In “The Iliad,” Thanatos (death) and his brother Hypnos (symbolising sleep) drag the mortally wounded Sarpedon off the battlefield
The god of a peaceful death for the Ancient Greeks was Thanatos, who existed in contradistinction with his terrible sisters, the bloody Keres, who brought one a sticky end.
Obviously, one preferred a peaceful death, and indeed, a peaceful, pain-free death is still better than watching one’s loved one suffer. As a predominantly 8th house person, the subject of death is often on my mind, particularly at this time, when I have lost a close family member in the past few days, a very sad event. Death is also an 8th house theme, and I would like to discuss the 8th house in relationship to the concept and reality of death, because I know this house is truly misunderstood, as is death itself at times.
If I could pick an influence that would help explain the psychological dynamics of the 8th house, it would involve the various myths that surround Ancient Greek attitudes and beliefs about death, including the mythic journey one must take into Hades, crossing the river Acheron (not Styx; that is a common misconception) that would bring your soul to its final resting place. The metaphor of descent is germane to the 8th house, for those of us who “live,” if you will, in our 8th houses, with a pileup of planets, points, fixed stars, etc., seem to be much more interested in plumbing the depths than the average person.
8th house people are comfortable with the concept of death and all it implies (endings, beginnings in a new form, gradual decay or destruction, initiation, and all that lies beneath the surface, unseen). I would say, from those of us I have known, we tend to wax philosophical about death on a regular basis. Death does not scare us, that’s for sure, although I can attest to its bitter poignancy and sense of loss. Death, birth, and the passage of time are linked, and every birth brings the awareness that one day, a death will be due.
In fact, the word ‘Hades,’ in Greek, meant ‘the unseen,’ as well as denoting the name of the god who ruled over the underworld. Everything that is “unseen” about human nature, especially all that you would ordinarily not want to touch with a ten foot barge pole, is of interest to the 8th house person. Okay, so, what does the 8th house “mean,” then, we ask, remembering that all attempts at finding meaning through astrology carry a sticker that warns “caveat emptor”; astrology is filled with myth, and myth is not “real.” However, it is very interesting, and opens up doors in the mind to rooms of discovery, so let’s discover how you feel about the concept of death, as symbolized by the issues contained within the 8th house.
For example, here is a website that presents photographs as Memento Mori, “early postmortem and memorial photography” of adults, children and pets who have died.
If you’ve ever seen the movie The Others, you’ll know that these kinds of pictures were fashionable in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There was a desire, during the Victorian Age, to remember the dead through photographs. The Latin words memento mori mean “remember you will die,” and photographs, locks of hair preserved in jewellry and hair collages all reminded the Victorians, the last great purveyors of romanticised death, that their number might soon be up. In fact, the entire history of death is quite fascinating, as is how we individually cope with death in all its forms.
The 8th house is, traditionally (keeping in mind we always question tradition here) where we confront death: in ourselves, when our personalities undergo transformation; in our psyches, a debatable netherland of shadow and doubt; and in our external lives, when circumstances, people, and expectations change. The 8th house requires you to spend a lot of time alone, looking inward, “navel gazing,” as my parents might have said. This time of germination is necessary for creativity, inspiration, and innovation, in my opinion.
Without that deep penetration into the unseen, how would we emerge with insight about ourselves and others? If there is a lesson to be learned in the 8th house, it is to embrace silence, solitude, and aloneness, for therein lies the seed of the rebirth of the spirit. If death, metaphorical or literal, is both an end and a beginning, then the 8th house represents that time of transition between one state and another, the liminal zone of our awareness of self and others, the threshold we inhabit as we stand in the doorway to a new reality.