Digby first came across these glyphs at the GSA in 1957 and was taken by their stark and elemental beauty. When he found in Britanica that very little was known about their origins, he had a look in Kenelm Digby's old manuscript at the Bodleian. There was one glyph, Libra, in a 12th.Century zodiac but not a hint of why it was there. There wasn't even a folio about Libra. 'Weird' thought Digby, and by this time he was using the glyphs to make little silver pendants and charms.
Digby's first stroke of luck was hearing about an early list of glyphs on an 11th.Century copy of an old Rhetorius manuscript. It showed all twelve signs but they looked garbled. Some were nothing like what we have today. That is when he began to realise he had a virgin field. He realised there was nothing really known about their origins and even less about some of the meanings. Like why the Lion, Crab, Goat and Fishes look out of place, and why the Virgin and Scorpio look so alike.
In the mid sixties there were changes in the air, and by this time Digby had set up a workshop for producing the goods, and a showroom for selling them. You could do that sort of thing in those days. He soon had a steady stream of customers and was able to live on what he produced. His best line was the twelve Signs of the Zodiac as pendants and charms and he must have sold thousands of them over the years.
When he understood he was the only person who had even turned a sod in this field he really embarked on the quest. And what a quest it turned out to be. Very very slow and mostly strokes of pure luck followed by years of trying to make sense of all the information that flowed in.
First off were two ladies who told him that Libra was 'flails over a thrashing floor', and the scales were in the Scorpion's tail. This led into growing corn and to Aleyin & Mot: 1500BC Phoenician twins, sower and reaper, sons of two gods and a clay tablet about it. The words on that tablet, spoken by Anat (the virgin in charge of the cornfields), reminded him of an illustration of John Barleycorn by a fellow GSA student: the ballad echoed the ancient clay tablet almost word for word:-------
The farming idea made Aries the sower, Taurus for germination and the Twins for the shoots of wheat & tares maybe, and so it went on. Through Digby's showroom over the years came a stream of customers who must have been bored stiff by his endless topic of conversation. All were polite: the theologian who told him the glyphs had been banned by the church as soon as they surfaced, and a Keeper of Manuscripts who said '1340 I reckon. Pity about the 69', not to mention the psychologist who said the Twins were the most popular because 'nobody really liked being wholly good'.
In the mid 1990's it was becoming obvious to Digby that Astrology was not the number one motive for devising these glyphs, and that the heresy of dualism probably held the key. But the questions of 'Who?' and 'Why', were totally lost in the porridge.
Digby's wife came to the rescue. She was doing voluntary work in a charity shop and came home with a book written by Thomas Churton about the Gnostics, with a good lot about the Cathars. And the Bogomils. And Dualism.
Digby did his best to understand why the Catholic Church said that Cathar beliefs were heresy, but couldn't see much difference between them. One lot said a bad god made everything that was material, and a good god made everything that was spiritual to battle against it; and the other lot that a good god made both and something called Satan was trying to screw it up. Both sides said it was a battleground and life after death depended on life before death. Oh well.
Belief in two gods was called Dualism, and Digby wondered if the Templars logo of two knights on one horse signified something similar.
The Catholics and the northern nobility said that the Cathars were heretics and that the Knights Templar were too rich for their own good. They extirpated the Cathars and dispersed the Templars, but never found the 'Great Treasure' that both were reputed to possess. All that history was happening between 1100 and 1400.
Now when Digby learned from Thomas Churton's book that the Bogomils had first brought Catharism up the Danube and on into Bohemia, and was also told that there was an old Clock in Prague that had a full circle of glyphs, he reckoned that the next step on his quest was obvious. His sister and brother-in-law organised the trip, and Digby said it was marvellous. Besides the clock, Prague has something exciting round every corner, and absolutely splendid beer by the jugful.
After a few squints at this wonderful clock Digby noticed an anomaly that in the end led him to the meanings of two very difficult signs. He also learned of the clocks beginnings around 1410, and of the frightful Prague history that came five years later.
The 'Father of the Clock' was called Johannes Schindler who at the time was professor of mathematics at the Charles University. Jan Hus was the rector and, without mercy, he was burned at the stake in 1415 for heresies surrounding the Eucharist and Roman Catholic doctrine. This started a war between the Holy Roman Empire and the Bohemian Hussites. It lasted for nearly twenty years.
Five crusades were mounted against the Hussites, but, led by an unemployed one-eyed mercenary they resisted the Pope until in 1431 he gave in. A settlement was reached in the city of Basle. By 1500 most Bohemians were Non-Catholic. Jan Hus is regarded as the first reformer of the Church, and the Clock has remained intact to this day.
