William Lilly’s Precious Stones

When William Lilly wrote his Christian Astrology in 1647, he included chapters on the seven planets and their significations in the introductory part. These chapters include, amongst a lot of other material, the correspondences between planets and precious stones. What is of interest here is the source material Lilly used for his book.

The bibliography appended to Christian Astrology gives us some information as to where his knowledge came from and in the following I want to shed more light on this subject.

One of Lilly’s main sources seems to be Cornelius Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia, written between 1509 and 1510 and printed for the first time in 1533. Lilly does not provide us with much detail about the edition he used, only that its format would be octavo and that it had been printed in Lugduni. There was indeed an edition printed in 1543 in Lyon, which might be the one Lilly had in his library. I used the first English translation from 1651 for my research, an edition published just a bit too late to be used by Lilly for his Christian Astrology.

Another book Lilly might have used as a source to establish the correspondences between planets and gemstones is Johannes Schöner’s Opera Mathematica, Nuremberg 1551, which is as well included in Lilly’s bibliography.

Although he claims that Schöner’s book would not be methodical, Lilly calls it a good one and it seems to have been hugely popular at the time. Nicolaus Rensberger, for example, copied the information about gemstones and planets for his Astronomia Teutsch straight out of Opera Mathematica.

 The following tables show the possible sources of  Lilly’s correspondences and I have included some explanatory footnotes.


Saturn Agrippa Schöner ???
      Lapis Lazuli
  All black and ugly stones    


Jupiter Agrippa Schöner ???
  Smarage (Emerald) Smarage (Emerald)  


*Al Biruni says about the Bezoar Stone:

“The early authors have said that a well-known stone is so named, although they have omitted to mention its characteristics and features.

As a matter of fact, this stone should have been the costliest among
stones, for, whereas jewels are things of the body and adornment, and
are of no use in bodily ailments, the bezoar stone guards the body and
the soul and saves them from being harmed. We did not describe it
before all the other stones, thinking it more logical that it should be described along with stones belonging to its genus. Muhammad bin
Zakariya Razi says:

“The kind that I saw was soft like the Yemenite alum. It scattered

and broke into pieces. I am filled with amazement at its wonderful


Abu ‘Ali ibn Mandawayh says that it is pale with white and green
hues mixed with it. Hamzah and Nasr both say that it is primarily
associated with India and China. In the Kitab al-Nukhab it has been saidthat its mine is in the mountain of Zarand within the boundaries of Kirman.

Hamzah and Nasr have described fine kinds of the stones. These are
white, yellow, green, dusty and abrasive. Nasr has, however, selected
the dusty kind. He has prescribed a dose of twelve barley grains for the
poisonous kind. The author of the Kitab al-Nukhab says that one kind
of it is beet green and pale, while another kind is reddish-white. One
kind is thin and has something filled inside it. It is called the snot of
Satan and the Warlock’s thread.”


**John Maplet describes Crystals as Follows: “The Cristall is one of those stones that shyneth in everie part, and is in colour waerie. Isidore saith, that it is nothing else then a congeled Ise by continuance frosen whole yeares. It groweth in Asia and Cyperus, and especially upon the Alpes and highe Mountains of the North Pole. It engendreth not so much of the waters coldnesse, as of the earthinesse mixt withall. His propertie is to abide nothing in qualitie contrarie to it selfe: therefore it is delighted only with colde.”


Mars Agrippa Schöner ???
  Bloodstone* Hemanites*  
  Jasper Jasper  


*Bloodstone is these days a name for Jasper which is dotted with red spots of iron oxide, but it is as well a name for Hematite, which could be indicated in Schöner. Rensberger has altered it to Hematite in his Astronomia Teutsch.


**John Maplet describes the Loadstone as follows: “The Lodestone commeth from Indie, and is almost Iron colour like. It is founde most rife amongst the Trogloditas people, in the furthest part of Affrick, beyond Aethiopia, who are saide to dwell in Caves, and to eate Serpents flesh. It draweth Iron to it, even as one Lover cueteth and desireth an other. The common people therefore having sometime seene this so done by secret and unknowne working, have iudged and reputed ye Iron lively. There is another kind of Lodestone in Thessalie, that is of contrarie set and disposition, which will have non of Iron, nor will meddle with it. But for the other that is reckned principall and best, which in colour is blue. Saint Augustine saith, that if any man put under any vessel eyther golden or brasse, or holde under these any peece of Iron, and lay above the vessels or upon them this Lodestone, that even through the verie motion or moving of the stone underneath, the Iron shall move up and meete with it as nigh as the vessell wil suffer at the verie top.”


***Touchstone is a hard dark siliceous stone, such as basalt or jasper, that is used to test the quality of gold and silver from the colour of the streak they produce on it.


Sun Agrippa Schöner ???
  Hyacinth Hyacinth  


 *John Maplet’s description of Carbuncle: “The Carbuncle is a stone very precious, so called for that (like to a fierie cole) it giveth light, but especially in the night  season: it so warreth with the pupill or the eiesight, that it sheweth manifolde reflexions. It has as some say. xv. kindes: but those most precious that come nigh the Carbuncles nature: it is found in Libia.”


