Astrology Book Review: Traditional Medical Astrology
March 3, 2012 by Nina Gryphon
Lee Lehman’s latest book, Traditional Medical Astrology, is out, and it is a rich work with copious detail. As she points out in her preface, “the study of medical astrology is not especially sexy,” but when we need it, we really need it. The same is true for this book; there is little flash here but much substance for when the need arises. Lehman’s book is a good start for those interested in the historical underpinnings of medical astrology – and historical they surely are, since the Western and Middle Eastern application of astrology to medicine originated in antiquity and lasted until the 17th century. Lehman’s focus and sources are strictly traditional, though she will use the outer planets on occasion to fill in an interpretation. Note that Lehman is not a medical practitioner. As a result, we do not see the application of medical astrology to cases under the author’s care, an essential perspective that distinguishes the classics in the field, such as the works of Nicolas Culpeper. As an overview of the many astrological methods applied to medicine, however, this thorough book is outstanding.
Traditional Medical Astrology is a well-researched overview of traditional astrological medical methods, with a good historical and conceptual overview of the key basics of ancient medicine. The book covers natal topics, such as the temperament and length of life calculations, in addition to decumbiture/horary charts for specific instances of diseases. The last few chapters are devoted to electional astrology and prediction of the course of a disease. A solid reference book for those of us interested in the theory and practice of traditional medicine.
Contents and Structure
In an early chapter, “A Word to the Modern Astrologer,” Lehman encourages readers coming from a modern astrological tradition to dive in. This strikes me as sensible, given that traditional astrology can be intimidating, due to its plethora of foreign terms and frequent reference to ancient books. Few of us in this age of superficial knowledge have been educated to grapple with intellectual difficulty, but as with everything, more effort usually equals better results.
Chapter 1, “The History of Medicine and Astro-Medicine” is a good summary of the historical movements of medicine starting with prehistory, with a strong section on the four-humor structure, especially as applied to astrological diagnosis and theory. In the chapter, Lehman articulates a theory I have long held myself – traditional medicine worked hand in hand with electional astrology to assist in determining the best time for preparation and administration of treatments. The theory is that astrology fell out of the picture at the end of the 17th century and the treatments were timed according to what is convenient/practical for the practitioner. Perhaps for this reason, traditional medical treatments lost much of their effectiveness, and modern medicine began to be born from the search for a better alternative.
Chapter 2, “Understanding Hippocratic-Galenic Medicine” provides background on ancient ways of thinking about health and disease, and gets into the specifics of establishing and maintaining humoral balance by keeping the hot, cold, wet, and dry qualities in balance. This chapter provides some background on the four complexional types – choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholic – their personalities and predominant diseases. There are a few valuable tables here, notably Hippocrates’ injunctions for balancing health practices by the season. In winter, for instance, we would be required to do lots of walking but eat only one meal daily. The austere winter regimen is offset by Hippocrates’ recommendation to have as much sex as possible to heat the body (“But honey, the doctor said it’s for my health!”). In summer, we are encouraged to wrestle in the dust and keep our exercise short and infrequent.
Chapter 3, “The Body, Its Health, Temperament, and Virtue as Shown by the Natal Chart” gets into the eternally disputed methodology for calculating temperament. Lehman makes a few good points, notably the element of the Sun being used, rather than the season. I am not convinced that a perfect calculation exists, seeing the temperament as one of the tools in the astrological toolbox, but not necessarily the most important one. The author then provides a few temperament calculations of celebrities. It would have been nice to see a few charts for people known to the author that she can comment upon personally; with public figures; it is difficult to know what is reality and what is the public image, especially when it comes to health and the overall constitution. I enjoy speculation as much as anyone (possibly more), but for teaching purposes, the more first-hand information, the better.
There is an interesting section on Richard Saunders’ natal Almuten of Virtue, which looks to the 5th cusp almuten to see which bodily functions were likely to be impacted for someone. The 5th house is an unusual choice for a health reading, since we initially look to the 6th or the 1st houses of disease and vitality, respectively. The 5th rules the liver, however, the traditional seat of vitality, which regulates the humoral balance. I would have enjoyed seeing additional analysis and examples of this method, especially since Saunders’ method was of his own invention.
Chapter 4, “The Body and Its Diseases As Shown by the Natal Chart” starts with an interesting observation; unlike classical astrology, which mostly cared about the timing of one’s death, modern astrology tries to determine the exact cause of death – will it be cancer or heart disease? One can hardly wait to find out. There are difficulties with the modern approach. The Pluto in Leo generation, in a most inconsiderate fashion, has 36% lower rates of death by coronary heart disease than preceding generations, happily ignoring the fact that Pluto is a malefic and Leo rules the heart.
This chapter is where the author gets into some data crunching. It would be ideal if she delved into the statistics, and I hope to see more information in Lehman’s future articles or talks. Comparison of each factor to the norm to see the deviation, a discussion of the sample characteristics, and controlling for variables such as age and sex would be outstanding. Lehman looks at a sample of about 700 A-rated charts and the natal planetary hour and 1st/6th house rulers represented in heart disease, cancer, and drug abuse. There are a couple of short sections on traditional analyses of disease, namely by Lilly and Gadbury.
