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The History and Practice of Four Element Medicine
This fall a few friends and I drove out along the Columbia River gorge in Oregon to go stargazing about thirty miles east of Portland. The wind was strong and the night was bitterly cold, but that didn''t stop a number of us amateur astronomers from setting up a base camp near the side of the river. With telescopes, I was able to make out the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. A few meteors shot overhead as I watched the panorama of stars stretch out through the night sky. I had never seen the moons of Jupiter before, and this event thrilled me with a sense of discovery and joy. Almost 400 years ago, the famous Italian scientist Galileo looked up in the night sky to spot these same moons. In his texts, he wrote:
"Accordingly, on the seventh day of January of the present year 1610, at the first hour of the night, when I inspected the celestial constellations through a spyglass, Jupiter presented himself. And since I had prepared for myself a superlative instrument, I saw that three little stars were positioned near himsmall but very bright. Although I believed them to be among the number of fixed stars, they nevertheless intrigued me because they appeared to be arranged along a straight line . . . but when, on the eighth, I returned to the same observation, guided by I know not what fate, I found a very different arrangement. For all three little stars were to the west of Jupiter and closer to each other than the previous night, and separated by equal intervals."1
Galileo used a new, little-known piece of technology known as the telescope, a tool that would revolutionize the field of astronomy and would herald the demise of astrology over the next 100 years. Prior to the discovery of the telescope, people had used the naked eye to view the stars and planets and infuse the heavens with meaning, mythology, and spiritual reverence. By the end of the 1600s, a new view of the cosmos had emerged, one based on rational principles and mathematics and without the traditional astrological and religious associations that had been integrated with astronomy since antiquity. In his book Conversing with the Planets, astronomer and anthropologist Anthony Aveni writes:
"Within a generation of Galileo, Sir Francis Bacon would produce the Great Instauration, a manifesto that called for human action in nothing less than an all-out assault on nature . . . Bacon''s program reads almost like a set of traffic rules telling what each discipline should contain, what data should be acquired, what ought to be diminished as foolish. The greatest promise of all, he argues, lay in technology, for only by extending the senses could we unmask nature''s deeper and darker submerged secrets. The new philosophy, framed in a mechanistic way of thinking, would be driven by an aggressive optimism that everything from music to morals could be cast under the umbrella of natural law. The new science would be spread about the literate and educable public via demonstrations, popular lectures, magazines, and libraries. It was the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment and of the demise of planetary astrology."2
This radical change in perception, thought, and philosophy affects us to this day, and although there has been a reemergence of astrology, the scientific community by and large vehemently abhors the practice. This differs markedly from the community of scientists and astronomers in the Renaissance period who often integrated occult concepts such as astrology and alchemy into their scientific practice. Scientists such as Newton, Copernicus, and Kepler saw the importance of linking facts and figures with myth and meaning. This practice predated them by thousands of years through Greek scholars such as Plato and Pythagoras. It was only after the Age of Enlightenment that spiritual meaning was divorced from the natural world.
Before this massive change in perception, medicine was also integrated into the study of the stars, and physicians often consulted the horoscope to help understand health, the etiology of illness, and the proper curative measures. Many learned men followed the edict of "As above, so below," and determined that man''s physical constitution was related to the planetary configurations as the microcosm is related to the macrocosm. This notion that all of creation was related and integrated came under sharp attack during the Enlightenment, as a slow shift toward a mechanical and reductionist model of health emerged.
In this new scientific model, each human could be viewed as a separate, distinct entity composed of component parts and certain physiological processes. By applying chemicals and drugs, any necrotic tissue, disease, or malformation could be battled and conquered, and returned to normalcy. This new vision of health replaced earlier healing philosophies that posited natural cures, and balancing and harmonizing one''s nature with the environment and the cosmos to achieve strength and vitality. Astrological medicine came to be viewed as superstition, unscientific and irrational. The four elements that made up the ancient practice of medicine were discarded for the new mechanistic models that arose. In China and India, the early models of medicine formulated thousands of years ago continue to thrive to this day. It is only in the West that we have ignored and disregarded our ancient medical traditions. To understand how these traditions arose and how they evolved, we need to look to the past into the world of our ancestors.
A Brief History of Four Element Medicine
The Early Days
In our most ancient records of early man, researchers discovered notches left on reindeer bones and mammoth ivory that dated back to the last Ice Age. It is believed that these marks signify the recording of lunar cycles.3 It is likely that these early carvings had to do with understanding time and making the rudiments of a calendar. We know little of these early people, but these early artifacts point toward humankind''s eventual journey toward understanding the skies.
These early nomadic people were keenly aware of changes in the seasons, the best times to hunt and gather food from the land, and when to gather herbs for healing ailments and maladies. By looking to the skies and observing the phases of the moon and where the sun rose and set each day, early tribes gained an understanding of the relationship of the heavens to their life on earth. The stars above them became more than just twinkles of light; they became entwined in their myths and fables, intimate partners in the fabric of their lives and vital elements of their cosmologies.
As these tribes coalesced, some of them developed permanent communities, and as early as 6000 b.c., the Sumerians built the first-known structures designed to observe and mark the sky.4 In Mesopotamia around 3000 b.c., tall towers known as ziggurats were constructed as high as 270 feet from which to watch the stars. A cast of priests and astrologers developed in these communities to mark the procession in the skies. The planets became associated with gods and goddesses as a divine pantheon that traveled through the heavens. In Babylon, Mars was known as Nergal, the powerful, warlike god of the underworld. In Persia, they called Venus Anahita, a sweet, seductive, and voluptuous goddess. In Greece, Mercury was known as Hermes, the winged messenger-god of thieves and of communication.
