Astrological References and Background

I have used the sources below for the astrological material on this website. This is not intended to be a complete bibliography or introduction to astrology - I am neither an astrologer nor an expert on the subject. Most of the material on the website is comprehensible without a knowledge of the technicalities of astrology, but it was an important part of Gilbert's thought so has to be tackled. Gilbert claimed to be a practitioner of what he called ‘macrocosmal astrology’, which I take to mean the use of astrology more as a tool for enlightenment than for the purpose of practical prediction etc. Astrology is as important a cultural inheritance as the four humours, the four elements and alchemy, all of which are recognised as part of a rich symbolic language that underlies our imagination and has passed into art and literature.

Web sources - a practitioner of a form of astrological magic that sounds very like Gilbert's. In addition to generous online material the site sells facsimile editions and e-texts of many books (such as Lilly's Christian Astrology) that were still in use in the late eighteenth century, and the respect shown for these old texts and for historical accuracy makes it a very useful resource. - can be used to get a chart (or figure) for any date time and place. I compared astronomical data for the eighteenth century from this source with data from ephemeris tables published at that time such as John Partridge's Merlinus Liberatus, and Parker's Ephemeris and both with figures cast by Gilbert - e.g. Pitt's natal chart and the solar eclipse of 4 June 1788. They are close to within a degree or so. - provides ephemeris tables going back to 600 BCE. As above I have found the tables to be consistent with data used by astrologers in the eighteenth century. gives a comprehensive dictionary of astrological terms.


Modern introductions:

J C Eade The Forgotten Sky: a Guide to Astrology in English Literature, (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1984)
The first 103 pages provide a clear but comprehensive introduction to the technicalities of traditional astrology, with worked examples of how rules were applied . This is an excellent handbook but it needs to be supplemented with a book providing guidance on the significance of each sign of the zodiac and each planet.

Jeff Mayo, Teach Yourself Astrology (1964) (Or other basic primer)
There are many primers on the market: this one is listed because it happens to be the one I have used; although long out-of-print, is still available 2nd hand. Any decent primer should serve the same purpose. What must be borne in mind is that modern astrology differs from the astrology of the eighteenth century. Modern astrology interprets planets as psychological drives, and traditional rules, such as planets’ detriment, exaltation or fall when placed in specific signs, don't make sense within this psychological interpretation, and are consequently rejected as absurd.

Modern histories covering eighteenth-century astrology in England:

Patrick Curry, Prophecy and Power: Astrology in Early Modern England, (1989)
An excellent historical survey. It is pitched politically and explores astrology as a cultural phenomenon, showing how interest peaked in England during the two revolutionary eras of the mid seventeenth and late eighteenth centuries. He covers the material well and with sympathy.

Ellic Howe, Astrology and the 3rd Reich: A historical study of astrological beliefs in Western Europe since 1700 and in Hitler's Germany 1933-45 (1984)
First published under the title Urania's Children. It's a lot better than the title suggests.

Susan Mitchell Sommers,The Siblys of London: a Family on the Esoteric Fringes of Georgian England
A thorough and comprehensive account of Ebenezer Sibly – the most well-known astrologer of Gilbert's time – and the other members of the Sibly family. This overturns many myths, and uncovers a rich quantity of archival material to give the first reliable picture of Sibly as quack doctor, plagiarist, con-man and astrologer.

Primary astrological works

Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy.
Quoted (from a Latin edition) as an astrological authority by Gilbert. See esoteric archives for an e-text. For a well-annotated modern edition see Donald Tyson ed. which prints a modernised version of the 1651 translation by James Freake (Llewellyn's Sourcebook Series, 2005).

The Conjuror’s Magazine - ‘Directions in the pursuit of astrology’.
This reading list provided in the Conjuror's Magazine for would-be astrologers, is the best possible guide to late eighteenth-century views on which authors were authoritative April 1792, p.368. These are all seventeenth-century astrologers; no eighteenth-century astrologers are recommended.

William Lilly, Christian Astrology, ed. David R. Roell, 2 vols.( Bel Air: Astrology Classics, 2004; first pub. 1647).
Lilly was one of the leading seventeenth-century astrologers; Gilbert calls him ‘the great Lilly’ and he is one of the approved astrologers listed in the Conjuror’s Magazine's ‘Directions’.

Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos [also known as Quadripartite] Tr. F. E. Robbins (Loeb Classical Library, 1940 repr. 1998)
CM (Dec 1791, p.161) in a short profile ‘Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek Astronomer’ describes him thus: ‘though the principles on which his system was founded, has been found to be erroneous, his works will always be valuable, on account of the number of ancient observations they obtain.’ Extracts from John Whalley's reviled 1701 translation were printed in CM starting January 1793.

Ebenezer Sibly, A New and Complete Illustration of the Celestial Science of Astrology (1784-1788)
This multi-part bibliographer's nightmare - see English Short Title Catalogue (British Library) - went through several editions and titles. A full and apparently consecutive 4 volume facsimile set An Illustration of the Celestial Science of Astrology [etc.], whose title pages range from 1798 to 1826, can be bought from Kessinger Publishing. (The volume in their catalogue which has no part number in the title is Part 2 of Part 2, and the final volume called Part 3 includes Part 4). I have compared this with the edition in the Wellcome Library, London. The page numbers remain consistent but the text has been amended in places.

Note on Ebenezer Sibly  

As an astrologer contemporary to Gilbert, Sibly’s book is clearly important background, and the CM’s disparagement of him and his book (see below) may not be objective. Marsha Keith Schuchard's account of Sibly in ‘Rediscovering William Gilbert’ needs correcting on the following three points: