On Geomantic Figures, Zodiac Signs, and Lunar Mansions

Geomantic figures mean a lot of things; after all, we only have these 16 symbols to represent the entire rest of the universe, or, as a Taoist might call it, the “ten-thousand things”.  This is no easy task, and trying to figure out exactly how to read a particular geomantic figure in a reading is where real skill and intuition come into play.  It’s no easy thing to determine whether we should interpret Puer as just that, a young boy, or a weapon of some kind, or an angry person, or head trauma or headaches, or other things depending on where we find it in a chart, what’s around it, what figures generated it, and so forth.

Enter the use of correspondence tables.  Every Western magician loves these things, which simply link a set of things with another set of things.  Think of Liber 777 or Stephen Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables or Agrippa’s tables of Scales; those are classic examples of correspondence tables, but they don’t always have to be so expansive or universal.  One-off correspondences, like the figures to the planets or the figures to the elements, are pretty common and usually all we need.

One such correspondence that many geomancers find useful is that which links the geomantic figures to the signs of the Zodiac.  However, there are two such systems I know of, which confuses a lot of geomancers who are unsure of which to pick or when they work with another geomancer who uses another system.

  • The planetary method (or Agrippan method) assigns the zodiac signs to the figures based on the planet and mobility of the figure.  Thus, the lunar figures (Via and Populus) are given to the lunar sign (Cancer), and the solar figures (Fortuna Major and Fortuna Minor) are given to the solar sign (Leo).  For the other planet/figures, the mobile figure is given to the nocturnal/feminine sign and the stable figure to the diurnal/masculine sign; thus, Puella (stable Venus) is given to Libra (diurnal Venus) and Amissio (mobile Venus) is given to Taurus (nocturnal Venus).  This system doesn’t work as well for Mars (both of whose figures are mobile) and Saturn (both of whose figures are stable), but we can say that Puer is more stable that Rubeus and Amissio more stable than Carcer.  Caput Draconis and Cauda Draconis are analyzed more in terms of their elements and both considered astrologically (not geomantically) mobile, and given to the mutable signs of their proper elements.
  • The method of Gerard of Cremona is found in his work “On Astronomical Geomancy”, which is more of a way to draw up a horary astrological chart without respect for the actual heavens themselves in case one cannot observe them or get to an ephemeris at the moment.  He lists his own way to correspond the figures to the signs, but there’s no immediately apparent way to figure out the association.

Thus, the geomantic figures are associated with the signs of the Zodiac in the following ways according to their methods:

Planetary Gerard of Cremona
Populus Cancer Capricorn
Via Leo
Albus Gemini Cancer
Coniunctio Virgo Virgo
Puella Libra Libra
Amissio Taurus Scorpio
Fortuna Maior Leo Aquarius
Fortuna Minor Taurus
Puer Aries Gemini
Rubeus Scorpio
Acquisitio Sagittarius Aries
Laetitia Pisces Taurus
Tristitia Aquarius Scorpio
Carcer Capricorn Pisces
Caput Draconis Capricorn Virgo
Cauda Draconis Scorpio Sagittarius

As you can see, dear reader, there’s not much overlap between these two lists, so it can be assumed that any overlap is coincidental.

In my early days, I ran tests comparing the same set of charts but differing in how I assigned the zodiac signs to the figures, and found out that although the planetary method is neat and clean and logical, it was Gerard of Cremona’s method that worked better and had more power in it.  This was good to know, and I’ve been using Gerard of Cremona’s method ever since, but it was also kinda frustrating since I couldn’t see any rhyme or reason behind it.

