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This article was recorded by Garry Phillipson on 8th March 1999 as part of his research for the book Astrology in the Year Zero

More details of the book and Garry's work, including other interviews are available on his website

An Interview with Graeme Tobyn by Garry Phillipson

Graeme Tobyn is highly regarded in the astrological world for his expertise in medieval astrology and decumbiture. A practising, qualified Herbalist, he is a member of the Company of Astrologers, and the National Institute of Medical Herbalists. Graeme frequently lectures at home and abroad on astrology's application to medicine; his book, Culpeper's Medicine: A Practice of Western Holistic Medicine, (Element 1997) is an incomparable guide to the theory and practice of Holistic Medicine. A contributor to ARHAT's translation project, his research interests lie in the history of medicine and herbal medicine and the re-evaluation of traditional, holistic approaches to therapeutics, particularly humoral medicine.
Graeme is a senior lecturer on Herbal Medicine for the Department of Primary and Community Nursing at the University of Central Lancashire, which offers degree courses in Herbal Medicine and Complementary Medical Science.

Q: What is your astrological work? Do you see clients, and if so are they all for medical consultations or do you do regular natal readings too?

My practice is client-based. A large proportion are medical enquiries - some with, some without, astrology. That's a big issue in itself… Then other clients come for horaries, or for natal readings, or updating their progressions. I don't really get into mundane astrology at all.

There is an issue about astrology and medicine. First of all, as a herbalist I'm an alternative practitioner ('complementary' doesn't really work; I did two and a half years in the NHS as a straight herbalist, but 'complementary' isn't a very good title).

So you have people who have an illness and aren't getting anywhere with their GP, so want to try something else. There's a lot of bridge-building to give them confidence in you as a fully-qualified practitioner, issues of confidentiality and so forth. That's already a big step for people. When it comes to astrology people think of sun-sign stuff, and some believe it, a lot think 'these people are stupid' and disbelieve it. So to introduce astrology - that can be a bridge too far for my colleagues, the other alternative practitioners I work with, let alone clients!

Working, as I do, in the Shires, there are going to be patients who have strong religious views, and think 'this is of the devil' or whatever. I can think of one patient who came along. I know that her doctor had a very dim view of alternative medicine, but she'd come along to see me anyway. At the end I asked her if I could cast her horoscope. She threw up her hands and said, 'I knew this would happen if I came to an alternative practitioner!'. Needless to say I didn't see her again, but that was well-indicated in the decumbiture chart (the chart for that consultation). I think the ruler of the ascendant was applying to Uranus in the ninth house, which was very pertinent.

Q: So how do you work out whether to break it to people that you use astrology?

I've struggled with this for quite a time. Historically, the decumbiture chart is the chart for the patient first taking to their bed in recognition of their illness; that's what the root of the word means. But it has also been taken in the tradition to be that time when the question is first put to the astrologer - so nearly all my decumbiture charts, 99%, are the time of either the first consultation or the phone-call to book the consultation in the first place. And you can cast that without the patient knowing.

So you've already got the decumbiture chart. But then trying to get the natal chart (and Culpeper says, 'if you have the natal chart as well you shall not fail…' - good reason to get the natal chart) then it gets difficult. You can disguise asking where they were born on some other pretext, but ask the time - and it starts to ring.

I believe that I have to have a mandate to cast horoscopes for a patient. They have to express a positive desire in that direction. Of course, that embodies other work as well - drawing up the horoscope and so on - so really, that introduces a different scale of fees. But it's very difficult, in the same practice, to charge one person this amount and another person that amount - that's not very comfortable either. So what I have done in the past has been to look on this as an area of my own study. There have been two types of situation in which I would put it to the patient that I would like to use astrology to help me in treating their condition: the first is with patients who I think might be open to it; the second is those whose condition doesn't have a clear orthodox medical diagnosis and nor is it clear from my point of view as an alternative practitioner. That gives a clinical reason why I might want to use astrology.

Most times, there has been a positive response. But I'm doing that for free, as it were. Now I get patients from other sources - through the world of astrology - where astrology is part of what they are coming for; it's absolutely clear, and so there is no hesitation, no ambivalence. That's what they have come for, I need that data, they give it me, and are charged appropriately.

But it is the case that I'm not using astrology for every patient. That brings up another issue - it's an awful lot of work! I think it was Paracelsus who talked about how you can't have too many patients, because then you aren't doing any of them any good, so you don't want to have too many patients where you aren't treating any of them with the attention that their case deserves. So the astrology inevitably will be limited to a certain extent in that way as well.

Q: It's the case, I believe, that someone can develop an illness because there's something wrong at a deep level - in which case, it might be possible to deal with the immediate symptoms but not really address the cause of the illness. To what extent do you see it as being your task to dig deep and find out why the person is getting ill in the first place?

I would have said that symptomatic treatment is often the stamp of orthodox medicine, and if patients come to an alternative practitioner that's not what they want. Furthermore, especially with modern drugs - I'm thinking of drugs which have been designed in the last thirty years - they have been designed to interfere with the body's physiological mechanisms. Those specially-designed drugs, of course, can suppress the symptom. Herbs don't really do that, because they're not chemically specific enough to do so.

Now, judiciously used to spare the tissue under stress, these designed drugs can do the job. But the idea of 'keep on taking the tablets' is the start of a very slippery slope.

