Astrology and Health
vitalism and humours
Vitalism has essentially been the foundation of medical thinking since the classical times of Hippocrates and Galen. In Western medicine, vitalism declined in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the ascendancy of scientific thinking, though today it is still a central tenet of naturopathic philosophy.
The premise of vitalism considers the human body and psyche as being animated by the vital force, which starts flowing at the moment of conception and which ceases with the death of the body. The flow of vital energy through the body nourishes, heals, develops and sustains the body. This flow of vital force is synonymous with the emotional experience of the person, whereby each individual emotion is seen as a particular wave form within the flow. For example, love creates a smooth, comforting, nourishing and harmonizing flow, in contrast to anger, which generates a spiky, intense, spasmodic and disruptive flow. Every emotion has thereby a direct effect on the body's physiological function.
The Vital Force
The vital force is also seen as the substance out of which all ideas are
formed. Accordingly particular mental attitudes influence emotional
responses which, in turn, affects physiological function. Vitalism
embraces the inter-relationship of mental, emotional and physical experience.
From a vitalistic stance, health is synonymous with the harmonious or ease
of flow to the vital force through the body and psyche, while dis-ease
arises when the flow of vital energy is disrupted. Therapeutically
the objective of the medicine or healing is to restore the harmony to the
Modern conventional medicine regards vitalism as outdated and having been disproved with the apparent success of biochemical physiology in explaining how the body functions.
This is not strictly true. As physicians started using reductionist
scientific ideas they simply lost the ability to understand the subtlety
of vitalism. This is highlighted by contemporary medical historians
being largely unable to correctly communicate the principles of vitalism. It must also be noted that, in contrast to it being out of date, vitalism is still currently found in many guises within different cultural medical traditions of the world, such as the Arabic, Chinese and Indian to mention a few.
In order to see how this understanding of vitalism became lost, it is necessary to provide a more detailed explanation of how the vital force was described and understood in the first place. In so doing it is possible to see how to reconnect
with this knowledge once more. The first way that the vital force
has been understood, is through the cosmology of the five Elements, Earth,
Water, Air, Fire and Ether.
Though the use of the Elements is found in cultures earlier than the Greek Hellenistic era, it was the philosopher Plato who is thought to have coined the term Element. As Plato used the term, the four gross Elements, Earth, Water, Air and Fire, are the universal forces upon which life depends:
- Earth is both the planet on which we live and mother nature upon whom we physically depend.
- Water is the universal solvent in which 99% of all biochemical processes take place.
- Air is the atmosphere by means of which all living organisms respire.
- While Fire is the sun in the heavens which provides heat and light, which
through the photosynthesis of plants ultimately provides the energy for
every creature upon the earth.
Animating the four gross Elements is the vital force, represented by the fifth Element Ether. Ether, though beyond physical manifestation, is visualized as the substance out of which the other four Elements are formed and into which they will once more dissolve. For this reason Ether has been described as the quintaessentia or fifth essence. This relationship is beautifully illustrated in the relationship of alchemical symbols for the Elements, illustrated in Figure 1, in part two of this article.