The Noble Art of Horary

1643. The British Isles (and Ireland) were one year into a Civil War that would last for another 8 years. King Charles and his army of Royalists were engaged in bloody skirmishes with Parliamentary forces in a fight to rule the country. Charles, forced out of London, had based himself in Oxford; the war was on a knife edge.

In London at that time, a rumour started to spread that Royal forces had captured Cambridge, a Parliamentary stronghold. Was it true? It was entirely possible – in the first year of the war, the Royalists were winning the majority of the skirmishes. It would be several days before Londoners would definitely know. If you were a London Royalist, the news would be a morale booster; if you a Parliamentarian, a further depressing setback.

A gentleman who urgently wanted to know the truth and wasn’t prepared to wait, decided to ask a trusted astrologer, Mr Lilly, for the answer. Mr Lilly called himself “a student in astrology”. He was a bit more than that. This was William Lilly, one of the finest astrologers England has ever produced. In fact, Lilly today is one of the most famous names in astrology; among his claims to fame, he is believed to have predicted the Great Fire of London fourteen years before it took place (in 1666). In order to answer the Cambridge question, Lilly used one of the greatest astrological divination tools: the Horary Chart.

William Lilly

Horary is an amazing and simple way for an astrologer to give categorical yes / no answers to questions from their client. When an astrologer answers questions like “Should I go on a date with him?”, “Is it a good time to get cosmetic surgery?”, “Should I move to California?”, “Will I get paid my bonus?” one of their go-to tools is the Horary chart.

The word Horary means “of the hour”, and it is “born” at the exact time, place and location when and where the astrologer understands the question from the client.

Lilly was a Horary master (drawing up his charts without any of the software advantages I have, obviously). I’m not sure he invented the system, but he certainly perfected the art of using it. In his published book on astrological techniques, Christian Astrology, (a prudent title for the times and not remotely Christian) Lilly explains that he used a Horary chart to answer the Cambridge question – along with a variety of questions on different topics.

Once Lilly drew up his Cambridge Horary Chart, he saw the truth of the matter. “All that we heard” he pronounced “was untruth, and the Town neither was, or should be taken by [His Majesty] or his Forces.” And so it proved. The news turned out to be just a rumour. Cambridge was virtually untouched during the Civil War.

Here were some of the typical questions Lilly used a Horary chart to answer:

  • Whether the client shall marry?
  • Whether the cattle be stolen or not? (today: for cattle substitute car, Iphone, watch etc)
  • Will my husband be imprisoned or not? 
  • Will our army win?
  • Will the disease be long or short in duration?
  • A fugitive Servant, which direction had he gone? (Release the hounds I say)
  • Whether She be a Maid or Chaste? (still my go to question when I start dating someone…)

Ok, so the last two questions in that list probably wouldn’t be asked much today – at least I hope not. But give or take a few changes to account for the times we live in, a lot of the questions Lilly had to answer ARE still being asked today, and will probably be asked a hundred years from now. And the answers matter to the people who are asking. They are often deeply personal. Horary is still so relevant.

It also interests me how some Horary questions go in and out of fashion. For example, Lilly was asked by a client if they were “bewitched or not”. That question soon fell out of favour and until recently astrologers still wouldn’t encourage such questions or expect to be asked them. But in these modern times where an awareness of energy work is returning, it is not unheard of now to raise a horary chart about psychic attack.

The discipline has had to evolve to answer modern questions. Today we are faced with questions Lilly never had to answer:

“Will we ever develop a vaccine to cure Covid?” I really had to think how to answer it using Horary. The 6th House of Diseases covers pandemics, but the ruling House for Vaccines? Maybe we have to think laterally and start with Neptune (who rules vaccines).

Where do renewable energies feature in a modern Chart and how do we measure their future importance? That requires some guesswork. Similarly, for the question: “Are we heading for environmental catastrophe?” I would guess we would use the Fourth House of Home to represent planet earth. But Lilly never had to answer these questions. And modern astrologers are all the time learning to assign new events and experiences to Astrological Houses and expand the reach of modern Horary.

Because Lilly got so good at delivering accurate answers to the questions posed at him, people expected him to ALWAYS know the answer. But life – and certainly astrology – doesn’t work like that. Horary charts aren’t fool-proof, even world class astrologers make mistakes and people can be unpredictable.

One of the questions Lilly was once asked was: “Whether a woman be honest to her Husband or not?” After raising the chart, Lilly couldn’t be sure. He privately suspected the poor woman of being “a privy harlot” (!) But he refrained from giving a final answer. And he charged all Astrologers to be “sparing in delivering judgement, for as men we may err, and so by delivering an unlucky judgement, be authors of much mischief.”

Wise words. Context is important and I would have to be comfortable that the client was balanced and grounded before I would even consider answering a question like that – assuming the Chart gives a clear answer. And although Astrologers are paid to give answers, on rare occasions, where the answer given by the Horary chart is really, really, too close to call, it is always best to be honest and say…..well, “it’s too close to call”. There could be a lot of harm done otherwise.

However, most of the time Horary delivers. I’ve been amazed how often I have plugged in the time, date and place and out pops an answer that I trust. Thank you Mr Lilly for perfecting the art of Horary and helping us astrologers give our clients the answers.