An Overview of Geomantic Literature

Over on the Geomantic Campus mailing list, there’s been a bit of talk about a new (gasp!) book on geomancy, “Astrogem Geomancy” by Les Cross.  The book was just released this summer, and proposes a new cross between crystallomancy, geomancy, and astrology.  It uses the traditional sixteen geomantic figures and the astrological framework we all love, but offers some exciting innovations about interpretive models and the structure of the figures.  Plus, it also links the sixteen figures to sets of semiprecious stones, which makes sense to me, both the figures and the gems coming from the Earth.  I just ordered a copy and, shockingly, I got a thankful reply back from the author almost immediately.  I had an email exchange with him before after my post reviewing Poke Runyon’s discussion of geomancy, and we both came away the better from it.  Not gonna lie, I’m pretty humbled by his email, and I fully intend on taking him up on his offer to sign the book.

I plan to do a review of the book and technique once it falls into my hands, but in preparation for that, let me do a quick overview of the current state of geomancy in print.  This isn’t intended to be a complete list, but highlights the texts I own or am familiar with and my thoughts on what they have to offer.  Back when I was in college, I used my library and academic connections like the dirty whores they are to get the most information relevant to Western geomancy as I could without it falling too far into the African arts of ifa or sikidy; this, plus a good bit of downtime between papers, led me to be as well-read on the subject as I could.  Where possible, I’ve linked to Amazon listings or PDFs of the texts so you might be able to check out some of the literature as well.

For ancient and medieval sources, in no particular order:

  • Henrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, “Three Books and Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy”.  Probably most magicians’ introduction to geomancy, when they get to those parts of his Second and Fourth Books.  Starting with his “On Geomancy” in the Fourth Book, he presents a fairly standard introduction to the art: generating the Mothers, generating the Shield, making the House chart, and presents the meanings of the figures in the various houses.  He also offers multiple assignments of the figures to the elements, including one based on their zodiacal correspondences and one on the elemental structure of the figures themselves, which is highly interesting, though brief.  It’s nothing terribly special, though, and isn’t great on the details and techniques that make geomancy an art.  His other references in his series of books, namely those in the Second Book (chapters 48 and 51), deal more with the magical correspondences of the figures and how they can be turned into sigils or seals for spirits or enchantment
  • Gerard of Cremona, “On Astronomical Geomancy”.  A short work, but unique in its presentation of using geomantic methods to substitute in for horary astrology.  Gerard Cremonensis shows how to develop a horary chart based on the random number generator feature of geomancy and the planetary correspondences with the figures, as well as laying out how to derive the rising sign for an astrological chart.  From this, he shows the rules of basic horary interpretation (horary without degrees, essentially).
  • Pietro d’Abano, “The Method of Judging Questions”.  A short text on geomancy, but this is one of the first that I know of that establishes how awesome using the astrological house chart and methods of perfection can be in geomancy.  It assumes you already know how to cast a geomantic chart and put them into the houses, and goes from there.  Foundational and pretty concise.  Part of JMG’s book Earth Divination, Earth Magic, which is now unfortunately out of print, but cheap versions can still be found.
  • Robert Fludd, “Utriusque Cosmi”.  This is a massive encyclopedic work, only a small portion of which deals with geomancy.  However, the part that does deal with geomancy is complete, well-organized, detailed, and exact.  It has huge lists of how to interpret a given query (e.g. “should the lost or dropped thing, though bad, be retaken?”) and lays out how geomancy was practiced at the height of its technique and history so far.  It’s also unfortunately in Latin and available only on microfilm.  I’ve only been able to get through a few parts of it, but this is definitely a masterpiece of geomantic literature.  Also, Fludd was a small god at using charts and lists to clearly show relationships and correspondences; among his other inventions and works, he might be called the grandfather of infographics.
  • Robert Fludd, “Fasciculus Geomanticus”.  Rather than a simple chapter outlining geomancy as Fludd did in Utriusque Cosmi, this is his encyclopedic work on geomancy alone, cataloging every technique, interpretation, and method he was aware of in his day.  Again, in Latin, but if you have even a simple understanding of the language with a good dictionary, the labor is worth it by far.  His influence is definitely present in modern authors such as JMG, and parts will eventually be translated as a part of my own book.
  • Christopher Cattan, “The Geomancie”.  I was able to get a pretty nice copy of this at Antiquus Astrology, but it seems like they stopped selling their stuff a while ago, and now all that exists are really horrible-to-read scans and PDFs.  Alas.  He devotes the first part of the text to basic astrology and astronomy, but does give nice detail on the elemental natures and correspondences of the planets.  He then goes on to detail what the geomantic figures are, what they mean in the twelve houses, and what it means when a figure is present in both the first house and some other house at the same time.  He offers a helpful chart listing the 128 Court combinations, charts showing a variety of qualities of the figures, and plenty of techniques with an example for each one (though the examples aren’t always clear).  Not a bad book, and one which I consult tolerably often.
  • John Heydon, “Theomagia, or, the Temple of Wisdome”.  No.  No no no no no.  No no.  Do not go near this one.  Heydon was a little late in catching the bus, and compiled this at the tail end of der Untergang des Okkulten; he had to compile damn near everything he had available into more-or-less a complete unit, and I use those terms very loosely.  It centers largely on the occult nature and forces of geomancy, especially how they correspond to astrology and the heavens, but it’s obtuse, unclear, unfathomably dense, and terse when it really shouldn’t be.  Heydon lavishes attention on the occult background of geomancy without actually doing much to show the actual technique, resulting in a lot of occult fluff and not a lot of real content besides spirit work and planetary correspondences, with one or two other details in a massive set of volumes.  Sadly, this being among the most recent of the “ancient” sources, it was one of the things that groups like the Golden Dawn got their hands on, and resulted in a good century or two of geomantic malaise due to the incomprehensibility of geomancy.

