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Conversations on Natal Astrology, 3



‘When you first started reading about astrology, dear boy, I expect you began with books on sunsigns. Am I right?’

     ‘Yes, uncle.’

     ‘And what was your next step?’

     I raked through my memory. ‘Books telling me about the planets, I suppose. You know, “Mars in Libra means this” and “Venus square Saturn means that”: all the basic stuff.’

     He laughed, loud and long, so his face turned red and tears came to his eyes. ‘Oh, my boy,’ he gasped, as he regained his composure, ‘you really should go on the stage. You call that “basic stuff”? Thank goodness you didn’t begin with anything advanced!’ His own comment restarted his laughter.

     ‘That is, I know, the usual line of approach; but it is approaching the subject from completely the wrong end. Now, you see that delicious Christmas cake your aunt has baked?’ I did, and I knew him well enough to know that his enquiry was not aimed solely at checking my eyesight. I fetched him a piece.

     He held it up before me, pointing at the icing. ‘This, my boy, is the equivalent of “Mars in Libra means this”. And this,’ he pointed at a little model snowman standing on top of the icing, ‘is the equivalent of “Venus square Saturn means that”. Now the icing on this piece of cake is very nice. Mmm, very nice indeed, actually - your dear aunt has excelled herself. And this model snowman is rather cute and adds to the festive effect. But look at the amount of cake there is beneath them. Don’t you think we should pay some attention to that?’ He did, with relish.

     ‘There is flour and sugar and eggs, lots of eggs, and dried fruit of all varieties and Guiness and brandy and all sorts in this cake. Without all that, the icing would be an overly sugary morsel. Are you ever served pieces of icing without there being a cake?’ I shook my head. ‘You might say the cake provides the context within which the icing makes sense. No cake; no context. So it is with the natal chart.’

     ‘You’ve told me about the external context, uncle. Are you talking about the internal context now?’

     ‘Exactly. We must start by considering the cake before we get around to considering the icing. Only once we know about the cake does the icing make any kind of sense. We would not, for instance, put this kind of icing on a rum baba or a chocolate eclair, would we?’

     I was wondering if he would ever get back to astrology, or if we would spend the rest of the evening discussing my aunt’s Christmas cake. ‘Do be so kind as to pass me that pen, dear boy.’ He took a serviette and drew on it. ‘Our reading of the birthchart is shaped like a pyramid, built up of several layers. As you have found, the usual approach to natal astrology in the modern world, when you’re picking up a book in a bookshop to read about how fascinating you are and why, is to start at the very top of this pyramid. It’s like starting with the little model snowman. It makes far better sense to start at the bottom, because what is at the top cannot be understood without an understanding of what is at the bottom.

     ‘Each layer of this pyramid provides the context within which everything above it must be understood. Each layer of the pyramid amplifies and makes more specific what we have learned from the layers below. And look: it’s a pyramid, not some strange construction of modern art. The top is directly above the bottom, not over to one side or floating in space somewhere, detached from everything else. That’s because the person is integral, the person is one, so all the bits fit together, albeit not usually harmoniously.’

     I had to admit that his pyramid drawing made sense, though I had a worrying feeling that reading the chart from bottom up like this would involve a good deal of laborious work before I got to the little bits at the top, which were what gave me the tidbits of information about myself that I so treasured.

     ‘The first layer of the pyramid that we need to deal with is the layer of the temperament. There are layers below that, layers that I haven’t put on the diagram - the foundations, if you like - but we don’t need to bother with them. We could explain to the client that he is a warm-blooded biped. This is indeed extremely important information; but if he is in any doubt about it, an astrological consultation is probably not what he needs. We can take these very low layers for granted.


The basis for our judgement is the temperament.


This because the temperament forms the basis for what we are. It is like the fabric from which the garment of what we are is made.

     ‘Consider: if you buy a garment it will be made out of a certain fabric. That fabric will never change. You may alter it, have it taken up or let out, or dye it a different colour. But if it is silk it will always be silk; if wool, always wool. If we take a woollen garment, we can unpick it and knit it up again, but it will still be made of wool. So it is with our temperament: we’re stuck with it it. There’s nothing we can do to fundamentally change it. It can be moderated or muted over time, and we can learn to live with it, but we cannot change it. For example, all temperaments will gradually cool over time, because this is the nature of life: it gets cooler as life goes on. Old age is cold, ruled by Saturn. But this does not change a person’s temperament in its essence. A fiery temperament will not become an earthy one; it will become a cooler kind of fire.

