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the willow is a lunar herb
The willow is a lunar herb

Astrology and Health
herbs and symbolism

Herbs and Symbolism: part 1 | part 2The Vital Force

The crowning of great persons with a wreath of laurel is thus a fitting ritual, symbolizing the unfoldment of their Inner Light, while the wreath, analogous to a halo, displays their inner virtue. Artists also used a laurel wreath as a symbolic device to depict a great man, such as Botticelli's portrayal of the poet Dante.

The word bachelor, as an award of higher education (L. e= out + ducare = to lead), derives from the Latin, bacca laurus, meaning the fruits of the laurel. Thus after several years discipline, the student who had unfolded the Inner Light and was able to "draw forth" wisdom, was awarded a bachelorship in recognition of this inner attainment. The graduate had truly earned the fruits of the laurel.

The idea that the bay standing next to the house brings good luck stems from the belief that the inner solar virtue dispels the darkness of malevolent influences, traditionally ruled by Saturn. In symbolic terms, the principle of light overcomes the lord of darkness.  Thus in Culpeper, bay is said to be the tree that "resisteth witchcraft very potently, as also all the evils old Saturn can do to the body, and they are not a few". Thus the laurel outside the home stands as a faithful guardian, keeping any malevolent influences - literally - at bay! To cut the tree down would destroy this benign protection, hence invite misfortune to befall the home. The act of cutting it down also symbolizes the dissociation of a person from the soul, and the denial of the Inner Light. A person who does not act from the clarity of the heart soon falls into obstruction and difficulties.

Go to Top The Power of Insight

It was by visualizing the inner virtues of plants that physicians worked out their medicinal uses. The willow (Salix alba) provides a particularly clear illustration of how this was done. Culpeper cryptically mentions that the Moon owns it. Once again, the Lunar rulership can be traced back to classical Greek times when the willow was sacred to . . . Hecate, Circe, Hera and Persephone, all Death aspects of the Triple Moon-goddess6 and was found growing in the temple confines dedicated to lunar goddesses.

Go to Top Lunar Virtue

The Lunar virtue of the tree is shown by its love for water as the moon traditionally rules the water element.  A fact powerfully evidenced by the Moon's influence upon the oceans and tides. This association is shown by willow growing next to streams, rivers and lakes while its leaves also have a silvery lustre.  Silver is both the colour and the metal traditionally ruled by the Moon.

Mediæval physiology is also based upon this symbolic perspective, so the external form and structure of the body is closely observed to reveal its inner virtue or vital force7.

For example, when a person had a fever or if the joints became swollen and painful, this was visualized in mediaeval physiology as a fire burning inside the body. Indeed, the medical word for fever, pyrexia, comes from the Greek word pyros meaning fire, while the word inflammation comes from the Latin inflammare meaning to flame within.

Just as water extinguishes fire, so Lunar herbs with their affinity with the water element, were used to extinguish the fire in the body. This is confirmed by the willow having an ancient reputation for allaying fever.

The validity of these ancient ideas is confirmed by modern pharmacology, for the main active constituent is salicylic acid, which in a slightly different form is more commonly known as the drug aspirin. Among a range of pharmacological actions, salicylic acid powerfully reduces the body temperature by increasing sweating. Thus, the water of the sweat puts out the fire in the body.

The name salicylic acid derives from the generic name of the tree Salix. In turn, the tree's Latin name is derived from the Celtic sal meaning "water" and lis meaning "near" alluding to its natural habitat.  Salix is also linked to the Greek name of the tree Helix, which also gave rise to the word Helicon, the mountain abode of the nine muses, priestesses of the moon-goddess8. Interestingly, the name of the chemical still echoes the lunar associations of the tree and its "watery" effects on the body.

Rational thought, in its pursuit of objective knowledge, frequently denies the validity of subjective perception. Its reductionist methodology has largely supplanted the symbolic perspective to Western culture. As a result, the material world is predominantly perceived as existing in its own right, dissociated from the person observing it. Against these powerful changes to our perception brought about by our scientific age, herbal lore has become very difficult to understand, however, to learn how to see plants symbolically is to catch sight of the profound knowledge of the ancient herbalists.


1.                 N. Culpeper: The English Physitian, 1653, section on the Bay tree.
2.                 N. Culpeper: ibid. Epistle to the Reader.
3.                 N. Culpeper: Ibid. section on Angelica.
4.                 W. Rutherford: Delphi – the Occult Centre of the Ancient World.
5.                 J. G. Frazer: The Golden Bough.
6.                 R. Graves: The White Goddess.
7.                 D. Warren-Davis: Vitalism and Humoral Physiology – Part2.
8.                 R. Graves, Ibid .

This article is part of a series on Astrology and Health. Copyright © D. Warren-Davis 2000.  All Rights Reserved.

What is Herbal Medicine?
About the Vital Force
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Astrology and Health is a clear and easy guide to how the signs of the zodiac influence our physical and mental well-being. It covers the five elements and how they balance; sun signs and the elements; parts of the body and diseases associated with each sign; visualizations and exercises to aid healing; diseases associated with the planets; herbal medicine; and medical astrology in action. Excellent presentation and value.Astrology and Health:
A Beginner's Guide
by Dylan Warren-Davis.
Published by Headway: Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 034070518 3
   84 pages
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Astrology & Health by Dylan Warren-Davis

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This page was last modified on Sunday, 23 April 2017