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A Medieval Astrology Guide

When is it a good time for fighting and arguing? When should you avoid medicines? Perhaps this astrological guide from the 15th century can give you some answers.

The ancient practice of astrology – examining the movement of planets and stars to divine information about future events – was revived in the Middle Ages. Texts from antiquity were rediscovered in the Arabic world, and then spread into Europe by the 11th century. However, medieval writers often had a complicated view on whether astrology was a real science, and even if it was something that people should practice. For example, the theologian Thomas Aquinas explains:

if anyone take observation of the stars in order to foreknow casual or fortuitous future events, or to know with certitude future human actions, his conduct is based on a false and vain opinion; and so the operation of the demon introduces itself therein, wherefore it will be a superstitious and unlawful divination.

But then he also wrote:

On the other hand if one were to apply the observation of the stars in order to foreknow those future things that are caused by heavenly bodies, for instance, drought or rain and so forth, it will be neither an unlawful nor a superstitious divination.

Astrology would continue to gain popularity in the Middle Ages, with many texts being created to examine what the stars said about events. One of these was a later 15th century work created in Low Countries. The manuscript – Amsterdam University Special Collections Library MS XXIII A 8 – has recently been edited and translated by Irene Meekes van Toer

Part of this astrological text includes a Solar Zodiologium – prognostications when the sun is in each of the signs of the zodiac. The writer offers advice related to daily life and health, matters that would readers would find useful in either the 15th century or the 21st.

ARIES: THE RAM
(March 21 – April 19)

Aries – in British Library MS Harley 4940 f. 28v

Aries is a sign which belongs to the east. It is dry and hot. When the sun is in Aries it is a good time to travel to the east, to work with fire or to let blood. It’s good to begin anything that will end shortly. Don’t take any medicine for the head. Don’t start building houses and don’t move into any house. Don’t take any medicinal drink. It’s good to have weddings, and to make new clothes. It’s good to send letters and messengers, and to go on a pilgrimage. It’s bad to sow or plant.

TAURUS: THE BULL
(April 20 – May 20)

Taurus – from ‘The book of birth of Iskandar”

Taurus belongs to the south. Then is a good time to begin anything that will last a long time, such as building houses, moving into houses and getting married. It’s bad to start a war: if you are the first to go onto the battlefield, you will lose. It’s good to plant trees and vineyards. But it’s bad to begin anything that will last only a short time. You may take medicine, but don’t let blood from the arms and don’t bathe. Don’t start anything that has anything to do with water. You may however hold court days.

GEMINI: THE TWINS
(May 21 – June 20)

Gemini – from a 15th century manuscript

Gemini belongs to the west. It is hot and friendly. When the sun is in this sign it is a good time to forge friendships and to unify, but do not perpetuate all these things, unless a better sign comes up. You may do battle and fight, but don’t let blood from the arms. It’s good, however, to move from one house to another. Don’t take any medicine for the arms. It’s good to go on a pilgrimage, and to hold court days with lords and monarchs. Messengers and letters you may send for they provide you with things, and anything you start that has to do with water, will succeed. But don’t plant any trees, don’t build houses, and don’t take any medicine.

CANCER: THE LOBSTER
(June 21 – July 22)

Cancer symbil in Llyfr Llyfr Oriau ‘De Grey (The Book of Hours), ca. 1390

Cancer is good. When the sun is in Cancer, it is a good time for fighting and arguing. It’s good to travel to the north. It’s good to build all things that are associated with water, like watermills. But don’t take any medicine for the heart, and don’t get married. Don’t build new houses, and don’t do any job that has to do with fire. Don’t plant any trees. You may send letters and messages. Letting blood from the arms is good.

LEO: THE LION
(July 23 – August 22)

Detail of the calendar page for July in the Breviary of Renaud de Bar, with roundels of a man reaping and the lion of Leo.

Leo belongs to the east. It is hot and dry. When the sun is in Leo, it is a good time to speak with lords and monarchs. One can work all things that last a short time. One can battle and fight, and hold court days. One can send messengers and letters. One can plant trees. It’s good to get married, and one should take medicine for the stomach, the heart and the liver. But don’t let blood from the arms, don’t bathe, and don’t build new houses.

