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Culpeper's Example
Notes & References
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An Introduction to Decumbiture, part 7, by Dylan Warren-Davis

Part VII
The Tenth House: The Medicine

The 7th house represents the Physician, the 10th his Medicine
William Lilly, CA. p.282

The rulership of the 10th house over medicine arises from its connection with the Midheaven, the point of the Sun's greatest elevation in its diurnal cycle. Here the Sun's light and power has its greatest influence, giving life, light and motion to Creation, and enhancing the generation of vital force within the body. The word medicine is derived from the Latin medicina meaning 'the art of healing' while the corresponding verb medicare means 'to imbue with healing power'.

In earlier centuries medicines were predominantly made from plants, which depend upon the Sun for photosynthesis. The notion that the Sun is the source of all healing power is reflected in the fact that herbal medicines are most abundant during Summer months. Of the 10th house Lilly says:

Its consignficators are Capricorn and Mars; Jupiter or the Sun do much Fortunate this House when they are posited therein [1]

The Earth sign Capricorn provides an image of plants growing on the Earth and reaching up to the light of heavens. In drawing down the light of the Sun, plants become medicines imbued with healing energy.

When the Elements are used to evaluate the plant kingdom, the Earth element corresponds to the roots, Water corresponds to the stem, or trunk, Air corresponds to the leaves, and Fire corresponds to the flowers. The fifth element, Ether, corresponds to the vital force in the sap. At its flowering a plant completes the four stages of elemental development: from root to stem, to leaf, to flower; in turn Ether, the quintessence, is transmuted into the seeds. When a seed germinates, the vital force encapsulated within is released, generating the four elements that compose the new plant.

Each herb embodies its own particular vital force, or virtue, which confers its medicinal actions. Physicians were trained to understand these virtues by looking at their physical form, taste, smell, and where the plant liked to grow. Of a number of techniques used to understand their virtues, designating a planetary ruler is the most important. Once this has been identified the medicinal uses are found through symbolic correspondence.

The willow (Salix alba) provides a clear illustration of how this was done. Culpeper cryptically mentions 'the Moon owns it' [2] - a lunar rulership which can be traced to classical Greece. There it was sacred to 'Hecate, Circe, Hera and Persephone aspects of the Triple Moon-Goddess' [3] and was found growing in the temple confines dedicated to Lunar goddesses.

The common willow

Lilly provides the following description of Lunar plants:

Those herbs which are subject to the Moon have soft and thick juicy leaves, of a waterish or little sweetish taste, they love to grow in watery places, and grow quickly into a juicy magnitude. (CA., p.82)

The Lunar virtue of willow is shown by its love for water, preferred siting near rivers and lakes, and by the characteristic silver lustre of its leaves; silver being the colour of the Moon. Once the Lunar rulership is made, the herb is perceived to strengthen the phlegmatic humour, and to have affinity with the parts of the body that are ruled by the Moon, including the lungs, stomach, bladder and breasts.

Through strengthening the phlegmatic humour, willow is reputed to allay fever; it: 'qualifies choler, cools and moistens the heart. sustaining it, and the whole body from the fiery effects that its continual motion would produce'. [4] In particular it was used for lung infections, and said to prevent: 'hot, sharp, salt distillations from the head upon the lungs, causing a consumption'. [5]

Consumption was the old name for tuberculosis. The term comes from the Latin consumere meaning to waste away. It provides a vivid image of the body being ravaged by fever and wasting away. The Moon, with its affinity for the lungs, makes the willow appropriate for dealing with fevers associated with a chest infection.
The validity of these ancient ideas is confirmed by modern pharmacology, for the main active constituent is salicylic acid, more commonly known, in a slightly different form, as the drug Aspirin. Amongst a range of pharmacological actions, salicylic acid powerfully reduces body temperature by increasing sweating. One of the few antibiotic substances specific for tuberculosis is para-amino salicylic acid, indicating that the willow was an effective remedy for tuberculosis.

The name salicylic acid derives from the generic name of the tree: Salix. This Latin term is linked to the Greek name Helice, which gave rise to the word Helicon, the abode of the Nine Muses, priestesses of the Moon-goddess. Thus the chemical name of the drug still echoes the Lunar associations of the willow.

