The early Saxons in England were extremely credulous in regard to the luck or misfortune of particular days of the month, and derived a legion of prognostics, both good and evil, from the age of the moon. Thus, they considered the twelfth day of the lunar month a profitable one for sowing, getting married, traveling, and blood-letting, but the thirteenth day was in bad repute among the Saxons, an evil day for undertaking any work. The fourteenth was good for all purposes, for buying serfs, marrying, and putting children to school; whereas the sixteenth was profitable for nothing but thieving. The twenty-second was a proper time for buying villains, or agricultural bondmen, and a boy born on that day would become a physician. The twenty-fifth was good for hunting, and a girl then born would be of a greedy disposition and a "wool-teaser."
In an English manuscript of the twelfth century mentioned in Chambers's "Book of Days," and known as the "Exeter Calendar," New Year's is set down as a Dies mala. As an illustration of the credulity prevalent in England in the fifteenth century regarding the influences, meteorological and moral, of the occurrence of important church festivals on particular days of the week, a few lines from a manuscript of the Harleian Collection in the British Museum are here quoted:--
Lordlings all of you I warn,
If the day that Christ was born
Fell upon a Sunday,
The winter shall be good, I say,
But great winds aloft shall be;
The summer shall be fair and dry,
By kind skill and without loss.
Through all lands there shall be peace.
Good time for all things to be done,
But he that stealeth shall be found soon.
What child that day born may be
A great lord he shall live to be.
Not alone in Britain, but throughout the world, men have esteemed one day above another. This universal tendency of the human mind is tersely expressed in a translation by Barnaby Googe of some verses accredited to the Bavarian theologian, Thomas Kirchmaier (1511-78), whose literary pseudonym was Naogeorgus:--
And first, betwixt the dayes they make no little difference,
For all be not of vertue like, nor like preheminence,
But some of them Egyptian are and full of jeopardee,
And some againe, beside the rest, both good and luckie bee,
Like difference of the nights they make, as if the Almightie King,
That made them all, not gracious were to them in everything.
John Gaule, in his "Magastromancer" (1652), remarks that, according to the teachings of the astrologers,
"Times can give a certain fortune to our business. The magicians likewise have observed, and all the antient verse men consent in this, that it is of very great concernment in what moment of time and disposition of the heavens everything, whether naturall or artificial, hath received its being in this world: for they have delivered that the first moment hath so great power that all the course of fortune dependeth thereon and may be foretold thereby."
In the dark ages, and also in early modern times, the false doctrines of astrology, an inheritance from the ancients, dominated the actions of men. In all important enterprises, as well as in every-day labors, it was deemed essential to make a beginning under the influence of a favorable planet. Nor did these beliefs prevail exclusively among ignorant people, but were as well a part of the creed of scholars, and of the nobility and gentry. Modern astronomical discoveries, and especially the Copernican system, availed to banish a vast amount of superstition regarding the malevolent character of certain days. But neither science nor religion have yet been able wholly to eradicate it, as is evident from the ill-repute associated with the sixth day of the week even at the present time, a subject to be considered later.
In the "Loseley Manuscripts," edited by Alfred John Kempe, London, 1836, is to be found a letter, some extracts from which may serve to illustrate the paramount influence of astrology in England in the sixteenth century. The letter is addressed to Mr. George More, at Thorpe:--
As for my comming to you upon Wensday next . . . I cannot possibly be with you till Thursday.
On Fryday and Saterday the signe will be in the heart, on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in the stomake, during which tyme it wil be no good dealing wth your ordinary phisicke until Wensday come Sevenight at the nearest, and from that tyme forwards for 15 or 16 days passing good. In w'ch time yf it will please you to let me understand of your convenient opportunity and season, I will not faill to come along presently with your messenger.
Your Worship's assured
SIMON TRIPPE, M.D.
WINTON, Septemb. 18. 1581.
The influence of the position of the moon in determining the proper seasons for surgical operations, and for the administration of medicines, may be best illustrated by a few extracts from ancient almanacs.
An antique illustrated manuscript almanac for the year 1386 contains the following advice to physicians:
In a new mone sal not be layting of blode, for yan are mennys bodyes voyed of blode and humos, and yan by layting of blode sal yay more be anoyded.
It es to know generally, yt ye tyme electe to gyve a medcyn in es whan ye mone and ye Lord ascendyng ar free from all ille and not let by it, . . . and it es hyely to be ware to a medcyn whyles ye mone es in ill aspect, wt Satne or Mars.
