.”

It is at this point my Aquarian brain goes into a logic loop system crash. I ask myself: how can a house that is supposed to be “secret” be above the ascendant/descendant line? As previously stated, the Seventh house—as the Twelfth house—is above the ascendant/descendant line, and therefore (from my point of view), in the public view.

Logically it could be argued that the Twelfth is next to the First, but separated by the ascendant, and thus, you are not fully aware of it. Rather like seeing some imminent danger out of the corner of your eye. Bernard Eccles (life member of the Astrological Lodge of London and author of Astrological Physiognomy from Ptolemy to the Present Day) pointed out that sun signs can only “see” the sign in front of them and don’t see or appreciate the sign that is directly behind them, i.e., Aries will never appreciate or fully understand what Pisces is all about, and it will only “see” Taurus in front of it. This might be the reason why the Twelfth is regarded as the house of secret enemies. The First house, the essential you, cannot see or understand the workings of the Twelfth that stands behind it.

However, it does not take away the fact that the Twelfth is the area of the chart that most astrologers agree is considered to be “open” or “public,” but who also regard the Twelfth as the “secret” house. Recently I have been investigating the more basic and ancient structure of the astrological chart, and I have found it to be very logical in its layout. So to my mind I cannot logically reconcile these two apparently contradictory statements. This is my first, but most important observation regarding why I believe that the Sixth house should be regarded as the real house of “secrets.”

Over the last few years I’ve ambushed various astrologers and subjected them to an impromptu “discussion” regarding the Twelfth house of secret enemies. All of them gave the standard cookbook response. I then shared my observation regarding the Twelfth house of secrets being above the horizon. Some continue to state the standard definition, but a significant minority contemplated the apparent anomaly I’ve pointed out to them. Encouraged by the fact that I met with little out-right hostility to my theory (at least to my face), I continued to gather more proof. However, there is nothing new under the sun and after some digging around in some text from the past, I believe the ancient astrologers knew more about the Sixth house than they cared to talk about. A possible reason for this is that modern natal astrology has little need to discuss the secret unknown areas of people’s private lives. People are more interested in the concrete and physical world, rather than some “secret” enemy or a witch putting a hex on them.


Let us go back to Rome, 15 March 44 BC [1] and the crime scene on the forum floor. Lying on the cold marble floor in his bloody toga is a dying Julius Caesar. Standing over him (with others), knife in hand, is his old friend Brutus; his “secret” enemy. But how can this be? He cannot now be regarded as a “secret enemy” as he stands there for everybody to see! Everybody knew (apart from Caesar) what was going to happen that day; it was an “open secret” as they say. If Caesar had been killed by an arrow from a concealed and unknown assassin, I would say yes; but for me there must be some distinction between a “secret enemy” and what I would call a “public, secret enemy.” I am hopeful that my Aquarian brothers and sisters will understand my bit of fuzzy logic; for the rest, I will try my best to explain what I believe are the subtle but important differences between the two concepts.

First, what have a Last Will & Testament, a private diary and a mistress have in common? Answer: they are all things that come to light and are eventually laid bare for public scrutiny, usually after the person’s death. Just like Brutus, they are secrets that eventually show themselves in public. They are what I call “Public Secrets,” and it is these secrets that I associate with the Twelfth house [2].

Second, what has the confessional, the Hippocratic Oath and the Eleusinian mysteries have in common? Answer: these are secrets never to be told. They are what I call “Secret, Secrets” and I associate them with the Sixth house.

You may rightly ask—why do I associate the above descriptions with the Sixth house? Again, I will try to explain using the same accepted astrological basics. The fundamental keywords for the Sixth house are: Virgo, Mercury, Air, work, health, servants, barbers, beauticians, personal trainers, digestive system, small animals, etc. I’m sure you get the gist.


Notice that the professions listed above are people one keeps closest to oneself; some would say even closer, and sometimes even more intimate than a sexual partner. As an example, there is the old story of when some army generals complained to their King that he appeared to trust his barber more than themselves, and the king answered, “Who better to trust than the man that holds a knife to your throat every morning.” It is also true to say that there are things we never tell our lover or partner but we are happy to tell everything to our barman, hairdresser, etc. So this house is where one’s intimacies, hopes, dreams and fears are discussed, but not in public. The Sixth house is also the traditional house of health and healing (it opposes the twelfth house of hospitals, monasteries, libraries, etc.), and therefore the house of doctors and physicians who take the Hippocratic Oath of patient confidentiality. The reason I link of the confessional with this house is not simply because it has similar rules of client confidentiality, but because of its links with the inner sanctum of the church that was initially run by the vestal virgins and now (in the Catholic Church) by preachers who take a vow of chastity.

