What 17th century astrologer had horary clients lined up to consult him morning to night? Who was not just the best-selling astrology writer in England in his day, but the best-selling writer, period? Who was known as the “English Merlin” who predicted the Great Fire of London – 14 years ahead of time?
It’s William Lilly’s birthday today – sort of. I’m observing Lilly’s birthday today, May 1st, even though this isn’t the day of his actual solar return. His Sun is actually somewhere around 20 degrees of Taurus. The confusion has to do with the shift from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian one, which Great Britain adopted in 1752, moving all calendars forward about 11 days. So although Lilly is said to have been born on May 1st, 1602, in our calendars that comes out to something like May 12.
If it weren’t for William Lilly and his magnum opus, Christian Astrology, I couldn’t do the kind of astrology I practice today. As a guide to astrological practice, it has no equal. Writing in the English of his day, he distills the knowledge gained from a massive library and years upon years of practical experience so that future students like you and me might benefit.
So I’ve composed a poem in his honor. Please withhold your applause.
I used to think astrology was silly.
Then I discovered William Lilly.
If I’m asked to tell a girl, “Will he
marry me?” I turn to Lilly.
If she wants to meet a Tom, Dick, or Billy,
there is only one recourse. I read my Lilly.
Is the land you would purchase flat or hilly?
I know who can tell you. Ask Bill Lilly.
How healthy & strong is that young filly?
Horses are a 12th house matter, says Lilly.
Frawley put me through drill after drill. He
knew I would learn if I just checked Lilly.
Don’t apply what you learn willy-nilly.
Be methodical. Just like Lilly.
You say modern methods work. I say “Oh, really?
I know what does work, and its name is Lilly.”
My sister-in-law is pregnant. Driving home after visiting her last month, my husband wondered aloud, “I wonder if she’s having a boy or a girl?” I looked around, made a note of the town we were passing through and the time, and put up a chart when we got home.
Chart data: 30 March 2008, 8:12pm EDT, Palmer, MA USA (72W20 42N10)
William Lilly says, to determine whether male or female, “See to the ascendant, the Lord that Sign, the Sign of the fifth and Lord of the fifth.” I trust you already know which signs are masculine and which are feminine? No? Okay, fire and air signs masculine; earth and water signs feminine.
He also advises us to look at the nature of the planets themselves. Lilly says the masculine planets are Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Sun; Moon and Venus are feminine; and Mercury changes. I’ll explain more about that in a moment.
On to the chart at hand. For this horary, we can’t go to the first and fifth houses as directed, because the querent is asking about his sister, not himself (indeed). We have to turn the chart. What we’re doing is identifying the correct houses for the person asked about.
My husband is the querent. He asked the question about his sister. Siblings are found in the third house. So his sister’s “ascendant” for the purposes of following Lilly’s rules is Sagittarius, the sign on the 3rd house cusp. Sagittarius is masculine. Jupiter, Sag’s ruler, is a masculine planet. But it’s in Capricorn: feminine. So that’s two votes for boy, one vote for girl.
His sister’s baby is the 5th from the 3rd: the 7th. Aries on the 7th house cusp: masculine. Mars, Aries’ ruler, is a masculine planet. It’s in Cancer: feminine. Two more votes for boy, one more for girl.
So I suspect it’s going to be a boy. The tendency is toward the masculine side, with four votes to two. But just for fun, I want to see what the Moon is up to. Lilly says, if the testimonies are split, have a look at the Moon. You want to see what sign it is in, and whether it’s applying to a masculine or feminine planet.
Moon in this chart is in Capricorn: feminine. It’s applying to Mercury. It figures! Mercury, the gender-bender, changes gender depending on what it’s near and where it is relative to the Sun. Mercury is in feminine Pisces and recently conjunct Venus in Pisces. That’s a lot of girl power. But Mercury is also what’s called “oriental of the Sun” in this chart. That is, if we cycle the planets around so that Sun is on the Ascendant (i.e. sunrise), we’d see that Mercury will have risen first, in which case “he is reputed Masculine” as Lilly says.
But that’s still a lot of girl power. This one’s tough. I think I’ll go on record and say it’s going to be a boy. But I’m maybe 60% sure of that. We’ll know by the end of August, I hope!
A new client put a surprising spin on her question to me today. “Have I already met the man I will marry,” she wondered, “and if so, what is his name?” I put on the brakes instantly and explained that was probably not something I could wring from the stars. (I’m an astrologer, not a psychic.) I convinced her to rephrase her question, which I’ll work on later tonight, but now I’m paging through William Lilly’s Christian Astrology for the one section where he mentions finding names in a chart.
It shows up in Chapter 50, “Of Servants fled, Beasts strayed, and things lost,” as one of many bits and clues for locating and identifying a thief. After a paragraph or two that describe “the Clothes of the Thief,” there is a short section entitled, “For Names.”
It’s a hodgepodge of ideas that Lilly admits he’s never really road-tested. The most interesting feature is a list of names, men’s and women’s, with planetary significators written alongside them. (Henry Coley, his secretary, must have loved transcribing it.) He says we can figure out a name by the ruler of the seventh, or a planet in the seventh, or a planet joined to one of these. As you’d expect from a 17th century Englishman, these are very English first names.
Moon: Nell, Eleanor
Great, what do we do with this? Lilly reports, “Some modern Professors, have endeavoured to give a probable conjecture what Christian name the Thief is of, or party inquired after, whether man or woman.” The steps he provides are these:
- Consider if the quesited’s significator is angular or not.
- See if it aspects any other planet(s).
- If no aspect, see whose dignities it’s in.
- Check the table for that planetary combination (significator + influencing planet).
He gives an example. Say Mercury is Lord 7, signifies a man, and is in aspect to Mars or in Mars dignities. Consult the Men’s Names table for Mercury/Mars: there you find the name Matthew. “I shall then say the man’s name is Matthew, or of a name equivalent in length, or same number of letters,” Lilly explains, only somewhat helpfully.
“For my part,” finishes the English Merlin, “I never use this way, nor yet have much credited it.” (Oh, well, thanks just the same, Bill.) But further research, he believes, ought to bring forth “some pretty conclusions.”
Friends, do try this at home. Does it work? Does it serve any purpose? Is it best left to the quirky, dusty back corners of time?