Anthony Aveni has noted:
"Designating the planets by name and imbuing them with omens lay at the foundation of the astrally based religions practiced by nearly all our cultural predecessors. For them, what happened in real life was mirrored by what took place in the sky."5
Because of this relationship of the stars to religious belief, these early people celebrated and worshiped the gods/planets through elaborate rituals and ceremonies. These rites cemented a proper relationship between the earth and the skies and were believed to bring about good fortune and prosperity. Ritual played an essential role in these cultures, and the astrologer-priests were vital in ascertaining the right times to hold these events. This relationship of humans with the stars exists to this day in many cultures. In India, Vedic astrologers pick appropriate times to perform certain rituals that mitigate the negative effects and augment the positive effects of the planets.
The Four Elements and Medicine
Around 500 b.c., the Sicilian philosopher Empedocles introduced the idea of the four elements. In his theory, the four elementsfire, water, earth, and airconstitute the root of all of creation. Empedocles'' theories were taken up by the leading physician of his time, Hippocrates. Hippocrates was born about 460 b.c. on the island of Cos in the Aegean Sea. In his school on Cos, he formulated the concept of Vis Medicatix naturaethe idea of the healing power of nature and the tendency for life to heal itself. Hippocrates advocated gentle remedies in the form of herbs, diet, and exercise to naturally assist ill people back to health.
Hippocrates believed that the four elements made up the human constitution, and when they were in balance, human beings would be in perfect health. Hippocrates also illustrated the concept of the four temperaments, or constitutional types, in the human body: choleric for fire, melancholic for earth, sanguine for air, and phlegmatic for water. Each temperament was associated with a humor and quality as well. Humors did not just refer to a body fluid, but described essences that flowed throughout the body and helped in the balance of health and well-being. Each temperament and humor had a quality attached to it that described its temperature and condition as well. If one of the humors dominated, then disease and ill health would arise. Early Greek medicine became based on the concept of balancing the humors.
The Elements Fire Water Air Earth
Temperaments Choleric Phlegmatic Sanguine Melancholic
Humors Yellow bile Phlegm Blood Black bile
Qualities Hot and Cold and Hot and Cold and
dry moist dry moist
Hippocrates promoted the use of the four element system of curing illness, and in a treatise called Affections, he writes:
"In men, all diseases are caused by bile and phlegm. Bile and phlegm give rise to diseases when they become too dry or too wet or too hot or too cold in the body."6
Hippocrates also wrote that these diseases are caused by imbalances in food, drink, and exercise, as well as by injuries, sexual excesses, and environmental conditions. On Hippocratic medicine, the noted astrological historian Zolar writes:
"The patient was the reality; the disease was not an entity like the savage''s demon but a fluctuating condition of the patient''s body, a battle between the morbid humors and the natural self-healing tendency of the body. Treatment centered upon assisting the patient, through his particular nature, to react in his individual way against the disease that was an imbalance of the four humors."7
Along with the four element theory, firmly rooted in Hippocrates'' school of medicine on Cos, there was also a great influx of ideas from Egypt around the fourth and third centuries b.c. that linked parts of the body to the signs of the zodiac. The linking of herbs, animals, and stones with the planets and the signs probably occurred a little later, between the second century b.c. and the first century a.d.8 Much of this wisdom and lore comes from texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistos, an Egyptian philosopher, astrologer, and physician. In all likelihood, these texts were probably written by a number of learned Egyptians.
This Hermetic literature included many works on alchemy, magic, physics, astronomy, natural history, and astrological medicine. One of the most profound philosophical statements to be found in this body of thought is the Emerald Table of Hermes, a series of pronouncements inscribed on an emerald stone. It says, "What is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below." This linking of the microcosm with the macrocosm is at the root of all medical astrological thought. The idea that one could look to the stars and determine patterns that would help elucidate the nature of health and illness profoundly influenced physicians for the next 1,500 years.
In Hermetic thought, all of creation can be ordered according to basic principles and can be linked to the planets, the elements, and the zodiac. The smallest pebble in some way relates to, and is in sympathy with, other stones, animals, plants, and planets. This relationship implies that there is a web, a framework, within nature that humans are part of as well. The paths of astrology and medicine were wedded by these hermetic concepts. Astrological medicine postulates that by understanding our own makeup of elements and planetary strengths and weaknesses, we can use the manifestations of nature to help balance us and assist us back to health. Though Hippocrates helped establish the integration of astrology and medicine, many years passed before this wedding was firmly set as part of medical practice. It took a famous Roman physician named Galen to cement this relationship through his writings and discourses.
Galen was born around a.d. 130 in the Greek city of Pergamum in modern-day Turkey. He started his medical career as a doctor for wounded gladiators in Pergamum and later in Rome. Eventually he became the court physician for the emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Galen''s form of medicine was based primarily on Hippocrates'' four element system and his use of simple and natural medicines such as herbs and diet to effect a cure. Galen''s books became the basis for the practice of medicine throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. In the course of his illustrious career, Galen wrote numerous books, including Prognostication of Disease by Astrology and Critical Days, both of which advanced the practice of astrological medicine.
In his books, Galen describes the influence of the Moon in each sign of the zodiac and in its relation to other planets. Through the use of astrology, he describes what diseases a person may incur, how to treat them medically, and what the prognosis of each illness is. Galen specifically focused on the phases of the Moon and their importance in illness and healing. Galen wrote about avoiding surgery on parts of the body when the Moon was transiting a sign that ruled that body part. In Galen''s writings, we see that astrology formed a vital aspect of medical practice.
The Arabic World
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the centers for the study of astrology and medicine moved to Arab lands. In the ninth century, a famous foundation was formed in Baghdad known as the House of Wisdom, a place devoted to translating scientific texts. The head of this institution was named Ibn Masawayh, who helped translate practical handbooks for practicing medicine. His most famous pupil, Hunayn ibn Ishaq, also authored a number of influential medical texts, including one with the Latin title Isagoge, a book that encapsulated the concepts of the four elements, humors, and temperaments.