     ‘But I’m jumping ahead. I’m telling you to start at the beginning in your natal judgements, so I should start at the beginning in my explanations.’ He began drawing on his serviette again. ‘With the temperament, we are going right back to the basic building-blocks of Creation: the hot, cold, moist, and dry from which we and everything else in the created world is made. Creation began with the initial fiat: Let there be light_. This was, of course, hot and dry. As this creative impulse falls away from the Divine - ‘falls away’ in a loose sense, of course - it becomes cooler. It cools, so becoming the cold and dry that is matter. Remember what Dante shows us. The centre of hell, which is in the very depths of Creation, as far from the Divine as it is possible to be, is utterly cold. Satan is there, encased in ice, not at all the hot chilli-pepper that we think of as the Devil.

     ‘So we’ve got the hot/dry, which is fire, and we’ve got the cold/dry, which is earth. But the heat of the Divine is still shining down upon the cold/dry earth. The cold and dry of matter is not merely created and abandoned to its fate! This warmth draws moisture out of the dryness, so we now have the cold/moist, the watery element. You remember Hamlet’s plea,


_Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt,

Thaw and resolve itself into a dew.


This is what he is talking about. When explaining the way moisture is created from the cold/dry, the ancients would endlessly repeat the image of taking something cold and dry and leaving it outside over-night. Come back in the morning and you’ll find it covered in moisture. I suspect that explanation was about as convincing then as it is now.’ I had to agree.

     ‘For a start, the moisture that is deposited on this cold/dry thing isn’t drawn out of the thing itself, but out of the air. This is palpable. It is quite different to watching a piece of wood catch fire, where one can easily believe that the fire resides within the wood and is conjured into action. The true explanation is rather more interesting. The watery element is all about desire. Don’t worry, I’ll explain more about that in a minute. Just take it as read for now. So the Divine radiance is looking down upon the cold/dry, in all its lumpen inertia. This action creates the water of desire: the desire to move this lumpen matter back towards the Divine.’

     ‘Oh, I know, uncle! It’s like I’ve heard in church, about having to pray for the desire to pray.’

     ‘Indeed: that desire must be created by God. It is most appropriate that we are discussing this at Christmas, the great moment of the Divine reaching down into the lumpen inertia of matter.

     ‘Anyway, this isn’t the time for a lengthy discussion of cosmology. You’re eager to get on to reading the chart.’ I was relieved to hear that the old man still remembered. ‘Finally, we have the warmth of the Divine radiance continuing to shine upon the cold/moist. This warmth makes it hot and moist. It becomes air, and rises up towards the heavens.’

     ‘Just like in the water cycle, where the warmth of the Sun lifts the water into the sky, turning it into air.’

     ‘Just like. So, we now have our four elements: fire, earth, water, and air. We are all made up of these four elements. But you’ve seen with your aunt’s cooking: she can take four ingredients - flour, eggs, butter, and sugar - and produce many different things from them. What comes out of the oven depends on the proportions of each ingredient and the order in which they go into the bowl. In the same way, these four elements mix together in different ways to produce different kinds of people.

     ‘Temperament means, literally, mixture. My temperament is the kind of mix of elements I have; your temperament is the mix you have. Are we primarily earthy, airy, fiery, or watery?’

     ‘So we’re dividing humanity up into four types, uncle?’

     ‘At base, yes, although in practice it is a little more complex than that. Many people do not fall neatly into one type, but combine two. We have four types of people: we need only four types of people to form a society. We need some warriors: the fiery, active types, the choleric principle. These are the ones who actually do stuff. They chase away our enemies and rebuild the bridge that has blown down.

     ‘We need some scribes. These are the airy, sanguine types. They’re the ones who write the books, calculate the taxes, issue parking tickets. Most importantly, they tell the warriors what to do, to stop them making a nuisance of themselves. They approach life through the reason.’

     ‘So they’re the bright guys?’

     ‘Not at all. They’re the ones who think they’re the bright guys. I didn’t say sanguine types are any cleverer than anyone else; I said that they approach life through their reason. That reason may or may not be in good working order. But if the clearest of thinkers is sanguine, so is the dullest of bureaucrats.

     ‘Then we need some farmers, because people have to eat. That’s the earthy, melancholic type. Their principle is to have, to hold.’

     ‘They’re unhappy?’

     ‘No! The word melancholic has changed its meaning. We might expect a certain seriousness with the melancholics, if only because they don’t get the joke, but they are not necessarily unhappy. Think of a sunsign description of Taurus and you won’t be too wide of the mark.

     ‘Then we need some slaves, to do all the stuff that nobody else wants to do. They are the watery, phlegmatic type: those who are ruled by their desires. The idea being that if you are ruled by your desires, you are not fit for anything except to be ruled by others.’

     ‘Is this still a relevant idea today, uncle? Surely we can’t say people are slaves.’

     ‘Not so much has changed. This is why we have television commercials. The slave hears “You need a new sofa to eat your super-sized burger on!” and leaps up and runs to the sofa store.’

     ‘If they’re the slaves, then, the phlegmatic types must be hard-working.’

