A few weeks ago, the good Dr Al Cummins and I were talking about geomantic magic. It’s a sorely understood and understudied aspect of the whole art of geomancy, and though we know geomantic sigils exist, they’re never really used much besides in addition to the usual planetary or talismanic methods of Western magic. While I’ve been focusing much on the techniques of divination, exploring the use of geomancy and geomantic figures in magical workings is something of a long-term, slow-burn, back-burner thing for me. Al, on the other hand, has been jumping headlong into experimenting with using geomancy magically (geomagy?), which fascinates me, and which gives us nigh-endless stuff to conjecture and experiment with. After all, there’s technically nothing stopping us from seeing the geomantic figures as “units” in and of themselves, not just as extensions of planets projected downward or as combinations of elements projected upwards, so seeing how we could incorporate geomancy into a more fuller body of magic in its own right is something we’re both excited to do.
One of these talks involved my use of the geomantic gestures (mudras, or as I prefer to call them, “seals”). I brought up one such example of using a geomantic seal from a few years ago: I was at the tattoo parlor with a magic-sensitive friend of mine in the winter, and it had just started to snow. I had to run across the street to get cash, and I decided that it wasn’t that cold (or that I could bear the weather better) to put on my coat. I was, as it turns out, incorrect, and by the time I got back, I was rather chilled to the bone. So, in an attempt to kickstart the process of warming back up, I threw the seal for Laetitia and intoned my mathetic word for Fire (ΧΙΑΩΧ). My sensitive friend immediately turned and picked up on what I was doing without knowing how. I hadn’t really tried that before, but since I associate Laetitia with being pure fire (according to the elemental rulers/subrulers of the figures), I decided to tap into the element of Fire to warm myself up. Since that point, I use the seals for Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia as mudras for the elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, respectively, like in my augmentation of the Calling the Sevenths ritual (e.g. in my Q.D.Sh. Ritual to precede other workings or as general energetic/spiritual maintenance).
Talking with Al about this, I came to the realization that I instinctively used the figures to access the elements; in other words, although we consider the figures being “constructed” out of the presence or absence of the elements, from a practical standpoint, it’s the opposite way around, where I use the figures as bases from which I reach the power of the elements. That was interesting on its own, and something for another post and stream of thought, but Al also pointed out something cute: I use the figures of seven points as my seals for the elements. This is mostly just coincidence, or rather a result of using the figures with one active point for representing one of the four elements in a pure expression, but it did trigger a conversation where we talked about arranging the seven planets among the points of the geomantic figures. For instance, having a set of seven planetary talismans, I can use each individually on their own for a single planet, or I can arrange them on an altar for a combined effect. If the seven-pointed figures can be used for the four elements, then it’d be possible to have elemental arrangements of the planets for use in blending planetary and elemental magic.
So, that got me thinking: if we were to see the geomantic figures not composed of the presence or absence of elements, but as compositions of the planets where each planet is one of the points within a figure, how might that be accomplished? Obviously, we’d use fiery planets for the points in a figure’s Fire row, airy planets for the Air row, etc., but that’s too broad and vague a direction to follow. How could such a method be constructed?
I thought about it a bit, and I recalled how I associated the planets (and other cosmic forces) with the elements according to the Tetractys of my mathesis work:
Note how the seven planets occupy the bottom two rungs on the Tetractys. On the bottom rung, we have Mars in the sphaira of Fire, Jupiter in Air, Venus in Water, and Saturn in Earth; these are the four essentially elemental (ouranic) planets. The other three planets (the Sun, the Moon, and Mercury) are on the third rung, with the Sun in the sphaira of Sulfur, the Moon in the sphaira of Salt, and the planet Mercury in the sphaira of the alchemical agent of Mercury. Although we lack one force (Spirit) for a full empyrean set of mathetic forces for a neat one-to-one association between the empyrean forces and the four elements, note how these three planets are linked to the sphairai of the elements: the Sun is connected to both Fire and Air, Mercury to both Air and Water, and the Moon to both Water and Earth.
