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    The Humours: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5The Vital Force

    table of humours
    Figure 5: The Relative Strengths of the Humours through the Seasons.

    Astrology and Health
    vitalism and humours [part 5]

    The Temperament

    The particular humoral composition of a person was called temperament, from the Latin temperare meaning "to mingle or mix in due proportion". In health, the balance or temper of the humours allows the vital force to flow freely through the body. This harmonious flow of the vital force is accompanied by an inner clarity, peace and harmony.

    The Restoration of Temper

    In disease this harmonious temper is lost. When a particular humour predominates over the others it causes a characteristic distemper. The humour is identified by the symptoms produced, whether they were hot or cold, dry or moist. The common cold is classically a phlegmatic condition, which should more accurately be diagnosed as a cold and moist!

    The therapeutic objective is to counteract the predominating humour and restore temper. To illustrate this point, imagine a fever. Fever is classically a hot and dry condition. From the various symptoms it can be visualised as a fire burning within the patient. The medical term for fever is pyrexia, coming from the Greek pyr meaning "fire". The increase in metabolic rate causes a dramatic increase in body temperature and subsequent water loss through perspiration, clearly demonstrating its hot and dry nature. The heart, linked with choleric humour, markedly increases in rate. Like surging flames, the body is restless and the mind delirious. The skin may develop red rashes or spots. To counteract this fiery choleric condition, medicines of a cooling, moistening and watery nature are needed. One such herb with an ancient reputation for dealing with fever is willow.

    How Ancient Herbalists Viewed Plants

    Before discussing willow, it is necessary to see how the ancient herbalists viewed plants. Just as the material world was seen to embody a subtler immaterial realm, so too each herbs contained a subtle essence called its virtue. The virtue corresponds to the plant's vitality, which resides in the sap, another watery realm homologous to the humoral ideas. Planetary rulers have been ascribed to each plant enabling their virtues and medicinal uses to be understood. The allocation of Planetary rulership was done by careful observation of the plant's form, structure and the type of habitat the plant chose to grow in.

    The willow for thousands of years has been connected to the Moon (Figure 6). In classical times the willow was sacred to the Moon goddess, while Culpeper cryptically mentions The Moon owns it.10 The willow's lunar nature becomes obvious when the tree is seen growing next to streams, rivers and lakes, particularly with its branches leaning into the water. Additionally the underside of the leaves have a silvery lustre, silver being the colour and the metal traditionally associated with the Moon.

    The Moon is a cold and moist Planet with a particular affinity with the Water Element. In humoral terms, this Lunar tree has an affinity with the cold, moist phlegmatic humour in the body. The herb can be seen to be antipathetic to the hot and dry choleric humour, hence its particular reputation for dealing with fevers. These symbolic ideas are confirmed by the willow being a source of salicylates, which in a slightly different form is found as the drug Asprin. Amongst a range of pharmacological actions, salicylates dramatically counteract fever by increasing perspiration. Heat is lost from the body in the evaporation of sweat from the skin, sweat being one aspect of the phlegmatic humour. By stimulating the phlegmatic humour, the Fire of the fever is extinguished, restoring balance to the humours so that health returns.

    the willow
    Figure 6:  The Willow, from Gerard's Herbal,  1633.

    The principles upon which humoral physiology are based are thus highly relevant to the perceptive skill of a physician or therapist. They put the diagnostic skill back into the hands of the healer, rather making a patient rely on the results of tests. The modern histiopathological classification of disease is predominantly materialistic in its approach and may actually prevent the healing of the patient, since it inherently denies how the subjective state of the patient has anything to do with the disease.

    Humoral physiology, by training the physician to look at illness in terms of manifestation of the vital force and seeking what is needed to restore the flow of vital force, is much more likely to restore a patient to health, even if the exact pathology is unable to be ascertained. Where more and more the diagnosis of patients is delegated to laboratory tests, leaving doctors in a sort of therapeutic vacuum – where they are unable to do anything to help the patient till the results are known – the use of humoral physiology once again may considerably enhance their rapport with patients, their therapeutic potential and restore patients confidence in them as healers When the principles of humoral physiology are correctly understood, they are never out of date. There is absolutely no reason why humoral ideas cannot be utilized alongside biochemical ideas. Indeed the therapeutic potential from a marriage between the two is enormous.


    1. N. Culpeper, Astrologo-Physical Discourse on the Human Virtues in the Body of Man, 1653
    – The Sanguine Humour.
    2. ibid. The Choleric Humour.
    3.      ibid. The Choleric Humour.
    4.      ibid. The Choleric Humour.
    5.      ibid. The Phlegmatic Humour.
    6.      ibid. The Phlegmatic Humour.
    7.      ibid. The Melancolic Humour.
    8.      ibid. The Melancolic Humour.
    9.      N. Culpeper, Pharmacopoeia Londonensis, 1653, "To the Reader"
    10.    N. Culpeper,  The English Physitian, 1653

    Copyright D. Warren-Davis 2000.  All rights reserved.
    Return to Part 1 of The Humours
    About the Vital Force
    Back to Health by the Stars

    The Humours: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5The Vital Force

    Astrology and Health is a clear and easy guide to how the signs of the zodiac influence our physical and mental well-being. It covers the five elements and how they balance; sun signs and the elements; parts of the body and diseases associated with each sign; visualizations and exercises to aid healing; diseases associated with the planets; herbal medicine; and medical astrology in action. Excellent presentation and value. Astrology and Health:
    A Beginner's Guide
    by Dylan Warren-Davis.
    Published by Headway: Hodder & Stoughton
    ISBN 034070518 3
       84 pages
    To order your copy click here!
    Astrology & Health by Dylan Warren-Davis

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