A Dam in the Vital River // Intercepted Houses + Blocks to Planetary Energy // Calamus + Black Pepper
This month, I chose to write about intercepted signs—a phenomenon to which astrologers assign varying levels of importance but one that I have found to be quite revealing in learning about an individual’s health picture, for reasons we will soon find out.
The Mechanics of Interceptions
First, let’s brush up on some astro terminology—Houses are representations of various areas of life or the body in medical astrology, such as relationships (7th house) or family life (4th house). They are derived from mathematical calculations and there are a multitude in modern use. Some astrologers prefer the straight-forward equal house model, wherein each sign sits on a house cusp (the beginning of the house), while others like myself utilize house systems that can produce what are known as “interceptions,” meaning that a sign becomes trapped between two houses. When a sign sits on the cusp of a house, it is said to “rule” that house, so intercepted signs, therefore, do not rule any house. This is part of the frustration inherent in this setup.
I will provide my own natal chart as an example—using my preferred Porphyry house system, I have signs in the 3rd and 9th houses intercepted—Pisces and Virgo are respectively held completely within the house, as can be seen below…
You may notice two things—intercepted signs always will occur in axes, meaning that if you have Capricorn intercepted, it’s opposing sign of Cancer will be as well. Also, having intercepted signs will automatically create duplicate house rulers, for example you can see in my chart that Aries and Libra both rule two houses instead of one in compensation. This is an important principle in understanding how the energy of intercepted signs will manifest in the physical body, as the organ system ruled by the duplicated sign will often try to overcompensate, inducing stress on the system.
So now that we’ve discussed the mechanics of interceptions, let’s talk a bit about what it means to have intercepted signs in one’s natal chart. Quite literally, an interception causes the energy of the sign to become blocked, kind of like having a room in a house that no one can access. This tends to manifest in the individual’s life as circumstances in development rather than any inherited trait—for example, Pisces intercepted may signify someone whose parents discouraged their imaginative or artistic abilities rather than someone who simply lacks imagination. The block stems from learned behavior, which is important to remember in a health reading because it provides links between emotional patterning and physical ailments.
The reason why the sign’s energy becomes blocked has to do with the relationship between a sign and the house that it rules. In an equal house chart, the energy of each sign finds an outlet in the area that the house governs. For example, Gemini on the cusp of the 7th expends Gemini’s energy of thinking, debating, trading, networking and socializing through 7th house matters—one-on-one partnerships, friendships and relationships. If the sign of Gemini was trapped within the 7th house, on the other hand, the individual may have been discouraged from developing their social skills and consequently develop social anxiety, stress to the nervous system, even speech impediments. Because the 7th house rules the kidneys, lumbar and renal system, this internally held anxiety might start to affect hormones, spinal alignment, blood pressure or blood sugar regulation.
Interceptions + the Body
The house system provides us with convenient correlations with the systems in the body, and we can begin to map out where in the body ailments will arise by studying which houses contain the intercepted signs. You can use the image below to get an idea for that.
We can get an idea of how our bodies will be affected by trapped energy by understanding the house/body system correlations, but the way in which the system will be affected depends on what signs are intercepted, as well as if there is a planet occupying the intercepted sign. Having planets in an intercepted sign is far more likely to manifest in adverse physical reactions, even if the planet is a traditional benefic like Venus or Jupiter. In addition, the signs that rule two houses will often try to overcompensate for the trapped sign, further adding to the individual’s health imbalance. Here’s how to start breaking down a reading using the example of my natal chart:
First locate the house axis involved. This will tell you where the imbalance will manifest in the body. In my case, the 3rd/9th rules the central nervous system/lungs/hands/arms and the liver.
Look at what signs are intercepted. This will tell you the energetic nature of the imbalance, whether it be due to tension, dampness, cold, etc. Pisces/Virgo regulates laxity vs. tension and dampness vs. dryness. Pisces also has rulership of poisons and the immune system, indicating a susceptibility to toxin exposure leading to auto-immunity.
Are there any planets in those intercepted signs? If so, the energy of the planet will in some way disrupt the balance of the sign and manifest in the house. Mars indicates that the energy of fire, action and anger is blocked, leading to internal inflammation and conditions of heat and speeding up.
Lastly, what are the duplicated signs/houses? Aries/Libra duplicated means that my ability to moderate between dry and damp, as well as tense and relaxed would be taxed, affecting the 4th/10th axis of digestion and assimilation and the 5th/11th axis of circulation.
