|Figure 5: The Relative Strengths of the Humours through the Seasons.|
Astrology and Health
vitalism and humours [part 5]
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 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.
classical times the willow was sacred to the Moon goddess, while Culpeper
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.
Figure 6: The
Willow, from Gerard's Herbal,
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.
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.
Copyright © D. Warren-Davis 2000.
All rights reserved.