The Application of Decumbiture
Making decumbiture relevant to the high-tech medicine of the 21st century will be a major challenge for astrologers. At first glance the lists found in Culpeper and other astrology texts appear obscure, simplistic and outdated. Medical concepts and diseases have changed enormously since the 17th century, with corresponding changes in diagnosis. The predominant change in medical thinking has been a shift from a vitalistic to a materialistic premise. The traditional lists of diseases are vitalistic, where the diseases are classified according to planetary influence. For example, diseases of the liver are linked to Jupiter, since the planet traditionally rules the organ.
Contemporary medicine classifies diseases according to histiopathological observation, that is, the changes found when disease is present in particular tissues of the body when compared to the normal healthy cellular state. Generally, the first part of the nomenclature refers to the bodily tissue affected; the second part refers to the nature of the tissue change and thirdly, where relevant, the causative organism involved. For example, 'hepatitis A' derives from the Greek hepatikos meaning the liver together with itis meaning inflammation, while 'A' refers to the particular viral strain causing the inflammation to the liver cells.
Despite the prevailing scientific attitude that astrology is mumbo jumbo, there are stunning correspondences to be found between the two different systems of disease classification. I think in the future this will be an important area of research for astrologers to explore, in order to find out just what are the planetary correspondences to particular pathological changes in the body. The traditional planetary lists of diseases can then be updated.
As an illustration of just the sort of work that needs to be done, I include the following case history as an example of a modern diagnosis that concords with the traditional planetary concepts of disease. The synthesis of these two perspectives, I believe, has the potential to reveal far greater insights into the psychological and emotional components of the disease processes in the body. In turn, this knowledge will help patients to have greater understanding of their own diseases and provide more opportunity for them to heal themselves.
This particular case history is quite complex and spans several decades. The principal events include:
o 1964 - Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
o 1975 - Very low platelet count
o 1976 - Splenectomy
o 1977 - Renal colic
o 1983 - Severe haemorrhage
o 1989 - Idiopathic Thromcytopaenic Purpura
The time for this decumbiture is taken from the moment of our first meeting, when we were brought together by a mutual friend (the moment of first feeling unwell having long been lost to the mists of time!). The signification of this chart is focused upon Mercury and Mars. Since Mercury rules the Geminian ascendant, Mercury is the significator for the patient, her health and vitality. Mars is the significator for the patient's disease, as he rules the sixth house cusp of Scorpio.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
The Martial nature of SLE is highlighted by the disease predominantly affecting women, Mars being antipathetic to Venus. Classically it starts with a fever, causing weight loss and weakness. The disease is characterised by widespread inflammatory lesions which can occur in the skin, heart, kidneys, joints, central nervous system (CNS) or serous membranes. Being a Martian disease, SLE predictably has acute exacerbations triggered off by exposure to sunlight, infections, surgery or drugs.
Involvement of the skin generally causes a characteristic red rash spreading across the bridge of the nose, forming a 'butterfly pattern'. Mars rules rashes while Mercury rules the skin. The nose is connected generally to Aries ruling the head, while its pointed shape and the sense of smell is specifically ruled by Mars. In the decumbiture this is captured by Mercury, Lord of the first house, in Aries. The patient experienced the butterfly rash as one of the early symptoms of her illness. Curiously the name of the disease lupus erythematosus encapsulates the Martial rulership as not only does erythematosus refer to the redness of the skin, but also lupus is the Latin word for 'wolf', a creature traditionally ruled by Mars.
Kidney damage is a common involvement of the disease, leading to acute inflammation of the nephrons (nephritis). This focus of the disease in the body again reflects Mars
being antipathetic to Venus. Prolonged kidney damage can result in fluid retention, high blood pressure and anaemia, with protein casts and red cells occurring in the urine. In this case history, a renal biopsy at the time of her diagnosis in 1964 revealed slight kidney damage. She has subsequently experienced renal colic in 1977.
SLE is commonly linked to arthritic pain in the joints. The patient experienced excruciatingly painful arthritis in her fingers and wrists. This was the particular symptom that led to her diagnosis of SLE. At one point the inflammation was so severe that she could not even lift a cup and saucer. This is reflected in the decumbiture by Mars retrograde in the third house, disposited by Mercury, both corresponding to the arms and hands.
The inflammation may involve the central nervous system causing psychotic behaviour, fits, paralysis of one side of the body, cranial nerve palsies or damage to the peripheral nerves. Though the patient suspects possible involvement to her nervous system, nothing definite has been detected. The impairment of the nervous system generally found in SLE, is shown by the mutual reception between Mars and Mercury in the decumbiture.
SLE is associated with premature heart disease and in many cases is known to be preceded by Raynaud's phenomenon which involves poor peripheral circulation of blood to the extremities, leading to whiteness and numbness in the fingers, toes, ears and nose. With the heart and circulation ruled by the Sun, these symptoms indicate a weakness of the Sun in the body.
