A strology as applied to medicine has very ancient roots, for example in India, China and Egypt, but it reached its fullest flowering in Europe in the late medieval and early modern periods, c1450-1700. The influence of astrology also entered European medicine from the Arab countries. Basically it is no exaggeration to say that astrology dominated everything during that period and thus many systems of knowledge depended upon it, were symbiotic with it, or made reference to it in their worldview. In the case of medicine, astrologers assigned signs of the zodiac to rule over parts of the body, planets to rule over organs and systems, and planets to rule over diseases and drugs. Thus the whole system is one of observation and interpretation based upon a complex system of given Rulerships.
This is clearly shown by Dygges in his 1555 manuscript:
Briefly the organs of the body are ruled as follows:
- Brain and Nerves by Mercury [and Uranus]
- Respiratory by Mercury
- Heart by the Sun
- Arteries by Mars
- Veins by Saturn
- Kidneys by Venus
- Liver by Jupiter
- Digestive system by Venus
- Muscles by Mars
- Reproduction by Venus and Mars
- Endocrine system by Neptune and Uranus
- Testes by Pluto
- Ovaries by the Moon
- Skin by Saturn
- Teeth Nails and Hair by Mars
- Bones and Skeleton by Saturn
The character of diseases given to the planets include: heart and spine disorders by the Sun; cuts, injuries and bruises as well as fevers and inflammations with redness and heat by Mars; liver disorders by Jupiter; diseases of expansion and excess by Sun or Jupiter; menstrual and mammary complaints and dropsies [fluid retention] by Moon; urinary complaints by Venus; diseases of decline, collapse, wasting, blockages and contraction by Saturn; poisonings by Saturn; tremors, neuroses, insanity by mercury, digestive disorders by Venus
Taking the Signs first, they are connected in this way with the body
Aries : Head and face, the eyes.
Taurus : The neck, ears, throat, larynx, tonsils.
Gemini : The arms, shoulders, muscles and bones in these, the lungs (including the trachea and bronchi), and the hands.
Cancer : Stomach, breasts, solar plexus, diaphragm, upper part of the liver.
Leo : The heart, spine and spinal parts.
Virgo : The intestines, alimentary canal, lower part of the liver.
Libra : Kidneys, loins, appendix, lumbar vertebrae and the skin generally.
Scorpio : The organs of reproduction, bladder, gall, colon and rectum.
Sagittarius : The hips, thighs and the sciatic nerves.
Capricorn : The knees, joints of the body and the hair.
Aquarius : The lower leg (calves and ankles), the teeth and the circulation of the blood.
Pisces : The feet and toes.
The Planets govern parts corresponding with the Signs they rule and in which they have their exaltation.
The physiological side, in relation to the Signs, is as follows :-
Aries : The brain faculties and the distribution of mental and physical energy.M
Taurus : Recuperative forces.
Gemini : The breathing and those things connected.
Cancer : Nutrition.
Leo : Distribution of vital forces and especially through the blood.
Virgo : Processes of assimilation and absorption.
Libra : The liquid processes of the body.
Scorpio : Procreation and reproduction.
Sagittarius : The senses, malady as studied through the nerves.
Capricorn : Processes of preservation and reserve of energy.
Aquarius : The circulation and eliminative processes.
Pisces : Perspiration and the lymphatic processes generally.
Diseases which pertain to the various signs are as follows
Aries : Headaches, fevers, neuralgia, eye troubles, eruptions and inflammations, wounds and accidents.
Taurus : Diseases which particularly attack the throat.
Gemini (n): Bronchial complaints, consumption, nerve diseases, pneumonia and pleurisy, asthma and anaemia.
Cancer : Affections of the digestion.
Leo : Heart trouble, poor circulation and similar troubles
Virgo : Digestive troubles and complaints to do with intestines generally.
Libra : Kidney affections and afflictions to the spine.
Scorpio : Diseases of the parts already mentioned as belonging to the Sign.
Sagittarius : Gout, rheumatism, sciatica, accidents.
Capricorn : Skin complaints and diseases affecting the parts of the Sign.
Aquarius : Accidents to the ankles and complaints affecting that part of the body; varicose veins, blood poisoning and some nervous diseases.
Pisces : Influenza, colds, diseases accompanied by mucous discharges and similar complaints.
Characteristics of the Diseases of the Signs
Aries The energies are often in excess of the nervous and mental balance, and most ill-health has its origins in such things as violent exertion and outbursts of anger. The Aries person should seek poise at all costs.
Taurus : Over-indulgence and too much comfort lie at the roots of most disorders, but there is also a tendency to brood over troubles which lends force to any passing ailments.
