Ancient Astrological Medicine – The Magic and the Man

By Hayley White

Reading time: 13 minutes

For many ancient civilisations, magic and science went hand in hand; you could not have one without the other. One of these ‘magics’ was astrology which played a major role in people’s lives. It was commonly used in everyday life for agriculture, religion, science, and possibly the most important of all, medicine. While it was not exactly a precise science, civilisations like Babylon, Greece, Rome, and Egypt all fashioned their medicine around astrology. Ancient philosophers believed that the stars and planets in the universe (macrocosm) held influence over individual people (microcosm). This came with the common phrase “as above, so below”, meaning the things that were happening above in the cosmos were believed to have direct influence over what was happening on earth.

Naturally, this was what forged their belief in astrology and through that, medicine. There were a wide range of medical systems in the ancient world that share similarities, but they also have slight differences. For some, their medicine links up with their Gods and Goddesses, others to the zodiac, and others believed that the planets themselves were

By Hayley White

Reading time: 13 minutes

For many ancient civilisations, magic and science went hand in hand; you could not have one without the other. One of these ‘magics’ was astrology which played a major role in people’s lives. It was commonly used in everyday life for agriculture, religion, science, and possibly the most important of all, medicine. While it was not exactly a precise science, civilisations like Babylon, Greece, Rome, and Egypt all fashioned their medicine around astrology. Ancient philosophers believed that the stars and planets in the universe (macrocosm) held influence over individual people (microcosm). This came with the common phrase “as above, so below”, meaning the things that were happening above in the cosmos were believed to have direct influence over what was happening on earth.

Naturally, this was what forged their belief in astrology and through that, medicine. There were a wide range of medical systems in the ancient world that share similarities, but they also have slight differences. For some, their medicine links up with their Gods and Goddesses, others to the zodiac, and others believed that the planets themselves were connected to the human body and directly influenced what illness befell some people. There were a variety of names for medical astrology depending on where in the world it was founded. For example, ancient Mesopotamia have taxonomy (SBTU 1 43) texts which date the earliest record of medical astrology; in ancient Greece it was known as melothesia, and in Egypt, iatromathematics.

The Uruk taxonomy (SBTU 1 43) is considered to be one of the earliest astrological medicine texts in history, but not quite for the reason you think. The Uruk period dates between 4000–3100 B.C.. The taxonomy, known as SBTU 1 43, is an ancient cuneiform tablet divided into four sections, each corresponding to a part of the body specific diseases were thought to originate from. This ancient text is a bit of a head scratcher. The writings themselves provide no context and because the tablet is so unique, it has defied any attempts to decipher what it means.

For example, the SBTU 1 43 says that from the mind comes depression, seizure, hand of the God and Goddess, and epilepsy. Of the pharynx, head, and mouth comes toothworms, red skin lesions, Pašittu-daughter (possession by a female demon), dropsy, joint disease, stroke, hand of the ghost, ‘sun-light’-fever, and skin diseases. From the lungs come throbbing, moisture, wind, defecating, sweating, and diphtheria. From the kidneys come impotence, anal disease, muscle disease, barrenness, twisted womb, and gas retention (Köcher 1978, Stol 1993, Heeßel 2010 as cited in Geller, 2010). None of the STBU 1 43 texts have relevance to astrology (that historians can find). However, on one of the tablets (LBAT 1598) cuneiform texts were found with statements like: “When the moon is in Virgo, and the illness belonging to Scorpio moves into Pisces…”(Geller, 2010, p. 73) and SBTU V 243 with statements such as, “[… … …… … … …], (the spells for the) love of a woman for a man, region of Aries” (translated from: […] x x x [……] ˹ki.ág˺.gá munus ana! nita ˹ki˺ múl.hun.gá). These are just some of many astral magic and astral medicine texts historians have found from this time which have been studied to find the purpose for the SBTU 1 43 texts, but so far, no conclusions have been drawn.

Meanwhile, ancient Greece were developing their own system of medicine. This system was called melothesiaand originated in the Hellenistic period. When melothesia was created, the Greeks attributed zodiac signs to all parts of the body and split each zodiac sign into 12 micro-divisions, known as the docedatemoria. These micro-divisions within the zodiac signs were further associated to different parts of the body. For example, the micro-divisions in Aries were divided into the head, throat, shoulders, chest, stomach, abdomen, buttocks, pudenda, knees, loins, tibia, and feet (Geller, 2010). Melothesia was summed up in what is known now as the Zodiac Man.