The other day, I was puzzled by how Gerard of Cremona got his zodiacal correspondences for the geomantic figures, so I started plotting out how the Zodiac signs might relate to the figures.  I tried pretty much everything I could think of: looking at the planetary domicile, exaltation, and triplicity didn’t get me anywhere, and trying to compare the signs with their associated houses (Aries with house I, Taurus with house II, etc.) and using the planetary joys of each house didn’t work, either.  Comparing the individual figures with their geomantic element and mobility/stability with the element and quality of the sign (cardinal, fixed, mutable) didn’t get me anywhere.  I was stuck, and started thinking along different lines: either Gerard of Cremona was using another source of information, or he made it up himself.  If it were that latter, I’d be frustrated since I’d have to backtrack and either backwards-engineer it or leave it at experience and UPG that happens to work, and I don’t like doing that.

Gerard of Cremona wrote in the late medieval period, roughly around the 12th century, which is close to when geomancy was introduced into Europe through Spain.  Geomancy was, before Europe, an Arabian art, and I remembered that there is at least one method of associating the geomantic figures with an important part of Arabian magic and astrology: the lunar mansions, also called the Mansions of the Moon.  I recall this system from the Picatrix as well as Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (book II, chapter 33), and also that it was more important in early European Renaissance magic than it was later on.  On a hunch, I decided to start investigating the geomantic correspondences to the lunar mansions.

Unfortunately, there’s pretty much nothing in my disposal on the lunar mansions in the geomantic literature I know of, but there was something I recall reading.  Some of you might be aware of a Arabic geomantic calculating machine, an image of which circulates around the geomantic blogosphere every so often.  Back in college, I found an analysis of this machine by Emilie Savage-Smith and Marion B. Smith in their 1980 publication “Islamic Geomancy and a Thirteenth-Century Divinatory Device”, and I recall that a section of the text dealt with that large dial in the middle of the machine.  Turns out, that dial links the geomantic figures with the lunar mansions!

However, I honestly couldn’t make heads-or-tails of that dial, and neither could Savage-Smith nor Smith; it dealt with “rising” and “setting” mansions that were out of season but arranged in a way that wasn’t temporal but geometrical according to the figures themselves.  Add to it, the set of lunar mansions associated with the figures here was incomplete and didn’t match what Gerard of Cremona had at all.  However, a footnote in their work gave me another lead, this time to an early European geomantic work associated with Hugo Sanctallensis, the manuscript of which is still extant.  A similar manuscript from around the same time period, Paris Bibliothèque Nationale MS Lat. 7354, was reproduced in Paul Tannery’s chapter on geomancy “Le Rabolion” in his Mémoires Scientifiques (vol. 4).  In that text, Tannery gives the relevant section of the manuscript that, lo and behold, associates the 16 geomantic figures with 21 of the lunar mansions:

Lunar Mansion Geomantic figure
1 Alnath Acquisitio
2 Albotain
3 Azoraya Fortuna Maior
4 Aldebaran Laetitia
5 Almices Puella
6 Athaya Rubeus
7 Aldirah
8 Annathra Albus
9 Atarf
10 Algebha Via
11 Azobra
12 Acarfa
13 Alhaire Caput Draconis
14 Azimech Coniunctio
15 Argafra Puer
16 Azubene
17 Alichil Amissio
18 Alcalb
19 Exaula Tristitia
20 Nahaym Populus
21 Elbeda Cauda Draconis
22 Caadaldeba
23 Caadebolach
24 Caadacohot
25 Caadalhacbia Fortuna Minor
26 Amiquedam
27 Algarf Almuehar
28 Arrexhe  Carcer

(NB: I used the standard Latin names for the figures and Agrippa’s names for the lunar mansions, as opposed to the names given in the manuscript.  Corresponding the mansion names in the manuscript to those of Agrippa, and thus their associated geomantic figures, is tentative in some cases, but the order is the same.)

