There is an ancient theory of wellness and illness that speaks directly to lifestyle questions. This medical model can still be used today to understand temperament, not only from a psychological standpoint, but also from the perspective of body type, susceptibility to certain types of conditions, and even obesity. It is a type of understanding which can be equally at home in New Age circles, and in health practitioners’ offices.
The classical medical model was given by Hippocrates a century before astrology had been incorporated into Greek thought. This model incorporated four basic qualities: Hot, Cold, Wet, and Dry. These four qualities varied by season, gender, age, and person. The ideal of Hippocrates was to lead a balanced life. If the body is balanced, then disease is less likely to take hold. The method of creating balance was diet and regimen.
I have written extensively on the philosophical underpinnings of this model in my book, Classical Astrology for Modern Living. This introduction reviews some of the more pertinent points as they apply to lifestyle issues.
The entire ancient scheme was based on the four qualities: Hot, Cold, Wet and Dry. “Hot” and “Cold” were one pair – “Wet” and “Dry” the other. From a behavioral perspective, “Hot” is exactly what you would expect from the common parlance: someone who reacts vigorously to anything even remotely perceived as an attack. “Hot under the collar” is exactly on target. A “Cold” type is basically lethargic, or slow to react, often perceived as being unemotional, but “slow to react” would actually be closer. The expression “cool under pressure” is also a good fit.
“Wet” and “Dry” don’t have quite the linguistic familiarity. “Dry” represents anything with a discrete shape or structure, while something “Wet” adapts its shape to the container. “Dry” thinking is characterized by making distinctions, while “Wet” thinking sees connections. A new example of Wet thinking is “hyper-linking:” the World Wide Web is definitely Wet! A Dry thinker is more easily swayed by intellectual argument than by passion. A Wet thinker fits emotion into the picture. Dryness is the position that this moment is unique, that reality can be “objectively” known. “Wet” thinking takes the position that separate concepts are interconnected. Without Wet thinking, we could not be astrologers, because it is Wet thinking that sees the interconnections of microcosm and macrocosm. Without Dry thinking, there would be no technique, because we couldn’t distinguish signs, planets, or houses from each other. The danger for Dry thinking is that, confronted with something new, the Dry thinker has no solution: the pieces are incompatible, and there is no way to bring them together. Each moment is unique, and unconnected to what came before. To the Wet thinker, connections lie everywhere, right down to the involvement of the Knights Templar in the assassination of Martin Luther King and JFK, and let’s not forget that the Templars have connections back to Ancient Egypt and Atlantis! Submergence and drowning is the danger of extreme Wet thinking. There is nothing for the Wet thinker to grasp for support. Yet one other way to contrast the two is to say that the epitome of Dry thinking is clarity and the epitome of Wet thinking is ambiguity. And yes! The very process of attempting to explain the concept is Dry!
Each of the four qualities actually represents a cluster of concepts, and their opposites. For example, the qualities Hot and Cold do not represent extremes of a temperature continuum, as we would define them. They represent qualities of energy, where Hot represents high energy or physical heat, and Cold represents low energy or physical Cold. But these qualities are opposites in a critically different way from the way we normally envision them. Take temperature. From a purely chemical perspective, molecules in a hotter gas vibrate more rapidly on average than molecules in a colder gas. Mixing Hot and Cold gases will produce an intermediate result. In other words, in our thinking the “Cold” portion is completely canceled out by a portion of the “Hot” component. But this is not how it works – at least as far as the qualities, and not chemistry, is concerned! People are, in fact, more than capable of expressing opposite qualities without one canceling the other. In psychological testing there is often an index of consistency, which is actually a measure of to what extent an individual will give the same answer to the same question. If such an index is deemed necessary, it becomes clear exactly how capable we are of expressing “incompatible” ideas and emotions! Opposites do not cancel each other out!
Thus, people have Hot and Cold qualities simultaneously. In fact, having “half and half” would be to manifest equal quantities of each, not to have a “zero-sum state” in which “Hot” cancels “Cold,” perhaps producing lukewarm. It may be useful to envision Hot and Cold as being like two different colored marbles, red and blue. Having more blue marbles doesn’t take away the red ones: it just means that, if you were to draw one marble out of a box at random, you would more likely draw a blue one, but you could draw a red one.