For modern sources, again in no particular order:

  • John Michael Greer, “The Art and Practice of Geomancy”.  This is JMG’s second book on geomancy, which is more like an updated version of the older “Earth Divination, Earth Magic” (which included a copy of Pietro d’Abano’s work above).  I’d call this the modern definitive textbook on geomancy, giving a full review of the basics and details of geomantic divination, from basic pairwise readings to the nuances of multi-significator interpretations.  He also goes through incorporating geomancy with magic, specifically ceremonial operations and astrological timing.  In terms of technique, it’s basically an English translation of most of Robert Fludd’s work on geomancy (see above), leaving the details of specific types of queries up to the reader to figure out.  However, this is definitely a must-read for anyone interested in geomancy nowadays.  You can easily start with this and go pretty much anywhere in a matter of days with geomancy.
  • Franz Hartmann, “Geomancy: A Method for Divination”.  This is a modernized edition of Hartmann’s own reworking of an earlier study on geomancy; indeed, this is pretty much the earliest modern text on geomancy we have, dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Hartmann gives a rough introduction to geomantic technique, terse though helpful descriptions of each figure in each house, and a list of the 128 Court combinations along with example interpretations for 16 queries, which constitutes the bulk of the text.  He finishes with a very, very short treatise on astrology, basically showing what each planet and sign generally meant.  A good starting point, but incomplete when put next to most of the rest of the literature.
  • Stephen Skinner, “Geomancy in Theory and Practice”.  This is Skinner’s most recent work on geomancy, surpassing and incorporating his older “Terrestrial Astrology” (largely a historic treatise on the development of geomancy from its Arabic origins through Europe) and the even older and more new-agey “The Oracle of Geomancy”, which was geared more for absolute beginners and repeats a lot of rote information from previous works, including brief and terse descriptions of the figures in the houses and in relation to each other, including repeating Hartmann’s list of Court combinations.  Both of these older books are out of print, with the newest one just having been released this past year.  Unfortunately, I don’t have Skinner’s most recent book, but I assume it’s a basic upgrade of his past works.  “Terrestrial Astrology” is good, especially if you’re a historical researcher, and it has a truly massive list of manuscripts and sources for the avid scholar to inspect.
  • Nigel Pennick, “The Oracle of Geomancy”.  Not gonna lie, I cannot stand Nigel Pennick.  Granted that I’ve only read three of his books (another on leylines but mistakenly called geomancy, and a third on occult symbols and writing systems), he is not that good of an author, and his presentation of geomancy is erring at best and trippingly confusing at worst.  He throws in anything that looks vaguely geomantic, including references to Incan and Amerindian art, ancient Greek pottery, the I Ching, and Nordic devotional art.  The little geomancy he has in there is either pretty common stuff or details that aren’t attested elsewhere; not really worth a look.
  • Ralph Pestka and Priscilla Schwei, “The Complete Book of Astrological Geomancy”.  Now this book is one I wish wasn’t out of print!  Pestka and Schwei come up with a really interesting innovation here: we have geomancy, and we have horary astrology, so why not add them together?  By overlaying a normal geomantic house chart with the horary chart for the moment the question is asked, we can get a whole ‘nother layer of meaning by pairing the figures not just with the houses but with the planets, too!  They lay out the combination of each planet and figure in each house, and offer a new set of interpretations for the 128 Court combinations, which is refreshing and highly useful, more than Hartmann’s or Cattan’s, in my opinion.  Plus, one of their chart examples is on my birthday, which I found pretty nifty.  If you can get your hands on a copy of this, do it!
  • Thérèse Charmasson, “Recherches sur une technique divinatoire: la géomancie dans l’occident médiéval”.  Now this is an academic tome, right here, and also (if you couldn’t tell) written in French.  Google Translate and having a few Francophone friends helps here, but it’s definitely worth a read for the history bit of it.  However, it’s nothing you probably couldn’t glean from Skinner’s works, but Charmasson’s comparisons and research on the development of the figures and their names in various African, Arabic, Greek, and Latin sources is fascinating.  Not very easy to come by, and not cheap, so don’t hold your breath unless you have a good library hookup.
  • Paul Tannery, “Le Rabolion” (from “Mémoires Scientifiques” vol. 4).  Again, another researchy and scholarly French book, but one I highly suggest looking into.  Tannery was a mathematician and mathematical historian, and dedicates this section of a huge series of works to the development of geomancy.  The first chapter of his section on rabolion (a Byzantine Greek loan from Arabic for geomancy) is dedicated to the development of geomancy in the Sahara and Middle East, then in Europe.  The second and third parts of this section contain Greek and Latin texts of geomancy from the medieval and Byzantine eras, which is fascinating all in itself.  Very hard to come by except in the most established of libraries and collections.
  • J. A. Abayomi Cole, “Astrological Geomancy in Africa”.  This is less a work on geomancy as it is traditional Western occult philosophy with passing nods to how it came to exist and be understood through a very Europeanized African set of eyes.  Very little geomancy, very much a distillation of other works and focuses on occultism and astrology in general.  Not a particularly trustworthy source of information, but fascinating to see a glimpse of how geomancy was viewed in a very particular time period.
  • Richard Webster, “Geomancy for Beginners”.  I wrote a review of this book elsewhere on my blog, which you may be interested to read more about my specific take on it, but long story short, given that this is a Llewellyn book and is explicitly marked “for beginners”, the book is a passable though fluffy introduction to geomancy, though it really is meant for rank beginners who know nothing of the basics of Western occult symbols, but even then, the book isn’t that great in giving a strong basis with them, either.  Its presentation of information and technique is disjointed, and though it can be useful for people who don’t have much of an attention span to learn geomancy, its extra fluff and needless expanses of words unfortunately take up as much time as it does to learn the symbols and techniques of geomancy itself.  The only really innovative or new thing Webster brings is his chapter on “Arthurian divination”, but that alone doesn’t justify the rest of the fluff and cruft, especially since it’s not really geomantic.

