The Decumbiture II: Culpeper’s use of Mooncrisis charts

There are many different techniques regarding decumbitures and their origin goes far back in time. The physicians Hippocrates (460-379 BC) and Galen (129-200 AD) were probably the most prominent representatives, and their technique was still widely used by English astrologers in the 16th century. Indeed, William Lilly, [1] who made horary astrology famous, referred to that school.[2]  Both physicians used the Moon transits over the decumbiture in order to establish a favorabile moment to start a therapy or to take a particular medicine.

According to Galen, a physician was supposed to wait for the invitation of nature before starting to work with the patient. Prior to that very moment, the medicine would either be effect-less or not fully effective. Nevertheless, finding Galen’s theories in Lilly’s Christian Astrology is surprising, since this technique is based on aspects which are unusual in traditional astrology and in particular for Lilly, such as the semi sextile (30°) and the sesquiquadrate (135°). [3]

Only the astrologer, botanic and naturopath Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654),[4] a student of Lilly’s and known in the English history as one of the most important healers of his time, described Hippocrates and Galen’s method of decumbitures in detail [5] but also introduced an easier system based on traditional aspects.

This article will shed light on Culpeper’s technique.

On p. 52 in his book Judgement of Diseases from the Decumbiture of the sick (1655), Culpeper gives a practical example.

Culpeper’s decumbiture of a sick woman

He had been called to visit a sick woman with high fever who had already been given up by her doctor, who believed she had the plague.

Culpeper does not mention who had called him, but it seems that at least at the beginning, the physician did not know about Culpeper being asked for a second opinion.

The first thing Culpeper does is to cast a decumbiture, a chart cast for the moment the woman had fallen ill. [6]

In this chart, the woman is described by the ruler of the AC , Venus, in Sagittarius. Venus s peregrine, retrograde and in a cadent house, circumstances which describe her poor health.

The ruler of the 6th house is in the 12th, and the ruler of her AC is disposed by a planet in the 12th house, which is why Culpeper assumes that she is responsible for her illness,[7] for example as a consequence of a negligence or a depressive state.

The 6th house is in Pisces, an indication that the illness was caused by wet or cold feet, which destabilized her physically.[8]

The ruler of the 6th house, Jupiter, describes the illness. He generally describes the blood, the liver, vertebra and lungs.[9] In this chart he is positioned in Virgo and thus indicates the bowels and intestines. Jupiter is traditionally associated with abundance and richness, but in this case he rather shows swellings. The intestine is thus swollen and its function disturbed: it cannot be emptied. Culpeper mentions that she has not gone to stool in a week.

Since Jupiter also governs the lungs and thus the circulation of oxygen in the body, we can suppose that the lady suffered from too much air in the intestine which she could not get rid of.

Venus is in the 3rd house which has Scorpio on its cusp, while she is already in Sagittarius. Sagittarius is a fire sign and thus indicates fever. Scorpio makes this fever violent and body consuming. Scorpio also shows the possibility of some poison (Scorpio is ruled by malefic Mars).

It is interesting to observe the role of the woman’s physician, before Culpeper was called: Both Lilly and Culpeper associate the doctor with the 7th house, while the medicine is given to the 10th house. [10]

In the decumbiture, Aries is on the cusp of the 7th house, describing an impulsive man who acts without thinking too much. The position of Mars in the 4th house, combust and conjunct the North Node suggests, that the end of the illness was close, although not in the way he might expect. In fact, the 4th house describes the end of things[11] and an illness can end either by healing or by death.

The first physician prescribed the woman a strong and possibly poisonous[12] purge.[13] Lilly associates laxatives with Mars which thus corresponds with the nature of the physician himself.[14] Since Mars is in the 4th house (end of things) and in aversion to Venus, it is clear that the remedy is too strong for the patient. It further irritates the intestine and does not stimulate the bowel evacuation nor the relaxation of the contracted musculature. This remedy is also likely to cause a further increase of temperature in the body.

What could Culpeper possibly do now to help the sick woman and to what kind of therapy her body would positively respond?

The 10th sign of the woman is in Cancer, of the water triplicity. Cancer generally describes the belly and in particular its superior part and the stomach,[15] in illnesses this is an indication of bad digestion. Water describes a quality that soothes, dissolves, detoxifies and has laxative properties. This is the reason why Culpeper decided to administer gentle enemas (clysters).

Now the question is about when to give the medicine. Culpeper was of the opinion that in nature there is always the right moment to do each thing. Not always nature shows its hand or accepts other players. For this reason and in order to make affirmations regarding the future evolution of the illness, Culpeper developed a new technique based on certain Moon (or, depending on the kind of sickness, Sun) aspects. [16] This technique is nowadays often called the technique of the Moon crisis. I will rather call it the technique of the critical periods of the Moon in order to distinguish the technique from one of its phases, which is the crisis chart.