So now we have a system of 21 of the 28 lunar mansions populated by the geomantic figures.  It’d be nice to have a complete system, but I’m not sure one survives in the literature, and one isn’t given by Tannery.  All the same, however, we have our way to figure out Gerard of Cremona’s method of assigning the zodiac signs to the geomantic figures.  Each sign of the Zodiac is 30° of the ecliptic, but each mansion of the Moon is 12°51’26”, so there’s a bit of overlap between one zodiac sign and several lunar mansions.  As a rule, for every “season” of three zodiac figures (Aries to Gemini, Cancer to Virgo, Libra to Sagittarius, Capricorn to Pisces), we have seven lunar mansions divided evenly among them.  If we compare how each sign of the Zodiac and their corresponding geomantic figure(s) match up with the lunar mansions and their figures from Tannery, we get a pretty neat match:

Zodiac Signs and Figures Lunar Mansion and Figures
1 Aries Acqusitio 1 Alnath Acquisitio
2 Albotain
3 Azoraya Fortuna Maior
2 Taurus Fortuna Minor
4 Aldebaran Laetitia
5 Almices Puella
3 Gemini Puer
6 Athaya Rubeus
7 Aldirah
4 Cancer Albus 8 Annathra Albus
9 Atarf
10 Algebha Via
5 Leo Via
11 Azobra
12 Acarfa
6 Virgo Caput Draconis
13 Alhaire Caput Draconis
14 Azimech Coniunctio
7 Libra Puella 15 Argafra Puer
16 Azubene
17 Alichil Amissio
8 Scorpio Amissio
18 Alcalb
19 Exaula Tristitia
9 Sagittarius Cauda Draconis
20 Nahaym Populus
21 Elbeda Cauda Draconis
10 Capricorn Populus 22 Caadaldeba
23 Caadebolach
24 Caadacohot
11 Aquarius Fortuna Maior
25 Caadalhacbia Fortuna Minor
26 Amiquedam
12 Pisces Carcer
27 Algarf Almuehar
28 Arrexhe Carcer

If you compare the figures for the zodiac signs, in the majority of cases you see the same figures at least once in a lunar mansion that overlaps that particular sign.  There are a few exceptions to this rule, however:

  • Fortuna Maior and Fortuna Minor are reversed between Gerard of Cremona’s zodiacal system and Tannery’s mansion system, as are Puer and Puella.  I’m pretty sure this is a scribal error, but where exactly it might have occurred (with Gerard of Cremona or before him, in a corrupt copy of Gerard of Cremona, or in Tannery’s manuscript) is hard to tell.
  • Populus, being given to mansion XX present in Sagittarius, is assigned to Capricorn.  If we strictly follow the system above, we get two geomantic figures for Sagittarius and none for Capricorn.  To ensure a complete zodiacal assignment, we bump Populus down a few notches and assign it to Capricorn.

And there you have it!  Now we understand the basis for understanding Gerard of Cremona’s supposedly random system of corresponding the signs of the Zodiac to the geomantic figures, and it turns out that it was based on the lunar mansions and their correspondences to the geomantic figures.  This solves a long-standing problem for me, but it also raises a new one: since we (probably) don’t have an extant complete system of corresponding the lunar mansions to the geomantic figures, how do we fill in the blanks?  In this system, we’re missing geomantic figures for mansions VII, XI, XII, XVIII, XXII, XXIII, and XIV (or, if you prefer, Aldirah, Azobra, Acarfa, Alcalb, Caadaldeba, Caadebolach, Caadacohot, and Caadalhacbia).  All of the geomantic figures are already present, and we know that some figures can cover more than one mansion, so it might be possible that some of the figures should be expanded to cover more than the mansion they already have, e.g. Rubeus covering mansion VI (Athaya), which it already does, in addition to VII (Aldirah), which is currently unassigned.

This is probably a problem best left for another day, but perhaps some more research into the lunar mansions and some experimentation would be useful.  If an Arabic source listing the geomantic figures in a similar way to the lunar mansions could be found, that’d be excellent, but I’m not holding my breath for that kind of discovery anytime soon.