The Sixth house is the house of Virgo (the Virgin), and I believe the link with the Eleusinian mysteries [3] is with it being a ceremony to prepare girls for marriage. How the actual ceremony was conducted was a closely guarded secret. Like most secret traditions, the actual knowledge was never written down but passed on orally. The two-part ceremony was held in honor of the goddess Demeter and acted out the story of her daughter Persephone’s abduction by Hades (Pluto) and her return six months later, reflecting the changing seasons of summer and winter.

The Lesser Mystery was held at the spring equinox and celebrated Persephone’s return to her mother for another six months. The Greater Mysteries was held at the autumn equinox and celebrated her return back to Hades.

At the climax of the Greater Mysteries, the initiates drank Kykeon to break a sacred fast. It was made mainly of water and barley but included the herb Pennyroyal and (it is believed) Ergot. Ergot is a fungus that contaminates cereal crops and is a powerful hallucinogen used in the synthesis of LSD. In medieval times it was used in controlled doses to induce uterine contractions during childbirth and to help stop maternal bleeding afterwards and was also used as an abortive. It is also highly dangerous, causing violent, uncontrolled reactions in the victim’s limbs, and due to the contraction of blood vessels, gangrene. Pennyroyal is a member of the mint family of plants and has similar abortive and hallucinogenic effects.

After the initiates emerged from the ceremony, the Hierophant (High Priest) presented each of them with a cut ear of wheat (or rye). This ties it in with the sign of Virgo as the ceremony was carried out late summer/early autumn when crops are harvested. In ancient times the position of the Sun at the autumn equinox would have fallen in the constellation of Virgo. There is also the connection in with Persephone’s mother, Ceres, being associated with cereal crops.

Another link I have regarding the Sixth and secrets is regarding the main part of the body ruled by Virgo, the digestive system. What is the link with the digestive system and secrets? Answer: the Priest/Prophetess would look at the entrails of sacrificed animals to discover the secret answer to the question put to them.

I know of at least one astrologer who stated that the intestines are “the third brain;” the first being our ordinary brain, and the second the heart. This description may well have come from ancient observation, as the way the intestines are arranged within the stomach cavity does indeed resemble the human brain in appearance. The “third brain” is also an interesting description as we think on three levels. We apply straight forward logic when using our [head] brain. We speak of “thinking with our heart” when making emotional decisions, but we think with our stomach when we have a “gut feeling” about something.

When we have a gut feeling about somebody or a situation it’s usually when everything tells us it’s okay, but there’s a problem. We can’t define it logically or emotionally, but there’s that little voice within us telling us to not get involved or to avoid a situation.


Each opposing sign/house has some common elements or a synchronicity with each other. For example, Virgo is the house of small animals, and its opposite sign Pisces, is the house of large animals. Gemini is the sign of short (or day-to-day) journeys, whereas Sagittarius is the sign of distant (or adventurous) journeys.

As discussed before, the area above the ascendant/descendant line is the “public” area, and the area below is the “secret” side of the chart. Added to this is my own interpretation that the right side of the I.C./M.C. line is the “intimate” side (Leo, Scorpio); the left side is the “personal” side (you keep yourself to yourself). Combining these two ideas, you have the diagram shown in Figure 1.

Here houses 1, 2, and 3 are “Personal and Private.” Houses 4, 5 and 6 are “Intimate and Private.” Houses 7, 8 and 9 are “Intimate and Public.” Houses 10, 11 and 12 are “Personal and Public.” For affirmation of this, consider the traits of the fixed signs within each of the quarters. If you were wondering about how you can be both “Intimate and Public,” then I would say a marriage (Seventh house) is a good example of an intimate relationship open to public view. Aquarius is also a good example of “Personal and Public” epitomized by bridge clubs, bingo halls, and cinemas as then we are individuals in a public place.


After all this theory I obviously need to back my argument up with some hard astrological facts and examples. In this case I’m in a catch-22 situation and probably the reason why the Sixth house is not now generally regarded as a secret house. If I provide proof that the Sixth house is the house of “secret-secrets” (a secret never to be told), then I have invalidated my argument. I can’t provide proof of a “secret-secret” as it would then not be a secret. The “secret” would then be out in the public arena and so logically the Twelfth house, as demonstrated with my example of Brutus the assassin. My way out of this dilemma is to provide circumstantial evidence to support my argument by looking at the sign of Virgo with a more critical eye. I, therefore, give you Queen Elizabeth I of England (7 Sep 1533 os).