Since we want to map the seven planets onto the points of the figures, let’s start with the easiest ones that give us a one-to-one ratio of planets to points: the odd seven-pointed figures Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia. Let us first establish that the four ouranic planets Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn are the most elementally-representative of the seven planets, and thus must be present in every figure; said another way, these four planets are the ones that most manifest the elements themselves, and should be reflected in their mandatory presence in the figures that represent the different manifestations of the cosmos in terms of the sixteen geomantic figures. The Sun, the Moon, and Mercury are the three empyrean planets, and may or may not be present so as to mitigate the other elements accordingly. A row with only one point must therefore have only one planet in that row, and should be the ouranic planet to fully realize that element’s presence and power; a row with two points will have the ouranic planet of that row’s element as well as one of the empyrean planets, where the empyrean planet mitigates the pure elemental expression of the ouranic planet through its more unmanifest, luminary presence. While the ouranic planets will always appear in the row of its associated element, the empyrean planets will move and shift in a harmonious way wherever needed; thus, since the Sun (as the planetary expression of Sulfur) “descends” into both Mars/Fire and Jupiter/Air, the Sun can appear in either the Fire or Air rows when needed. Similarly, Mercury can appear in either the Air or Water rows, and the Moon in either the Water or Earth rows (but more on the exceptions to this below).
As an example, consider the figure Laetitia: a single point in the Fire row, and double points in the Air, Water, and Earth rows, as below:
First, we put in the ouranic planets by default in their respective elemental rows:
Note how Mars takes the single point in the Fire row, while Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn occupy only one of the points in the other rows; these three empty points will be filled by the three empyrean planets according to the most harmonious element. The Moon can appear in either the Earth or Water rows, and Mercury can appear in either the Water or Air rows, but in the case of the figure Laetitia, the Sun can only appear in the Air row, since the Fire row has only one point and is already associated with Mars; thus, in Laetitia, the Sun goes to Air, Mercury to Water, and the Moon to Earth.
Following this rule, we get Rubeus with Jupiter occupying the sole Air point and the Sun moving to the Fire row as the second point, Albus with Venus in the sole Water point and Mercury moving to the Air row, and Tristitia with Saturn in the sole Earth point and the Moon moving to the Water row.
With those done, it would then be easy to see what Via would look like as a collection of planets: just the four ouranic planets Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn in a straight vertical line, the four purely-elemental ouranic planets without any of the mitigating empyrean ones, since the empyrean planets don’t need to be present to mitigate any of the ouranic ones.
Leaving aside Populus for the moment, what about the five-pointed and six-pointed figures? In the case of five-pointed figures (e.g. Puer), we have to leave out two of the empyrean planets, and only one in the case of the six-pointed figures (e.g. Fortuna Maior). For these figures, we decided to break with the foregoing empyrean-to-element rule and institute two new ones for these figures.
For five-pointed figures, use Mercury as the sole empyrean planet for the row with two dots, regardless where it may appear:
For six-pointed figures, use the Sun and Moon as the empyrean planets for the two rows with two dots, regardless where they may appear, with the Sun on the upper double-pointed row and the Moon on the lower double-pointed row:
Note how these two rules give us four figures where the empyrean planets do not appear where we would otherwise have expected them:
- Fortuna Maior (Sun in Water)
- Fortuna Minor (Moon in Air)
- Caput Draconis (Mercury in Fire)
- Cauda Draconis (Mercury in Earth)
I figured that this departure from the original empyrean-to-elemental-row idea was useful here, since it allows us to emphasize the structure of the figures and respect the natural affinities of the empyrean planets to each other. The Sun and Moon have always been considered a pair unto themselves as the two luminaries; without one, the other shouldn’t necessarily be present in such a planetary arrangement. Thus, for the five-pointed figures that omit the Sun and Moon, we would then use only Mercury, as it’s the only empyrean planet available. Likewise, if either the Sun or Moon is present, the other should also be present; for the six-pointed figures, this means that Mercury is the only empyrean planet omitted. An alternative arrangement could be used where you keep following the prior rules, such that Fortuna Maior uses the Sun and Mercury, Fortuna Minor uses Mercury and the Moon, etc., but I rather like keeping the Sun and Moon both in or out together. It suggests a certain…fixity, as it were, in the six-pointed figures and mutability in the five-pointed figures that fits well with their even/objective/external or odd/subjective/internal meanings.
