The Psychological Roots of Illness
The use of astrology to diagnose physical illness has a long and illustrious history. Hippocrates, whose oath is still taken by modern physicians, is quoted to the effect that any person using medicine without a knowledge of astrology is to be considered a fool rather than a physician. Since the medical doctors who do know something about astrology can probably be counted on one’s fingers, the statement if true is a rather sweeping indictment. It is true that an increasing number of professional healers, in a variety of fields, have discovered astrology, and are coming to value its insights. Also, an increasing number of astrologers without any medical training are jumping into the vacuum and offering diagnoses and treatments, based on ancient traditions and limited personal experience. In some cases, they need to read the rest of the Hippocratic oath, its gist being, “if you cannot help, at least do no harm.” Negative suggestions can plant the seeds of destruction. The moral-ethical issues in astrology are awesome, as the astrologer speaks with the voice of the cosmos to the “true believer.”
I think that there are physical correspondences to the basic principles of astrology, but I also think that the key principles of astrology are psychological in nature, and that many different physical details can correspond to or be related to each of our 12 primary principles. We can be relatively clear, when we discuss the psychological keynotes, though even there, a variety of manifestations are possible. But when we try to guess the manifestation likely to occur on the physical level, we are on even more shaky ground. Suppose we decide that a chart shows serious conflicts involving letter one. Such conflict may show through aspects to Mars, to other planets in Aries, or to any planet in or ruling the first house. The conflict suggests problems in “doing our own thing,” but how will the problems express? We might defy the world, insist on our own will, and end up in jail or classed as a sociopath. We might project our aggression into others and get ourselves murdered, or just dominated, or pick out “free souls” to love who obviously are not likely to give much in return. The projection could occur in any relationship: parent, child, mate, friend, boss, employee, sibling, etc. We also might handle our initiative and courage and self-reliance and assertion in healthy ways. We might be a sports champion, a surgeon, a military leader, a competitive salesperson.
Or we might repress our self-assertion. Repression is the main subject of this article, since that will eventually produce illness. But what form? At the start, we might just have low energy. When part of the nature is saying “I want to do that” and another part is saying “you can’t”, or part is saying “I don’t want to do that” and another part says “you have to!”, we are pretty sure to be chronically tired. Mars has traditionally been associated with the muscles, among other body parts, and the less we do, the lower our energy level drops, and the weaker we become in general. If we live in stress conditions in which our body is stimulated to produce hormones to prepare for fight or flight, but we do neither; we just stay in an impasse; we are likely to develop headaches. The blood rushes to the head to prepare for action, but there is no action. Presto—headache. If we are angry enough at ourselves, we can attack our own body; directly through our own auto-immune system turning against the body it is supposed to defend, or vicariously through damage that requires surgery. An increasing number of illnesses are being recognized as mostly or partly auto-immune, including cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, in addition to the obvious lupus erythematosus. In the latter illness, the defense mechanism of the body turns against it and dissolves the connecting tissues. Mars symbolizes our ability to fight to defend our own rights, and there could not be a stronger form of self-against-self than this kind of unconscious self-destruction. Let’s look at a case, and bring the theories down to earth.
Ms X was born with Mars rising, exactly on the Ascendant. One could not have a stronger potential for self-will in action, and as a child she was given to temper tantrums when she did not get her own way. On one occasion, she threw a pot of food through a plate glass door. But as she grew older, the spiritual aspirations of the strong twelfth house and Piscean Moon came into conflict with the self-assertion. The idealization of love and marriage (Neptune in the fifth house and Sagittarius in the seventh house) also kept her searching for the perfect partner and she ended up playing God to others, as can so easily happen with a flip of the coin. She was a successful business woman, but never married. She took in and tried to “save” an older woman who was an alcoholic (doing all the irresponsible things Ms X could not let herself do), and eventually she died of lupus erythematosus. In her later years, her friends considered her a “saint.” The Mars capacity to assert her own needs and rights seemed to have vanished, but we cannot just wipe out a major part of our nature. The Aries-Taurus need to enjoy life on her own terms did not simply disappear; it went underground, and eventually the frustrated anger turned against her own body.