Two of the most famous physicians of these times included Ibn Razi (known as Rhazes in Europe), author of the Comprehensive Book of Medicine, in the ninth century, and Ibn Sina (also known as Avicena), the tenth-century author of The Canon of Medicine. Both of these books borrowed from Hippocratic and Galenic ideas and forwarded medical knowledge through writings on diseases, therapeutic principles, and medicines.
In Loudon''s A History of Medicine, the author writes:
"Yet Islamic culture did not simply provide custodial care for classical medicine, serving as a mere transmitter of ancient Greek medicine and learning to medieval Europe. Islamic physicians produced a vast medical literature of their own, in which they imposed a logical and coherent structure on the earlier Greek medicine. They also added an extended pharmacology, more elaborate notions of medical pathology, a knowledge of new diseases (for example, smallpox and certain eye diseases), new therapies, and new surgical techniques and instrumentation."9
Astrological wisdom also flourished in Arabian lands in the 800s. Al-Kindi and his pupil Abu Ma''shar wrote influential texts concerning astronomy, astrology, the metaphysical basis of magic, and the cosmic sympathy between planets and human activity. Abu Ma''shar writes in his book Introductorium:
"The doctor studies the changes in the elements; the astrologus follows the movements of the stars to arrive at the causes of elementary changes."10
Through the writings of these ancient Arab scholars, the practice of astrology and medicine continued to thrive. Eventually this wisdom found its way to the European world. The practice of traditional four element medicine continues to this day in Islamic countries such as Syria, Iran, and Pakistan. Known as Unani-Tibb, this medicine is based on Hippocratic and Galenic sources as well as the work of the Arabic scholars from the Middle Ages.
Much of the wisdom encapsulated in the Arabic tradition, along with the original Greek texts, was translated into Latin in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and became the basis for a rebirth in medicine and astrology in Europe. In the town of Salerno in southern Italy around the year 1100, a school of medical study developed that focused on the old Greco-Arabic texts. By the thirteenth century, universities in Paris and Montpellier had become centers for medical study. Through the universities a new group of men who received academic training in medicine began to develop, and a division emerged between those with professional credentials and those who were "folk-trained" and uneducated. Often these university-trained physicians scorned the local healers with their use of folk remedies and charms. Since the universities only accepted men into their programs, women were left out of this elite training and could no longer act as professional healers. In Elizabeth Brooke''s book An Astrological Herbal for Women, she writes:
"For example, Jacoba Felice, born in 1280, who was charged with illegally practicing medicine, was found guilty and prohibited from working under pain of excommunication. There was no evidence of medical malpractice produced at her trial in 1322; her crime was simply to have been a woman physician."11
In the Middle Ages in hamlets and towns throughout Europe, medicine and healing were often practiced by this "lower caste" of herbalists, midwives, and witches. Though limited in book knowledge, many of these folk healers had a profound knowledge of the land, its herbs, and natural medicines, and were adept at curing maladies and illnesses. Such practices continue in many corners of the world today, where modern medicine has not yet been introduced and where villagers are content with the herbal medicines and folk cures found in their environment.
Many of these local healers used astrological wisdom in performing treatments. The moon was believed to provide the greatest aid to healing, and often herbs would be gathered under the light of the Full Moon and medicinal plants would be grown and harvested only during certain lunar phases. The use of charms, amulets, and sorcery was widespread, and magic was often deemed essential for ridding oneself of evil spirits, protecting one''s health from harm, and ensuring soundness of mind and body.
Folk healing, magic, witchcraft, and pagan rites and rituals all stemmed from the ancient tribal practices that had originated in different parts of Europe thousands of years earlier. The celebration of solstices, equinoxes, and the cross-quarter points such as Beltane and Samhain were practices that were firmly rooted in ancient custom. These pagan rites celebrated the turning of the seasons, the cycles of birth, growth, decline, and death, and the importance of the natural world.12 Throughout Europe, such practices continued to exist alongside the Christian church, with folk healers keeping alive the tradition of linking humankind''s health, nature, and the stars.
The Renaissance: Ficino and Paracelsus
In the late 1400s, an Italian writer, astrologer, philosopher, and physician named Marcilio Ficino was contracted to translate ancient Greek and Egyptian texts. Among them were texts attributed to Hermes Trismegistos known as the Corpus Hermeticum. Ficino''s translations had the effect of reintroducing hermetic philosophy into Renaissance Europe. In these texts, it is written that "nothing happens in man that is not connected with cosmic sympathy." This idea of resonance between different aspects of creation became popularized and made its way into the philosophy, art, science, and literature of the time. Astrology was seen as a natural part of systems of correspondences and helped relate humankind to the divine. In his book A History of Western Astrology, historian Jim Tester writes:
"The acceptance of astrology as a learned and scientific study was a common, if not normal, attitude down to the eighteenth century, and it is impossible to understand men like Kepler and Newton unless astrology is seen for what the Greeks made it, a rational attempt to map the heavens and to interpret that map in the context of that "cosmic sympathy" which makes man an integral part of the universe."13
Ficino believed that the stars foretold our health, but that we have the free will to augment and nourish ourselves and to fend against our vulnerabilities with natural remedies. Writing about this famous philosopher, noted astrologers Ariel Guttman and Kenneth Johnson write:
"Ficino also developed a doctrine of inner planets which held that the astrological planets were, in fact, internal psycho-spiritual entities, and that by means of meditation, talismans, and other sympathetic magical practices, one could enhance or harmonize the influence of those inner planets so as to produce beneficial effects in one''s life."14
The hermetic translations and Ficino''s writings helped set the stage for herbalists and healers interested in integrating magic and astrology into their practice. One of the most famous physicians was the Swiss-born rebel Paracelsus. Though he studied medicine formally in Italy, Paracelsus gained much wisdom from folk healers throughout his travels after completing his schooling. Known as the father of chemistry, Paracelsus helped elucidate many of the ideas on its arcane predecessor, alchemy. Alchemy not only involved the transmutations of base metals into gold, it also involved the spiritual and psychic transformation of man from a lesser being toward reaching his divine core. Paracelsus also fiercely battled the established medical world of his time and tried to reform outdated concepts and superstitions.
