Sometimes I’ll get asked health questions. I’m not trained in medical astrology – in a way, I’m not trained in any sort of astrology – but I don’t usually let that sort of thing stop me. A bit of common sense and an understanding of symbolic thinking goes a long way. The other day someone asked me about their spine, and I went to the very useful Medical Astrology section on Wikipedia, and there it was, symbolised by the Sun. The Sun is also parental, classically the father, and I was able to tie together father stuff and spine stuff in a way that made a lot of sense to the person. Healing one involved healing the other.
Even I would balk at using astrology to recommend physical treatments for people’s ailments. I think that would definitely require training. But through its system of correspondences, astrology can give you strong clues as to the psychological component. Not, not psychological, that makes it sound like disease is just in people’s heads, which it’s not. It’s the soul component, what the ailment is saying about the state of your soul. There isn’t always this connection – sometimes a broken leg is just a broken leg, a cold can be just a cold. And you can’t insist on a connection. But sometimes the symbolism is too strong to ignore.
I’ve spent the last few months reading Patrick Harpur’s The Philosopher’s Secret Fire. There’s so much in it that I only do a few pages a day. Today I came across this section:
The rejection of Hades’ advances – the resistance to death – is the hallmark of modernity, and especially of our approach to medicine. Of all the technological developments which have changed our lives since the Renaissance, medical technology is perhaps the one we can point to with most confidence and say: “There, at least, things are getting better.”….
We are better than ever – so why do we so often feel iller? Why does spending on health increase every year, but we do not seem to be happier? Why are we beginning to question the benefits of longevity? Why are we now plagued by complaints which may not be life-threatening but which make our lives a misery and which doctors can do little about – unexplained headaches, chronic backache, stomach disorders; anxiety attacks, stress disorders and depressions; plus a host of ills that seem to hover on the border between mind and body, such as ME, MS, chronic fatigue, hyperactivity, allergies, asthma, eczema and other ‘nervous’ disorders? Why can we never rid ourselves of Big Killers – we may have done away with the Black Death, but now we have Cancer and Heart Disease?
There are lots of answers to these questions; but the single most neglected answer is that we have neglected soul, especially in the field of mainstream medicine whose materialistic presuppositions tell us that the body is all we have; that it is more or less a machine….
The daimonic tradition, on the other hand, tells us that the body is the physical expression of an individual soul connected to the Soul of the World and, as such, it is – like Nature – a citadel of metaphors. None of its expressions, including its symptoms and diseases, is merely biological. They are also imaginings which invite us to see heart disease, for example, as a sickness of the emotions, perhaps of the imagination itself, since these are traditionally seated in the heart; which invites us to see cancer as a revolt against the materialistic conception of the body itself, because cancer is like the body’s madness, the body turning on itself, eating into itself, as if to free itself from itself or free it from its own literalistic conception of itself.
From the daimonic point of view, the tiny agents of disease such as bacteria and viruses are, like subatomic particles, daimonic entities whose existence was postulated hypothetically – that is, imagined – before they were ‘discovered’. This is not to say that they do not exist; it is only to say that their existence is not only literal, even though we demonise them, ward them off and exorcise them in the literalised rituals we call vaccination, disinfection etc. Viruses in particular have been fashionable in recent times. They are blamed for more and more diseases whose cause is uncertain. They may be different viruses – or, more alarmingly, they may be the same viruses which have mutated. The elusive, shape-changing mature of viruses suggests that they are the usual literalised daimons.
Moreover, there is a dark suspicion that the mass of ‘wonder’ drugs we have invented do not necessarily cure diseases but suppress them. According to this view a disease is then driven deeper into the body, only to reappear later in another, more virulent guise – exactly like the daimons we repress at our peril lest they mutate into demons. The high incidence of cancer would, from this viewpoint, be conceived as the suppressed form of diseases that we no longer manifest.
Despite all our medical triumphs, a groundswell of grumbling has grown in volume over the last 40 years, a dissatisfaction with the materialistic and technological approach to our bodies, which has encouraged a lot of people to experiment with ‘alternative’ medicine and ‘holistic’ therapies – many of which are administered in as literal a way as conventional medicine, using a kind of spiritual ‘technology’ which equally ignores soul.
Nevertheless they do point to a growing feeling that it is insane to treat the body in isolation, as if it were the only thing we consist of. We watch the Holy Grail of Total Health recede ever further from us as we increasingly understand that that soul will never let us be totally well. Psyche constantly makes itself felt in psychosomatic disorders, in hypochondriacal feelings of dis-ease, in anomalous symptoms which chronically subvert the quality of our lives. It will always prise open a crack in our armour of health to let sickness in or to leach health, like a wasting disease, towards death.
Of course we should do what we can to avoid sickness and to cure it; but we should not let our Herculean efforts blind us to the inner meaning of sickness, the opportunities it is offering us for psychic transformation, for initiation, which is an engagement with death rather than its denial. Many of the daimons a shaman encounters are called by the names of diseases. He engages with them in order to know them and to enlist their help in the care, and cure, of souls.
The tendency of medicine to deny soul is present in its mythic foundations. Asclepius was the first doctor, taught medicine by his father, Apollo, and (some say) by the centaur Cheiron. But when Asclepius began raising the dead, Hades complained to his brother, Zeus, that Asclepius was robbing him of his subjects. Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt, but later restored him to life.
Here, in Hades’ complaint, we see medicine’s predilection for affirming natural life, denying the life of the psyche and refusing the soul its connection with death. Hence medicine’s emphasis on preserving life, raising up bodies at all costs, cheating Hades by depriving soul of its underworld dimension and keeping it in the upper daylight world.