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AP - Was Lilly a good natal astrologer?

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Joined: 11 Oct 2003
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Location: England

Posted: Tue Oct 21, 2003 12:35 pm    Post subject: AP - Was Lilly a good natal astrologer? Reply with quote

24 May 2003


The latest edition of The Mountain Astrologer Magazine published the second part of an interview of Rob Hand. Gary Phillipson conducted the interview. The following exchange took place:

GP: Is there a straightforward method for calculating temperament from a natal chart? Lilly gives a method, but then doesn't stick to it when he works through a natal chart ... (ellipsis in the original)

RH: He is, at best, marvelously waffling. Lilly's natal astrology is the weakest portion of Christian Astrology far and away. I don't think he had a whole lot of truck with it, to be perfectly honest. ...

Hand continues with a description of temperament and Ptolemy which wanders into the merits of the Robbins vs Ashmand translations of Tetrabiblos.

My question is this: how does Lilly stack up as a natal astrologer? The reference Hand and Phillipson make, I believe is to pages 742 - 745 where Lilly overrides his own method of determining temperament to come to the conclusion he knows is correct. Were there other methods during Lilly's time which would have given the "correct" answer? Is this his only significant gaffe in the natal book?

I'd like to hear what the group might think about this.



I think there are two questions here – was Lilly making a glaring error or glossing over the astrology to make the chart fit what he knew? The second, was he a good natal astrologer?

The way I read that passage, Lilly is admitting that the point-scoring scheme for defining temperament shows a more-or-less equal balance of humours. He then admits that he knows the native well, and in his opinion there doesn’t seem to be any superabundance in any of the humours, but so much as can be discerned he is a ‘sanguine, melancholy sanguine’ – which I understand as meaning mainly sanguine with a touch of melancholy.

He then justifies that astrologically by explaining that sanguine predominates because the Sun, Mercury, Venus and the Moon are all in air signs. The melancholy nature is evident because Saturn rules the ascendant and is itself in Taurus, a melancholy sign.

I don’t personally have any problem with this passage – it’s not written very well I admit, and perhaps not the best example to use to illustrate a technique, but even in the horary section Lilly is renown for setting out the rules and techniques, and then illustrating where he adapted them because ‘discretion mixed with art’ demanded it. His attitude was very much “use which you find most verity in”.

But the point to remember is that in claiming the native was mainly sanguine in temperament, Lilly wasn’t necessarily pointing to excess in that humour, since the sanguine temperament is one that describes good balance with no extreme in any direction. To say that someone is mainly sanguine is pretty much the same as saying that they are not extreme in nature. The words sanguine and melancholy weren’t just astrological terms, but part of everyday speech in his era, so it would be the same as someone like me saying today “I know him well and I can’t see any excess in temperament; so much as can be perceived he is a well balanced guy with a touch of seriousness in his attitude. Naturally the sanguine humour will predominate with both his luminaries and Venus and Mercury all in air signs. But he is ruled by Saturn in Taurus, so a sense of responsibility and a down to earth attitude will show through that”.

The second point to bear in mind is that although we have these ‘point-scoring’ tables, they are only tools to guide us and cannot be relied upon. Ultimately the astrologer’s judgement is the only tool for assessing where the real emphasis lies, and this may require dismissal of the table scores if an obviously important factor hasn’t been accounted for. That’s why computers cannot do what astrologers do - judgement is never just a case of imputing numerological values.

With regards to Rob’s comment “Lilly's natal astrology is the weakest portion of Christian Astrology far and away. I don't think he had a whole lot of truck with it, to be perfectly honest. ...”, well it wasn’t so long ago that astrologers were arguing that the horary aspect of Lilly’s work was the weakest part of astrology full stop. Yet because we’ve come to study it closely over the last couple of decades, tested it out and found it is reliable, Lilly’s horary has come to set the standard. Personally I think it’s only a matter of time before many of his techniques in natal astrology become integrated into today’s standard. If Lilly was like me, he would prefer a horary to a nativity any day, simply because of the amount of aspects, transits, directions, lunations and what have you to consider. Natal work can be seem very arduous compared with the swift results that horary can offer on something that is of urgent interest. But I like to think that given the task of interpreting a nativity, I make a decent job of it, more so because of my leaning towards traditional techniques.

We have no reason to conclude anything but that Lilly was an excellent practitioner of astrology in whichever form it took. Most people who own CA haven’t even read that section of the book, so if our appreciation of Lilly’s natal techniques is poor, it’s probably because we still haven’t sufficiently studied and tested them.

And you might find Rob Hand changing his opinion on that in years to come. I love this recent quote of his:

"My friends who had been practicing horary for years before I did, who know my old attitude and how it has changed, love to rub my nose in it. Well, consider my nose rubbed! Horary works, and may well be more indicative of what astrology really is than natal astrology, with its alleged greater, although I think specious, claim to be scientific."

So that’s what I think.


Perfect! I admit I was kind of rooting for the old boy, although I respect Rob Hand immensely. In this passage he takes a sideswipe at Lilly in this part of the interview, then goes on about the value of the various translations of Ptolemy, without ever giving an example of Lilly's natal astrology. But in fairness, this was an interview, not a scholarly paper that permits editing and reflection.

Thanks for the time and effort, Deb.
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