And just as a note, anything on geomancy from the Golden Dawn is mostly rubbish. You’ll see why people stopped using it once you “read” what they had to “teach” on the matter.  Even if they were meant to be fleshed out by oral lessons and mentors, they’re woefully incomplete even as they are, but this is a problem with how geomancy barely survived the Enlightenment, not a reflection on the Golden Dawn and subsequent traditions.

There’re also a number of scholarly texts written about geomancy.  For those with good library or research connections, you might want to check out the following. If you can’t find them, be aware that I’ve uploaded most of these to the Geomantic Campus (and also to the FB group Geomantic Study-Group), so if you haven’t joined, do so already!

  • William Bascom et al., “Two Studies of Ifa Divination. Introduction: The Mode of Divination”
  • Louis Brenner, “Histories of Religion in Africa”
  • R. Davies, “A System of Sand Divination”
  • Rob Eglash, “Bamana Sand Divination: Recursion in Ethnomathematics”
  • C. H. Josten, “Robert Fludd’s Theory of Geomancy and His Experiences at Avignon in the Winter of 1601 to 1602”
  • Felix Klein-Franke, “The Geomancy of Ahmad B. ‘Ali Zunbul: A Study of the Arabic Corpus Hermeticum”
  • Wim van Binsbergen, “The Origin of Islamic Geomancy in Graeco-Roman Astrology”
  • James Sibree, “Divination among the Malagasy, Together with Native Ideas as to Fate and Destiny”
  • Marion Smith, “The Nature of Islamic Geomancy with a Critique of a Structuralist’s Approach”
  • Emilie Savage Smith et al., “Islamic Geomancy and a Thirteenth-Century Divinatory Device”

UPDATE (2017-10-01): Added Fludd’s “Fasciculus Geomanticus” to the books list, and other minor changes.

4 responses

  1. Based on my work with the kavad, I’m thinking of writing a short ePub/pdf for sale on the usefulness of the images swirling around each of the geomantic figures, and their role in doing divinations for clients. Do you suppose there’d be much interest in such a thing? I have to say, it’s helped my own geomantic practice enormously.

  2. Pingback: Wednesday Webshare: Ghosts, Gnostics, and God-Fights « Blue Flame Magick

  3. Pingback: Another System of Elemental Affinities for the Geomantic Figures « The Digital Ambler

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