Humors and Temperament, A Simplified Approach for the Modern World

When attempting to apply Classical Astrology to the practical problem of health and well-being, among the first hurdles an astrologer faces are the related subjects of temperament and humors. Temperament and humors have a long pedigree in traditional medicine, and they were used from before the Classical period through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, until they were largely abandoned in the 1800’s. They are all but forgotten in the modern age, except by those interested in history and astrology.

Most of us, even non-astrologers, learn about a little about temperament and humors at some point in our history or science classes in school. The conventional teaching is that before modern times, people superstitiously believed that the body was made up of four liquids, blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile, and that illness was caused by an imbalance in these four liquids. Usually, the textbooks continue to tell horror stories of the use of leeches and other rather frightening treatments, and we leave feeling blessed that we were born in the Modern world with a more enlightened approach to medicine.

In studying temperament in Western astrology, we learn that there are four temperaments that correspond to the four humors, or bodily fluids.  These also correspond to the four elements. Sanguine corresponds with blood and air, phlegmatic corresponds with phlegm and water, choleric corresponds with yellow bile and fire, and melancholic corresponds with black bile and earth.

After learning all of this, one might be tempted to avoid the issue of temperament altogether and move on to more palatable topics in astrology such as relationship or vocational astrology. Who wants to be told that their temperament is choleric, or worse, phlegmatic, and for that matter, what in the world is black bile anyways?

Yet, at some time in our lives, we all come to the point in which issues of health and well-being can no longer be ignored, and temperament does play an important role in all areas of our lives, including our relationships and our choice and success in our vocations.

A Simplified Approach

Setting aside the issue of bodily fluids, phlegmatic temperaments, and black bile, the study of the humors and temperament is at its core a study of balance. Balance is an important component in traditional medicine in all cultures, including Chinese and Native American medicine. In Classical Western medicine and astrology, the balance is along two axes, hot and cold and wet and dry.

20170920_105024There is nothing exotic or unusual about the balance between hot and cold and wet and dry. We still use these concepts when caring for plants. If you buy a plant for your garden, there is often a little card explaining how much sunlight or shade and water the plant needs. The card will also explain the amount of heat or cold it needs and will tolerate. At the most basic level, this is really what temperament is, how much energy, heat, and moisture we need and can tolerate. All of have a natural temperament that is somewhere along the hot/cold and wet/dry axis.

The hot/cold axis relates to both literal heat and to activity level. Hot is fast, busy, and active; cold is slow-moving and calm. The wet/dry axis is a little more abstract. This axis relates to boundaries and distinctions. Moisture blends and softens boundaries and distinctions; dryness hardens them. Without wet there would be no growth; without dry there would be no form.

There are traditional sources that seem to imply that the ideal state for all people is in the middle of both axes; if people have a natural temperament to one side of the hot/cod axis and/or wet/dry axis, the best practice is to counter their natural tendency. Other traditional sources seem to imply that it is best to support a person’s natural temperament whatever it may be.

While these approaches seem to contradict each other, I think that the apparent contradiction can be resolved by looking the axes as a pendulum. In this model, a person’s temperament can be seen as her personal ideal state and imbalances cause the pendulum to swing.

When a person is in balance, she is better able to heal and to maintain her own physical and emotional well-being, and large or long-term imbalances can lead to physical and emotional illnesses.

Relevance in the Modern World

This is all well and good, but are these concepts still relevant in the modern world? Hasn’t modern medicine rendered these ideas obsolete?

I believe that these concepts are still very relevant in the modern world and are far from obsolete.

Yes, we have medicine and treatments for all manner of illnesses; yet, many of these medicines and treatments have all manner of side effects, and it is often a matter of trial and error as to whether a medicine or treatment will be effective.

Worse, we are given contradictory and confusing information about health and nutrition, and what is considered “healthy” and “unhealthy” changes from decade to decade, and sometimes from year to year. This is particularly difficult for people with illnesses such as Type 2 Diabetes or other metabolic disorders as they try to manage their illnesses.

The reason for all of this confusion is that knowledge of temperament has largely been lost to Modern medicine. One size does not fit all with respect to medicine or diet, and an understanding of temperament would reduce the amount of guesswork with respect which treatments would be effective and which treatments would be likely to have side effects.

Calculation of Temperament

Traditional sources contain many different methods of calculating a person’s temperament, and some of these methods are quite complex. After reviewing and testing many of these methods on my chart and the charts of those I know well, I have adopted a rather simple approach.