VIRGO: THE VIRGIN
(August 23 – September 22)

Virgo – in British Library MS Harley 4940 f. 29v

Virgo is cold and dry. Then is a good time for anything that has to do with earth, such as sowing and planting trees and vineyards. It’s good to do anything one desires. It’s good to have intercourse with a widow. It’s also good to build houses and to move into houses. You can get married, but it’s bad to have intercourse with virgins, for they will often have children that are too small. Don’t do anything that requires fire, and don’t fight or quarrel. Also, don’t bathe, don’t make any new clothes and don’t let blood from the arms. It is allowed, however, to hold court days.

Libra in British Library MS Arundel 60 f. 6

LIBRA: THE SCALES
(September 23 – October 22)

Libra. When the sun is in this sign, it is a good time to travel to the east on trade business. It’s a good time to let blood, for it will make you healthy. One can start all things that last a short time. One can move into houses, but this is not the best sign to do so. Don’t take any medicine for the eyes, and beware of anything that requires earth. One should not hold court days, nor fight. Don’t sow, plant, or build anything out of wood, for none of this will do you any good.

SCORPIO: THE SCORPION
(October 23 – November 21)

Scorpio – in British Library MS Arundel 66 f. 41

In Scorpio one will find more wickedness than good. One can only do battle and fight, and one can take medicine. But don’t hold any court days, don’t move into houses, don’t let blood don’t sow corn, don’t plant any trees, and don’t bathe. Don’t buy or sell any gold or silver, nor horses. Don’t make any new clothes, nor wear any, and don’t start any pilgrimage over water or on land. Flee this sign whenever you can!

SAGITTARIUS: THE ARCHER
(November 22 – December 21)

Sagittarius from a 1512 German woodcut

Sagittarius. In this sign one will find much good. One can make friendship among enemies. It’s good to get married, but don’t have intercourse too often or the woman won’t have any children. One can let blood from the arms, travel eastward on business, bathe, and do anything that has do with fire. It’s good to begin battling and fighting, but don’t take any medicine. And don’t do anything that has anything to do with earth. Buying land and horses is good.

CAPRICORN: THE HORNED BUCK
(December 22 – January 19)

Detail of a drawing of the constellation Capricorn, with the stars picked out as red dots. British Library MS Harley 2506 f. 39

Capricorn brings out the fruit from the earth. When the sun is in Capricorn, it’s a good time to sow, plant and travel northward on trade and business. It’s a good time to do all things that will last a short time. But don’t go into the south. And don’t have intercourse. Letting blood is good. Don’t take any medicine for the legs. Don’t bathe. Beware of all things to do with fire. Don’t quarrel, nor hold court days. Don’t buy any horses or land et cetera.

AQUARIUS: THE WATER BEARER
(January 20 – February 18)

Aquarius in British Library MS Harley 4940 f. 30v

Aquarius belongs to the southwest. When the sun is in Aquarius, one can build houses, sow, plant, and move into houses. Then one can let blood, and do anything that will last a short time. Quarreling, battling and holding court days is good nor bad. One should not travel a long way. One can buy and sell any cattle or other animals with four feet. One can send letters and messengers. It’s good to have weddings. But it is bad to practice skills, for they will not provide a livelihood.

PISCES: THE FISH
(February 19 – March 20)

Pisces appearing in Chartres Cathedral in Chartres. Photo by Vassil / Wikimedia Commons

Piscis belongs to the north, and is good for a lot of things. One can build new houses, and move into them. One can sow, plant, and have intercourse. One can do all things that have to do with water, such as building dikes and building watermills to take and to give away. But one should not take medicine for one’s feet, and one should not do anything that has to do with fire. One can battle and fight, and hold court days, buy or sell land, horses and other things. And it is good nor bad to let blood from the arms.

You can read the entire text and translation in Als die maen is inden weder: Practical Advice in a Late-Fifteenth-Century Astrological Calendar Manuscript, Amsterdam UB MS XXIII A.

Click here to read more articles about Astrology in the Middle Ages

 

This article was first published in The Medieval Magazine – a monthly digital magazine that tells the story of the Middle Ages. Learn how to subscribe by visiting their website.

Detail of a wheel-shaped diagram of the twelve signs of the zodiac, with legends describing when the sun enters each, in Matfré Ermengau of Béziers’s Breviari d’Amour. – Image from British Library MS Yates Thompson 31 f. 48v

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