Gemini : Nervous reactions and restlessness, form the basis.
Cancer : Usually complaints originate in the emotions through some mental irritant, cause nervous reactions and general lessening of vitality. It has been said that nine times out of ten the Cancerian is hurt in health more by others than by himself.
Leo : Nearly all afflictions tend to arise from over-exertion of some kind.
Virgo : There is a tendency to upsets of the digestive organs from nervous causes, producing acidity and other troubles.
Libra : Troubles arise usually from nervous exhaustion of some kind.
Scorpio : Breaking down of the resistance through worrying and interaction of others upon the individual.
Sagittarius : Restlessness often causes the trouble; the folks under this Sign are peculiar to accidents and injuries.
Capricorn : Disease is frequently rooted in inhibitions.
Aquarius : Nervous causes, usually, based on the highly sensitive nature.
Pisces : Over-heating of the mind with possibly fancied injuries from others, plus much sensitiveness physical and mental, form the basis for most complaints.
Plants associated with the Planets :
THE SUN :
Food-stuffs-Rice, honey and aromatic herbs, as used for flavouring.
Flowers - Marigold, sunflower, peonies, etc.
Trees-The bay, walnut and palm.
THE MOON :
Food-stuffs-Cabbage, melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, turnips, mushrooms, lettuce, watercress.
Flowers-Mostly night-growing varieties.
Trees-Traditionally, those which are mostly rich in sap, e.g. Maple and Sycamore.
Food-stuffs-Many seed-bearing plants; carrots, parsley, the majority of nuts.
Flowers-The wilder varieties.
Trees-Hazel, walnut, and other nut-bearing trees.
Food-stuffs-Gooseberry and other berries, wheat, and most of the spices.
Flowers-Daffodil, goldenrod, violet, rose, lily, etc.
Trees-Apple, pear, peach, fig, almond, ash, cypress and most of the vines.
Food-stuffs-Practically all the "hot" foods, such as ginger, and peppers, and those of strong taste such as the onion, garlic, etc. Hops are also under Mars.
Flowers-The unusual and rather coarser bright flowers.
Trees-Holly, fir (?) and all thorn-bearing trees, or bushes.
Food-stuff-Vegetables such as sage, leeks; asparagus; rhubarb; mints; and fruits such as strawberries and the currants.
Flowers-The daisies and similar flowers.
Trees-Lime, birch, mulberry, ash, oak, birch.
Food-stuffs-Most vegetables, such as potatoes, etc.; parsnips, spinach and barley.
Flowers-Very few known to be associated, but the various bushes when in flower are thought to be so placed
Trees-Pine, yew, willow, elm.
URANUS and NEPTUNE are similar to Venus and the Moon, respectively.
Some examples of medicinal plants ruled by the planets, as given in Culpeper, are as follows:
Sun - Chamomile, Rosemary, Eyebright
Moon - Willow, Watercress, Poppy, Cucumber, White Roses
Mercury - Caraway, Lavender
Venus - Coltsfoot, Woodsage, Alder, Elder, Wild Thyme
Mars - Bryonia, Hops
Jupiter - Cinquefoil, Hyssop, Red Roses, Henbane
Saturn - Comfrey, Ivy, Hemlock, Belladonna
On Planetary Influences On Health :
"The Vital spirit hath its residence in the heart, and is dispersed from it by the Arteries; and is governed by the influence of the Sun. And it is to the body, as the Sun is to the Creation: as the heart is in the Microcosm, so is the Sun in the Megacosm: for as the Sun gives life, light, and motion to the Creation, so doth did heart to the body; therefore it is called Sol Corporis, as the Sun is called Cor Coeli, because their operations are similar.
Inimical and destructive to this virtue, are Saturn and Mars. The Herbs and Plants of Sol, wonderfully fortify it.
Natural] The natural faculty or virtue resides in the liver, and is generally governed by Jupiter, Quasi Juvans Pater; its office is to nourish the body, and is dispersed through the body by the veins.
From this are bred four particular humours, Blood, Choler, Flegm and Melancholy.
Blood is made of meat perfectly concocted, in quality hot and moist, governed by Jupiter It is by a third concoction transmuted into flesh, the superfluity of it into seed, and its receptacle is the veins, by which it is dispersed through the body.
Choler is made of meat more than perfectly concocted; and it is the spume or froth of blood: it clarifies all the humours, heats the body, nourishes the apprehension, as blood doth the judgment. It is in quality hot and dry; fortifies the attractive faculty, as blood doth the digestive; moves man to activity and valour: its receptacle is the gall, and it is under the influence of Mars.