With Saturn ruling Capricorn, co-significator of the 10th house, the importance of time in relation to medicine is emphasised. Not only is time the basis of decumbiture, but it is also important in knowing when to gather, prepare and administer the herbs. Culpeper illustrates how to gather a herb at the time of its optimum virtue in his description of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus):

This is an herb of the Sun, and under the Celestial Lion, and is one of the best cures for the eyes, for all that know anything in astrology know that the eyes are subject to the Luminaries: let it be gathered when the Sun is in Leo, and the Moon in Aries, applying to his trine: let Leo arise, then may you make it into an oil or ointment, which you please, to anoint your sore eyes with (EP: section on willow)

Celandine is a Solar herb, so the time of its optimum virtue is when the Sun is dignified in Leo. The need for the Moon to be in Aries is to allow the virtue of the herb to be directed to the head, enhancing the healing of the eyes.

Mars, also co-significator of the 10th house, accentuates the importance of knowing when to act in relation to giving medicines. The 10th house's trine relationship to the 6th house, shows the healing influence of the medicine in soothing the disease.

The aphorism below, taken from Christian Astrology, demonstrates the need to consider the 10th house in relation to the 7th, to judge how well the physician is able to use the medicines and whether they can achieve the healing of the patient.

The 7th house represents the Physician, the 10th his Medicine; if the Lord of the 7th be unfortunate, the Physician shall not cure; if the 10th house or Lord thereof [be unfortunate], his Physick is improper. (CA., p282)

Therefore, if Saturn or Mars rule or are present in the 10th house it implies the medicine will do more harm than good. By the same principle, if Jupiter or Venus rule or are present in the 10th it indicates the medicine will be beneficial. Culpeper cites a particularly ominous aphorism:

If the Lord of the 8th house be in the mid-heaven, and afflict the Lord of the Ascendant, the Physitian will be in a shrewd mistake, and instead of curing go near to kill. [6]

Such a placing would suggest that the medicine is poisonous. The lord of the 8th house (of death) afflicting the lord of the Ascendant, indicates that the poisonous medicine will adversely affect the patient's health and vitality.

Culpeper articulates how the principles of physic - that is, the way herbs are chosen - are based upon decumbiture in the section of his herbal entitled 'The way of mixing Medicines according to the Cause of the Disease, and Parts of the Body afflicted'. These therapeutic principles utilise the Paracelsian concepts of sympathy and antipathy.

The first principle:
Fortify the body with herbs of the nature of the Lord of the Ascendant, 'tis no matter whether he be a Fortune or an Infortune in this case.

By choosing herbs that are of the same nature as the lord of the Ascendant the patient's health and vitality is sympathetically strengthened. When the strength of a patient's vitality exceeds the strength of their disease they will be able to overcome it.

The second principle:
Let your medicine be something antipathetical to the Lord of the 6th.

By choosing herbs that are opposite in nature to the lord of the 6th the disease is antipathetically weakened. By weakening the disease, this also enhances the patient's vitality in overthrowing it.

The third principle: Let your medicine be something of the nature of the sign ascending.

Though similar to the first principle, choosing herbs that are of the same nature as the sign of the Ascendant sympathetically enhances the patient's physical constitution.

The fourth principle:
If the Lord of the 10th be strong, make use of his medicines.

If the lord of the 10th house of medicine is well dignified, choosing herbs that are of the same nature as the lord promotes healing generally.

The fifth principle:
If this cannot well be, make use of the medicines of the Light of Time.

If the lord of the 10th lacks dignity so herbs of the same nature cannot be used, then use Solar herbs by day or Lunar herbs by night. Again these will enhance healing generally.

The sixth principle:
Be always sure to fortify the grieved part of the body by sympathetical remedies.

Thus if a knee is injured then using herbs of Saturnine or Capricornian nature will sympathically strengthen it, so enhancing its healing.

The seventh principle:
Regard the heart, keep that upon the wheels, because the Sun is the foundation of life: [therefore solar remedies] cure all diseases by fortifying the heart.

The heart generates the vital force. In cultivating the patient's health and vitality it is important to ensure the sustained supply of vital energy. Accordingly the use of Solar herbs strengthens the patient's vitality and tonifies their body.

Elements Humours Seats Rulers Nature
Symbol for earth Earth Melancholic
(Black bile)
  Spleen Saturn Cold & dry
Symbol for water Water Phlegmatic
  Lungs Moon & Venus Cold & moist
Symbol for ether Ether   VITAL FORCE Heart Mercury  
Symbol for fire Fire Choleric
(Yellow bile)
  Gall Sun & Mars Hot & dry
Symbol for fire Air Sanguine
  Liver Jupiter Hot & moist

Culpeper's Example

Culpeper's chart

Culpeper gave just one decumbiture to demonstrate his seven principles of physic. It concerns a lady friend of one of his students and was written in a letter responding to his student's request. [7] His diagnosis was as follows:

Venus, Lady of the 12th, and the Ascendant, and 8th, shows her always to be her own foe in respect of Health; and truly I believe the origin of the Disease was a Surfeit either by eating moist Fruits, or else by catching wet in travelling; Venus with Saturn, who is quartile to the Ascendant troubles her Breasts with tough Flegm and Melancholy.

