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William Lilly and His Book Christian Astrology

William Lilly and His Book Christian Astrology

Episode 221 of the podcast features an interview with Nina Gryphon about the famous 17th century astrologer William Lilly and his book Christian Astrology.

Lilly published Christian Astrology in 1647, and it was the first major textbook on astrology that was written in English. Most western astrological texts were written in Latin up until that point in history.

The book has had a deep and enduring impact on astrology in the west over the past few centuries since it was published, and Lilly is usually regarded as one of the most influential figures in the western astrological tradition.

Nina has been studying Lilly’s work for the past two decades, and in this episode we provide a detailed overview of his life and work.

For more information about Nina check out her website NinaGryphon.com

This episode is available in both audio and video versions. You will find links to each at the bottom of the page, just after the episode outline and gallery.

Episode Outline and Show Notes

Here is an outline of the main points we touched on in this episode. This is an edited version of our show notes, which Chris and Nina collaborated on before recording the episode.

  • William Lilly (1602-1681).
  • One of the most prominent and influential astrologers of the 17th century.
  • Worked as a practicing and consulting astrologer in London most of his adult life.
    • Doing many consultations per day, for rich and poor, as evidenced by casebooks.
  • Wrote the first major English language textbook on astrology.
    • Christian Astrology was first published in 1647.
    • Important because in England prior to this, astrological literature was in Latin.
      • Inaccessible to all but a small minority with a classical education.
    • Only prior English text was a short treatise on medical astrology.
      • Miscellaneous almanacs or predictive texts.
    • Inspired a number of key astrological writers to write in English:
      • Nicolas Culpeper, John Gadbury, William Ramesey, Joseph Blagrave, etc.
    • Also translated Anima Astrologiae: A Guide for Astrologers (1676).
    • Continued to be highly influential after his death, in various forms.
  • Was involved in publishing almanacs; publishing 36 (16471682).
    • He was easily the best-selling almanac writer of his time in England.
    • Selling more than 30,000 almanacs each year.
    • Almanacs contained weather predictions, political predictions for England and elsewhere, and some astrological text for instruction.
    • Perhaps his most famous prediction was that of the Great Fire of London of 1666.
  • Was involved in the politics of his day.
    • Strongly pro-parliament/anti-monarchist, though consulted with powerful people in both camps, going as far as advising Jane Whorwood, one of the King’s confidants, in helping the King make his escape from the locations where held by Parliamentary forces (King did not listen).
    • Employed as propagandist via his almanacs, leaflets, and other publications, in an astrological context.
      • Always a question of how much he honestly saw astrologically, and how much was propaganda favoring the Parliament’s cause.
  • Christian Astrology: scope and contents
    • Divided into three books.
      • Book 1: Basics of astrology
      • Book 2: Horary astrology questions
      • Book 3: Natal astrology
    • Teaches horary before natal.
    • Stronger for horary than natal?
  • Brings together a bunch of different sources that were available to him.
    • Extensive bibliography included in Christian Astrology, reflecting his own sizeable astrology library, as well as that of others.
    • Bibliography notable for including virtually all books printed in Europe before 1640.
    • After his death, library, casebooks, portrait were bought by Elias Ashmole for 50 pounds, and was incorporated into the Ashmolean Museum collection at Oxford.
    • Drew on Hellenistic, Medieval, and Renaissance sources.
      • Created a synthesis.
    • Who were some of his primary sources?
      • Ptolemy, Naibod, Bonatti, Cardano.
    • He will sometimes state the tradition, but then give his own opinion.
      • He does this with his own unique take on the nodes, for example.
    • Had a tendency to side with Ptolemy when there were conflicts in tradition.
      • Uses Ptolemy’s terms, triplicity rulers, Lot of Fortune calculation, etc.
      • Part of a “back to Ptolemy movement” of sorts, which was a broader theme in Renaissance astrology.
      • Tensions between recovering the supposed classical tradition represented by Ptolemy, versus the system that had been inherited from the Arabic astrologers, which included horary and magic, both of which are absent in Ptolemy. The Arabic astrologers also had more advanced mundane techniques like the Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions.
  • Life story, largely derived from his autobiography William Lilly’s History of His Life and Times (1681).
    • He was born May 11, 1602, 2:07 AM.
      • 3 Pisces rising, according to his own rectification, and publication by Gadbury.
      • William Lilly’s birth chart, using Regiomontanus houses (note that we mistakenly used Alcabitius houses in the recording).
    • Grew up son of a relatively prosperous peasant in Lincolnshire.
    • Received very strong classical education, with a particular focus on (reflecting his native talent in) Latin, which later would serve him well in his astrological studies.
    • Could not attend university, so at age 18, went to serve as a secretary and assistant to an illiterate but wealthy household manager for the nobility in London.
    • The master’s wife died, he remarried, then the master himself died, and Lilly married his employer’s second wife.
    • His first marriage and his wife’s eventual death allowed him the means to study astrology, which he said he studied day and night for two years, so engrossed was he in the topic.
    • He was always deeply interested in astrology and magic, and his autobiography gives many personality sketches of the London occultists with whom he came into contact, some of the astrological and magical feats they performed.
    • The English Civil War occurred and William Lilly was very involved in the Parliamentary side as a propagandist.
    • Many of the example horaries in Christian Astrology and other works are political in nature from the war era, with querents on both sides of the conflict asking about current events and possible future developments.
    • Remarried twice more, and the third time it was not a rich widow, but someone he was much happier with. He had no children. Mars in Virgo in the 7th house.
    • Eventually, as monarchy was restored, Lilly found it best to keep a low profile. There were too many published writings and charts where his anti-monarchist leanings were all too clear, including a published horary on whether Charles I would be executed. He was arrested but was helped by influential friends both times.
    • He retired to the country, where he practiced astrology and medicine until his death.
  • The later transmission of Lilly.
    • Zadkiel edition transmitted, but it was altered and abridged. Published in 1835, then 1852, when it was combined with other works in a so-called Bonn edition, and this later edition continued to be republished into the 1980s.
    • In addition to Zadkiel, a number of other authors borrowed uncredited from Lilly. Many 19th century astrology manuals will cite him word for word.
  • Original edition of Christian Astrology (not Zadkiel’s version) was not widely available until Regulus edition in 1985; first true and complete edition since 1659.
  • First edition of Christian Astrology versus second edition.
    • Lilly published a revised second edition 12 years after the first.
    • First edition: 1647; second edition: 1659.
    • Some minor corrections between 1st and 2nd eds.
    • The publishers are different, but no major material changes.
  • Resources for further research on William Lilly:

