The Sixth House: Disease
Following on from his previous articles, Dylan Warren-Davis now looks in detail at the significance of the sixth house in decumbiture.
he 6th house is used in decumbiture to describe the patient's illness. In the words of Lilly it shows:
'Sicknesse, its quality and cause, principle humour offending, curable or not curable, whether the disease will be short or long' (CA., p.53)
Of its rulership Lilly says:
'Mars rejoyceth in this house, but his Consigntficator is of the Signes Virgo, of the Planets Mercury'
Lilly describes it as 'unfortunate' due to it 'having no aspect to the Ascendant'; clearly the lesser infortune delights in this unfortunate, cadent house.
With Mercury ruling this house  there is once again a connection to the Vital Force; however, the additional association with Mars signifies the house is primarily concerned with disruption to its harmonious flow.
As explained in my previous article on humoral physiology, health is described as the balance or temper of the four humours in the blood which allows the Vital Force to flow freely through the body. In disease this temper is lost causing a particular humour to predominate over the others. The characteristic distemper is identified by the symptoms produced, i.e., whether hot or cold, dry or moist.
These symptoms are reflected in the amphoteric nature of Mercury, as described by Lilly:
'We may not call him either Masculine or Feminine …, for if in conjunction with a Masculine Planet, he becomes Masculine, if with a Feminine, then Feminine; … with the good he is good, with evil Planets ill.' (CA., p.77)
This makes sense when it is recalled that Mercury symbolises Ether, the quintessence of the four elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Ether has no qualities of its own, yet in embodying the other elements it contains all the qualities hot, cold, dry and moist within its nature. Therefore if Mercury conjoins a masculine planet such as Mars, the hot and dry nature of the latter brings out fiery, masculine characteristics in the expression of Mercury, whereas if it conjoins a feminine planet such as Venus, the cold and moist nature of the latter brings out watery, feminine characteristics.
When considering zodiacal rulership the nature of Mercury is described as 'cold and dry'. The reason is due to it being considered in opposition to Jupiter. When conjunct Jupiter, Mercury expresses the latter's hot and moist characteristics, but when seen as its symbolic opposite it expresses the contrary cold and dry characteristics. This quality of Mercury is reflected by the metal quicksilver being distinctively cold and dry to touch, despite being a liquid.
The nature and kind of the disease is ascertained from the 6th house, firstly by looking at the sign on the cusp as Culpeper states:
'By the nature of the signs, of which fiery signes signifie choler, and diseases thence proceeding; earthly signs signifie the diseases of melancholy; aery signes diseases of blood and wind; watry signes diseases of watry and salt phlegm.' 
Secondly, the disease is indicated by the planet that rules the 6th house, and its aspects. Culpeper lists some general characteristics of the diseases caused by each planet:
- Aphorisms -
This is the true definition of a chronic illness. Saturn, being the symbolic opposite of the Sun, describes an illness that depresses the Vital Force, whose weak condition means the body is unable to overcome the illness, leading to it becoming entrenched in the body. In general, chronic illness progressively debilitates the body as it gets older, ultimately leading to death. The term 'chronic' is derived from Khronos the Greek equivalent of Saturn.
- "If Saturn signifie the disease: 'tis like to continue long enough, if not too long: yet if he be with benevolents, it mitigates; if with malevolents, it encreaseth the evil."
The term 'pestilences' refers to the
plague. Saturn has long been associated with the plague; in 1345 the Paris Medical Faculty
attributed the plague to a grand conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in Aquarius.
- "Saturn in Leo or Capricorne, with the Dragon's head or tail, or with Venus combust, or with violent fixed stars, he stirs up pestilences, or pernicious [destructive] feavers that are little better."
A hectic fever is characteristic of the pattern seen in consumption (tuberculosis) in which the fever rises during the day, especially in the afternoon, and then falls again at night. The fever, which is accompanied by profuse sweating, can reach 40°C then fall to 36.1°, almost 1° below the normal body temperature of 37°C. This marked fluctuation from hot to cold must have been seen as a powerful signature of the 'cold' nature of the planet interacting with the 'hot' fire signs.
