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England's Prophetic Merline: William Lilly

It takes a powerful chart to make any astrologer famous in his own lifetime, let alone in the fourth century after his death. William Lilly’s progress in 17th Century London society, from humble scribe to scholar and gentleman is revealed by Lagna lord Saturn in his 10th house. Saturn and Venus, the first and ninth rulers, form a classic Lakshmi Yoga across his angles, giving wealth and social protection for which, in his turbulent lifetime, Lilly had reason more than once to be grateful. He was the master of Horary, and an astrologer for the ages, and one wonders what he might have made of Jyotish.

His chart also contains the rare and highly auspicious Kalpadruma/ Parijarta Yoga, a series of stacked dispositors between the Rasi and navamsha charts. Each of these components must be strong: either exalted, own sign, angular or trinal. Saturn ruling the chart is disposited by angular Mars, which is ruled by angular Sun in the 4th house. Sun's navamsha dispositor in turn is Venus, in its own house in the Rasi 4th. This Yoga is said to give great power of wish fulfilment, and is found in the charts of many very wealthy or otherwise influential people.

Rahu in the 10th combined with Saturn shows great ambition, obsession even, in a strange and offbeat subject, and is ruled by Mars in the seventh. Lilly had moved to London as a young man and shortly after entering Rahu Mahadasha in 1627, boldly married the widow of his master Gilbert Wright, for whom he had worked as an amanuensis. Ellen Wright was several years older than he, and on her death in 1633 left Lilly one thousand pounds, an enormous sum for the time, which he invested in property. Jupiter in his Eighth house ruling the second and eleventh gives capital and revenue from an inheritance, and this security gave him crucial freedom to study.

William Lilly: 11th May 1602 (NS), 2:00am Diseworth, UK.

In fact, with Mars in his seventh house in mutual aspect with Saturn in the 10th, Lilly could be said to have made a career out of marriage. This aspect shows conflict between private passions and public ambition, and also his readiness to court controversy, however much his famous 'Epistle to the Student in Authority' advised against it. In the same Epistle, he says 'marry a wife of thine own', and he clearly lived by this admonition. After Ellen died, he immediately married Jane in 1634, whom he said was 'of the nature of Mars', and then twenty years later in 1655, Ruth, who was the best-suited of all his wives. Perhaps he had mellowed, or else his Navamsha 7th house Saturn (ruled by a debilitated Moon) had finally come into its own.

Rahu-Mercury period, 1634, also saw the start of Lilly's astrological studies, with Mercury ruling his 8th house of the occult and the 5th of intelligence and mantras. His first teacher was a Welshman named Evans with a shady past, who also taught spells and the summoning of spirits. Freed by Ellen Wright’s legacy, Lilly spent his early obsessive Rahu phase in twelve or eighteen hour days of studying, though his genius came not from great learning, which comprised a wide mixture of standard sources, or even from a technique that was frequently fudged to suit the exigencies of the moment. He was a natural diviner; visionary even, and his stationary retrograde Mercury in Aries in the third is like a concentrated beam of light as opposed to the flicker of a planet in regular motion. Lilly never philosophizes, but cuts straight to the heart of every question in a vivid, no-nonsense style.

Plaque mounted in 2003 on the site of Lilly's former house on The Strand

Rahu Mahadasha brings great desire, and often wealth and fame, but also an ethical dilemma: 'what profiteth a man to gain the whole world if he lose his soul'? It is also said that whatever comes in Rahu’s 18-year jurisdiction is taken away at its end, and that its ultimate lesson is to look within. By aged thirty-four (1636) Lilly’s Mercury had reached its full power and he wrote that he 'wearied' of magic and seemed to blame it for his becoming 'very much afflicted with the hypochondriack melancholy’. In the five year period covering the Rahu antardashas of successively Ketu, Venus and Sun, all in his natal fourth house, Lilly burned his grimoires and left London for the country.

Lilly's professional practice began at the start of Jupiter Mahadasha in 1642. He had returned to London and was soon judging up to two thousand horaries per year from his house on the Strand: Jupiter in the 8th shows occult arts, aspecting the other Moksha houses, 12th and 4th. In addition to a busy clientele and popular yearly almanac, Lilly also worked on Christian Astrology (1647), which would become the first astrological textbook written in English. He was media savvy, and today would certainly be a lively blogger and video poster. His political awareness is shown too in the title of his book, published in High Puritan England, which was a figleaf to cover its very non-Christian sources.

Lilly was a prominent Parliamentarian in the English Civil War then at its height, yet it was his nature never to turn away a paying Royalist client. Some accuse him being a Vicar of Bray character, trimming his sails to every wind, but in any event he certainly made enemies. Moon, the ruler of the sixth, sits in the eleventh, while eleventh lord Jupiter is in the eighth. He was involved in controversies with fellow astrologers John Gadbury and George Wharton (both Royalists) though his intercession on Wharton’s behalf at the end of the Civil War spared his former rival’s life. According to Parashara, Kalpadruma Yoga makes one warlike but merciful.

The Great Fire of 1666.

The tables were turned on the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, which coincided with the start of Lilly’s Saturn Mahadasha. This was a dangerous period for those who had publicly opposed the Monarchy. Tenth house Saturn's rulership of his 12th brought several brushes with the authorities during its period, and he was summoned by Parliament to face the music, fined and imprisoned more than once. Most notably in 1666 he was hauled before a Committee investigating the Great Fire of London, which Lilly had appeared to predict in a famous engraving in 1652. This time, in his stellar Saturn-Venus period, his own friends at court such as Elias Ashmole spoke up for him.

Despite being in his lagna ruler’s period Lilly's astrological practice declined in Saturn’s time. The political climate had changed and he could not keep up his former pace. He left London again, became the Church Warden at Walton on Thames, and professionally grew more involved with medicine. Though Christian Astrology’s title seems politically motivated, there is little doubt Lilly was a sincere and observant Anglican. His ‘Epistle’ at the start of the book is conventionally Christian in tone, but could equally have been written by an Indian Yogi. His mention of 'subjecting his will to the unreasonable part', echoes his own restless, contentious, Mars-Saturn aspect, and elsewhere, he says 'the more holy thou art, and more neer to God, the purer judgment thou shalt give'.

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