The Second House: Money, Money, Money in the Horoscope

July 31, 2006 by  


Money in the Horoscope

Dear Readers,

This has been a good – but busy – week:

1. I completely revamped my astrology website

2. I did the first episode of The Gryphon Astrology Radio Show

The radio show was a great deal of fun, and our theme was the 1st/7th house axis, which is always interesting and super-important to everyone, including our clients. To hear the show and look at the charts that we analyzed, click here.

The next show will air on Sunday, August 6th, 2006, and our theme will be the second house. If you have a money-related question (horary or natal) you’d like to submit to the show and hear it analyzed on the air, email me at nina@gryphonastrology.com.

—Gryphon AKA Nina

I have to confess, the second house is one of my favorites in the whole chart. No foofy talk here about self-actualization and archetypal realization; this is all verifiable, real-world information. The second house tells you immediately the reality of someone’s existence; even if they drive a late-model European sports car, one look at their second house will tell you if there is money in the bank to back that up, or if the Porsche is bought on 1000 easy payments of just $9.95 a month, at 20% interest. I like to think of it as the traditional astrologer’s X-ray vision, if you will. I like the second house so much that I even wrote an article about finding wealth in the chart for the fall ’06 issue of Astrologia Restaurata; if you read German, so much the better.

William Lilly, who by all accounts was not totally averse to the second house himself (especially the packed second houses of his spouses), spends a good amount of time on the topic in his Christian Astrology.

In general, Lilly writes that one must look at the 2nd house and any associated planets either in the house or ruling the house – or both, and then observe what other planets, if any, influence those significators for good or ill.

After some amount of throat clearing, Lilly says that wealth is given when the lights are with eminent fixed stars or the Fortunes. Undoubtedly, this is a very helpful sign. In our article recently about Margaret Thatcher, her Moon is on Regulus, probably THE most eminent fixed star. For a grocer’s daughter, she did well; she married one of the nobility, and managed to amass a respectable fortune during her climb to and residence at the top.

Conversely, Lilly finds that the Moon with Saturn reduces the native to poverty, “though a King.” This is most likely because the Moon is such a powerful force of sheer fertility and generation in the chart; fertility of body, but also of the pocket. With Saturn, the Moon is a shriveled up, dessicated, reduced thing; once a grape, now a raisin.

Lilly then goes on to discuss the many ways one may come to wealth or poverty, by judging the planets that either help or hinder the native’s finances. Saturn, as we might expect, has everything to do with farming, mining, treasures, real estate, usury, prisons, ancient men and farmers. We would imagine, too, profit from funeral parlors or the construction industry. Jupiter, on the other hand, brings money from “dignities ecclesiastical” and religion in general, government, and the upper classes. Too, Jupiter is associated with the law; judges, advocates and lawyers can all help or hinder the native’s wealth. Mars brings or takes money via lawsuits, warfare, quarrels, tyranny and horsemanship, while specific people bringing about increase or decrease in wealth are soldiers, lawyers and thieves.

The Sun shows gain or loss from kingdoms, nobility, public office and royal favor granted by rulers, nobility, and those in authority. Venus brings or loses money via friends, women in general, art and music, jewels and beauty products, gambling, and the wife or mother. Mercury is all about contracts, negotiations, “all manner of subtle arts,” such as computers, divination, and the sciences. The associated helpful or harmful people are scholars, philosophers, merchants, lawyers, and “witty and ingenious tradesmen.” The Moon brings or takes money via anything wet, such as drinks or the sea, women, the common people and messengers/ambassadors.

The house location of each relevant planet will show the area from which wealth or losses will accrue. Too, the strength or weakness of each planet and its interplay with financial significators will show whether the person’s wealth will grow throughout the life or whether they will suffer serious losses.


Ivana Trump Horoscope

Let us examine the chart of Ivana Trump (Donald Trump’s first of several wives), an Eastern European skier and model, who divorced Trump for a settlement of approximately $14M plus annual maintenance fees. Ivana came from rather modest circumstances in Czechoslovakia, so we would expect a fairly dramatic improvement in finances in the chart. And Ivana does not disappoint in this regard.