Rather than analyse her chart, let us look at her life from a different perspective. We will quickly skim past the political/religious troubles that the union of her mother and father brought to England; sidestep the Spanish Armada; dodge the question of her (non) choice of suitors; and duck-under the in-fighting between her half-sister (Mary Queen of England) and her cousin (Mary Queen of Scots); and look into the dark recesses of her personal life to her closest and most trusted employees/servants (6th house), Mr. Walsingham, Mr. Dee and Mr. Phelippes. These three men epitomized the secret world that surrounded Elizabeth.

Walsingham ran Elizabeth’s spy network with a level of efficiency never before known, and even today, historians can only guess at just how far his spy network extended. Today Mr. Dee would be regarded as her scientific adviser, also providing both medical and astrological advice. Mr. Phelippes deciphered intercepted information and devised the secret communications used by Walsingham’s spy network. Phelippes was also a master forger who entrapped and brought about the downfall of Mary Queen of Scots. These three men gave Elizabeth the tools for her political survival and the ability to run the country in a Europe that was hostile to her inherited Protestant faith. Elizabeth’s secret controls even extended to the depiction of her portrait, as only licensed copies of her image were allowed to be made.

As the Sixth house is the natural home of Virgo, I have made special reference to Virgos and this is no accident. In my discussions with other astrologers, some agree with my theory and others did not, but almost all agreed that with regards to their personal lives, Virgos are a secretive bunch.

“Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Having Mars in Scorpio, I naturally want to get my hands dirty by digging deeply to solving a problem. And so it has been for me when investigating my theory of secrets of the Sixth house. It has been a long drawn out affair to pick through the astrological outpourings of astrologers, old and new, to find the odd crumb to back up my theory. One of the main problems is that modern astrologers rarely consider “secrets” in a natal chart; whereas astrologers of the Medieval/Hellenistic era were much more interested in what was happening beyond the visible and physical world, and it is from their writings that my main supporting evidence originates.

As an example, the medieval astrologers regarded people born with Saturn in Virgo as being connected with the “Black Arts.” It should be remembered that Virgo’s ruler, Mercury, regarded with little interest by most astrologers, is the most venerated of the planets by our forgotten cousins of astrology, the Alchemists and the Qabbalists. Why the medieval astrologers believed the above statement to be true is open to debate, but this is my interpretation of its logic. When we are young or start out on something new such as a new job, we are allowed a certain amount of leeway when it comes to making mistakes. As one gets older and more experienced your superiors become less and less tolerant. Exactly the same rules apply to people involved in ritual (mainstream religion, magic, etc.) where “Intent is everything” is what the new initiates are told, but to reach those higher levels of consciousness (Mercury) such as opening the third eye, Transcendental meditation, etc., you have to have immense self-discipline (Saturn) and attention to detail (Virgo). Remember also that Mercury rules the mind.

Medieval Christian Europe was particularly interested in secret goings on and, in particular, the work (real or imagined) of witches and the occult. The sixteenth century mathematician, physician and astrologer Gerolamo Cardan makes special reference to them. Cardan’s ‘Aphorisms Concerning Elections’ was probably the last book translated by William Lilly from the Latin to English. In that book, Aphorism No. 41, Cardan gives this advice: -

“Mercury significator of a disease in aspect with Saturn, or Saturn significator in aspect of Mercury, gives suspicion of witchcraft and enchantment.”

A footnote to this was added in a modern reprint, the main parts being given here [4].

“…bear in mind that Saturn…is the significator of the occult, that he gives great reflective and concentrative powers; and Mercury signifies…the magnetic fluid or odylic (natural) forces, also that subtlety and rapidity of thought necessary to be exerted at the right time in all magnetic experiments where the sensitive is to be acted upon at a distance from the operator as would usually be the case in “witchcraft” or “enchantment”. Therefore, these two planets which Cardan alludes to are the very significators of the subtle power and means of which must be exerted in order to bring about the magnetic effect to bring about what our forefathers termed “witchcraft” and which modern occultists term “black magic”, or evil magnetism. If witchcraft or rather an occult influence of an evil nature, be shown in a decumbeture, the operator can often be discovered by a consideration of the Fourth and Twelfth houses, together with positions and configurations of their lord, in the figure, having due regard to Saturn and Mercury and comparing carefully with the Radix and Revolutionary Figure for the year. It is advisable to consider the position and configuration of Hershel (Uranus).”

Although there is no mention of the Sixth house, it does point out the combination of Saturn and Mercury. Another telling piece of information comes from Mr Lilly himself, who lived at the time when witch-hunting in Europe was at its height. In Christian Astrology he writes: -

Rule No. 39.

