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Temperament: Astrology & Personality

Updated: Mar 4



What is Temperament?

Temperament in astrology is a fascinating concept to describe. It's sort of like personality, but not fully that. It involves your physical constitution, but also your emotional nature and attitudes. It can imply your decisions, preferences, and even your physical health. It can be used to track how a person develops their thoughts, changes their opinions and how their nature is evolving as they grow when used in a predictive setting. In relationship astrology, the temperaments of two people can be considered to determine if they are compatible romantically or otherwise. Really, what can't it do?


While our more modern definition of temperament tends to fall more into the category of personality traits and character, the traditional use of temperament was much more in line with practices like the Dosha system in Ayurveda and the elemental balance in Taoism and Traditional Chinese Medicine.


In fact, identifying a patient's temperament through their birth chart would have been the first step for any doctor or healer of the ancient world, and certainly was the procedure followed by Hippocrates himself (1). The ancients used temperament to assess what they called "complexion", which included an individual's physical, behavioral, psychological, and metabolic constitutions (2).


Ultimately, the goal of understanding temperament is to identify where our excesses lie so that we can counter these and create more balance and harmony within our inner environments, and therefore our lives (3). The Myers-Briggs Temperament Index, or MBTI (as in ENFJ, ITSP, etc.) personality types were also developed from the idea of temperament and Jungian psychology (4).


The Four Temperaments

("Les quatres complections de l'homme" - "the four complexions of man" [left to right]: choleric, sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic) https://psychologia.co/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/four-temperaments.jpg


Understanding temperament in astrology starts with a philosophical understanding that the world is composed of four elements: fire, earth, air, and water. These elements are constructed from four basic qualities: hot, cold, dry, and wet. The combinations of these different opposing pairs create the constitution (or temperament) of the element. Therefore, Fire is composed of hotness and dryness. Earth is of coldness and dryness. Air is of hotness and wetness. Water is of coldness and wetness. Each of these elements was associated with a humor in the body -- Fire is choleric, Earth is melancholic, Air is sanguine, and Water is phlegmatic. These were associated with actual parts of the body, which allowed healers of the ancient world to use temperament as a diagnostic and preventative tool for their patients.


Sanguine


Sanguine is associated with the element of air and the bodily humor of blood. Sanguine is composed of hotness and wetness. It is associated with the Season of Spring, and the New Moon and first quarter Moon phase, so there is an element of birth, newness and beginnings that comes with sanguine temperament.


The nature of wetness is considered to be connecting, flowing and hotness as activating, expanding. These qualities combined allow sanguine temperaments to be very social, flexible, with an interest in connecting with others and sharing ideas, supportive, and charming.


There tends to be a joyfulness that is associated with this temperament. Note that both the benefic planets (Venus and Jupiter) have "sanguine"temperaments. Sanguine conditions were considered the ideal condition for fecundity or the growth of life, as life often thrives in a warm and wet environment. On the flip side, sanguine temperaments can be perceived as shallow and superficial because their interests tend to focus on breadth over depth (5).

The hotness here creates a personality that is upbeat and active, while the moistness allows them to be versatile and flexible. In reference to the liquidness of this temperament, Sanguines were said to be very sensitive and to cry easily as a way to release any inner feelings. Thus they were said not to hold on to anger, and were naturally happy and friendly. However, the extreme flexibility of sanguinity could lead to a lack of focus, discipline, and organization with a restless energy (6).

Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender, is a good example of a classic sanguine -- joyful, optimistic, social, but struggles with discipline, focus, and structure. Another strong sanguine in the show is Ty Lee.


Choleric


Choler is associated with the element of fire, and the bodily humor of yellow bile (ie gallbladder). This humor was said to heat up the body, and increases action, movement, and speed of processing other humors.


Choler is composed of hotness and dryness and represents the season of Summer. We can see how the warmth of spring intensifies into the summer, which leads to more dryness than moisture as the Sun's light grows more intense. Choler is also associated with the second quarter, including Full Moon phase, perhaps because the Sun makes a harsh aspect to the Moon, and it takes on natural hot and dry temperament of the Sun (7).


