There are many fruitful ways to approach health and healing using astrology. The traditional model of medical astrology correlates the signs and planets with parts of the body and with maladies that are coupled with these; it also makes use of remedies, often herbs or gems that are reputed to act sympathetically or antipathetically to particular planets. Such correspondences can be extremely useful and I’ve certainly learned a great deal from them. They have, in fact, been the rich jumping-off point for my research into the correlations between astrological symbolism and modern anatomy and physiology. My own particular interest now is in psychosomatic medical astrology – in creating bridges between this updated version of the astrological map of the body, which I call somatic astrology, and psychological astrology, and testing the validity of these correlations by checking them against the material that is thrown up by transpersonal work with clients and their symptoms. Using this process it is often possible to identify tailor-made ways of improving individual health and well-being. While it is certainly not a substitute for medical treatment, orthodox or otherwise, I suspect that every medical problem has a psychosomatic component, and that includes accidents, so the scope for this kind of approach may be considerable.
The main function of medical astrology, I believe, is not to provide an orthodox medical diagnosis, but an astro-somatic one which elicits meaning and points to root causes. It was William Davidson (I think) who wrote “The horoscope is music of the soul projected into the body. It is a graphic representation of the forces that vitalise and maintain your body”. Bodily signs and symptoms can then be seen as communications of the soul, speaking in riddles that can be teased out and deciphered with the help of astrological symbolism. Paying close attention to symptoms allows the messages of the still, small voice within to be heard, messages that constantly whisper clues about the way forward out of stuck places and into a fuller life.
The mind, the body and the environment, and all they contain, form an undivided field and each of our chart features can express themselves in any and all of three main arenas – the inner world of thoughts, beliefs and feelings, the outer world of events and relationships and the interface where these two worlds meet – which is the body. My rough rule of thumb is that when activated by transits, chart factors manifest at the inner level when we are consciously working with an issue, at the outer level via events and relationships when we have yet to become aware of some part of ourselves and in the body when we are semi-aware of what the issue is but for one reason or another we feel afraid, unwilling, unable or not clear enough to deal with the matter at that time.
The intelligence behind the body appears always to be striving towards health, doing its best to circumvent whatever obstacles lie in its way, and symptoms can be the signs of this drive at work. But there are some illnesses that can be seen as initiations, gateways leading to a richer engagement with life. The health crisis of the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung is one such example. Early in 1944 he broke his foot. This was followed by a heart attack, apparently caused by embolisms from his immobilised leg.1 2 Here we have an interesting chain of events. A broken foot, associated with Pisces, hints at a break – and possible breakthrough – in Jung’s existing understanding and connection with the divine. The lower leg, responsible for pumping the blood back to the heart, is ruled by Aquarius (Jung’s Ascendant sign, associated with his outlook on life and significator of his vitality) was immobilised after the accident. (After he recovered he wrote that “at the beginning of the illness I had the feeling that there was something wrong with my attitude”).3 This stasis led to the formation of blood clots which blocked the cardiac vessels, triggering a heart attack. The heart is ruled by Leo, the sign of Jung’s Sun and the Sun correlates with the vocation. So his understanding, outlook and vocation were all stopped in their tracks, as it were. During the heart attack he had a near death experience that had a profound effect on him and gave him a totally new view and relationship with life and death. Following it he experienced glorious visions by night and tormented depression by day and it took him several painful weeks to reconcile himself to taking up his life again. He wrote about the experience later saying,
After the illness a fruitful period of work began for me. A good many of my principal works were written only then. The insight I had had…gave me the courage to undertake new formulations. I no longer attempted to put across my own opinion but surrendered myself to the current of my thoughts.4
At the time of the heart attack the transiting North Node was conjunct his Sun in Leo (‘fated’ events and relationships associated with his vocation) while Neptune, bringer of mystical experiences, was making a sextile to it, Saturn was opposing his natal Mars, and Mercury the messenger was crossing his Ascendant. “I no longer attempted to put across my own opinion”. What a fitting adjustment after transiting Saturn had opposed his Mars in Sagittarius. Mars is also the traditional ruler of his MC in Scorpio and the illness, linked with the Saturn transit to Mars, certainly did shift his career into an even more profound and receptive direction.
There is plenty of sound scientific evidence to show that the quality of our lifestyle choices, thoughts, emotions and self-image can have dramatic effects on health for good or ill and each of these levels influences every one of the others.5 For example, junk food not only has a negative effect on the physical functioning of the body, it creates disturbances in the emotions and thought processes and distorts our sense of who we are. With negative thoughts come negative emotions and negative emotions lead to harmful biochemical changes in the body that in turn create ideal breeding grounds for disease. Perhaps the most powerful driver of health is our self-image. How we visualise ourselves leads us, inexorably and quite unconsciously, to behave in ways consistent with that identity. If we see ourselves as unacceptable, we’ll do things that evoke rejection in others, and this has its correlate at the body level. The good news is that by cultivating a positive self-image we can promote more positive behaviour and healthier outcomes.
