Medieval Astrology was taken very seriously.
Although some Medieval astrologers were thought to be magicians, many were highly respected scholars.
Astrologers believed that the movements of the stars influenced everything from the weather and crops to the personalities of new-born babies and the human body.
The Psalter of Lambert le Bègue, from 1265, contains a cycle of calendar pages, depicting typical activities for that month.
Each labor of the month has its own very modern-looking star sign.
A Medieval doctor would be very aware that a person born under a Moon sign, for example, might be prone to worry, or even lunacy.
People born under the ‘lucky’ sign of Sagittarius were apt to have more sunny dispositions.
Medieval Astrology – By law, doctors checked the moons position
Ancient studies of astrology were translated from Arabic into Latin in the 12th and 13th centuries and soon became a part of everyday medical practice in Europe.
A medieval doctor had three main diagnostic tools : uroscopy, pulse and astrology.
As each planet ruled a different part of a year, each sign also ruled a different part of the human anatomy : Aries ruled the head, Pisces ruled the toes and feet.
By the end of the 1500s, physicians across Europe were required by law to calculate the position of the moon before carrying out complicated medical procedures, such as surgery or bleeding!
Doctors often carried around special calendars containing illustrated star charts, allowing them to check the positions of the stars when the patient became ill.
These diagrams instructed doctors and barber-surgeons whether it was safe to bleed a patient or to perform surgery.
The above diagram is known as the ‘zodiac man’ superimposed the appropriate star sign onto body parts.
A circular wheel marked with astrological data and equipped with a moving pointer (a volvelle) allows the physician to align data according to the position of the sun and moon.
If the moon was in the sign of the body part in question, better not go ahead.
In 1492, one William Forrest was injured in his hand when the moon had been “dark and in a bloody sign” of Aquarius.
Three Barger-surgeons were exonerated from failing to save the hand because “malevolent constellation” at the time of the injury!
Medieval Astrology – doctors had to pass an exam in astrology
Astrology was by now so integral a part of medicine that it was not to be possible to disentangle the two for many centuries.
Until the 18th century it was still impossible to qualify as a doctor at some universities unless you had passed an examination in astrology!
Medieval Astrology and Diseases
Diseases associated with the zodiac signs are :
- Aries : Headaches, fevers, neuralgia, eye troubles, eruptions and inflammations, wounds and accidents.
- Taurus : Diseases which particularly attack the throat.
- Gemini (n): Bronchial complaints, consumption, nerve diseases, pneumonia and pleurisy, asthma and anaemia.
- Cancer : Affections of the digestion.
- Leo : Heart trouble, poor circulation and similar troubles
- Virgo : Digestive troubles and complaints to do with intestines generally.
- Libra : Kidney affections and afflictions to the spine.
- Scorpio : Diseases of the organs of reproduction, bladder, gall, colon and rectum.
- Sagittarius : Gout, rheumatism, sciatica, accidents.
- Capricorn : Skin complaints and diseases affecting the parts of the Sign.
- Aquarius : Accidents to the ankles and complaints affecting that part of the body; varicose veins, blood poisoning and some nervous diseases.
- Pisces : Influenza, colds, diseases accompanied by mucous discharges and similar complaints.
Medieval Astrology – Panic of 1186
Most Europeans were thrown into a panic by the conjunction of planets in Libra announced for 1186.
Astrologers predicted disastrous storms (Libra is an ‘air’ sign).
Believers dug underground shelters and services were held in many churches in an attempt to persuade the Creator to overrule the planets.
As it happened, September was a mild and unexceptional month, and astrologers were forced to admit that they had been mistaken.
The conjunction did not provoke storms at all – instead, it caused the victories of Saladin in the Holy Land in the following year!
Medieval Astrology – Royalty
William the Conqueror may have had his own astrologer, who set the time for his coronation (midday on Christmas Day, 1066).
Astrologers claim that this was a particularly auspicious moment, unlikely to have been chosen at random, and take it as the moment for which to set up a general ‘horoscope’ for England.
Frederick II (1194 – 1250) seems to have employed a number of astrologers.
He decided to set him a test for a prospective royal astrologer, and asked, ‘By what gate shall I leave the castle today?’ The astrologer wrote his reply, sealed it, and told the Emperor not to open it until he was outside the castle.
Frederick thereupon ordered a new exit to be made in the walls, and left through the roughly cut hole. Opening the sealed message, he read: ‘The king will leave today by a new way.’
The astrologer was hired on the spot.
Medieval Astrology – Everyday Astrology
His notebook shows us that engagement with astrology in 15th-century England was not confined to royalty or the wealthy.
Clients visited astrologers at home, where they revealed intimate problems of pregnancy and domestic crises, queries relating to business, fears of the outbreak of war and quests for treasure.
Two horoscopes he predicted for “The Abbot” are concerned with the theft of a gold cup.
Trewythian was able to describe the thief for his client :
“He is of a ruddy complexion with greasy brown hair and often has red pimples on his face. He had a scanty beard and small eyes; his body is coarse and crooked. He is a sower of weeds and disscord among men”
Unfortunately, the astrologer doesn’t think the gold cup will be recovered
Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.