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An Introduction to Decumbiture, part 4, by Dylan Warren-Davis

Part IV
The First House: Health & Vitality

Previous articles in this series have explained the basic definition of humoral physiology and house rulership. Dylan Warren-Davis now begins an examination of the principal houses in decumbiture, starting with the first house.

The first house is used to describe the sick person's health and vitality. This connects to its traditional association with the planets Saturn and Mercury as Lilly explains:

The Consignificators for this house are Aries and Saturn; for as this house is the first house, so is Aries the first signe, and Saturn the first of the planets... Mercury doth also joy in this house, because it represents the Head and he the Tongue, Fancy and Memory. (CA. p.151)

Saturn symbolises the descent of the soul into matter with each incarnation. In particular the physical form of the body is largely determined by the growth and development of the bones. Saturn here rules the skeletal system which provides structure and foundation for the tissues of the body.

Animating the tissues of the body is the Vital Force, synonymous with Mercury. As we have seen, the alchemists regarded the lustre of the liquid mercury as symbolic of Ether, the Vital Force, which is perceived as having a number of functions or virtues in the body. It is generated in the heart, as explained by Culpeper:

The Vital spirit hath its residence in the heart, and is dispersed from it by the Arteries, and is governed by the influence of the Sun. And it is to the body what the Sun is to Creation, as the heart is in the Microcosm, so is the Sun in the Megacosm: for as the Sun gives life, light and motion to the Creation, so doth the heart to the body, therefore it is called Sol Corporis, as the Sun is called Cor Coeli, because their operations are similar. [1]

Once generated in the heart by the Sun, the Vital Force flows through the blood and nourishes the tissues. It is here that the liver, ruled by Jupiter, assumes an important role in maintaining the balance of humours in the blood, enabling the Vital Force to flow harmoniously through it. If the Vital Force is unable to flow harmoniously, disease results.

The Vital Force is also connected with the functioning of the brain and nervous system. Culpeper described it as the Animal Virtue which has "its residence in the brain", adding that "Mercury is the general significator of it". [2] The term animal may appear confusing until it is recalled that the word derives from the Latin anima meaning "mind, soul, breath, spirit".

Culpeper further divides the Animal Virtue into two functions: the lntellective and Sensitive. He says of the Intellective that it "resides in the brain, within the pia mater, [and] is governed generally by Mercury". In modern anatomy 'pia mater' is the name for the innermost meningeal covering of the brain, but in Culpeper's day it was used to describe the substance of the brain. The term is Latin meaning 'soft matter', alluding to the fact that brain tissue is as easily cut as butter.

Culpeper particularly associated Mecury with the imagination - the generation of images within the mind. He used the heating of quicksilver, which causes the liquid metal to give off a heavy vapour, as an analogy to illustrate how imagination functions:

… it receives vapours from the heart, and coins them into thoughts. it never sleeps, but always is working, both when the man is sleeping and waking; only when Judgement is awake it regulates the Imagination, which runs at random when Judgement is asleep, and forms any thought according to the nature of the vapour sent up to it.

By contrast, judgement, as Culpeper informs us, is ruled by Jupiter.

The second part of the Animal Virtue, which Culpeper describes as sensitive, encompasses the sensory aspect of the nervous system. Here he equates Mercury with the sensus communis or common sense. The common sense is the one sense that unifies all other senses: smell, taste, hearing, sight and touch. It is: -

… an imaginary term, and that which gives virtue to all the particular senses, and unites them together within the Pia Mater. It is regulated by Mercury … [and] ... its office is to preserve a harmony between the senses.

When the 'particular' or physical senses are linked with the four elements, touch corresponds to Earth, taste to Water, smell to gross Air, hearing to subtle Air, and sight to Fire. [3] Ether, their quintessence, corresponds with the common sense which unifies all sensory information within the mind.

The Moon has a powerful influence on the circulation of Vital Force through the blood and nervous system. For centuries the time of the full Moon has been associated with a greater incidence of mental unrest - hence the term 'lunacy'. More recently it has been recognised that the greatest incidence of post-operative bleeding occurs at the time of a full Moon. As most restauranteurs know, it is the time when people eat and drink more, and usually get most drunk. Predictably it is also when most car crashes occur.

Culpeper saw the cooling influence of the Moon as countering the heat of the Sun, which generates the Vital Force, so preventing its evaporation. He saw the waxing and waning of her influence as important in assisting the flow of the Vital Force. In decumbiture the Moon, as it passes through various signs of the zodiac, is used to understand the course of disease. Of the Moon Lilly advised: ... in every Disease have care of the Moon, for she is a general signficatrix in all things (CA. p.283); while Culpeper warned: Never forget this general rule, the stronger the Moon is at the time of the Decumbiture, the better it is for the sick; the weaker she is at that time, the worse. [4]

In the assessment of health from decumbiture, the Sun, Moon and ruler of the Ascendant are especially important. The Sun for generating the Vital Force, the Moon for circulating it, and the ruler of the Ascendant as a general significator of health and vitality. Many of the traditional aphorisms listed next focus upon the condition of these three significators. In general, when they are dignified the generation, flow and function of the Vital Force is enhanced. The patient has sufficient strength to overcome their disease and soon returns to a normal state of health.