The balanced state should not be lukewarm. Rather, it is the ability to be high energy (Hot), or completely at rest (Cold) as the moment and the circumstances require. Being merely Hot is to approach all circumstances as a Type A personality: everything is a challenge to be conquered. To approach things from a Cold perspective is to be motionless: to wait for the problem to go away or resolve itself without having to do anything: living life as a couch potato.
Finally, this is where Astrology comes in. Hippocrates put forward a workable theory of qualities, but other than general distinctions of age, gender, and physical appearance, he had no way to classify a person as having a particular make-up. We do. By using the chart, we can actually calculate the temperament type. Further, this result can then be used in a host of ways, including to establish a diet and exercise plan that truly supports well being.
We finally get something we can sink our teeth into, because Astrology eventually became the preferred mode for distinguishing the constitution from its components, or humors.
There are several possibilities for the computation of the temperament type. The general definition includes the following components. The method of computation comes from Gadbury, pages 249-258; and more specifically in Lilly, pages 531-534 and 742-749.
1. Sign of Ascendant
2. Planet ruling Ascendant
3. Planets aspecting Ascendant
4. Moon sign and phase
5. Planets aspecting Moon
6. Quarter of Year
7. Lord/Lady of Geniture
8. Lord/Lady of Moon
Each component is assigned qualities as follows:
Fire Hot and Dry
Air Hot and Wet
Earth Cold and Dry
Water Cold and Wet
2. The Moon is classified by phase.
New to 1st Quarter Hot and Wet
1st Quarter to Full Hot and Dry
Full to last Quarter Cold and Dry
last Quarter to New Cold and Wet
3. Seasons are classified as follows.
Spring Hot and Wet
Summer Hot and Dry
Fall Cold and Dry
Winter Cold and Wet
4. Lord/Lady of the Geniture: this is a compound Almuten for the hylegical points and angles: the Sun, Moon, Part of Fortune, Ascendant and Midheaven.
This actually gives nine temperament types, not four. The reason is that often two of the qualities are often in balance, or so close as to have little dominance. These nine types are:
Hot and Wet sanguine
Hot and Dry choleric
Cold and Dry melancholic
Cold and Wet phlegmatic
What may appear to be the simpler states, the single quality ones, are actually more complex. The reason is that the single quality types are in fact mixtures, because, as we have seen, qualities don’t cancel out. Having close to an even ratio of Hot and Cold, or Wet and Dry, means that it is easy to become out of balance: stress, the change in season, or even too much to drink. Astrologically, the transit of an Outer Planet brings an effect of the nature both of the transiting planet, and of the transiting sign. People with these combinations may also experience them as being simultaneously present: such as having different parts of the body that are Cold, while other parts are Hot.
Hippocratic medicine is basically allopathic: this means that if you have become out of balance because your body is experiencing too much heat (that Mars transit to your Sun?), then you need to take a Cold herb, Cold food, Cold exercise, or literally experience Cold temperatures in order to cool yourself down. These means of adjusting the qualities experienced by the body fell under the rubric “regimen,” which included such components as the following:
(1) The season of the year: “In winter eat as much as possible and drink as little as possible, and food should be bread, with all meats roasted. During this season take as few vegetables as possible, for so will the body be most Dry and Hot.” By the way, the reason for this recommendation is because Winter is classified as Cold and Wet. Thus, to compensate for the seasonal qualities, food is used to heat up and Dry out the seasonal effect.
(2) The age of the person: “Young people also do well to adopt a softer and moister regimen, for this age is Dry, and young bodies are firm. Older people should have a drier diet for the greater part of the time…”
(3) The gender: “Women should use a regimen of a rather Dry character, for food that is Dry is more adapted to the softness of their flesh…”
(4) The constitution: “Those with physiques that are fleshy, soft and red, find it beneficial to adopt a rather Dry regimen for the greater part of the year. For the nature of these physiques is moist.”