Saturday, June 19, 2010

What is a Spiritual Disease?

In the Martial Art of Horary Astrology, I outlined some of the classical rules for determining whether a disease was physical or spiritual in nature. To reproduce the table on page 157, here is the traditional distinction.

Table One. Typical configurations for physical and mental diseases, as described by Lilly and others.

Physical Mental/Spiritual
Ascendant and Moon afflicted; their rulers not afflicted. The Ascendant and the Moon not afflicted; but their rulers afflicted.
Mars or Saturn afflicting the Moon, but not the Ascendant. Mars or Saturn afflicting the Ascendant, but not the Moon.
Jupiter in the 1st or 6th Ruler of the 9th or 12th in the 6th (witchcraft)
Ruler of the 1st in the 6th Ruler of the 6th is Mercury (witchcraft)
Moon or Ruler of the Ascendant in the 12th. Ruler of the Moon or Ascendant in the 12th.

One of my medical students recently asked me about this table, noting that this does not express his experience. I have to admit: this doesn't express my experience either. And it is precisely this point that I want to discuss.

First, I would express the following: it is a mistake to take any author as being 100% right about anything, whether an astrological author, or an author in any field. I would add a corollary: it is extremely important to understand the historical context of astrological method in order to understand whether or not the method even applies. Here, I think this point is the crux to understanding the problem: that our modern contours of disease do not map one-on-one with older theories of disease.

This week, I have been working with two women about health issues: and by chance (!) they both have ten degree Virgo Moons. Accordingly, both have had Saturn transiting their Moons, so by Lilly's rules, they would both manifest physical diseases. With Saturn separating from the conjunction, we are reminded of two things. First, that Saturn transits often have a "whole-sign" influence, where, even though the transit is officially over for both of them, the "mess" is still being cleaned up, as the Saturn completes its transit of Virgo. The second is that often Saturn shows the development of the disease, not necessarily its culmination.

The younger of the two has been diagnosed with throat cancer, and has just had her surgery scheduled. In her case, Taurus is the sign of her 6th house cusp, certainly appropriate for the nature of the cancer: and suggesting that this disease is signature for this chart: not an incidental event, but part of the major theme of her life. Saturn in Cancer is in her 8th - the disease cancer could be the cause of her eventual death. (That is not the only possible scenario, however.) But in her solar return, the most afflicted planet is the ruler of the Ascendant - arguing for a mental/spiritual disease at this time.

Now there are those people, especially within the New Age movement, who argue for the mental/spiritual side of cancer. I forcefully disagree. Not only has there been a massive increase in cancer in the 20th century correlating with the increased use of a series of carcinogenic substances like benzene, but there has been research for over eighty years pointing out these correlations. (For a fuller exposition of this, please see: Davis, Devra Lee. The Secret History of the War on Cancer. New York: BasicBooks, 2007.) With greater exposure to chemicals, more people are getting cancer - whatever their psycho-spiritual state.

It is interesting that in the 17th c. works on astrological medicine, the emphasis was on predicting whether the patient would be cured or die. It was not on diagnosing the disease by any disease categories still in use. Thus, William Lilly or Richard Saunders had no "model" for cancer. So we are somewhat off the hook about trying to explain how to use astrology within the context of soaring cancer and diabetes rates. But would Lilly and Saunders view this patient's cancer as physical, or mental/spiritual? They certainly knew cancer. Lilly describes caring for his employer's wife who had breast cancer, and it is a wrenching description.

And yet - there is also testimony to the psycho-spiritual aspects of cancer. (for an interesting exposition of these ideas, see, for example, Schulz, Mona Lisa, and Christiane Northrup. Awakening Intuition : Using Your Mind-Body Network for Insight and Healing. New York: Harmony Books, 1998.) Schulz's experience as a medical intuitive argues for at least a spiritual dimension to the process.

How do we square these two approaches? In all likelihood, our intrepid patient was exposed to chemical toxicity - something that is nearly impossible not to envision, given the chemical load which is being discovered in everybody. (For more information on chemical load, see Baker, Nena. The Body Toxic : How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-Being. New York: North Point Press, 2009.) She, like the rest of us, is walking around with a chemistry set of substances in her body. She hits a solar return in 2009 with a Venus-Mars conjunction at the shipwreck star Scheat, just shortly after Saturn completed the transit to her Moon, and with the South Node in the 6th. The cancer starts growing. Her natal 6th house shows the place. The 2009 solar return has that transiting Saturn opposite solar return Moon, so again, the problem is of the body. And yet, the ruler of her Moon and Ascendant is in the 12th, being afflicted by Neptune. So we see a mental/spiritual connection as well. So we have a mixed physical and mental/spiritual disease - which happens a lot. Mixed astrological messages again!

Our second Moon at 10 Virgo has cataracts and glaucoma. The doctors have already been doing eye surgery on her, reflecting the fact that Saturn had been in Virgo for a while. In her 2009 solar return, the Moon was afflicted by Uranus, but the dispositor of the Moon was afflicted by Neptune. Mixed indicators again.

It's harder to square the issue of mental/spiritual aspect to glaucoma and cataracts than for cancer - although still some might argue for some metaphor around seeing. But I would merely add that this woman is 83 years old. Does age trump metaphor?

Another woman I worked with on cancer, this time with natal Moon in Pisces, received her diagnosis just as Saturn had transited into Virgo. Her cancer is one that was unheard of until the 20th century, and has been correlated with chemical exposure. In the year of her diagnosis, the solar return Ascendant was not afflicted, but its ruler Saturn was in detriment in Leo, in a partile opposition to Neptune, and posited in the 8th house. That affliction to the ruler of the Ascendant makes this a spiritual disease by the old rules, but I'd call it chemical exposure, which sounds pretty physical to me. Her natal Moon is afflicted by Saturn, so at least there we have the physical affect: and her Saturn is in Virgo, so we begin to see something of the timing.

In all these cases, we get a somewhat mixed read for physical vs. mental/spiritual. So what is going on, and are the classifications even meaningful?

To answer this question, I think we have to return to to sociological context of the old rules. From the Roman Empire to the 16th century, the prevailing European model for "health care" was the contract for a cure. In this legal system, a patient and a healer actually created a legally enforceable contract, whereby both parties stipulated what a "cure" would look like (for example: being able to walk, but perhaps with a limp), along with the price for the cure. If the healer couldn't effect a cure, then the patient didn't need to pay, except for medicines. This practice put a premium on the healer being able to not only diagnose a disease, but also that it could be cured on a physical level. This contract explains the popularity of astrological medicine, which could help to determine the curability of a condition. If a patient's condition could not be cured, there would be no payment - so the physician was anxious to know whether a case was worth the effort.

Within this system, the answer is obvious: a physical disease is not one caused by physical means, but one that can be cured by physical means: herbs, baths, surgery, etc. A mental or spiritual disease was one which should be referred to other practitioners - because then prayer, exorcism, talismans (i.e., magic), or other non-physical means of cure would be appropriate.

Once we understand the context, then we can also realize that the boundaries between these categories of disease morph in different historical and sociological circumstances. We may understand cancer as a primarily physical disease: but then, spiritual insight may help in some cases.

Every time you look at a list of astrological rules: for determining the rules for marriage, or for whether the patient will live or die, or for moving house, the student of astrology is almost always confronted with a chart that has mixed messages. This can be very frustrating, especially early on in the learning curve, because the budding astrologer doesn't know what to do. Oftentimes the answer is: both arguments are true. A disease can be both physical and spiritual. Going down one path without the other produces an incomplete, partial or temporary recovery.