Culpeper's judgement that the woman was 'her own foe in respect of health' is taken from the fact that Venus rules the 12th house of 'self-undoing' as well as the Ascendant. The traditional listing for Venus in Cancer has the following description: 'shows the stomach is much afflicted with cold, raw undigested humours, many times with surfeit'. Venus rules fruits and berries generally, while her placing in the water sign of Cancer leads to the idea of 'eating moist Fruits'. Such a moist Venus in the 9th house of 'long journeys' invokes the idea of her 'catching wet in travelling'.

Venus co-rules the phlegmatic humour which has its seat in the lungs; Cancer signifies the chest, hence the signification specifically indicates a phlegmatic condition of the lungs. The application from Venus to Saturn 'troubles her Breasts with tough Flegm and Melancholy', since the cold and dry influence of Saturn causes the phlegm to congeal. Saturn is square the Ascendant, indicating the depression of her vitality leading to 'melancholy', which is worsened by the approach of Venus to Saturn. The contemporary diagnosis of this condition would be chronic bronchitis.

Next Culpeper turns his attention to the Moon from which he notices:

... a most forcible reception between the Moon and Venus from fruitful signs, I question whether she be with Child or not, the Moon being in the 5th House.

The mutual reception allows Venus, a natural significator for the womb as well as the woman, to be received into the 5th house 'of Children' while the fruitful (Water) sign on the 5th house cusp strengthens the possibility of pregnancy.

Turning to the 6th house, he notes:

Mars, Lord of the Disease, really in the Scorpion, and accidentally in the Ascendant, together with Aries on the 6th; show the Disease keeps his court in the Womb, and accidentally afflicts the Head from thence, so that the heat of the Womb must needs be cause of the present distemper, and Mars in a moist Sign in the first [house] next to the second may well denote heat and breaking out about her Face and Throat.

Mars, lord of the 6th house, located in Scorpio, indicates that the disease is some sort of inflammation affecting her reproductive organs. The contemporary blanket term 'pelvic inflammatory disease' covers most possibilities here. Interestingly, Culpeper also sees the location of Mars in the 1st house, together with Aries on the sixth house cusp - both corresponding to the head - as indicating a secondary manifestation of the disease affecting the head. More directly he sees Mars in a Water sign as indicating some sort of eruptive, acne-like, skin disorder. With Mars near the second house cusp it indicates that the skin disorder is located on her body in the region between her head and neck.

Culpeper continues:

.... Whether she will be Curable or not, or how, or when the Disease will end, is our next Point? Truly I can see no danger of Death, the Moon being strong in her Wain, and applying by trine with a strong reception to the Lady of the Ascendant.

Culpeper clearly had the following aphorism in mind: 'The Lord of the 8th in conjunction, square, or opposition of the Moon at the Decumbiture, threatens death unless there be a reception between them'. Here the Moon is applying to the trine of Venus, Lady of the 8th house. Furthermore there is a powerful mutual reception between them, hence he saw no danger of death.

... yet this is certain, Mars is strong in a fixed sign, will maintain the Disease stoutly, her hopes will be but small when Venus comes to the body of Saturn, viz August 2, for she will be overpressed with Melancholy.

Sixth house ruler, Mars, situated in a fixed sign, indicates an illness of long duration. This is compounded by Saturn afflicting both Venus and the Ascendant, indicating a chronic illness by the depression of her vitality. Culpeper observes this will be particularly intense when Venus makes her partile conjunction with Saturn.

To continue:

... the time I suppose of her Cure may be (if good courses be taken) when Mars leaves the Sign he is in, and comes to the place where the Body of Jupiter is, or then may at least turn to another Disease more propitious.

Whilst Mars remains in his own sign the disease is strongly maintained. When he ingresses into Sagittarius his dignity, and consequently the woman's disease, weakens. However the most favourable indication is the future conjunction with Jupiter. Jupiter, the author of temper, responsible for the balance of all the humours in the blood, counters the maleficity of Mars restoring temper to the humours.

Of her treatment Culpeper notes:

the Sun so strong in the 10th shows she may be cured by Medicine, and being exalted in the Seventh, and Caput there, I do not know but you are as likely a man to do it as any.

The Sun is dignified in its own sign implying Solar medicines are appropriate for treatment. Furthermore in recognizing the Sun is exalted in Aries on the 7th cusp (the physician), Culpeper sees the medicine as working well through the hands of his student. Commenting on the curative indications he observes:

it is confessed here, that the Sun being exceedingly strong in the 10th House should naturally signifie the Curative Medicine, and as true that the evil of Mars, viz. Heat of the Womb, and a salt [Water] humour in the blood ought to be removed before you meddle in the tough flegm in the Breast; but yet seeing the Disease seems rather to participate of offending heat than any other simple quality, you must have a care of hot Medicines lest you go about ignem olea extifugere [lighting oil and putting to flight the principal organs of the body]:

He concludes:

The Medicines must first be Cool: Secondly, strengthening [to] the Womb: Thirdly repressing the vapours; Forthly of the nature of Sol and Venus.

Regarding 'Medicines must first be Cool', the virtues of herbs are also classified by temperatures, that is whether they are hot, cold, wet or dry. This classification is largely based upon taste. The sensation of a particular herb on the tongue enables the physician to visualise the effect the herb has on the vital force in the body. Where the herb has an affinity to a particular part of the body, as in the case of the willow and the lungs, the action on the vital force is then specifically directed to that part of the body. Willow has a cold and dry taste, revealing it has a cooling and drying action on the vital force. The effect of the herb upon the lungs is that it cools the inflammation and dries up the secretion of phlegm (an action that made the herb extremely useful in the treatment of consumption mentioned above). Cooling medicines generally remove heat from the body, reduce inflammation and calm the nervous system.

The instruction that medicines need to be 'strengthening [to] the Womb' is given because this is where the disease is located, as shown by the position of the 6th house ruler. For a disease to become located in a particular organ, the vital energy of the organ itself must have become weakened and consequently needs to be strengthened.

The term 'vapours' refers to the vital force. As previously explained, the metal Mercury symbolises the vital force which flows through the nervous system. [8] When quicksilver is heated the liquid metal gives off a heavy vapour. By analogy 'vapours' symbolise the excessive functioning of the nervous system, such as when it becomes over-stimulated by stress or pain. Thus a medicine that 'represses the vapours' is essentially a sedative which calms the nervous system.

The final instruction that medicines need to be of the 'nature of Sol and Venus' utilises the principles of physic within decumbiture. Venusian herbs will fortify the woman's health and vitality since she is lady of the Ascendant. These herbs will also counter the disease since Venus is antipathetic to Mars, lord of the 6th. Finally, they will sympathetically strengthen the womb, since Venus naturally rules this organ.

Solar herbs are indicated since the Sun is lord of the 10th and strongly dignified. They oppose the influence of Saturn and generally strengthen the vital force. Bearing these principles in mind Culpeper then recommends the following herbs:

To this intent I first commend unto you stinking Arrach, a pattern whereof I have sent you here enclosed; you may find it upon dunghils, especially such as are made of Horse-dung. It is cold and moist, an Herb of Venus in the Scorpion: also Ros Soils, an Herb of the Sun and under the coelestiai Crab, may do very well, and the better because Venus is in Cancer: It grows on bogs in untilled places, and is in flower about this time: It grows very low, with roundish Green leaves full of red hairs, and is fullest of dew when the Sun is hottest, whence it took its name; to these you may add Tansie, which I take to be a herb of Venus in Libra, and Lettuce if you please which is an Herb of the Moon, Mars having his fall in Cancer. They are all harmless, you may use them according to your own discretion: also Orpine, another Herb of the Moon is very good in this case.

These descriptions reveal another aspect to understanding the virtues of herbs. Some of the herbs listed are also associated with a zodiacal sign, which reflects the places where they grow. The principle here is that the virtue of a herb also absorbs the energy of its location. Though there are plants, like the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and nettle (Urtica dioica) that grow across a wide range of terrains, there are certain herbs, like the ros solis or sundew (Droscera rotundifolia), that are only able grow in a particular habitat. So specific is this relationship that herbalists have described the virtues of such herbs using a zodiacal sign in addition to the planetary ruler, as in the case of the sundew which Culpeper describes as a 'Herb of the Sun, and under the coelestial Crab'. The sundew is only to be found growing amongst the spagnum moss in acid marshlands. When the list of places associated with the water-sign of Cancer is considered it is self evident as to why this correlation is made: '.... in the Inland Countries it notes places neer Rivers, Brooks, Springs, Wells, cellars in Houses, Wash-houses, Marsh grounds, Ditches with Rushes, Sedges, Sea banks, Trenches, Cisterns' (CA., p. 95).


The additional sign-rulership leads to very specific uses of the herb. Just as the herb only grows in a particular zodiacal environment, so is its planetary virtue directed to those parts of the body ruled by that sign. This becomes apparent in Culpeper's choice of herbs.