Paracelsus believed in the use of astrology for determining health, illness, and curative measures. In one essay, he wrote:
"The sympathy between planet and planet, so easy of observation, is a proof of the diffusion of collateral elements throughout the various channels of expression and of a constant stream of influences for ever interacting between those that stand thus related to each other. Every metal and every plant possesses certain qualities that may attract corresponding planetary influences, and if we know the influences of the stars, the conjunctions of the planets and the qualities of the drugs, we shall know what remedies to give to attract such influence as may act beneficially upon the patient."15
Like Ficino, he also believed in free will and argued against the planets determining one''s destiny. He believed that if one took the proper curative measures, one could avoid the ill effects and the "fate" of certain planets, like Saturn causing early death or Mars acting malefically on the constitution. In one of his books, Paracelsus outlines the effect of the planets on the body:
"The Sun is dry, hot, and sanguine and acts chiefly on the heart.
The Moon is wet, cold, and phlegmatic and acts chiefly on the stomach.
Venus is wet, hot and choleric and acts chiefly on the bladder and kidneys.
Mars is dry and hot and acts chiefly on the head and brain.
Saturn is dry and cold and acts chiefly on the legs to cause dropsy and gall.
Jupiter is wet and hot and acts chiefly on the shoulders and lungs.
Mercury is wet and hot and acts chiefly on the shoulders and lungs."16
Another famous adherent of medical astrology was the famous English physician Nicholas Culpeper. Culpeper lived from 1616 to 1654 and published numerous books on herbs, healing, and astrology, including Culpeper''s Complete Herbal, which describes an immense compendium of plants, trees, and shrubs along with their planetary rulers and their medicinal values. Of garlic, for example, Culpeper writes:
"Mars owns this herb. This was anciently accounted the poor man''s treacle, it being a remedy for all diseases and hurts (except those which itself breeds.)"17
Though immensely popular among his countrymen (to this day), Culpeper incurred the wrath of the Royal College of Physicians, who viewed him with anger for publishing books that popularized medical knowledge they deemed sacrosanct. With this knowledge in the hands of laypeople, these physicians were scared that they would lose some financial gain as well as personal power. Founded in 1518 by King Henry VIII, these physicians had grown in political power and sought to fine and imprison unlicensed practitioners for practicing medicine.
Though Culpeper had difficulty with his adversaries, he nonetheless popularized the relationship of astrology to herbalism and medicine. He also subscribed to another hermetic concept known as the Doctrine of Signatures, which related the color, taste, and smell of herbs to their healing properties. Writing about the herb pilewort, he noted:
"Behold here another verification of that learning of the ancients, viz that the virtue of a herb may be known by its signature, as plainly appears in this; for if you dig up the root of it, you shall perceive the perfect image of that disease which they commonly call the piles."18
Culpeper also employed the concept of using the right astrological moment for treating illness. Known as astrological election, Culpeper made special note of the Moon sign for administering medicines.
"Each of the four administering virtues is best strengthened by giving medicines for the purpose when the Moon occupies a zodiac sign of the same qualities. For example, when a person subject to continual vomiting is made weak by the inability to keep anything down, there is a need to strengthen the retentive faculty. The appropriate medicines should be given when the Moon is in an Earth sign which corresponds to the retentive faculty."19
Culpeper and other astrologers of the Middle Ages, such as William Lilly, used a system of astrology known as decumbiture to understand the etiology of disease, the treatment plan, and the prognosis. This complex system of ascertaining health and illness is too broad a subject for me to tackle in this book, but it played an important role in understanding health. By looking at the placement of the planets at the onset of a disease, one could determine which vital organs could be affected and what types of herbs and dietary remedies would prove most effective.
The End of Traditional Western Medicine and the Formation of Modern Allopathy
Although Culpeper''s form of humoral and astrological medicine was very popular in his time in the mid-seventeenth century, a tremendous shift was taking place in the intellectual and medical communities of his time. Scientific discoveries were radically changing Renaissance views of health, and healing and astrology were falling out of favor because of their links to magic, paganism, and superstition. The modern rationalistic approach viewed life mechanistically and reductionistically, and holistic, hermetic concepts began to be viewed with suspicion if not outright scorn by the new cognoscenti of the late seventeenth century. The Age of Enlightenment heralded the end of Galen''s medical beliefs, with their link between the stars and our health.
Eventually, new mechanistic medical concepts formed the basis of the modern practice of allopathic medicine. Allopathy focuses primarily on the nature of disease and illness in terms of aberrations and pathologies of the physical body. Remedial measures are usually taken in the form of chemicals, drugs, and surgery to repair illness. Advancements in the creation of drugs have led to cures for polio, help for diabetes, and antibiotics that fight off bacterial-born illnesses. Therapies focus primarily on combating symptoms and suppressing the illness. Though many of these therapies have proved to be potent and successful, many also cause countless dangerous side effects and often are ineffective against chronic problems as diverse as arthritis, back pain, or anxiety. On modern allopathy, the Ayurvedic physician Hans Rhyner writes:
"Only in the last few centuries, with the emergence of natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry, and biology, has medicine been separated from philosophy. Modern medicine has become primarily a somatological science, resting on an experimental basis. Every healing method is subjected to clinical trials and rejected if proved ineffective. This leads to an exaggerated emphasis on somatological and physiological processes, which have become the criteria by which pathological manifestations of an illness or its symptoms are evaluated."20
Paradigms of Holistic Healthcare
As the new medicine took hold in Europe, the humoral and astrological methods of viewing health waned from public consciousness. Now, several hundred years later, there is a reemergence of interest in the concepts that underlay the traditional practice of medicine in Europe for 2,000 years. In the East, traditional holistic medicine has enjoyed an unbroken lineage. Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine are still widely practiced in Asia and are now becoming quite popular in the West. Ayurveda (literally meaning "science of life") is the Indian form of natural healthcare with roots in Vedic texts written thousands of years ago. Ayurveda is intimately intertwined with the philosophy and spiritual traditions of India. Ayurvedic health practitioners regularly use Indian (Jyotish) astrology and often prescribe mantras, rituals, yoga, and amulets, along with herbs, diet, and massage in their practice. In Chinese medicine, practitioners study the pulses and use acupuncture, herbs, massage, and diet to help restore balance to clients.
