Vox Lillii Vox Dei: ‘If Presbytry Shall Stand’.
Mundane astrology is possible, and accurately so, but not with the techniques given us in the texts. As Ibn Ezra shows, most of these are nothing but smoke and mirrors to disguise the embarrassing fact that it was not possible to do the necessary calculations with anything like sufficient accuracy. ‘The Ascendant degree of the Jupiter/Saturn conjunction?’ he says, for example. ‘Huh! You’re lucky if you know which day that conjunction took place; you certainly don’t know which sign was on the Ascendant; if you think you know the degree, you’re kidding yourself’. But this did not matter, because while accuracy of calculation was impossible, accuracy of judgement was not a requirement. The main purpose of mundane astrology was to demonstrate that God is on our side and that He agrees that our enemies are both despicable and doomed. In achieving that end, accuracy was nothing but an obstacle.
The same is true of Lilly’s horary judgements on political and religious matters. The careful application of sound technique was not conducive to demonstrating that God’s view of things, as blazoned forth in the stars, was remarkably similar to the views of Mr Lilly himself. So sound technique can go to the wall. God, however, is nothing if not flexible, so even the most vehement of Lilly’s opponents were able to demonstrate in their writings that He was in full agreement with their views, too.
I touched, in the lecture ‘What is the Tradition in Astrology’, upon Lilly’s judgement of the question ‘What manner of death Canterbury should die?’ where his only interest is in showing that the Archbishop of Canterbury really is a baddie, because God has spelled this out in the stars, and parliament is being remarkably merciful by not condemning him to hellfire everlasting by sentencing him to be hanged instead of beheaded. I treat here of Lilly’s horary ‘If Presbytry shall stand?’ which is chapter LXXX of Christian Astrology.
Presbytry, in the context of England, meant the rigid control of the nation’s worship by parliament. Everybody would be required to attend services in one of the official parishes, whose ministers were appointed by, and answerable on all points of theology only to, parliament. Independent congregations of any kind would be strictly and painfully forbidden. As said S R Gardiner, the giant upon whose shoulders all later historians of this period sit, parliament was taking for itself a degree of infallibility far broader than that ever claimed by a pope.
Lilly, although in later life finding his way back to the middle of the protestant road, was, when he wrote Christian Astrology, a member of one of these independent congregations (we don’t know exactly which); was, indeed - to use one of his favourite words - a sectarist, though this, like atheist, was never a term to be used of oneself, but a non-specific term of abuse for anyone with whom you disagreed, especially, but by no means exclusively, on matters of religion. It was much like calling someone a commie or a fascist. The independents disdained set liturgy, preferring ex tempore preaching by anyone who felt taken by the Spirit. It is easy to imagine Lilly being taken more often than most. Disdained, too, any formal priesthood, no matter by whom appointed: he cannot even mention such without adding a few terms of abuse – ‘idle and covetous priests’ or, in one particularly memorable phrase, ‘the snotty clergy’.
So Lilly was less than impartial in this question. As we examine his judgement, please be clear: I am not concerned here with disputes of technique, with questions of whether this or that is valid. I would argue against many of the techniques that he uses, but that is not relevant. Here I am concerned only with how he uses the techniques that he has. My argument is not with William Lilly, but with those in astro-world who carelessly take what they read in the texts at face value, assuming that the purpose of every word in those texts is the teaching of sound astrology, and hence that the quoting of anything from those texts is enough to settle any argument. It is not!
Lilly begins by noting that the angles of this chart are in mutable signs, which does not promise stability, but the cusp of the 9th house (religious matters) is fixed. Saturn is in the 9th. He takes this, because of Saturn’s ponderous nature, as further testimony of stability. Jupiter, the natural ruler of religion, is in station, turning direct. It will soon leave the sign of its exaltation, ‘having been a long time retrograde therein’ (But Bill, if it’s now at 28.24 Cancer it has not been a long time retrograde therein, and if it had been, its leaving that sign would be just as long a time into the future). It is afflicted by Mars. Leaving Cancer it becomes fixed in Leo and enters the term of Saturn (and Saturn’s detriment, Bill?) and meets ‘several obnoxious fixed stars’. Thence into the term of Mercury, which is in Pisces, the sign of its fall (and detriment) and is angular and in the face of Mars.
