On Decumbiture, now History

Recently a very obscure and arcane form of chart was discussed here at Altair Astrology. The “Cucumbiture”. We will look now at real history and that is the decumbiture chart that was still used in Nicholas Culpeper’s and William Lilly’s day.

Once, long enough ago to make a difference, astrology was part of university curriculum. It was part of any medical education and considered an important diagnostic tool. But times have changed. The image of man and his constitution has undergone a radical change. Much of what we read in older texts seems strange to us, as we have no real understanding of all the implications when the “humours” are being spoken of. Just a brief example out of Wm. Lilly’s “Christian Astrology”,

…did portend the Patient to be wonderfully afflicted with the Spleen, with the Wind-chollick, and melancholly obstructions in the Bowels…” (p 290)

I doubt that most modern readers would be able to make heads or tails of this. They are likely to reach for an encyclopaedia or fire up their favourite search-engine on the internet. The passage has to be translated first.

“The patient is irritable, flatulent, with pains in the bowels and constipated…”

Why melancholy? Wouldn’t obstruction be enough to describe what we call constipation? You see. We can translate the passage and make some sort of sense of it, but we are likely to miss the “mood” of the sentence, its atmosphere of meaning.

There was one special branch of astrological diagnosis that dealt with the “decumbiture” of the sick. This was more or less an event chart based upon when someone fell sick, or when this was not definitely known, the moment when urine was brought to the physician or when he was consulted by the patient. It had a diagnostic function as it was used to judge the nature of the illness. It also had a prognostic function as it was used to judge the critical times in the course of the illness. For an acute illness, the Moon was used as “marker”. For a chronic illness, the Sun. The decumbiture chart was also the basis of a form of derived chart to determine the critical times. (Nicholas Culpeper describes two “Figures” of either eight or sixteen houses) In the figure with eight houses, the position of the Moon was the starting point and the cusps of the following houses were 45 degrees apart from another. The “angles” of this figure showed the times of crisis, the cusps of the intermediary houses were considered as opportune moments to judge the development of the illness, these were the “judicial” times. The sixteen housed figure provided greater detail, as a second “indicative” time was added. Wm Lilly included a table in “Christian Astrology” to simplify finding these degrees. (p.294)

The decumbiture chart and its derived charts are not to be confused with a horary chart, although it has similarities. Decumbiture was the domain of the physician and so it is legitimate to try to understand the theory of it in order to deepen one’s astrological insight but it is not to be practised unless all four of the following conditions are fulfilled:

  • one is a physician
  • has a thorough understanding of Hippocrates and Galen, and not merely as book-learning
  • is familiar with such accompanying techniques as “reading” the urine of a patient, etc. (N. Culpeper called himself a Piss-Prophet!)
  • has a well grounded understanding of traditional astrology

Which excludes most of us!

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