Originally published on Sexuality.org circa 2001. Link to original on Planet Waves.
When Valentine Michael Smith, the hero of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, returned from Mars late in the 20th century, fully human but raised without all the limitations and inner complications of an earthling, those who joined him on his quest discovered an abundance of love and money.
Our two grandest social taboos, or perhaps the one — the taboo against having enough of what you need — hadn’t so much shattered, but rather had evaporated. Sure, life was dangerous, with an assortment of evil forces trying to get their hands on Smith, and with the public bubbling like a cauldron with the shock of extraterrestrial contact: but life was really exciting. There were more important things to do than worry.
In this moment, the idea of polyamory was born, or perhaps reincarnated, or perhaps imported from Mars. Smith’s circle of friends were beyond “in love” and beyond being comrades, bonded by something much deeper. Among them, erotic sharing was natural and easy. They were called water brothers. These brothers included several intelligent, beautiful women with highly-trained and very open minds. The main sacrament of the religion which spontaneously emerged around Smith was sharing water from the same glass.
In actual history, a worldwide polyamory movement has grown up largely inspired and informed by Stranger in a Strange Land. Polyamory (meaning many loves, or honest, responsible nonmonogamy) is something of an official social phenomenon these days, with the word destined for dictionaries before long. Polyamory as a way of life has gotten the blessing of Americana in Time, the Los Angeles Times and many other media, and it all comes back to a Martian who believed in sharing what he had.
As for the money part, since Valentine Michael Smith had unwittingly ended up a worldwide cult figure and (as the technical owner of Mars) the richest man on Earth, there was cash a-plenty, with big baskets of it at the doors to his temple in case you needed any on the way out. Of course, just because you have money doesn’t make you generous. Usually it has the opposite effect. We forget that the root of miserable is miser, which means a penny-pincher; such people, while having lots of cash somewhere, are not often content, or successful in love, because love is about sharing who you are and what you have. It’s clear enough that the man from Mars pretty much just wanted to be happy.
One last thing: Martian custom held that when your friend died, you didn’t grieve madly, but rather, you celebrated the person’s life, and made a big pot of soup of which they were the main ingredient. You would Grok them. They would become part of you.
When people speak in whispers, they are usually talking about sex, money or death. Sex and money always seem in greater demand than supply allows, and death seems to place a finite value on time. Needing cash, sex and time in order to live a little, we are under a lot of pressure, and it shows. We are, for the most part, extremely uptight about all of these “issues,” as we term them in current parlance. They are rarely discussed openly, or calmly, and are the subject of many lies and secrets.
And they are rarely seen as being connected. The easiest way to get sex is to pay cash or to lie. The easiest things to lie about are sex and money. Most of the world’s control dramas surround sex, money or death, including a variety of violent, jealous scenes that demonstrate, sadly, that we are far from the ideas of Martian culture.
Most love affairs go up in the flames of disputes about property, money or sex. Jealousy, secret love affairs that are exposed, and issues over values and shared property are tried in divorce courts every day of the year. “Trust,” a word with definitions that reach deeply into finances and relationships, is a very difficult thing for many people to get a grasp on. Death, rather than being understood as moving on to one’s next stage of growth, can be a Sword of Damocles hanging over love, threatening to end it at any moment.
Can we even imagine a world where sex is a natural part of friendship, where we have no need to keep secrets, and where we have enough of what we need, not just to survive, but to live fully? Can we imagine gaining without others losing in the deal? Can we imagine a world where we are not terrorized by the idea of death? Can we imagine a world where we can trust?
Most people feel trapped in an untrusting world where fear and particularly fear of scarcity and death dominate awareness, where resources are in fact scarce, and where it’s either sinful or a struggle to touch another person.
An Astrological Connection
Sex, money and death have a lot in common, but nowhere so much as in astrology. Astrology, as well as being a divination tool, is also an ancient philosophical system. It is a way of organizing reality.
In that organizational system, there are 12 categories, or houses. Every thing, subject, action or purpose fits into one of the 12 houses. An astrologer uses the houses and their contents (i.e., planets) to read the chart, and to figure out who is who and what is what, but we can use the houses to look at how a very old thought-system has documented the structure and nature of society. It turns out that we can really fit everything into one of the 12 houses, and that this system works rather well to help us get a grasp on who we are — though it leads to some interesting groupings of themes.