So that's the first point - that people are looking for something different. Secondly, my training in herbal medicine is trying to deal with causes rather than symptoms. These, however, will be couched in a nineteenth century naturopathic mode - so there is the idea of cleansing the body, working on the liver, supporting the kidneys, supporting the ways in which the body rectifies itself by using its channels of elimination. If those channels of elimination are blocked, they need opening. By doing that, you are looking to remove the symptoms - because they will go when you treat the cause.

For example, a patient came to see me last year. She opened the consultation by saying, 'A friend of mine went to see a herbalist, and she's cured. That's what I want'. She complained of feeling bloated all the time; she had aches and pains all over her body; she had excruciatingly painful headaches and periods. She had been put on oral steroids for headaches - now, I don't know another patient who has been put on oral steroids for headaches. Clearly the doctors recognised that the head pain was due to some inflammatory process. She had been to see a rheumatologist about these pains all over her body and in her joints, and she was overdosing on brufen for the period pains. Her doctor had rightly told her off about this.

Having taken my case history, I diagnosed that she had an allergy to gluten - normally that means wheat, modern strains of wheat. So I put her on a gluten-free diet, looking to introduce oats and rye in the second month (because, as I say, it's normally wheat) and I got her off cow's milk and related products (she could take goat's and sheep's milk) - so she wasn't on a dairy-free diet, but she was avoiding cow's milk.

After four days, the headaches went, the aching all over went, the bloating went. The period pains lessened, but they were still there. So that's an example of treating the cause. Food intolerance is a classic thing that doctors are not interested in. If they suspect an allergic reaction, then you get an antihistamine. But they didn't even suspect that here.

Q: How did you identify the specific allergy?

There are certain symptoms which, when they have no other medical explanation, are seen to be connected to allergy. So I recognised things like fluctuating weight, and swelling of the hands and feet coming and going - those are two signs of allergy where there are no other apparent reasons. About gluten in itself - she absolutely loved bread. This is called a masked allergy.

You have to know Seley's adaptation syndrome; but most people who have a food intolerance are actually intolerant of foods which they eat every day. So we're talking really about wheat, cow's milk, and the potato family. You can imagine that when I ask a patient, 'what foods do you eat every day or nearly every day?' - those things will come up. That means that they are going to be in stage two of the adaptation syndrome. On first exposure to this thing that they have (let's say suddenly) become intolerant of, they have an acute reaction but they don't put two and two together; they don't know it is the bread. So the body goes from the stage one acute reaction, which people do recognise (Oh, I'm allergic to shellfish - every time I eat it I vomit and have a headache) to stage two. In stage two, they have to keep ingesting the thing that they are intolerant of, in order to remain in stage two. Otherwise - if more than three days elapse of not being exposed to it - when they are next exposed to it, they go back to a stage one reaction.

So they stay in stage two, and the body is madly secreting endogenous cortisone to damp down the inflammatory reaction.

Q: Is that experienced as a craving for the thing to which one is allergic?

Often. And this woman ate loads of bread, she loved bread. So that was my clue, and I hit the nail on the head.

So that is an example of treating the cause, rather than the symptom. Giving steroids for the head pain and brufen for the period pain is looking at the symptoms; same with going to a rheumatologist - the thing they say about rheumatologists is that they are good at diagnosis but their medicine is terrible. It's all looking at body parts - 'you look at that part, I'll look at this part' - whereas I try to look at the whole picture.

That's the third reason why I try to treat causes not symptoms - because I claim to be a holistic practitioner, so I'm looking at the whole picture. Not only physical symptoms, but any emotional difficulties that might impinge; a spiritual orientation (because often, people are just spiritually sick). And of course medical state as well.

Astrology helps to bridge these worlds, because it is a tool with a holistic paradigm, a cosmic view of things.

Let me give you another example of a holistic orientation, one without herbs or astrology! A woman was referred to me by her GP. She was a district nurse with perennial rhinitis. I took a case history and examined the membranes of her nose and decided there was too much heat in the body. Towards the end of the hour I asked her about feelings of anger (which could produce excess heat in the body, being under Mars). She told me that she used to work for a GP practice as a nurse but had been overlooked for some kind of promotion in the surgery. She subsequently left that practice, but, she told me, every time she passed its doors, anger would rise in her. At this point she burst into tears, her face flushed red, her blood pressure went right up (I took it before she left the consulting room). I prescribed a cooling mixture of herbs for her and she was better in days, not having any rhinitis at all, but personally I believe it was the releasing of the anger through confessing it that made her better. So, a holistic practitioner will want to understand every facet of the patient in order to discover what really is wrong.

Q: If someone comes to you with an illness, how do you decide if it's psychosomatic in origin?

A psychosomatic problem would be functional, like the rhinitis case I have just mentioned. So the first step would be to eliminate the possibility of any organic disease. One of the worries of the medical profession about alternative practitioners is that, if they miss serious disease and fail to help the patient, not only are they not helping the patient (that would be OK in the light of the Hippocratic maxim of 'at least do no harm'), but by not referring them on to their GP having recognised a more serious illness which is beyond their capabilities to deal with, they are actually delaying the treatment that the patient needs. This is a concern.