The ancients called Mars a malefic, because they saw so often that people either fought the world or experienced personal suffering when it was prominent in the chart. There was little realization of the possible potential, though a male might be encouraged to enter military service or take up mechanics. Pity the female with an emphasis on letter one! Yet there are many ways in which we can use our courage and initiative and drive without denying the rights of others or our own rights. We do not have to have accidents, fevers, cuts, burns, surgery, etc. All of these occurrences indicate that we are not handling our anger, our resentment that we cannot let ourselves do what we want. When we do not really want to iron, we burn ourselves on the iron. When we are angry at our husband but cannot deal with it openly, we knock the fenders in if he has to pay for it. Sinus colds are classic blocked Mars, meaning blocked ability to do what we want. But as long as we blame anything outside of ourselves, we set ourselves up to be victims. If we think it is the fault of our parents, mate, children, siblings, job, or the planets, we are stuck in our frustration and increasingly severe illness. When we change our attitudes and our actions, we change ourselves and our lives. We can change, but we have to have faith and desire to do it.
Let’s look at another chart of a woman who had Lupus, but who got well. Mrs. Y is obviously identified with the role of wife and mother. Cancer rising and the loaded 4th house with the Cancer Moon on the Ascendant shout that she sees her role as either baby or mother. Pluto on the Ascendant and the stellium in Libra plus Juno in the 7th house define her role as mate. Since the Libra is in the 4th house, Pluto in Cancer, and the Capricorn in the 7th, we have a mixture of mother and mate. We can handle such mixtures by taking turns being mother to our mate. But if one person plays parent all the time, there is no partnership. The chart also has a strong fire emphasis in the earth houses, but she is only going to get into that fire through the earth door—by working in the world in some way, finding out that she can cope with the material world. So what did she do with this mixed potential which emphasized the need for home and family, but also the need to work outside the home to realize her fire self-assertion? (We note that the south node of the Moon, usually a lesson in life, is in Aries suggesting that she may have trouble actualizing her confidence and self-will and finding her work in the world).
She was raised as a good Catholic and followed the family pattern, marrying young and having six children. She was a devoted wife and mother, giving to her church and neighbors and family, living for and through them, and she was chronically ill. She alternated between being mother of the world around her, and being baby when she was sick and others had to care for her. Finally the last child graduated from high school and her husband got his first really good job. It looked as if easy street had arrived; no more struggling from one pay check to the next to keep bread on the table. And at that point, her husband left her! She could have retreated totally into being baby and given up. She had never worked for money in her life. But instead, she got a job and got into her fire! The illnesses disappeared. Spontaneous remission, the doctors say. But astrology says that her blocked fire was turned out into action in the world, and not in against herself.
Either earth or water can block our fire, with their concern for security—our own or that of others. Of course we can’t always do exactly what we want to, and if we have an excess of fire, we have to make a real effort to channel it constructively, in ways that do not interfere with the rights of others. Fire is the recuperative element: “I know what I want, and I have the right and power to get it.” It is the “fun” element: eager, enthusiastic, spontaneous, joyful, confident. It is up to us to find ways to express it that let both ourselves and the world be more joyful and exciting and dramatic. People with strong fire can also leave the world if it does not measure up to their desires. “Stop the world; I want off.” Fire is normally present in suicide. People rarely commit suicide when deeply depressed. It is when they have started to get better that there is a danger of rash action. They are recovering their fire capacity to act, but have not reached enough happiness to want to go on living. Fatal illnesses and accidents are probably unconscious suicide much of the time. The victim wants out. Jupiter is almost always involved in death; it is an escape to another country with the hope that it will be better. It is also common in the charts that come to me to find a conflict between being “spiritual” and being “human” and fallible. Ideals are great, if they are not so extreme that we cannot enjoy life and feel comfortable about ourselves, or be satisfied with others.
