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The Science of Face Reading: A Practitioner's Guide to Morphology
by Gerald Epstein, M.D.
I have been applying the system of morphology for medical purposes for more than two decades. I have found it both beneficial and efficient, and here I want to outline its main components, with the hope that it may intrigue other clinicians. In mind–body medicine, we usually consider the mind's influence on the body. In morphology, we consider, in essence, the body’s expression of the mind.
Morphology as a system of diagnosis and therapeutics has been in existence for the past four to ten thousand years. A brief historical overview is useful in identifying the sources of morphology and describing its place in the development of Western medicine.
The earliest depictions of morphology may be found in three sources: the Sphinx, the first book of Ezekiel, and Genesis. The Sphinx is a creature comprised of a face of a man, the body of an ox, the tail of a lion, and the claws of an eagle. In Ezekiel's journey to inner worlds of reality, he discovers a creature with the faces of the four creatures contained in Sphinx -- a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle. The eagle represents inspiration and rapacity; the lion represents territoriality (king of the jungle) and acquisitiveness; the ox represents stamina and endurance; the man represents knowledge and the realization of all possibilities. Genesis makes a more veiled reference to the same four animal representations when it describes the four rivers that flow from Eden (Euphrates, Pison, Hiddekel, and Gihen).
The four beings or creatures of the Sphinx, and of Ezekiel and Genesis, represent the four flows of life force coursing through the human being: bile (man), lymph (ox), blood (lion), electricity (eagle) mentioned above. These four flows are a shorthand description and depiction of what is known as the four temperaments: bilious (man), lymphatic (ox, later replaced by the bull), sanguine (lion), nervous (eagle). According to morphology, these types are invariable throughout the whole of humanity. There are no more or no less than these four types, and they reflect our inborn traits which we bring into life at birth. We are all, each of us on earth, comprised of differing degrees of all four types.
Morphology gained credence in Greek medicine through the application of what was called "humoral" medicine, the four humors corresponding to the four temperaments -- bilious, lymphatic, sanguine, and nervous.
During the late Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, European medicine was practiced according to morphological and imaginal principles through the predominant medical practice called "complexio" (McMahon, 1976). In this practice the patient was diagnosed according to his/her morphological type, given mental imagery to do with the aim of finding a healing key from an inner source. When the modern alternative allopathic medicine dawned about three hundred fifty to four hundred years ago, it essentially eradicated the traditional medicine of the previous five thousand years, and with it, the morphological system, which was no longer openly taught or used clinically. Instead, it went underground and was taught secretly.
In the eighteenth century, a magnificent morphological manuscript appeared written by a Swiss physician, J. K. Lavater (1775). In it we find many precise morphological renderings and detailed descriptions of morphological types. Lavater's work has been preserved, and in the twentieth century France has become the repository of morphological wisdom. The subject is taught in the French medical school system, as part of the department of anatomy and surgery. There are a number of M.D. morphologists in France who are called in as consultants by other physicians to help determine diagnoses and prognoses in difficult cases. There is an international society of morphopsychology in France, which produces a journal, and morphology is used as the major way of selecting people for employment purposes in France.
I should point out that there are oriental systems of morphology, most notably the Chinese and Indian. They are used in an integrated fashion in Chinese medical diagnosis and in Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine respectively. But neither system is as extensive as that of Western morphology, my concern here.
The Profiles of Temperament, the Full Faces of Personality
The Western morphological system consists of ten different ways of reading -- that is, ten different characteristic elements that are each read in different facets of the face. Every element constitutes a separate field of inquiry, and each can be a lifetime study. Usually, then, we find that most morphologists focus on one particular area and make it their special area of expertise and understanding. In morphology, it is accepted that any one area penetrated deeply will give all the knowledge necessary, since morphology rests on the holographic principle that the part contains the whole.
In this article, I shall describe the two most fundamental and easily graspable morphological elements -- temperament and personality. I alluded to temperament above in noting the four temperamental⁄humoral types: bilious, lymphatic, sanguine, and nervous. These types are read by looking at the profile of the person. The profiles look like this:
Morphology holds that these four types, in various combinations, constitute the profiles of all human beings. It hold further that each type has invariable characteristics associated with it. That is, anyone who displays a predominance of one temperamental type (which is easily read after some practice) must have certain behavioral and psychological and physiological characteristics.
In morphology, the only variable is the quality and competency of the morphologist, not the traits associated with a type.
As for the personality types, they are defined by the front shape of the face. According to morphology, there are twelve such shapes, all of geometrical design, that, like the temperamental types, are invariable throughout the world no matter what race.
