Mercury Medicine and Mirth

One of the most common uses of the metal mercury traditionally has been in medicine. It was used in mercurochrome and other disinfectants, in certain medicinal compounds, and in dental work; yet mercury and many of its compounds are poisonous—as some people with mercury fillings have found out. The god Mercury, too, was connected with medicine in the eyes of the ancients. His staff, with its two curled serpents, is still used as a symbol of the medical profession.

It has been said that laughter is the best medicine, and the planet Mercury is the astrological ruler of wit and humor. Over the past several decades, a new branch of healing has developed called humor therapy2, which is showing excellent results with seriously ill patients. It arose from the experience of Norman Cousins, editor of Saturday Review magazine, during the 1960s, when he developed ankylosing spondylitis, an extremely painful and crippling type of arthritis.

Although his doctors offered little hope of a full recovery, Cousins began to investigate whether humor and other positive emotions could help him heal. He surrounded himself with humor, watching comedies in his hospital room, and found that half an hour of laughter would give him two hours of restful sleep. He did this every day as often as possible, and was fully recovered within six months of starting this treatment. His book about this experience, Anatomy of an Illness, encouraged others to

Information in this section is derived from a web-based site on humor therapy at: view/1,1525,10152,00.html. To find out more about humor therapy, contact one of the organizations that promote it. Two other organizations, the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor and the American Association for Therapeutic Humor ( offer training in "caring comedy."

investigate the healing power of humor.

At around the same time, pediatrician "Patch" Adams took bedside humor to therapeutic extremes by wearing a clown costume while making his hospital rounds. Adams, the subject of a 1999 movie starring Robin Williams, says, "Joy is more important than any other drug." His Gesundheit! Institute in Washington, D.C. is dedicated to promoting humor as an adjunct therapy. Adams has Sun in Mercury-ruled Gemini conjunct zany Uranus, the planet of mavericks and gadflies.

Following the lead of Adams and Cousins, medical researchers began to investigate the effects on laughter on the body. Several studies demonstrated that laughter triggers the release of endorphins, chemicals that not only help block pain but produce a general sense of well-being. Researchers at Loma Linda University did a long-term study of beneficial effects of laughter on the immune system and found a significant drop in levels of adrenalin and other stress hormones, after participants watched a 60-minute comedy. (Stress hormones can corrupt the immune system and weaken its ability to fight disease.) Laughter also raises levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called gamma-interferon, and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter also increases breathing, oxygen use, and heart rate, so it stimulates the circulatory system and temporarily lowers the blood pressure.

Studying the charts of comedians confirms the association of Mercury with humor. Some of them have Sun, Moon, or rising sign in Gemini, but even more often, the Sun is conjunct Mercury 3 For instance, Woody Allen has Sun and Mercury in Sagittarius, and Whoopi Goldberg has Moon and Mercury conjunct in Scorpio, along with the Sun in that sign. What is interesting is that the sign this Sun-Mercury conjunction is in then colors the humor or selects the target for satire. Bill Cosby has Mercury and the Sun conjunct in Cancer in the fourth house, which is similar to Cancer in nature. This sign is much concerned with family and parenting, and Cosby's finest hours are in his interaction with children and in sitcoms about the family. Two comics with Sun and Mercury conjunct in Virgo are Adam Sandler and Damon Wayans. Virgo, like the sixth house, has an affinity with working people, and these two comedians make us laugh by drawing on their blue collar backgrounds. All the signs and planets are said to rule parts of the body, and I'd have to say that Mercury rules the funny bone. (If you're interested in pursuing this line of inquiry for yourself, AstroDataBank has many examples, and currently popular comedians who are not included in that collection have their birthdates published in the Information Please Almanac, including the on-line version4.,)

Mercury rules communication and intelligence, and the two are often taken as inseparable. The person who is glib with words—perhaps with Mercury in Libra—is

3 You may recall that a conjunction is formed when two planets stand within range of one another in the zodiac, anywhere from zero to about ten degrees apart. When planets are conjunct, their energies and functions are blended together, as though they were one. This is a powerful aspect, and when the Sun is conjunct another planet, that planet is very important. The person takes on some qualities of the sign the planet is associated with—people with Mercury conjunct the Sun would be similar to Gemini.

4 The Information Please Almanac online biography collection is at (Open your Internet connection and click on the link above to go there instantly.)

Mercury rules communication and intelligence, and the two are often taken as inseparable. The person who is glib with words—perhaps with Mercury in Libra—is

often estimated to be more intelligent than someone not so verbal who may be a deeper thinker—such as an individual with Mercury in Scorpio. Intelligence tests are largely based on verbal ability, and the foreign-born or otherwise linguistically challenged often do not score well on IQ tests written in English. While it is well-documented that IQ tests discriminate against certain kinds of people who are perfectly intelligent, group IQ tests are still permitted to determine school placement and thus to some extent the quality of our educational experience.

We humans have thought of our primate cousins— monkeys, apes, and gorillas—as far behind us in intelligence. Research, however, reveals that when taught sign language or other forms of non-spoken communication, these primates demonstrate a large vocabulary and the capacity to reason in ways similar to ours. Some of them were given IQ tests and scored at 75 or 80. The point is that we didn't teach them to think or to communicate, since they did so with each other all along. We taught them a means of communicating with us, and only then were we able to appreciate the extent of their intelligence.

Communication may be somewhat independent of intelligence, but without communication, we cannot make use of the intelligence and experience of othes. As the experience of any single individual is necessarily less than the shared experience of the group, an inability to communicate, read, and write limits the amount we can learn. Innate intelligence can take us only so far, at least in the present century. A study of Mercury in students' birth charts gives clues to how they learn best, but I'm not so sure it always shows their intelligence. Master astrologer Lois Rodden, from her research, believed that individuals with Mercury/Saturn aspects were the brainiest, and from my experience with the charts of people with PhDs, I concur.

The inability to communicate and the feeling of being misunderstood are miserable to live with, but like most skills, communication gets better with practice. The staff of the treatment center where I taught astrology took communication skills very seriously, because they knew how handicapped their patients were without them. One of the most intense and productive class sessions we ever had involved Mercury. When I presented the basic idea, the students got involved in a heated discussion of the problems various class members had in communicating. (In order to analyze an individual's barriers in this area, consider natal Mercury and its sign, house, and aspects, as well as the third house and any planets in it.)

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