For all the foregoing, I’m torn between seeing whether the order of planets within a row (if there are two) matters or not. In one sense, it shouldn’t matter; I only assigned the ouranic planets to the right point and the empyreal planets to the left because of the right-to-left nature of geomancy, and coming from a set theory point of view, the order of things in a set doesn’t really matter since sets don’t have orders, just magnitude. On the other hand, we typically consider the left-hand side of things to be weaker, more receptive, more distant, or more manifested from the right-hand stronger, emitting, near, or manifesting (due, of course, to handedness in humans with the usual connotations of “dexter” and “sinister”), but relying on that notion, I do feel comfortable putting the empyrean planets (if any) on the left-hand points of a figure, with the ouranic planets on the right-hand side, if not the middle. It’s mostly a matter of arbitrary convention, but it does…I dunno, feel better that way.
So that takes care of the figures of four, five, six, and seven points. We only have one figure left, the eight-pointed figure Populus. As usual with this figure, things get weird. We can’t simply slap the planets onto the points of Populus because we only have seven planets; we’d either need to bring in an extra force (Spirit? Fixed stars? the Earth?) which would necessitate an eighth force which simply isn’t available planetarily, or we’d have to duplicate one of the existing seven planets which isn’t a great idea (though, if that were to be the case, I’d probably volunteer Mercury for that). However, consider what the figure of Populus represents: emptiness, inertia, void. What if, instead of filling in the points of the figure Populus, we fill in the spaces left behind by those points? After all, if Populus is empty of elements, then why bother trying to put planets where there’ll be nothing, anyway? If it’s void, then put the planets in the voids. I found it easiest to conceive of seven voids around and among the points of Populus in a hexagram pattern:
Rather than filling in the points of Populus, which would necessitate an eighth planet or the duplication of one of the seven planets, we can envision the seven planets being used to fill the gaps between the points of Populus; seen another way, the planets would be arranged in a harmonic way, and Populus would take “form”, so to speak, in the gaps between the planets themselves. The above arrangement of suggested points to fill naturally suggests the planetary hexagram used elsewhere in Western magic (note that the greyed-out circles above and below aren’t actually “there” for anything, but represent the voids that truly represent Populus around which the planets are arranged):
Simple enough, but I would instead recommend a different arrangement of planets to represent Populus based on all the rules we have above. Note how the center column has three “voids” to fill by planets, and there are four “voids” on either side of the figure proper. Rather than using the standard planetary hexagram, I’d recommend putting the three empyrean planets in the middle, with the Sun on top, Mercury in the middle, and the Moon on the bottom; then, putting Mars and Jupiter on the upper two “voids” with Venus and Saturn on the bottom two “voids”:
Note the symmetry here of the planets in the voids of Populus. Above Mercury are the three hot planets (the right-hand side of the Tetractys), and below are the three cold planets (the left-hand side of the Tetractys). On the right side are Mars and Venus together, representing the masculine and feminine principles through Fire and Water; on the left, Jupiter and Saturn, representing the expansive and contracting principles through Air and Earth; above is the Sun, the purely hot unmanifest force among the planets; below is the Moon, the coldest unmanifest force but closest to manifestation and density; in the middle is Mercury, the mean between them all. Around the planet Mercury in the middle can be formed three axes: the vertical axis for the luminaries, the Jupiter-Venus axis for the benefics, and the Saturn-Mars axis for the malefics. Note how Mercury plays the role of mean as much as on the Tetractys as it does here, played out in two of the three axes (Sun-Moon on the third rung, and Venus-Jupiter by being the one of the third-rung “parents” of the two elemental sphairai on the fourth rung). The Saturn-Mars axis represents a connection that isn’t explicitly present on the