In this approach, I look at the Nativity chart and consider the element of the signs of all of the 7 traditional planets, the Ascendant, the Midheaven, and the Part of Fortune, the season, and the phase of the moon.

Elements:

Air – Hot and Wet

Fire – Hot and Dry

Earth – Cold and Dry

Water – Cold and Wet

Seasons:

Spring: Hot and Wet

Summer: Hot and Dry

Fall: Cold and Dry

Winter: Cold and Wet

Moon Phases:

New: Hot and Wet

1st Quarter: Hot and Dry

Full: Cold and Dry

3rd Quarter: Cold and Wet

I then tally up the score along the Hot/Cold axis and the Wet/Dry axis to determine the native’s optimal balance. After that, I look at the chart in a qualitative manner to look for tendencies towards imbalance. While anyone can become off balance in any direction along either axis, our charts can point to what is most likely for us, all other factors being equal.

Queen Anne’s Temperament

Queen_Anne_by_John_Closterman
Portrait from the school of John Closterman, circa 1702

An interesting case study with respect to temperament is the last Stuart monarch of Great Britain, Queen Anne. Queen Anne ascended to the throne in 1702, after the death of her brother-in-law, King William III, who was married to her older sister, Queen Mary II. She was 37 years old at the beginning of her reign, and she was already in ill health. It is estimated that she had been pregnant 17 times, but none of her children survived childhood. She was described as short and stout, which was likely a polite way to say that she was overweight. Her health continued to deteriorate, especially after the death of her husband. She had gout and became unable to walk. She died of a stroke at the age of 49.

Her reign was an eventful one. The Act of Union between England and Scotland, an attempted invasion by her Catholic half-brother, James Stuart, and the War of Spanish Succession resulting in the Treaty of Utrecht all occurred during her reign. One of the provisions of the Treaty of Utrecht was that Great Britain gained control over the Strait of Gilbraltar, and this treaty set the stage for the later British Empire.

Despite this, Queen Anne has often been dismissed as unintelligent, and it is her advisers, rather than herself, that are given credit for the accomplishments that occurred under her reign. In the Great Courses series of lectures, A History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts, Professor Robert Bucholz suggested that perhaps the reason for this dismissal was due to prejudice against an overweight female sovereign. While this could very well be a factor, it is likely that her temperament also played a role.

Before even looking at Queen Anne’s chart, her weight and ill health suggest that her humors were out of balance. She also seemed to be able to make or understand connections that others did not. At the time it was ratified, the Treaty of Utrecht was seen as a disappointment with too many concessions, a waste after the bitter and costly War of Spanish Succession. Yet, in hindsight, the provisions of this treaty gave Great Britain huge advantages in its emergence as a world power.

Queen Anne’s weight and ability to see connections suggest a wet temperament. It may be accurate that she relied heavily on advisers, or at least gave that appearance. It could be that what was seen as unintelligent was actually an apparent difficulty with indecision.  Obesity is a classic malady of those who are excessively wet. Also, people with wet temperaments are able to make connections that those with dryer temperaments can not, and this ability can make decision making difficult, because wet people often see all too clearly the many different consequences of their actions.

So, with this hypothesis in mind, let us look at Queen Anne’s Nativity chart.

Queen Anne Nativity Chart

Step 1: Calculation of Temperament

As discussed previously, to calculate the temperament, I use the elements of the signs of the 7 personal planets, the season, the phase of the moon, the Ascendant, Midheaven and Part of Fortune. This gives a total of 12 considerations.

Sun – Air (Aquarius): Hot and Wet

Season – Winter: Cold and Wet

Moon – Water (Pisces): Cold and Wet

Moon Phase – New: Hot and Wet

Ascendant – Water (Scorpio): Cold and Wet

Midheaven – Fire (Leo): Hot and Dry

Part of Fortune – Air (Libra):  Hot and Wet

Mercury – Water (Pisces): Cold and Wet

Venus – Fire (Aries): Hot and Dry

Mars – Water (Pisces): Cold and Wet

Jupiter – Air (Aquarius): Hot and Wet

Saturn – Earth (Capricorn): Cold and Dry

In tallying up the scores, we find that Queen Anne had 6 Hot and 6 Cold. She was exactly even on the Hot and Cold Axis. We also find that she had 9 Wet and 3 Dry. Her temperament was not only Wet, it was very Wet.