When we look at the second house, we see it is ruled by Jupiter, which is itself posited in the second house, but in its fall in Capricorn. The weakness of Jupiter here causes it to act as an accidental malefic, but in a Jovial fashion. That is, the finances will improve from the level into which she was born (Jupiter as ruler of 2nd in the 2nd) but will look far better than they really are (Jupiter in fall). Too, the fact that Jupiter is in a cardinal sign shows that money will arrive quickly, but can just as quickly leave by the back door. Given Ivana’s somewhat phlegmatic temperament, we can assume that any losses will be caused by the desire nature; this woman is a big spender, and is fairly changeable in her tastes, which is an expensive habit.

Where will the money come from? Jupiter types, to be sure, so the rich and the upper classes. Note, however, that Jupiter is disposed by Saturn in the 9th house, which immediately makes us think of older foreigners. This is true for Ivana’s two husbands, both of whom were older and foreign.

The Part of Marriage falls on 1 Pisces, conjunct the Sun, which rules the 9th house of foreigners, as well as the Part of Fortune; this is yet another indication that the marriage will involve foreigners, and will be intimately connected to Ivana’s good fortune throughout the life. The Moon, symbolizing travel, aspects the Part of Marriage from the first house, again suggesting travel associated with marriage.

As you can see, Lilly’s rules hold true, though it’s the application that can be tricky, and requires a patient picking out of themes in the chart.

Waiting for the Miracle – Leonard Cohen

July 22, 2006 by  

St. Francis - The Miracle of the Spring

Baby, I’ve been waiting,
I’ve been waiting night and day.
I didn’t see the time,
I waited half my life away.
There were lots of invitations
and I know you sent me some,
but I was waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

– From “Waiting for the Miracle” by Leonard Cohen

The singer/songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen hardly needs an introduction;his carefully crafted lyricism has inspired countless musicians from Suzanne Vega to U2. I recently saw the documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man and became curious about Cohen’s horoscope and what it showed about his unique artistic style. For those unfamiliar with Cohen’s writing, he is at once deeply melancholy and humorous, a romantic on an endless quest for redemption and rare Grace.

Even before I had seen the documentary, it was clear to me that Cohen was a melancholic, though obviously with a twist, since melancholics are not in themselves given to pouring out their experiences to the world. He struggled for many years with depression (perhaps not unlike Lilly’s “hypochondriac melancholy”) and has come out the better for it, his innate lyrical ability burnished by the friction between the attraction of the material on the one hand and a striving for salvation on the other. Several years in a Zen monastery on California’s Mount Baldy seems to have refined Cohen’s perspective without necessarily dulling his acute power of observation. His birth chart is below:

Leonard Cohen Horoscope

Note that the birth time is approximate, and thus may actually give an early Libra Ascendant. Regardless of this, however, the conclusions I reach would be largely similar. Neurosurgery this is not.

The Lord of the Geniture here is Saturn retrograde in its own sign in the 5th house of creative works. Cohen is said to spend a year on each song, refining it through numerous drafts to create a polished gem. This is a Saturnian process indeed, with the endless revisions expected from a retrograde planet. And yet, Saturn in the 5th house will leave its stamp on the native’s creations (be they children, poems or songs) – Cohen is not known for chipper musical fare. And yet, the whole thing is saved by a trine from Jupiter near Spica in the 2nd house. In its higher sense, the 2nd house shows the self-worth of the native. Jupiter on Spica, a religiously orientated, benefic fixed star will give an eternal belief that redemption is possible. This constant religious yearning is present in seemingly every song and poem, whether overtly spiritual or not. Let us move on to the overall temperament; using Lilly’s method, the constitution is strongly melancholic and overwhelmingly dry.

Along with the usual traits of melancholics, Cohen has quite a dry sense of humor (he said of his first stay at the Zen monastery that he left because it was run by a Japanese Roshi, with a German head monk and with all the Americans walking around in sandals, it seemed to him too much like revenge for World War II). Along with Jupiter, an important source of life-giving moisture here is the Moon in Pisces on Fomalhaut, a royal fixed star that gives treasures in the next world. Cohen spent many years working hard to renounce material success and acclaim; perhaps only his stay in an austere monastery, serving as a cook and driver to the Roshi (6th house of servitude) allowed him to satisfy that longing. The long sabbatical seems to have refreshed Cohen’s spirits and creativity in a way his previous efforts did not. The proximity of the Part of Fortune further underscores the importance of renunciation and service in his very core of the being.