Tetractys, but just as the transformation between Air and Water (hot/moist to cold/moist) is mediated by Mercury, so too would Mercury have to mediate the transformation between Fire and Earth (hot/dry to cold/dry); this can be visualized by the Tetractys “looping back” onto itself, as if it were wrapped around a cylinder, where the sphairai of Mars/Fire and Saturn/Earth neighbored each other on opposite sides, linked together by an implicit “negative” Mercury. Further, read counterclockwise, the hexagram here is also related to the notion of astrological sect: the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn belong to the diurnal sect, while the Moon, Venus, and Mars belong to the nocturnal sect; Saturn, though cold, is given to the diurnal sect of the Sun to mitigate its cold, and Mars, though hot, is given to the nocturnal sect of the Moon to mitigate its heat, with Mercury being adaptable, possesses no inherent sect of its own, but changes whether it rises before or after the Sun.
That done, I present the complete set of planetary arrangements for the sixteen geomantic figures, organized according to reverse binary order from Via down to Populus:
So, the real question then becomes, how might these be used? It goes without saying that these can be used for scrying into, meditating upon, or generally pondering to more deeply explore the connections between the planets and the figures besides the mere correspondence of rulership. Magically, you might consider creating and consecrating a set of seven planetary talismans. Once made, they can be arranged into one of the sixteen geomantic figures according to the patterns above for specific workings; for instance, using the planetary arrangement of Acquisitio using the planetary talismans in a wealth working. If you want to take the view that the figures are “constructed” from the planets much how we construct them from the elements, then this opens up new doors to, say, crafting invocations for the figures or combining the planets into an overall geomantic force.
However, there’s a snag we hit when we realize that most of the figures omit some of the planets; it’s only the case for five of the 16 figures that all seven planets are present, and of those five, one of them (Populus) is sufficiently weird to not fit any sort of pattern for the rest. Thus, special handling would be needed for the leftover planetary talismans. Consider:
- The five-pointed figures omit the Sun and the Moon. These are the two visible principles of activity/positivity and passivity/negativity, taking form in the luminaries of the day and night. These could be set to the right and left, respectively, of the figure to confer the celestial blessing of light onto the figure and guide its power through and between the “posts” of the two luminaries.
- The six-pointed figures omit the planet Mercury. Magically, Mercury is the arbiter, messenger, and go-between of all things; though the planetary talisman of Mercury would not be needed for the six-pointed figures, his talisman should be set in a place of prominence at the top of the altar away from the figure-arrangement of the rest of the talismans to encourage and direct the flow of power as desired.
- The only four-pointed figure, Via, omits all three of the empyrean planets. As this figure is already about directed motion, we could arrange these three talismans around the four ouranic planetary talismans in the form of a triangle that contains Via, with the Sun beneath the figure to the right, the Moon beneath the figure to the left, and Mercury above the figure in the middle; alternatively, the figure could be transformed into an arrow, with the talisman of Mercury forming the “tip” and the Sun and Moon forming the “arms” of the arrowpoint, placed either on top of or beneath the figure of Via to direct the power either away or towards the magician.
The eight-pointed figure Populus, although containing all seven planets in its arrangement, does so in a “negative” way by having the planets fill the voids between the points proper. Rather than using the planets directly, it’s the silent voids between them that should be the focus of the works using this arrangement. As an example, if we would normally set candles on top of the planetary talismans for the other arrangements, here we would arrange the planetary talismans according to the arrangement for Populus, but set up the candles in the empty voids where the points of Populus would be rather than on top of the talismans themselves.
