Elements of Astrological Medicine

The topic of traditional medicine used in concert with traditional astrology is a massive one and deserving of several volumes. Happily, these exist and date back to early antiquity, continuing to be developed throughout the 17th century by authors such as Nicolas Culpeper, a student of William Lilly.  Richard Saunders. an accomplished physician, all of whom were part of a larger group of what might be called ‘medical activists’ who wanted the practice of medicine to be available to the common people. This is the time in our history when the art of midwifery was being denied to the peasantry and absorbed by male physicians. In many respects, these struggles continue.

This is written as an introductory piece, demonstrating the various elements and history of the art. For those who seek a more in-depth  view, there are some very fine contemporary books written on the subject, such as Heal Thyself: Nicolas Culper and the Seventeenth Century Struggle to Bring Medicine to the People by Benjamin Woolley; Culpeper’s Medicine A Practise of Western Holistic Medicine by Graeme Tobyn and Passions and Tempers: a History of the Humours by Noga Arikha. Virtually all the seminal texts from Hippocrates through the Seventeenth century are readily available.

In his article “Delusions of Medicine” (2112) Professor Henry Draper, MD writes: ” It is instructive to the philosophical physician to trace, as in the case of Greece, the passage through fetichism, miracle-cure, and astrol­ogy to a sound system of medicine such as that propagated by Hippocrates, well called the Divine Old Man. ”  The article is for the most part well informed and well written I agree with some of his conclusions. Nevertheless, I think this is another case of something assuming they know what astrology is when they clearly do not. There is really no place in astrological medicine for what I think he means by” fetishism” or the offer of “miracle cures.” Moreover, and this is the greatest irony,  Hippocrates with Galen were and are the greatest primary Classical sources for medicine in concert with astrology.

This is rather like the Christian who believes that astrology is evil because scripture warns against fortune tellers, necromancers, and poisoners. Again, no informed or self-respecting astrologer would accept any of those titles as being even remotely relevant to what they do.  This subject is deserving of another post that is already in the works.  For now, I will say that traditional astrology properly used and for the right reasons is both beneficial and conducive to Christianity if the judgment of someone such as St. Thomas Aquinas is to be given consideration.

Our immediate interest is in the legitimate and ancient art of astrological diagnosis, using astrological techniques. These have been tried and true for millennia and are still relevant.  Modern medicine has made enormous contributions to healing, largely in the realm of diagnostic technology. antibiotics and other drugs. However, here traditional and modern can co-exist to some extent.  It has to be said, however, that even now a definite and timely diagnosis of many ailments are not as effective as they might be. Also, many modern drugs are toxic to the body and can often trigger secondary problems.

Modern allopathic medicine treats the symptoms of dis-ease. Traditional Western medicine is holistic and sees the human being within the context of the macrocosmic/microcosmic relationship.

In the spirit of introduction to traditional astrological theory and practice, we can begin with what has come to be known as the Astrological Man.

Zodiac correspondences of the human body – Michael of Rhodes ~1434

Contemporary modern astrologers associate each sign with a house. No matter what the ascendant, the first house ‘belongs’ to Aries and the twelfth to Pisces. This is a modern aberration and has nothing to do with traditional astrology except in the correlations between parts of the human anatomy. Although there are some applications of this in horary astrology, the most important is as a tool in medical astrology.

The image above is a simple reference tool – one can readily see the correspondences between the parts of the human body and the sign to which they are associated. For it to make any practical sense for an individual, we use the natal chart. In Lilly’s day, it would look something like this.

From Christian Astrology by William Lilly – Sample chart

The image itself is believed to derive from Egyptian sources. You can see also that the human form is placed in a circular position with the head in Aries and the feet in Pisces – the alpha and omega.

The writer at Wikipedia summarizes the traditional system of medicine very well: “Temperament theory has its roots in the ancient four humors theory. It may have origins in ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia, but it was the Greek physician Hippocrates (460–370 BC) who developed it into a medical theory. He believed certain human moods, emotions and behaviors were caused by an excess or lack of body fluids (called “humors”): blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.”

“Humoral” derives from the word “humor,” which, means “fluid.” The human body was thought to contain a mixture of the four humors – black bile (melancholy), yellow or red bile, blood (sanguine) and phlegm. Each individual has a particular humoral constitution. In this system, health is defined as the proper humoral balance for that particular individual. An imbalance of the humors is considered at the root of illness. 

The humors are also used to refer to the four individual psychological temperaments: melancholic, sanguine, choleric, and phlegmatic. What is immediately relevant here is the fact that the physical health and individual personality were part of the same whole.