Let’s look at another chart. Z is a child who died of leukemia when he was 6 1/2 years old. The first theme we note in the chart is the potential for high idealism, and the intense need for independence connected to him and to his parents and siblings. There is a major emphasis on Aries, Sagittarius, and Aquarius, with fire and air houses also prominent. The chart looks like a free soul who needs a lot of space, coming into a similar family. But there is Saturn sitting on the Sun and north node of the Moon, tri-octile Vesta in the Saturn house. How will he handle that tension with limits? We also see his Pisces Mars-Mercury square his first house Moon in Sagittarius, so know there is some kind of conflict over ideals. Are they too high to be realized? Is he failing to live up to his own expectations or is the world letting him down? Or both? Chiron opposite the Ascendant and Neptune on the MC in the 9th house but in conflict with the other mutables repeat the theme of conflicts between values or between ideals and reality, which includes our own power to act (Mars).
The conflict between freedom and closeness is also obvious, with the cardinal T-square in fixed houses and partly involving fixed planets. Neptune forms octiles and tri-octiles to the cardinal T, and is quincunx Venus; again supporting the potential of ideals vs. the possible and the pleasurable. He is identified with mother for the most part, but ego-vulnerable to father. With Moon in Sagittarius in the Aries house and Ceres in Aries conjunct Uranus, we know that his mother has a strong need for independence. Even Neptune, ruling the 4th house, is in the 9th house and Jupiter, co-ruler of the 4th, is in the 11th house; all keys to independence. How is his mother dealing with her ambivalence over motherhood? She may idealize him, and be very close to him, but? His whole chart suggests restlessness; desires for more than is likely to be found in a prosaic, material world. What are the choices when we are dissatisfied? We can fight the world to try to obtain more of our desires. Or we can blame ourselves and internalize the frustration and try to be more perfect. Or we can change the world and ourselves in constructive ways. But the last is hard for a child to imagine or to achieve. It takes a bit more maturity, and a lot of patience, and fire and Aquarius are not noted for patience. Also, the chart shows the real danger of self-blocking. Mars, one key to self-assertion is square Moon in the Mars house. Pluto and Jupiter, two rulers of the first house, are square each other and in the T-square to Aries, another key to self-assertion. Juno in the first house is also quincunx Pluto. If Chiron is another ruler of Sagittarius, it is opposite the Ascendant, and the aspect was exact at the time of death, from the progressed Ascendant. Progressed Sun was also exactly square the natal Ascendant; progressed Moon and Mars were conjunct, octile and tri-octile the cardinal T-square. The progressed MC was quincunx Ceres. Progressed East Point was quincunx Pluto. The potential for leaving the scene was pretty strong. Remember, the quincunx is the closet cleaning aspect, with overtones of Virgo and Scorpio. We learn to discriminate, to decide what to keep and what to throw away; whether our methods are working or need to be improved; what is outgrown. We may go in new directions, and leave much behind; in this case, earth life.
I do not have the chart of the child’s mother, but her life is a clear manifestation of an unresolved freedom-closeness dilemma. She had no problems with the first child, but two was too many. She lost her second child; this chart given here was her third; She then lost twins, and finally lost one more child. Her pregnancies announced themselves by bleeding from her mouth. If blood shed and the head are both Mars-ruled, as tradition says, the symbolism is obvious. Her unconscious saw additional children as an unacceptable denial of her personal freedom. If she had been conscious of the ambivalence, she might have handled it in more constructive ways. It is when the conflict is repressed; buried in the unconscious, that it attacks the physical body in a last-ditch effort to get our attention. Awareness is the key, and astrology can help us to achieve awareness if we use it that way, and stop thinking that the planets are doing it! We are doing it, and we can change what we are doing!