Fascinatingly, The theory of humorism was crafted years ago when Hippocrates began his medical career; the basic understanding of it is that there are four ‘powers’ within the human body; Yellow Bile, Black Bile, Phlegm and Blood. If any of these equalities becomes skewed in any way i.e. a level grows above or drops below the original levels in balance, then an illness or disease occurs.
There are also ideas that the humours were linked to both seasons and the four elements; and in this way is closely linked to the alchemical theories of ‘a world in balance’, these, amongst other facts, are demonstrated in this table here;
(Image taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humorism)
It is fascinating to investigate these theories, as they were the precursors to our current state of medicine, which will undoubtedly be the precursor to another state of medicine in the far off future. it is also important to note that the four elements are closely linked to this theory, which believed that the four powers were idealised expressions of irreducible powers of the universe; alongside Sulphur (characterising Combustibility ‘The stone that burns’) and Mercury (characterising metallic properties within elements).
The first mention of these in texts appears in Ancient Egypt, in a Greek book labelled Kore Kosmou (Virgin of the World), of which is ascribed to the Egyptian god Thoth (known for maintaining the Universe, and the creation and control of Science and Magic, the two principle aspects of Alchemy). The book states;
‘And Isis answer made: Of living things, my son, some are made friends with fire, and some with water, some with air, and some with earth, and some with two or three of these, and some with all. And, on the contrary, again some are made enemies of fire, and some of water, some of earth, and some of air, and some of two of them, and some of three, and some of all. For instance, son, the locust and all flies flee fire; the eagle and the hawk and all high-flying birds flee water; fish, air and earth; the snake avoids the open air. Whereas snakes and all creeping things love earth; all swimming things love water; winged things, air, of which they are the citizens; while those that fly still higher love the fire and have the habitat near it. Not that some of the animals as well do not love fire; for instance salamanders, for they even have their homes in it. It is because one or another of the elements doth form their bodies’ outer envelope. Each soul, accordingly, while it is in its body is weighted and constricted by these four.’
How interesting it is Alchemy and Science are so intrinsically linked in these beliefs.
Seth (left) converses with Thoth (right) over the bestowal of life after Death to a human being judged, utilising the Ankh.