by Joe Landwehr...........................................................................................................................
Healing Arts Fair Talk presented in Springfield, MO, March 2008
Healing Arts Fair Talk presented in Springfield, MO, March 2008
When I first heard about this fair and contacted Emily to sign up for this talk, entitled Tracking Health Care Issues With Astrology, she asked the question, 'What does astrology have to do with health care?' This is a legitimate question to ask, and it is not surprising that she asked it. Many of you are perhaps wondering the same thing. I'm sure it will surprise most of you to learn the up until the 17th century, astrology was taught in every major university of the world, and was a required course for anyone studying medicine or healing arts of any kind. The fact that this statement surprises us suggests that there once was – and still is – more to astrology than what we have come to believe we know about it.
Given that this is likely to be so, I want to spend a couple of minutes debunking some of the popular misconceptions about astrology, so that we can consider briefly how astrology might be useful in addressing health issues – just as it was to our ancestors. The practice of medicine is now, of course, very different than it was in the 17th century, and is now thoroughly rooted in science. Modern scientists do not consider astrology a science, and therefore not a legitimate pathway to knowledge or understanding. I will tell you up front that I do not consider astrology a science either, but I have learned from my own experience, and 3-year training as a medical astrology, that astrology can be quite useful in shedding light on the deeper psychological and spiritual implications of our health issues. Before we explore how this might be so, it will first be helpful to talk a little bit about what astrology is not.
When most people think about astrology, they think about Sun sign columns in the daily newspaper. Some of these columns are written with actual astrology behind them, though most are not. Even those that are must compensate for the fact that astrology is not just about the Sun, but at a minimum about nine other heavenly bodies and the patterns formed between them. Because Sun sign astrology is at best a gross oversimplification, it is important to understand that even the most astute astrology column in the your daily paper has about as much of a relationship to real astrology as telling someone to “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” has to the practice of real medicine. The kind of astrology that is useful in addressing health concerns is not the astrology you will find in your daily horoscope.
Those who know a little more about astrology, but have perhaps never actually read an astrology book or consulted an astrologer, generally consider it to be a form of personality profile. Gemini’s like to talk, but are usually also likely to be multi-tasking at the same time; Scorpios make great detectives, but can also be moody, jealous and secretive; Libras are good party hosts, but can be indecisive. And so on. Like the daily horoscope, this kind of astrology has limited value. It considers only the Sun, and it assumes that there are essentially 12 types of people in the world – an approach that at best, can only be used to stereotype people in a generalized and rather superficial way. Even if we were to acknowledge a link between personality and health, this kind of astrology as personality profile will not be very useful in addressing health concerns.
But perhaps some of you already know that astrology is about more than just the Sun. Perhaps some of you have dipped into one of the many popular astrology books available, that will tell you in several paragraphs what it means to have your Moon in Aries or the 4th house, or even what it means that your Moon is square to Neptune. Typically, in pursuing such an approach to astrology, you would decode the funny-looking symbols on your chart, and then look them up in a book where their meanings were translated into plain English, or in some cases, into a kind of psychobabble purporting to tell you who you are and what your strengths and weaknesses are likely to be. Such an approach to astrology – which I will call the pop psychology approach – is certainly more interesting and more complex than Sun sign astrology, but it still falls short because it assumes that everyone with the same planetary placement or aspect will experience it in the same way.
Placements determine where in your chart a planet is located, and aspects describe the relationship between planets. These things are important to know in studying a birthchart, but they must be studied within the context of your life to have any meaning for you – which brings me to the third popular misconception about astrology. Someone who knows enough about astrology to want to read about their chart in a book is likely to say, I believe in astrology. What they mean by this is that some of the descriptions they have read in books about astrology have resonated with their experience of themselves. They have recognized themselves in the cookbook descriptions of their placements and aspects.
This process of recognizing ourselves and becoming more conscious of who we are can be helpful in addressing any life issue, health issues included. And astrology can be a useful tool through which to more clearly recognize who we are. Ultimately, however, astrology is not a belief system. It is a language. And as is true of any language – whether it be English, mathematics, music, or computer programming - once you have a basic vocabulary, you can use it as a framework within which to better understand and talk about what it is you are experiencing. Once you know the language of astrology, you can use it better understand and talk about your life experiences, including those that impact your health.
Using the language of astrology is quite different than simply reading someone else’s hypothetical description of its use in a book. Thus the astrology that will be helpful to you in tracking your health issues does not require you to believe in astrology. It requires you to learn a language, and then use that language as a framework through which to observe your life. Astrology is a way of gathering information and self-knowledge, just as science is a way of gathering information and knowledge about the external world. I have written extensively about the differences between astrology and science in my book The Seven Gates of Soul, and would refer you to that book, which is available at my table, if you are interested.