- "Saturn alone in fiery signs shews hectick feavers".
Water signs are associated with the phlegmatic humour, Saturn here causes tough, persistent catarrhal discharges, while the body lacks heat to fight off infection.
- "Saturn in watry signs, sicknesse, or watry humours. The disease comes of gross or
vicious humours, which will continue long, with continual fluxes and cold tremblings".
Since the cardinal signs have influence over the succeeding signs, it here signifies diseases that influence the whole body.
- "Saturn in moveable signes shows flux of humours in all other parts of the body:
Imagine the Dropsie, or other diseases like it; and yet it is in some question to
me, whether Saturn causes Dropsies yea or no, unless afflicted by the Moon in signification"
Despite the fixed nature of it, within mutable signs the nature of the disease continuously changes form, hence the description of 'compound diseases'.
- "Saturn in common signs gives compound diseases, and such as run out of one disease into another, and yet they pass leisurely out of one disease; you may almost whip a snail as fast, you may easily see it before it comes if your eyes be in your head"
By contrast, when it is placed in fixed signs, its fixed nature is intensified, leading to the persistent chronic disease in the body.
- "Saturn in fixed signs, if in Leo gives hectique feavers; in other fixed signes quartan agues, goyts, leprosies, and other diseases that stay longer than they are welcome"
Jupiter rules the liver, the sanguine humour and its digestive virtue, hence its signification of liver weakness, poor digestion and over-abundance of blood. Since Jupiter is hot and moist it indicates the distempter is one of excess heat.
- "If Jupiter cause the disease, look to the liver for that's afflicted, the digestion is bad; blood abounds either in quantity or in quality; a thousand to one if it be not too hot."
With Jupiter ruling the sanguine humour, his placing in fire signs just causes the choleric symptoms of fever without any decomposition of the blood.
- "Jupiter in fiery signs bestows men such feavers as come of blood without putrefaction, such as the Greeks call SYNOCHUS NON PUTRIDA [with speed without decay - Latin], they last but a very little while".
By contrast both the Sun and Mars cause fevers associated with decomposition of the blood.
- "Mars gives violent feavers with putrefactions, and the Sun gives no other"
Mars in a fire sign is at its most powerful, hence the description of 'burning feaver'. In Culpeper's day the plague or pestilence, which has a very intense fever, was still a common condition. Though of historical interest, this signification can fortunately be ignored as Europe is no longer ravaged by epidemics of the plague.
- "If you find Mars in a fiery sign, judge the disease either a burning feaver, or else the pestilence; if Saturn bear a share in signification with him, melancholy bears a share, or else judge choler, which is more usual"
Mars in a mutable sign is linked to marked fluctuations of fever, hence Culpeper's caution of a sudden relapse just when the patient has made an apparent recovery.
- "Mars in common signs varies the disease, take heed of a relapse; the Crisis is as certain as a Weather-cock; so exceeding swift and sudden will they come, even as swift as the Wind, not waiting the Moon's leisure: In such a case you may more safely judge by the aspects of the Moon to the Planets than by the Crisis"
This particular signification is likely to describe rheumatic heart disease. The condition usually starts suddenly with a fever and joint pain. The pain frequently moves from joint to joint in the body. Later the tissues of the heart become inflamed causing chest pain above the heart. The valves of the heart become damaged, compromising its pumping action and producing characteristic murmur sounds that can be heard with a stethoscope. The valvular damage significantly weakens the circulation of blood around the body. The circulation of blood is ruled by Venus, hence the term 'venous circulation'. Mars is the opposite of Venus. The condition is also frequently associated with characteristic red skin rashes.