**Sometimes called Echites, Maplet says: “Echites is a stone both of Indie and Persia, which in the shore and Sea banckes of the Ocean, in the verie bosome of the Indian and Persian Sea, it is found: it is in colour Violet like: And there is a paire of them, Male & Female, and be most commonly found both togither in the Eagles nest, without the which the Eagle can not bring forth hir yong: and therfore kepeth them, as most necessarie in this behalfe alwaies in hir Nest. These stones bound to a womans bodie, being with childe, do hasten childe birth. And Iorach saith, that if any man have these or one of these, and put it under that mans meate or trencher that he suspecteth to be in fault of any thing: If that he be guiltie, he shall not be able through this to swallowe downe his meate: If not saith he, he may.”


Venus Agrippa Schöner ???
  Lapis Lazuli    
     ?Margarit***? Margasite***
    Sappire (sky coloured)  


* Maplet talks of a green Berill, colour of Venus, which seems apt.


**Chrysolite , also called Olivin or Peridot is of green colour, fitting for Venus.


***Lilly calls it a Margasite, it is ‘Margarit’ in Schoener and ‘Margaret’ in Maplet, who describes it as follows: “The Margaret of all Gemmes, those which be in their kindes white, is esteemed the chiefest: as Isidore consenteth, with others herein. Which kinde he will also have thus named, for that is founde growing in the meate of certain shell fishes, and those of the Sea, as in the Sea Snaile, and in the greatest Oyster, and such like as have their shell. It is engendred of a certain heavenly dewe, which in a certaine time of the yeare, both the Sea Snaile and the Cockle doe take and drik up. Of the which kinde of stone certaine are called Vnions, for that by one and one, they be founde, and never above one: there be some of these also seene sometimes yellow, but the other are the verie best.”


Mercury Agrippa Schöner ???


Moon Agrippa Schöner ???
  Crystals Crystals  

Rensberger’s Electional Astrology

Nicolaus Rensberger published his Astronomia Teutsch in 1569. A second edition was published in the following year, which seems to tell us something about the success of this book. In Rensberger’s 800 page tome we can find amongst chapters concerned with natal- as well as mundane astrology a chapter on elections. It comprises 31 pages and I think that this could be an important discovery, as it reflects the problems of the late 16th century astrologers.

The following is a translation of the epistle from the beginning of the chapter on elections.

 “Treatise of the election of times when something would be done; the author’s epistle to the reader.

People tend to ask most of the watchers of stars and astrologers to give them advice, at which hour and which day they should carry out what they wish to do, so it should be to their advantage. And although the famous Ptolemy did not publish a book concerned with these questions and elections of beneficial times, if somebody would busily read his books, he would find if he reads the rules in his books, that he did not omit telling us about these astrological things. Especially in the Centroloquio [sic], if he published it, he wrote about the best moment to begin with something and other questions. Although he says in Quadripartite that it would be a bad and unsuccessful thing. Some say that he, Ptolemy, never published such a book. Nevertheless we want to give the short basics which are necessary for this purpose.”

This may sound as if Rensberger felt the need to explain or even justify, why he included this chapter in his book. And indeed, if we have a closer look at the situation in 16th century Germany, we might understand why.

At that time Germany and particularly Wittenberg with its university were a hotbed of protestant astrology. Philipp Melanchthon was professor at Wittenberg University and he attracted a series of scholars who were all deeply interested in astrology. We know of Caspar Peucer, Melanchthon’s son-in-law, who was also a publisher, his friend Johann Gartze (Garcaeus), Johannes Schöner, who was a friend of Melanchthon and Erasmus Reinhold, to name only a few.

In the years around 1540, Philipp Melanchthon gave lectures about Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos at the Wittenberg University and Johann Reticus, a mathematician, taught astrology there. Much of the printed source material that underpinned this astrological knowledge was published by one Johannes Petreius, who himself was deeply interested in astrology.

The problem was that the protestant astrologers were not interested in electional astrology at all. They wanted to create a scientific astrology, oriented by natural philosophy. And, following Ptolemy, Melanchthon’s undisputed hero, whose work he translated straight from the Greek, they stated repeatedly that astrology could only show a person’s inclination but was unable to predict an actual decision. They claimed that man’s will had to be free. Therefore the divinatory part of astrology had to disappear.

In 1539 Johannes Schöner published his Opusculum Astrologicum. In it we can find another rare chapter on elections. Six years later, in 1545, he published his masterpiece De Judiciis Libri Tres, but without electional parts. It instantly became a bestseller and was soon hailed to be the best there was!

What I wanted to show here is that the protestant astrologers tried to abolish all traces of electional astrology from their books. This happened certainly for philosophical and religious reasons and we can trace the arguments about free will back as far as Pico della Mirandola. The unfortunate effect that was created was that from the end of the 16th century onwards electional astrology seems to have disappeared from the German literature. Rensberger on the other hand shows us that astrologers who could read Latin still had access to the works of Zahel, Abu Ma’shar and Bonatti, to name a few, and could so continue to answer the burning questions of the population that only electional astrology could answer.