The hotness of choler leads to some similarity to the sanguine temperament as they are still active and expansive, but the dryness is by nature separating and resistant. This leads to choleric temperaments described as easily angered, irritated, and impatient at their worst. At their best, choleric temperaments embody the best of the Sun and Mars, the two choleric planets -- ambitious, strong willed, and natural leaders.

Unlike sanguine temperaments, choleric temperaments dryness tend to cause them to be antisocial, generally dislike interacting with people, but they also do better with detail oriented tasks and projects. Choleric temperaments were considered to be the most favorable temperament traditionally as they tend to be naturally motivated and oriented for success (8).


Choler as a temperament is not very emotional. The dryness can result in a lack of sympathy for others, and the hotness with impatience. At its most excessive and unbalanced, choler can result in easily expressed aggression, rage, and cruelty. (9)

Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender is a classic choleric personality - strong willed, motivated by achievement, easily angered, and disinterested in others. Toph is another example of a choleric personality in the show.


Melancholic


Melancholy is associated with the element of earth, and the bodily humor of black bile (aka Spleen). The function of black bile is to retain substances of the body, and give solidity and consistency to muscles, bones and bodily fluids. It also strengthens memory and sobriety (10).


Melancholy is composed of coldness and dryness and the season of Autumn. After the heat of Summer, the dryness remains and the air turns colder as the day's grow shorter and the Sun's light is weakened. Melancholy is associated with the waning third quarter Moon phase, where the Moon is now losing light as it heads back towards the Sun to renew its cycle. (11)


Melancholic temperaments are interested in learning and skill building, because of the condensing nature of coldness, but they can also be serious, or moody as a result of the dryness. Melancholic temperaments find success through hard work and persistence, which can cause them to feel that life is unfair as this isn't always true for other types.

They are more likely to compare themselves and their situation to others.


Melancholic types tend to be very methodical and detailed, even more so than choleric and are likely to succeed on their first attempts because they carefully weigh, measure, and evaluate before acting. Socially, they struggle with loneliness, and go about friendships in a very extreme way; they are either best friends or acquaintances without much room in the middle.


The melancholic temperament best represents the nature of Saturn and Mercury, who are described as cold and dry. (12) As the name suggests, melancholics are most susceptible to melancholy, depression, and pessimism. Melancholics tend to have difficulty crying and can retain their anger for a long time, letting it build into resentment.

Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender is a great melancholic example: strategic, determined, methodical, serious, and tends to feel like the world is working against him. Sokka is another character who has some strong melancholic characteristics.


Phlegmatic


Phlegm is associated with the element of water, and the humor of phlegm, which we refer to now as mucus and lymph. In the body, phlegm is responsible for regulating body temperature and lubrication (13).


Phlegm is composed of coldness and wetness and associated with Winter season. The coldness of Autumn becomes more extreme as the wetness increases from rain and snowfall, making the land more moist. The last quarter of the Moon is considered phlegmatic, this includes the crescent phase just before a new moon where the moon is losing the last of its light.


Water's essential nature seeks to fall down, as in waterfalls or rain fall, therefore phlegmatic temperaments were seen as harder to motivate because their momentum is already flowing in a particular direction. Phlegmatic temperaments can be reserved, shy, deep thinkers, contemplative and compassionate, very concerned about others. They tend to be the most emotionally motivated and driven of the four types.


Phelgmatics are very attached to familiar people and routines, so they don't have as much interest in meeting new people or going to new places and instead prefer to rely on their old familiar favorites. However, because of their wet nature, they will still be very personable and caring, and may be easier to get along with than a melancholic personality (14).

Despite being emotionally motivated, phlegmatics tend to not express their feelings very openly. They prefer to maintain inner stability and prioritize comfort, and can be excessively patient. In excess, they may find it difficult to display courage or determination in their actions and their emotional motivations can flow towards deceit and emotional manipulation(15).


Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender displays phlegmatic traits as she is compassionate, patient, and the most emotionally motivated of the group. Uncle Iroh is also another great example of a phlegmatic character.


It's interesting to note that the humors also act to balance each other in their opposite pairings, for example choleric (ie hot and dry) humors increase heat and activity in the body, while phlegmatic (cold and wet) balances and cools the body by slowing it down. Sanguine (hot and wet) humors represent the liquids of the body, while the melancholic (cold and dry) humors represent the solid and viscous elements of the body. This further shows the importance of balance and why seeking balance is always the goal. We need all of these elements to achieve a healthy, functioning system, whether we are talking about a body, a construct, or a personality.


Temperamental Make Up of the Planets


The planets also have their own temperamental makeup:


Saturn - cold and dry

Jupiter - hot and wet

Mars - hot and dry

Sun - hot and dry, but temperament also varies by season.

Venus - hot and wet

Mercury -slightly cold and dry

Moon - varies by phase


(Note: The outer planets (Uranus, Neptune & Pluto) do not have established temperaments and are not considered in this model.)


Calculating Temperament:


Like most things in astrology, there are many differing opinions for how to calculate a person's temperament from the birth chart. If you're familiar with any astrological history, then you'll hardly be surprised to find that most astrologers disagree over which formulas are most correct. I am going to use a model based on Ptolemy's method to calculate temperament (16 &17). You can use the following to attempt to calculate your own if you know your chart:


  1. Ascendant sign

  2. Planets in the 1st house (consider the planet's temperamental nature, not the sign)

  3. Aspects to the Ascendant (use the sign the planet is in, using a relatively small orb)

  4. Ruler of the Ascendant-- use the sign of the ruler

  5. Moon sign

  6. Moon phase

  7. Moon aspects

  8. Planets conjunct the Moon (use their nature)

  9. Sun - use the quality of the season.

Ptolemy also considers the nature of any rising fixed stars, so you can also add this if you'd like to be extremely thorough.


Let's apply this with an example. We'll be using the natal chart of Albert Einstein, the famous theoretical physicist.


A superficial glance at his chart shows a Cancer rising and Sun in Pisces, both water signs. Some might see those two significations and run with the water element and say he would have been highly empathetic and sensitive person. However, the temperament might tell us a different (and more accurate) story.




  1. Ascendant: Cancer (cold and wet)

  2. Planets in the 1st House: none

  3. Aspects to the Ascendant:

    1. square to Venus in Aries (hot and dry)

  4. Ruler of the Asc: Moon in Sagittarius (hot and dry)

  5. Moon Sign: Sagittarius (hot and dry)

  6. Moon phase: 3rd quarter (cold and dry)

  7. Moon conjunction: none

  8. Aspects to the Moon:

    1. trine to Venus in Aries (hot and dry)

  9. Sun's season: Winter (cold and wet)

When we tally all of this together, we see the following:

Hot: 4

Cold: 3

Wet: 2

Dry: 5


Therefore, we may draw the conclusion that Albert Einstein would have had a primarily choleric temperament because of the emphasis of hotness and dryness, but with more of an excess of dryness. In terms of personality, the emphasis on dryness tells us he may have been less social of a personality, more likely to keep to himself and prefer his own company because dryness tends to seek separation from others. The hotness suggests he would have been energetic and highly motivated especially with achievement.


With more of a balance between hot and cold, he may have tended slightly towards impatience and impulsiveness, but it would have been more tempered and therefore, less extreme. Overall we see someone who would have excelled at detailed work, analytical, strong willed, and preferred to work in isolation despite being capable of being amicable with others. This seems to correlate with accounts of people who knew him personally:


Einstein was, according to my mother, genuine and gentle but persistent and occasionally impatient. He was inquisitive. He didn't make small talk. He tried to understand things, and only spoke to ask a question or clarification. He never patronized or disrespected these two young women. And, according to my mom, when asked on the IRS tax forms for his occupation, Einstein wrote in "student". -Alfredo A. Sadun (18)

I love this quote because I think it really captures the willful nature of the choleric (listing "student" as his occupation) but also demonstrates the emphasis of dryness in a personality - interested in facts, not interested in small talk, only spoke to ask for clarification. These traits suggest the curiosity but also the separateness that an excess of dryness will create in a personality.


