|Figure 2: The
Caduceus - borne by Mercury,
the God of Healing,
in his left hand.
Astrology and Health
vitalism and humours [part 3]
The vital force too is linked
to the caduceus (see Figure 2), the emblem of the two snakes entwined around a central stave that the god Mercury carries in his left hand. Its
structure symbolically encapsulates the Hermetic principles of healing
used to restore the harmonious flow of the vital force through the body.
This is why the caduceus is found on many logos of medical institutions
throughout the world, though ironically few doctors within them are able
to explain why!
Why did Vitalism Decline?
Why did vitalism decline in Western medicine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? The principal reason was the redefinition of the term element as a unit of material composition by the philosopher Robert Boyle. Shortly after the Restoration of Charles II to the throne, Boyle wrote his The Skeptical Chemist in 1661 – which has come to be considered as the foundation stone of modern chemistry. In this work he took a very literal rather than symbolic understanding of the four Elements.
Boyle goes on to destructively criticize Earth, Water, Air and Fire as having no real validity whatsoever in explaining the physical world around us. He dogmatically denies the metaphysical and philosophical ideas that he acknowledged were based upon them. In his frustration to understand them, he put forward his new definition instead:
I now mean by
Elements, as those Chymists that speak plainest by their Principles, certain
Primitive and Simple, or perfectly unmingled bodies; which not being made
of any other bodies, or of one another, are the Ingredients of which all
the perfectly mixt Bodies are immediately compounded, and into to which
they are intimately resolved.
In this rather convoluted definition,
it can clearly be seen that an element is no longer one of the universal
forces upon which life depends; instead it is defined as a unit of material
composition that cannot be broken down further. If a substance can
be broken down into constituent parts, then from this definition it cannot
be considered an element.