The development of humoral theory is associated originally with Hippocrates (ca. 460–370 BCE). In the second century CE, Galen elaborated on this theory, which was further developed by Arabic writers beginning in the 9th century and by European writers beginning in the 11th. Though several important publications—Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica in 1543 and William Harvey’s De Motu Cordis in 1628—challenged aspects of humoral theory, it remained dominant among both physicians and the public through the 19th century.

This system is always used in concert with the humoral medicine of Galan and Hippocrates. Modern medicine tends to believe that a given medicine will work the same way for different people. That may be true of some treatments but certainly not the vast majority. Traditional astrological medicine determines the Temperament of the patient by reading the Humoural nature of the chart, communicated by the planets in signs, among other considerations. People who have a very strong Choleric nature, which is hot and dry, will tend to suffer from more fevers than someone with a Phlegmatic temperament, which is cold and wet. This is not the place to engage in a detailed explanation of Humoral medicine, but suffice it to say that only a foolish doctor would treat the two as they were exactly the same.

The planets are also associated with anatomy in a wider sense. To give a small sample, Saturn governs bones and teeth, but also long and chronic illness. Mars governs the blood and is also associated with cuts (including surgery) and fevers. Mercury is associated with the nervous system and is a part of the assessment of mental disorders, often in concert with the Moon or Saturn. Clearly, all of the components must be read in the process of diagnostics. I hope at some later date to delve into this more deeply on this blog, for those who have an interest.

table courtesy of wiki commons

Winter Solstice 2014

Sun from a Falnama (1580s) watercolor on paper

Sun from a Falnama (1580s) watercolor on paper

First allow me to wish everyone a joyous solstice, with blessings of all kinds, as we celebrate the return of the light in the Northern hemisphere. The recognition of the importance of the Sun appearing to stand still before he begins to move towards the North is celebrated virtually universally in many variants from the beginnings of recorded history and surely long before. This is the time to welcome and celebrate the return of the Sun, See my previous article for the symbolism, lore and practise of the Winter Solstice 

The Solar symbol of the dot within a circle is one of th3e most ancient symbols. The Sun is the primary source of life. The Chart for the Year is cast for 0° Aries, the Exaltation of the Sun.

Spherical hand warmer, brass middle east 18th - 19th C.

A very Solar Spherical hand warmer, brass middle east 18th – 19th C.

The Winter Solstice charts provides us with relatively short predictions which are concerned specifically with season on Winter.  Solstice Charts are generally used to tell us of the current climate, both literally and figuratively and employed with a particular interest in the season itself. That is not to say they cannot provide us with more. For people living close to the Ring of Fire, earthquake and tsunami warnings are crucial. These predictions also include weather predictions of a general nature because we are talking about a three month period.

Below is the chart for the Winter Solstice 2014, including the seven hermetic lots. It is drawn for the West Coast on 21 December 2014, 15.03 PST. Victoria, B.C.  This gives us a chart for Day of the Sun and Hour of the Moon.


The angles are in Mutable Signs and Mercury, the most Protean of all planets is in Capricorn and the Almuten Figuris. He is of course also Lord of the Ascendant Moreover, the Lady of the Geniture is Venus, also in Saturnine Capricorn. The essence of the chart is Cold and Dry, or Melancholy, by Humour.

Sun, Moon and Mercury are all in the 22nd Lunar Mansion, known as the Head of the Dragon. The significance of this is speed, escape or personal power. Particularly because this is a Mundane chart, this planet and luminaries is stifled in the Eighth House. The Moon is Balsamic and Void of Course and the traditional decanate ruler is Saturn. The Sun is in the Decanate of Jupiter. The New Moon in Capricorn occurs at 5.25 pm

The Mercurial Hyleg is the Pars Fortuna in the First House, conjunct the Fixed Star Aldebaran, the Eye of God, in the fourth Lunar Mansion and often associated with blindness. The fact is the position of Al Debaran (the follower of the Pleiades) is crucial in interpretation. It is far better to have this star on the Ascendant, than in the Seventh for example. One of the Royal Stars on Persia, he is Watcher of the East. He can bring greatness if integrity and nobilit6y of character is preserved.

According to Vivien Robson, ” It gives honour, intelligence, eloquence, steadfastness, integrity, popularity, courage, ferocity, a tendency to sedition, a responsible position, public honours and gain of power and wealth through others, but its benefits seldom prove lasting and there is also danger of violence and sickness.”  [Robson Fixed Stars p.120.]

