The 1st house: To be, or not to be, that is the question
If the 12th house is a watery house, filled with deep insecurities, nameless fears and dreads, and potential for hidden strengths that require one’s lifetime to bring to fruition, the 1st lies in sharp contrast in its focus on the immediate expression of obvious potential. This is the house that forces us to ask ourselves, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’?”
The first house is a fire house, traditionally ‘ruled’ by Aries, a forceful, head-butting sign little disposed to asking for permission. Mars here will do what it will, for will is what runs this house. I will to will thy will becomes a mantra only for the most conscious 1st house person, who grows over time to understand that getting what you want isn’t as satisfying as making sure that others are taken care of. Learning how to control and discipline the will becomes the highest-order principle of this house, but first we must find out what else we have to offer others by finding out what it is we’re made of.
The first is the house of me-first self-interest, but let’s not be simplistic now that we’re spreading our legs on a walkabout here in the “first” of the houses. The 1st house has the inordinately difficult task of living out the “I” we must all discover as we go through life. If the chart were comprised of Tarot cards symbolising the self’s journey, this would be the Fool’s house, and the Fool in the Tarot is not a narcissist. If anything, the Fool is an innocent, and innocents are self-absorbed. They can’t help it; or perhaps I should say, “we” can’t help being self-absorbed.
Planets here tell me what it is you’re self-absorbed about, but again, that’s too simplistic. It’s a terrible temptation to be simplistic when it comes to the 1st house, because it’s easy to say “just be,” and much harder to actually do. How easy is it to understand one’s persona, for example? Are we the sum total of everything others think they see in us, or are we one unified ‘self,’ coherent, always ourselves no matter what? If we are shaped by forces outside ourselves, as we shape others, does Pluto in the first mean we were born with a strong, dominant, yet subtle and potentially manipulative personality, or did we learn how to be like that?
Were we born confused about relationships, charming, yet diffuse, if we’ve got Neptune in the 1st? Are we always children born to rejecting parents with Saturn in the 1st? If Moon is posited in the 1st, are we always more sensitive, introverted, and moody in our outward behavior, or is the 1st house a mask we wear, as has been suggested by many astrologers? If it is a mask, that implies we can take it off, yet we can’t do that with any other house; why should this house be any different?
Instead, I believe the 1st house is our doorway into the chart, and ultimately, into our lives. A planet here tells me how you cope with each new experience, since the ascendent represents the horizon at the moment of birth, and as the ‘clock’ of your chart shifts, the initial moments of life are to be found in the 1st. If the astrological chart is a time-keeper, the 1st house indicates the earliest moments of life, but it also symbolises how you will experience everything new now that you’ve been here awhile. If you are the Fool and the chart represents your journey, this house is the first step you take off the ledge—what kind of first step will you take?
With the Sun here, your first step will possibly be bold, daring, unashamed (but only if the Sun is well-aspected). The Sun here reinforces the fire imagery of the 1st house, so try not to incarnate with an airy, watery or earthy sun, because you just mess up the energy. The Sun here has no choice but to express itself, but then, the lifetime’s journey becomes one of defining one’s self, not the easiest task in the world. If you compare what it’s like to have Sun in the 7th, where self-definition is dependent on the Other, then self-definition with Sun in the 1st means no other can be allowed to obscure the view.
The task of the 1st is To Be. A heavily-loaded 1st house is typical for driven people, people who feel they are on a mission, who must simply act. Much of how this works out depends on the nature of the ascendent plus whatever signs might also be included in the 1st house (intercepted houses, for example). A chart with a Mercury/Virgo/Gemini theme will incline the native toward a much more obviously Mercurial expression of self. The native might be a writer, an obvious ‘Mercury’-type profession, but the point of this house is that you can rather easily identify the person ‘as’ something. For those with Neptune here, of course, that might become more problematic; the native might spend their entire lifetime projecting their personality onto others, all the while ‘confused’ about who they ‘are,’ when in fact, they are rather obviously Neptunian.
The goal for the person with 1st house planets might not seem simple to them; after all, they are on the inside, looking out, but to us, it’s pretty obvious that what they’re here to do is to ‘be’ themselves. “But,” you wonder, “aren’t we all here to ‘be’ ourselves?” And the answer is, yes, of course we are, but being ourselves doesn’t become the focus of a lifetime with other houses. The focus of your lifetime will be determined by which houses are most heavily tenanted. Most people have planets spread out across part of the chart; fewer have a focus in one quadrant. The 1st house focus will compel the native to live out their very own path, and yet you’ll frequently find the 1st house person fighting to be themselves and to remain free of others’ definitions.
This is not unlike Aquarius’ journey, but independence and freedom are intellectual concepts for Aquarius in ways dissimilar to the issues of the 1st house. Freedom of thought, action, and self-perception are the lifeblood of the 1st house, and are frequently denied, making the task of a lifetime self-definition. If you are a first house native, or identify yourself as such, and find that you have dominating siblings or family members, just know that this is normal. This is part of your task, to find your way on your terms. How you go about doing that will be indicated by the planet ruling the ascendent, how it’s aspected, and if the planets in your first are allowed expression, or if they’re somehow curtailed.
To truly understand the nature of the first house, which comes ‘first’ by virtue of the hierarchy of Spring’s eternal primacy over darkness, and the coming of the light that conquers the darkness of Winter, I’d suggest reading Hamlet. Hamlet is consumed with the question of self, and asks some very pertinent 1st house-type questions.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and it is up to the 1st house native to decide how s/he will enact that first step. If you begin by shucking off the guilt of the 12th house, you’ll never let anyone else define your truth for you. That’s step #1, the most important step of all.