Both of these traditional systems view the person as a system and framework of energy. By understanding the meridians and flow of chi (Chinese term for energy), or the chakras and the movement of prana (Sanskrit term for energy), health practitioners work to strengthen and nourish optimal health. Naturopathic healthcare has also grown in the West, with its emphasis on providing dietary, emotional, and lifestyle advice as well as prescribing herbal supplements and hydrotherapies to strengthen clients'' health. Naturopathic healthcare has a fundamentally scientific viewpoint in assessing illness, but uses holistic methods to assist a return to health. These systems are becoming highly regarded in the West as comparably inexpensive and effective ways to bring good health to a client in a way that is noninvasive and usually lacking in deleterious side effects.
Jung and the Four Types
The resurgence of interest in traditional humoral concepts of health may have begun in the twentieth century with the eminent psychologist Carl Jung. Jung formulated a number of influential ideas, including the notion of archetypesthe idea that human experience can be encapsulated in certain images, myths, and metaphors. The notion of the anima and animus are two of the fundamental archetypes Jung forwarded. The anima is the female aspect present in the collective unconscious of men, and the animus is the male aspect present in the collective unconscious of women. Jung also postulated a theory of four dominant personality types that closely resemble the four temperaments of ancient Western medicine. In his theory, the four types include the Intuitive, Feeling, Thinking, and Sensing types.21 In terms of four element medicine, Intuitive relates to the fire element, Feeling to water, Thinking to air, and Sensing to earth.
Jung also studied astrology and alchemy in-depth and wrote numerous texts on the relationship of humans to psychology and to the occult arts. In his book Synchronicity,22 Jung described how two events that are not linked causally could be meaningfully related. He recounted how a client was discussing a dream involving a scarab and a beetle, when at that very instant, a beetle flew through the window. Or we may think about a loved one, and a couple minutes later, that person calls. Jung believed that instances like these are indications of how we are connected not only with our fellow humans, but with nature in general.
Jung used astrology in his practice as a way to better understand his patients. Through his interest in astrology and alchemy, Jung helped move the field of astrology closer toward a psychological framework. He also helped resurrect the ashes of a system that had died during the Age of the Enlightenment. Through his belief that stars could be synchronistically related to human health and behavior, he kept alive the ancient practice of four element medicine.
Modern Western Astrology
Much of modern-day Western astrology merges twentieth-century psychological concepts with Eastern philosophy and ancient astrological ideas. In 1936, Dane Rudhyar published Astrology of Personality and forwarded a more psychologically driven model of astrology. Many concepts used in modern-day astrological readings, such as archetypes, parental complexes, neuroses, the Shadow, actualizing potential, and releasing emotional wounds, have their basis in works written by psychologists such as Jung, Freud, and Maslow. This modern-day merger has led to profound and in-depth analyses of character through the astrological chart. Authors such as Liz Greene and Stephen Arroyo have written powerful books relating the planets to cycles of growth and developmental stages in life. Linking the planets and their mythologies to human understanding is at the forefront of modern Western astrology. Dane Rudhyar writes in his book The Pulse of Life:
"It is because astrology can be seen as a most remarkable technique for the understanding of the life-process of change in so many realmsand theoretically in every fieldthat its renaissance during the last two decades in the Western world is particularly important as a sign of the times. But this importance is conditioned upon a grasp of astrology which is truly modern. Nineteenth century approaches and classical or medieval biases should be discarded in the light of the new twentieth century understanding of physics and above all else psychology, in astrology as in every realm of thought. The emphasis should once more be placed on human experience, and away from the transcendent categories and the mythological entities belonging to an ideology which today is, in the main, obsolete."23
Along with psychological innovations, Western astrology has also incorporated a wide variety of Eastern philosophy and wisdom that became especially popular in the 1960s. Indian gurus like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Sri Chimnoy, and Yogi Bhajan helped popularize concepts and practices such as reincarnation, karma, and yoga. Western philosophers including Alan Watts and Ram Das helped further elucidate oriental philosophy and introduce practices such as meditation and vegetarianism to the public. Eastern philosophy began to be integrated into astrological practices in the West, and we now have authors such as Jeff Green who posit that astrology teaches us who we are, our potentials and limitations, through the progression of our past lives and in terms of the evolution of our soul.
A modern-day Western astrologer is often quite adept at discussing character, likes and dislikes, and strengths and weaknesses, and can willingly act as a counselor to discuss aspects of family background, career ambitions, and one''s love life. Astrologers can outline basic traits and archetypes and match the client''s personal experience within a planetary and mythological framework. Thus, someone whose Neptune is prominent in the natal chart can express a range of traits, including being a martyr, a spiritual adept, a drug addict, a visionary, or a liar. Working within this framework, an astrologer may recommend avoiding the negative possibilities and embracing a more empowered, "actualized" self that takes the best from the archetypal potentials found in the astrological chart.
Alternative Therapeutic Models for Western Astrology
Though Western astrologers are often adept at analyzing character and personality, there is often a smaller range of therapeutic tools to work with a client. The primary approach is a kind of psychological and spiritual advice akin to how counselors work in their practice. Many of the tools and concepts forwarded by Renaissance astrologers like Marsilio Ficino or by Vedic astrologers, such as the use of gems, herbs, talismans, and rituals for balancing and harmonizing one''s nature with the planetary forces, are seldom used by modern Western astrologers. This is unfortunate because these therapeutic models offer a doorway into immense growth and healing for clients. They link our mundane lives with the natural world around us. Nature acts as an intermediary force between humans, the microcosmos, and the stars, the macrocosmos. We can find an unending depository of healing agents in the environment that help us transform physical and emotional illnesses and also bring us a deeper reverence for the natural world, which is sorely needed in these times.