So your first step would be to rule out organic disease. How much of that you can do through a clinical examination - without recourse to blood-tests, x-rays, scans and so forth is an issue. The practice of GPs today is that they will wait for the results of a blood-test, scan or whatever - and feel that they cannot treat a condition if they don't have that (quotes) 'objective' evidence. Even examination with the hands is seen to be subjective in some sense. (In the tradition, the hands are seen as the organs that have everything in complete balance - the best tools for judging whether there is an imbalance of heat or cold, dryness or moisture). But [now it's considered that] there has to be this 'objective' evidence from technology.

So physicians of the past - and you don't have to go that far back to get to a much less technological clinical context - spent a lot more time focussing on the clinical presentation and the examination. So I think a lot can be done.

To give you an example. A patient is consulting me at the moment, and he has pains and swelling of the upper abdomen - the stomach, really - most of the time. He's had this for about twelve years. So I carried out an abdominal examination - and that was a bit tricky, because the muscles of the abdomen were a bit taut, and they have to be nice and relaxed so you can palpate through that and see if there are any lumps, or any areas of tenderness. In that way, I'd be looking to rule out organic disease, such as a tumour. And I feel that I have to carry that out, in order to say to myself, 'Well, I haven't found any objective signs of organic disease'.

Given the symptoms, and the case history, I thought that it was psycho-somatic. I cast his natal chart, and a decumbiture chart. It can be the case that one works better than the other; or one is highly meaningful in the context, the other doesn't seem to be. Or sometimes they both work, and there may be some synastry between them. In this case, the natal chart was speaking volumes to me.

I felt that this problem of his was psychosomatic, and was well indicated in the natal chart by a square of Mercury in Aries to Jupiter in Cancer. Those planets were rulers of the meridian - fourth and tenth - and he sees the origin of this problem in the separating of his parents when he was about two. So that fits; the rulers of the fourth and tenth in difficult aspect signifying the parents not getting on; secondly, Mercury rules the mind, Jupiter in the tradition rules the natural virtue (which is to do with digestion and reproduction; so here, very much about digestion - Jupiter of course rules the liver, which is the key organ there).

For other reasons as well, it all played into that Mercury square Jupiter - which could easily suggest psycho-somatic problems, as you can imagine.

(When I was showing this chart to a group of students, actually, one of them said, 'But there's this Venus square Pluto, and Venus is ruler of the sixth house of disease…' - and so it was. The symbolism didn't fit, but if you go through it in a mechanical way the disease should be shown by the sixth house - hence, Venus square Pluto. But I was able to prove to the student that it was Mercury square Jupiter, because he [the client] knew the month in which it started, and in that month Jupiter progressed exactly to the square of Mercury. Then there was a Mercury-Jupiter conjunction transiting in the sky that month as well, so that was absolutely conclusive).

So then I started to treat him with Jupiter and Mercury herbs. That's how I would look to decide psychosomatic from organic. 'Psychosomatic' has a particular medical meaning - that it comes from the mind - but of course that really implies the emotional or the spiritual life. So that is where those levels slot in. In this patient's case, it was the separation of his parents when he was very young, and what happened after that.

Q: You're coming out with examples where it seems clear that astrology is coming up with the goods. Has anyone ever run a study on the work of medical astrologers from the point of view of evaluating whether astrology works?

Well, there's Cornell's Encyclopedia of Medical Astrology, which I think was published in the 20s. That had some input or sanctioning from a physician. But I just don't believe it! You know, where has all this stuff come from? To have a huge encyclopedia full of these references - I don't know much about the origins of it, nor have I looked at it that much; but I doubt that it has just come from a practice. That throws up all sorts of issues.

You see, I don't believe that I am separate from any of this astrology that I view. So not only do I need a mandate from the patient in order to actually do astrology in the first place; but I cannot take all those patients that I did not do astrology for, but for whom I have a case-history, follow-up visits, a whole course of treatment and what happened in the end. I don't believe that I can then cast horoscopes for the decumbiture, maybe a noon chart for their date of birth, and look back in retrospect - because there wasn't the mandate for the astrology.

So I don't believe in objective astrology, actually. First of all, there has to be the desire of the client that astrology is invoked. And then, when it is invoked, it is invoked by me - I am in there as much as the patient. Interestingly, it's very strongly in the tradition of medical astrology that you do self-reference.

What I mean by self-referencing is that the ruler of the 7th is the astrologer/herbalist, the physician. You're in there; and you have to consider whether you are the best person to take this case on, or whether you are liable to do them some harm - and how do you avoid this, or should you just refer them on. There is that element in the practice of medical astrology - which locates the practitioner in there as well as the patient.

So it's hard to objectify it, because it's all about that particular astrologer drawing up the chart, seeing themselves reflected, and acting in recognition of that. Astrology is not so much a tool for accessing information, like calling up a patient's records from the computer months later, it is about initiative in the moment. Let the moment pass and and the chance to take the initiative in the matter at hand in that moment has passed. You cannot treat retrospectively.

Q: Bernadette Brady recounted how, when she first discovered astrology, she was a microbiologist. She says that she got angry with astrology when she started to find that it seemed to work - she wished that more astrologers could have this experience, so that they might understand the anger that the scientific community have against astrology. If it's true, of course, then their world-view, even their life's work, is undermined.