Aldebaran and the Pleiades are a prominent sight during Winter in the Northern Hemisphere

Mercury is Combust. Venus is Under the Solar Beams. The glimmer of hope lies in the fact that both the Lot of the Sun, the Moon and Venus are found in the First House with the Day and Hour of the chart underscored.taurus-the-bull

In the Seventh House of open enemies, we have the Moon  at 28.35° conjunct Acumen. This is interpreted as enduring attacks  that weaken.  The position of the Lot of Saturn only emphasizes the difficulties. Jupiter is extremely weak because he is deposited by the Sun in the Eighth House, retrograde and Peregrine – like a stranger in a strange land. As Lord of the Seventh he isn’t in a position to ameliorate.

We look then to Mars in the Ninth House and on the MC. in the 23rd Lunar Mansion known as the “fortunate aviator.” There is a suggestion here of attack from the air. Saturn is Lord of Mars, Sun, Venus and Mercury. Saturn is found in the Sixth House. and in Mutual Reception with Mars.

We have the potential for an attack – religiously motivated because of Ninth House placement – but on a limited scale, if not intercepted entirely  But there is definitely a need for heightened vigilance,  Again, we largely create what happens to us within prescribed limits and forewarned is forearmed

What initially appeared to be a fairly straightforward chart proves to be complex and suggestive of the following:

The weather will be changeable, from dry and cold to high winds and heavy rainfall. There is no indication of a major seismic eruptions, always of concern for those of us living on the West Coast, over the next three months. There is no indication of a Tsunami on the West Coast either.

The lot of the people collectively is somber and in need of leadership with vision and integrity. I would anticipate on-going protests to be particularly energized.

We are not passive observers in either our individual or collective lives. If the season is Cold & Dry we may elect to embrace its opposite, which in this case is Sanguine, or warm and wet.  This can be facilitated by the strong Mercurial signature in the chart, even with the afflictions. There is a reason that warm soup tastes especially good in the cold weather. Mild and pungent spices as well as squash, carrots and  other root vegetables may also help, unless there is some other reason you shouldn’t  eat these foods. If you are already of a Sanguine Humour, increasing its preponderance will server no useful purpose

Winter-Solstice-Lantern-Festival-Photo-by-eych-you-bee-ee-ahr-tee-via-flickr.Vancouver 2012

Winter-Solstice-Lantern-Festival-Photo-by-eych-you-bee-ee-ahr-tee-via-flickr.Vancouver 2012

Greet the return of the light with lanterns, candles, yule logs and solar incenses such as Sandalwood, Frankincense and Dragon’s Blood.  ,

Hermes : Magician & Psychopomp

Hermes_mercurius_trismegistus_siena_cathedralHermes Trismegistus in the Cathedral of Siena

Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus – Cathedral of Siena

Among the many joys of practising traditional astrology, is the opportunity to fully explore the inner planets. When the going gets deep, the shallow resort to ‘higher octave” delusions. The formula seems to be if it’s deep, make sure it’s as far away from the Sun as possible which strikes me as perverse.

mercury (1)Being personal doesn’t mean it can’t also be universal. Let’s take Mercury for example. Mercury has the be the most skimmed over of all planets. This is really unfortunate because Mercury in his many manifestations has perhaps the richest set of attributes of all.

Everyone interested in astrology knows Mercury is about communication and short journeys and not much else. In fact, he is probably best known for the Mercury retrograde effect.

Let’s begin with the glyph. The Semi-Circle, Luna symbol  is Soul. The Solar circle is Spirit. They are above the Cross of Matter.

Although Mercury is usually referred to in the masculine, *he* is in fact the primal hermaphrodite that takes on the gender of it’s sign and position. However, it’s Mercury’s nature to communicate both the Solar and Lunar Self. As the Magician, he channels this energy to the world of Matter, symbolized by the Cross.

The image of Thoth (below) embodies the nature of Mercury. He has the Solar – Lunar disk above him. He is in the form of the Ibis. There has been much contention about why the Ibis was chosen as representative, but the most important issue is that it represents Spirits of the Air or intellect. No matter which form he takes, whether Mercury, Hermes or Thoth, he is a winged deity.images (7)

Thoth and Hermes were credited with the revelations of writing, mathematics, magic, astrology, astronomy, medicine, and  the almost completely forgotten role of Psychopomp, conductor of souls to the next world.

When we consider all of these, Hermes takes on a redemptive quality. Yet Modern astrologers have ascribed all of these qualities to the outer planets, mostly Uranus and Pluto. Now that he is virtually ignored, or written off in a sentence or two as the most boring planet,  we can see the extent of the loss.