- Aphorisms -

(Unless otherwise indicated, taken from N. Culpeper's Astrological Judgement of Diseases, XIV, 1655)

  • If the Sun Moon and Lord of the Ascendant be free from ill beames of ill planets; and apply to fortunes that are any thing strong and like to do good, the cure will come as soon as you can in reason hope for it. (I.24)

  • The Lord of the Ascendant angular and strong and no way impedited, let the disease be never so violent, the fear of death is more than the harme. (I.32)

  • The Sun and Moon, and Lord of the Ascendant free from the beams of Saturn, Mars, or the Lord of death at the decumbiture, there can not be so much as a bare suspicion of death. (II.8)

  • The Moon applying to the Lord of the Ascendant, unless she carries the beams of the Lord of death to him, doth the like [restores the sick to health]. (II.4)
Where the Sun, Moon and Lord of the Ascendant are poorly dignified, then the generation of Vital Force is weakened, its flow compromised and function inhibited. The weakened Vital Force prevents the body from overcoming any disease.

  • It's very ill when the Lord of the Ascendant is afflicted, namely if he be retrograde or in an ill house, in his detriment or fall, or besieged by malevolents. All houses which behold not the Ascendant are ill houses; namely the 6th, 8th and 12th: I will take no notice at all of the 2nd in this case because it is succeeding to the first; but the 7th shall not escape so, because it opposeth the Ascendant, it is very bad when the Lord of the Ascendant is there. (I.27)

  • Both the Luminaries afflicted under the earth… bids the sick provide for a change [for the worse]. (III.22)
(Many illnesses are experienced worse at night, when people are fearful of the consequences.)

More ominously:

  • The Moon applying to the body of the Sun within 12° of the decumbiture, the sicknesse comes not so much to terrifie your body, as to give you warning of your end. And the nearer the Moon is to the body of the Sun, the speedier dispatch will death make of the body of his captive. (III.32)
Of the luminaries in the 1st house:

  • The Sun in the Ascendant brings usually health immediately. (Lilly, CA p.285)

  • The Moon in the Ascendant... always hurts; ... because there she hath most power over the body of the sick. (II.30)
Culpeper qualifies this with the additional observation: if she be there [in the Ascendant], and in Cancer or Taurus, she will rather help than hinder the sick. He then explains this aphorism: If the Moon do hate the Ascendant... I suppose the reason to be because Saturn loves it.

This rather paradoxical situation of the luminaries is explicable by the fact that the Sun is exalted in Aries, the co-significator of the 1st house, whereby the generation of the vital force is strong and vitality enhanced. The Moon, unless she is additionally dignified by placement in Cancer or Taurus, is compromised by the strength of Saturn in the 1st house inhibiting the flow of the Vital Force.

The malefic planets antagonise the flow of the Vital Force. Inimitable and destructive to this virtue [Vital Force], are Saturn and Mars. [5] Saturn causes blockage and stagnation, while Mars causes fever and inflammation. Accordingly, aspects of the rnalefics give poor indications.

  • An infortune upon the cusp of the Horoscope, bids the sick provide for a change [for the worse]. (III.17)

  • The Lord of the Ascendant, Sun or Moon joyned to an infortune prolongs the disease; and the weaker they are, the longer the disease is like to last. (I.35)

  • The Sun afflicted by the body, Square or Opposition or Antiscion of a malevolent, tells the Patient the disease will be long and tedious if not mortal; and bids him provide himself with such a Physitian as knows how to do something else besides only tell money. (111.24)
The benefic planets enhance the flow of Vital Force. Jupiter, the 'author of temper', preserves the balance of the humours within the blood while Venus, through love, nurtures the harmonious flow of the Vital Force, strengthening the body.

  • Jupiter, Venus, the Sun and Moon in the Ascendant, not afflicting or beholding the Lord of the 8th, nor being Lord of the 8th themselves, take away not only the fear of death, but also promise a speedy cure. (I.1)

  • The conjunction of the Moon with Jupiter is always prosperous: most propitious if it be in Cancer: if doubtful at all, it is when they are in .Capricorn because in the one they are both dignified, in the other both Cadent from their dignities. And yet let me tell you but this much, Jupiter is Jupiter still, be he where he will. (I.2)

  • If good planets be in the Ascendant or Mid-heaven at the Decumbiture, and pretty strong withal, they will stand to their tackling stoutly to maintain life, though the significators of it be never so much afflicted. (I.16)

  • If the Moon be separated from a weake malevolent, and applyes to a strong benevolent, the sick is easily recovered, for the weakest always goes to the wall. (I.10)
Finally, it is noteworthy that Mercury has no part to play in these aphorisms. Even though it symbolises the Vital Force it is the other planets that determine how the Vital Force functions in the body.