This trip to Prague was a turning point in Digby's quest. The anomalous Arabic numeral on it guided him to two glyphs designed as ciphers, and this put the whole twelve into a different light. Re-vel-a-tions as his aunt would say. And in Prague he noticed the strong focus of Greek Myths on all aspects of Astrology. Soon after they arrived home his wife got him a tattered paperback version of Robert Graves' great seminal work on the subject. From then on it was plain sailing but hard work
Aries was the 'Ram with a Golden Fleece', and no ordinary beast. He had the power of speech and could reason. He embodied the Logos. What he was sowing was words. Language. You can't think without it. And Taurus made laws that depended on people understanding them. These glyphs are something to do with the birth of the modern mind.
It took another five years at least to get the idea into shape and he tried selling it in the form of a little book together silver charms. Not a brilliant way to start, but anyway here's a picture of the silver glyphs.
If that is not possible they can also be fitted with a strong silver caribiner catch as shown on the sign for Pisces, but that costs a bit more.
The length of the sign for Libra is 17mm, which means the actual sizes can be measured from the illustration. They're not bad but unfortunately people are not interested in Zodiac Signs at present, and there's no sign that will change.
Top left is the 'Greater Fool' flanked on his right by a Spaniard and a Moorish 'Morisco'. Below the Fool are the Gentleman and Peasant with the 'Lesser Fool' in the bottom left hand corner.
Below the Maypole is the King of the May himself, and bottom centre we see Maid Marian, and she is the Queen of the May. To the right of the Maypole is the musician who has a pipe and tabor. With his hair having been grown long to support a helmet is the May King's rival for the hand of the Maid, and in the bottom right hand corner Friar Tuck completes the troupe.
The two fools in this group perhaps stand for the April Fool and the Christmas Fool, and the story of the dance is that both the King and his Rival woo the Maid at the Spring Festival, but she always marries the Fool. The festival was first held in April, which meant that, depending on the moon, their child would be born at Christmas, thus conceived under the sign of the Ram and born under the sign of the Goat. With the Precession of Equinoxes around the year 0, the festival was moved to May Day, and the resulting birth would be on January 25th.
But there's more. The King is usually identified as Robin Hood and his Rival of course is Little John. The Maid is Maid Marian but who the Fools are we donít know. Also both the Morris Dancers and Robin Hood's 'Merry Men' have been named 'Mary's Dancers', or 'Mary's Men', but that is open to question.
But we're still not finished. Notice how well these dancers fit the playing-cards we have today. We have the King and his Queen, followed by Jack, his rival, with Aces High and Low for the Fools. If each card stands for one week we have a thirteen-month year divided into four quarters of thirteen weeks each, plus a Joker for Midwinter's day, and another for Midsummer's day in leap-years. But all that of course might be no more than co-incidence.
These pictures originated in a book of antiquities called 'Old England', edited and published by Charles Knight in the year 1845. Google Betley Window.
It's taken 57 years and he's urging me to give talks about it. His latest input was about Kenelm Digby whose weird collection of old manuscripts has been beautifully restored by the Bodleian Library and is now available on-line. To see Digby's 12th C. Zodiac, Google 'DIGBY 83' and scroll down to Folio 53. It will be a help if you can read Latin.
Now here's a story about that lively cavalier: When Kenelm was in Amsterdam he met up with Descartes and they talked about the new ways of thinking, scientific logic and all that. They thought that the whole universe might be a gigantic clock governed by cause and effect, and that reason would be able to answer all questions. They even questioned two beliefs. Descartes produced proof of God's existence, and Kenelm the immortality of the human soul. Um.
The Church probably liked that. It was damning the 'World, the Flesh and the Devil' and glorifying 'Goodness, Truth and Beauty', thus diverting huge energy into developing the mind. It had also started all the universities in Europe save one, but curiously it didn't like quite a lot of the understanding and knowledge that generated.
Julian Jaynes said that three thousand years ago most people were still using 'Magic Thought' because the 'Bicameral brain' we had then was incapable of proper logical reasoning, and had not yet given us the identity we have today. Looking back we can see that the mind we have today has been very hard won, and after such a lengthy repression has resulted in endemic frustration and an unbalanced society ruled by greed and the lust for power.
Today we have Richard Dawkins telling us that we can abandon religion, and science will bring us paradise. Digby asks what hope does this brilliant new mind have in today's society. All that happens is that we do greed better.
In those three thousand strife-ridden years we have achieved a miraculous step forward. Plato gave us 'Looking through a glass darkly' and St Paul took up the theme and gave us 'The Divided Self'. Not long ago Jung said 'Modern man has lost his soul', and gave us the 'Union of Opposites'. Is this where the Petrine Church melds into the Johannine Church? In which case we're not quite finished with this old field yet. There's more to be done ...