     ‘Not at all! Phlegmatic types are generally inert, lazy and lethargic. I’ve found that this often puzzles people: like you, they think that being slaves they must be anything but. The problem arises through our modern unfamiliarity with slaves. We think only of their toiling under the hot sun. But Aristotle, who could see slaves all around him, tells us that in a well-ordered household it is the slaves who do less than anybody else._ The others all have their personal agendas: the sanguine ones going around thinking and dealing with correspondence; the cholerics repainting the bathroom and putting up some shelves. The slaves, meanwhile, lounge around smoking and playing cards till someone jerks them into action.’

     ‘Like the bunch of builders my mum had in to relay the front path.’

     ‘Very probably. You see, being driven by desires and doing nothing much are not incompatible. Most of the time, our desire is to do nothing much. Remember that the phlegmatics are the watery types. Just as water takes on the shape of any vessel it is poured into, so phlegmatic types take on the shape of any sofa they are poured into. The sanguine wants to think; the choleric wants to act; the melancholic wants to have and to hold. What the phlegmatic type wants is to feel. They approach life through the feelings. To be precise, what the phlegmatic type wants is ecstasy, in the literal sense of the word: to stand outside themselves. In day-to-day life, feeling is as close as we get to that, hence their longing to feel.’

     ‘If it feels good, do it,’ I suggested.

     ‘Yes. And, perhaps more importantly, the converse of that: if it doesn’t feel good, why bother? Hence the lethargy and inertia.’

     A vision of a large cartoon bear came into my mind. ‘Have you seen Walt Disney’s Jungle Book, uncle?’

     ‘Of course! Many times.’ I thought he was about to burst into song, but a ‘don’t you dare’ look from my aunt put a stop to that.

     ‘Baloo the bear seems like a phlegmatic type to me.’

     ‘Good! Yes, you’ve got the point completely. He’s a marvellous depiction of the phlegmatic temperament.’

     ‘But if the phlegmatic types are the slaves, they must be at the bottom of the pile. Is there a pecking-order among the types?’

     ‘A difficult question. Yes - and no. Think, for instance, of the caste system. I don’t know how true this is, but legend tells that once upon a time the caste system was not hereditary. Ye All-wise Astrologer would look at the new-born’s chart and decide his station in life. Is he fit for the temple, or the army, or shall we send him to clean the drains? This makes sense: if you have a square peg, find a square hole to put it into. And yes, there is a hierarchy here, with the sanguine types at the top and the phlegmatics at the bottom. Guess who wrote the rules!’

     ‘The sanguine types, uncle.’

     ‘As they do. But there was a problem: temperament is not hereditary. Horror of horrors, Mr and Mrs Sanguine could have a phlegmatic child! The brahmins took exception to having their children packed off to clean the drains, so they solved the problem by making the system hereditary, which destroyed the whole point of it.

     ‘The reason the phlegmatics were at the bottom of the pile is because they are watery, like the ocean. Driven by desires, they crash about in confusion, waves flying in every contrary direction, and so go nowhere. Trying to direct a phlegmatic temperament towards God is like trying to herd cats.’

     ‘That makes sense. But you said “Yes and No”. What’s the problem with that?’

     ‘The problem is that this is life according to the sanguine types. Whatever they may think, they do not hold a monopoly over righteousness. Whenever you come across strict rules like that, exclusions, divisions into betters and worsers, you can bet there is a sanguine behind it somewhere. Just look at the Theosophist astrologers, with not a pulse between them, yet full of repellent ideas about “evolved” and “unevolved” souls. Yes, that argument sounds plausible. Of course it does: it was thought up by the sanguines. It’s their job to come up with plausible sounding arguments.

     ‘But there is a higher law. Remember: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Those who are hungering and thirsting, what are they doing?’

‘Desiring, I suppose, uncle.’

‘Exactly. Blessed are the phlegmatic types! Blessed are those who know desire. All they need do is channel those desires in the right direction. Like the woman of Samaria. Full of desires: she’d had five husbands, and had now borrowed somebody else’s. In the heat of the noonday sun she is at the well, drawing water. In a few words, Jesus redirects her desires. Whatever the sanguines might think, the phlegmatics are as close to Heaven as any of us.

     ‘Each temperament has its path to God. The sanguines want knowledge; the cholerics...’

     ‘Action,’ I interrupted.

     ‘Yes. The melancholics’ is the path of contemplation. The phlegmatics’ of longing. Think of Luke’s curses and beatitudes: there is one of each for each temperament. Pass me that Bible on the side-table.’

     I did so, and he read, ‘Alas for you who are rich. Who’s that?’

‘The melancholics: they like having and holding.’

‘But happy are you who are poor. The melancholic types who aren’t content with having and holding the things of this world. Theirs is the kingdom of God. Happy are you who are hungry now.

     ‘The phlegmatics, uncle.’

     ‘Yes. You shall be satisfied. But alas for you who have your fill now. Who have your desires sated. Alas for you who laugh now.’

