The best sign of witchcraft is if the lord of the twelfth house be in the sixth

siares

Senior Member
Slovak
Iain Pears; An Instance of the Fingerpost

"The best sign of witchcraft is if the lord of the twelfth house be in the sixth, or if one planet be lord of the ascendant and the twelfth, which may happen when the proper ascendant may be intercepted, then it may be witchcraft."

I have trouble following this. What is the structure called?
Which of the statements is the most conditional?

“I propose this be accepted” (I made the sentence up) doesn't seem to be a conditional.
The construction if...be seems to be a conditional; which one is it?
Does the if...be differ from when...be?
What is when...may be?

I'll split the sentence:

The best sign of witchcraft is
1) if the lord of the twelfth house be in the sixth,
or
2) if one planet be lord of the ascendant and the twelfth,
which may happen
3) when the proper ascendant may be intercepted,
then
4) it may be witchcraft.

Does 'which may happen' refer to 1+2; or to 2 only?
Which statements does 'then' follow from?

Many thanks
 
Last edited:
  • Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    I think what you are asking is about the use of the subjunctive mood in English. While the subjunctive is commonly used in other languages, it is not as common in English, and its apearance can perplex learners.

    The present subjunctive has the same form as the bare infinitive, and does not change by person or by number. As a result, the present subjunctive of "to be" is be, whether you are speaking of I, You, He, We, or They:

    It is urgent that you be there on time.
    The king insisted that I be made a duke.
    We opposed the proposal that the criminals be executed.


    You can read more about the subjunctive here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_subjunctive
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    use of the subjunctive mood
    Thanks, Mahantongo.
    I don't have trouble understanding some subjunctives such as 'propose...be' or 'lest....be'

    I've looked the wikipedia entry up:
    "The present subjunctive is occasionally found in clauses expressing a condition, such as If I be found guilty."
    From this it seems that all the statements in my sentence are present subjunctives.

    This still doesn't help me to decipher the sentence, unfortunately.

    How does the degree of 'conditionality' vary between

    if...be / when...be / when...may be ?

    Thank you.




     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I read it this way, converting it to casual American English:

    If:

    1) You are at a moment in time/period when the lord of the twelfth house is in the sixth (whatever that means)
    OR
    2) If one planet is both the lord of the ascendant and the twelfth (house) (which can happen when the proper ascendant is intercepted)

    THEN

    It may be witchcraft. It is not definitely witchcraft but it has a high probability of being witchcraft.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Thank you JamesM!
    I'll rewrite the sentence:

    The best sign of Ω is
    1) if X,
    or
    2) if Y,
    which may happen
    3) when A,
    then

    4) it may be Ω.

    Your reading was that
    X OR Y is the necessary condition for Ω
    and
    A is only a condition for Y (rather than being a condition for both X and Y).

    Which features of the sentence structure (such as punctuation), if any, provide evidence for this reading?

    Thank you

    Edited ( X or Y)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I see it almost like James, except that I think you have to include the introductory bit "The best sign of witchcraft is".

    So I'd break the original as:
    (1) The best sign of witchcraft is if the lord of the twelfth house be in the sixth.
    Or {= alternatively}...
    (2) if one planet be lord of the ascendant and the twelfth (which may happen when the proper ascendant may be intercepted) then it may be witchcraft.


    I note that, in the book, the person listening to this felt mystified by it!
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Loob, I cannot follow you when you speak astrology.:)
    Would you please explain using A, Y etc.?

    Do you think the person in the book was mystified by subjunctives, or by astrology?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    OK, I'll try!:)

    (1) The best sign of Ω is if X.
    Or
    (2) If Y -- which may happen when A --
    then
    ...
    ... it may be Ω.


    Looking at the text again, I think the listener was probably more exasperated than mystified. He wouldn't have been mystified by the subjunctives*, but he clearly wanted the speaker to get to the point and skip all the mumbo-jumbo.

    -------
    * they're good Shakespeare-style English: see "If music be the food of love, play on."
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Maybe it would help to try a different text with the same structure.
    It's a sign that you're drunk if you start seeing little green men.
    Alternatively...
    ... If you start falling over - which can happen when people have been drinking - then that may also be a sign that you're drunk.


    EDIT: typo
     
    Last edited:

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Thank you Loob:)

    For your reading, I would maybe like to have seen a semicolon after X. Or, frankly, a full stop (I don't mind an 'or' heading a sentence).
    What do you think?
    I copy the sentence below in one line.

