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Placido & the Semi-arc Method of House Division
Extract from Primum Mobile by Placidus de Titis


Placidus & the Rosicrucian Connection by Michael Baigent

We are all familiar with the name of Placidus, if only for the fact that it has been given to the most popular system of house division in current use. In spite of this, we know little of his life and work, particularly compared to what we know of his contemporary William Lilly. Placidus was an Italian Monk; there are no known portraits of him and few documented facts about his life. Here we look at some aspects of his astrological work, beginning with Michael Baigent's exploration of the political climate and esoteric philosophy of his times.

The 17th century in Europe witnessed profound political and philosophical changes. For those who lived during these times it was a heady period filled with discovery and reform, but also one of tragedy, with brutal wars and persecutions. Primarily, the era was one in which active encouragement was given to the divorce of experimental science from its roots which lay deep in the occult - yet despite considerable effort on the part of academia and the Church the latter was not removed but simply driven underground. It was thrust down into the shadowy world that underpinned the great men of the century; in this world lay Robert Boyle's 'Invisible College', Johan Valentin Andreae's mysterious 'Christian Unions' and, of course, what reality existed of the brotherhood of Rosicrucians.

Once again the so-called Hermetic Stream, the driving source of the Renaissance, was forced to flow beneath the surface of a new orthodoxy: this time, of science. Unfortunately, with it was taken the study of astrology. During this period the Renaissance Magi reluctantly gave way before the scientist to such an extent that by the end of the century all that remained of the Hermetic or Neo-Platonic world perspective was maintained only within such discreet societies as the rapidly growing organisation of 'speculative' Freemasons.

The great philosophical influence upon this century came from René Descartes. By postulating the concept of a mechanical universe he wrought immense changes in European man's conception of the heavens. God, he wrote, was certainly the first cause of motion but, following this initial intervention, the deity's presence was no longer required: thereafter the cosmos could maintain itself. For that reason, he argued, explanations of phenomena should be sought in terms of physical, measurable causes, rather than in the nonquantifiable world of the occult or the metaphysical.

Astrology, long considered to have an occult basis, thus came under increasing pressure. Academics as well as ecclesiastics now condemned it with the consequence that increasing numbers of universities dropped the subject from their courses. By the mid-17th century only a few were continuing to teach astrological theory, among these were the great universities of Bologna and Padua.

The Church too reiterated its opposition. In 1631 Pope Urban VIII issued a Papal Bull condemning astrology. This was the direct consequence of an embarrassing incident in Rome the previous year. An astrologer of some fame had predicted the imminent death of Urban with the result that Cardinals began gathering in Rome with the eager expectation of a conclave to elect a new Pope. Urban, infuriated, vented his wrath upon both the astrologer and his calling, gaoling the former and anathematising the latter.

The times grew difficult for astrology as the pressure of antagonistic events grew. Very early in the century astrology's technical basis began to demand reconsideration in the light of the astronomical discoveries of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. The invention of the telescope in 1608 together with, in the same year, the publication of Kepler's New Astronomy, dealt a fatal blow to traditional Ptolemaic cosmology which had long formed the theoretical backbone to astrological thought. By the middle of the 17th century astrologers were urgently reviewing and reforming their doctrines as a result of the dominance of the 'new' astronomy and the tenets of Cartesian philosophy. Placidus de Titis (mis-spelled by the English translators as Titus) or Placido Titi, was a major figure in the subsequent reforming movement in astrology. According to the historian Lyn Thorndike, he became a patron saint for other astrologers of the time.[1]

Placido's theme, developed through his major works, held that the influence of the stars was natural, manifest and measurable. He theorised that terrestrial phenomena were affected by the light coming from the stars, this being the simple and visible causal connection between them and the Earth. In this way he was able to distance himself from earlier explanations which were couched in occult terms. Unfortunately, despite his efforts, astrology failed to find a place in the mainstream of scientific thought and was gradually pushed aside.

Placido Titi was born in Italy, possibly Perugia, in 1603 and lived until 1668. As he reveals in his Tabulae Primi Mobilis he began his astrological studies when still a young man, learning from teachers sufficiently illustrious to get their work published.[2] It seems likely that one of his teachers was the astrologer Andreae Argoli: Placido, in his Tabulae Primi Mobilis uses, as an example, the birthchart of Cardinal de Salviatis. This birthchart was first published in 1607 by Magini who gives the time of birth as 9.36 pm on 21 January 1537.[3] Placido, writing in 1657, differs slightly by placing the birth-time at 9.32 pm. His source for this variant time can be found in a 1639 work by Argoli, De Diebus Criticis.[4] The fact that Placido, despite his many criticisms of Argoli's accuracy, should accept such a revision is an indication of his respect for the older man's learning. In addition to this, the bulk of the charts found in Tabulae Primi Mobilis also come from Argoli's book. Whatever the truth of the matter, at the very least Argoli can be regarded as a major influence upon Placido.

Placido joined an ascetic branch of the Benedictine Order, the Olivetans, who were in essence a reformist brotherhood. While they were not large in number they maintained monasteries in several major Italian cities, Padua being one. The Olivetans obviously approved and encouraged Placido's astrological work, for his Physiomathematica was published with an approbation from the head of the Order.