As messenger to the two luminaries, he was held in very high regard. He is also credited with revealing the musical spell to bring Osiris back to life. In the earliest Egyptian sources he is a self created god.


Relief from a carved funerary lekythos at Athen – Hermes as Psychopomp Cconducts the Deceased Myrrhine to Hades C 430-420-BCE-National Archaeological Museum of Athens

There is great import in the seemingly simple sentence :

“Do You not know, Asclepius, that Egypt is an image of heaven, or, to speak more exactly, in Egypt all the operations of the powers which rule and work in heaven have been transferred to Earth below ?” (Asclepius III, 24b.)

These words of Hermes contain the essential dictum of “As Above, So below.” However the precise way that we comprehend this will depend on which model we are using to reference. For example, it is completely in keeping with Plato’s doctrine of the Forms, the idea that meterial, physical reality is not the ultimate one.

If we follow this essential teaching  through the Works of Plotinus, we have a complete system of thought that is mystical. A key image in the Enneads is the fountain of light, from which all originate and ultimately return.


Arabian Hermes

In the magical tradition of Hermes Trismegigstus, Pico dell Mirandola uses the image of Hermes wedding Earth to Heaven.

Mercury is a winged god, renowned for his speed. Sometimes refered to as Quicksilver, the protean shape shifter resembles the mind itself from the point of view of, say, Buddhism. Mercury is also the Triskster. I’m particularly interested in how Hermes was transmitted to Iranian and Arabian culture and the Abassid astrologers in particular

The early Abbāsid court astrologer Māšā allāh (fl . 762–ca 815) has been called the Prince of Astrology by Robert Zoller. He was “an associate of Umar ibn al-Farruxān aṭ -Ṭabarī, cites Hermes as an authority in his own Arabic works. He may well have known works of Hermes in the Middle Persian original; being a learned Iranian Jew, Māšā allāh could have had access toAramaic and Persian sources as well as Arabic’ (Pingee, Masa’ allah 1973. pp. 159 – 62). Several other Arabian astrologers including Al Biruni are discussed in Kevin van Bladel’s The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet of Science.

It’s fair to say that Masa’Allah was the most erudite of scholars at the Abbasid court as well as the finest astrologer. How he received Hermes therefore has resonance in European and Arabian astrology, particularly prior to the Renaissance. Their sources were Middle Iranian and not Arabian in origin. The Persians had taken and translated Hermes into their own language, and as is the case in all cross cultural receptions, Persian elements were attached. However, as can be seen by the photo of the “Arabian Hermes” he has all the same attributes, albeit in what contemporary Greeks might have thought an exotic fashion.

First, we see Mercury is winged, holding the Solar and Lunar elements. The downward triangle remains the symbol of descent into matter to this day. There is however nothing to suggest that he is merely ‘Earth bound.” The two heads certainly have a more Persian design, but it’s quite easy to see the reference to the caduceus, with the two ‘serpent’ heads (perhaps birds in this case.)

There is still plenty of room for cultural interpretation. The role of psychopomp will of course differ in understanding depending on belief in the afterlife. For one it might mean ascension and to another successfully crossing the River Styx. However, the role of spirit guide doesn’t have to change. In the words C.G. Jung:

“From the earliest times, Hermes was the mystagogue and psycho pomp of the alchemists, their friend and counselor, who leads them to the goal of their work. He is “like a teacher mediating between the stone and the disciple.” To others the friend appears in the shape of Christ or Khidr or a visible or invisible guru, or some other personal guide or leader figure.” Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – CW 9i (1934–1954) (1981 2nd ed. Collected Works Vol.9 Part 1)

Alchemical art from the Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit

Alchemical art from the Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit

Hermes is much more than Magician and Psycopomp, but I believe these are the most ignored attributes in our time. Finally, we have the beautiful Alchemical illumination from the Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit on the left.

This has remained mysterious, although of course many scholars have had their theories. The image is very similar to the previous Arabian illustration, certainly not in style but in substance. Here the Mercurial figure is female. As mentioned, Mercury can be both genders, but is rarely portrayed as a woman. The caduceus- like form is there, with the Sun and Moon, but it’s reversed. She forms an ascending triangle. This image gives much to contemplate regarding the feminine attributes of Hermes.

Gemini: Sign, Myth & Meaning


We are fortunate to have such access to many Classical texts on astrology In the  The Anthology of Vettius Valens of Antioch, Book I. Concerning the Nature of the Stars  (Schmidt & Robert Hand p. 3). Valens introduces Mercury with these words:

“The star of Hermes (Mercury) is significant for the education of children, letters, disputation, speech, having brothers, interpretation, the herald’s office, number, counters, geometry, commerce, youth, playthings, theft, community, announcement, service, profit, discoveries, following, contest, wrestling, declamation, sealing, sending messages, setting up, being suspended, scrutinizing, hearing, versatility.”

