Topics of consultations

Although the vast majority of issues raised by Forman’s and Napier’s clients related to medical problems, many other questions were brought to the consulting room too. Moreover, it was not unusual for a given consultation to cover two or more completely distinct topics. It is not always possible to state for certain precisely what a querent was asking about, but so far as possible the entries have been designated as belonging to one or more of the following categories. The aim has been to delineate categories as they were understood by patients and practitioners at the time rather than to translate them into modern parlance.

The search function permits users to exclude cases that feature no medical topic from the results.

The medical questions include a subcategory ‘Diseases of the mind’ for disorders that would now be considered wholly or primarily psychological. To avoid anachronism, we have so far as possible used contemporary terminology to describe these, particularly ‘passions’, which was used to refer to excessive or aberrant emotional or mental states.

See also Using our edition for the various types of astrological enquiry deployed by the practitioners, each of which could be applied to a range of topics.

In some entries, no question is recorded at all, merely the patient’s name and the date and time of the consultation (sometimes even less than that). In such cases, we have, where possible, inferred the nature of the question from the astrologer’s judgment or proposed treatment. In general, however, we have restricted ourselves to evidence found in the question section itself. Forman in particular frequently noted in his judgments whether or not a female patient was pregnant, for instance, or diagnosed witchcraft as the cause of a problem, without there being any evidence that pregnancy or witchcraft is what the patient had asked about, so such cases are not recorded as pregnancy or witchcraft questions.

Medical categories

Diseases of the Mind

Category Explanation
afflicted in mind Covering terms such as ‘disquieted’, ‘foolish’, ‘troubled in mind’, that denote mental disturbance short of outright insanity.
anxiety and melancholy Describing people who are melancholy, ‘mopish’, grief-stricken or despairing.
‘diz’ (passions) Entries in which the terms ‘diz’ or ‘disease’ are explicitly used in reference to mental disorder.
fits (passions) Mental disturbances explicitly described as ‘fits’.
hallucination Auditory or visual hallucinations, often referred to as ‘fancies’, ‘fantasies’ or (in Latin) ‘phantasii’.
head (passions) Entries in which the head is explicitly listed as the affected part but the disorder is mental rather than physical. (It is of course possible for the head to be affected in both senses at once, in which case both ‘head’ and ‘head (passions)’ will be listed as topics.)
impairment Loss of understanding, memory, speech or bodily control through non-physical causes.
lightheaded (passions) ‘Light-headed’ is a term frequently used by Napier to describe people not entirely in their right wits: its precise meaning (if it has one) is yet to be established.
lunatic Full-blown insanity, other typical terms being ‘frantic’, ‘mad’, ‘distracted’, ‘raging’, ‘raving’, ‘crazed’, ‘out of [his or her] wits’.
morbus (passions) Diseases of the passions explicitly designated by the Latin term ‘morbus’.
non-‘diz’ passions Unspecified mental disorders not described as ‘diz’, ‘disease’, ‘morbus’ or ‘sickness’.
recovery (passions) Whether or not someone will recover from a disorder explicitly described as being of a mental nature.
report (passions) Where the question consists of or includes a report of the effects of previous treatment for mental disorder.
sick at heart A term used formulaically by Napier to denote what might now be termed ‘depression’.
sickness (passions) Mental disorder explictly described as ‘sickness’.
strange affliction (passions) Mental disorders whose nature is described as ‘strange’; patients in these cases are most often described as ‘strangely taken’ or ‘strangely handled’. The strangeness of an illness was sometimes taken as an indication that it was the result of witchcraft.
tempted and suicidal The term ‘tempted by Satan’ almost always (and often explicitly) means ‘suicidal’, but some patients are described as being tempted to commit other sins such as murder. Thoughts of suicide were generally understood at the time as by definition of Satanic origin.
unspecified passions Entries that clearly relate to a mental issue, although none is specified in the question section.