Culpeper' s first herb is stinking arrach (Chenopodium vulvaria) described as cold and moist, and ruled by Venus in Scorpio. Its Venusian rulership derives from the shape of its leaf which was thought to resemble a vulva - hence another common name for the plant is Vulvaria, which is still preserved in its botanical title. It typically grows upon dunghills leading to the name 'dungweeds' for the family of plants to which it belongs. Dunghills are places associated with Scorpio. Culpeper specifically commends dunghills that 'are made of Horsedung' because horses are ruled by the Sun, (CA., p.71) a subtle attempt to enhance the healing potential of the herb. With Venus ruling the womb and Scorpio ruling the pelvic organs, the virtue of the herb is specifically directed to the womb, where its cooling and moistening action operates. As Culpeper describes in the use of stinking arrach:

I commend it for a universal medicine of the womb, and such a medicine as will easily, safely, and speedily cure any disease thereof, as fits of the mother, dislocation, or falling out thereof: it cools the womb being overheated.., it cleanseth the womb if it be foul, and strengthens it exceedingly; it provokes the terms if they be stopped, and stops them if they flow immoderately. (EP: on arrach)

In relation to the decumbiture Culpeper carefully chose this herb to antipathetically cool the heat of Mars in the womb, while sympathetically strengthening the organ.


Culpeper's second herb, ros soli, (Drosera rotundifolia), is a very hot and dry herb ruled by the Sun in Cancer. The Solar rulership comes from the round green leaves becoming bright red as the Sun shines on them The hotter the Sun, the more intense the red colour becomes. The leaves are covered by tiny red hairs which secrete sugary juices at their tips to attract insects. The secretions are most abundant when the sun is hottest, from which the plant gets the name 'Sundew'. The Cancerian association arises from it being a marsh plant. Once again the Cancerian rulership of the herb directs its Solar virtue to the chest and lungs, where the hot and dry action dries up the phlegmatic secretions. As Culpeper describes, the use of Rosa Solis:

is accounted good to help those that have a salt rheum [phlegm] distilling on their lungs, which breeds Consumption good for all otherdiseases of the lungs, such a phthisicks, wheezing, shortness of breath, or the cough; as also to heal the ulcers that happen in the lungs. (EP: on ros solis)

Culpeper has chosen the herb, not only as lord of the 10th house, to generally strengthen the vital force, but to antipathetically heat the coldness of Saturn in the lungs, which 'troubles her Breasts with tough Flegm and Melancholy'. Today the use of this herb is still for express treatment of chronic bronchitis. It contains plumbagin, an antibiotic substance which kills a wide range of bacteria that infect the respiratory system.

Of the remaining herbs, in brief:

Culpeper chose tansy (Tanecetum vulgare) because of its rulership by Venus in Libra. The sign Libra on the Ascendant, with Venus ruling the Ascendant, indicate the herb was selected to sympathetically strengthen the woman's vitality and physical constitution. The last two, lettuce (Lactuca virosa) and orpine (Sedum telephium) are both ruled by the Moon and have been selected because they are antipathetic to 6th-ruler Mars, who has his fall in Cancer. Of these, lettuce has a strong cooling action which is calming to the nervous system, indicating this is the herb that Culpeper chose to 'repress the vapours'.

The emphasis on Venusian and Lunar herbs in this recipe reveals that Culpeper's intention was to therapeutically invoke the mutual reception between Venus and the Moon. The exchange of Venus into Pisces removes Venus from where she is oppressed by Saturn, to where she is exalted, indicating a dramatic flowering of the woman's health and vitality. In addition, the reception of the Moon, co-ruler of the phlegmatic humour, into her own sign where she directly opposes Saturn, indicates the dissolution of the tough phlegm in her lungs and the return of the normal respiratory secretions.

Tansie Lettuce Orpine

Notes & References:

  1 ] W. Lilly, Christian Astrology, 1647; p.55
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  2 ] N. Culpeper, The English Physitian, 1653
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  3 ] R. Graves, The White Goddess
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  4 ] Culpeper, Complete Herbal and English Physician Enlarged, 1653. 'Astrologo - Physical discourse on the human virtues in the body of man'.
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  5 ] Culpeper, E.P., 1653; section on willow.
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  6 ] Culpeper, Judgement of Disease, 1651; chapter 14, 'Signes of Death', ap.3.
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  7 ] Culpeper, The English Physitian, 1653
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  8 ] Part IV: The First House: Health & Vitality
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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 April 2006. This article was published in The Traditional Astrologer magazine, issue 9, Summer 1995, pp.6-11, of which Dylan was a contributing editor.

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