So adding up all of these clues, we can hypothesize how my Mars in Pisces intercepted in the 3rd house manifested in a series of physical ailments that were made worse by my own lifestyle choices and habits. My placement of Mars loves the expression of creative writing, but the topics in which I expressed interest (the occult, mysticism, alternative spirituality), all quite Piscean, were forbidden in my strictly religious household. It also wasn’t appropriate for me to express my anger, which I naturally wanted to do in the form of crying (Pisces). So there we see Martian energy becoming trapped, a blockage which indeed led to inflammation (Mars) in my nervous system and lungs (3rd house) leading to chronic anxiety which I tried to self-regulate for many years with alcohol and smoking (Mars in Pisces). In addition, my alcohol use eventually led to an imbalance in the opposing sign of Virgo, leading to tension and dryness in my liver, giving me all sorts of hormonal and digestive problems. My body, relying on Aries/Libra to compensate, raised my blood pressure (5th/11th axis) and stress hormones in response to this trapped Martian energy, leading to anxiety attacks that would end in episodes of fainting that was exacerbated by irregular eating patterns (4th/10th axis).
These health pictures can become quite intricate and detailed, and what I love about studying intercepted signs is that just by bringing an individual’s attention to this zone of trapped energy, you give them not only validation but a direction towards which they can start building their own herbal protocol. In my case, lung tonics and nervines proved to be particularly helpful, as well as breathing exercises and practices that helped me to channel my inner Mars, such as hot yoga. Equally as important was the integration of creative writing into my daily routine.
Each person’s story and journey towards wholeness will be unique to them, and including intercepted signs can be a great way to start building a wellness protocol that includes not only the physical but the emotional and spiritual as well.
The Planets Intercepted
Blocks to the Flow of Vital Energy
Using your knowledge of the energetics of each planet, you can probably guess as to how they may be affected when blocked. But for quick reference, here is a list of some examples of intercepted planetary energy:
Sun-the ability to access the vital force is blocked, leading to chronic fatigue and cold depression tissue states
Moon-the ability to internally lubricate is blocked, leading to hormonal imbalances, diseases arising from extreme emotional states and states of dryness
Mercury-the ability of the nervous system to self-regulate and communicate through chemical messengers is blocked, leading to thyroid disorders, anxiety, speech impediments and lax tissue states
Venus-the ability to internally cool and relax is blocked, leading to blood sugar/metabolic disorders, hormonal imbalances and hot, tense tissue states
Mars-the ability to internally warm and circulate is blocked, leading to chronic inflammation, auto-immune or blood disorders, adrenal fatigue, anemia, blood pressure dysregulation and cold, damp/stagnant tissue states
Jupiter-the ability to moisten and nourish is blocked, leading to diabetes, obesity, eating disorders, diseases of excess and tense, dry tissue states
Saturn-the ability to drain, dry and cool is blocked, leading to musculoskeletal issues, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, neuropathy, back pain and hot, damp/lax tissue states
Uranus-the ability of the nervous system to communicate is blocked, leading to nervous system disorders, anxiety, stroke, insomnia or nerve damage
Neptune-the ability of the immune system and lymph to regulate and drain is blocked, leading to overgrowth of bacteria/parasites/fungus or cancer
Pluto-the ability to excrete is blocked, leading to toxic build-ups and cancers
Herbs to Unclog the Flow
First and foremost, bringing emotional awareness to areas of intercepted energy in our lives is crucial to alleviating health conditions that may arise. For me, dealing with my intercepted Mars meant that I had to find more effective ways of channeling my anger and aggression, there was no herb out there that was magically going to do the trick. That being said, I want to talk about 2 herbs that can be helpful when navigating challenge of blocked qi—Calamus and Black Pepper.
Calamus is semi-aquatic plant that can be found growing along the edges of ponds, rivers and lakes. The leaves are quite easy to spot and identify, sword-like in shape and releasing a sweet odor when crushed, hence the nickname, “sweet flag.” There are several varieties that have been in use in numerous cultures throughout the world, from the Native Americans to the eclectic physicians of North America to Asia, the Himalayan regions and India as well, where it is a staple in Ayurvedic medicine. In many cultures it is revered as a sacred plant and a spiritual teacher, and once you get to know the wisdom of this plant, you will most likely agree.