That's right. Richard Dawkins heads that group for communicating science to the general public. He did his thing against the 'X-Files' and all this mysticism stuff, suggesting that people's rational understanding is being undermined by these things. Yes, it is a great threat. But he writes books which smack strongly of genetic determinism; and you might well be worried about the new class of drugs that will come along where you're told, 'You're not ill yet - but if you take this drug it will interfere with your DNA and save you from the development of this genetically inherited problem in your 40s'. That's mega-bucks for the pharmaceutical industry; selling medicine to people who are well!

The thing with high cholesterol is a case in point. High cholesterol is a risk factor in heart disease, but it's not the only risk factor. By itself, it doesn't necessarily warrant too much consideration unless it's extremely high (this is my understanding). But what happened was that a drug was brought out, some level was set that is 'normalistic' for the human body; again, treating the body like a machine. Then, lo and behold, every place had its little testing machine, taking your cholesterol level and telling you whether you needed to take medication. And you're not ill!

There is an inherited condition - hyper-lipidaemia or hyper-cholesterolaemia - and there will be a history of heart disease in those families. But that's a small number of people. Now we have the whole population concerned about their cholesterol levels. There's an alternative view, a naturopathic view, which relates to diet. I think diet is extremely important in this regard, because you have the issue of trans-fatty acids - which don't occur in nature, and are caused by the process of hydrogenating vegetable fats. So if it's more prevalent, it's probably a problem of modern food technology and lifestyle.

Q: When astrology interfaces with medicine, does it only do so with the alternative approaches? Can astrology make sense of things like Viagra or chemotherapy?

I've seen Pluto symbolise antibiotics, a heart pace-maker and the contraceptive pill. But that's still from the 'alternative' point of view, where you are seeing a patient who the doctor has told 'You need a four-month course of antibiotics for this acne' and the Moon is quincunx Pluto applying.

But no, I can't see it, because the modern medical model is of the body as a machine, so the parts are interchangeable: 'your machine is the same as my machine; this part of your machine is broken, we can take it out and put another part in' - that's so reductionist. Astrology isn't reductionist in that way. I reject any understanding of astrology as reductionist.

So the answer would be no. But having said that, a doctor has quite a degree of clinical freedom to do this or that in the interests of his or her patient. So it's not inconceivable that a doctor will practise orthodox medicine but do natal astrology as a separate issue, in the same way that they might use a faith healer.

Q: Do you know of any GPs who use astrology?

I did hear of one, but I think she's also a homeopath. And although there's a faculty of homeopaths that only registered medical practitioners can belong to, she's still taken that step into something different. So really, I don't.

That's not to say that some doctors may not be interested in it. But it's one thing to be interested in how some people approach conditions (especially if they are getting good results); it's another thing to actually do that yourself, and be seen to be doing it.

Q: What state of repair do you think medical astrology is in today? Are there any major lacks - if so, is it that there are old texts that are lost or need to be translated, or is it that more research needs to be done now?

There are very few people practising like I practise - I'm thinking of herbalists; homeopaths seem to be in a different situation, because someone like Culpeper isn't using homeopathic remedies - he's using herbal remedies. So you can see why astrology's attractive for herbalists, but doesn't do much for homeopaths. There are homeopaths out there using astrology, though - and they are coming up with their own thing.

I hope to be sharing clinical experiences and approaches to practice with such a practitioner in a few months time; we want to look at how each of us is practising. Also I have a German friend who practises Dobereiner's Munich rhythm theory. The Germans are big on homeopathy and astrology. Ebertin is the big one. I suppose the astrology then has a layer of Jungian psychology. They are looking to find (for instance) remedies for specific configurations of planets.

So I think that astrology and homeopathy is probably much more thriving than astrology and herbal medicine. But if you don't have a medical discipline, then medical astrology is frightening. I think this is the bottom line. Because you've got to be able to bear patients saying, 'Well, I've got this pain, I'm in a terrible state, what can you do about it?'.

A straight astrologer will feel powerless in that situation. That is why medical astrology does not feature in the general ambit of natal chart reading; it is frightening. It does require some medical knowledge to use astrology in the treatment of disease.

But I want to make a firm distinction between the astrology of disease and the astrology of health. The astrology of health is there for straight astrologers to dip into. I'll explain what I mean by 'the astrology of health' (I outlined it in my book, 'Culpeper's Medicine').

The astrology of health is based on the natal chart - from which you derive the temperament of the individual. Culpeper says that you need the natal chart, because maybe they have lived in a different climate, or maybe they have had illnesses in their life, or maybe they have just got older, and that changes their baseline temperament. The natal chart should show that; that is your starting point.

Once you have identified the temperament of the person (and usually that's a combination of two, not just one simple one) that feeds you straight into what was called (in the western medical tradition) 'the six non-natural things'. They are things that are not innate in the body, but are required by the body. In fact they are unavoidable, and they have to be in good order for the body to be maintained in health.

The first one is air that you breathe; in our day that tends to mean pollution, which is very important. But it could mean the difference between living half-way up a mountain or living in a valley; living by the sea or living on a plain in a land-locked area.

The second one is diet - food and drink. The third one is the balance between exercise (activity) and rest. I was listening to the radio this morning; some woman was running a half-marathon, extremely fit, and she dropped dead. They are saying, 'We need more defibrillators'. You imagine people running these marathons - really healthy - yet there's this demand for defibrillators all down the course. You think, 'What's going off there?' It's this 'no pain no gain' mentality; if you're getting pain from exercise, you are doing yourself harm. That would be the old view. In terms of rest - you speak to some people and they go to work, they get home and cook, potter around, do knitting, they don't really watch TV because they can't sit still for long enough. Their inactivity thing isn't very good, so they should be doing something like yoga.