- "Mars in Leo afflicts the heart, the disease is a feaver, and the cause of it choler"
This is the original conception of an acute illness. Mars aggravates the Vital Force causing hot and dry symptoms of sudden onset and brief duration. The term 'acute' is derived from the Latin acutus meaning sharp. Mars, the planet of war, is associated with knifes, spears and other sharp instruments.
- "Always when Mars signifies the disease it is very short but extream acute"
Affliction of the Sun by Saturn always indicates the depression of the Vital Force. The weakened Vital Force means the body is less able to heal itself, contributing to a more chronic condition.
- "If the Sun at the decumbiture be afflicted by the body, or square, opposition, [or] antiscion of Saturn, the disease is Saturnine melancholy, and will in all probability last longer than you would have it"
In contrast, affliction of the Sun by Mars aggravates the Vital Force, contributing to a more acute condition.
- "If the Sun be afflicted in the same manner by Mars, the cause is choler, the
motion of the disease is as swift as the wind, and as violent as the Whirlwind."
Venus is associated with over-indulgence in food, drink and sex. The connection with Venus ruling the sexual organs is the conceptual origin of the term 'venereal disease', which today encompasses a wide range of sexually transmitted diseases.
"If Venus be ill-affected to the sick [Either present in, or Lady of, the 6th house], the diseases comes of intemperance; either one way or the other; Perhaps with drinking, perhaps by venereal sports [sexual activities]; what e're the cause, those parts of the body signified by Venus suffer for it"
Venus when placed in Fire signs can he linked with fevers, though normally of a short duration since the Watery nature of Venus counters the nature of Fire signs. However if Mars is present, the fever is more intense and linked with the production of phlegm, since Venus co-rules the phlegmatic humour which has its seat in the lungs.
"Venus in fiery signs causeth one day Feavers; but if Mars joyn with her in signfication, the feaver is rotten and proceeds from flegme"
Mercury connects with the flow of Vital Force through the brain and nervous system, hence if it is infortunated by Mars or Saturn it can show neurological conditions and/or mental disorders.
- "If Mercury be infortunate and cause the disease, he proclaims that the infirmity lies in the brain, perhaps madness, or falling sickness, or it may be the man dreams waking"
In particular, if Mercury is connected with Mars the latter intensifies the nature of Mercury producing the fury or mental agitation associated with anxiety.
- "If Mercury joyn in signification with Mars, you may be confident the disease is a frenzy"
Since the 9th house is associated with religion, its ruler in the 6th house of illness indicates a disease connected with religious
conflict or misunderstanding particularly prevalent in Culpeper's time of the Civil War and the Restoration. Similarly the 12th house of 'Bad Daemon' is connected with witchcraft, which was again much more of an issue in the 17th century.
- "The Lord of the 9th in the 6th... occasion the disease about some whimsies in Religion. Should the Lord of the 12th [be] in the 6th; Witchcraft is to be feared, or else the disease lies very occult"
To ascertain what part of the body is afflicted, consider where the Lord of the 6th is, particularly when it is unfortunate. Next consider what part of the body this rules:
"as Aries governs the head, Taurus the neck and throat, &c. and be sure that part is afflicted."
Then consider what parts of the body the afflicting planet rules, that is, the planet that afflicts the 6th house or is present in it. Consider what parts of the body the afflicting planet generally rules and those parts specifically under the sign it is in. Culpeper provides the following example:
"Venus, though she rules many parts of the body, yet in Scorpio she rules only the privities"
He describes further rules for the side of the body afflicted, based upon general correspondences between the chart and the body: the horizon corresponds to the waist line; planets located above the earth indicate the upper part of the body, while these located below the earth indicate the lower part of the body. The right side of the body is the Solar masculine side whereas the left side is the Lunar feminine side; planets located in a diurnal, masculine (Fire or Air) sign indicate the right side of
the body whereas planets located in a nocturnal, feminine (Earth or Water) sign indicate the left side of the body. Thus:
Alternatively the diurnal signs correspond to the front of the body, more specifically the visible parts in daylight, while the nocturnal signs correspond to the back of the body, or to parts of the body concealed in daylight.