An example of this is Kathleen, a client from many years ago when I was working as a herbalist and only just starting out as an astrologer. She came with a formidable list of complaints. She had had a history of abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding and severe pre-menstrual tension, which had resulted in her having a hysterectomy at the age of 28. Her ovaries were removed three years later, effectively plunging her into menopause. Fortunately by then she had already had two children. As a result of long-standing colitis, part of her bowel had been removed. Additionally, she had osteoporosis, poor eyesight, drastic mood swings, water retention and allergies, with periodic black depressions. There were many emotional problems connected with her relationship with her parents. She had had a difficult bond with her late father, an alcoholic with erratic mood swings (Mars in Pisces in the 4th house) and one of her most vivid memories was of being told by him at the age of five that she would never be any good. With Sun in Capricorn and Saturn in Scorpio on the Ascendant it was all too easy for her to swallow that one whole. Worse was her relationship with her mother, whom Kathleen regarded as a harsh, demanding witch (Moon in Leo conjunct Pluto) while she saw herself as a Cinderella, set to scrub floors at eight years old and being constantly victimised and punished, no matter how hard she tried to please, and she did try desperately hard (Moon square Saturn and sextile Neptune). Mars in Pisces can be linked with worry and nervous tension leading to irritation in the gut (and subsequent surgery), Moon-Neptune contacts predispose to water retention and allergies, while the close Moon Pluto conjunction tells of the profuse menstruation, as well as the removal of her uterus and ovaries. Interestingly, the doctor told her that it looked as though her ovaries were trying to grow again as she had such massive tissue regeneration.
Someone with Moon in Leo needs to feel significant and to have a role in which it is appropriate to be centre stage. In the four years we worked together Kathleen had three further operations. It finally dawned on me that she often spoke animatedly of how much she enjoyed being in hospital and that the doctors said that she was their favourite patient, keeping everyone entertained right up until the anaesthetic kicked in. It seemed that going under the knife to have parts of her body amputated was the only situation in which she found the attention, drama and extremes that her Moon-Pluto in Leo craved. When I risked putting this suggestion to her, she agreed it rang true for her and it was a pivotal moment. It was as if a switch had been thrown. There were no more operations after that and we began to explore alternative options. She had always wanted to paint but had been too inhibited to try until then but she disciplined herself to face her fears and to cut a long story short (and passing over a great many ups and downs and bumps in the road) she has since gone on to take art classes and to exhibit her work. She rejoiced when her philandering husband left her, wishing that he had done it sooner, created appropriate boundaries round her mother and built a new life for herself. I had a letter many years later, saying that she was keeping really well and that she enjoyed being in control of her life at last. It was Kathleen’s case that first made me realise just how urgently astrological forces press for expression and how powerfully belief and self-image can produce corresponding emotions and behaviours that can make ill and sometimes even kill or, mercifully, cure their creator.
By understanding these correspondences we can, via astrology, identify and experiment with new and more skilful pathways of self-representation and thought patterns that heal rather than harm. The underlying premise here is that by dealing with the problems ‘upstream’, in the psyche, it can have a sparing effect on the body. From those early days I’ve now developed a framework, based on the four elements, for working with clients with health problems that allows processes that may be under the radar of consciousness to surface. In the Element Symptom Analysis, the first step is Earth, which deals with what the matter is, what has materialised – in other words, the symptoms. This is the fact gathering stage, which includes asking the client to create a timeline of the problem from its onset along with concurrent life events and to give as full as possible a description of the symptoms in their own words. Clients often report that this process is therapeutic, sometimes even cathartic, in itself. Air comes next, and in this stage the client is asked for any associations they can make with the name of their condition and the words they have used to describe their symptoms. There have been some enlightening moments with this too. One woman with Still’s disease burst out laughing as she realised that learning to be still was exactly what she needed! Under the Water heading we’ll look at the impact the illness has had on their comfort zone and any emotional and behavioural responses it has evoked, while the Fire section investigates meaning and identity in the context of the illness. Usually I’ll concentrate first on this four-part process and marry it up with the astrology only as the final step. That way both the client and I can participate in the sense of wonder that is produced when all of the threads come together.
A more recent client history shows this approach at work. Rita had been diagnosed as having a hyperactive nodular thyroid gland, with symptoms that were causing her a great deal of distress. She was experiencing racing of the heart, breathlessness, stiffness, especially around the hamstrings, and what she called a ‘lead in the veins’ tiredness and difficulty in sleeping. There was a tightness and feeling of having a lump in the throat which was getting in the way of speaking. The quality of her thinking was being affected and frequently she found she couldn’t string a sentence together. Her groin was the focus of some odd sensations; it felt as if “there was a lot of electricity there, like a current going on, a kind of fizzing”. At that time she also had some very heavy work deadlines and was not pacing herself.