Although the leaves have been used for their bug-deterrent properties, it is the rhizome that is most commonly used as medicine. The rhizome is warming, spicy, aromatic and bitter and is a fabulous remedy for indigestion and the dull-headedness that comes after a bit too much psychedelic drug use or a night of studying. The rhizome is excellent when chewed upon, and small doses are all that is needed when ingesting this pungent plant—in fact, taking too much can have an emetic action. Teas, decoctions and extracts can be used as well, and even sniffing the dried root can be enough to sharpen the mind and wake up the senses. It extracts nicely into oil, and can be used that way for poor circulation or congestion. The essential oil can also be used topically, and makes for a wonderful insecticide when diluted and sprayed, hinting at some antimicrobial properties as well.
Calamus has a way of infusing life into dull areas of the body. As a bitter, it stimulates digestion, increasing hunger and digestive fluids secretion and aiding in recovery from eating disorders. It eases stagnant digestion that leads to food fermenting in the gut, heartburn, nausea, gas and abdominal pain. It can open up clogged sinuses, relieve congestion headaches and is reputed to clear blockages to the throat chakra, as hinted at by its Ayurvedic name, “vacha,” meaning, “to speak.” Although it is stimulating in its action, it can also be used for tense conditions or conditions of over-stimulation, such as diarrhea, although best results would be yielded by taking Calamus in conjunction with another herb in this case.
Traditional use by several native tribes also suggest that Calamus is effective against type 2 diabetes, and there is some research to show that it increases insulin sensitivity and has hypoglycemic effects. Additionally, it has been used to treat colds and sore throats, again due to antimicrobial actions. Herbalist Hentriette Kress also documents its use for endometriosis pain. It seemingly posseses the ability to be stimulating and a relaxant simultaneously, lending it wonderfully to conditions of anxiety, PTSD, ADHD and recovery from stroke.
There is some controversy regarding Calamus and toxicity; the FDA currently classifies it as a potential carcinogen, citing studies wherein lab rats were given high doses of isolated chemicals over a prolonged period of time from one particular type of Calamus, causing tumor development. This is similar to the controversy over comfrey leaf and pyrrolizidine alkaloids—personal discretion is best when deciding whether or not to take this herb. Either way, most herbalists would recommend that Calamus be taken in small doses in accordance with it’s traditional and cultural usage.
Black pepper came to the west from India, where it has been natively cultivated and used in Ayurvedic preparations for centuries. Traditionally known to be a digestive stimulant, pepper’s pungent, heating, spicy and acrid energetics make it a powerful tool in getting stagnant energy to disperse. Not only does it trigger the secretion of digestive fluids, but it acts as an expectorant as well, getting rid of excess mucous build-ups in the body. It’s moving quality has been used to treat ailments ranging from constipation to earache to heart disease. The common factor in all of these conditions is stagnation of some sort—it even speeds up the transit time of food through the gut, helping digestion run smoother and assisting with the vitamin and mineral uptake of other foods.
Pepper contains piperine, a powerful antioxidant that protects against free radical damage. In addition to that, it’s antiseptic properties make it a valuable kitchen remedy for cold and flu, helping the lymphatic system to drain effectively. Aside from pepper’s strengthening effects on the digestive and lymphatic system, it can be used for mental health and clarity as well—the antioxidants in pepper have been found to protect the hippocampus and the cerebrospinal fluid from free radical damage. Pepper also stimulates chemical pathways within the brain, leading to clearer thinking, better mood and less brain fog. Those same antioxidants have also been found to help with arthritic conditions, both topically as an essential oil and internally as part of the diet.
Often, we need look no further than cultural or historical use of an herb to gain true wisdom about it’s actions. Pepper has been used as a seasoning spice for centuries, suggesting that it is effective at small doses and helps with the bio-availability of other vitamins and minerals. A perfect example of this in action is the traditional pairing of pepper with turmeric, wherein pepper increases the bio-availability of curcumin. Therefore, we can safely guess that the most effective use of pepper in any herbal protocol today would be the same—small amounts in the diet daily as part of a whole food, nutrient-dense meal plan.
Next month we will be discussing Mercury as it represents the water element in traditional 5-element theory, thereby associating it with the TCM organ pairing of the kidney + bladder—a bit of a departure from it’s western affiliations to the nervous system and the air element. We’ll talk about these subtle distinctions and touch upon similarities and differences between the eastern and western understanding of the winged messenger planet. Until then, be well!