Chapter 5, “The Body and Its Longevity” deals with the traditional length of life calculations. As in many other books on this topic, the author starts with an apologia, presumably to comfort the more sensitive readers who may be learning of the existence of death for the first time. This is followed by a substantive listing of Arabian parts around mortality and morbidity, and Morin’s own list of significators for the same. The author shares some statistics and bar graphs describing the placement of the Arabic parts and planets in heart disease and cancer deaths.
Lehman then walks us through the hyleg and alcochoden calculations that lead to a length of life estimate. This is a rather complex and hotly contested area of astrology, so the interested reader will want to review as many sources as possible, test many charts, and draw her own conclusions. As with calculating temperament, no one method works 100% of the time, but some are better than others. Ten examples are given for the reader to follow along with the author.
Chapter 6, “Astrological Iatromancy” is my favorite chapter, not only because iatromancy is a great word, but also because this is where we learn to apply some of the most useful techniques of medical astrology. The author discusses the difference between horary (question) and decumbiture (start of illness or diagnosis) charts, and a checklist for evaluating such charts. Then we are off. This chapter is where Lehman’s skills and insights as a researcher and compiler really shine. There is a handy six-step checklist (I bookmarked this page, as it is a great summary), followed by a lengthy list of medical aphorisms (of which there are thousands) from traditional sources including Saunders, Culpeper, Lilly, Hermes Trismegistus, and Blagrave. She then provides a few charts that she has run through a computer program that has all – yes, all – of the aphorisms in Lehman’s sources. It is interesting to see all the aphorisms fighting it out amongst themselves, and one cannot help but reach the same conclusion as Culpeper; let us keep our brains in our heads and not in our books. Each chart is different and applying thousands of rules to it will not give us a magic answer. The author seems to come to a similar conclusion, as most of the charts consist of her analysis with her six-point checklist, rather than a mindless application of aphorisms.
Chapter 7, “Prediction through Time: Crises and the Development of Disease” is a fascinating topic, as the ancients spent a lot of time evaluating the changes in a disease. Specifically, astrologers and doctors set charts for the crisis points of the disease and watched for the good and bad aspects in those charts. Crisis times are when the transiting Moon makes a major hard aspect to the decumbiture Moon. Judicial (intermediate) times are when the transiting Moon makes a minor hard aspect (semi-square and sesquiquadrate) to the decumbiture Moon. For chronic illnesses, we look at the same positions of the Sun relative to its decumbiture position. I have used this method for myself when ill, and it works extremely well. We then see some of the predictive value of solar return charts when it comes to illness and injury.
Chapter 8: “Surgery: Electionals and Events” shows us some rules for surgery, as well as examples of surgical elections and charts for surgeries done without astrological consultation, with discussion of how the procedures had turned out. The attentive reader will not be surprised to know that the surgery where the #1 rule of medical astrology was violated – never have the Moon in the sign ruling the treated body part – turned out terribly. The patient almost died and had to have multiple re-dos of the surgery.
Chapter 9: “Non-surgery Electional Astrology: Purges, Diets, and Breaking Habits” provides more opportunities to apply the art of electing the right moment for treatment. These are the moments that are more electable than surgery; few surgeons have very flexible schedules, but if we want to find the right moment to quit smoking, start a new drug regimen, or start a diet, elections can be helpful. We see a summary of the therapeutic methods of the Hippocratic/Galenic practitioners, few of which are in common use today; bloodletting, vomiting, purging, enemas, sweating, and diuretic procedures. Even for today, there are some helpful rules here, e.g.: to stop a nasal discharge, put the Moon in Earth. Lehman applies the ancient rules for more modern problems, like beginning a weight loss regimen: eat your first “diet” meal on a waning Moon, then once you enter a maintenance phase, do a second chart with lots of fixed signs to keep the weight off.
In Chapter, 10, “Conclusion: When We No Longer Engage in Bloodletting,” the author puts the study of traditional medical astrology in context. As she points out, U.S. medical expenses have tripled in the last 50 years, yet life expectancy has only risen 10%. She expects that inevitable cutbacks in medical funding will lead to more alternative treatments, where medical astrologers could find a niche combining their skills with alternative medical modes such as herbalism, traditional Chinese medicine, or homeopathy.
Finally, there are a helpful few appendices: classical concepts necessary for horary (for those brand new from the land of modern astrology), a glossary of terms used in the book, where we may learn the meanings of words such as abstergent and spagyric. There are a few worksheets for temperament calculation, and medical rulerships of various body parts. Don’t miss the small but useful table comparing indications of a physical vs. mental or spiritual disease as indicated in horaries.
I enjoyed delving into this book, as it summarizes many of the traditional medical books on my bookshelf in easy-to-understand modern language. Though it is not a substitute for the classical texts, it provides a painless, accurate introduction to many essential topics that one can learn about in more depth from the masters themselves. This is not astrology lite by any means, but rather straddles the ground between a reference work and a critical text, as many of Lehman’s books do. Highly recommended.
Traditional Medical Astrology
By: J. Lee Lehman, Ph.D.
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2011
Available at amazon.com and leelehman.com