General Medical

Category Explanation
alteration Formulaic term for enquiries about an ‘alteration’ in the patient’s condition.
bedridden Confined to bed through illness.
cause of the problem Cases where the querent has explicitly asked what has caused a medical disorder, as opposed to what to do about it.
childbirth (medical) Questions about medical problems suffered by women during the course of childbirth.
curable Whether or not the patient’s condition can be cured.
cured Whether or not the patient has fully recovered from or been cured of a given ailment.
disease Entries in which the practitioner explicitly records the issue as ‘disease’ (normally abbreviated by Forman as ‘diz’). The term covers a much wider range of ailments than ‘disease’ in the modern sense, including (for instance) toothache or a bad back. The vast majority of Forman’s medical entries fall into this category, suggesting that medical questions not so designated belonged to a different category in his mind. Napier uses this category much less frequently and tends to be more specific about the nature of medical problems.
life or death (medical) Whether or not the person being asked about is at death’s door.
medical counsel Entries in which the querent is recorded as having asked for advice or counsel of a medical nature.
mend or pair Forman’s formulaic term for questions about whether the person suffering the ailment will recover or grow worse.
morbus Latin for ‘disease’.
non-‘diz’ disease Unspecified ailments not categorised in the record as ‘disease’, ‘morbus’ or ‘sickness’, e.g. ‘illness’.
recipe Explicit requests for medical recipes.
recovery (‘mend or no’) Whether or not someone will recover from their ailment, not necessarily as a result of medical intervention. This is a distinct (though not always very clearly distinct) category from ‘life or death’ in that it is possible to carry an illness to the grave but to die of something else.
report Where the question consists of or includes a report of the effects of previous treatment.
requesting treatment Where someone explicitly requests treatment, either in general or of a particular nature.
sickness Entries in which the terms ‘sickness’, ‘sick’, ‘sickly’, ‘sickened’ etc. are used.
‘stat(e)’ or ‘stat(us)’ Forman’s formulaic term for questions about the progress of a given problem or its cure.
‘state of [his/her] body’ Another of Forman’s formulaic terms. Definition not entirely clear, but seems to refer to someone’s general physical wellbeing.
‘state of [his/her] disease’ Questions about the progress of an explicitly medical problem or its cure.
strange affliction Questions about problems whose nature is described as ‘strange’; patients in these cases are most often described as ‘strangely taken’ or ‘strangely handled’. The strangeness of an illness was sometimes taken as an indication that it was the result of witchcraft.
trauma Physical injury or wound.
treatment Questions posed (usually by the practitioner) about how and/or when a patient should be treated.
unidentified medical Questions that are clearly medical in nature but couched in terms that defy more precise definition.
unspecified medical Entries that clearly relate to a medical issue, although none is specified in the question section.
whether to be let blood Questions posed (in some cases by the practitioner) about the advisability of bloodletting as a treatment.

Named Illnesses

Category Explanation
aegilops Ulcer or fistula of the eye.
ague Malarial fever (but see also ‘new ague’).
apoplexy Stroke, or other sudden loss of sensation and motion.
asthma
cataract
cholerica passio Simultaneous, sudden and violent diarrhoea and vomiting.
colic Spasmodic abdominal pain.
dropsy Oedema (accumulation of watery fluid in any part of the body).
falling sickness Epilepsy.
gonorrhoea Used at the time to refer to a symptom (genital discharge) rather than a disease in its own right; frequently referred to as ‘running of the reins’.
gout
green sickness A wasting disease typically affecting relatively young women of post-puberal age, sometimes retrospectively diagnosed as chlorosis.
hypochondriac passion Stomach disorder.
jaundice
measles
migraine
morbus gallicus Syphilis, or venereal disease more generally.
new ague Napier’s term (he usually calls it ‘the new ague’) for an epidemic that appears to have broken out in Buckinghamshire in late 1598. It is unclear precisely what it was.
plague Bubonic plague.
planet-stricken Afflicted by a sudden infirmity attributed to the malign influence of a planet.
pleurisy
pox Any ailment characterised by pock-marks, often retrospectively diagnosed as either smallpox or venereal disease.
purples Purpura (eruption of purple spots on the skin).
sciatica
scrofula Tuberculosis of the lymph nodes in the neck. Often referred to as ‘Queen’s/King’s evil’ as it was supposedly curable by the touch of the monarch.
scurvy
squinsy Suppurative tonsilitis.
stone and strangury
surfeit An excess of one of the four bodily humours, frequently posited by Napier as the cause of a particular ailment.
took a cold
whites, the Vaginal discharge.

Parts of the Body

Category Explanation
ankles
anus Usually referred to in the records as ‘fundament’.
arms
back
bladder
bones
bowels Internal organs generally: not necessarily limited to intestines.
breasts
chest
ears
everywhere Entries in which patients are described as being afflicted ‘everywhere’, ‘all over’, ‘in all parts’, etc.
eyes
face
feet
fingers
flesh
genitalia
groin
guts
hands
head
heart
hips Including ‘huckbone(s)’ (hip bones).
joints
kidneys Usually referred to at the time as ‘reins’.
knees
legs
limbs
liver
loins
lungs
navel
nose
reins of the back The precise meaning of this term is unclear, but it does seem to be distinct from ‘reins’ in the sense of ‘kidneys’.
shoulders
side(s)
sinews
skin
spleen
stomach and belly
teeth
thighs
throat and mouth
torso
waist
womb Usually referred to as ‘mother’ or ‘matrix’.