     ‘That must be the sanguines.’

     ‘Yes, they are commonly portrayed as being serene and carefree. Happy are you who weep now. The sanguines who don’t find their all here on Earth. Then Happy are you when people hate you.’

     ‘Strife and contention: the cholerics.’

     ‘Yes. Alas for you when the world speaks well of you. Praise - that which the warrior so craves. You see, there is a promise and a warning for each of us.’

     ‘It seems that this division by temperament is really important, then. It’s not something that exists only as an astrological technique.’

     ‘No. What we are looking at is purely the astrological way of looking at something that is fundamental to the structure of humankind. Consider - as it’s Christmas, we might continue with the biblical theme - why are there four gospels?’

     ‘Oh! One for each temperament?’

     ‘Exactly. It’s the same story, so we might think that telling it once would be enough. But if the idea is to communicate that story to all types of people in ways that they will understand, it makes sense to have four different versions. So: we have an earth gospel, a fire gospel, an air gospel, and a water gospel. Which will be the shortest?’

     ‘Fire, I suppose.’

     ‘Of course. Those choleric types want to be off doing stuff: they don’t have time to sit around listening to gospels. St Mark’s, whose symbol is the lion. It’s much shorter than any of the others. There’s no preamble. We’re straight into the action, exactly as the cholerics would want. There’s no nativity scene in Mark: we cut straight to Jesus being baptised. No long discourses or explanations. Just a rush of events: bang, bang, bang, and then He’s crucified.

     ‘So we’re left with earth, air, and water. Which gospel begins with forty-two generations of who begat whom?’

     ‘That must be the sanguine one, uncle,’ I laughed.

     ‘Yes, the sanguine gospel. The scribes’ gospel, because scribes think that forty-two generations of civic records is important stuff. Imagine a choleric sitting through that lot! This is St Matthew, whose symbol is a man, because a man is the seat of reason. Matthew himself was a tax-collector: Mr Sanguine Bureaucrat. This is the only gospel where the Wise Men appear. Why? Because he’s writing for sanguine types: “Ah,” they think, “some Wise Men say this guy is the son of God: it must be true!” It’s often called the Teaching Gospel, full of discourses and explanations. All very sanguine.      ‘Which is the only gospel with shepherds in it?

     ‘We’ve only got earth and water left. That must be the melancholic one - the farmers’ gospel.’

     ‘Yes, the gospel of Luke, whose symbol is the bull. Luke is known as a painter, said to have painted a portrait of Our Lady, and we can see why from his gospel: it’s very visual, like a series of painted diptychs. A great emphasis on solidity: God as the keeper of promises - a good melancholic virtue.

     ‘That leaves us with the gospel where the first big event is Jesus creating 160 litres of wine.’


     ‘Yes, that’s when all the phlegmatic types prick up their ears and say “Wow, this is my kind of God!” It’s the only gospel that has Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. But more than that, we see here the key to the phlegmatic nature. As I told you, what the phlegmatic type wants is ecstasy - standing outside oneself. To be swept away, enraptured. That’s what we get in the gospel of St John, whose symbol is the eagle, that plucks us like Ganymede from Earth into the heavens. For all its rigorous logic, it’s written in that kind of way. Mystical, we might say, though we need to be so careful with that much abused word.

     ‘Let’s have a little demonstration. Would you run into my study and fetch me the concordance that’s lying on my desk.’ I got up. ‘Oh, and as you’re moving about...’ I refilled his glass.

     I was soon back with Cruden’s Concordance to the Bible. ‘Now,’ he asked me, ‘in which gospel would you expect to find most references to water?’

     ‘St John’s, of course.’

     ‘And in which the fewest?’

     ‘The fire gospel, St Mark’s.’

     ‘What about the other two?’

     That made me think. Water is cold and moist, so each of earth and air share one characteristic with it: earth is cold and air moist. ‘Much the same?’ I ventured.

     ‘Look up water in the book. How many times does the word occur in Matthew, the air gospel?’

     I counted. ‘Six.’

     ‘And in Luke, the melancholic one?’

     ‘Oh, six times! I was right, they are the same.’

     ‘How many in Mark?’

     ‘Only three. Half as many as the others.’

     ‘And now in John?’

     ‘Twelve! As many as earth and air put together, and four times as many as fire.’ I put the book down. ‘But uncle, does this mean that the writers of the gospels were astrologers?’

     ‘Not at all!’ he laughed. ‘Astrology deals with the structure of the world. If astrology is true, anything that refers to that structure will be congruent with astrology. This will be so whether or not the person doing the referring knows anything about astrology. Astrology works with four types of people because there are four types of people; that knowledge is by no means the private possession of astrologers. Let me give you another example. Read me John 1.18 from that Bible.’

     I did so: ‘No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’

‘Not the best of translations, unfortunately. What is written is actually who is in the bosom of the Father.’