L0068353 Monas hieroglyphica

John Dee – Modified Mercury Glyph from Monas Hieroglyphia . The Crescent of Soul is being drawn down to the centre of the Sun His glyph for the Monad adds the Horns of Aries at the Base and a Dot in the Circle of Spirit, signifying consciousness..

Hermes has two domiciles viz. Gemini and Virgo. Hermes is the most protean of all planets and is only masculine or feminine according to placement, that is to say Oriental or Occidental of the Sun. As the messenger of the gods you will find his glyph to be Solar and Lunar over the Cross of Matter; Mercury contains all three symbols, signifying the potential integration of spirit, soul and matter.

Hermes is the Primordial Hermaphrodite, adept at communicating with lightning speed. The price of speed however is lack of depth. This comes when he co joins other planets either by Aspect of Reception. It is important to note that Apollo is an ancient Greek name for Mercury as a morning star

Valens writes of the Sign Gemini:

“Gemini is male, bicorporeal, articulate, the house of Mercury, upward-trending, celestial, feminizing, a freedman, sterile, public. Under it are born scholars, those working in education and letters, poets, music-lovers, declaimers, stewards, those who receive trusts; also translators, merchants, judges of good and evil, sensible people, practicioners of the curious arts, and seekers after mystic lore.

Flora And Zephyr by William Bouguereau, 1875

Flora And Zephyr by William Bouguereau, 1875

In general, whatever the house ruler usually produces according to its own nature, whether good or bad, greater or lesser, this it produces in each of the signs according to the operative or inoperative configuration of the houseruler.”

I find this less satisfying than the description of Mercury itself.  It’s not that any of what he writes is false; but it has little meaning until the last sentence brings it all into focus. I dare say this is more true of Gemini than other signs, including Virgo.

Let’s turn now to the Gemini Myth. The tale of Castor and Polydeuces is complex. Other than the fact that they are called the twins (Gemini) it takes a bit of effort to find other elements of the myth that point to the sign.

They were the Dioscuri, twin sons of Zeus and Leda or Tydareus and Leda. When Tyndareus is called the father, Castor and Polydeuces — or Pollux, as he is known in Latin, are known as the Tyndaridae. Sometimes Castor is considered the son of Tyndareus and Polydeuces the son of Zeus, just as the Dioscuri’s sister Clytemnestra is the daughter of Tyndareus, while their sister Helen of Troy is the daughter of Zeus. Only Polydeuces  was divine.

Gemini finds its place in the Air triplicity, as the mutable (or common) expression of that element. The Air triplicity is concerned with the Intellectual faculties and the world of Mind. The sign is hot and moist, masculine, human and barren.


Hermes stirring up the Ether – Botticelli’s Primavera.

Like the element Mercury, Gemini likes to run over the surface of things, without ever penetrating the surface. This can manifest as the joy of intellectual play. Gemini is a dual sign and needs focus in order to resolve the apparent dual natures of their being, as illustrated in the myth of Castor and Pollux. It is only apparent: this is not like the situation with Pisces where the two fish are bound together and swimming in different directions. Although one is an equestrian and the other a pugilist, the Gemini twins are inseparable and move as one .

When Castor was slain in battle, and Polydeuces, inconsolable for the loss of his brother, besought Zeus to be permitted to give his own life as a ransom for him. Zeus so far consented as to allow the two brothers to enjoy life alternately, passing one day under the earth and the next in the heavenly abodes. According to another form of the story, Zeus rewarded the brothers by placing them among the stars as Gemini the Twins. They received divine honours under the name of  Dioscuri.

The key here is knowing what it is to be human and divine at the same time.  Hermes weds Earth to Heaven.  Using Alchemical language, Paracelsus tells us that “The world is as God created it. In the beginning He made it into a body, which consists of four elements. He founded this primordial body on the trinity of Mercury, Sulphur and Salt . These are the three substances of which the complete body consists.” (Paracelsus Ed. Jacobi . Trans Guterman p. 14) Salt is Base Matter, Sulphur is omnipresent Spirit of life and Mercury brings about the divine fusion of opposites.

Roman remains of Temple of Castor & Pollox

Roman ruins – Temple of Castor & Pollox

Hermes is given many attributes in Classical sources. One of the better known is the association with the West Wind or Zephyr, the subject of much art work, including Botticelli’s  Birth of Venus.