The chart of the critical periods of the Moon

After the first glance at the decumbiture and the classification of the sickness as either acute or chronic (see part I of this article), Culpeper turned the chart of the decumbiture until the Moon was exactly on the AC, using equal houses. In this way, he obtained a new ascendant, as shown in fig. 2.[17]

Fig. 2 Judicial periods, Moon on the AC in equal houses

Please note that this derived chart was not used to describe the illness, but for the quick and practical visualization of the four phases of every disease. [18]

These are:

  1. Beginn of the illness
  2. First judicial moment
  3. Intercidental period
  4. Crisis
  • The first judicial moment corresponds to the moment in which the transiting Moon reaches a 30° angulation (semisexstile) in relation to her own position in the decumbiture, which generally occurs 2,5 after the illness first appeared. In most diseases, at this point symptoms have become fully visible (for example eruptions in the case of rubella or chickenpox). The clinical picture is therfore mostly complete. This enables the physician to make precise statements regarding the illness and to know in advance which physical problems will manifest in a short time (such as the increase of fever, problems with the kidneys or else).
  • During the intercidental period, the body usually benefits from a short interval of rest in which symptoms do not worse (sometimes they even improve) and the sick gains a little strength before the upcoming crisis. The analysis of one’s resources in terms of strength shows to which extend the body is prepared to overcome the disease.
  • Crisis: The defense is organized and prepared for the attack. Now it will be decided, whether the patient will restore his/her health. In the case of a particularly insidious disease, or a weak immune system, the patient might need more than just one Moon crisis in order to overcome the illness

From these brief explanations of the critical periods of the Moon, it becomes clear how useful their analysis can be for the astrologer in order to prepare the patient to what  s/he is going towards to.

Culpeper also used this technique in order to see when nature would accept being helped by the physician, in other words to determine when was the right time to give a medicine or start a new therapy. These moments were:

  • Transiting Moon in conjunction, sextile or trine to the position of Venus or Jupiter in the decumbiture
  • Transiting Moon in conjunction, sextile or trine to transiting Venus or Jupiter
  • Transiting Venus or Jupiter on the AC in the decumbiture

In Culpeper’s example chart, he writes that the woman was suffering from small pox (which the physician had erroneously believed to be the plague). Jupiter is the ruler of the 6th house. He describes the liver, the lungs and the blood. The contagion with small pocks occurs through droplet infection and thus through the airways, ruled by Jupiter.

The ruler of the ascendant describes the health, but also in particular the physical shape. The AC in Libra generally depicts a nice looking person, but in this chart, Venus is in a cadent house and she is peregrine, in other words, she has lost her attractiveness. The retrograde motion of the planet also suggest, that she will have scars left from the smallpox.

Culpeper mentioned indeed, that the patient was disfigured by her illness and attributed this with Mars, who was separating from a sextile to the Moon. Furthermore, Mars also represented the medicine administered by the previous physician, which had caused a further accumulation of toxins and increasing fever. Since Mars was in Capricorn, the woman suffered also from pains and swellings in her knees.

Would the woman survive her illness?

The lady of the AC is free from aspects to the 8th house ruler and the Moon sextiles Jupiter. These are the main indications that the woman would survive.

Is she dealing with an acute or a chronic disease?

All angular houses are in cardinal signs, the Moon is quick and sextiles Jupiter. These are indications that the illness will end soon, nevertheless, the lady of the AC and the ruler of the 6th house are stationary, making this disease longer than usual in these cases.

The course of the disease, as shown in the charts of the critical periods of the Moon

The position of the Moon at 11°01’ Scorpio shows three critical moments for the woman, when positioned on the AC (see Fig. 1):

  • 11°01’ Sagittarius: 1st judicial moment
  • 11°01’ Capricorn :1st intercidental period
  • 11°01’ Aquarius 1st crisis

1- In the chart calculated for the first judicial moment, shown right, the Moon is in the 1st house [19] and has just separated from a square to Jupiter and a conjunction with Venus. Please note that Venus in the decumbiture rules the sick woman and her physical shape while Jupiter describes the illness.

Only recently both met and separated: The illness is implemented and visible. In the judicial chart, the lords of the of the AC and of the 6th house have switched in relation to the decumbiture. Saturn in the 6th house shows a more insidious disease and his position in Cancer describes pain in the belly. Saturn rules the body’s retentive faculty and stores nutritional elements. Saturn generally describes an obstruction or dysfunction.

1st judicial period

Venus in Sagittarius, a fire sign, describes fever and inflammations. Venus is in a water house, suggesting secretions or abscesses and pus. We are not told in which part of the body the pustules did show up, but the position of Venus in the 12th house would suggest the feet (indeed, according to wikipedia, the pustules usually appear on the head, hands and feet while they are rare on the belly, thighs or breast). [20] Venus in Sagittarius describes the thighs.