     That rang a bell. ‘Oh, uncle! That sounds like cazimi: in the heart of the Sun.’

     ‘And so it is: that is exactly the expression. But whether the writer was or was not deliberately using an astrological term is neither here nor there. The astrological term describes the same phenomenon that is described by the author, that is all. A planet in the heart of the Sun has all the power of the Sun flowing through it, and so is wondrous strong, as is the Son of God. If a planet is in the heart of the Sun, the Sun can work only through that planet, like a light shining through a filter. This too is appropriate for the Son of God: God the Father works through the Son. The writer of John may have used an astrological term, or he may have picked on the same phrase that some ancient astrologer chose when he wanted to describe the phenomenon of cazimi; it isn’t important which.’

     He paused for a moment, licking his finger and running it thoughtfully round his plate to pick up the last morsels fallen from the sandwiches my aunt had made him. ‘Look over there,’ he resumed, pointing to an alcove in the far corner of the room. ‘You see that picture? Temperament again.’

     ‘That’s Bosch, isn’t it?’

     ‘Yes. Christ Mocked. Who is He being mocked by? The four temperaments.’

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There were four of them, I could see. Less clear to me was the connection to the temperamental types. He continued: ‘We can see this painting as Christ in the world, surrounded by the four types of humanity. Or we can see it as all that is spiritual beset by the four humours within an individual. Look at the man at the top left. He’s the sanguine type. Look at the arrow in his hat: his weapon is in his head, because the sanguine type goes through the mind. Remember, this doesn’t mean sanguines are any brighter than anybody else. I see my dog sitting thinking sometimes. This doesn’t mean she’s inventing great machines or solving knotty problems of logic, but she’s thinking, which is what the sanguine will do.

     ‘At the top right, we have the choleric type. He’s a knight - see the oak leaves in his hat. Look at the dog-collar round his neck: he’s fierce, yes; but also showing that the choleric type must be guided. The two hot temperaments - the hot/moist and the hot/dry - are at the top of the picture, because heat rises.

     ‘Bottom left, we have the melancholic type. He wants to have, to hold. Look how he grasps his money-bag while berating Christ.

     ‘Then, right down at the bottom in the slaves’ place, we have our flabby phlegmatic, who wants to feel, reaching up in protest out of his welter of desires.’

     ‘OK, uncle - but that melancholic doesn’t look much like a farmer to me. He’s not cut out for a day’s hard work in the fields.’

     ‘Remember we are encompassing the whole of humanity, in all its variety, within these four fundamental types. Any image of one of the types is bound to include some features of that type and exclude others. Bosch would have taken his images of the four temperaments from one of the medical textbooks available at the time, the images ultimately deriving from Galen. Because the imagery comes from a medical source, it is depicting the types in extremis. This is especially obvious here with the melancholic and the phlegmatic. This extreme melancholic is so intent of having and holding that he won’t even feed himself properly, for fear of spending what he has in his money-bag.’

     ‘So not every melancholic looks like that?’

     ‘No - nor behaves in that extreme fashion!’ he laughed. ‘No one can be a pure example of any one temperament. It’s important to remember this, because you will read different accounts of temperament, and these will often appear to contradict each other. Sometimes they will indeed contradict each other, and this is because the author is wrong; but often the differences are not contradictory at all. Always remember that the model the writer is using will inevitably - consciously or unconsciously - effect the conclusions the writer draws. For instance, a lot of what the literature tells us about temperament is written from the perspective of medicine - that is, it’s talking about pathological cases. A writer who bases temperamental analysis on that model will often differ from what I’m telling you. To the extent to which we both know what we’re talking about, that difference will be in outward characteristics rather than essential qualities, but as ultimately outward characteristics are all that we can describe this can appear to be contradictory.

     ‘I’m not working from a medical model, my boy. My model is very clear: I want a system that divides us into four groups:


The ones that act: choleric

The ones that think: sanguine

The ones that want to have and hold: melancholic

The ones that want to feel: phlegmatic.’


     ‘Right, uncle. But temperament is connected with appearance, like in Bosch’s picture?’

     ‘Very much so. There is a popular idea that you can tell somebody’s Sun-sign from their appearance. Of course you can. About once out of every twelve attempts. But temperament is spottable, especially when the temperament is strongly marked. More balanced types, with hot, cold, moist and dry more or less in equal measure, are of course harder to tell. But when Chaucer said that somebody was choleric, he was not only telling his readers about that person’s character, but giving them a rough idea of what he looked like. It’s a stock device for getting a laugh throughout the history of drama: have someone who by appearance an obvious example of one type, acting in the manner of a different type. You don’t need to be an expert in temperamental analysis to find this funny. I’m sure you’ve seen it a million times.’

     ‘The guy who looks a total nerd playing the tough guy?’