23 responses

  1. Pingback: What I’m reading | Wanderings in the Labyrinth

    • Thank you! I wasn’t aware that she and Marion Smith had published a renewed version. Unfortunately, it explains more about the context behind Arabic geomancy and the geomantic device rather than the theory and algorithms to be used with it, and there’s barely anything new in the section about lunar mansions. Ah well.

  2. I think you’ve done a great job here, and I see where you’re going with this. I’m wondering how I can go about working with this in my own work, and here’s a couple of ideas: 1) I can incorporate the man, his head wrapped, carrying a spear, from the first mansion of the moon, into the design for the image of Acquisitio, the bag filled with money… carrying the bag, perhaps? 2) I can incorporate the bag of money into an image of the first mansion of the moon. 3) I can use the Moon in Aries as an astrological indicator to make talismans of acquisitio; 4) I can use the astrological hours to influence the timing of the making of geomantic talismans. 5) I can work the full bag of money into image-talismans of Aries or Mars, especially if a ram is also in the picture somehow… and that image of Mars also connects to the image of the warrior from the first mansion.

    There’s the parallel opportunity to see the warrior image from the first mansion as connected to the wealth of acquisitio… hmm. This really bears a lot of thinking on. There’s definitely some interesting ways of connecting the images for some potentially powerful results.

    • These aren’t bad ideas, but I have some concerns. I don’t know where the correspondence between the lunar mansions and the geomantic figures given by Hugo of Santalla came from, and at a glance, there doesn’t seem to be much of a match between the figures themselves and the usual descriptions of the mansions given in the Picatrix and in Agrippa. For instance, the mansions XXVI and XXVII are both described in the Picatrix as good for imprisoning people or making incarceration more firm, while Fortuna Minor is nearly always described as good for release, evasion, or freedom. Thus, I’m not sure that the system of image magic given for the lunar mansions is a good match to blend with the geomantic figures. Add to it, the usual match of the lunar mansions with the planets (weekday order, so that mansion I is given to the Sun, II to the Moon, III to Mars, etc.) doesn’t really offer a good match for the planets of the figures given to those lunar mansions.

      Of your options, I think #3 would work best, or #2 if you wanted to use a sigil of the figure instead of a metaphor for the figure. #4 gives me a weird feeling, because the planetary hours are something the geomantic figures can plug into but isn’t geomantic in nature, and the system of geomantic hours that JMG/John Heydon gives is effectively BS or likely corrupted from an earlier system if such an earlier system existed at all.

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  6. I’m not sure if you’ve seen this organization of the mansions before, or their associations with Arab letters. http://www.yeatsvision.com/mansions.html#IbnA

    I’m still trying to align what you’ve discovered with the specific Arabic letters and their connection back to the original abjad or phoenician 22 letters (which, oddly enough, Pliny the elder lists as being given to the Greeks as 16 letters first, then expanded). But I think there might be something there, connected to either the abjad or the vowel sounds (perhaps the vowels are what are skipped or the extra letters beyond the abjad). I’m still in the early stages of working this out, but I wanted to see if you (having done a lot more on this ) thought it had some legs. If so, someone who actually knows arabic and how the language plays out in magic and mysticism might be helpful.

    • I had not seen that before, thank you!

      Pliny the Elder can say what he wants, actual linguistic evidence points to the contrary. :P

      If you mean an association between the geomantic figures and letters of some alphabet or other, the Arabic geomancers have that down-pat; I know I’ve seen a chart associating the figures with their letters, but I can’t find it at the moment, and I don’t think it matches up with the lunar mansion associations. Mind you, the lunar mansions given in this post is from a Latin European work which may or may not be a translation of a hypothetical Arabic original, and is incomplete in itself (which would mean there’d be letters missing from the associations).

      I have experimented with various ways of assigning letters to the geomantic figures, yes. Unfortunately, I found them all to be worthless:
      TL;DR: either the notion of assigning letters to the figures for divinatory means itself is bunk (which I’m inclined to think for various reasons linguistic and otherwise), or there’s something missing from the formula that we haven’t unlocked. The Arabic geomancers extol the virtues of their own name-divining via geomancy, but I can’t attest to their accuracy.