The word personality means mask, the face we don when we encounter the world around us. In the ancient Greek theater, actors would place a mask several inches in front of their faces and speak their lines into it. That mask is the persona.
Morphology says that the full face – and so the personality – changes every five to seven years, in consequence of its responses to the outer world. On the other hand, the temperament shifts to a far lesser degree as it is not directly exposed (profiles) to the outside elements.
The changes in the face reflect changes in musculature. The muscles can expand or contract according to whether we are moving toward or away from the world. These muscles have their origin in certain bones and points in certain bones of the face. As such, they follow strict, invariable anatomical laws, which, again, morphology holds are indisputable. This is another reason why morphological knowledge is absolute – because it is linked to biological invariance.
The twelve front facial types look thus:
In modern times we don't see "pure" facial types anymore because of the interconnectedness of people around the world. In the ancient days, certain tribes and cultures shared a predominance of one type through inbreeding and intermarriage. The Greek sculptors carved these pure types and manifested them in⁄as the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, later adopted by the ancient Romans. The statues were placed in public view so as to remind the members of the population of the proper proportions and measures that obtained for each particular type. It was thought that if an individual worked on his or her body and face to attain to the proper proportion for him⁄herself, then the person would also be in proper proportion emotionally and mentally.
The Types and Their Characteristics
Morphology, as I said, maintains that the characteristics of different types – and so the characteristics associated with different profiles and different full–face shapes – are invariable. Here, I briefly sketch the temperamental and personality types, to indicate the range of information contained in a morphological portrait.
First the temperamental types:
The bilious type is physically characterized by either a pouched or flat forehead on profile view: The mandible usually proceeds straight downward from the ear for a short distance and then runs at an oblique angle sloping downward toward the chin.
The primary characteristics associated with the bilious temperament have to do with the strong–willed nature of the type. The bilious are conquerors, dominant, often domineering, bossy, constructors; they have an active practical intelligence and make things happen. They are indefatigable, need very little sleep, and must do oxygenating activity. When their will is not catered or is thwarted, they tend to become morose and brooding. They acquire gobs of practical worldly information. They require plenty of calcium and vitamin A. They are especially prone to bone injuries, eye and ear problems, gall bladder and liver disturbances, and problems in areas of the body where there is epithelial lining.
The sanguine type has a sloping back forehead with a very large mandible that comes straight down from the ear and runs at nearly a 90° angle to the chin. In the sanguine temperament we find someone who can be defined by two words: acquisitive and territorial. The sanguine need to establish an empire and acquire as much as they can. They are optimistic by nature and extroverted. Being muscularly dominant, they are action-oriented, extolling the body. They love body building, aerobic exercise, and body contact sports. They seek to exert their actions as the situation of the immediate present dictates. They tend to be bored easily, and to have short attention spans. They don't make long-range plans. Such activities require more time to be taken than they are willing to give. They learn best by doing, and when they are not active, they literally have no thoughts swirling around. They require aesthetic surroundings and need organized activities throughout their waking day. They require vitamins C and E. They are quite vulnerable to cardiovascular problems, muscle injuries, diseases of the genitals amongst others. (The United States is basically a sanguine society. It is no wonder, then, morphologically speaking, that heart disease is the country's leading causes of disease-induced mortality.)
The nervous profile displays a bullet- or cone-shaped head with a receding chin often. The nose can be elongated and the line of the forehead slopes backward. The mandible appears to run as a sharp slanted line from the bottom of the ear directly to the chin.
Nervous types are volatile and hypercritical, and the quickest perceivers of all the types. They have high intellect and think abstractly and philosophically. They have an artistic temperament, although their productions tend to be imitative rather than innovative. They can package old ideas in new versions. They are excellent communicators, are witty, hypersensitive, and hyperreactive to the world. They tend to be hypochondriacs, often magnifying trivial injuries (and events) into dramatic events of great magnitude. They need adulation, acceptance, applause, approval from the outside world, or they become depressed. Vitamins B1 and magnesium serve them very well. They tend to suffer from ailments of the skin and nervous systems as well as the liver, and often the thyroid gland. The nervous type need to avoid prolonged or extensive aerobic exercise.
The lymphatic type has essentially no discernible jaw line, flat forehead, and often displays a receding chin.
Lymphatic types are devotional. They often have a strong religious inclination and are visionary. They can be dogmatic, authoritarian in their opinions, bombastic, and paternalistic. They seek justice, are quite companionable and tolerant, are quite organized in their thinking, and are great organizers. Like the sanguines, but unlike the bilious and nervous, they don't feel guilt.