     ‘Yes. Or the tough guy trying to master nerdy-type stuff. So, by and large, the sanguine type: taller or shorter?’


     ‘Yes, taller. They are airy types: they want to go up. Fatter or thinner?’


     ‘Yes. They’re all in their head, so they’re not fussed about what’s for dinner, they’re happy to have a good think. I am not, as you may have noticed, a sanguine type.’

     No, my uncle was certainly not content with a good think when there was food about.

     ‘So the choleric type,’ I suggested, ‘would be short and squat, like a bull mastiff?’

     ‘Exactly. Built for action. Think of the way American soldiers emphasise this squareness by the bizarre haircut they have. I’m not sure that it makes them any more choleric and warrior-like than one of King Charles’ cavaliers, but that’s the effect they’re after. What about a melancholic?’

     ‘They’re the farmer. Heavily set, I suppose, and slow moving.’

     ‘Yes. Though this temperament is cold and dry, so they can also go for the lean and withered look, especially as they grow older - like the melancholic in Bosch’s painting.’

     ‘So the phlegmatic will look like Baloo the bear: soft and fleshy. Like the phlegmatic in the painting.’

     ‘Yes. After all, what are the consequences of most of the things that make you feel good? Like your aunt’s wonderful sherry trifle, for instance.’ I was beginning to wonder how much the man could eat, but it was Christmas. ‘We’ll look more at finding appearance in the chart later. For now, it’s enough to know that that the native’s temperament has a big say in that. All other testimonies of appearance must be read with one eye on the temperament.’


     ‘If temperament influences the way the body looks, does it also tell us about the kind of illnesses the body is going to have?’

     ‘Certainly! The greatest single thing that modern medicine could remember from its neglected past would be the knowledge of temperament. That would show doctors why a certain medicine that can work on, for instance, a hot/dry patient may do nothing but harm to a cold/moist one. We all know instinctually that appearance and manner are connected: we see the person and we know pretty much what we can expect from them. Temperament exists at this point of interface between mind and body. It has, as it were, one foot in our psychology and one in our physiology. So our individual balance - our individual temperament - has a lot to do with the illnesses we’re going to suffer from. It is of great importance in medical astrology.

     ‘Each temperament will rule in certain possibilities for illness and rule out others. The more so, the more the extreme is the temperament. If you have a perfectly balanced temperament, lucky you: you can get everything!

     ‘Suppose you have an extremely hot temperament. Your temperament is like a saucepan of milk that’s simmering on the stove: if it’s hot already, it doesn’t take much additional heat to make it boil over. So you’re likely to suffer from hot ailments: skin diseases, heart attacks, fevers, things like that. A strongly hot/dry temperament is much less likely to come down with bronchitis, pleurisy and similar cold/moist things, which are much more the provenance of the phlegmatic. I sure I don’t need to tell you which type gets the heaviest colds.

     ‘The hot/moist temperament relates to the blood. Now, blood in traditional medical terminology isn’t quite the same as what we usually call blood, but loosely speaking we can regard it as if it were. So on the one hand we’d expect the sanguine to be more susceptible to things like asthma, allergies, nervous complaints; but on the other, with what my dear grandmother would have called “bad blood”. Too much thinness in the blood, which could result in something like leukaemia, or too much thickness in the blood - coagulations and therefore strokes.

     ‘The cold/dry type, the melancholic, is likely to suffer from things like stiffness of the joints; difficulty in movement - especially of hand to pocket; constipation at any number of different levels, whether physical or psychic.

     ‘Now, my boy, I cannot stress enough that these are general principles: “all things being equal”. There is far more to medical analysis than this alone.

     ‘But enough medical matters. Temperament is of the greatest importance in other ways too. I suppose you’ve tried at your hand at synastry once or twice?’

     I blushed. ‘Once or twice’ didn’t begin to cover it! How many times had I compared my chart with that of some girl? Not that the glorious relationship I had so often found there had ever come to pass. ‘Hmpf!’ he continued, ‘I see you have. The triumph of hope over experience, my boy. It astonishes me how much time people can waste on what they repeatedly see does not work.’

     ‘So synastry is a waste of time, uncle?’

     ‘In the way it is done, for the reasons for which it is done, most certainly. To use synastry to answer the question of whether two people will fall for each other or not is to misuse it. But there are also many technical reasons for it not working. One of these is the failure to consider temperament. There are any number of things that will strike a spark of attraction between two people - your own dear aunt even found one or two of them in me, once upon a time. But if we want to know how likely those two people are to hold together once those attractive sparks have faded, we must begin our enquiry with their temperaments.’

     ‘Birds of a feather, then, uncle?’

     ‘So you might think. But answer me this: suppose a very hot dry person, a choleric type, gets involved with another choleric type. What will they do?’