Finally, then, we come to Cohen’s art. First house Mercury rules the chart, and we immediately notice its mutual reception with the very weak Venus in the 12th house. This connection immediately makes one think of artistic skill, and yet, with the difficult Venus, the artistic process cannot be easy nor joyful so much as an urgent necessity. Mercury and Venus further dominate the chart by reception; five planets are in the dignities of one of the planets. Notably, Saturn, the Lord of the Geniture is not one of those five. This may signify that ultimately, he will do his best work when he approaches his creativity as a discipline, rather than merely a means to create art (Venus) or express himself (Mercury). I believe that Cohen has been largely successful in this – ultimately, he says, he is a vehicle through which art and Grace flow as They will, when they will. His goal is simply to be prepared when They arrive.

“There is a crack in everything;
That’s how the light gets in.”

– Leonard Cohen

The Great Hunt: Finding the Lord of the Geniture

July 16, 2006 by  

Mercury - the Trickster God

[This Greek statue is the best representation of Mercury I know of. Look at that smile, those eyes – would you buy weapons from this boy?]

This article came from a wild and vibrant discussion on an email list (thanks for the idea, Caro!), and I wanted to use this format for explaining my use of the Lord of the Geniture (affectionately known as the LOG). As became clear from our discussion on the list, not everyone uses the LOG the same way, or attributes the same meaning to it.

What is the LOG?

The LOG is the planet that we should listen to, though typically do not. It is the planet which represents the qualities to which we should aspire, but it is more than just a bromide for the self-help crowd. When we seek good luck, ease, and general goodness in life, we should turn to the LOG. Are we tired of always picking the wrong spouse (spouses 1-4 were sort of okay, but that #5 really took me to the cleaners!) or the wrong job, or the wrong pet? Just go with the LOG for any of the above, and things will be more or less okay.

Why only more or less okay? Well, the level of okayness you may achieve depends on the quality of the LOG. Sometimes, we will see a chart where all possible candidates for the LOG are somewhat…lame. And the best we can do is a planet that is peregrine (neither in positive nor negative dignities) – it doesn’t mean the person will never find success in what they do (look at Karl Valentin’s chart, for instance), but it appears from anecdotal evidence that in such cases of a weak LOG, there will always be a drop of bitterness mixed in with any success the person achieves.

From my work with natal charts, I found that the house of the LOG will often be a place where things are a bit easier for the native. A person with the LOG in the 10th house, for instance, would have an easy time with jobs. Or they might have an especially good relationship with their mother. The LOG in the 2nd house might bode well for the finances. And a person with the LOG in the 5th will never be…lonely or cold at night. However, these broad sweeping statements all depend on the nature of the LOG (Saturn in Capricorn as LOG in the 5th, anyone…anyone?), its overall strength, receptions, house rulerships, etc.

William Lilly defines it as the planet with the most essential and accidental dignities in the chart. The idea is that you want to find the planet with the most essential dignities (the best-looking good guy in the chart), that will hopefully have some accidental strength so that it can throw its weight around. But what if the most likely candidate has little or no accidental strength? In my practice, I still take the most essentially dignified planet, but with the awareness that the native may have to work a bit harder to get to the LOG.

An example

Let’s look at the chart of Margaret Thatcher, which does not have very many good candidates for the LOG:

Margaret Thatcher, 9 a.m., October 13, 1925, Grantham, England, 15 Scorpio rising.

Margaret Thatcher Horoscope

To determine the LOG, we first cast our eye about for any planets in essential dignity. The pickings are rather slim; the best we can do is Mercury in its term at 23.46 Libra. As far as accidental dignity goes, this is hardly an optimal candidate; it is a little too close for comfort to the malefic 12th house, and even worse, it is combust by the Sun in its fall. Yet, despite these serious handicaps, this Mercury may well hold one of the keys to Thatcher’s political ascent and longevity as PM.

Mercury rules the 10th house of career and fame, and is on one of the royal stars, Spica, promising an illustrious career. The prenatal eclipse Ascendant picks up this Mercury (with Spica), emphasizing its extreme importance in the nativity. However, because of the serious problems with Mercury (and Mercury’s nature, which has unique notions of honesty to begin with), Thatcher’s legacy has been controversial and generally regarded as deeply problematic. For instance, a 1996 inquiry revealed the Thatcher administration’s weapons dealings with Saddam Hussein to the tune of $2B (1B GBP).

