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Astrology





Astrology is the typical example of pseudo-science in medicine. The
stars, and particularly the planets and the moon, were supposed to
have great influence on human destiny, human health, and human
constitutions. Astrology was an organized body of knowledge over 3,000
years ago. Mr. Campbell Thompson has recently translated a series of
300 inscriptions from the cuneiform tablets in the British Museum, and
Professor Suedhoff of Leipzig has compiled all the references to
medicine in these. The latter's studies show the extent which star
influence was supposed to have over human health. A halo round the
moon, an obscuration of the constellation of Cancer, the pallor of a
planet in opposition to the moon, the conjunction of Mars and Jupiter,
and other movements and phenomena of heavenly bodies were supposed to
foretell the approach of disease for man and beast.

As a consequence of this application of astrological knowledge to
medicine, operations were performed only on certain favorable days or
under favorable conjunctions of planets. An ailment that occurred at
an unfavorable time, because of an unpropitious state of the heavens,
would not be relieved until the motions of the stars brought a more
benign conjunction. Observations seemed clearly to indicate that the
stars actually had such influences. Even Hippocrates, though he
insisted that "the medical art requires no basis of vain presumption,
such as the existence of distant and doubtful factors, the
discussion of which, if it should be attempted, necessitates a
hypothetic science of supra-terrestrial of subterrestrial belief,"
could not entirely get away from astrology. In his treatise on "Air,
Water and Locality" he writes: "Attention must be paid to the rise of
the stars, especially to that of Sirus as well as the rise of
Arcturus, and after these to the setting of the Pleiades, for most
diseases in which crises occur develop during these periods." In the
second chapter he writes: "If anyone would be of the opinion that
these questions belong solely in the realm of astrology, he will soon
change his opinion as he learns that astrology is not of slight, but
of very essential importance in medical art." (Personally I doubt the
Hippocratean authorship of these passages, but they are surely very
old.)

The influence of the suggestions derived from astrology on human
patients continued until almost the nineteenth century. There were
many protests, especially from the Doctors of the Church, that the
applications of astrology to medicine were false, but the practice
continued. Both Kepler and Galileo drew horoscopes for patrons, and
while Kepler doubted their value, he felt that in making them he was
justified by custom. Galileo drew up the horoscope of the Grand Duke
of Tuscany during an illness, and declared that the stars foretold a
long life, but the Duke died two weeks later. But incidents of this
kind did not disturb either popular faith or medical confidence in
astrology as helpful, in prognosis, at least, if not also in
diagnosis. Even so late as 1766 Mesmer was graduated at the University
of Vienna, when it was doing the best medical work in Europe, with a
thesis on "The Influence of the Stars on Human Constitutions."


Later Astrology.--Few now realize that the curious figure printed at
the beginning of most of our almanacs down to the present day is a
relic of the time when physicians believed in the influence of the
constellations over the various portions of the body. Even yet this
idea has not entirely gone out of the popular mind, and hence its
retention as something more than a symbol in our little weather books.
Man was considered as a little world, a microcosm, and the universe,
as men knew it--the sun, the moon and the planets
together--constituted a macrocosm. It was observed that the bodies
constituting the universe were circumscribed in their movements and
never went out of a particular zone in the heavens which was called
the zodiac. This zodiac was divided into twelve equal parts called
signs or constellations. Similarly man's body was divided into twelve
parts, of which each one was governed by a sign of the zodiac or by
the corresponding constellation. The ram governed the head; the bull
the neck; the twins the paired portions, shoulders, arms and hands;
the crab the chest; the lion the stomach, and so on. The old surgical
rule, as quoted by Nicaise in his edition of Guy de Chauliac's "Grande
Chururgie," was that the surgeon ought not make an incision, or even a
cauterization, of a part of the body governed by a particular sign or
constellation on the day when the moon was in that particular portion
of the heavens, for the moon was supposed to be the bringer of
ill-luck and to have untoward influences. The incision should not be
made at these unfavorable periods for fear of too great effusion of
blood which might then ensue. Neither should an incision be made when
the sun was in the constellation governing a particular member,
because of the danger and peril that might be occasioned thereby.

Such rules were supposed to be founded on observation. Patients were
influenced by them mainly because they were assured that the surgical
treatment was undertaken under the most favorable influence of the
stars and that all unfavorable influences had been carefully observed
and eliminated. It is hard for us to understand how such ideas could
have been maintained for so long in the minds of men whose other
attainments clearly show how thorough they were in observing and how
profoundly intelligent in reaching conclusions. We should, however,
have very little censure for them, since from some other standpoint we
find every generation, down to and including our own, jumping at
conclusions just as absurd and just as inconsequential. And the
practice of astrology was not without its value, for the reassurance
given patients by the consciousness that the stars were favorable did
much to relieve their anxiety as to the consequences of surgery,
lessened shocks, hastened convalescence, and favored recovery.





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Previous: Pseudo-science And Mental Healing



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