     ‘Of course! That’s what choleric types do best. This can be useful so long as you can get them organised to go and fight somebody else, but as soon as they’ve won the war, what will they do next? What do soldier-boys do when they’re left alone in barracks?’

     ‘Fight!’ I repeated.

     ‘They brawl, yes. Or to try to balance out all that heat, they go to a pub and ingest a great deal of cold moist stuff. Which, of course, only fuels the heat. It may not be obvious, but there is nonetheless a close relationship between liquids like the ocean, or wine, and fire. Those liquids may look cold and moist, but they have fire within.’ I was beginning to think about moving the brandy bottle out of his reach. ‘These liquids, the watery stuff: for us they are phlegm, the cold/moist, which is why our hot/dry soldier boy will reach for this to try to achieve an inner balance. But phlegm is derived from the Greek word for flame. So although it is water - or wine: much the same thing really - for us it derives from fire. Fire creates phlegm.’

     I must have looked at least as baffled as I felt. He had totally lost me. ‘Think about it,’ he explained. ‘What happens if you eat too much chilli? You suddenly produce a great deal of phlegm, to balance it out. What happens if you burn your finger? You get a little white bump full of phlegm. Or think back to the creation of the four elements, how it is the heat of the Divine shining upon the cold/dry of earth that calls forth moisture.’_

     ‘OK, uncle: so they consume this cold/moist stuff, but because of the fire it only makes them fight more.’

     ‘That’s right. So if a choleric type hooks up with another choleric type, there will be trouble. Fine so long as they can make common cause against someone else, but take that away and they will fight each other.

     ‘What happens when a sanguine type gets together with another sanguine?’

     ‘Too much talking?’

     ‘Yes! “Who’s going to phone for a take-away?” “I don’t know. Let’s talk about it for another six hours first.” By which time they’ll have both starved.

     ‘Or if you put two cold/dry, melancholic types together, what happens?’ I had no answer.

     ‘Exactly. Not much! They bore each other to death. He’s been sitting at one end of the table for four years; she’s been sitting at the other end for four years, and they haven’t exchanged a word. Occasionally a breeze enters the house and blows some of the dust off them both.’

     ‘And if you have two phlegmatic types together?’

     ‘There’s not enough wine in all the world! A wild flood of desire, sinking into lethargy. So with all four types, matching with their own doesn’t hold much promise.’

     ‘You talk about balance, uncle. They can match with their opposite type: that will create a perfect balance.’

     ‘So it might seem. And that’s a good suggestion, my boy: you’re clearly getting the point here. But it’s not how it works in practice. A melancholic type could hook up with a sanguine type. The melancholic’s cold and dry would be balanced out by the sanguine’s hot and moist to produce a beautiful union, covering all four points: hot, cold, moist, and dry. But imagine: there’s our melancholic farmer, out in his field, knee-deep in manure, staring into the sunset with a blissful contemplative grin on his face, happy as Larry. Suddenly along comes a perfumed little scribe from the town hall, with a computer in one hand and the book of rules in the other, wanting to add up every grain of wheat in the field, divide by the number of pigs, then take away the number he first thought of. What will happen? They look at each other with incomprehension. The farmer thinks, “Why does this madman want to add up my grains of wheat and divide by the number of pigs?” The scribe thinks, “Why is that madman standing in a big pile of manure?” Total incomprehension.’

     ‘OK, so being the same doesn’t work; being different doesn’t work: how about half and half?’

     ‘Yes. I am of course talking basic principles here: no one is entirely choleric or entirely melancholic. We all contain something of all four types, else we should not be human. But the more strongly we conform to the nature of one type, the more we will find these problems. For a lasting bond, it makes better sense, in principle, for a cold/dry person to unite with someone who’s either cold/moist or hot/dry. This gives them one element in common - enough to give them some understanding - and one element different, so they don’t replicate each other. Do remember, my boy, replicating each other is not what a relationship is about, tempting though it may seem at times.’

     I looked at him, then at my aunt. No, replicating each other was definitely not what their relationship was about.

     ‘Let me tell you a story,’ he continued. ‘This illustrates the power of the drive we have within us to achieve balance. You have perhaps heard of William Reich. He was a big name when I was young. He was born on a farm in Austria. I know nothing about his father’s birthchart, but from the accounts of Reich’s youth, his father was obviously extremely choleric.’

     I interrupted: ‘Shouldn’t he have been melancholic, being a farmer?’

     ‘Perhaps he should, but he was not. Of course, people don’t always follow the career paths that fit with their types. The world might be a happier place if they did. He ruled his farm with a rod of iron; the people who worked there lived in terror of him.

     ‘One day, when Reich was quite young, he found his mother in bed with one of the farm-hands. He thought about this for a couple of weeks, then decided to tell Dad. This was not a wise decision. Dad picked up a gun and went after the farm-hand, while his mother swallowed poison and died. The father was devastated. It was as if he were suddenly confronted by the consequences of his own nature: “Look what this choleric nature of mine has done! This woman I love, my wife, has destroyed herself because of this!” So he decided to kill himself.