Venus, Lord of the 9th, is in her detriment in Aries and in the 8th house, which is the 12th from the 9th. She has 21 degrees to travel before entering Taurus, where she can become fixed (i.e. religious matters - Presbytry - can be stabilised). But before this happens she will square both Jupiter and Mars. A moment ago Jupiter was the natural ruler of religion, but now Lilly decides it signifies the gentry, who will oppose Presbytry. Lilly knew perfectly well that the gentry was, for the most part, not keen, so it’s hardly surprising he found this in the chart. But Mars? This, he says, is the Lord of the Ascendant of England and so shows that ‘the generality or whole Kingdom’ will oppose Presbytry. Whoa!! He may well have been thinking of the coronation chart of William the Conqueror, which has Aries rising. What does this (or whatever other chart he may have had in mind) have to do with the present chart? Absolutely nothing – and well you know it, Bill! We cannot import roles from other charts to a horary, else we can prove whatever we please out of any chart. We recognise that the actor playing Hamlet once played Romeo and expect him to drop the idea of killing the king and start chasing the girls. Even if we allow this piece of astrological sleight of hand it means the opposite of what Lilly claims, because this aspect perfects with Venus at the very end of Aries: it shakes off the power of Mars and enters its own sign – which, as Lilly has just told us, would show Presbytry becoming settled.
All three of these planets are in the terms of Saturn when the aspects perfect. This, he says, would have argued for the establishment of Presbytry if Saturn were dignified, or if ‘Presbytry had any relation to monkery’ (monks in general are signified by Jupiter, as religious folk, but if distinguishing among different kinds of religious folk they are Saturn) or if this were ‘the first beginning of a religious order’ (he’s probably thinking of Peter, ‘the rock on which I build my Church’). These associations, he is saying, would have offered a context in which the Saturn influence could work benignly. But while all three planets are in the terms of Saturn, he ignores the fact that Mars and Jupiter are in its detriment and Venus in its fall.
Only Saturn is fixed in this chart (though Lilly has previously found significance in Jupiter entering a fixed sign, and Mars will do so too) and no planet is essentially dignified except Jupiter (apart from the Sun, Bill, which is in its exaltation and triplicity!). The Moon is entering the via combusta, and Mars, Mercury and Venus are all debilitated. Though as the push for Presbytry had come only because the country was in such a mess and was having to brown-nose the Scots, who were insisting upon it, it’s hard to see why these testimonies, which Lilly gives just as evidence of an unsatisfactory situation, should argue either for or against. It’s like asking when the ambulance will come and being told ‘You’re not well’. ‘Yes, I know I’m not well: that’s why I called the ambulance.’
The Moon’s last aspect was its opposition to Venus. It is now void of course till it makes its squares to Mars and then Jupiter. The square with Mars shows that ‘Presbytry will struggle hard and wrangle stoutly’. This too is something Lilly knew perfectly well, but finds the need to force into the chart somehow: had Presbytry not been struggling hard and wrangling stoutly the situation that inspired the question should not have arisen. It’s hard to see why the Moon translating light from Venus to Mars should show any harder struggling than Venus’ own square with Mars.
From these considerations, he says, he will now make judgement, ‘only out of a desire that posterity may see there’s some verity in astrology’. He hopes that he may not cause any more offence by giving the views of the heavenly bodies (i.e. by stating the will of God) than is caused by all those whose published ranting is based only on their own opinions. He begins by saying that the placement of Saturn, ‘naturally of a severe, surly, rigid and harsh temper’, in the 9th may show that Presbytry will be ‘too strict, sullen and dogged’ for English stomachs (note that at first he found Saturn in the 9th as testimony that Presbytry might last), and that Presbytry will be riven by ‘strange and fearful opinions’, that they shall become greedy, worldly, contentious among themselves, and that ‘some juniors, represented by Mercury’ among them shall be giddy in their thoughts and resist the strict discipline imposed by the Elders, who are signified by Saturn. (OK, Bill, how did you manage to drag Mercury into this? If it signifies juniors at all, why the juniors within Presbytry? Why not the juniors within ‘the generality or whole Kingdom’, for instance? Such as the apprentices of London who - teenage rebels - didn’t like Presbytry one bit? Why not the clerks, the scribes, the printers? Nor is there any way, Bill, in which Mercury afflicts Lord 9 or the 9th house. Except in that it directly opposes Venus by antiscion. This you don’t mention, but you rarely notice antiscia, no matter how central they are in the charts you judge. Mercury is Lord 1, the querent, so I suspect this says more about the views of the person asking - and I suspect that’s you, Bill, poking at your computer during a slow day at the office - than it does about juniors of whatever kind.)
