English Where is my fish?

John Frawley © 2000


Lilly practised during the Seventeenth Century, acquiring a reputation for accurate, specific astrology stretching far beyond the shores of his native England, a fact that presents us again with the two options: either our ancestors were singularly stupid, or he had at least some measure of the abilities which he claimed. The bulk of his practice was in horary; his surviving notebooks show him dealing with some 2000 clients a year, a depth of practical experience which combined with a huge breadth of study to enable him to write Christian Astrology, a text-book of horary and natal astrology that was, suffering varying degrees of distortion, to be the standard work on the subject until Alan Leo put the dying corpse of astrology out of its misery two and a half centuries later.


Lilly had ordered some fish and a bag of Portuguese onions to be sent from London to his home, just up-river in Hersham. But when the warehouseman arrived at Lilly's house, instead of delivering the goods he told the astrologer that the warehouse had been broken into and the fish stolen. Lilly set a horary chart to find the thief.


fish stolen


In a question of theft, a planet without strength placed in an angular house often shows the thief, while the Sun or Moon in the Ascendant in one of its own dignities shows that the thief will be discovered. Here, Jupiter is without strength and angular, while the Moon , in its dignity, is in the Ascendant. Jupiter is the natural ruler of the rich and noble, but Lilly decided that a gentleman was unlikely to burgle warehouses to steal fish. He did, however, take note of the sign that Jupiter is in: Scorpio, a water sign. The Part of Fortune, which falls at 17 degrees of Cancer, represents the querent's 'treasure' in the chart; Lilly's treasure here is his missing fish, so its being in Cancer, another water sign, is of significance. Mercury, ruler of the second house in the chart, and as such significator of Lilly's property – his fish – is in the third water sign, Pisces. Considering this evidence and the circumstances of the theft, Lilly decided that the thief must be connected with the water, probably by working on the river (Jupiter in water sign) and the fish must be in some moist place (Part of Fortune and Mercury in water signs).

The Moon usually works as secondary significator of the querent, so its immediate formation of an aspect with Mercury (the property) shows that the querent will recover it. Unfortunately, Mercury is very weak in Pisces: the aspect shows that the fish will be recovered, but this weakness shows that it will be found in less than pristine condition. Lilly judged that he wouldn't recover the fish intact, but that he would get some of it back. The chart has told him that he will discover the thief and recover some of the goods. This judgement has been made by the application of fixed rules: Lilly is not employing his intuition.

Apart from a weak planet in an angular house, the thief can also be shown by the ruler of the seventh house. Here, this is Mars. Mars is on the point of leaving Scorpio, which is its own sign. This suggested that the thief had recently moved house, or was just about to do so (the technical term house was commonly applied both to sections of the chart and to the signs of the zodiac). Combining the indications of the two possible significators of the thief, Jupiter and Mars, Lilly was able to work out a physical description of the man. After making enquiries, he heard of a fisherman with a reputation for thieving who had just moved to a house by the river, as was shown by the chart's emphasis on water signs. Tall and well-built with fair complexion and reddish-yellow hair, his appearance was typical of Mars combined with Jupiter. Lilly had his suspect.

Armed with this combination of astrology and detective-work, he approached the local magistrate, who readily granted a warrant to search the man's house and provided him with a bailiff to enforce it. They found part of the fish, at which the thief confessed all, explaining that the rest had already been eaten. Lilly grumbled at the man's wife about the fate of his Portuguese onions – not knowing what they were, she had made soup out of them – but then relented and let them keep the remains of their loot.

As we have seen, the discovery of the thief and the retrieval of the fish are shown, clearly and according to set rules, in the chart; but these predictions depended on certain actions to make them happen, actions which need not, apparently, have been taken. The chart guided Lilly to the thief. Having found the thief, many people would not have confronted him. This was a small community: Lilly might have been frightened of the consequences of his accusation, or uncertain of his judgement and scared of embarrassment if he had got it wrong. He wasn't. This was the same Lilly who, shortly after arriving in London as a young man, had performed a mastectomy on his master's wife, and who was later to risk execution with his vehement astrological propagandising on behalf of Parliament during the Civil War: he wasn't one to back down from a challenge. Then, to allow the prediction to come true, Lilly had to be in a position to obtain a warrant to search the thief's house. Few modern astrologers would find much sympathy arriving at their local police station waving a chart and claiming to know who had stolen their belongings. Lilly had a strong reputation as a worthy citizen and an accurate astrologer. The wealth he had gained through his astrological practice had made him the magistrate's social equal, so he would have found no problem in obtaining the warrant.

Lilly's character and circumstances were necessary factors in the accuracy of the prediction. But it it is reasonable to think that had the circumstances, including Lilly's character, been different, he would not have asked this particular question at this particular time. If, for example, he were timid, he might well have spent another hour worrying about the situation before asking the question, resulting in a different astrological chart; if his reputation as an astrologer had not made him the social equal of the magistrate, he could probably not have afforded to order the fish in the first place. The chart itself is a product of the man and the situation just as much as whatever takes place in the life; unless we are to make the rather bizarre, but currently fashionable, assumption that life is a succession of random events, the two must be meaningfully connected. There is only one possible set of circumstances that could have led to that exact prediction being made at that exact moment. That set of circumstances is the one, and the only one, that had actually arisen. Anything else exists only in the world of hypothesis, as the product of man's tireless fancy.


This work is extracted from the 3rd chapter of The Real Astrology by John Frawley, published by Apprentice Books in 2000. The book was awarded the Spica Award for International Astrology Book of the Year in 2001.


Questa versione dell'analisi della domanda di William Lilly "Where is my fish?", più breve di quella da me tradotta in La natura della predizione, è tratta dal capitolo 3 di The Real Astrology, Apprentice Books 2000, vincitore dello "Spica Award for international book of the year" nel 2001. L'autorizzazione alla riproduzione e alla traduzione è stata gentilmente concessa dall'autore.