This is exactly what we would expect from a combust Mercury (indicating secrecy and shady dealings) on the cusp of the secretive 12th house. The tincture of bitterness is present even here, in the greatest of achievements. There is no other planet here that will save Thatcher from Mercury’s bad doings; the dispositor is peregrine Venus. Being peregrine means that Venus will not rap Mercury’s knuckles when it is up to any nefarious doings; rather, it will ask if it can please join the party.

But such is life. The LOG must be the best card we have; it does not have to be an ace to give grand success, and very often it won’t be. But the quality of that success does depend on the quality of the LOG.

Ye Astrology Quizze: Parte the First – Answer and Parte the Seconde

July 14, 2006 by  

The astrology quiz.  A phoenix.

Dear Readers,


Here is Thomas’s answer to the first question of ye quizze. We hope you enjoy it and spend some quality time going over his answer. There is much to be learned here! Question Two is here as well, for the impatient.

—Nina AKA GryphonBoth c. and e. are correct.

Now to Mr. X. It is very tempting when assessing temperament to make a list of hot, dry, cold and moist and draw ones conclusion from the qualities that have the most points. But beware! The general condition of the planets must first be considered before a well-founded judgement can be made.

Which planets come into consideration in Mr. X’s chart? We have the Sun, the Moon and Jupiter as Lord 1 plus Sagittarius as ascendant. Saturn and Mars give some colour through aspects made either to the Moon or the Sun.

Five planets in this chart are peregrine, including the Sun. The Moon is in its triplicity. Jupiter is in its term. Both the Moon and Jupiter are in detriment.

The strongest planet in this chart is the Moon (see endnote 1 – Ed.). She is the Lady of the Geniture. But let us go through the reasoning. First this is a night birth and so the Moon has a stronger influence than the Sun. The Moon is also angular and in the first house. Don’t be confused by her being incepted. Inception is not a debility. It just means that Capricorn does not have a cusp. A planet in its triplicity is also strong. Being in detriment means that this Moon is not nice. She is in fact a nasty sort of Moon. So she will not give a well formed body. Mr. X is not handsome.

Although Lord of the first house, Jupiter cannot be Lord of the Geniture. Jupiter is cadent and combust and therefore very weak.

Mercury and Venus are angular but they are both peregrine and so are too weak to be Lord or Lady of the Geniture.

Now we are ready to assess the qualities. The Ascendant is hot and dry Sagittarius. Its ruler Jupiter is in warm and moist Gemini and being oriental has a bit more hot and dry. But Jupiter is also combust so the moisture is being evaporated so to speak. We have hot and dry with some moisture.

The Sun is in warm and moist season sextile to hot and dry Mars in Leo. Mars is occidental so yet drier. We have warm with some moisture but here also a tendency to dryness.The Moon is in cold and dry Capricorn. She is in her third quarter and so is even colder and drier. She is trine to Saturn in cold and dry Taurus. Saturn is occidental and therefore even colder but with a bit of moisture. Saturn receives the Moon in its exaltation as the Moon receives Saturn in its domicile. We have a very cold and dry Moon as Lady of the Geniture, angular and in the first house.

The native is strongly melancholic with some choler a tad of sanguinity.

Who is Mr. X?
He is the cabaretist Karl Valentin (pronounced Fah-len-teen)
Pictures of him may be found at the following link. http://www.karl-valentin.de/

Endnote 1 [by Nina Gryphon, your friendly blog editor]

I am of the opinion that a peregrine planet must always be preferred
to an essentially debilitated one (here, the Moon in detriment). As John Frawley put it, putting a debilitated planet in charge is like “giving the mafia keys to the country.” It’s much better to go for a cadent peregrine planet than an angular malefic. I wouldn’t bring in the idea of receptions as reasons to ignore potentially helpful planets. The point of finding the Lord of the Geniture is to be able to give practical, immediate advice to clients in which direction to go; advising anyone to follow that Moon would clearly be irresponsible.