Flegm is made of meat not perfectly digested; it fortifies the virtue expulsive, makes the body slippery, fit for ejection; it fortifies the brain by its consimilitude with it; yet it spoils apprehension by its antipathy to it. It qualifies choler, cools and moistens the heart thereby sustaining it, and the whole body, from the fiery effects which continual motion would produce. Its receptacle is the lungs, and is governed by Venus, some say by the Moon, perhaps it may be governed by them both, it is cold and moist in quality.
Melancholy is the sediment of blood, cold and dry in quality' fortifying the retentive faculty, and memory; makes men sober solid, and staid, fit for study; stays the unbridled toys of lustful blood, stays the wandering thoughts, and reduces' them home to the Centre: its receptacle is in the spleen,: and it is governed by Saturn.
Of all these humours blood is the chief, all the rest are superfluities of blood; yet are they necessary superfluities, for without any of them, man cannot live.
Namely; Choler is the fiery superfluities, Flegm, the Watery. Melancholy, the Earthly.'
On the one hand these Rulerships seem to be given as dogmas, on the other a certain logic can be perceived to underpin them. The characteristic features of the diseases or organs resonate with the features of the planets which rule them. Examples include the fluids ruled by the Moon or redness and heat by Mars. Thus, although the Rulerships are like fixed dogmas, they can be viewed as revealing an underlying logical pattern too.
In ancient times, knowledge of the specific and general effects of medicinal compounds on health was very poorly understood compared with today, and was often based on the shape, colour, taste and texture of the material, before they were actually used medicinally. This was often referred to as the "doctrine of correspondences" [or "doctrine of signatures"]: a system which assumed that the Almighty had inscribed in the plants of the earth secret signs and features whereby their medicinal virtues could be ascer-tained by Man. Examples include yellow flowering plants for liver com-plaints, red and peppery herbs for fevers and haemorrhages, etc.
"Lily of the valley...is under the dominion of mercury, and there-fore strengthens the brain, recruits a weak memory and makes it strong again."
Yet Convallaria [Lily of the Valley] has very few brain or 'mercur-ial' symptoms at all and is mainly used for heart conditions [ruled by Leo]. Drugs at that time were mainly employed on the basis of what today looks like a form of speculation and guesswork.
For centuries, the medicinal qualities of a drug were decided by astrologi-cal considerations, such as reference to planetary rulers. For example, fruits, nuts and other nutritious or sweet-scented plants were deemed to be ruled by Venus; reddish and peppery plants by Mars; yellow or orange plants by Jupiter; dark, poisonous and bitter herbs were ruled by Saturn; silvery, white and watery [succulent] plants came under the Moon's rulership.
"Paracelsus was also a firm believer in the doctrine of signatures, and in illustration of it explained every single part of St. John's Wort [Hypericum perforatum] in terms of this belief "...the holes in the leaves mean that this herb helps all inner and outer orifices of the skin...the blooms rot in the form of blood, a sign that it is good for wounds and should be used where flesh has to be treated."
Most of the Herbal Materia Medica was, therefore, compiled by trial and error. Herbs were used on the basis of tradition, a semi-mythical method, stretching back in time before recorded history. This was the case in nearly all cultures on earth.
Yet a surprising number of these herbal 'guesses' were apparently confirmed by the homeopathic provings. Examples include Chelidonium [Yellow Poppy] for liver complaints, Euphrasia [Eyebright] for eye complaints and Pulmonaria [Lungwort] for bronchitis. Presumably these properties were originally discovered from their clinical use rather than from 'signatures'.
'Hahnemann definitely rejected [the law of signatures]... in his Materia Medica Pura we read under Chelidonium... '…the ancients imagined that the yellow colour of the juice of this plant was an indication (signature) of its utility in bilious diseases... the importance of human health does not admit of any such uncertain directions for the of medicines. It would be criminal frivolity to rest contented with such guesswork at the bedside of the sick.' ?
Most modern medical writers also regard all this astrology as bunk:
'Although early nineteenth century botanic medicine reveals little direct evidence of the 'doctrine of signatures' that had lain behind traditional herbalism, and that had expressed [as in the writings of Paracelsus] an interpenetrative holistic cosmology, indirect links are to be found in the literature's references to astrology, and in the pervasive quasi-hermetic references to vital force.'
'It was a distinct advance, also, to divorce therapeutics from the astrological lore with which it had been long encumbered. The rationalism of medieval medicine could and did pass over at times into what appears to our modern eyes as mere superstition and mysticism; and the respect paid to astrology as late as the last half of the seventeenth century is an excellent example of this. One finds a royal physician in Paris solemnly proclaiming, in 1663, that astrology is absolutely essential to medical practice; and as late as 1688, another authority of that city published a book to defend the same thesis [Lussauld, 'Apologie pour les Medecins', Paris, 1663] After about 1700, medical authorities paid less and less attention to such occult matters; no doubt because the development of Newtonian astronomy led most educated men to repudiate astrology altogether.'