An almanac for the year 1568, published by John Securis, London, contains a list of days in that year favorable or otherwise for the preservation of man's health.
The second day of January was therein declared to be wholly propitious. The twelfth was unfavorable owing to the furious aspect of Mars to the Sun, which was not, however, likely to cause bodily sickness, but rather to incline the hearts of some people to imagine evil of their rulers. The fifteenth of April was especially to be dreaded. On that day, says the writer, "God keep us from the fury of Mars."
In June evil passions were to stir men's hearts, anger, hatred, and strife; for in that month were no less than six quartile aspects of the planets, one to another.
Many propitious days are also mentioned, and in conclusion all days are declared to be favorable to a good man.
"A New Almanacke and Prognostication for the Yeare of our Lord God 1569" (London) says that surgical operations must be performed only when "the Moone or Lorde of the firste house" is in the zodiacal sign governing the particular member or organ which is to be operated upon.
And in an English almanac for the year 1571 we find the following passage:--
No part of man's body ought to be touched with the Chirurgicall instruments, or cauterie actuall or potencial, when the Sunne or Moone, or the Lord of the Ascendent, is in the same signe that ruleth that part of man's body.
Also Gemini, Leo, the last halfe of Libra, and the first 12 degrees of Scorpio: with Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorne, are not good for the letting of bloud. Two days before the change of the Moone, and a day after, is yll to let bloud. . . .
If the same be for the Pestilence, the Phrensie, the Pluresie, the Squincie, or for a Continuall headach, proceeding of choler or bloud; or for any burning Ague, or extreme paine of partes, a man may not so carefully stay for a chosen day by the Almanack: for that in the meane tyme the pacient perhaps may dye. For which cause let the skilfull Chirurgeon open a veine, unless he finde the pacient verie weake, or that the Moone be in the Same Syne that governeth that part of man's body.
The persistence of similar beliefs is shown by the following extract from "A Briefe Prognosticon or rather Diagnosticon for this Year of Grace (1615), by John Keene, London:--
Seeing that these inferiour and sublunary mixt bodies are governed of the superiour and simple bodies, and especially by the motion of our neighbour Planet, the Moone, diseases vary and differ, and not for that she exceedes the rest in vertue and power, but because she is neerer us and swifter in motion; for wee see, the Moone increasing, humours increase; and when she decreaseth, humours decrease: for the bones in the full of the Moone are full of marrow, all living creatures both on sea and land, are then augmented in humiditie, as the Crab, Lobster, Oyster, etc. Also humours in man's bodie and in Plants are then increased: for when the Sunne and Moone are in hot signes, heate is increased, in cold signes, cold execedes heate; therefore have we just cause in purging of humours to consider the motion of the Moone throagh every signe of the Zodiacke, not only in purging of humours, but also in curing diseases and in strengthening the faculties and vertues.
In the "Dialogue of Dives and Pauper," printed by Richard Pynson in 1493, this subject is referred to as follows:--
Alle that take hede to dysmal dayes, or use nyce observances in the newe moone, or in the newe yeere, as setting of mete or drynke by night on the benche to fede alholde (or gobelyn).
The French traveler, Jean Chardin (1643-1713), stated that in the year 1668 Cossacks invaded the northern provinces of Persia; and when the inhabitants appealed to the Persian government for aid, they received only the reply that no assistance could be sent them until the moon had passed out of the sign of the Scorpion. The Persians formerly divided all the days of the year into three classes,--preferable or lucky, middling or indifferent, and unlucky or detested ones; and the Emperor Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-86) was governed in his military operations by the advice of astrologers, and always waited until they had indicated the fortunate moment for a start.
The "English Apollo, by Richard Saunders, student in the divine, laudable, and celestial sciences, London, 1656," in giving advice to mariners, says that the good or bad position of the planets at the time of sailing has much influence over the fortunes of a voyage. The ancient sages, moreover, declared that the chief means of averting evil were, first, the devout invocation of Providence; and, secondly, the careful choice of a proper time for sailing by observation of the rules of astrology.
In William Jones's "Credulities Past and Present" (1525), St. Augustine is quoted as follows:--
No man shall observe by the days on what day he travel, or on what he return; because God created all the seven days which run in the week to the end of this world. But whithersoever he desires to go, let him sing, and say his Paternoster, if he know it, and call upon his Lord, and bless himself, and travel free from care, under the protection of God, without the sorceries of the Devil.