Gallery of Images

Some pictures of Chris’ copy of the first edition of Christian Astrology:

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A full transcript of this episode is available: Episode 221 transcript

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  • What a feast that was, thank you both very much. I began learning horory via Derek Appleby and then Maurice McCann whose attitude was “question everything and throw out hat doesn’t work” he challenged received notions of what Lilly was saying in a way probably Lilly would have agreed with. When the “new” edition of Christian Astrology was sent to me in the early 2000, it felt like gold dust. I seem to remember a very useful horary book by Karen Hamaker also.

  • Another excellent podcast Chris with many thanks to Nina Gryphon for her very eloquent and erudite input.
    On the subject of the first astrological text in vernacular English the earliest I am aware of dates back to 1496. It is part of the Schoenberg collection of manuscripts and was entitled: Introduction to ”Astrology and Its Use in Weather Prediction, Medicine, and Agriculture. ” Information on it can be found here:
    It can be viewed here:
    Although it is in vernacular English it is not modern English. It appears to a kind of mid point between Middle English and Modern English.

    I wouldn’t want to diminish the historical influence of Lilly’s Christian Astrology appearing in 1647. However, to be pedantic it is was not the first significant astrological text to appear in English. That credit belongs to Claude Dariot’s L’introduction au Judgement des Astres (Introduction to the Judgement of The Stars). This was a treatise on horary and electional astrology, first published in Latin in 1557. A French translation appeared the following year, in 1558. The English translation first appeared in 1583 but excluded Dariot’s treatise on medical astrology that was a part of the original Latin edition. Thus Dariot’s work predated William Lilly’s ‘Christian Astrology’ as an astrological treatise written in English by 64 years. On the other hand I believe Dariot’s text was only 97 pages so not as comprehensive a work. Christian Astrology also has the distinction of being the first substantive astrological book in vernacular English written by an English speaking astrologer.

  • Lilly used Regiomontanus houses, not Alcabitius as mentioned in the discussion.

    His appearance in relation to the Great Fire prediction was in front of a Committee of the House of Commons investigating a suspected conspiracy, not a normal court, not was he imprisoned for the suspected involvement. It was rather like being called in front of the House of Representatives Committee on Impeaching President Trump. There was, of course, a risk that the House of Commons would lay charges against him and he would be tried under the laws on Treason. But luckily for him, it never got that far. There’s a detailed discussion of the case by Peter Stockinger at


    Those excepted this was a first class Podcast. It was Deborah Houlding and Anthony Louis that got me interested in Lilly and I have the Ascella version you mention in the Podcast. The beginning of my journey into the Tradition.

    • Yeah, I think Nina and I were both just having a temporary brain freeze or something with the house division mistake, since it is well known and frequently discussed that Lilly used Regio, and I tried to correct this in the show notes above when I released the episode. You can tell in the episode when I asked her again that I knew something was wrong, but was just drawing a blank on the correct answer at the time for some weird reason.

  • Lilly was a tireless self-promoter. The best way to learn how he was really seen in Britain is to read Keith Thomas’s RELIGION & THE DECLINE OF MAGIC. Thomas covers Lilly, Partridge, Gadbury, and the rest. It’s eye-opening if your only exposure to these names has been through the websites of sympathetic astrologers.

    Mackay writes tellingly of Lilly’s appearance before a Parliamentary Committee in the aftermath of the London fire, in EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS AND THE MADNESS OF CROWDS:

    “After the great fire of London, which Lilly said he had foretold, he was
    sent for by the committee of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into the causes of the calamity. …. Lilly attended accordingly, when Sir Robert Brook told him the reason of his summons, and called upon him to declare what he knew. This was a rare opportunity for the vainglorious Lilly to vaunt his abilities; and he began a long speech in praise of himself and his pretended science. He said that, after the execution of Charles I, he was extremely desirous to know what might from that time forth happen to the Parliament and to the nation in general. He therefore consulted the stars, and satisfied himself. The result of his judgment he put into emblems and hieroglyphics,
    without any commentary, so that the true meaning might be concealed from the vulgar, and made manifest only to the wise; imitating in this the example of many wise philosophers who had done the like.

    “Did you foresee the year of the fire?” said a member. “No,” quoth Lilly,
    “nor was I desirous. Of that I made no scrutiny.” After some further
    parley, the House found they could make nothing of the astrologer, and
    dismissed him with great civility.”