We might even suspect that an excess of dryness here would also cause someone who tended towards not just a preference to be alone but also loneliness. Einstein also famously had a problematic marital and family life, and his part in that may seem to align with the excess of dryness in temperament.


To say that he would have been "emotional and sensitive" based off his rising sign and Sun sign would seem to be incorrect. In fact, the opposite would be more true; he would have been detached and more likely to demonstrate a lack of sensitivity in personal relationships based on his temperament.


Conclusion

Temperament is one of many ways an astrologer can assess a chart and it has many applications. Although our innate, natal temperament never changes, every year on our birthday, we receive a new chart for the year. We call this the Solar Revolution or Solar Return chart, since we are tracking the return of the Sun to the same position and degree from when we were born. This new chart for the year will have it's own temperament, and this can be analyzed to track how our attitudes, impulses and behaviors are changing from year to year.


If you'd like to explore your temperament and how it may be shifting for you this year, I'd love to explore that with you in a Year Ahead reading!




This is a comprehensive Solar Return along with several other predictive techniques to assess the quality of the year, what events and themes may be occurring, and how your attitudes and personality are shifting in response. I utilized techniques of the Hellenistic and Medieval Islamicate tradition to get a thorough overview.


I look forward to working with you!

Michelle




 
  1. Butler, Ryhan . "Introduction to Temperament." Medieval Astrology Guide, www.medievalastrologyguide.com/medieval-temperaments.

  2. Avelar, Helena, and Luis Ribeiro. On the Heavenly Spheres: A Treatise on Traditional Astrology. American Federation of Astrologers, Inc. 2010. pg.15.

  3. Butler, Ryhan . "Introduction to Temperament." Medieval Astrology Guide, www.medievalastrologyguide.com/medieval-temperaments.

  4. Giesler Greenbaum, Dorian. Temperament, Astrology's Forgotten Key. The Wessex Astrologer, Ltd. 2005. pg. 44-48.

  5. Butler, Ryhan . "Introduction to Temperament." Medieval Astrology Guide, www.medievalastrologyguide.com/medieval-temperaments.

  6. Avelar, Helena, and Luis Ribeiro. On the Heavenly Spheres: A Treatise on Traditional Astrology. American Federation of Astrologers, Inc. 2010. pg.16.

  7. Butler, Ryhan . "Introduction to Temperament." Medieval Astrology Guide, www.medievalastrologyguide.com/medieval-temperaments.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Avelar, Helena, and Luis Ribeiro. On the Heavenly Spheres: A Treatise on Traditional Astrology. American Federation of Astrologers, Inc. 2010. pg.15-16.

  10. Avelar, Helena, and Luis Ribeiro. On the Heavenly Spheres: A Treatise on Traditional Astrology. American Federation of Astrologers, Inc. 2010. pg.17

  11. Butler, Ryhan . "Introduction to Temperament." Medieval Astrology Guide, www.medievalastrologyguide.com/medieval-temperaments.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Avelar, Helena, and Luis Ribeiro. On the Heavenly Spheres: A Treatise on Traditional Astrology. American Federation of Astrologers, Inc. 2010. pg. 18

  14. Butler, Ryhan . "Introduction to Temperament." Medieval Astrology Guide, www.medievalastrologyguide.com/medieval-temperaments.

  15. Avelar, Helena, and Luis Ribeiro. On the Heavenly Spheres: A Treatise on Traditional Astrology. American Federation of Astrologers, Inc. 2010. pg. 18

  16. Ibid. pg 264

  17. Giesler Greenbaum, Dorian. Temperament, Astrology's Forgotten Key. The Wessex Astrologer, Ltd. 2005. pg. 62


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