The Zodiac Man is the most basic example of how zodiac astrology was applied to the human body. It goes by many names across history, most notably the man of signs (homo signorum in Latin) and the lord of signs.Historians discovered the zodiac man in late Babylonian cuneiform texts. The use of the zodiac man carried well into medieval times and historians have found evidence of it right up until the 1700s in Elizabethan England. The diagram of the zodiac man displays which zodiac sign is attributed to which body part. A dissertation written by Clark (1979) says that the zodiac man developed out of the idea of the macrocosm affecting the microcosm, but the ancient world never described its medical use until the 13th century when it was expanded on and developed. The purpose of the zodiac man was to help physicians, barbers, surgeons, and laymen determine the proper times for the administration of medicines, surgery, bloodletting, or even hair and nail cutting. All this was determined by the position of the moon in the sky. The Astronomica, also known as the Astronomicon, is a Latin poem written about the zodiac and astrology between 30–40 A.D. by Marcus Manilius. In it, he describes the zodiac man like so:

“The Ram (Aries) is allotted the head as Princeps of all, and the handsome neck is given by census to the Bull (Taurus). To the Twins (Gemini) are inscribed the arms joined to shoulders. The breast is allocated to the Crab (Cancer). The reign over sides and shoulder blades belongs to the Lion (Leo). As her individual lot, the lower abdomen falls to the Maiden (Virgo). The Scales (Libra) rule over the buttocks, and the Scorpion (Scorpio) delights in the groin. The thighs assent to the Centaur (Sagittarius). Capricorn commands both knees. The pouring Waterman (Aquarius) arbitrates the lower legs, and the Fishes (Pisces) adjudicate the feet.”

(Astronomica II, 453–65 // IV, 701–10 as cited in Wee, 2015, p. 219)

Another kind of melothesia that later developed in Ptolemaic Egypt was the idea that the planets and stars themselves influenced the human body, as well as their zodiacal counterparts. Claudius Ptolemy (100 A.D.–170 A.D.) was an Alexandrian mathematician, astrologer, and astronomer who wrote the tetrabiblos, one of the most influential astrology texts in history. The tetrabiblos, meaning ‘four books’, all outline the ways that planets and the zodiac influence human affairs and events.

It was in the tetrabiblos that Ptolemy established which planets have a specific influence and control over human health and illness. He also goes into depth about which planets and zodiac signs have control over certain parts of the body. For example, he attributes planets like Saturn to body parts like the right ear, the spleen, the bladder, the phlegm, and the bones. Jupiter has control over touch, lungs, arteries, and semen; Venus over smell, liver, and flesh; Mercury over speech and thought, the tongue, bile, and the buttocks; the Moon over taste and drinking, the stomach, belly, womb, and all the left-hand parts.

Saturn causes destruction by cold, long illnesses, consumption, withering, and rheumatisms whilst also giving women diseases of the womb. Of Mars, he says: this planet causes men to spit blood, makes them melancholy, weakens lungs, and gives them tumours or ulcers whilst also making women suffer miscarriages, or corrosive diseases. Ptolemy says that the zodiac signs also cause specific diseases. Pisces, Cancer, and Capricorn cause diseases involving sores, scales, and fistulas; and Sagittarius and Gemini are responsible for falling fits or epileptic seizures.

It is not all doom and gloom though. Ptolemy says that there are a couple of planets that have the power to do away with the harmful planetary effects mentioned above. Jupiter, he says, generally causes the injuries or illnesses to be financially covered or lessened altogether.

The only differentiation from planetary and zodiacal influence over the body was seen in ancient Egypt. Before Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C., the Egyptian or Hellenistic branch of medical astrology, known as Iatromathematics, showed that every body part and every organ was assigned a God of either a zodiac sign, a decade-god (like the 12 micro-divisions mentioned earlier), or a monomoiriai-god (divided even further into 30 parts within those 12 micro-divisions (which are known in modern astrology as degrees). Every plant, every animal, and every stone were assigned Gods as well.

Egyptians thought that all things had an innate essence or spirit. It was believed that when sickness fell or an organ became diseased, it had something to do with the related God or a demon. The disease could only be healed with plants or animal products which were controlled by the same God, to create an antidote to battle the demon causing the illness (Schoener, 2002). Because medical issues were believed to be supernatural and pertaining to the Gods, a supernatural defence was the best course. Because it was thought that disease and illness were caused by the will of the Gods, an angry demon, or an angry spirit, invoking spells against these forces was seen as necessary and were common cures (World History Encyclopedia, 2017).

For the longest time, astral magic was the leading form of medicine for ancient civilisations and the two were intrinsically linked. The causes of illnesses were thought to be either supernatural or celestial and because of that, required magic to solve. They looked to the stars and planets for almost everything.

The existence of the zodiac man well into medieval times proves that astrology was still used well past when historians thought it had stopped – albeit sceptically.

After many medical discoveries made by Hippocrates, astrological medicine took a bit of a backburner. Now that we have ‘proper’ medicine, we might look back and scoff at these things – and in my opinion, for good reason. Having someone hover over me thinking that a spell would cure me of my common cold I deem laughable, but I do find it super interesting nonetheless to know how astrology helped these ancient societies operate.

 

Sources: 1. Melothesia in Babylonia. Medicine, magic, and astrology in the ancient near east 2. Look to the Stars: Babylonian medicine, Magic, Astrology and melothesia 3. Tetrabiblos, hermetics.org 4. Astrology: Between religion and the empirical. Esoterica IV 5. Discovery of the zodiac man in cuneiform. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 6. Heka, worldhistory.org

To immerse yourself in more articles like this, Subscribe or Log in