- "If the Lord of the 6th be afflicted above the earth, in a diurnal sign, the sickness is in the right side of the body, and in the upper part of it."
- "If the Lord of the 6th be under the earth, and in a nocturnal sign, the sicknesse lies in the inferior parts of the body, and on the left side."
Here the consideration of essential dignity between the planets involved is important. The planet of least dignity is likely to indicate where the disease lies.
- "Whether he [Lord of the 6th] be under or above the earth in a diurnal, the sickness is in the fore part of the body, imagine the forehead, face, breast, belly, or some other visible part."
- "If it be in a nocturnal sign, the disease lyes in the back part of the body, or else some part that lies invisible, as the bowels; &c or perhaps the disease lyes occult: for take this for a general rule, the diseases are more hid from the eyes of your understanding, when the significators of them are in nocturnal signs, than they are when they are in diurnal"
- "If the signifcators are corrupted by other Planets, and a difference in these rules between the significators and the Planet that corrupts them, the Patient is afflicted both ways; namely according as he signifies, and according as the Planet corrupting signifies. In such a case view diligently which of them is most afflicted: And your reason, if you have any, will tell you that the most part of the malady lyes in that part of the body signified by the Planets which is most afflicted"
Finally, since the Moon is a co-significator of the disease, her location in the zodiac can also give an indication of where the disease is located in the body, as Culpeper's example shows:
This principle holds true for the Moon in the other zodiacal signs with the corresponding parts of the body.
- "The Moon in Aries in the 8th afflicts the head with a disease too hot for it to beare whether the disease lies in the mind or in the body"
- Case History:
Signification of disease from a
November 19th, 1992 / 10:00 am (GMT) / 0W47, 50N50
This decumbiture was taken from the time of the first consultation with a woman who wanted herbal treatment for eczema. Her eczema is signified by Mercury, lord of the 6th house, which Culpeper connected with the sense of touch and the skin:
"The feeling is deputed to no particular organ, but is spread abroad, over the whole body; is of all qualities, hot, cold, dry, and moist, and is the index of all tangible things: for if it were only hot alone, it could not feel a quality contrary, viz, cold, and this might be spoken of other qualities. It is under dominion of Venus, some say, Mercury: A thousand to one, but it is under Mercury." 
Gemini on the 6th cusp is appropriate since the eczema was primarily located on her arms and hands. (Mercury combust in the Fire sign Sagittarius is very apt for eczema, where the inflammation of the skin feels hot and itchy to the patient.) Mercury in Sagittarius shows the eczema was also located on her hips and thighs, while Mercury's position in the 11th house shows it present on her calves and ankles. Hence the signification of the chart has captured the main sites of her eczema: hands, arms, thighs, calves and ankles.
The patient's problem started with the death of her mother, who is signified in the chart by Venus (Lady of the 10th house), which rises in the first house and thus symbolises their very close relationship. Her mother's death is also signified by Mercury (8th from the 10th), showing a symbolic link between the skin condition and the impact of her mother's death. The bereavement also caused her to suffer a deep depression, which is shown by Mercury separating from a sextile of Saturn.
Of the signs on the 6th cusp Culpeper says:
Moveable Signes easily cause the Disease to vary; fixed Signes make it long and permanent, and not without much difficulty; removeable, common, shew recidivation [falling back
], or that it's now here, now there, or that the sick party is much better at one time or another.
The mutable or common sign of Gemini captures the variable nature of eczema. Its location can easily move to different sites in the body while the irritation can fluctuate considerably from day to day. Indeed, her eczema started on her face but later moved to her hands leaving her face clear. Thereafter the eczema spread to her elbows and down her legs. Mercury combust and retrograding to conjunct the Sun is also descriptive of eczema, as the inflammation is similar in manifestation to sunburn.