2- In the chart of the 1st intercidental period, Saturn is conjunct the AC. Saturn describes coldness. The patient was suffering from shivering, which are typical for this disease. The Moon is approaching a conjunction with Mars. This contact stresses and debilitates the body, which does not find the necessary peace to regain strength before the upcoming crisis. The illness is not temporarily easing, but worsening. Now the patient needs rest and eventually some remedies which calm Mars (possibly something -and emollient). However, just at this time, the first physician administers that strong purge which accelerated the course of the illness, also increasing the fever.

1st Intercidental period

3- In the crisis chart, the Moon is separating from a sextile to the lady of the AC, Venus, and transferring her light to Saturn. This indicates a particularly hard crisis, even though is does not show the death of the patient since Saturn is not the ruler of the 8th house.

Sun and Mars square the AC showing the deadly danger. If the Moon would have cast an aspect with Mars instead of Saturn, it would have been a straightforward indication that the woman would not overcome her illness.

There are other factors which show that the woman would live: Saturn on the AC is in his exaltation and is thus friendly. Nevertheless, the main indication of the imminent recovery of the woman is the applying trine between the Sun and Jupiter.

Now Culpeper knew that the woman would have survived, though he still wanted to know when she would be healed. For this reason he studied the second sequence of critical periods of the Moon, this is the second judicial period, the second intercidental period and the second crisis, continuing thus simply to observe the Moon and her ingress in a new house of the decumbiture. So while the Moon at 11°01’ in Aquarius described the 1st crisis, her position at 11°01’ Pisces (shown right) will describe the second judicial moment and so on.

The ruler of the AC, Mars, is in his exaltation. The Moon is separating from a sextile to the Sun and applying, to sextile with Mars. Mars and Saturn in angular houses generally indicate a difficult situation, but Jupiter in the 6th house is going to help. In this chart it is interesting to note, that Mars in the decumbiture described the doctor and his medicine. In the second judicial chart, his ignorance becomes evident being positioned in the 10th house. Only in this moment, Culpeper himself enters into play. He administers gentle and slightly laxative clysters (Moon in a water sign in sextile with the ruler of the AC Mars).

Culpeper concludes briefly, that the woman would be without fever at the moment of the second crisis, when the exalted Moon trines the Sun (Life) and Mercury (ruler of the 6th house).  

Finally Culpeper refers that at the moment of the third Moon crisis, the woman was not only healed, but already travelling abroad.

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[1] William Lilly, Christian Astrology, Astrology Classics, 2003

[2] When Lilly wrote his Christian Astrology, he was not a physician as yet. Only years later he took the Hippocratic oath. In his book, he only mentions Hippocrates technique on decumbitures. In his example charts, he checks whether the patient would survive or not but does not go into detail about the diseases.

[3] Lilly, p. 266

[4] Culpeper is often called physician, but he never took a diploma in medicine. He was an astrological botanist, widely known for healing successfully the poor in his ambulatory in Spittlefield, close to London.

[5] Nicholas Culpeper, Astrological Diseases from the Decumbiture of the Sick, Astrology Classics, 2003, p. 40. Hippocrates put the decumbiture Moon on the AC and divided the circle by 45° equal degrees, obtaining 8 houses, which he used for predictions. There was also a yet another chart division by 22,5 degrees in 16 equal houses.

[6] All charts are slightly modified by hand in order to show them as similar as possible to how Culpeper saw them. Our modern calculations usually differ somewhat from his calcules, especially the position of the AC and the Moon. Nevertheless, the time indicated in the charts corresponds to the time and date given by Culpeper.

[7] Culpeper, p. 52

[8] Ancient texts often mention that an illness entered the body by cold feet or an excess of bile. Modern medicine would rather speak of degenerated colds which have debilitated the immune system.

[9] Lilly, p. 246

[10] Culpeper, p. 53, 71 

[11] Lilly, p. 151

[12] Lilly, p. 261

[13] Culpeper mentions that the physician administered the woman a high dosage of scammony (Convolvulus scammonia). Today we know that this plant is inert until it has passed from the stomach into the duodenum, where it meets the bile, whereby it is converted into a powerful purgative harmless until it reaches the stomach and the duodenum, where it causes a huge production of bile and a strong secretion, which can lead to a strong gastrointestinal irritation. Culpeper knew of this already back in 1655 and advised against it use.

[14] Lilly, p. 68

[15]Lilly, p. 245

[16] As shown in the first part of this article, chronic  diseases are described by Sun aspects, acute disease by Moon aspects.

[17] For acute diseases (Moon is NOT separating from Saturn), he puts the Moon on the (new) ascendant. For chronic diseases (Moon IS separating from Saturn) he puts the Sun on the (new) AC. Please note that we have another definition of “chronic” than ancient astrologers did have. A chronic disease was just a (very) long sickness, while an acute disease was “short”.

[18] The beginning of the illness or the moment the decumbiture is calculated for, is not counted here.

[19] Note that this chart does not require the Moon to be on the AC as the technical decumbiture chart does!


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