Unfortunately for Shryock and his ilk, this argument very conveniently, and somewhat embarrassingly, ignores the fact that Newton himself was an ardent student of the occult, including astrology!
'Newton was also a keen student of alchemy; and he left a remarkable manuscript on the prophecies of Daniel and on the Apocalypse, a history of creation, and some tracts.'
When once asked by a Fellow of the Royal Society why he believed in astrology and other such arrant nonsense he is reputed to have retorted: 'Well, Sir, I have studied the matter, and you clearly have not!'.
However, Shryock goes on:
'The general repudiation of astrology was significant, in that it indicated rejection of quasi-supernatural elements in medicine. This was necessary, as in all other fields, if the way was to be cleared for a truly 'natural' science.'
'The chief accomplishment of the eighteenth-century thinkers...was the rejection of superstition and theology...in a word they cleared the way for the beginnings of a real social science - a service analogous to that performed by those who had earlier eliminated alchemy from chemistry, and astrology from medicine.'
'Dr. John Dee [1527-1608], occultist, physician and astrologer, was yet a further example of the remarkable characters who then graced the upper ranks of quackery... besides acting as a medical adviser to Queen Elizabeth he was a dedicated necromancer and is reported to have conversed with a newly-resurrected corpse. His influence over the Queen was considerable and she actually sent her personal physician to attend him when he was ill...'
'Dee... wrote numerous works on logic, mathematics, astrology, alchemy, navigation,... but died in poverty... his eldest son, Arthur [1579-1651] was also an alchemist...'
Regarding the origins of the Black Death in Europe:
'When the learned physicians of the Medical Faculty in Paris looked for astrological confirmation... they found it: 'on 20 March 1345, at 1pm, there occurred a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the house of Aquarius...notoriously caused death and disaster...pestilence in the air...and calculated to draw up evil vapours from earth and water...' '
'Fracastorius [1483-1553] denied that Syphilis was introduced by Columbus...but was vague about its origins. It is carried by 'disease seeds' [semina morbum], is transmitted by contact [contages] or contagion, but is due ultimately to malign or poisonous astrological influences - the same combination of Mars and Saturn which had earlier brought the Black Death.'
In Paracelsan medicine, as Coulter notes, diseases '...are subject to astrological influence.'. Causes of disease are unquestioningly arrayed as to include '...poisons, unhealthy food, witches' spells, epidemic and astrological influences ['the blas of the stars'], etc...'. Sydenham also speculated upon the array of unhealthy influences upon the human organism: '..the air is tainted, or whether the atmosphere be changed by some alterations induced by some peculiar conjunction of any of the heavenly bodies...'. His theory of the human 'constitution' 'thus owed something to astrology and something to the corpuscular theory.'. But Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy rejected outright this ancient approach to medical science:
'He has also rejected a priori methods relying on chemistry, botany, signatures, astrology, or physics...'
The planets represent forces or energies at loose in the world; diseases are likewise represented by energies; thus a parallel became delineated and the one came to represent the other in this system. Diseases came to be seen and depicted very much as manifestations of these planetary energies. They shared the same qualities and attributes and thus could substitute for one another easily. This constitutes one of the fundamental foundations of medical astrology.
The method of the medical astrologer was first to cast a chart for the patient's birth and another for the patient's disease or its approximate time of onset. From looking at these the astrologer could then determine any excess or deficient planetary energies which lay at the bottom of the problem. And a general prognosis could also be made at this stage. In effect the patient's problem is translated into astrological language and then its course and cure figured out from there.
Drugs used were also classified under different planets and so excess energies could be cooled and neutralised by employing an appropriate drug; likewise deficient energies could be boosted by employing a drug which was known to stimulate that organ or system into better functioning. Drugs used were mainly of botanic origin but some minerals were also employed. The whole system attempts to harmonise and regularise the body functions by addressing certain organs and systems which are not working correctly. It is very like Acupuncture, Ayurveda and Chinese herbal medicine in its overall approach, in which a similar 'harmonisation of functioning' is the central therapeutic objective.
Yet medical astrology soon became debased. It is a complex system which requires a great deal of time and thought to treat someone properly. By taking shortcuts and trimming the system, some bogus practitioners hoped to speed it up. This caused a debasement of the original system and thus it fell into disrepute along with astrology generally after the 1750s. Which is not to say that it didn't work or that it was useless, or that it was utterly without a rational basis.