William Lilly (1602 –1681), was a once famous English astrologer. Lilly’s speciality was prophecy – he was particularly adept at interpreting the astrological charts drawn up for so called ‘horary questions’. Horary astrology is mainly concerned with predicting future events or investigating unknown elements of current affairs, based on an astrological chart cast for the time a particular question is asked of the astrologer. Lilly studied thousands of horary charts, most of the time successfully giving correct answers for a wide range of questions from the location of missing fishes to the outcome of battles!
Lilly is of interest to this site as he is not a person who, as far as we can tell, prophesied via direct spiritual input, a form of inspiration, but did it via logical calculation of spiritual movements – knowing the functions of the universe in other words. In essence he was behaving like a scientist, using functions and function dependencies to do his own simulations.
He believed it was possible to ‘divine’ events from the way that the Planets [logical] were placed and the way events were panning out. He was a complete believer in divine intervention in human affairs when it comes to key events, as such the ‘puppet’ theory of human behaviour was also one to which he adhered.
Lilly's most comprehensive book was published in 1647 and was entitled Christian Astrology. It is so large that it now comes in three separate volumes and it remains popular even today having never gone totally out-of-print.
It is considered one of the classic texts for the study of traditional astrology from the Middle Ages. Worked examples of horary charts are found in Volume 2 of Christian Astrology.
William Lilly received a basic classical education but at the age of seventeen, "his father having fallen into poverty", he went to London and was employed in attendance on an elderly couple. His master, at his death in 1627, left him an annuity of £20; and, Lilly having soon afterwards married the widow, she, dying in 1633, left him property to the value of about £1000. This enabled him to pursue his interests. "He began to dabble in astrology, reading all the books on the subject he could fall in with, and occasionally trying his hand at unravelling mysteries by means of his art".
The years 1642 and 1643 were devoted to a careful revision of all his previous readings, and in particular, having lighted on Valentine Naibod's Commentary on Alcabitius, he "seriously studied him and found him to be the profoundest author he ever met with." About the same time he tells us that he
...did carefully take notice of every grandaction betwixt king and parliament, and did first then incline to believe that as all sublunary affairs depend on superior causes, so there, was a possibility of discovering them by the configurations of the superior bodies." And, having thereupon "made some essays," he "found encouragement to proceed further, and ultimately framed to himself that method which he ever afterwards followed.
He then began to issue his prophetical almanacs and other works, which met with serious attention from some of the most prominent members of the Long Parliament.
One of his supporters was Elias Ashmole.
After the Restoration he fell out of favour. His sympathy with the parliament, which his predictions had generally shown, was not calculated to bring him into royal favour.
Having by this time amassed a fortune, he bought a small estate at Hersham in Surrey, to which he retired, and where "he diverted the exercise of his peculiar talents to the practice of medicine". He died in 1681.
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