  7. Pliny the Elder says a lot of things, to be sure. Though at least he put that claim in Cyprus. :)

    And agreed on the problematic nature of the post — I was hoping it triggered a memory for you of something more useful. The idea that perhaps there was a magical/mystical association of the letters to the mansions and then the letters to the geomantic figures that could explain their position in the mansion was interesting…but I’ll just have to let that simmer on the back burner.

    Beyond using it as a way to associate the figures with talismans &c. I don’t think there’s much purpose anyway. It certainly isn’t necessary to making the system work, and I’m trying to shed my old correspondence table addiction anyway :) The origin of the Cremona zodiac attributions still adds value


  8. I was looking up Agrippa on Geomancy and while reading Book II, 48 came across a chart with non-planetary zodiac attributions that come very close to the Gerard of Cremona attributions. The only differences are: Amissio placed with Libra, Puer placed with Aries, and Rubeus placed with Gemini.

    Interestingly enough, the prior two chapters are the images of the mansions of the moon and the images of the fixed stars. Agrippa mentions the figures of geomancy as in between images and characters.

    Here’s the link for where I was looking http://www.esotericarchives.com/agrippa/agripp2d.htm Would be curious to see what you made of it.

    • It’s basically the same system with some changes. Rubeus is still given to Gemini in Gerard of Cremona’s system. Puer given to Aries really does make sense, but oh well. :P

      If you look through the literature, the only thing that really seems fixed are the planetary attributions (and even then, occasionally you’ll see something weird). No two authors could agree, it’d seem, on zodiacal attributions. Elemental rulership was determined either in a structural way (JMG’s “inner element”) or in a zodiacal way (“outer element”), though not in those terms, and those still shifted from author to author.

      • Ah, I see now why you thought Rubeus wasn’t associated to Gemini. The old blog template had multi-row cell entries centered vertically, but the new one doesn’t. That’s icky. I’ll have to find a way around that in the future. Bleh.

        • No worries! It did work when I pasted it into a google doc. So I’m still able to work on the comparisons. Frankly, finding the Agrippa match to Cremona stuff really pointed out to me the modernity of the planetary zodiac attributions — there may be quibbles about placement but, as you say, that seems to be the longer line of attribution. I’m going through the machine article now, (and your references in geomantic directions), and seeing what I find. This is fun :) No one ever told me magic was going to involve keeping this many spreadsheets.

          • Oh buddy. I have multiple files and directories on my Google Drive for all this stuff, trust me. Correspondence and mapping tables are extraordinarily useful.

            Something I’m trying to do is, with the help of some raml groups, find out more about how the Arabic geomancers figure out their zodiacal/planetary/etc. correspondences. It’s slow work, but I’m hoping it clears up more things or helps us with useful techniques. It’s a slow, quiet process, though.

            • I can imagine it takes a while to get anywhere with “Hi, I’m from another tradition and we’re trying to fix some points, y’all mind sharing your living tradition with us?” But I would also think that’s the best way forward. I hope you get some responses.

              I definitely don’t want to sound like I’m butting my way in or critiquing your much more extensive work, btw. I’m just hoping to help out. But I do know I can get a bit labrador puppy with things I’m learning. Just let me know if I get pesky instead of useful.

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    • No, because Ophiuchus isn’t a sign of the Zodiac. Unfortunately, that’s an increasingly common misconception that the Zodiac has 13 signs, but it’s never been the case and never will be in any reasonable way or sense. The Zodiac is literally defined as being a 360° circle broken up into 12 segments of 30° each; Ophiuchus has no place. It’s not like the ancients were never aware of the constellation of Ophiuchus, and attribute a rich lore to the story behind it as the healer-hero-god Asclepius, but regardless, Ophiuchus is not a sign of the Zodiac.

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