The fourth is sleep and wakefulness - insomnia, big problem. The fifth one is bodily evacuations. Herbalists are good on this, they always ask patients about their bowel habits. The English are supposed to be very bad at talking about it, and that's why so many cases of colon cancer go untreated. Herbalists do ask about bodily functions, because that is a part of their orientation.

The sixth one is the emotions. Passions in the mind transmit things to the heart (this is in the old understanding) and when the heart is disregulated by these emotions, the whole body is put out of sorts. So the emotions that a person is experiencing - prolonged grief, anxiety, depression, anger - these things can upset the body.

So those are the six non-natural things. You could have a straight astrologer - not a medical practitioner - but with a knowledge of the energetics of food. We know that garlic, and onions, are extremely heating. We know that lettuce and cucumber are extremely cooling; that is why, as a group, we eat them in summer. We know that strong tea is very astringent, it puckers the mouth (think what that is doing to the kidneys ...).

You see, you don't have to go very far to be able to understand what someone of a certain temperament needs. Because the temperament means that there is not perfect balance between the humours, or the elements. No-one is in perfect balance - that would probably confer immortality! So everyone is slightly out of balance, but still within the bounds of health. That is what the Greeks called the Eukrasia, the 'good mix'. The idea of the six non-naturals is to get better health than you already have. An astrologer can do that by looking at the six non-natural things; and that would put the astrology of health within the remit of natal astrology. That's where medical astrology should make its first big step in recovering its status; but illness frightens people off, and you do have to have a certain medical discipline to deal with that.

Q: Do you get into evaluating the temperamental balance of someone and telling them that they should, say, sleep more (or less)?

Yes. I had a case a week ago - I was phoned up by a journalist, who was writing an article for a new health and fitness magazine which is coming out. She wanted to compare what a GP, a reflexologist, and (of all things) a medical astrologer could tell her. I was at a disadvantage, in comparison with the others, because I didn't see her; we had to do it over the phone. I asked her to make it clear that this isn't my normal practice at all.

The GP said that she [the journalist] was tired. I don't know what the reflexologist said. I got her natal details, and also cast a horoscope for the moment of that enquiry - which, initially, didn't look promising, but in the end I decided that it would be beneficial for me to be involved in that way. That change of view really depended on me identifying myself in the 7th - not as Saturn, the ruler, but as Uranus, the co-ruler, which is very pertinent for astrology.

I drew up the natal chart, evaluated the temperament, then did my six non-natural things. I also wanted to suggest herbs that she could take. So I decided that she had problems sleeping, because she was choleric/melancholic. Both those are dry, so I decided that one problem lay in the dryness. The dietary advice, then, would be to eat moistening foods. I didn't want her to exercise too excessively. I thought that sleep would be a problem, so I noted down: Chamomile (and chamomile tea is the first step in self-help for people who are having difficulty sleeping; a cup of chamomile tea before they go to bed).

The natal ascendant was Leo, ruled by the Sun, so you always want to strengthen the ascendant ruler - especially as the ascendant is the cusp of the house of life and health. So Chamomile was my constitutional remedy for her. And because, as Culpepper says, it purges heat (and she was, first and foremost, choleric) that would be ideal in that way.

The other two were really medicinal herbs that you would use to treat insomnia: hops (which, although it is a herb of Mars, purges heat from the system, that is like curing like) and the third was a herb of the Moon, Californian Poppy, which is cooling and moistening; it removes the dryness, and is a known hypnotic herb. So I jotted these down. She rang for the consultation, and I went straight into saying, 'Well - you are this balance; do you have dry skin?'. Yes, she does, there is a history of eczema in the family and she has had eczema from time to time.

The chart was great for her career as a journalist; Moon in Aquarius, sextile Mercury and Venus in the 10th house. So she's good at writing, there is a charm to her writing. Sun in Aries on the cusp of the 10th - she is ambitious, as you would expect from a choleric melancholic; both those temperaments will be ambitious. And liking to work on her own - the Aries thing, of course.

And yes, she does have trouble sleeping. She works frenetically (she has Moon square Mars) and then has a period where the work is not going so well, or there isn't so much of it… She has Saturn in the tenth, square the ascendant - which was the main signifier of melancholy in her horoscope.

So that worked out. I told her of the herbs for her insomnia, and she found the whole thing "uncannily accurate" (her words). I described her physique, as well; with that temperament you would expect her not to be fleshy, but slim. I thought she would be middling height or lower - not tall. She was middling height, actually. Nothing to do with temperament, but with so many planets in the tenth house and no strong ruler of the 5th, I didn't think she had children; she didn't. Very much the career woman at this stage.

That went well, and that is doing the astrology of health - which I think astrologers can take on without getting into disease.

Q: What is your background in astrology, how did you learn it?

I was in my final year at university, studying Russian. My flatmate and friend for the whole time I'd been at university (she's a Sagittarian, like me) brought home one of these basic books on Sagittarius. Having read it herself, she gave it to me to read. I found it very interesting, and really what happened for the next four or five years was that we would meet up, maybe spend a weekend together, and talk about astrology. We both learned to draw up charts from a Derek and Julia Parker book - all very basic, but what we were developing was a symbolic language.