    The best sign of Ω is if X, or If Y, which may happen when A, then it may be Ω.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Yes, I think it would have been easier to read with either a semicolon or a full stop. But strictly speaking, only a comma is necessary. And I can't see any other way of parsing the sentence, whatever the punctuation....:(
     
    I agree with JamesM's reading. Essentially it's the same as Loob's.

    Siares' reading in post #11 (similar to others) is not likely correct (with respect to the scope of "Then it may be). The structure is really not so complicatated, "It's a sign of X, if A* or if B. B happens when.... The conclusion or inference about witchcraft: it's there if either A or B is the case.

    The Lords business is not hard to explain, but I'm not sure there's an interest in historical astrology.

    -------------
    ADDED:
    *A being the 'best sign'.
     
    Last edited:

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    How do you fit the "The best sign of witchcraft is" into the rest of the sentence, benny?

    (James's post 4 omitted that:).)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    The best sign is A, but B is a sign also. That's the basic structure.
    Then you and I pretty much agree, benny, but we both disagree with James's post 4....:cool:

    ---------

    EDIT. Oh, I see you edited your post 12 after I'd replied to it:(.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Please don't be adding more alphabet, Bennymix, I'm confused enough as is!
    Would you please clarify using ALL of X, Y, A and Ω?
    Or define any combinations of them? Such as (X+Y) is 1 or so.

    The Lords business is not hard to explain, but I'm not sure there's an interest in historical astrology.
    There is! Please explain the lords. (Any prior knowledge of astrology would have been extremely useful to decrypt the sentence.)
    And does historical astrology differ from modern astrology?

    E: standardisation
     
    Last edited:

    AutumnOwl

    Senior Member
    -
    Swedish
    Please explain the lords.
    In astrology the lord of a sign is the planet ruling that sign, for example (the planet) Mars is the ruler of (the sign of) Aries. If the sign of Aries is in the twelfth house, then Mars being in the sixth house would be a good sign of witchcraft.
     
    Small clarification-- you should say If some degree of Aries is on the cusp (first point) of the twelfth.

    Autumn said in part: Some portion of the sign of Aries will be in the XII house, together with some part (or possibly all) of the sign of Taurus. In the "all" case (interception), we might have an early degree of Gemini rising (say 3) =the ascendant. Hence those degrees of Gemini earlier than 3 would be in the XII house.

    In astrology the lord of a sign is the planet ruling that sign, for example (the planet) Mars is the ruler of (the sign of) Aries. If the sign of Aries is in the twelfth house, then Mars being in the sixth house would be a good sign of witchcraft.

    ADDED:
    Here is a chart, for clarification. 6 degrees of Scorpio is on the XII cusp. That house contains the rest of Scorpio and up to 1 degree of Sagittarius, the I house cusp or ascendant degree. The XII's classical ruler is Mars, and it is in the XI house. The entire sign of Capricorn is intercepted (totally enclosed) in the II house.

    http://www.bigskyastrology.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/intercept.gif
     
    Last edited:
    The best sign of Omega is X. Another sign is Y (which may happen...).
    (In summary) the signs of Omega are X or Y.)


    Thank you Loob:)

    For your reading, I would maybe like to have seen a semicolon after X. Or, frankly, a full stop (I don't mind an 'or' heading a sentence).
    What do you think?
    I copy the sentence below in one line.

    The best sign of Ω is if X, or If Y, which may happen when A, then it may be Ω.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Thank you, bennymix!
    The best sign of Omega is X. Another sign is Y (which may happen...).
    I think I get it:)

    How does if...be differ from when...may be? Would when...be be incorrect? in the sentence below: ?

    The best sign of Ω is if X be. Or if Y be, which may happen when A may be; then it may be Ω. (I've added some punctuation to make it more readable to myself)

    Bennymix and Autumn Owl, thank you for the astrology explanations! It is much more complicated than I thought.
    Thanks again, Loob, JamesM and Mahantongo!
     
    To simplify:
    "It's a sign of witchcraft if the Lord of the XII be in the VI house."

    The meaning is the same as:
    "It's a sign of witchcraft when the Lord of the XII is in the VI house."

    "when ...be" sounds awkward here, but may be passable.

    There is lots of discussion of the usage of 'if' vs. 'when'; 'when' is often used when the expectation
    is that the event will occur.

    Call me if you get home early :tick: Call me when you get home early o_O

    If I live in Rome, I say to a travelling friend. "Call me if you get to Rome" vs. "Call me when you get to Rome"---the latter indicates I expect the friend will be there.

    If sodium is placed in water there's a strong reaction; When sodium is placed in water there's a strong reaction. -- same meaning.




    Thank you, bennymix!

    I think I get it:)

    How does if...be differ from when...may be? Would when...be be incorrect? in the sentence below: ?