Lymphatic types can use vitamin B6 as a diuretic. They suffer from endodermally connected organ problems that may involve the lungs, pancreas, intestinal tract, urinary bladder, to cite a few. They love to eat and must eat to live. They can consume any diet. In contrast, the nervous are vegetarians, the sanguine must have meat, and the bilious, being omnivorous, are able to eat meat, carbohydrates, grains, and vegetables.
The ideal for establishing a successful organization is to have a bilious boss, a sanguine salesperson, a lymphatic organizer, and nervous idea man⁄woman.
The personality types are typified in the following way:
The earth or square-faced type is feisty, pugnacious, practical, materialistic, needs things, prizes logical thinking, is an excellent family man or woman, possessive, demanding, jealous, loyal, dutiful, and extremely competitive. Jimmy Cagney is an example, as is Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
The saturn or trapezoid type is the most perseverant of all. He⁄she is also the most hypersexual type, often mistaking sex for love. Saturns take a long time between a thought and an act and are quite ruminative. They are natural researchers and are meticulously attentive to detail. They can take one point and go deeply with it. They are often subjected to bone fractures. Clint Eastwood and Julia Roberts are examples of this type.
The uranus, a long trapezoid, is the rarest type. People of this type are visionary thinkers, their ideas being far ahead of their time. They are an extension of the saturns. They are quite difficult to relate to since they are intolerant of those who don't resonate with or understand their ideas. They are the worst dressers of all, having virtually no sense of color coordination. Edward R. Murrow, perhaps the most innovative journalist of the twentieth century, was of this type.
The mercury or triangular-shaped face is a person who is elusive, reclusive, accommodating to his or her surroundings like a chameleon, since mercuries depend on the outside world to frame their identity. They are elegant, often are performers and entertainers, professors, or physicians. (Mercury was the god of medicine, communication, thieves.) They are impatient and are always looking for new sensory impressions. They feel unstable in the world, feeling that the ground is literally slipping out from under their feet. Nancy Reagan, Madonna, Woody Allen and Fred Astaire are prime examples.
The mars or rectangular type is a gregarious person who is good humored, fickle in relationships commonly, has a short temper and a penchant for war. (Ares or Mars was the god of war.) The mars types are impetuous, daredevils who risk life and limb in dangerous actions. They are the army officers and love a good fight. You'll find many CEOs, surgeons, scientists, sculptors, cartoonists, football players amongst this type. Lucille Ball is of this type, as is Ronald Reagan, who is a prototypical mars.
The sun, with an oval face, like an egg standing on its end, is a natural leader; an individual who does not require intimacy while still being quite gregarious. Sun types are often mislabeled as haughty, snobbish, aloof, and the like, which is not really the case. They will work a lifetime for one cause. They are highly principled, even in the realm of finance. They cannot be intimidated. They often gravitate to diplomacy, medicine, high finance, aeronautics amongst other activities. Their power of intellect to formulate concepts is prodigious. Dwight Eisenhower and Grace Kelly are excellent representatives of the sun.
The venus type, with a lozenge-shaped face, is spunky, extroverted, and has a lively intelligence. They work for social causes as a primary aim in life. They glory in aesthetics, being related directly to beauty. They are conciliatory by nature, always looking to mediate disputes. Easily flattered, they tend as well to attract the opposite sex without trouble. They are never in want of a social life, are quite loving, and tend to talk voluminously. Elizabeth Taylor is the quintessential female venus, while Tom Cruise is the male counterpart.
The pluto type, with a hexagonal-shaped face, is an extension of the mars type. Plutos are hugely successful in business, often having a midas touch. They are wonderful caretakers, being quite loyal. They have the most penetrating eyes of any of the types. They are unfazed by life, take things as they come, and don't fret. Quite strong physically, they are quite resistant to illness and hardly ever miss work. Ginger Rogers exemplified this type.
The moon individuals, or circular types, have a very slow rhythm, which makes them appear lazy to others. Their moods determine their relationship on a daily basis. They are moody and sensitive, as they feel deeply. They love children and are nurturing by nature. Moon women are dreamy, often poetic, are singers and dancers. For the moon women the bond to their children often supersedes their relationship to their husbands, who must be prepared to accept a secondary role in the family constellation. The singer Rosemary Clooney is of this type. The actor⁄comedian John Candy was the male version.
