Introduction to the edition of The Astrologicalle Judgmentes of phisick and other Questions

MS Ashmole 363, f. 1r

MS Ashmole 363, f. 1r. Reproduced by permission of the Bodleian Libraries

From 1606 until some point between late 1609 and late 1611, Simon Forman composed a guide to astrological practice, ‘The Astrologicalle Judgmentes of phisick and other Questions’. This presented Forman’s explanation of his astrological practice and was compiled using excerpts from books he had read and what he referred to as ‘our experience’. It is punctuated with worked examples from his casebooks. Although it was clearly prepared for dissemination, its structure is occasionally inconsistent and it may have remained unfinished or been partially revised. Several guides to astrology written by Forman survive; the one presented here was begun on 16 September 1606 according to the work’s full title given in MS Ashmole 389, and it contains examples from the casebooks dating from as late as 1609. It offers an important insight into the casebooks of Forman and Napier (who learned the system from Forman) detailing, for instance, a typical consultation; the information they demanded from querents; and the features found in astrological figures and their significance. It illuminates Forman’s approach towards both his practice and his clients, and a technical context for understanding what the two astrologers recorded, what they decided, and why.

The work is intended for an astrologically literate reader, assuming an understanding of astrology and its technical vocabulary. It is devoted principally to a detailed study of the significance of the different regions of the astrological figure and the constellations and planets circling it. After an initial discussion of the significance of who was asking the question, the work is divided into twelve sections, each dealing with one of the twelve ‘houses’ of the astrological chart. A particular house might have significance for particular parts of the body, the illness and its cure, and the process of consultation itself: if a parent asked the astrologer about a sick child, the astrologer should concentrate on the fifth house, which could also in the right circumstances represent the liver, the ‘matrix’ (womb) and menstruation. The sixth house, on the other hand, provided an indication of what the illness was, its past and future course, its causes, and whether it was curable or if it would get better or worse. Moving through these houses, the signs of the zodiac also had particular significances: Aries, according to a figure at the beginning of the work, is ‘hote and drie engendreth thin yellow collor’, while Virgo is ‘Cold and drie engendreth melancoly som what thick’. Lastly, the planets had particular natures and significations, depending on where they were in the chart, in which signs and houses and in relation to each other. Mastering the complex relationships between these factors allowed the astrologer to come to a judgment about the patient’s problem and how it might be best dealt with.

We learn from Forman’s guide that the information to be gained was not restricted to answering what the querent asked, or to identifying the patient’s problem. It was also possible for the practitioner himself to find advice in the astrological figure. Analysing the figure could tell the practitioner ‘the time to administer to the sick’; it could give him information on whether ‘the partie hath taken Any phisick or Medison all redy or noe or wher [i.e. whether] phisick wilbe good for them or noe’. More narrowly focusing on the practitioner’s own interest, the figure could even reveal whether it was ‘Best to tak one in hand to Cuer him of his dizease or noe’, and at another point Forman details how studying the second house ‘showethe/ what profite and Commoditie, the phisisyon shal have by the sick person, And wher the Sick will pay him wel or noe’. Every aspect of the relationship between the querent and the practitioner was represented in the chart, as well as the state of the patient and the likely outcome of the disease.

Besides the medical, Forman provided instructions on topics ranging from finding a thief to the possibility of success in alchemy. Chapters and passages from the ‘Astrologicalle Judgmentes’ explain how one might find out ‘Of A shipp. wher she be taken or noe’; what to do ‘To Knowe where [i.e. whether] a man shall obtaine that dignitie or effecte, that he desireth or secketh whether it be Knighthood or Lordshipe or Bishopericke’; and sections bear titles such as ‘De Thesauro Abscondito’ (on hidden treasure), and ‘Howe many husbandes A woman shal have’.

Read The Astrologicalle Judgmentes of phisick and other Questions. Please note if using your browser’s ‘Find’ function to search or navigate within the text that the spellings are not standardised and are in many cases inconsistent.

Document last modified: 21 January 2016

Cite this as: Casebooks Project (Introduction to the edition of The Astrologicalle Judgmentes of phisick and other Questions), http://www.magicandmedicine.hps.cam.ac.uk/on-astrological-medicine/guides-to-astrology/astrologicalle-judgmentes/witnesses-dating, accessed 2017-02-25.