Mercury is the most practical Lord of the Geniture for Valentin. The conjunction with Venus in a water sign on the Descendant gives him an artistic connection with audiences. Note that Mercury is conjunct the (bright) fixed star Alhena, which brings artistic renown. Yes, it’s in the Moon’s sign, but that’s life – lots of good Lords of the Geniture are in bad planets’ signs. The point is that we aren’t looking for the perfect planet here, but rather the best we can get. An angular Mercury conjunct Venus in the 7th with a good fixed star is not at all a bad thing.

Note also the prenatal eclipse – the eclipse Venus/Merc conjunct the natal Sun, highlighting the importance of the Venus/Merc natal conjunction.

Ye fecunde Questione:

What is moitie and how important is it?

a. Moitie is a fixed star in the constellation of Ophiuchus also known as X Oph. It is of the nature of Mercury and it is described by Ptolemy the younger as dividing in halves so depending on the context it may have some relevance.

b. Moietie is not a what, it is a who. Philippe de Moitie was an astrologer who lived during the reign of Henry IV. His only surviving manuscript, “Oublie les Orbes” (Forget Orbs) has been sadly ignored.

c. Moitie is French for half and refers to the radius of an orb of influence ascribed by many authors to the planets. Each moitie varying from planet to planet. Lilly, for example, gives the Sun a moitie of 15-17, depending on which he remembers. Moitie is actually equivalent to the modern orb which curiously has wandered from the planets to the aspects. Whatever. Both moitie and orbs can be safely ignored as it is more important to consider whether one planet “beholds” another. Planets in the same sign behold one another even if one is in the 1st degree of the sign and the other in the 29th. Planets in two succeeding signs, for example, do not behold one another. So a planet in Aries does not behold one in Taurus. They cannot aspect one another.

d. Moitie is what happens to an aspect when two planets are in signs of long ascension. It means “stretched.” So what usually is a square is in this case a trine. This is important when needed.

Temperament Assessment: Which is the Right Way?

July 10, 2006 by  

Phlegmatic temperament - cold and moist.  Fishmonger's shop.

In light of Thomas’s quiz (see previous post), and my post on melancholy, the question came up: which is the right method for assessing temperament, anyway? Every traditional astrology has his or her pet method, none of which work 100% of the time. With people who are strongly tilted toward one or two temperaments, all of the methods will arrive at very similar if not identical conclusions. With individuals who are more balanced, and have only a slightly predominating humor or two, we will see a greater discrepancy with using various techniques.

Let us take the example of Paul Newman. I got interested in Newman’s horoscope while writing “Spiritual Direction in the Horoscope,” an article that will be published in the next issue of the Dutch traditional magazine Anima Astrologiae. Newman has a pretty balanced temperament, so the results will vary depending on the method we use.

Here is Newman’s horoscope:

Paul Newman's Horoscope - Temperament in the Horoscope

Here is the result we get if we use Dorian Greenbaum’s method (discussed in her book on temperament) which she has developed by her study of various traditional sources (all of whom, in turn, had their own methods!):

  • Ascendant sign element – Capricorn – Melancholic (2 points)
  • Ascendant ruler intrinsic quality – Saturn – Melancholic (1 point)
  • Ascendant almuten (defined as planet with most essential dignities in a given degree) intrinsic quality – Mars and Saturn are tied, so Choleric and Melancholic (1 point each) – we’ll pay attention to these if there is need for a tiebreaker.
  • Moon sign element – Pisces – Phlegmatic (2 points)
  • Moon ruler by sign – Jupiter in Capricorn – Melancholic (1 point)
  • Moon phase (using Lilly’s method here) – 1st Quarter – Sanguine (1 point)
  • Season of birth – Winter – Phlegmatic (2 points)

The grand total is: Melancholic (4.5), Choleric (.5), Phlegmatic (4), Sanguine (1 point). So according to Greenbaum’s method, we have a melancholic/phlegmatic, a hard-working, practical type with an emotional, self-protective tendency. This analysis gives us a very cold temperament, with some difficulty getting the heat going, both physically and emotionally.

Let’s use a different method to compare and contrast. John Frawley, in his Real Astrology Applied, goes through a temperamental analysis based closely on William Lilly’s method. Using the Frawley/Lilly method, Newman’s temperament would look something like this:

  • Ascending sign: Capricorn – Cold – Dry – (a slightly melancholic Ascendant)
    • Aspected by Mercury in Capricorn, oriental, Hot (Capricorn gives some Dry)
    • Aspected by Venus in Capricorn, oriental (slightly Hot and Moist)
    • Aspected by Saturn in Scorpio, oriental (and on the MC) (very Cold and Moist)
  • Lord of the Ascendant: Saturn in Scorpio, oriental: Cold – and Moist +
    • Aspected by Mercury in Capricorn, oriental (Hot and somewhat Dry)
    • Aspected by Venus in Capricorn, oriental (slightly Hot and Moist)
  • The Sun in a Winter Sign – Cold and Moist
  • The Moon in Pisces in 1st Quarter – Hot – and Moist +
  • The Lord of the Geniture – Mars in Aries, occidental – Hot (due to placement in Aries) and Dry + . Mars is the LoG, as it is the only strongly essentially dignified planet in the chart.

This gives us Cold-, Cold-, Cold, Hot-, Hot, Dry-, Dry+, Moist+, Moist, Moist+. Using Frawley’s method of combining the most frequent elements, we see that Newman is pretty well balanced, and gives us a slightly predominantly phlegmatic (cold and moist) temperament. So we still get a cold temperament, but one that is only a little cold, whereas Greenbaum’s method gives us a downright glacial temperament. We don’t know Paul Newman well enough to decide which is correct, but our guess is that the latter method describes him better. He is known for taking a relaxed approach to his career, and even his hugely successful charity food line, Newman’s Own ™, happened sort of by accident, as he tells it.

This is not to say that Greenbaum’s method is wrong – any solid method will succeed 85 or 90% of the time. However, nothing in our sublunary sphere is 100%, and astrology, or rather the astrologer, is the same. This is the point of traditional astrology – because we astrologers tend toward imperfection, we seek out methods that have passed to us from higher, more lasting spheres than our own.

To have your temperament analyzed with suggestions on how to better balance it, consider a professional astrological consultation with Nina Gryphon.

Ye Quizze: In feven Partes (Parte the First)

July 5, 2006 by  

Astrological Temperament in the Horoscope - the four humours

Dear readers, This week, I am happy to present a special ongoing feature in addition our normal weekly article. This feature is by Thomas Decker, a German astrologer who has graciously written for the Gryphon Astrology blog before. This is a traditional astrology quiz, with answers to be revealed later. You can use the comment board for each question (the link is at the end of the article itself) to share your answers and guesses. Good luck, and have fun! Nina AKA Gryphon

Note: Although multiple choice, each question may have more than one right answer. And some of the answers may be partially right! (Just to keep a measure of suspense :-))Ye firft Questione:

What is Temperament and how is it assessed in a chart?

a. Temperament shows elemental balance. One checks in which sign each planet is and what element they have. So if someone has lots of planets in earth signs they have an earthy temperament.

b. Temperament is another name for the native’s emotional life. All that is required is to look at the positions of the Moon, Venus and Mars and the aspects they make to each other.

c. Temperament describes the deep-seated constitutional nature of a person. If the life is considered as a symphony then temperament is the key in which the symphony is written in. The ascendant, Lord of the Ascendant, Planets aspecting the ascendant, the Sun, the Moon and the Lord of the chart must all be included in assessing the temperament of a person.

d. Temperament is something our ancestors had. We don’t have it anymore. Some people had lots of black bile while others were full of yellow bile. Some just had too much blood and if one wanted to insult someone one said they were full of phl…

e. Temperament or complexion describe a person’s predominant humour. Just as mercurial describes a quality and not only the metal and the planet known by that name so too does the quality of the predominant humour describe the constitution of a person and how it might be expressed in their personality. The melancholic has an abundance of the cold and dry black bile while the sanguine person an abundance of hot and moist blood. The choleric has plenty of hot and dry yellow bile and the phlegmatic plenty of cold and moist phlegm. Quite often two humours are dominant. The temperament is thus based on the assessment of how hot, cold, dry or moist the ascendant, Lord of the Ascendant, Planets aspecting the ascendant, the Sun, the Moon and the Lord of the chart are.

What temperament does Mr. X have? (June 4, 1882, 21:08 MET [Middle European Time] München, 11e34, 48n08 Asc. 27 Sagittarius)

Hint: see John Frawley’s Real Astrology Applied pp. 121

Marsilio Ficino: A Study in Melancholy

July 1, 2006 by  

Marsilio Ficino - A Study in Melancholy.  Bellerophon.