    The best sign of Ω is if X be. Or if Y be, which may happen when A may be; then it may be Ω. (I've added some punctuation to make it more readable to myself)

    Bennymix and Autumn Owl, thank you for the astrology explanations! It is much more complicated than I thought.
    Thanks again, Loob, JamesM and Mahantongo!
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Thanks Bennymix!
    when...be sounds awkward to me too.
    Is there a difference in certainty between:
    1) The best sign of Ω is if X be. (subjunctive)
    2) The best sign of Ω is if X is. (conditional)
     
    The first sounds a little more like hypothesis or speculation--also somewhat archaic.
    In the US, the living subjunctive is more for cases of "We recommend that he be suspended without pay."

    Thanks Bennymix!
    when...be sounds awkward to me too.
    Is there a difference in certainty between:
    1) The best sign of Ω is if X be. (subjunctive)
    2) The best sign of Ω is if X is. (conditional)
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    The first sounds a little more like hypothesis or speculation
    That is clear, thank you.:)

    strictly speaking, only a comma is necessary. And I can't see any other way of parsing the sentence, whatever the punctuation
    I think now there is truly not another way. The beginning and the end clearly tell that there must be at least two independent ideas between them; and the end must be referring to the latter.
    The best sign of witchcraft is ..... then it may be witchcraft.

    ... If you start falling over - which can happen when people have been drinking - then that may also be a sign that you're drunk.
    I'll rewrite your example into my OP structure ( ...or if Y be, which may happen when A may be, then it may be Ω.)
    ....,or if you start falling over, which may happen when people may have been drinking, then that may also be a sign that you're drunk.

    What do you mean, Loob?:) Too many 'mays' and too few semicolons for me to understand.

    Re: strictly speaking: Is there a shortage of punctuation marks I'm unaware of?:)
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I think you are putting a lot of effort into a passage that is written in a structure you will never find anywhere else. :) If you succeed in understanding or analyzing this passage it won't do you any good anywhere else. The knowledge cannot be generalized or transferred.
     
    Agreed. A beautifully constructed complex sentence is worth dissecting. A haphazard thing, as in the OP, is just worth a quick analysis, then a moving along.

    ADDED: The above is perhaps too dismissive. The discussion of anything is worth pursuing
    if all persons, including the Original Poster are learning and enjoying it. I have enjoyed this
    thread. I'm not sure I have much more to say about the sentence, but any issues anyone has in mind should certainly be posted here for discussion. :)



    I think you are putting a lot of effort into a passage that is written in a structure you will never find anywhere else. :) If you succeed in understanding or analyzing this passage it won't do you any good anywhere else. The knowledge cannot be generalized or transferred.
     
    Last edited:

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    It is perfectly fine to ask questions about any word or phrase in English on this forum. :) A badly written sentence will still be a badly written sentence, no matter how much we analyze it. That's all I'm trying to say. I hate to see you trying to make sense of a construction that wasn't written with the intent of demonstrating good grammar. I think it is simply written that way to produce the effect of sounding mysterious, arcane and confusing. On that count it has succeeded. :)
     

    AutumnOwl

    Senior Member
    -
    Swedish
    I think it is simply written that way to produce the effect of sounding mysterious, arcane and confusing.
    I agree, especially the second part, as the ascendant can't be intercepted as far as I know (it's after all the rising sign).
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Many thanks to you all!

    The following is based on my utter faith in author's writing and is only my personal view:
    Based on your advice that the sentence is badly written; the astrologist, pompous and ingratiating; is also disingenuous.
    He may claim that astrology is the purest of sciences, but, at least subconsciously, he doesn't really believe it.
    I didn't need to know astrology to know. The writing clearly told me - and I've missed it.
    Isn't Pears great? and where is that emoticon for rhetorical question when one needs it?

    Thank you to all who replied. It is impossible I love this thread more.
     
    Good point.

    if one planet be lord of the ascendant and the twelfth, which may happen when the proper ascendant may be intercepted,


    The writer is not speaking very precisely. I suspect what he means is this:
    Suppose the XII house has, say early Capricorn on the cusp, and the Ascendant is in the last degrees of Capricorn. Suppose further that Aquarius is intercepted in the first house, and early Pisces is on the cusp of II house. The Lord of the XII (Saturn) is the Lord of the I, measured by ascending degree. The I house is almost all Aquarius intercepted. So the Lord of XII is the Lord of main sign (Aquarius) of the first house.


    I agree, especially the second part, as the ascendant can't be intercepted as far as I know (it's after all the rising sign).
     
    Last edited:
    < Previous | Next >
    Top