|Figure 3: The Humours, with their Descriptions & Physiological Correspondences.|
Astrology and Health
vitalism and humours [part 3]
The Choleric Humour
The choleric humour is perceived by the Fire Element. The Fire Element in general symbolises energy, dynamism and expression, and is associated with the colour red, which correlates to the choleric humour, dynamic and expressive component of the blood. Culpeper defines the choleric humour as the spume and froth of the blood 3 and with this image it is possible to visualize the turbulence and activity of the blood as it circulates around the body.
Normally when taking a blood pressure listening with a stethoscope at the
brachial artery at the elbow, the spurting sound of the blood is clearly
heard. In moments of panic it is possible to hear the beating of
one's own heart. These sounds are caused by the blood cells brushing
against the side of the blood vessels as they are propelled by the beating
heart. As the red blood cells are the most abundant cells in the
blood, they principally generate this sound. Their red colour in particular
links them to the Fire Element. Physiologically their function is
to carry the respiratory gases between the lungs and all the other cells
in the body. This role enables the tissues to respire and generate
energy. Psychologically, Fire symbolises a person's drive, motivation,
creativity, strength and ambition, while physiologically, tissue respiration
is how the body generates energy.
Tissue respiration predominantly occurs in the liver and muscles where the main heat of the body is produced. During physical exercise, when muscular contractions burn up a lot of glucose, the increased heat that is generated causes water loss through perspiration, leading to a powerful thirst, this being a direct reflection of the hot and dry nature of the choleric humour. With the connection of the Fire Element to the muscles, the pumping action of the heart – a muscular organ – contributes to the force behind the spume and froth of the blood. As a further correspondence with the Fire Element, circulation of the blood increases during exercise.
Mars Rules the Choleric Humour
The choleric humour is ruled principally by the hot and dry Planet Mars. Iron is the metal traditionally connected to Mars, since it is used to make weapons such as knives, swords and spears. Physiologically, iron is included within hæmoglobin, the carrier molecule inside the red blood cells that transports the oxygen to the tissues. When oxygen combines with haemoglobin forming oxyhæmoglobin, the blood changes colour from a dull to a bright red. All these ideas are particularly highlighted when iron deficiency occurs in the body, leading to a shortage of red blood cells. This is a condition called anæmia where inadequate amounts of oxygen reach the cells and consequently very little energy is generated in the body. The patient is tired and lethargic and becomes easily breathless after only mild exertion.
Without energy, the body's resistance falls, leading to increased risks of
infection since it is unable to fight back. Often they will complain
of feeling cold through inadequate generation of body heat. The shortage
of red blood cells leads to a characteristic, pallid complexion. The
pulse in anæmia is notably rapid, which is a compensatory symptom, for
as the blood less efficiently transports oxygen to the cells, the heart
beats faster to pump the blood more rapidly around the body. The
Sun traditionally rules the heart and is the hot and dry co-ruler of the
choleric humour. The Sun symbolises the source of vitality in a person.
When the anæmia becomes life threatening, the patient's heart compensates
to keep them alive.
The seat of the choleric humour or yellow bile is the gall (bladder), a muscular sac-like organ that stores and subsequently expels the bile into the duodenum during digestion. Biochemically, the yellow colour of the bile is caused by pigments present, formed by the destruction of hæmoglobin molecules, when the effete red blood cells are broken down in the liver and spleen.
Culpeper explains that the choleric humour...clarifies all the humours,and heats the body.3 Not only does Culpeper link the humour to the heat in the body, but also sees the heat of a fever as clarifying the blood of impurities. Furthermore he states that the choleric humour nourishes the apprehension while moves man to activity and valour.4
The Phlegmatic Humour
The phlegmatic humour corresponds
to the Water Element. As Culpeper explains:
it 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 the continual motion would produce.5
Since Water is the Element
that joins things together, the phlegmatic humour can be identified with
the blood plasma, the fluid medium of the blood, largely consisting of
water in which the blood cells circulate. The phlegmatic humour also
encompasses lymph, sweat, mucus, cerebro-spinal fluid, synovial fluid and
the vitreous and aqueous humours of the eye. All of these secretions
are generally formed from the plasma, as the blood perfuses the tissues
of the body.
The Moon and Venus Rule the Phlegmatic Humour
The cold and moist phlegmatic humour is co-ruled by
the Moon and Venus. The Moon particularly rules the ventricles of
the brain, hence the idea of the phlegmatic humour fortifying the brain
by its consimilitude with it.6 The
Watery nature of the phlegmatic humour counteracts the Fiery nature of
the choleric humour, as demonstrated by an increase of perspiration cooling
down the body in a fever, hence Culpeper's description of the phlegmatic
humour qualifying choler. Apprehension is an association
of the choleric humour.
The Melancholic Humour
Melancholic humour corresponds to the Earth Element, which Culpeper defines as the sediment of blood.7
Since Earth is the Element of precipitation, the melancholic humour can
be identified with the plasma proteins that contribute to blood's viscosity,
that have a particular role in its clotting mechanism. The clotting
mechanism is important for stopping the loss of blood from the body when
wounded or injured.
Saturn Rules the Melancholic Humour
The cold and dry melancholic humour is ruled
There are times when the
clotting mechanism produces blood clots or thrombi within the blood vessels
with drastic consequences. The thrombus passes through the blood
vessels until it becomes blocked by the narrowness of a vessel. There
it becomes lodged, preventing the blood from reaching the tissues the vessel supplies. These tissues then die, causing subsequent loss of function
to the body. If a thrombus lodges in the arterioles of the brain,
it frequently causes paralysis or loss of mental function. If a thrombus
lodges in one of the arteries of the heart, a heart attack results.
Not infrequently a thrombus will be the cause of death. Saturn is
mythologically the Lord of Death.
The melancholic humour is
associated with the passage of fæcal material from the body. This
idea comes from melæna (Gk. melaina = black bile), a symptom of
bleeding from the upper digestive tract, where the partially digested blood
forms characteristic black tar-like stools. Culpeper describes the
melancholic humour as:
fortifying the...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 centre 8
A predominance of the melancholic humour is linked with depression and constipation. Depression further slows down heart rate and blood circulation, predisposing the blood to thrombus formation.