Then I did Bernard Eccles' second-year adult ed. class in north London, and through that I heard about the Astrological Lodge of London. I soon became a member, at a time when the Company of Astrologers was just being set up; I think Geoffrey Cornelius was still Lodge President. I was very much attracted to what they were doing, so I started to study with the Company of Astrologers. It was Maggie Hyde who did a seminar on Culpeper one day - and that definitely captured my imagination. I'd always ruled out medicine, because I didn't like needles, didn't like the idea of cutting people up and that kind of thing. But the idea that you could give people flowers instead (admittedly to drink, or whatever) was appealing.

Another friend of mine was going to what was, apparently, the only adult ed. class in herbal medicine; so I caught the last class. The teacher was a Hungarian woman, and I remember her talking about basil (which has a very funny reputation in the tradition, and still doesn't appear in a lot of herbals). She was saying, 'A teaspoon of basil is enough for a whole army' - I remember that. Anyway, before I knew it I had signed up to train as a herbalist.

It's unusual to get into herbal medicine through astrology. A lot of people in the world of alternative medicine who are interested in astrology have come the other way round, especially if it's herbal medicine - they are interested in herbs, because they like growing things, then they come across Culpeper, and astrology, and it's a suitable antidote to the scientific stuff that they're having to learn - or they're just fascinated by it. But I did it the other way round, coming to herbal medicine through astrology.

So I was studying astrology a lot then, and gradually started to become a tutor at the Company of Astrologers myself. But the study of astrology goes on and on. If I'm studying medicine I don't have as much time to study astrology. So for me, it's always been a case of juggling time to do these two things - because there are definitely these two strands that I follow. I'm a Sagittarius anyway, and with Moon in Gemini there's definitely a two-thing with me.

So I've drunk deep of the attitude to astrology that has grown up in the Company. That's one that I share, that I understand can allow some philosophical justification of astrology (philosophy isn't my strong point; but better that than some of the blind beliefs, such as 'We haven't got it yet, because we can't measure it, but we will' - I can't swallow that).

Q: Would you be willing to part with your birth data? The reason I ask is that I'm interested in how the charts of astrologers might show their orientation toward astrology.

I'd rather talk about aspects, rather than show the horoscope. I have Venus rising in Scorpio, and I've seen that in the charts of other herbalists. Venus you can associate with the Three Graces - you like the beautiful plants, it's part of that spirit of growth in the world - but in Scorpio there is, firstly, the healing potential, and secondly the occult knowledge (where astrology ties in).

So I have Scorpio rising. Mars, of course, always signified physicians, surgeons and apothecaries in the tradition - and my Mars is strong in Aries. I have Leo at the midheaven, Sun in Sagittarius - I'm going for wisdom rather than the practical application. I think that in any practice of medicine, you can just do the business; whereas I'm always looking for the bigger picture, being a Sagittarian.

I have Pluto in Virgo in the 10th, and at the Company of Astrologers weekend last weekend we had Michael Lutin over from America. He was tickling us with his views of Pluto in Leo and Pluto in Virgo - the one for Pluto in Virgo was of two Hell's Angels in a supermarket, and one telling the other that you have to cook the tofu for a full twenty minutes; that Virgo concern for health. That must come in there somewhere as well.

I'd say those were the salient features of my horoscope in regard to what I do. Then Mercury in Capricorn means that I'm drawn to studying the tradition - because I do think that there is such a proliferation of techniques in the twentieth century, that there's a kind of free-for all - and that can be done in ignorance of what astrologers did, pretty consistently, for hundreds of years. I'm really thinking back to pre-Lilly times, because in certain technicalities about horary, Lilly simplified the situation (though with great results). But before Lilly, you can look at some of these things and they are the same in 16th century France, with Dariot as they are in the 13th century with Bonatti, as they are in the 11th century with Al-Biruni. I like to know where I'm coming from, and what people have done before me.

Q: Culpeper, speaking of astrologers, said "none else are fit to make physicians" - do you agree with that? Do you feel that a knowledge of astrology could help everyone involved in medical work?

I do think that astrology would help people in medical work - or counselling work. The extent to which it should be integrated with that other discipline is a moot point, that I haven't got an answer to. I think there are problems with counsellors (just to take a non-medical, at least non-orthodox-medical, thing) because they have a certain training which is very non-interventionist. You could spend six weeks empathising with the client, and giving them space so they can start to talk. But astrology is interventionist. You can say, on the basis of the natal chart, 'You need to do this', or 'Choose this option out of three', or 'You need to follow this dietary regime' (thinking about medical astrology).

I think it can be useful. Now, I don't like the idea of astrology as an add-on. This is the problem - where it is brought in as an add-on to (say) Jungian therapy, because often they're not doing the astrology well enough. They're not treating it as something which is complete in its own right. So I think it could be very useful, but that there has to be that respect for astrology as something whole in itself, not just a technique or a little addition in the same way that you might do vega testing, or use Hopi ear-candles…

Q: Hopi ear-candles?!

That was a reductio ad absurdum… (laughter)

But what Culpeper was saying - first of all, you have to understand that in context. He was a very revolutionary character. He laid a lot of blame at the doors of doctors, lawyers and priests; he would have them all run out of the country. All medical texts were in Latin, so that common people couldn't read them, hence they couldn't see how superstitiously they were behaving… the Royal College of Physicians presented Charles II on his accession with powdered unicorn root!