- Case History: -
An Assessment of Health from a Decumbiture Chart

July 15, 1993 / 9.50 am (GMT) / 0W47, 50N50

The time of this decumbiture was taken from a telephone conversation prompted by a woman wanting immediate herbal treatment for intense back pain. I then saw her about 90 minutes later.

Case history

The pain was linked to a chronic pelvic infection that remained after a number of gynaecological operations, including a partial hysterectomy. The recent flare up of her condition followed an injury to her back while getting into a car.

Her health and vitality is signified by Mercury, lord of the Ascendant, in the 10th house of the chart. Mercury is in very poor dignity: it is retrograde and combust in the mute and sickly sign of Cancer - altogether indicating her poor state of health, extreme exhaustion and inability to share her problem with anyone for a long time. The combustion of Mercury frequently indicates nervous exhaustion. She had been under considerable stress for the last 4½ years, largely stemming from financial obligations that followed the bankruptcy of her business (Mercury is also natural significator for commerce). Her situation was aggravated by her additional work as a health counsellor, where many clients came to her with their own health problems.

A complicating factor was that she had broken an arm prior to her financial pressures which had poorly healed and consequently become painful. During the past three years the pain had been very severe and this, in addition to her worries, resulted in several years of poor quality sleep (note how the Moon in Gemini is very weak in dignity.) The lack of sleep had left her feeling exhausted and low in energy (the Sun also has little strength) to the point where she complained of 'having to drag her body around while she was awake'.

Her disease is signified by Jupiter, Lord of the 6th house, which is placed in Libra in the 1st. At first glance this placing for Jupiter does not indicate gynaecological problems. However, Lilly's Table shewing what members in Mans Body every Planet signifeth in any of the twelve Signs (CA p.119) indicates that Jupiter in Libra signifies the Secrets (sexual organs), Legs, Head and Eyes. The warm and moist nature of Jupiter in Libra does indicate inflammation of the womb, while the pain from the pelvic infection radiating to the lower back is reflected by Libra ruling the loins. Jupiter is a natural significator for the liver, which had also been diagnosed as 'not functioning properly'.

Venus, the natural significator of the womb, is conjunct the martian fixed star Aldebaran at 10° Gemini, and square Mars, a further indication of the inflammation of the womb and the resulting surgery.

In marked contrast to Mercury, Jupiter is the most dignified planet in the chart, indicating the strength of her illness far exceeds the strength of her health and vitality. This is compounded by the conjunction of Saturn with the cusp of the 6th house of disease, with the Moon separating from the square of this malefic, indicating a chronic illness with stagnation of her Vital Energy. As Culpeper puts it:

If the Moon decrease both in light and motion, and be with the Quartile, Opposition, or body of Saturn, the disease is extreame. [6]

All these factors show that if she is to overcome her illness her vitality needs to be significantly strengthened. Culpeper mentioned that:

If the Moon be with the Lord of the Ascendant, or applyes to him, the cure comes gallantly on, if she be swift in motion; but if she be slow in motion, she hales the cure backwards. [7]

In this chart the Moon does not immediately apply to the Lord of the Ascendant, though she does have a mutual reception by sign with Mercury, offering a way for her health and vitality to be strengthened therapeutically. This is significant because her herbal treatment concentrated upon improving her sleep, so that her vitality would be strengthened.

Two weeks later she returned to say that she had had three good nights sleep and noticed a marked increase in her energy. About a week after starting taking the herbs, she had a very bad night with nausea and a high temperature, while her back pain had become more intense. This was the point when her vitality had gained sufficient strength to counteract the pelvic infection. After this crisis her health gradually improved over the next five months. Finally, on discharging herself she said "I have not felt so well for years". It is a maxim of healing that the body takes a month to heal for every year it has been unwell.

Notes & References:

  1 ] N. Culpeper, Astrologo-Physical discourse on the human virtues in the body of man, 1653.
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  2 ] Ibid.
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  3 ] R. Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi... Historia, 1619, Vol. II, p.217.
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  4 ] N. Culpeper, Astrological Judgement of Diseases, 1655, Ap SS48
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  5 ] N. Culpeper, Astrologo-Physical Discourse.
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  6 ] N. Culpeper, Astrological Judgement of Diseases, 1655, Ap SS39
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  7 ] Ibid., Ap SS38
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Dylan Warren DavisDylan Warren-Davis 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

© Dylan Warren-Davis. Published online November 2006. This article was published in The Traditional Astrologer magazine, issue 4, Spring 1994, pp.24-27, of which Dylan was a contributing editor.

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