Image from: http://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/CGPrograms/Dict/image/bellerophon2.jpg

Nowadays, when we says someone is melancholy, we mean they are depressed and not enjoying life. In traditional astrology, however, calling someone melancholic had a far more complex and nuanced implication. First, it was directly related to temperament; a unique combination of personality and body type that we all possess. The four classical temperaments are phlegmatic (watery), choleric (fiery), sanguine (airy), and melancholic (earthy). Most people are a mix of two or more of these; if you possess all four in equal measure, you are that rare creature; a well-balanced individual. Melancholics are studious, contemplative, serious, practical, cautious and deliberate in all their words and deeds. They are not given to emotional scenes or histrionics.

In traditional medicine, melancholy is synonymous with the bodily humor of black bile, which is cold and dry, possessing the two qualities most antithetical to life. Aristotle described Bellerophontes as a melancholic, who, having fallen from Pegasus, wandered alone in desert places. Aristotle cites Homer’s description of Bellerophontes: “But when he was hated of all the gods, then he wandered alone on the plain of Aleïum, eating out his heart, and avoiding the track of men.” Here is a description of the coldest melancholy that can exist. Aristotle later makes the distinction between melancholy that is less cold, and thus less harmful, and the very extreme coldness seen in Bellerophontes.

Marsilio Ficino was a Renaissance scholar, priest, musician, poet, philosopher, physician, and astrologer. He was a prolific writer, both of books and of letters, and only recently have we been able to get our hands on decent English translations of his works. Two titles that spring to mind are Three Books on Life, and Meditations on the Soul, a book of some of his letters to well-known personages of his day, such as the Medicis, whom he served as a spiritual advisor.

Ficino struggled all his life with an excess of melancholy, and his Three Books on Life goes into extensive detail on how to cure melancholy, or at least keep it in balance. Many of his suggestions are especially useful because they address the proper lifestyle of scholars who are predisposed to melancholy by their occupation and by their horoscopes, which will tend to have strong melancholic planets, Mercury and/or Saturn. This is very applicable to us today, as many of us work in our sedentary jobs doing mostly cerebral (as opposed to physical) work. This kind of existence aggravates the black bile humor. Ficino’s recommendations stem from the understanding that melancholy is primarily a Saturnian illness. Saturn is best neutralized by Jupiter, and to a lesser degree, Venus and the Sun, so Ficino recommends remedies that are Jupiter-ruled, and therefore hot and moist, to neutralize the melancholic’s inherent cold and dryness.

One great recipe for melancholics, derived from Ficino’s recommendations, is warm almond milk with cinnamon; milk and almonds are naturally moist, while the warm liquid and cinnamon are both heating. This is a very good evening drink, as it is somewhat sedative and soothing. However, the bigger problem for melancholics tends to be the morning, as getting going early is rather against the inherent slowness of black bile. Lots of melancholics guzzle coffee like it’s going out of style to compensate for this, but we have noticed that a strong decoction of ginger-licorice-anise-cinnamon acts like morning rocket fuel for these people. Also, Ficino was a great believer in the power of clear white wine to balance melancholy.

As for non-dietary guidance, Ficino recommended that those predisposed to melancholy rise with the Sun (remember, this was before the days of artificial lighting), meditate and do one’s studies. One was to study no later than noon. The reason for this recommendation was that the Sun is strong right at sunrise, because it is in the Ascendant, and at noon, when it is in the Midheaven, and it weakens significantly thereafter. As melancholics tend to coldness, the goal is to be in tune with the Sun to harness its life-giving warmth. Making music, too, will dispel melancholy, as will the company of young people, who are by their intrinsic nature sanguine (hot and moist). Finally, religious faith is Jupiter-ruled, and though Ficino does not recommend it as such, since it would have been taken for granted in his time that one was religious, it must provide the melancholic with much needed spiritual “warmth.”

Note that Bellerophontes’ loss of Pegasus provides a succinct description of what happens to melancholics when they don’t use their natural gifts for contemplation and spirituality. The black bile becomes even colder and they shun human contact, eating out their hearts. Perhaps this is one reason why today, it seems that everyone is on anti-depressants: our fast-moving lifestyles are not conducive to contemplation or faith, and those with melancholic tendencies have little outlet for their natural tendencies.