Meanwhile, in the time remaining to me, I want to talk a little bit about how astrology can be useful as a language with which to address matters of health. The earliest know use of astrology in matters of healing involves the use of herbs and dates back probably about 8-10,000 years. Ancient peoples analyzed herbs according to their healing properties and the parts of the body most affected by them. Since each part of the body also had its astrological correlates – by planet and sign – each herb was also associated with various astrological factors. These herbs were then planted, harvested, made into medicine, and administered to the patient when the astrological factors associated with the herb were strongest.
Another early use of astrology, popular not only in western astrology, but also among Indian or Vedic astrologers and in Tibet, was the use of the birthchart to analyze areas of constitutional strength and weakness. Again, the idea here was that certain organs and physiological systems could be correlated with various astrological factors, and then analyzed for strength and weaknesses according to how strong these astrological factors were in the birthchart. In this way, astrology became a diagnostic tool that could then be supplemented through treatment by diet, the application of various herbs, and any other healing modality at the practitioner’s disposal. The intent of this system, first introduced to the west by the 5th century Greek physician Empodocles, was to maintain optimum health with respect to the specific needs of the individual.
When a patient did become sick, doctors trained in astrology would calculate what is called a decumbiture chart – a chart that was drawn up for the exact time and place that a patient took to his or her bed. This chart was used for prognostic purposes, and to prescribe a course of treatment in accordance with the astrological factors that were being emphasized. The same technique can used today to assess what factors are in play when a person makes a doctor’s appointment, or receives a diagnosis, or undergoes some kind of medical procedure, the intent being to understand more clearly the various factors at play contributing to the onset of disease and its course of treatment.
One of the major factors contributing to any health issue is stress. The birthchart can be used to analyze patterns of stress, which often show up as planetary configurations – mutual aspects or common angular relationships shared by three or more planets. When such patterns appear, it is possible to make educated guesses about the kinds of experiences – both circumstantial and psychological – that might contribute to excess stress. Beyond mere speculation, however, it is also possible to assess when these patterns are most likely to be triggered, and then attach specific life experiences to these patterns. This technique, which I call taking a cyclical history, can provide a great deal of information that is useful in observing how specific behaviors and patterns of behavior can contribute to an unhealthy life, which in turn, will eventually manifest as disease.
In 1998, for example, just as my father was dying, I was diagnosed with pneumonia. I took a course of antibiotics, which failed to fully alleviate the congestion in my lungs, and I began to suspect that something more serious was going on. I approached a good friend, who also happened to be a very wise and knowledgeable health practitioner, and told her I wanted to heal my lungs. Using an extensive knowledge of Ayurvedic medicine, herbs, and Buddhist meditation, my friend prescribed a complete program designed to treat not just my lungs, but the whole person that I am. To supplement my friend’s program, I also began to work more extensively with my chart.
I observed an important astrological pattern in my chart being triggered at the onset of this health crisis. In contemplating the symbolism involved in this pattern, and tracking the pattern itself back through preceding events of my life, I was able to see how my current predicament was related to a pattern of chronic workaholism. I was also able to see that this pattern existed because on some deep level of my being, I was still trying to prove myself worthy to exist. If I tried harder, worked longer hours, and accomplished something worthy of note, I told myself unconsciously, I could justify my existence. Meanwhile, in pursuing this strategy, I had created a life for myself that was so busy and so full that I literally did not have room to breathe.
Once I was able to see this metaphor as central to my health crisis, it became obvious what I needed to do – beyond mere physiological remedies – in order to truly heal myself. In the years that followed, I began to work less and enjoy my life more. I began to evaluate more carefully what was important and what was not, and learned to sweat the small stuff less. I learned to balance work with play, effort with effortlessness, mental activity with physical, and periods of isolated focus with meaningful social activity. The tendencies toward imbalance are still there, but using my knowledge of astrology in application to my own life process, I am more aware of them now, and less likely to blindly revert to them by default. I am also able to predict when and how they will be triggered again, so that I can intentionally and deliberately compensate for them. As a result of this self-work with astrology in relation to my health, I am healthier today than I was ten years ago when I became seriously ill.
Since then, I have written two books that share my way of working with astrology. Although I trained for three years in the study and practice of medical astrology with Dr. Ingrid Naiman from Santa Fe, NM, my focus is mostly on spiritual psychology and on healing the core issues that contribute not just to our health, but to our overall psychological and spiritual well-being. My first book, The Seven Gates of Soul, traces a 6000-year history of ideas about the soul, and shows how astrology can potentially be used to form a more conscious relationship to the soul. My second book, Tracking the Soul With an Astrology of Consciousness, is a correlation of astrology with an ancient Hindu system of psychology related to the seven chakras. In addition to my books, I teach a personalized correspondence course for those people wishing to learn the language of astrology as a tool for better understanding their own life experiences.