The symptom that drew her attention most was the lump in the throat which she associated with "something sticking in the throat” i.e. something disagreeable she didn’t want to accept or swallow, with “lots of tears held back” and with “choking with emotion”. Everything was being held in tightly in her throat and she related this to that fact that she felt unable to say lots of things to her partner who was emotionally and verbally abusive and manipulative; she just couldn’t get the words out. The electric sensations in the groin didn’t disturb her and she associated the groin with moving forward and ‘current’ with the words energy, vital, alive, now. There are already lots of clues here about what is going on behind this illness; part of her was in a stuck place because of fear and another part was fizzing (angry) but alive and ready to move forward.
When questions of emotional security were touched on, Rita reported that she was frightened of having the problem treated medically as she was wary of throwing everything out of balance. So it was forcing her to explore alternatives and look at her lifestyle and she had asked the doctors for a three month period before agreeing to treatment. She had always been a doer and found stopping difficult; frequently she didn’t sit down to eat, but the symptoms had slowed her down physically. The only time she did nothing was when she was with her partner as he is long-term sick and this forces her to stop. Being with him forces her to relax and think about having quiet time and she loves it when she does. She realised that difficult though the relationship was, there was still something of value in it for her and she was reluctant to let go.
The final stage of information gathering looks at identity and how the client visualises the illness and his or her self in relation to it. Visualisations have the ability to cut straight to the heart of the matter very quickly by providing a vehicle to access the intuition and allow the soul to speak without interruptions and rationalisations. The client is asked to allow an image to arise of one of the symptoms, and to accept whatever came up, no matter how peculiar. Questions can then be addressed to the symptom-image, about what it wants and what it has to offer the person as well as what the first steps towards healing might be. This is often the most dramatic part of the investigation and it can be transformational in itself.
The image of the symptom that Rita got was of a dark reddish brown heart pumping and beating. It was doughnut-shaped like a stone ring which then changed to a bowl. She felt miserable when looking at it as it looked hard and heavy and frozen. What it had to offer her were signals that told her when limits being reached, that something was a step too far or over the top and to show Rita where she was hitting a wall. It said it was acting like a lid on a pot that was boiling, and trying hard to keep the pressure down. What it wanted was to be unfrozen, and she could do this by being a little softer, warmer, more open, more porous, letting things go through. The first steps towards resolution she was told was to relax, breathe, be quiet and find ways of letting go of the tightness and taking the pressure off, and ultimately to say how she feels and let go rather than hanging on. This gave her a great deal of information to mull over and she spent quite some time doing so over the following weeks.
The thyroid gland itself is ruled by Taurus, while the amount of hormone it secretes by is controlled by the anterior pituitary, ruled by Capricorn. So thyroid problems can be looked at astrologically in both the cardinal and the fixed cross. Rita has Mercury in Taurus and when she first noticed the problem, in December 2011, Neptune was squaring her Mercury and had done so all of the previous year. Neptune dissolves and makes permeable so this could explain her difficulty with thinking straight as well as a less than optimal functioning of the thyroid gland. Mercury rules her 9th house and in 2011 she had gone abroad to try to make a break from her partner but had gone back to him on her return. Pluto and Uranus were beginning to hit hard on her natal Moon in Libra square Mars in Capricorn. One possible manifestation of Pluto transiting Mars in a cardinal sign (there are many other possibilities) is a powerful increase in thyroid activity. Add Uranus and we have erratic functioning and possibly the ‘electricity’ in the groin. As Mars is her 7th house ruler, a review at the very least of her relationship was called for, the more so as Saturn was approaching her Ascendant but with her Moon in Libra in the 12th this is a great deal easier said than done.
The symptoms have now gone and she no longer needs regular hospital check-ups; she attributes this to some lifestyle changes such as drinking less coffee and to the insights she gained as we worked together. She is slowly untangling herself from the relationship and as the process is now a conscious one she may no longer need the wake-up call of symptoms coming knocking on her door.
It is deeply satisfying to work in this way, using the three strands of investigation – somatic astrology, psychological astrology and the Element Symptom Analysis. Bringing those together can show just how breathtakingly specific the human psyche is in somatising the meaning behind symptoms and how perfectly astrology describes the connection. But it is, as I see it, still very much as work in progress.
1 C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (London, 1963) p.320
2 I have seen 11th February 1944 given for the break in his fibula and 21st February for the myocardial infarction, but have not yet been able to substantiate this.
3 Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.328
4 ibid, p.328
5 One recent example is Lissa Rankin, Mind over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself (New York, 2013)
First published by: The Astrological Journal, Jul/Aug 2014
Jane Ridder-Patrick has trained as a pharmacist, naturopath, herbalist, psychotherapist and historian and writes, consults and lectures on astrology, its history and present-day psychological and medical applications in the UK and internationally. Her practice is in Edinburgh, where she also teaches astrology. She has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and her best-known publication is A Handbook of Medical Astrology. Her specialities are medical, experiential and pro-active astrology. Jane can be contacted via her website: www.janeridderpatrick.com
Charts provided by the author
Element meditation: © fotoyou - fotolia.de
Broken mirror: © Photographee.eu - fotolia.de
Element Analysis: © Heiko Barth - fotolia.de
© Jane Ridder-Patrick - published by The Astrological Journal / 2014
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22-May-2018, 03:20 UT/GMT
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