Medieval Occupations and Jobs: Astrologer.

Many medieval Astrologers were highly respected scholars who believed that the movements of the stars had an influence on numerous things on earth, such as the weather and the growth of crops, and even the inner workings of the human body.

Learned astrologers had to be experts in mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and often medicine. For example, it was common for doctors to actually consult star chart calendars before making a diagnosis. 

Astrology originated in antiquity, with the Babylonians developing their own form of horoscopes around 2,400 years ago.

History of Astrologers

Early evidence from bones markings and cave walls show that lunar cycles were being noted as early as 25,000 years ago. With the advent of the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic, the changes in the skies depending on the seasons accompanied an increasing knowledge of constellations, which allowed the rising of particular star-groups to herald annual floods or seasonal activities.

Celestial divination is generally reported to begin with late Old Babylonian texts and then spreading to the eastern Mediterranean, to become popular in Egypt and Greece. The conquest of Asia by Alexander the Great exposed the Greeks to the cultures and cosmological ideas of Syria, Babylon, Persia and central Asia. 

Astrology’s development in Europe was then primarily advanced by individuals working within the Islamic Empire from the 7th to 13th centuries and transmitted back to Europe around the 11th century. The planets were a visible manifestation of the gods, and priests were usually their interpreters. 

In Britain, King Alfred the Great had translated the works of Boethius, a 6th-century consul in Rome. His book “The Consolation of Philosophy” argued that the movements of the planets derived from the immortal will of Providence, and that ‘the celestial movement of the stars’ translated that will into earthly events. This meant that astrological theory could be applied to absolutely every facet of human life.

History of the abbots of St Albans, 14th Century.
Astrologer-astronomer Richard of Wallingford is shown measuring an equatorium with a pair of compasses in this 14th-century work. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Astronomy and Medicine

Medical practitioners regarded different signs of the zodiac and planets as having governance over different parts of the body, which meant they could control different diseases and affect the usefulness of different drugs and treatments. Bleeding, for example, was considered most effective when the moon was in a particular constellation.

Medical practitioners from the Middle Ages saw the solar system being made up of seven planets, which included the sun and moon (as well as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn., which could be seen with the naked eye).

The planets were closely linked to body parts and diseases. For example:

  • Sun: Heart; spine disorders, diseases of expansion and excess.
  • Moon: Ovaries; menstrual and mammary complaints, and fluid retention.
  • Mercury: Brain, nerves; tremors, neuroses and insanity.
  • Venus: Kidneys, digestive system, reproduction system, urinary problems and digestive disorders.
  • Mars: Arteries, muscles, reproduction system, teeth, nails and hair; cuts, injuries, bruises and inflammations.
  • Jupiter: Liver; liver disorders, diseases of expansion and excess.
  • Saturn: Veins, skin, bones and skeleton; diseases of decline, collapse, wasting, blockages and poisoning.

The features that characterise the diseases or organs resonate with the features of the planets which rule them – for example  redness and heat is ruled by Mars.

These underlying logical patterns were also used in treatments, where the shape, colour, taste and texture of the herbs and ingredients were believed to determine their medicinal virtues. Yellow flowering plants were used for liver complaints, while red and peppery herbs were considered good for fevers and haemorrhages. This was often referred to as the “doctrine of correspondences“, a system that assumed that the Almighty had inscribed in the plants of the earth secret signs and features that could be interpreted by Man.

A Zodiac illustration from a medical almanac, 1399. The man’s pointing finger serves as a warning against the powerful forces of the stars.
A Zodiac illustration from a medical almanac, 1399. The man’s pointing finger serves as a warning against the powerful forces of the stars. Source: British Library.

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