Modern Four Element Medicine
The modern practices of four element medicine and Western medical astrology have survived only minimally in European countries. In Arabic countries, four element medicine, known as Unani, continues to be practiced by local healers. In the West, there are only a handful of practitioners and no colleges or major educational centers that teach this ancient art. Because traditional humoral methods of understanding health and illness have been largely lost, modern medical astrologers use a wide variety of alternative holistic therapies to balance the constitution as determined by the astrological chart. These therapies include acupuncture, herbs, natural diet, flower essences, the use of gems and metals, yoga, and meditation, as well as many other practices. Though medical astrologers base their work on the philosophy of traditional Western medicine, the practice of this art often differs tremendously from Renaissance or medieval astrological medicine. Perhaps, in time, we will regain much of the wisdom and lore of this ancient practice and learn to integrate it into a modern, holistic health practice.
A Holistic Approach to Astrology: Four Element Medicine
When we take a holistic approach to astrology, we can see the patterns and mythologies of the stars not only in ourselves but in the natural world around us. The four elements present themselves to us every day when we walk outside. The elements come to life as fire from the sun, air from the wind, water from the rain, rivers, and lakes, and earth from the ground, trees, plants, and rocks. The natural world is a living, breathing depository for elemental energy. When we are depleted, in need of balance and nourishment, nature provides healing at a basic level.
Not only are the elements represented, but the modalities, the planets, and the signs are represented in nature as well. Think of the gentle and graceful movements of a whale. Its serenity and oceanic habitat link this creature with the planet Neptune. The beautiful chirping and bold-red breast of a robin link it with the Sun. The pungent and stimulating qualities of garlic link this herb with the planet Mars.
When we take a close look at the natural world, we see that everything expresses an energy, a set of characteristics, or a personality that defines each individual strand of grass, pebble, and tall tree. This is also true in the world of people. Imagine going to a party and interacting with a number of guests. One person is bright and expressive with a lot of zest and energy. Another is quiet, but seems to have some wise and interesting things to say. Another is impressionable and artistic and seems to be able to read your mind. All of these people have characteristics that express themselves in certain ways that have an effect on the outside world. The high-energy person may be fun and stimulating, but may also be exhausting at times. The quiet, interesting one may be a great person with whom to have a deep talk, but may not be that great on the dance floor.
Energy is all around us, in the form of people at a party, or in the form of plants and flowers in our garden, birds in our backyard, or in our pet dog or cat. By observing, listening, and paying attention, most of us can see the basic characteristics and personality of anything with which we come into contact. These things impact us at an emotional level. We may feel repelled or attracted, excited or frustrated, depending on what we are feeling and what we need at the moment. A huge crush of people drinking and yelling may be just what we need on New Year''s Eve, but may be awful on many other nights of the year.
We pick our partners, friends, careers, and homes because of their personality or energy. Sometimes we choose people and jobs to balance out parts of ourselves that are lacking. For example, we may need a loud, boisterous person as a friend if we are quiet and timid. We also pick experiences that mimic our own energetic lifestyle. If we are fun loving and like to socialize, oftentimes we will choose people and experiences that will bring out and nourish this part of ourselves.
When we look to the natural world for healing, we can use many of the same techniques when choosing what to work with. The gentle and graceful flight of a great blue heron, the twittering nervousness of a chickadee, or the grand stillness of an alpine lake all have a relationship to our own consciousness. These sympathies are also found in the plant, mineral, and rock worlds, and we soon see that we can find sustenance and tremendous healing from the world around us. All of these beings can act as agents of transformation and growth. We can wear cedar bark as a talisman to shift us energetically toward the state of a cedar, toward more stillness, beauty, and grace. We may want to watch a gathering of elk to understand and incorporate their nobility, strength, and serene power. We may want to wear an obsidian stone on our chest to help ground and protect our heart energy.
These are all natural expressions of a living world, an anima mundi, and as a living and interconnected world, we can access many of its forms to help us shift and grow. Astrology gives us powerful insight into what we may need in the natural world, and much of this book is dedicated to illuminating just that. When we take this natural approach to astrology, we see that psychological awareness and advice is only one piece of the puzzle. There are kinesthetic and natural approaches to working with our horoscope as well. Four element astrology points us in a new direction, one with deeper contact with our environment, one with deeper contact with our energetic and spiritual selves.
If we start to view our lives in this way, as a powerful interplay of energetic relationships, then we start to get to the core of what this natural approach to astrology is about. Four element medicine describes our energetics and then points to how this is related to the natural world around us. The "medicine" in four element medicine does not just refer to physical medicine; it expresses a medicine for the soul, a natural medicine to help balance and heal us emotionally and spiritually. In the practice of four element medicine, we see ourselves as instruments that can be tuned and brought into perfect harmony with the universe.
Time and Technology
Unfortunately, the modern world is not geared toward attuning ourselves with the natural world and cosmos. We can be easily distracted by our computers, televisions, news sources, telephones, pagers, and other gadgets. These can be tremendously useful, but in many ways we have not learned to have a balanced relationship with this technology. Gadgets can easily drain us and take our energy away in the form of time.
The functioning of our modern world is fundamentally based on our sense of time. Time is a peculiar and flexible notion and one that has different meanings and principles according to one''s culture and heritage. How we view time is integrally important to how we live and shape our lives. Since the advent of the clock, we have divided the days and nights into hours, minutes, and now seconds. Work schedules, dates, appointments, vacations, time alone, and entertainment are all planned around the clock. It has become such a daily part of our lives that it is difficult to think about life without it.