Those houses which behold not the ascendant, signify occult or obscure places and these houses are the 12th, 8th & 6th.

As expected, Lilly mentions the Twelfth house and the Eighth house of Scorpio, but he also unexpectedly mentions the Sixth house. Something he hardly ever mentions in Christian Astrology. However, Lily does give the manner of Mercury as “… a searcher into all kinds of mysteries and learning … “ [5].

I have to admit the evidence I have submitted above is not as much as I would have liked, but I feel it is of sufficient weight to at least give other astrologers food for thought.


Those of you who have been following this theory of mine may have spotted a slight fly in this particular theoretical ointment. As you may rightly point out, the First house is also below the ascendant/descendant line. How you may ask, can our own self be secret?

Again I go back to first principles, in A Student’s Textbook of Astrology, Vivian Robson states “The rising sign describes the native’s outlook on the world and the side of his character that is most in evidence.” That is the immediate image that other people first see, but is it our true self they see? No it is not. Our true self is our Sun sign, and as Robson goes on to say about the Sun, that it shows “the deeper and inner side of his character.” As we all learn in life, “never judge a book by its cover.”

The fundamental problem is that we are never aware of how others see us. Trying to understand how others view us is a fundamental “secret” that most of us ask. It’s the hidden view of ourselves that we ourselves are unable to see and is the reason why the First house is below the ascendant/descendant line. Let us not forget, one of the hardest things for us to do is to see ourselves as others see us.


So ends my little theory on the secret world of the Sixth house. I would appreciate any feedback from fellow astrologers on this, either for or against, so that I can either work on it in more detail or lay it to rest (if my Scorpio/Mars will let me!).

Reference Notes

[1] Whilst we astrologers may be tempted to erect a chart for when Julius Caesar was assassinated, it is not quite as simple as it may at first appear. Due to the inconsistent way that the Romans managed their calendar, academics even today argue over trying to relate the day in question to our own calendar system. This is my own stab at the problem so to speak; the day in question was 15 March (Ides of March) but the calendar system that was in use then was not exactly the same Julian calendar named after the man in question. So, was Julius Caesar assassinated on 15 March 44 BC? The answer is Yes, and No. Yes, because we do have a 15 March on our calendar today and No, because it’s not the same 15 March as the calendar used in Julius’s day. Then the season that contained the Ides of March was spring, whereas today it’s winter. Julius Caesar was assassinated 15 days into his spring (spring in the first-century BC began on March 1). As spring for us now begins on March 21, 15 days into our spring would equate with April 5 on our computer software. (I think!)

[2] The logic of this is not new. Like other astrologers I liken the zodiac to a journey from the first house (where you are born) to the twelfth (where you die), after which you start all over again in the next life. Traditionally the Fourth house is considered the house of your death.

I believe this is due to a person being firmly set in their lifestyle by the time they have reached this house, i.e., there’s no going back; you have already carved out your destiny in this life.

[3] What we believe took place during the Elysian mysteries is controversial. Scholars, academics and laymen alike from the time of the mysteries till today still argue over it. There is little to go on and what does exist is open to interpretation. What I have written here is just about the bare bones of what is generally not in dispute.

[4] WM. Eldon Sergeant, President of the Theosophical Society, 1885.

[5] Christian Astrology, Page 77.

Richard Hinckley Allen tells of an amusing reference made by Boteler in his book Hudibras:

Cardan believ’d great states depend

Upon the tip o’th’ Bear’s tail’s end;

That, as she wisk’d it t’wards the Sun,

Strew’d mighty empires up and down;

Which others say must needs be false,

Because your true bears have no tails.

Alessandro Manzoni’s novel I Promessi Sposi portrays a pedantic scholar of the obsolete, Don Ferrante, as a great admirer of Cardan. Significantly, he values him only for his superstitious and astrological writings; his scientific writings are dismissed because they contradict Aristotle, but excused on the ground that the author of the astrological works deserves to be listened to even when he is wrong.


John S Dawson BSc lives in the UK and works as a technical author for a major aerospace company. He has studied astrology for over twenty-five years. His main interest is in researching what part astrologers played in the politics of the late medieval and early modern eras, in particular during the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War. Past ISAR VP for the UK, former board member of the AAGB, present Publicity officer for the Northern Lights Astrological Society in Blackpool, England. He has organized astrological conferences and events, wrote a number of articles for the AAGB Journal, ISAR Journal and a number of other publications. He can be contacted at or via Facebook.