And few houses are so interesting as the 8th. The 8th house of a chart is where astrologers look if they want to find information about a) the nature and cause of death, b) sex and orgasm, and c) big money, investments, corporate finances, contracts, taxes, and inheritances. From this we get the meta-themes of power and surrender. Most astrologers, given the propensity for people and institutions to lie and keep secrets about all of this, also presume the 8th house is a high-security zone, a kind of dimension of the occult, so it includes conspiracies and cabals like corporations that lie to us and try to run our lives.
Sex, death, money, power, control, surrender… and jealousy… and secrecy. All of these issues live in the same place — a crowded house, in the words of my friend Maria — and they have a lot in common.
One amazing example of an 8th house institution is Monsato. We may be familiar with Monsanto from its efforts to take over the world with genetic engineering, including the creation of BGH, or bovine growth hormone; other people are familiar with their Agent Orange defoliant, which poisoned millions during the Vietnam era. Monsanto is a corporation that uses the resources of investors to create chemicals which, acting as artificial hormones (including PCBs, dioxins, pesticides and many others, all of which are “xenoestrogens,” or synthetic, hormonally active chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body), do sexual damage and cause sexual cancers which kill many people, all to make vast sums of money for the shareholders, in the process of which they keep warehouses full of secrets, which they guard jealousy and use to control our lives. Monsanto is the living incarnation of the dark side of the 8th house. Sex, death, money, power, control, surrender… and jealousy… and secrecy. They got it all.
Is this grouping of themes in the 8th house a coincidence, or is it a glaringly accurate picture of our culture that predicted the possibility of something like Monsanto centuries ago?
Whenever we face an inevitability, it seems to be an 8th house theme — you know, “death and taxes.” It seems that everything in life pivots on issue or limitation that we find in the 8th house (“money makes the world go round, the world go round, the world go round…”) Perhaps if we understood why these themes ended up in one place, we could do something about how messed up we (as a culture, and often as individuals) are.
So, I went looking for the answer. Researching back to the earliest astrology textbook published in English, Christian Astrology by William Lilly, published in 1647, I found that the original questions belonging to the 8th house include “death, dowry and the substance of the bride.”
The bride’s “substance” is not about the size of her breasts, but rather how much money she has in her chest, which is conveyed from her father to her new husband to help ensure her care. The death connection to the 8th house is closely associated with the conveyance of an estate (very similar to a dowry), featuring issues like whether a son will inherit a father’s wealth. The sex aspect comes directly from the matter of dowry, which is money paid as part of a contract when a woman changes hands, from father to husband, in marriage, not till death do they part. This involves control. In such a process, the most coveted sexual aspect of a woman, her womb, her reproductive abilities, are conveyed in a contractual deal. (The 8th house is also where we look for information about contracts.)
So by looking at the 8th house, we get a CAT-scan of society; we can see inside a bunch of connections that everyone would prefer not to talk about. [NOTE: If you want some background on the 8th house here are two of my articles on the subject: Connubial Contemplation and Beyond Death and Dowry.]
There is an interesting marriage-death connection in the history of law. Note that marriage, before women kept their names, property and some of their rights (as some do today), is a form of civil death; that is, upon being wed, Miss Lucy McGillicuddy, for example, becomes Mrs. Ricky Riccardo. Her original identity ceases to exist as she appeared in her high school yearbook, and she can be subsumed by a man. Until recently, a wife was as dead-and-gone as her husband wanted to make her, and in some states and many nations, she was or still is his ward, charge and chattel property. Even today, divorce can be an extremely tricky procedure when a woman wants to extract herself from a man’s life and reclaim her identity, and many women remain in miserable marriages just to keep the roof over their head or because it’s too hard to get out.
A Biological Connection
We might think that these subjects fall together as a result of social science or philosophy, but there is a sex-death connection in biology as well. According to UCLA immunologist William R. Clark, in his 1996 book Sex and the Origins of Death, in order to have the many benefits of sexual reproduction (such as reproductive diversity), animals that reproduce sexually must eventually die. Each cell — with the exception of sperm and egg cells — is genetically programmed to end its life; in this way, the whole organism eventually dies. So in sexually-reproducing animals, death is a necessity — but it’s also the form that immortality takes in this world, as we pass our genetic code down the generations.
It was, says Clark, at the time sexual reproduction entered the genetic coding that this programmed cell death emerged as well. So if we seek mysticism or immortality in sex, this makes it fairly clear why.