But it has been only hundreds of years since the clock was invented. Before then, and even now in some indigenous societies, life was more readily measured by the placement of the sun and moon, by the positions of the stars. Daily activity was more in sync with environmental rhythms. Nowadays we can shop twenty-four hours a day and work graveyard shifts due to the existence of electric light, but in older times, natural sunlight often determined our daily work and activity schedules. Life was slowed down because it had to be. There was little other choice, as it would be very difficult to accomplish tasks at night. A rest period fell that was adhered to naturally. This is no longer necessary, as it is not necessary to pay attention to any of the normal environmental cues. We no longer need to decrease our activities in the winter or allow for more activity in the summer. We can be indifferent to seasonal and daily rhythms.
Linear and Cyclical Models of Time
In the modern world, we have chosen to view time as a continuum, a line that starts from one point and goes toward another. This linear model is married to our cultural belief in growth and development that will lead to success and happiness. In this linear growth model, we start at one point and, through hard work and determination, progress toward great achievement over a specific amount of time. This linear model of time has resulted in incredible wealth for industrialized countries as well as tremendous technological and scientific achievements. On a darker level, millions of indigenous people have been conquered and killed in the name of progress and civilized advancement. The industrialized world lives at the pinnacle of wealth and scientific achievement, but only at the expense of much of the rest of the world.
The linear growth model has also brought us to the brink of environmental catastrophe. We are a world in crisis on many levels. Whole species of animals, birds, and fish are rapidly becoming extinct, our atmosphere has dangerous ozone holes, and our waters and lands are polluted with industrial pollution, including nuclear waste that will not decay for thousands of years. We live in schizophrenic times; on the one hand, we are at the pinnacle of achievement, and on the other hand, we are quickly moving toward ecological devastation. It is difficult to imagine that this model can continue successfully for many more hundreds of years. Much of the habitable world has been conquered and subdued, populated and used. With nowhere left to go, we look to space as our final frontier.
A cyclical approach to life long outdates the linear, scientific mentality. In fact, it is tens of thousands of years old and is in tune with the natural rhythms and cycles of the earth and the solar system. A cyclical sense of time involves a repetition of themes and patterns in a never-ending circle of experience. Cycles are at the basis of all perception, the cycles of the planets and the moon around the earth, the cycles of the seasons, and the cycles of the stages of life. Cycles teach that everything is connected to the same framework and is immeshed in the same patterning. The Greek mythologies that describe human nature are still relevant to this day. The archetypes of human growth and development hold true cross-culturally. These patterns are repeated again and again in human experience.
At a core level, pre-industrial societies based their beliefs on the unending series of cycles and the fundamental spiritual importance of their environment. For ancient Egyptians, that meant a reverence for the sun and the regular flooding of the Nile River, which allowed for crops to grow. For some Native Americans, this means a deep connection to the spirit of buffalo, elk, and deer, and patterns of hunting and feasting. For indigenous European peoples, solstices and equinoxes have been times for celebration and gratitude.
Astrology is akin to indigenous views of life not only because it sees the interlinking of humankind, nature, and the stars in one vast web of creation, but also because it views life as a never-ending series of cycles. The wheel of the zodiac is intimately entwined with the turn of the seasons and the processes of birth, growth, and death. When we study astrology, we see that there are natural times for development and progress, and natural times for reserve and stillness.
Astrology teaches us how to link ourselves back to the natural cycles of the year and the cycles of our lives. Fundamentally, the linear-growth model of life is a defense against the inevitable decay in life. Because we need to constantly grow and progress, there is little respect for the process of slowing down, the processes of aging, death, and dying. An astrological viewpoint can teach us to embrace the natural cycles in life and to honor and respect the different phases of life as deeply meaningful and important. Instead of hurtling along at breakneck speed, we can slow down and view ourselves as part of a vast web of cycles and honor our own process in this web as valuable and sacred.
Four Elements and the Anima Mundi
When we study astrology and four element medicine, we begin to incorporate a worldview that is different from society''s norm. In astrology, we honor the four elements: fire, earth, air, and water. These elements are the core, the spine of the practice. We see people as having different blends of these elements in their personal makeup. These elements can be interpreted metaphorically or realistically. Four element astrology is the linking of the two into our everyday lives. We can see someone as having a fiery temperament (i.e., creative, dynamic, angry), and also see fire in our hearths, in the fierceness of a bear, and in the radiance of the sun. The elements take on deep and spiritual significance when viewed from this level. They become essential ingredients in our appreciation and perception of the universe.
When the metaphors of the constellations, planets, modalities, and elements are incorporated into our worldview, we start to see everything as a complex web of interactions that are linked at energetic levels. We see that we are fundamentally of the same material as the rocks, trees, and stars. We start to see the universe as infused with meaning and spirit. How we move, breathe, act, and think affects this web, and who and what we choose to interact with and incorporate into our lives becomes deeply meaningful.
The Chinese Philosophy of Chi
When we look at ourselves as energetic beings, capable of affecting the web of creation, it becomes essential to learn ways of nourishing ourselves for optimal resonance. Just like a well-tuned guitar, a person can be more expressive, soulful, and happy if he or she is resonating well. Nourishing ourselves means discovering the optimal sources for positive and harmonious energy that will enliven and strengthen us. The natural world is one of the best places to discover this optimal energy because it has not been adulterated, processed, or changed from its original form at all. Pure expressions of elemental energy are the best sources for balancing and healing ourselves.
In Chinese philosophy, the pure expression of energy moving through life is known as chi. Chi is seen as the basic energetic hum that underlies all of the elements. Chi moves and flows through the body in vessels called meridians. Chi is also found in nature, in the rustling of leaves, the blowing of the wind, and the swift-moving river. It is the basic current of all life. Chi can become blocked, muddied, and stuck in certain places if not allowed to flow smoothly. This is the etiology of disease in Chinese medicine. When chi becomes blocked or stagnated, abnormalities and disease develop. Acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, and herbs can be given to help the chi flow freely again. This alleviates the pain and ultimately cures the disease.