Step 2: A Qualitative Analysis of the Chart for Likely Imbalance

While the quantitative measure of wet to dry in Queen Anne’s chart is 9 Wet to 3 Dry, all of the major considerations in her chart are Wet. Her Sun is Wet by sign and season, and her Moon is Wet by sign and phase. Her Ascendant is Wet, and the ruler of her Ascendant, Mars, is in a Wet sign. The three Dry areas of her chart, her Venus, Midheaven, and Saturn, are comparatively weaker. This means that even though her optimal balance was Wet, her natural inclination would have led her to become even Wetter.

While each of us has a different optimal balance along each axis, there is a certain level in which too much of any humor becomes dangerous for anyone. Those with temperaments at the extreme end of either axis run the risk of sliding into the danger zone. Queen Anne’s optimal balance was extremely Wet, but Wetness beyond this optimal balance would have brought her into this danger zone. It is no wonder that with her temperament and her inclination towards imbalance that she was plagued with health problems throughout her life.

Advice for Queen Anne

So, if Queen Anne were living in modern times, as an astrologer, what advice would I give her? Well, even though Queen Anne’s most likely imbalance would be in the direction of becoming dangerously Wet, because I am an astrologer and not a trained physician, I would be extremely cautious about giving advice to directly influence her Wet and Dry balance. The reason for this is that even though as a general rule she could use to dry, if she became too dry, this could send the pendulum swinging even further in the wet direction, which could be perilous for her.

Luckily, there is an indirect approach. Actually, the description of temperament with respect to the elements, seasons, and moon phases was a little oversimplified. Actually, each of these has a quality that they are, and a quality that they are becoming.  For example: Spring is Wet, becoming Hot; Summer is Hot, becoming Dry; Autumn is Dry, becoming Cold, and Winter is Cold, becoming Wet. While this distinction is unnecessary for the quantitative calculation of temperament, it becomes helpful when giving advice. The two axes are not directly related, but they do impact each other in a circular fashion. Moisture heats, heat dries, dry cools, and cold moistens. So, in cases such as Queen Anne, when it is dangerous to manipulate along one axis, it may be possible to manipulate along the other axis.

In Queen Anne’s case, she was in the middle of the Hot/Cold axis, and thus, far from the danger zone in either direction. So rather than suggest drying foods and activities, I would suggest gently warming activities, such as mild exercise and heating herbs and spices in moderation. As we would want to avoid pendulum swings at all costs, I would suggest that she pay very close attention to her body, making changes very slowly. If she had a bad reaction to a change she was making, she should slow down or stop to give her body time to adjust.

I would also talk to her about salt and sugar cravings, which often lead to overeating. Salt and/or sugar cravings are a sure sign of imbalance along the wet/dry axis because the body is trying to compensate for the imbalance. Salt dries and sugar moistens, and refined salt and sugar dry and moisten very quickly. It is very common for people to alternate quickly between salt and sugar cravings. From a temperament standpoint, the way to counter these cravings is not to fight them, but to pay attention to them in terms of what the body is trying to do, and to find healthier ways of doing it.

If Queen Anne was experiencing sugar cravings, I would suggest foods that were moistening. On the other hand, I would avoid foods that were cooling as well as moistening, such as fish, strawberries, or citrus fruit, but instead suggest foods that were warming and moistening, such as apples, tomatoes, and most soups. As cold moistens and heat dries, it seems safer and slower to heat as well as moisten when that is necessary. If she was experiencing salt cravings, I would suggest that she tried to dry indirectly through heat, rather than directly. This would be a slower process, with far less danger of causing her to swing.

If she could, I would suggest she find ways to go to a different climate on a regular basis, particularly during the winter. The climate of Britain can not have been helpful for her. I would also suggest that she reserve her decision making to purely important matters, and delegate less important decisions to advisers and ministers. Decision making is a dry activity, and is often quite exhausting for those with wet temperaments. It is likely that the stress of being Queen wore on her health and well being greatly. That may be why she appeared to be overly reliant upon her advisers. This may have been suggested by her physicians, who would have been aware of temperament considerations, or she may have realized this on her own. Most people with even minimal self awareness learn to manage their Nativity Charts as they mature, even without being aware what their charts contain.

Summary

In this article, I have explained how and why the use of humors and temperament is still relevant in the Modern world. I have also suggested a simplified paradigm with respect to temperament and humors that minimizes the use of rather unflattering terms and the discussion of bodily fluids. I have also put forth my own method of calculating temperament and analyzing likely imbalances. It is my hope that this article will be of use to astrologers and of interest to non-astrologers. It is also my hope that this will generate discussion and perhaps lead to a greater understanding of the humors and temperament with respect to overall health and well-being.

See also:

Managing Temperament, A Balancing Act

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