     ‘Now, he’s got the gun. That would seem to offer a straightforward method of killing himself. But that would have been killing himself in a choleric kind of way. That was no good: that wouldn’t satisfy the drive for balance at all. So what did he do, in remorse for the consequences of his hot/dry nature? It was the middle of winter. He went and stood up to his waist in a freezing pond. He stayed there for hours, hoping to catch tuberculosis. Eventually, he did fall ill, but at first not fatally. It took him three years to die of the cold/moist disease which he had deliberately contracted in this desperate attempt to balance out his hot/dry nature. This is a remarkable illustration of how deep-seated this drive is within us.’

     ‘Do you think being a farmer exacerbated the problems he had with choler?’

     ‘Likely so. Finding a suitable outlet for the temperament is a regular issue in consultations. It’s a particular problem for choleric types, because they find it most difficult to integrate into modern society. The choleric is the warrior, but it is no longer socially acceptable to pillage the next village every time you want to work off a bit of choler. In principle, pillaging is to be encouraged: it keeps the choleric types happy and prevents them making a daily nuisance of themselves. It’s just, of course, that we’d all rather it was someone else who got pillaged.

     ‘Mr Virgil has some wise words on raising and dealing with the different temperaments. Have you read his Georgics?’

     ‘It’s all about farming techniques isn’t it? No, thank you!’

     ‘Oh, what you are missing? Whyever should one of the most sophisticated of poets, writing for a wealthy urban elite, write a textbook on farming? How many Georgics are there?’

     ‘Four, I think.’

     ‘Isn’t that a clue for you? What is at the heart of these wonderful poems but a meditation on temperament. There is much to be learned there.’


A brief review of the four types


‘I think you’re getting the idea here, my boy. But let’s recap, briefly. The central point is that the cholerics want to act; the sanguines to think; the melancholics to have and hold; the phlegmatics to feel.

     ‘What William Lilly says about the sanguine temperament is that they are cheerful, liberal and open-hearted. If you believe that, you’ll believe anything. The sanguine types do get an unnaturally good press. Why?’

     ‘Because they write most of it?’

     ‘Of course! It’s the scribes who write the books. If the phlegmatics ever took over their job, we’d be reading about what sterling fellows they are. At its best, yes, the sanguine type does take on the fine, Jupitarian quality of humanity that we read about in Lilly. Being a decent person, behaving as a human being should behave. But because the sanguine type is concentrated in the mind, it can be utterly divorced from all human feeling. I’m sure if you were recruiting for staff for the vivisection laboratory, you’d be getting far more than your fair share of sanguines among the applicants. And there can be little more inhuman in its operation than certain levels of bureaucracy.

     ‘The important thing with the sanguine type is not whether you’re good natured or not; it’s whether you approaching the world through the mind - regardless of whether that mind is in working order.

     ‘Lilly describes the cholerics as angry, quarrelsome, ambitious, seditious and changing their opinions. Generally troublemakers. Why are they changing their opinions?’

     ‘I don’t know uncle. Because they are eager to act?’

     ‘Yes: it is the product of their drive for action. If you are choleric, you can’t stand being stationary: you’ve got to do something all the time. The warriors may conquer the country, but they don’t make good administrators once it’s conquered. All they want to do is go off and conquer somebody else - cause some more trouble.

     ‘Melancholics, Lilly says, are slow in resolution. Remember that most famous of melancholics, Hamlet. Very slow in resolution. They’re fraudulent, Lilly says. Why?’

     ‘Something to do with having and holding?’

     ‘Yes, because they value money so much. If you value money more than you value someone else’s human feeling, you may well defraud them. Not, of course, that every melancholic is a fraud, any more than every choleric is a hooligan. They’re secretive and fearful, according to Lilly. Why?’

     Oh, I know! If you’re desperate to have and hold, you’re always worried that someone might take what you’ve got.’

     ‘Right! Then the phlegmatic types, he says, are cowards and uxorious. They’re dull fellows and sluggards in performing any business. Their principle “I want to feel”. But this is not necessarily “I want to feel good”. If there isn’t a good feeling going, fine, we’ll settle for a bad feeling - so long as we get to feel something. So the phlegmatic can be a drama queen, because they want feeling about all else. They’re lost if there isn’t either physical or emotional sensation going on.’

     I nodded, in sign of understanding.

     ‘Now we can move on to calculating the temperament. But before we do that, answer me these four short questions. Imagine you are a car salesman, and Mr and Mrs Choleric come into your showroom. What do you tell them about the car to persuade them to buy it?

     ‘And if Mr and Mrs Sanguine come in?

     ‘And Mr and Mrs Phlegmatic?

     ‘And Mr and Mrs Melancolic?’



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