He continues: Saturn’s not in a good state (nor is it, but not so dreadful either). Mercury, the Lord of the 10th ‘signifying authority’ has separated and is swiftly moving away from aspect to Saturn, showing that ‘the gentry, or supremest people of this kingdom’ turn away from the too strict authority of Presbytry, suspecting ‘a thraldom rather than a freedom’ to come from this. (Oh, Bill, you’ve got to stop smoking that stuff! A moment ago Mercury was the youth within Presbytry. Now it’s the gentry of England. But the gentry was Jupiter a few paragraphs back, when it suited you. What’s Mercury going to signify next – Grandpa Smurf? Within the context of this question, the supremest people were parliament, which was seeking to impose Presbytry – or, at least, some among parliament. Which refines the question. Presbytry itself was doing nothing: this was a squabble between different factions in the two houses of parliament. The 9th house is irrelevant here: it is simply a question of who will win, our guys or their guys?)
Anyway, if this separating aspect, long since passed, between Mercury and Saturn, showed the supremest people of the kingdom turning away, it is unlikely the question would have been asked, because that would show something that had happened already. As Presbytry had not been established, why ask if that much is known?
But who will most afflict Presbytry? It’s Saturn, which is in the 9th. This no longer signifies the Elders within Presbytry, but is now the country people. This placement of Saturn, Lilly says, gives in itself the whole judgement: Presbytry will not stand. But even if Saturn were not in the 9th, it still wouldn’t stand, because that is what is fated. (OK, Bill, whatever you say.)
Apart from being the Elders and the country people, Saturn here is also ‘covetousness, rigidness, maliciousness, etc’. The Elders can only be signified by Saturn, because the defining thing about elders is that they are old. Therefore, according to Lilly here, they must also be covetous, rigid, malicious and, no doubt, etc, because these things are also signified by Saturn. Presumably, then, they all have dark hair and are also ‘curriers, night-farmers, miners underground, tinners, potters’ etc – or why not ‘the generality or whole kingdom’ of some country that has Saturn ruling its Ascendant? After all, that worked for Mars. The logic is not so much circular as spherical.
Lilly here throws in the statement that the soldiers won’t take to Presbytry, but he offers no testimony to support this. The picture painted by the Marxist historians of the mid-20th century, showing the New Model as a prototype of the Red Army, has been discredited; nonetheless, large sections of the soldiery were at the more radical end of the political/religious spectrum, and had Lilly’s support.
Mr Lilly then takes a deep pull on that exotic cigarette and launches into prophetic mode. Within three years (Did that timing come from the Mayan calendar, Bill? It’s certainly not in the chart, nor do you suggest it is) either authority or God will bring a new form of government. This will be either closer to ‘the former purity of the primitive times, or more beloved of the whole Kingdom of England’. We won’t know what that form of government will be for some time. We shall be confused. Then either the army or ‘some men of fiery spirits’ will rise up and bring about the overthrow of Presbytry. Hallelujah!
So Presbytry will not stand. This – which was conclusively shown a moment ago by the placement of Saturn – is shown, we are now told, by the Moon squaring Jupiter, which is Lord of the 4th (yes, off you go, Jupiter: another costume-change). This shows the majority of the people (Moon) will overthrow the wicked schemes of the clergy. If Jupiter were still playing its role as natural ruler of religious matters, this square from the Moon, by way of Mars, could, at a very long stretch, be taken as showing this. I cannot see any reason for an aspect from the Moon to ‘the end of the matter’ showing this – except that Lilly wants it to.
I repeat, my purpose here is not to find error in Lilly’s astrological technique, but to point out that he has no interest in using astrological technique. He is simply gluing a few terms of art to his personal beliefs and throwing the result at a chart. He would have drawn the same judgement no matter how the planets were arranged in this chart. Indeed, he would have drawn the same judgement from reading the lines on the paw of his neighbour’s cat. Regarding Christian Astrology as authoritative is naïve. Nor, in this regard, does Christian Astrology differ from any other classic astrological text. The general lack of critical engagement with the material from which we learn is most unfortunate. There is a sign in big letters on the side of the box in which astrology comes packed. It says ‘Plug in brain before using’. Let us pay attention to this advice, because it not only makes our astrology so much more accurate, but so much more fun!
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