Medieval Examples of Popular and Professional Astrology

1. bigmoon
Luna and Her Children (Source)

The text:

I’m Luna, planet number seven,

The moon, nearest star in the heaven.

Cold and wet, my power ranging

Over all, unstable, changing.

The Crab is my own mansion fair,

And when you see me standing there

If Jupiter can look at me,

I’ll do no evil then, you’ll see.

I am exalted in the Steer,

In the Scorpion fall low I fear.

Through the stars I leap and bound,

In twenty-seven days I come around.

All heavenly influence through me must go

Now strong, now weak, now fast, now slow.

Headstrong, heedless, and half-wild –

If he won’t be led, he’s Luna’s child.

Pale round faces and brown eyes,

Cruel teeth, snub-nosed, and never wise,

Easily angered, but soon consoled,

Short, lazy, jealous, greedy for gold.

Tinkers and jugglers and students who roam,

Millers, birdcatchers, those never at home,

If you fish or swim or sail,

As Luna’s child you cannot fail.

This image presents a fragment of “The Book of the Seven Planets,” a blockbook that aimed to popularize astrology. This particular edition is actually a hybrid creation of a 15th-century printed work, a 19th-century art history book, a modern application of medieval pigments, some 15th-century doggerel, and its modern translation. It was made to give a nonspecialist reader the sense that he or she is looking through the pages of a medieval astrological book. Blockbooks were books that were printed entirely (text and images) using wooden blocks, each page containing the layout that was carved on a single block of wood.

The original “Book of the Seven Planets” was an early example of popular astrology, aimed at people who were not astrologers and were not very familiar with the techniques of astrology. Many such books were written as poetry, or as stories, to make astrology more understandable to a wider audience, without requiring any specific scientific background. They showcased the basic astrological beliefs that the other planets (including the Sun and the Moon, but not Uranus, Neptune or Pluto, as they were discovered much later) influence the people on Earth – not just their behavior, but also their appearance, their skills, their future, and the world in general.

2. isaslabe2med
Astrolabe (Source)

Quite the opposite can be said about the second image, which presents an Islamic 1309-1310 AD astrolabe. This can be considered an object that is in contrast of the previously presented blockbook, because an astrolabe was a very sophisticated instrument of locating and calculating the position of the planets, determining local time by given latitude and triangulation, among other things. It definitely was not made for laypersons, but for specialists who possessed advanced knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. The professional astrologer and astronomer (which back then was the same thing) would have considered this an essential tool for his practice.

My new book, Ten Seconds, is now out and ready for you to read it (a collection of ten stories, of which two have appeared on this blog, while the other eight are brand new).

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Further reading:

You can find out more about the book and about this topic on the website: http://www.billyandcharlie.com/planets/

About astrolabes: http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/starry/isaslabe.html and http://www.astrolabes.org/.

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