Symptoms

Category Explanation
bad breath
bleeding
bloating and swelling
bruise Including congealed blood.
burning and inflamed
cannot speak
constipation
diarrhoea and bloody flux
dizzy and/or faint
dry and/or thirsty
eating and drinking problems
eye troubles Anything from bloodshot eyes to complete blindness.
fevers, chills and sweating
fits
gripings, gnawings and stitches
gross humours
hair loss
hearing problems
hernia, fistula and haemorrhoids
hiccups
itch
lame, numb or paralysed
lesions and abscesses
lumps
menstrual problems Questions about stopped, excessive, irregular or painful menstrual periods.
nausea and vomiting
non-lactation
pacing Used quite frequently by Napier as a symptom of mental disturbance or distress.
pain and pricking
respiratory problems
rheumy
sleep problems
spitting blood
stooped, bent or stiff
urinary problems
wasting
wind
worms

Non-medical categories

Health and Wellbeing

Category Explanation
alive or dead Whether someone is alive or dead at the time of asking. This is normally a subcategory of ‘absent person’ but sometimes refers to people whose whereabouts are known but whose condition is not.
childbirth Questions about the outcome of a pregnancy.
emotions Diary entries in which Napier records his own (often quite extreme) mood swings, accompanied by a star-chart. Where his elation or distress is explicitly ascribed to a religious experience or the failure of one to occur, these are categorised as ‘religious experience’ (q.v.), but records of his emotional state without any such explanation are placed under this heading.
fertility Questions about the possibility of someone begetting or bearing children (or any more children).
life or death Normally associated with a medical question, but sometimes relating to someone whose imminent death through non-medical causes (e.g. shipwreck or murder) is considered a possibility.
pregnancy Whether or not the person in question is pregnant.

Occult

Category Explanation
alchemy These questions are all put by Forman and concern his progress in the art of transmutation or propitious times for alchemical undertakings. Though Napier took an interest in chemical medicine, he explicitly disavowed any prowess or ambition in the field of transmutational alchemy.
devil Questions in which people are described as being involved with or speaking of Satan. This is distinct from people being tempted by Satan (to commit suicide or some other sin), which comes under ‘tempted and suicidal’ in the Diseases of the Mind category.
dreams Questions explicitly noted as having been inspired by a (prophetic) dream. In Forman’s case, such dreams are usually his own, but he sometimes took clients’ dreams into account when assessing their cases. This is not a category Napier uses.
fairy pinched Normally but not exclusively of children: suffering unexplained superficial injuries imputed to the influence of malign spirits. The term ‘fairy blasted’ is sometimes also used.
haunted Seeing or hearing ghosts or spirits.
sigils These questions concern the creation of ‘laminæ’ or ‘sigils’: rings, bracelets and the like marked with magical signs and produced under highly specified conditions. These objects were used to conjure or repel spirits, influence future events, or draw astral properties into the body.
witchcraft Supposedly preternatural attack or manipulation by a known or unknown person or agency. Unexplained conditions such as epilepsy, and unexplained events such as sleepwalking or the sudden death of animals, were frequently believed or at least suspected to be the effects of witchcraft or demonic possession.