The neptune person, with an oblong-shaped face, is a highly spiritual, innovative, creative individual. Neptunes are musicians, artists, and muses in general. They often dream of angels and need to seek spiritual dimensions or other realities early in life. The characteristic trait distinguishing this type is the inability to sustain a relationship and to see a relationship clearly. They usually feel confused in⁄by relationships. Duke Ellington was a most creative neptune.
The jupiter type, with a reverse-trapezoid face, is generous, tolerant, understanding, devoted, objective, and very concerned with justice. Jupiters tend to find injustice everywhere and want to right all wrongs. They are religious by nature and can gravitate to the pulpit or to the judiciary. Their intelligence is synthetic, in that logic and intuition blend together very well, which makes them visionary. They can be pompous, dogmatic, and full of rage after much provocation. Margaret Thatcher is an instance of a successful jupiter, while Alfred Hitchcock and Al Gore are representative males.
One helpful point in assessing facial types is that the front faces are associated characteristically with temperamental types. That is: the earth, saturn, uranus faces are connected with the bilious temperament and will manifest medical issues connected with that temperament. In the same vein, the mercury face is associated with the nervous temperament. Here we commonly see nervous system and skin problems. The mars, venus, sun, pluto types are connected with the sanguine temperament. Here the mars and pluto have muscular and joint problems respectively. The venus type suffers commonly from genital disturbances, while the sun is vulnerable to cardiovascular problems. The neptune, moon, and jupiter types are associated with the lymphatic temperament. Here we might find endocrine and lung disturbances (including the epithelial lining), and diseases of the digestive tract.
I hope that in this condensed presentation that I have been able to convey some of the flavor of what these temperamental and personality types are like. There is no simple way to logically support the accuracy of these descriptions, which exist essentially as "givens." I would only say that I have consistently found them to be useful in my practice.
One important point to stress is that the morphological system is not fixed. It is a descriptive system describing a person's life situation at this moment. As changes take place in one's life, so one's morphology changes to reflect what is happening.
A fundamental law of morphology is called the "law of reciprocity." Simply put, this law says that what happens internally is always reflected in the face, and whatever changes are made in the face will be reflected internally. For instance, if the muscles of the face reflecting depression (everyone has seen them on another person), are massaged and manipulated to change and de–contract, the inner depressed feeling will clear up reciprocally.
The application of morphological data is enormous. I have been solicited to use this knowledge in child rearing, mate selection, conflict resolution, and employee selection, to name a few. For example, showing parents how to relate to the morphology of their children has changed the family dynamic in many families with which I have worked. Knowing a child's morphology allows parents to appreciate the child for the person he or she is, instead of imposing a preconceived idea of child rearing, or raising the child in the image of the parent who may be morphologically the antithesis of the child.
Examples like this are virtually endless. The key issue here, of course, is: how can morphology serve as a medical tool? Here are some examples.
Medical Examples of Morphology
Marjorie, a young woman of nervous temperament, came to see me after several episodes of fainting. She was examined extensively medically and was given a clean bill of health physically. Thinking that something might be amiss mentally, she was recommended to investigate that possibility. Thus, she was sent to me on that basis. As she was of nervous morphology, I wanted to rule out any nervous system pathology, since this type of person is susceptible to diseases stemming from this anatomical system. On close questioning and consultation with her primary physician, I ascertained that there was no hint of disturbance in that area. She was, in fact, in very good health, the fainting being an isolated symptom. Being in good shape, I inquired further, intuitively based, as to whether she did any physical exercise. She responded eagerly that she indeed did physical exercise regularly that was focused on jogging five to ten miles per day. Right there she provided this morphologist with the answer to the riddle of the fainting spells.
The nervous morphology cannot abide prolonged aerobic activity. To do so creates an excess of carbon dioxide elimination leading to fainting in this type. I immediately recommended that she change her physical regimen to stop jogging and substitute something more in keeping with her type such as fencing, tap dancing, or acrobatics for thirty to forty minutes a day. She was willing to try my suggestions and reported to me several weeks later and six months later that the fainting spells stopped.
Robert, a man of bilious temperament, came to see me because of complaints of severe intestinal pain, discomfort, bloating, and chronic indigestion. There was extensive medical investigation of his symptom picture, including gall bladder and pancreas testing. Since no pathology was discovered, it was felt emotional issues were at play. When I saw him he certainly demonstrated the typical bilious qualities of being hard driven, a perfectionist, and hypercritical. There was no question that he was suffering from physical complaints, which I duly acknowledged and for which he felt relieved because he didn't have to consider himself "crazy," as the physicians attending him led him to believe because no pathology was found, therefore the complaints were not real.
