What did Lilly mean by “hardly”?

Lilly tells us in Christian Astrology (1647) that things “go hardly on” when the Moon is void of course.  The modern meaning of “hardly” is “barely or scarcely,” but did it mean that in Lilly’s time?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

“hardly (adv.)  c. 1200, “in a hard manner, with great exertion or effort,” from Old English heardlice “sternly, severely, harshly; bravely; excessively” (see hard (adj.) + -ly (2)). Hence “assuredly, certainly” (early 14c.). Main modern sense of “barely, just” (1540s) reverses this, via the intermediate meaning “not easily, with trouble” (early 15c.).”

According to Wiktionary:


1 – (manner, obsolete) Firmly, vigorously, with strength or exertion.

2 – (manner, archaic) Harshly, severely.  [I can’t really deal hardly with people.‎]

3 – (now rare)  With difficulty.  (1603, John Florio, translating Michel de Montaigne, Essayes, London: Edward Blount, OCLC 946730821, Folio Society, 2006, vol.1, p.234:
And what gentle flame soever doth warme the heart of young virgins, yet are they hardly drawne to leave and forgoe their mothers, to betake them to their husbands […].)

4 – (degree) Barely, only just, almost not.”

In other words, the word “hardly” originally meant “in a hard manner, with great effort”. In the 14th century, “hardly” was synonymous with “assuredly and certainly, vigorously, firmly.”  A century later (early 15th century) the meaning changed to “not easily or with trouble”.  And after yet another century (by the year 1540) the meaning of “hardly” reverses and it now signifies “barely, scarcely, almost not.”  However, in 1603, John Florio used “hardly” to mean “not easily or with difficulty.”

Lilly wrote during the mid-1600s when “hardly” commonly meant “barely, scarcely, almost not,” though there were still remnants in 1603 of the somewhat older usage of the term as “with trouble or difficulty.”  Let’s take Lilly’s original phrasing and substitute some of the synonyms:

Lilly’s original wording: All manner of matters go hardly on (except the principal significators be very strong) when the Moon is void of course. — Christian Astrology (1647)

Meaning in 1700s: All manner of matters go barely, scarcely, almost not on (except the principal significators be very strong) when the Moon is void of course.

Meaning in 15th century: All manner of matters go on not easily, with trouble, with difficulty (except the principal significators be very strong) when the Moon is void of course.

Etymology suggests that in the 17th century Lilly meant that matters go barely on or almost do not proceed when the Moon is VOC, but he probably also had in mind the more archaic meaning that matters proceed with great trouble or difficulty (not easily) when the Moon is void.

By way of review:

When I first read Lilly back in the 1980s I approached him with the modern idea of VOC in my head (that the Moon perfects no further aspects before leaving its sign) and did not really understand that he meant something different until after further study of writings.  Here are some relevant quotes from Lilly (1647):

  • “All manner of matters go hardly on (expect the principal significators be very strong) when the Moon is void of course; yet somewhat she performs if void of course and be either in Taurus, Cancer, Sagittarius or Pisces” (CA, p.122).  The Moon is exalted in Taurus, domicile of the lesser beneific Venus.  The Moon rules Cancer.  Sagittarius and Pisces are the domiciles of Jupiter, the greater benefic.  A VOC Moon is one of Lilly’s considerations before judgment.
  • A Planet is void of course, when he is separated from a Planet, nor does forthwith, during his being in that Sign, apply to any other:  This is most usually in the Moon … You shall seldom see a business go handsomely forward when this is so” (CA, p. 112)
  • “Separation, is in the first place, when the two Planets are departed but six minutes distance from each other” (CA, p. 110)
  • “Venus has a platic trine, or is in a platic trine to Saturn, because she is within the moiety of both their Orbs; for the moiety of Saturn, his rays or orbs, is 5, and of Venus 4, and the distance betwixt them and their perfect aspect is eight degrees.” (CA, p. 107)
  • “I will againe insert the Table of the quantity of their Obs, … they stand thus as I have found by the best Authors and my owne Experience.” (CA, p. 107):
  • Lilly is listing the radius of the orbs, and the “moiety” is half of that radius.  By adding the moieties of two planets Lilly calculated the maximum distance those planets could be apart and still considered within aspect of each other.Let’s look at an example of Lilly’s use of Void of Course.  On page 385 of CA Lilly discusses a horary chart about a question “A lady, if marry the gentleman desired?”  Here is the chart:

    Lilly writes: “finding the Moon separated from void of course and applying to an opposition of the Sun, lord of the ascendant, did argue there was small hopes of effecting her desire, because she herself, by her own perverseness, had done herself so grand a mischief.” (CA, p. 386)

    Lilly’s table (above) gives 17 degrees to the Sun and 12.5 degrees to the Moon.  The sum of the two moieties is 1/2 of (17 + 12.5) or 14.75 degrees.  Thus, when the Moon is within 14.75 degrees of the position opposite the Sun, it is applying to oppose the Sun.  The Sun is at 5 Cancer 30, so subtracting 14.75 degrees, we find that the Moon enters into opposition with the Sun when it reaches  20 Gemini 45.

    The Moon’s last Ptolemaic aspect was an opposition to Mercury at  16 Gemini 23.  The Moon began its separation from that aspect (adding 6′ of arc) at 16 Sag 29 and was then Void of Course until the Moon reached 20 Sag 45 when it began to apply to an opposition with the Sun.  Hence, the Moon was VOC in the middle of Sagittarius from 16 Sag 29 until 20 Sag 45.  This is very different from the modern concept of void of course, which is based on a misunderstanding of Lilly promulgated by A.H. Morrison.

    To get back to the question that started this line of inquiry, is the Moon VOC if she is applying to aspect the North Node?  Lilly writes: “A Planet is void of course, when he is separated from a Planet, nor does forthwith, during his being in that Sign, apply to any other.”  The Moon’s North Node is a point and not a planet, so it does not meet Lilly’s definition.  Planets reflect the light of the Sun; chart points don’t.

    Modern astrologers will ask when aspects to the “modern” planets should be taken into account.  Strictly speaking, the modern planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) were not known in ancient times so the literature is silent about them.  Neptune and Pluto cannot be seen with the naked eye, but Uranus can be.  The ancients did not discover Uranus because it was so faint and they did not believe another planet could exist.  Their minds were blind to what their eyes could see if they only looked for it.

    Because Uranus can be seen with the naked eye, it clearly has an orb (based on the intrinsic light of a star or the reflected light of a planet).  Thus, by extension of classical principles, at least Uranus should count in determining whether a planet is void of course.  One could argue that Neptune and Pluto have tiny orbs that are too hard to see without a telescope.  Nonetheless, they do reflect the light of the sun, and so they also have orbs.

    Each horary astrologer will have to decide on experience which path to follow.  Traditional astrologers will pretend the modern planets don’t exist and that human history stopped in the 17th century.  Modern astrologer must live with greater ambiguity and uncertainty about what works in the modern world.

    Deborah Houlding has an excellent discussion of the classical theory of aspects at her site skyscript.co.uk, and Peter Stockinger discusses the idea of ‘void of course’ on his starsandstones blog

    Hellenistic VOC:  Chris Brennan has an interesting discussion of the various definitions of void of course as they relate to Obama’s nomination at his political astrology blog.  Chris notes the following:

    “Recent translations of some ancient Greek texts from the first few centuries of the Common Era have shown that the original definition of the void of course Moon is that the Moon does not complete any exact Ptolemaic aspect with any other planet within the next 30 degrees, regardless of sign boundaries.”


About Anthony Louis

Author of books about astrology and tarot, including TAROT PLAIN AND SIMPLE, HORARY ASTROLOGY, and THE ART OF FORECASTING WITH SOLAR RETURNS.
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