When I go out to dinner, I look at the quality of the food served in terms of chi. If the meal is prepared well, then the food looks like it is truly glowing. The vegetables look alive and fresh, almost dancing on my plate. This is what I call a high chi meal. When the food looks limp or soggy, dull and lifeless, this is what I call a low chi meal. No matter how good the ingredients are, or how healthy the meal should be, if the food is low chi then it will not nourish the body and its energetic currents well. Food that is lifeless or low chi is often found in prepared and packaged foods and processed and frozen meals.
With food, the freshest, cleanest, and closest to handpicked is the best; but the way it is chopped, cooked, and prepared is also vital. If we place a great deal of mindfulness into preparation, if the onions are lovingly cut, the broccoli is cooked on not too high a flame, and the ingredients are gently sautéed, then a very high level of chi remains. With our home, if we take the time to lovingly clean it, open the windows to allow fresh air circulation, and burn sage or incense to sweeten the smell, then the chi level of the home increases. This in turn nourishes the chi of the inhabitants and makes them stronger. In industrialized countries, we like to cover up odors with perfume, get facelifts to make us look younger, and eat radical diets to slim our bodies. These things do nothing to improve our overall chi levels, our energetic equilibrium; in fact, they can even damage it.
This lack of vitality and inner glow is fundamental to many of the psychological and physical health problems we have in industrialized countries. Pollution, excessive noise, chemicals, pesticides, drugs, and even electricity act to lower our chi levels, help give us wrinkles and neuroses, and damage our sense of inner contentment and joy. Though we believe we gain much by living in a modern world, we actually create a tremendous amount of self-inflicted damage. If we appreciated life on this level, energetically, instead of viewing life in terms of quantities, superficial looks, and appearances, then we would radically shift our relationship to the world. We would no longer be satisfied with simply attaining material wealth. Security would no longer be based on how much we had in the bank, but on how well we were nourishing chi for ourselves and our loved ones. This is the true source of joy and creativity.
The Importance of Love
The best way to nourish our chi is through acts of love and kindness. Compassion, gratitude, heartfelt prayers, and giving of ourselves to others augments chi like nothing else. We can see this in the glow of a baby suckling at her mother''s breast. The child receives tremendous nourishment and nothing else will suffice. Body contact is vital to the establishment of good chi. When we share our homes with others, when we offer them a cup of tea, eye contact, and some conversation, we open up our energetic currents and unblock stagnancies. In the modern world, we can become truly cut off from this source of love as we live our lives isolated, separated from community. Churches, temples, and ashrams all offer a place to rekindle the basic connections, our ability to love and in turn nourish our core fountain of chi.
The beauty of viewing the world in this way is that it requires a great deal less money. Those living simply have the ability to cook and prepare meals mindfully. It is simple to open up the windows and sweep the dust out. It costs nothing to give and receive kind words, attention, and love. Mother Teresa was a perfect example of someone who glowed with tremendous energy amid the most poverty-stricken area in the world, Calcutta. Her open heart stirred the greatest source of energy in her and in the lepers and sick people she served. Service in the name of love and the divine accesses the full potential of our energetic selves. This is truly richness and wealth.
Quality, Not Quantity
An energetic worldview is based on quality, not quantity. It views the moment and how we interact, breathe, cook, eat, and love as the essentials of life. In our society, we often choose making money over having time. We believe that if we can make more money, then we can have nicer things, a better life, and a higher status in life. But when we lose time to work, it becomes difficult to live an energetically fulfilling life. It requires a great deal of time to nurture our relationships with love. It requires time to prepare our meals thoughtfully and lovingly. It requires time to honor the divine with ritual, prayer, and meditation. It requires time to sweep and clean our homes.
When we live energetically with awareness of chi, we start to appreciate the little things in life. The bloom of a flower, the smile of a friend, sipping tea, and the taking in and out the breath are seen as a path to wealth and happiness. As our days and years slip away as we prepare for some bountiful future, we lose sight of the gifts that we are experiencing now. Even if the experience is difficult, it is our experience and one that only we can appreciate. There is always the ability to mend, to breathe fresh chi into a situation, or to sprout wings from where we are, even in the most dire of circumstances. When we talk of faith, we talk of the belief in a never-ending supply of root energy, a wellspring upon which we can always draw.
The Four ElementsThe Carriers of Core Energy
When we study the four element tradition, we are studying the prime carriers of essential chi: earth, air, fire, and water. We can draw on these sources of chi at any time in our natural environment, and they can help nourish and restore us. If we are weighted too heavily in certain elements, we can find a natural elemental remedy to draw in that missing part. The fire in the hearth carries root, warming chi that can sustain us and strengthen our own internal fire element. Bathing in a cool pool of alpine water strengthens our internal water element. Breathing in fresh air on the crags of a mountaintop connects us to the core of the air element. Meditating deep in the cave of a hill connects us to the best and most unadulterated properties of the earth element.
Each of the elements has a lesson to teach, a path of wisdom. The earth element teaches us the need to become quiet, patient, and steady in our lives. The air element teaches us the ability to use our words and our breath in healthy and positive ways. The fire element teaches us to laugh and play, to create and express in life. The water element teaches us to feel things deeply and powerfully, to take our experiences into our soul and envelop their meaning in our heart.
Each one of us may need different lessons and teachings at different times of the year and different times of our life. By paying attention and respecting our own energetic currents, we can learn what we need and what is best for us. Ultimately, the goal of four element medicine is to bring us into balance and harmony so we can grow and thrive optimally. Like a tree that needs adequate supplies of soil, rain, sunlight, and fresh air, humans also need the best expressions of earth, water, fire, and air to develop and become wise and happy creatures. By looking at our astrological chart, we can see which expressions are emphasized and which are lacking to help us understand what aspects of nature may best heal us. In the four element medicine tradition, the tools for healing are all around us, free of charge, free to anyone willing to take the time and have the desire to live in balance.
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