In questioning him, and understanding from a morphological point of view that he had a very short digestive tract – only the nervous type has a shorter one – I inquired of his diet. Interestingly, his diet wasn't looked into throughout his medical examinations, but he told me that hew as taking a number of clients out to lunch and dinner and was eating dishes with rich sauces and meat oriented. The bilious type requires food that has a quick transit time, i.e., travels through the digestive tube quickly and is easily assimilated. Foods like meat – taken extensively – and with sauces have long transit time. Thus, what he was eating was wreaking havoc with his system and was creating his problems, from my viewpoint. I recommended a change of diet to satisfy his omnivorous interests, but to shift to foods that had a short transit time. He decided to follow my input, and within three weeks his symptoms completely disappeared.
Anne was a lymphatic woman in her mid-thirties who had been in psychoanalysis four to five days a week for nine years. She came complaining of going into severe rages regularly that would disrupt her household and would leave her feeling conscience-stricken, remorseful to an extreme degree afterward for her behavior. Since she was water-laden, as is characteristic of the lymphatic type, I inquired as to the rhythm of these rageful outbursts. I discovered that they occurred once a month, about seven to ten days before her period. She also experienced bloating at those times.
I recommended that at the next instance when she first recognized the symptoms appearing that she was to take 75 mg. of vitamin B6 three times a day with each meal, and to substantially reduce her fluid intake during the premenstrual time. The lymphatic woman needs to do that during the premenstrual time, and all lymphatics need vitamin B6 as a natural diuretic to help control water balance.
When she returned to see me after the beginning of her next period, she came in exclaiming that she wanted to sue her psychoanalyst. I asked why. She said that she had been trying to analyze this rage problem for all that time without finding any help, while following my recommendation resulted in the problem disappearing by taking vitamin B6. She added that she didn't need all that work that proved fruitless when the answer was so simple. I responded by being happy for her, but I asked her to go on with the regimen for the next three months to see if the same response would occur. She returned after that time to say that the problem resolved and no further outbursts had happened. I received follow-up reports from time to time over the next fifteen years with no recurrence at all of the rage response during that time.
In psychological terms, then, the effects of morphological investigation is to elevate the uniqueness of each human being, and grant him⁄her an authenticity and genuineness of being that is sorely lacking in medicine and in psychology⁄psychiatry today. Everyone is appreciated, not depreciated by being labeled or found to be wrong, bad, or abnormal.
Further, in the practice of medicine, it provides an incredible diagnostic tool that allows the practitioner to pinpoint areas of strengths and difficulties rapidly, and allows him⁄her to offer easily and quickly remedies for treating ailments, maintaining health, and preventing illness. To date, there is nothing in the current medical model that provides for health maintenance and disease prevention. Indeed, it seems to me that without the incorporation of morphology, it is impossible to develop a comprehensive system of health care delivery (both mental and physical) encompassing the three essential elements – treatment, maintenance, prevention.
A final, critical point to any would-be morphologist: there is a moral imperative associated with morphological work. It is quite obvious that the face is naked, that is an exposed part of our anatomy that is subject to everyone’s inspection. In morphological practice, it is clear, then, that being naked like this makes everyone vulnerable to being known in all dimensions of life by someone else who may be a complete stranger. But to use such knowledge as a vehicle for wielding power subverts the real mission of morphological inquiry: to enhance understanding and cooperation between people. When one sees that the behavior of another person is natural for his or her type and not, say, willful or malicious, one immediately begins to become more accepting and tolerant of – even loving toward – that person, while recognizing, of course, that the person is accountable for whatever his or her actions might be. Morphology is not to be used, therefore, in the service of the will to power, but in the service of the will to love.
Morphology is a science and a sacred art with roots in religion and is not to be trivialized as a game, as happens, for example, at a party. It is not meant to be used in social situations or to be made light of. I do not read faces in other than clinical situations where it is necessary to provide knowledge that is designed to help a person along on his or her road of life. To use it otherwise, I would say, can have serious repercussions on the user. In a phrase, when entering the morphological realm, one should be prudent, judicious, and loving.
Epstein, Gerald, M.D. Healing Into Immortality. New York: Bantam, 1994.
Lavater, J.K. Essays on Physiognomy. Zurich, Switzerland, 1775
McMahon, C. "The Role of Imagination in the Disease Process," Psychological Medicine, vol. 6 (1976), pp. 179–84.
This originally appeared in Advances, The Journal of Mind-Body Health, Vol. 13, No. 3, Summer 1997.