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 Sue
hoff 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


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.