Perhaps most interesting, Clark writes that it’s when humans become sexually mature in their early teens that the process of programmed cell death begins on an individual level. So, in our genetic legacy, we carry a deep memory that sex and death have one cause and one effect. In our individual memory, we have the experience of programmed death beginning just as we are reaching sexual maturity.
I offer you this summary of all the sexual, financial, morbid and cabalistic overtones of this dimension. The 8th house is essentially the house of the secrets of birth, life and death. It is the house of the secrets of existence. It is the place where humanity is God/Goddess, and in so being, creates and extends humanity in His or Her image, and where we give up our individual being and identity and return to the source. Out of fear, or perhaps just because we could, we have put a commodity value on the process; we have put a price on life and death. We buy and sell life and death, manipulate them, and in the process, make the most numinous, mysterious gifts we have into something with (often a merely) cash value over which wars can be fought.
And wars are indeed fought, over Kuwaiti oil and over electric bills in house-shares. There are impeachments about secret blow jobs and lives are bought and sold in corporate takeovers by companies in the business of death. All of us, to some extent, fight to find our true identity as we work for The Man, struggling to extract ourselves from having been subsumed by corporate culture and insane values that are absolutely not our own. This is a struggle for life. We struggle to be our own property in relationships, to have our own opinions, to exist as who we really are.
It would appear that the 8th house, a term with which very few people are familiar, is where we are lost when we are struggling with jealousy and financial issues. And perhaps, if we follow the map of astrology, we will see that these crises are a masquerade for the fear of death, which we view as the ultimate scarcity or limitation. You could say that all our efforts to have spiritual consciousness are efforts to be free from death and free to love. We seek to free ourselves from the limitations of the 8th house, and do something that is very much in the theme of this region: to transform ourselves.
The birth-death-rebirth pattern works psychologically here, and it is by going headling into 8th house issues that we transform ourselves (as the big beach ball in the Wet Spot says, Sex Changes Everything).
We want to be free to create our own lives, love whom we choose, have possession of our own talents and be free from the bondage of others. Yet so often we feel trapped. Often we are trapped in our luxury prisons, wearing golden handcuffs.
There is a way out, or at least the map points to one. Astrology organizes reality in a system of opposites, or polarities. There is a house opposite the 8th, which is the 2nd. In Lilly’s term, this is the house of riches: of one’s own possessions. Its questions surround whether one will attain wealth and keep it, whether a person will acquire the wages that are due to her, and what might get in the way of doing so.
In modern terms, this is the house of self-value and the awareness, and conscious possession of, one’s own values. This is a mysterious concept for many people. We are so encumbered in the values of other people (an 8th house effect) that we rarely feel or state our own values. Worse, we confuse our values with those of other people. We don’t know when we’re not really espousing this incredible desire for a Big Mac but rather had it planted in our head 4,543 times till we submitted and handed over our cash.
In food terms, conversely, the 2nd house is nurturing yourself with the food you like.
In sexual terms, it is the house of sex with oneself, selflove and masturbation. (The 8th is about sex with othes.) Betty Dodson, the mother of masturbation, has pointed out, and many of her readers have confirmed, that there is a direct connection between the depth and intimacy of one’s masturbation and the overall freedom and quality of life that we feel and have. Often, learning selflove and selfpleasure in the midst of an oppressive relationship is the key that turns the lock on being oneself. If we can live and be ourselves shamelessly, this has a way of protecting us from power struggles with others, and from getting lost in their values.
We would quickly notice whether we are involved in some kind of sex-for-money or sex-for-security trade-off if we became able to meet our own sexual needs a little better. Just like having sex with others involves us in their values, having sex with ourselves involves us in our own. We can notice that we have needs, and start doing things about them. In meeting one’s own needs, we both take a step out of the control games, and find that we have a lot more to share with truly receptive people.
And we may become very interested in finding a way out of the games. Power struggles, it turns out, become very unappealing when we’re actually in our power; they are a sign of weakness, and they are boring. If we are battling or fearful about money, it’s clear that we are not in touch with the more creative dimensions of ourselves, even though it’s that very creative power that would help us create the money we need to live.
When we are strong in our own values, then we have options, we see those options, and we’re not afraid to explore them.
But in the end, as I see it, every meaningful question comes down to one core value, which you could state several different ways: What do we love more, people or money? In what do we invest more faith, life or death? In whom do we believe more strongly, ourselves, or others?++