Of a retrograde planet signifying the disease Culpeper says:
[It] shewes the continuance of it, and argues the Bodies Consumption, Back-sliding and Relapses.
Eczema is a persistent skin-condition that frequently relapses during treatment.
On signification of the 6th house Culpeper says generally:
A Significator in his Fall or Detriment, shewes ill and much danger, and argues distrust and fear in the sick party.
Here Mercury is in detriment in Sagittarius, and notably weak in dignity. Although this rather ominous description was not relevant to the situation, as eczema is seldom 'dangerous', she was extremely concerned about the possible effect of the disease upon her physical appearance, her work and her social life. (Mercury rules both the 6th house of work and the 7th of relationships). She desperately wanted to be in a relationship as she frequently felt lonely.
Further description of the disease comes from noting whether the ruler of the 6th is oriental or occidental:
The Significator of the sick, Occidentall, denotes chronick Diseases; but Orientall, new sicknesse
Here Mercury is occidental reflecting the chronic nature of her eczema.
Eczema is frequently associated with poor digestion and the patient also suffered from constipation. The 6th house is linked with the intestines and digestion, and the poor dignity and retrograde motion of Mercury reflects her retentive bowel function. The Moon, as a co-significator of the disease, placed in the dry sign of Virgo and applying to the sextile aspects of both Mars and the Sun further reflects the hot and dry condition of her eczema.
The patient's health is signified by Jupiter, Lord of the 1st house. It is well dignified and strongly placed in the 9th house, in Libra. Despite this her energy was not good and she frequently experienced phases of lethargy. In the chart the luminaries,
connected with the generation and circulation of the Vital Force, are both poor in dignity. Mars too, the natural significator of drive and energy, is in its fall in Cancer. She mentioned feeling 'especially drained at work' which is also shown by the poor dignity of Mercury. Altogether, however, her health is seen to have a greater dignity than her disease, suggesting her vitality can overcome her eczema.
One further aphorism of significance to her prognosis:
Fear not the death of thy Patient if Jupiter be in good aspect to the Sun, although the Lord of the ascendant apply to the Lord of the 8th.
In the chart the Sun applies to the trine of Jupiter indicating that her own death is far removed from the situation. After six months herbal treatment, although there were periodic flare-ups, her skin condition gradually cleared. An interesting aphorism in this connection is:
When the Lord of the 2nd doth infortunate the Lord of the ascendant the sick shall not be cured without much expense of his money; or if he dye, he depends most part or much upon his cure to no purpose. (CA., p.285)
In this decumbiture Saturn is lord of the 2nd and Jupiter lord of the ascendant. Jupiter does apply to the trine of Saturn and so is infortunated by the lord of the 2nd house. With the greater malefic depressing the patient's vitality, treatment was slow leading to greater expense. Finally:
He that first visits his Patients in the hour of Jupiter or Venus shall have good words of the sick, be well esteemed and paid for his paines. (CA., p.285)
The consultation started in the hour of Venus on a Jupiter day. Throughout the course of her treatment she had considerable confidence that the herbs would help her. Even when the eczema relapsed, she spoke highly of how much herbal medicine had helped her.
Notes & References:
||Lilly's use of Mercury as the consignificator of the 6th house is not based upon its rulership of Virgo, but upon the association between the houses and the Chaldean order of the planets. i.e., the 1st house with Saturn, 2nd with Jupiter etc. Refer to Dylan's earlier article on 'House Rulership in Decumbiture'.
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|| N. Culpeper, Astrological Judgement of Diseases, 1655, ch.XI.
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||Ibid. Ch XI.
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||N. Culpeper, Astrologo-Physical discourse on the human virtues in the body of man, 1653.
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|| N. Culpeper, Astrological Judgement of Diseases, 1655, ch.XI.
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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 2007. This article was published in The Traditional Astrologer magazine, issue 6, Autumn 1994, pp.6-9, of which Dylan was a contributing editor.