Scorpio on the sixth house, the night house of Mars, reflects the obscure nature of SLE and its indolent (slow, painless) course. SLE is a chronic and usually fatal disease. This is reflected in the chart by a fixed sign on the cusp of the sixth house, while Mars is retrograde, both arguing its continuance. The patient, to date, has been affected by SLE for more than 30 years. Furthermore Saturn, lord of the 8th house of death, directly afflicts the Sun by conjunction, signifying a drastic weakening of the generation of the patient's vital force and consequently impairing her ability to overcome the disease. This further reinforces the idea of a chronic nature to the disease. Fortunately Mercury, lord
of the ascendant (signifying the patient and their vitality), is wide of a conjunction with Saturn, otherwise this would have directly indicated the fatal nature of the disease. However the gravity of the disease is indicated by the Moon, cosignificator of the disease, translating light from Saturn to Mercury.
Idiopathic Thromcytopaenic Purpura (ITP)
Since 1968 the SLE has been relatively dormant. However, since 1975 the predominant complication has been a shortage of platelets in the blood. This results in the blood not clotting properly, with all the attendant risks of bleeding and haemorrhage. In order to control the low platelet count the patient underwent a splenectomy or removal of the spleen. This is reflected by Mars disposing Saturn, as Mars rules surgery and Saturn the spleen. The operation initially had the desired effect of increasing her platelet count, but in 1983 the patient had a severe vaginal haemorrhage and once more the platelet count was found to be low. This was controlled with blood and platelet transfusions. In 1989 she was formally diagnosed as having idiopathic thrombocytopenia. ITP has frequently been associated with SLE but is not thought to be directly linked.
The melancholic humour, which has its seat in the spleen, is linked to the clotting processes in the blood and is ruled by Saturn. In the decumbiture Saturn is combusted by the Sun indicating that the clotting mechanism is weak. Mars, lord of the sixth house, is linked to haemorrhage and sudden loss of blood from the body while Venus (Mars again antipathetic to Venus) rules the womb, the site of the haemorrhage. It is interesting from a humoral perspective that removal of the spleen made the problem worse, further compromising the role of Saturn in the body.
To date, the principal symptom of the ITP that affects her is a proneness to bruising, especially on the arms and legs where the bruises evolve to large blotches leaving 'burn like' marks on the skin that resolve very slowly. Once again, with Saturn connected to bruises, their poor resolution and 'burn like' marks, are reflected by Mars disposing Saturn.
In the decumbiture Venus, Sun, Saturn and Mercury are all disposed by Mars, lord of the sixth house, indicating that the disease holds sway over these parts and processes in the body. Furthermore the Moon, cosignificator for the disease, located in the fire sign of Sagittarius translates the light of Venus, Sun, and Saturn to Mercury, representing the patient. It further reflects the extent to which the patient's life has been governed by her illness, requiring an adamantine will to keep on going.
The Sun, signifying the source of vitality, is, however, the strongest planet in the chart. Part of the function of a strong vital force is that it defines the form and structure of the body and defends it from attack. The Sun, in generating the vital force, is thereby linked to the immunological function of the body, in differentiating between the cells of
the body and foreign organisms - between self and non-self.
The Sun is conjunct Saturn, also lord of the ninth house, indicating fear and guilt oppressing the soul. The resultant inner struggle typically would lead to the exhaustion and depression of vital force. In turn this would compromise immunological function, in differentiating between the self and non-self.
With the Sun conjunct Venus, her combustion indicates the difficulty in expressing love and a poor sense of self worth. Combined with the previous conjunction of the Sun with Saturn, this may well contribute to an intense dislike of the self. The exact cause of SLE is not clearly known, but is recognised to be an auto-immune disease where the immune system attacks the body's own tissues instead of foreign organisms. The body becomes quite literally self-consumed. Interestingly, in this connection intense sunlight is well known to aggravate the condition.
Since this article focuses upon the study of the disease, the therapeutic aspects of this chart have been intentionally omitted. However I believe the importance of this decumbiture is that it also reflects the nature of a disease generally, not just in relation to a specific person. It is a medical equivalent to a grand question in horary astrology. As such, these charts could well shed more light on understanding the nature of specific illnesses, especially as in the case of SLE and ITP where the exact causes are still unknown to medical science.
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has been practising herbal medicine (naturopathy) for 25 years, qualifying as a prize-winning student with the National Institute of Medical Herbalists
(UK) in 1982. Since completing his herbal training, Dylan has researched the lost European metaphysical teachings, upon which Western herbal knowledge is based. He has also been engaged in the commercial production of herbal tinctures and has been a consultant on the manufacturing of herbal tinctures to the herbal industry in Britain. In addition to seeing clients, he is currently promoting glyconutrition in both the UK and Australia.
He may be contacted by email at email@example.com
© Dylan Warren-Davis. Published online March 2009. This article was published in The Traditional Astrologer magazine, issue 17, September 1998, pp.4-6, of which Dylan was a contributing editor.