Fantastic Symbols and How to Use Them

Gala Pouzanov

People are superstitious. We believe that black cats cause bad luck or that objects in the sky can control our destinies. Medieval people were much the same: they observed nature and they read meaning from the patterns they observed. Science, myth, and religion were mixed up and natural history was acceptable only through religious interpretation.

Nowadays, while some people take their horoscope very seriously, most of us enjoy reading about it with a healthy dose of scepticism. Couples might compare star signs but are unlikely to split up if they find themselves incompatible. You might read your horoscope in the newspaper or online but you probably won’t decide to fork out for a yoga retreat just because your sign is in the right mansion of the moon. In medieval times, however, things were quite different…

The phases of the moon were believed to affect the body, and doctors would actually use horoscopes to calculate good and bad times for surgery. Medieval doctors came in three types: 

 
 

Physicians who studied anatomy, or Classical medicine. 

Leeches who were not trained in universities but might have had a couple of books… 

Barber-surgeons, which is as bad as it sounds. These medieval Sweeney Todds performed basic surgery but were unlikely to have studied seriously at any point. It is believed that after monks were banned from performing surgery, the barbers took over because they were skilled with sharp blades, which still can’t have been very reassuring to anyone going under the knife. 

 
 

Unnervingly, all three kinds of doctor would probably have used these zodaic books, called lunaries, in order to determine the best time for letting blood or cutting into various parts of the body. 

These lunaries frequently had accompanying illustrations, which could help a doctor quickly check which parts of the body were ruled by different signs. The image of the zodiac man had each sign drawn over the part it rules, such as Pisces for the feet or Gemini for the arms. If the moon was in Gemini, you would not want to do anything near the arms because the sign would interfere.

Other lunaries discussed daily life, much like modern horoscopes. We can make some guesses about the people who used these texts from the material in them. The Ashmole 396 manuscript suggests good and bad days of the lunar month for marrying, travelling, buying and selling goods or servants, going hunting, starting a war, or talking to nobles. This is unlikely to have been useful if you were a peasant or a farmer, so we can guess that the reader would have been a nobleman. However, when we calculate which topics are mentioned most frequently, it looks like the newly-formed merchant (or working) class were interested in these texts, since travelling, buying and selling, medicine, and building appear most. This suggests that horoscope-style predictions were popular across a wide range of people. 

What do you think a lunary would have said about you? Try out our medieval horoscope for some practical life advice straight out of 1399.

 
 

Your Medieval Lunar Horoscope

Disclaimer: Don’t take any of this advice and come crying to me. Even medieval folks weren’t entirely convinced by this stuff.

 

🐑

Aries

This hot, fiery, masculine sign wants you to get your oven heated up. Also, put your beasts out to pasture, where they belong, and avoid buying servants - since they’ll be dishonest, disobedient, or fugitive.

 

🐮

Taurus

A good time awaits you in the garden: sow seeds, plant trees, build manors...found castles...oh, and get yourself a wife while you’re at it. Go hunting, but don’t wear any new clothes. Dig some conduits.

 

👯

Gemini

Not the best time to break your arm. Or cut your hair. Or borrow things. Or send messages. If you wear your new outfit, you’ll wreck it. Try reconciling differences with a friend instead.

 

🦀

Cancer

If you get sick under the sign of the crab, you will die. Any weddings at this time are also, kinda, doomed to fail. Instead, why don’t you do something wholesome like starting a war, or fishing?

 

🦁

Leo

A time to speak to kings and princes, if you know any. Exchange your gold, build a house, but by no means should you have any chest or heart operations. Release no prisoners, but take all you like.

 

💃

Virgo

A growing, fertile time: get out into the garden! This is the time to do anything that you want to be doubled. A good time to marry a corrupt woman but bad to marry a maid. If you’re imprisoned, it’ll end well.

 

Libra

Go west! Sell up your merchandise and start all those things you want to have an ending: parties, projects, the works. Avoid getting anything done to your genitals - no surgery, no medicines, no creams.

 

🦂

Scorpio

If you sicken in Scorpio, get ready for a long time in bed. But it’ll clear up like lightning in the end. Don’t start any work, don’t take any long trips, don’t climb walls or trees, and still keep away from your genitals.

 

🐴

Sagittarius

This sign rules your buttocks and thighs, meaning that it’s time to start battles, travel east, and get fishing. Think about bathing and cutting your hair and keep away from your garden. Buy some livestock, too.

 

🐐

Capricorn

Get back in the garden and feel free to head south, but not north if you’re sailing anywhere. It’s time to start doing those things you want wrapped up quickly, but don’t start any battles - save it for Cancer.

 

🏊

Aquarius

Don’t get sick - you will die. Straight up. Instead, consider fun activities like buying black things or delivering that baby you’ve been carrying. Besiege a town or chase an enemy. Buy some servants. Fun stuff.

 

🐟

Pisces

If you have to get sick, do it in Pisces - best time for it. Totally safe. Also, build a water mill and make some new friends. But don’t lend or borrow any money, or get captured: you won’t get out.

 

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