Q: What was it, in fact?

I'm sure there are opinions of medical historians about what it probably was, but to claim that it was that is a bit odd, isn't it? So Culpeper accused them of imposing a monopoly; because once the Royal College of Physicians was established, they wanted to keep people from practising any kind of medicine. They could close down apothecaries; you weren't allowed to treat people by diagnosing or prescribing. But there weren't enough physicians to go round the people of London, and most of them couldn't afford it anyway. So they were neglected.

This, actually, is where the 'Quack's Charter' of Henry VIII came in. After twenty-odd years of the Royal College of Physicians, poor people were going to the wall. So he brought in the 'Quack's charter', whereby if you know something about herbs you can treat people with certain conditions for free.

Culpeper was hostile to all this, because they were basically just interested in money. They wanted people to be ill, so that they would make more money - that was his accusation. Using astrology - that brings in the issue of diagnosis. Obviously, medical diagnosis wasn't as good then as it is now. In addition, combined with the difficulty of diagnosis, some increasingly poisonous medicines were being used, and extremely strong purgatives, and bleeding, all that kind of thing.

Culpeper's approach was quite gentle. When he says that hops purges choler, he doesn't mean in the same way as scammony does. Scammony could kill you if given in excessive doses, hops will probably just put you to sleep.

Culpeper saw that astrology could reveal something else. I believe that as well. This example with the journalist last Monday; I seemed to know all these things, and I'd never met her. That is possible through the power of astrology. But whether it's only someone using astrology who can make a physician - well, I have to disagree. It's not a sine qua non of medical practice, and there are some great healers out there who are not using astrology. I always want to try and be modest in the realm of healing, because people are in terrible pain; if someone can help and make them better, that is wonderful. The idea of saying, 'You can't do it because you don't do this or that' is just the same as the medical profession has tried to do - to monopolise - in the past. So I won't say that.

Culpeper had a big political axe to grind, and I think that was one of the issues. But there was a whole millenarian thing about it: 'God set the planets in motion, therefore using astrology is closer to God'. There's a phrase which was certainly current in Culpepper's time - 'Put three doctors together and two of them will be atheists'. So I think you have to see his statement in the context of the time, and to bear in mind the political axe that Culpepper had to grind.

Q: Has anyone ever used another form of divination (for want of a better word) in a medical context - I'm thinking of something like the I Ching, or the tarot?

No, not that I know of. Though maybe a practitioner of the I Ching or the tarot, if they are good enough, could include medicine in their own speciality - 'the tarot of health'. I think the equivalent may be things like vega testing. There is now a proliferation of machines which you plug someone into and it tells them what is wrong with them. Now this isn't an area I know anything about, but I am suspicious. I believe that there is a core of good, scientific data on the origins of these machines - going back to Germany in the earlier part of the century. But there are a lot of these machines, and one does wonder about them.

To give you an example, there is a practitioner - I won't say where, but he lives in a particular environment down where I live. He has quite a reputation in that environment. I've had several patients of his who have come to see me, to try and find out what's wrong with them. It just so happened that three out of the four had been told that it was their mercury amalgam fillings that was causing their problem, and if they had all that taken out they would be better. They didn't, and they weren't; that's why they were coming to see me. But that would be expensive if it wasn't the case; and with three out of four, you start to wonder.

But having said that, a local GP was telling me about a problem with one patient who had chest pain of unknown origin. That is a tricky thing to diagnose, even with technology to help investigate. The patient actually went to this vega tester, and it was a problem with the gastrointestinal system, rather than the cardiovascular or the pulmonary. The doctor was quite impressed by that. And I'm not ruling it out. It's supposed to work along scientific lines, but I'm not sure that it does; electromagnetic energy - well, maybe, maybe not. I don't know. But that's all I can think of, really.

Otherwise you are getting into the area of guided visualisations, and working on the mind in that way. But that's not divinatory, really.

Q: What difference does an understanding of the four temperaments make to your approach?

In the context of holistic treatment, it's not the 'body as machine' metaphor that 'you are the same as that person'; each person is individual and different. Part of that individuality is going to be the baseline temperament, as well as what has happened to them subsequently. Another use of the baseline temperament is to assess how ill a person is. For instance, if a person is (say) seventy, then - because of the decline of innate heat - they are going to tend towards the cold. So if they have a cold disease, you can see that it doesn't take them far away from their temperament at that age in life to fall ill.

But if that person had a hot disease, then you would think 'There's something extreme here', and then you would be thinking of things like cancer, or heart disease. So the idea of temperament and the follow-through in the course of an individual's life allows you to assess the degree of illness. Within a holistic context, that can prove very useful; for instance, it can feed into considering 'how strong a medicine do I give them?'. Not only what medicine, but how strong do I make it.

To be able to recognise these things is actually a big step towards understanding where the patient is coming from. I think that is very useful. But Hippocrates teaches us that a person is more than the sum of his or her parts. So we do not want to reduce a person to a balance of temperaments in the same way that we do not want to reduce them by the body as machine metaphor. The unity of a person is unique and mysterious. To paraphrase Hippocrates, 'it is more important to know what kind of person has a particular temperament and disease than to know what kind of temperament and disease a person has'.