Personal Affairs

Category Explanation
absent person Questions about the whereabouts and/or wellbeing of people absent from the querent for whatever reason.
character Entries in which the point at issue is someone’s character or personal qualities.
choice of employee Which of two or more applicants to employ, or whether or not to employ a given applicant.
clearing name These questions are all put by Napier, and are his attempts to ascertain whether or not a given person is guilty of some crime of which he or she has been accused but professes him or herself innocent.
controversies Disputes of any sort that do not clearly fall within the rubric of ‘legal matters’. This can cover anything from good-natured disagreements between friends to fisticuffs. This topic can be inferred based on remarks made in the judgment or event information (if it is, @evidence should be supplied).
conversation Questions about whether and/or when it would be propitious to discuss a topic with someone.
death Entries in which the person being asked about is known to be dead. It is seldom clear precisely what the question is in such entries, but in most cases cause of death seems the likeliest possibility.
fortune Questions of the ‘what will happen?’ variety where it is not clear what sort of thing is expected to happen.
friendship Questions about whether it is advisable to remain someone’s friend, or whether someone will remain a friend. There is an obvious overlap here with ‘marital prospects’ and ‘romantic relations’ questions, but where such relationships are not explicitly described as marital, romantic and/or sexual, they have been subsumed into this category.
gambling In the early days of his practice, Napier quite regularly drew up astrological charts to find out why he had won or (more often) lost at cards, dice or other games.
gifts Entries peculiar to Napier in which an astrological chart is accompanied solely by a report of someone’s having given him a present. It is far from clear exactly what he was trying to establish.
girl or boy Questions about the sex of an unborn child
how long someone will live Distinct from ‘life or death’ questions in that the person in question is not expected to die imminently.
journeys Whether and/or when it would be advisable to embark on a journey, or whether a proposed journey will be successful or profitable.
letters Whether and/or when it would be advisable to write or send a letter, on whatever subject.
mind reading Another category peculiar to the early days of Napier’s practice, in which he appears to have tested his astrological skills by reading the stars to divine what someone (occasionally himself) was thinking about at a given moment.
paternity Issues of uncertain or disputed fatherhood.
personal history Past events in the personal life of the individual being asked about.
pregnancy Whether or not the person in question is pregnant.
religious experience Napier regularly made cryptic and often emotionally intense notes, almost invariably in Latin, about having experienced divine grace at particular moments - or, conversely, about not having experienced it at particular moments when he had hoped or expected to. Many of these records are accompanied by star-charts, but what he hoped to learn from them remains decidedly opaque.
rumours Questions about whether or not a given rumour (usually involving the querent’s partner or associate) is true.
secret enemies Questions about whether the querent has secret enemies lying in wait for him or her. In some cases the enemies in question are not in fact very ‘secret’, being explicitly named in the consultation, but the term has been adopted since it is one that Forman uses himself in his Astrologicalle Judgmentes (where he spells it ‘secrete enimies’).
send Whether or not the querent should issue or respond to a summons (of either a legal or personal nature).
theology Diary entries in which Napier records having debated points of theology with acquaintances, where these are accompanied by a star-chart.
trust Whether or not a given person is to be trusted, either in general or some particular matter.
turba Forman’s idiosyncratic Latin term for impending trouble of a non-medical nature.
visits Whether the querent would be well advised to pay a visit or is likely to receive one, or questions about visits that have already taken place.
wardship or upbringing of children The advisability of particular courses of action connected with the bringing up of children (e.g. fostering, nursing, becoming godparent).
whether to help Questions posed by the practitioner about whether or not to help someone, medically or otherwise.
whether to practise A very few entries appear to constitute queries by the practitioner about the advisability of preparing or dispensing medicine at all at a given time. Such questions have not been categorised as ‘medical’ since no specific patient or medical issue is involved.
who will die first Which of two or more people will die first. A question most often posed by disgruntled spouses or people with an eye to an inheritance.

Sex, Romance and Marriage

Category Explanation
fidelity Questions about the sexual fidelity (past, present or future) of spouses or other partners.
marital prospects Whether someone should or will marry a given person; whether he/she should or will marry at all; which of two or more potential spouses to choose, or whether an already contracted marriage will turn out well.
marital relations Questions about the prospects for an impending marriage, the reuniting of separated spouses, the behaviour of one spouse towards another, and so forth.
romantic relations Anything (other than prospective marriage) concerning actual or prospective amatory and/or sexual relations between unmarried couples.
stalking Questions about the whereabouts and current doings of a given person, almost invariably one in whom the querent has a romantic and/or sexual interest.

Worldly Affairs

Category Explanation
absent ship A few consultations (usually by ship owners) concern the welfare or whereabouts of a ship as such, rather than any of the people on board it.
condition Questions about someone’s present or future prosperity and/or social standing.
current affairs Questions put (normally by the practitioner himself) about contemporary events, e.g. whether Spain is likely to invade England this year.
death and/or disease of animals These are usually questions about the cause of the problem (witchcraft or foul play?) rather than requests for the animal(s) to be treated.
finance and property Financial matters generally, including debts, wills, or the buying and selling of houses.
legal matters Questions concerning lawsuits or mentioning the actual or prospective intervention of legal authorities.
loss and theft Questions about the location of missing possessions and the likelihood of their recovery, or the identity and whereabouts of thieves.
occupation Should the client remain in or change his or her current employment?
preaching Questions relating to a priest’s duties.
preferment Gaining an advantage of some sort from an authority figure. This covers promotion, job offers, intervention in legal cases, and favours of any kind.
prison Questions about the likelihood of someone’s being sent to, or released from, prison.
punishment Diary notes recording episodes in which Napier punishes a servant.
residence Whether or not someone should, or will have to, move house.
treasure Questions about the existence and/or whereabouts of hidden treasure.
weather Diary entries by Napier in which an account of the day’s weather is accompanied by a star-chart.

Unknown

Category Explanation
unknown There are three reasons for the topic of a consultation to be classified as ‘unknown’. The relevant information may be lost through deletion or manuscript damage; there may have been no relevant information in the first place, or it may be stated in such cryptic terms that no one (yet) has managed to interpret it.

Document last modified: 16 December 2013

Cite this as: Casebooks Project (Topics of consultations), http://www.magicandmedicine.hps.cam.ac.uk/using-our-edition/topics-of-consultations, accessed 2017-04-30.