Placido became an accomplished mathematician and astrologer, working, it seems, as a teacher. He first went into print with a small collection of horoscopes published in Padua, 1641. Within the year he had issued another collection of horoscopes and a larger astrological text. Some years later he produced his two major works, the Physiomathematica of 1650 and Tabulae Primi Mobilis of 1657. Between these two he had printed an annotated edition of Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos. If Placido had any intellectual mentor then it was Ptolemy. He wrote, "I desire no other guides but Ptolemy and reason".[5]

In 1657, the year when he published his Tabulae Primi Mobilis, Placido had become connected to the highest ranks of European nobility. His patron - as evidenced by the dedication in his book - was Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm von Habsburg, the brother of the Austrian Emperor. Furthermore, this same year saw the death of the Emperor and Leopold-Wilhelm being offered the Imperial crown. It can be assumed from this connection that Placido was no stranger to the intrigues of European diplomacy and politics, and a brief look at the world of the Archduke may serve to throw some light upon that of Placido.

Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm, as the youngest son of the Imperial family, followed tradition and entered the Church. He gained his first bishoprics, Strasburg and Passau, by the age of eleven. Family tradition also saw him assume, in 1642, the mantle of Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. Despite his being an ecclesiastic, Leopold-Wilhelm took up a military career and by 1640 was commanding the Imperial forces fighting in Bohemia.

For the Archduke to seek advice from an astrologer such as Placido was not out of character for he was very much a 'renaissance' man, eclectic in his pursuits and his philosophy. He made collections of paintings, of curiosities, rare plants and, at one time, became involved in archaeology. He directed the excavation of the grave of the Merovingian King Childeric in 1653. He was described by his contemporaries as having a superstitious streak. Perhaps we can see here an allusion to his astrological interests.[6]

However, a more obvious influence upon his decision to patronise an astrologer can be found from a study of his military experience during the 1620s. At this time Leopold-Wilhelm was serving as an officer under the enigmatic Imperial commander, Albrecht von Wallenstein who was both a general and an accomplished astrologer.

Wallenstein had mastered the art of astrology during his stay in Padua which began in 1600.[7] His travelling companion and tutor was the astrologer Peter Virdungus, a friend of Kepler.[8] While in this great university city Wallenstein studied under the prominent astrologer Argoli who was later to be an influence, and possibly the teacher of, Placido Titi. Subsequently when Wallenstein was commander of the Imperial forces he employed various astrologers as advisors. It seems that a group of them constantly accompanied him on campaign. The name of one, Gianbattista Zenno, has survived.

However, without doubt, the best known of Wallenstein's astrological advisors was Johannes Kepler. From initially calculating and reading Wallenstein's birthchart, Kepler gradually became drawn into the great man's circle, giving him advice and finally receiving financial support. Kepler did not accompany Wallenstein on his military campaigns but advised from a distance. No doubt Placido later performed similarly with regard to Leopold-Wilhelm's astrological queries.

In passing, it is pertinent to comment upon Kepler who, while being a sound methodologist and scientist, nevertheless was a committed astrologer. [9] He maintained curious and, as yet unexplored, connections with the esoteric underground of the 17th century. For Kepler moved in the circle of Johan Valentin Andreae, reputedly the author of the Rosicrucian Manifestos. In addition, Kepler seems to have been associated with Andreae's curious 'Christian Unions'. It has also been alleged that Andreae was the leader of a discreet Hermetic society known as the Prieure de Sion. This had both philosophical and political aims while remaining aside from and beneath the mainstream events of the century. The 'Christian Unions' seem to have been a branch of this society.[10] Dame Frances Yates writes that Kepler had a very close association with the 'Rosicrucian' world and suggests that a new historical approach to his life needs to be made. [11]

As this short review indicates, the web of the esoteric was not broken by the scientific advances but continued to spread far across the learned world. In consequence, it is difficult to establish exactly what blend of the esoteric with empirical science really existed during the 17th century. However, with the existence of such a web established, if not precisely delineated, it is not at all unlikely that the figures we have mentioned, Kepler, Wallenstein, Andreae, Leopold-Wilhelm and Placido, had connections between them other than those which conventional history has recorded.

The popularisation of the telescope during Placido's lifetime left astrology struggling to adopt to astronomical advances

Notes & References:

  1 ] Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, 8 vols., New York, 1923-34, vol. VIII p.302.
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  2 ] Placidus de Titis, Primum Mobile, London, 1814, p.123.
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  3 ] Io Antonii Magini, De Astrologica Ratione, ac vsu dierum Criticorum, Venice, 1607, p.99.
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  4 ] Andreae Argoli, De Diebus Criticis et de Aegrorum decubitu, Padua, 1639. Book II, p.45.
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  5 ] Placidus de Titis, Primum Mobile, op. cit., p.47.
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  6 ] William Coxe, History of the House of Austria, 2nd Edition, London, 1820. vol. III, p.90.
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  7 ] For a life of Wallenstein see Francis Watson, Wallenstein: Soldier under Saturn, London 1938.
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  8 ] Kepler, in 1601, began working for the Emperor Rudolph II at his 'Rosicrucian' court at Prague.
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  9 ] See J. Bruce Brackenridge, A Short History of Scientific Astrology, Appleton, Wisconsin, 1980.
[Also on this theme, Nick Kollerstrom's online article Kepler's Belief in Astrology - DH]

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  10 ] Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, London, 1982, pp.111-4.
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  11 ] Francis A Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, St. Albans, 1975, P.267.
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Michael BaigentMichael Baigent was born in New Zealand in 1948. He graduated with a BA in Psychology from Canterbury University, Christchurch, and later gained an MA in Mysticism and Religious Experience at the University of Kent, after moving to England.

Michael is the editor of Freemasonry Today, the author of From the Omens of Babylon, and, with Richard Leigh, has co-authored a number of books, including the international best-sellers, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (with Henry Lincoln), The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, Secret Germany and, recently, The Elixir and the Stone and The Inquisition.

© Michael Baigent. Reproduced from the article published in issue 7 of The Traditional Astrologer magazine, (Winter 1994).