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What did the astrologers record?

Forman, Napier and their associates recorded cases one after another. These were working notes, produced on the spot, not digested for posterity. Their casebooks contain a chronological series of records, with gaps when they were away from their consulting rooms, digression into portable volumes, and lapses of orderliness.

Most entries followed the same general format. First the astrologer wrote the patient’s name, sometimes in a larger or more distinct script. If the question was asked by a querent on behalf of a patient, their relationship might be recorded. Many cases note whether the consultation was in person or by messenger. The patient’s age and sometimes marital status, address or occupation were often included.

Forman and Napier privileged a form of astrology that depended on the moment of the encounter, known as horary astrology. They duly noted the date and time of most of their consultations.

A question initiated each encounter. What is my disease? Will my wife become fruitful? Where is my dog? The variety of questions that the astrologers were asked and the ways in which they recorded them are discussed in What questions did they ask?

Below this initial cluster of information, the astrologer drew a horoscope, what he called a ‘figure’ and what we call an ’astrological chart’ or simply ‘chart’, of the planetary positions at that moment. Sometimes he included details about the question asked or later added details of the outcome of the case in the middle of the chart.

A judgment often, but not always, followed, based on the astrologers’ interpretation of the stars and other observed and reported signs.

Some cases included details about treatments, payments (including payments in kind) or other information.

While most cases followed this general format, each encounter between an astrologer and his client was particular. The sequence of the words; insertions, corrections and deletions; and speed and steadiness of the hand all carry meaning about the exchange that produced these records. Moreover, the details that the astrologers did not record — most notably whether the consultation took place face-to-face in his study and who asked questions on behalf of children — present challenges for interpreting many cases.

What’s in this edition? describes the intricacies of the astrologers’ record-keeping habits.

Cite this as: Lauren Kassell, Michael Hawkins, Robert Ralley, and John Young, ‘What did the astrologers record?’, A Critical Introduction to the Casebooks of Simon Forman and Richard Napier, 1596–1634, https://casebooks.lib.cam.ac.uk/reading-the-casebooks/what-was-a-consultation/what-did-the-astrologers-record, accessed 16 October 2018.