I can think of another case: a woman came to see me, very slim, extremely attractive, dressed in black. Basically she had what would have been called a candida problem. It's now called a gut dysbiosis by consultant gastero-enterologists, who are actually taking it seriously now. She had a yeast problem, located in the gut; and she had a swelling - on the left iliac fossa. It would come up and go down, and they didn't know what it was. The fact that she presented in this way - the form of her was striking. This was reflected in the melancholic temperament of her natal chart, and the powerful Saturn in Capricorn on an angle. Saturn, of course, is black.

That temperament can be subject to yeast problems. Lo and behold, she worked in a chocolate factory. In the chart, Venus squared Jupiter. I've talked already about how Jupiter is the natural virtue, located in the liver, the digestive system. Now Venus is square Jupiter. You think, 'Well - Venus isn't a malefic, that isn't too bad'. No it's not; it's like too much of a good thing. She was eating chocolates while she was working, so she got a big sugar load and then had thrush, then went on antibiotics, that altered the gut flora, allowed in anaerobic organisms, yeasts proliferated, and there you are.

The treatment was successful. Astrology, there, allows you to recognise the situation and think, 'Well - it's not so bad in her', because her temperament meant that she would be more prone to that than another temperament. So it was more amenable to treatment, despite this swelling in the abdomen - which was of some concern. She only came for a short while, after which she was a lot better, and then I got a whole stream of patients from where she lived. So she was obviously happy about it, and singing my praises!

Q: Lilly said, "…the more holy thou art and the more neer to God, the purer judgement thou shalt give". This seems to point to astrology not simply being a set of techniques, but some sort of interaction at what might be called a spiritual level. What are your comments on that?

I think that's true. It's definitely spiritual and not religious for me. But yes, I think the practitioner should be coming from a place where they have actually looked at themselves, and freed themselves, so that they can see others better. Otherwise, in terms of psychotherapy, you are getting into the counter-transference.

In the realm of healing, if you aren't in good health, you aren't a good advertisement for your own treatments. So I think you have to be ascending (as it were) on some kind of spiritual path yourself. You can see this from my nature - with Sun in Sag ruling my midheaven, that would be my orientation. But I think you do.

Going back to that phrase about, 'Put three doctors together and two will be atheists' - doctors don't have to have that. But you do have to be altruistic, to have the care of your patients close to your heart, so there has to be something more than a material orientation in the better practitioners. So I would agree with Lilly. I think you have to have freed yourself up in order to practise really well.

There's an issue about where horary has come from. If you read Bonatti in the 13th century, in his aphorisms, you are supposed to go away for a day and a night to think about your question before you go back to the astrologer. Now David Pingree, who is the world expert historian of astrology says 'This is a sign that astrology came from India' - because this would be a practice of the sages in India. Then I was reading Al-Biruni recently, and he was criticising the astrologers in some group or tribe, who send people away for a day and a night and then purport to tell them about their past life. Al-Biruni thinks you can't do that.

But there is this thing about coming to astrology in a ritually purified way, and there is something in that. Though I don't perform a ritual before I cast a horoscope (though I think the casting of the horoscope in itself is a ritual) I don't see why that couldn't be integrated as good practice, as a reflection of this belief that there has to be a spiritual dimension to the study and practice of astrology.

Q: Do you feel that astrology needs some specific form of belief system to underpin it and make it whole - such as hermetic philosophy? Or does it stand in its own right?

What I've learned from the Company of Astrologers is that we might say, 'Venus rules love, harmony and peace; and the soft marshmallow; and soft moist summer fruit'; this kind of thing is Hermetic philosophy. You are saying that every thing in the universe pertains to one of the seven planets. If you don't accept that, then the occult correspondences which astrology is based on fall apart.

Astrology must be a hermetic art. The key thing is to see the hermeneutic in the hermetic. It's all about arriving at meaning through reading the signs. There has to be some philosophy underpinning it, but I don't think it's necessarily a 'belief system'. It might be a way of viewing the cosmos… it might be a belief system now, because physics has moved on and the universe isn't constructed in that way, well so be it, it is a belief system then. But when people say, 'Do you believe in astrology?' I wonder about the question. All the time, in your practice, it has to work - otherwise why are you using it? That's on a very practical level, and of course medical astrology has to be practical.

Garry PhillipsonGarry Phillipson has practised astrology since 1976. His other interests include Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. Astrology in the Year Zero published in 2000, resulted from Garry's study of astrology - in particular, from his investigation of the philosophy and assumptions that underpin the subject. His articles and lectures have appeared under the aegis of groups including the Astrological Association of Great Britain, the Astrological Lodge, the Company of Astrologers, the Urania Trust, the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism, The Mountain Astrologer, and Ascella. He is currently working on a PhD about astrology and truth at the University of Wales, Trinity St. David.

Visit Garry's website at

© Garry Phillipson

Professional Astrology

Culpeper's Medicine by Graeme Tobyn

University of Lancashire degree course in Herbal Medicine

Bernadette Brady
Darby Costello
Benjamin Dykes
Bernard Eccles
Dennis Elwell
Kim Farnell
John Frawley
Dorian Greenbaum
Darrelyn Gunzburg
Robert Hand
Mike Harding
Deborah Houlding
Warren Kenton
Maurice McCann
Garry Phillipson
Christine Skinner
Shelley von Strunckel
Komilla Sutton
Graeme Tobyn
Robert Zoller

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An Interview with some American Astrologers

by Deborah Houlding
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