Astrology and Health
herbs and symbolism
Herbs and Symbolism: part 1 | part 2 | The Vital Force
The crowning of great persons with a wreath of laurel is thus a fitting ritual, symbolizing the unfoldment of their Inner Light, while the wreath, analogous to a halo, displays their inner virtue. Artists also used a laurel wreath as a symbolic device to depict a great man, such as Botticelli's portrayal of the poet Dante.
The word bachelor, as an award of higher education (L. e= out + ducare = to lead), derives from the Latin, bacca laurus, meaning the fruits of the
laurel. Thus after several years discipline, the student who had unfolded
the Inner Light and was able to "draw forth" wisdom, was awarded
a bachelorship in recognition of this inner attainment. The graduate had truly earned the fruits of the laurel.
The idea that the bay standing next to the house brings good luck stems from the belief that the inner solar virtue dispels the darkness of malevolent influences, traditionally
ruled by Saturn. In symbolic terms, the principle of light overcomes the
lord of darkness. Thus in Culpeper, bay is said to be the tree that "resisteth
witchcraft very potently, as also all the evils old Saturn can do to the
body, and they are not a few". Thus the laurel outside the home stands
as a faithful guardian, keeping any malevolent influences - literally -
at bay! To cut the tree down would destroy this benign protection,
hence invite misfortune to befall the home. The act of cutting it down
also symbolizes the dissociation of a person from the soul, and the denial
of the Inner Light. A person who does not act from the clarity of the
heart soon falls into obstruction and difficulties.
The Power of Insight
It was by visualizing the
inner virtues of plants that physicians worked out their medicinal uses.
The willow (Salix alba) provides a particularly clear illustration
of how this was done. Culpeper cryptically mentions that the
Moon owns it. Once again, the Lunar rulership can be traced
back to classical Greek times when the willow was sacred to . . . Hecate,
Circe, Hera and Persephone, all Death aspects of the Triple Moon-goddess6 and was found growing in the temple confines
dedicated to lunar goddesses.
The Lunar virtue of the tree
is shown by its love for water as the moon traditionally rules the water
element. A fact powerfully evidenced by the Moon's influence upon
the oceans and tides. This association is shown by willow growing next
to streams, rivers and lakes while its leaves also have a silvery lustre.
Silver is both the colour and the metal traditionally ruled by the Moon.
MediŠval physiology is also
based upon this symbolic perspective, so the external form and structure
of the body is closely observed to reveal its inner virtue or vital force7.
For example, when a person had a fever or if the joints became swollen
and painful, this was visualized in mediaeval physiology as a fire burning
inside the body. Indeed, the medical word for fever, pyrexia, comes
from the Greek word pyros meaning fire, while the word inflammation comes
from the Latin inflammare meaning to flame within.
Just as water extinguishes
fire, so Lunar herbs with their affinity with the water element, were used
to extinguish the fire in the body. This is confirmed by the willow having
an ancient reputation for allaying fever.
The validity of these ancient
ideas is confirmed by modern pharmacology, for the main active constituent
is salicylic acid, which in a slightly different form is more commonly
known as the drug aspirin. Among a range of pharmacological actions, salicylic
acid powerfully reduces the body temperature by increasing sweating. Thus,
the water of the sweat puts out the fire in the body.
The name salicylic acid derives
from the generic name of the tree Salix. In turn, the tree's
Latin name is derived from the Celtic sal meaning "water" and lis
"near" alluding to its natural habitat. Salix is also linked to the
Greek name of the tree Helix, which also gave rise to the word Helicon,
the mountain abode of the nine muses, priestesses of the moon-goddess8.
Interestingly, the name of the chemical still echoes the lunar associations
of the tree and its "watery" effects on the body.
Rational thought, in its
pursuit of objective knowledge, frequently denies the validity of subjective
perception. Its reductionist methodology has largely supplanted the symbolic
perspective to Western culture. As a result, the material world is
predominantly perceived as existing in its own right, dissociated from
the person observing it. Against these powerful changes to our perception
brought about by our scientific age, herbal lore has become very difficult
to understand, however, to learn how to see plants symbolically is to catch
sight of the profound knowledge of the ancient herbalists.
N. Culpeper: The English Physitian, 1653, section on the Bay tree.
N. Culpeper: ibid. Epistle to the Reader.
N. Culpeper: Ibid. section on Angelica.
W. Rutherford: Delphi – the Occult Centre of the Ancient World.
J. G. Frazer: The Golden Bough.
R. Graves: The White Goddess.
D. Warren-Davis: Vitalism and Humoral
Physiology – Part2.
R. Graves, Ibid .
This article is part of a series on Astrology and Health. Copyright ę D. Warren-Davis 2000.
All Rights Reserved.
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