All told, this is definitely something I want to experiment with as I conduct my own experiments with geomantic magic. Even if it’s strictly theoretical without any substantial ritual gains, it still affords some interesting insights that tie back into mathesis for me. Though it probably doesn’t need to be said, I’ll say it here explicitly: this is all very theoretical and hypothetical, with (for now) everything here untested and nothing here used. If you do choose to experiment with it, caveat magus, and YMMV.
I think you’ve built an interesting theoretical model here — but my partner is fond of saying that when people ask me the time, I build them a cuckoo clock. So I’m increasingly wary of running elaborate systems that multiply complexity unnecessarily…. we have enough cuckoo clocks in this house.
But it does raise an interesting question, which is, wouldn’t it be better to associate the sixteen figures with sixteen alchemical processes, than with combinations of planets? This is an earth-based system, at least originally, and it’s tied to the Telluric currents; rather than seeking its connections among the celestial realms, why not join it to the Chthonic ones?
Puer, then, becomes a kind of calcination — supremely hot, boiling off all the water instantly, raging fires turning all to ash. Amissio is more of a slow drip, the emptying of the container, perhaps a kind of filtration. Populus is the complete separation of all ingredients, a strong solution. Albus is the exposure to air to acquire the wild fermenters, while Rubeus is the closed-top process of true fermentation. Via is the completed procedure, perhaps, the strong coagulation; while Fortuna Major is the volatility becoming fixed; and Fortuna Minor is the fixed becoming volatile. Tristitia is the swift condensation; Laetitia is the swift sublimation. The Dragon, fore and aft, is the beginning and the ending of the work. Puella is the Maceration, Acquisitio the collection of ingredients or reagents, and Carcer the closed container subjected to pressure and constraint.
This bears further thinking on, but it represents another way of thinking about the figures that I’ll have to develop further.
That’d be a philosophical difference we’d have. I don’t view geomancy as particularly earthy, at least in terms of elements; to me, it’s no more earthy than it is airy or watery or fiery since it has a balanced mixture of it all, and the name only came about as a calque of the Arabic `ilm al-raml. In fact, because the procedure of geomancy lies in the abstract algorithm, it doesn’t rely on any specified or particular set of tools beyond that which the geomancer is most comfortable with.
I have described geomancy elsewhere as “theoretical alchemy”, where geomancy is to the states of the cosmos as a chemical expression is to a chemical reaction: it describes the theoretical layout and processes that the actual, experienced cosmos around us undergo in real time. Associating it with alchemical processes could be an interesting project, but I’m not familiar with a set of 16 processes; I’ve seen sets of three, four, ten, and twelve, but not yet sixteen. I’ll need to brush up more on alchemy for such a thing.
Also, regarding “wouldn’t it be better to associate the sixteen figures…than with combinations of planets”, I’m not sure that’s played out in what I wrote out above. The post here came about as a means of using a set of planetary talismans on an altar to physically “construct” a geomantic figure as an altar layout for operations, rather than using individual talismans for each of the figures (which is totally a viable and useful thing to do, just not the focus of this post).
I think that’s fair. I hadn’t considered how the translation of the name itself may play into the modern name of geomancy.
When I do operations with geomancy at the magical level at all, I tend to put four candles at the corners of my altar — red, yellow, blue, and green — and set them alight based on active and passive principles in the character I plan to work with. Fortuna Major has just blue and green lit; none are lit for Populus; red and green are lit for Carcer. But it may be that making talismans of the planets and moving them around operatively during the rite would be more effective… if you feel as though you’re stuck, for example, you could begin with the talismans in the position of CARCER, and then move the talismans to the position of FORTUNA MAJOR. Judging by the positions of your talismans in the diagrams above, this would involve ‘calling down’ Mars to a state of more intellectual involvement, and ‘calling up’ the Moon to a state of less emotional involvement, more abstract or ethereal imagery. … Hmm!
I’m sorry if I have come across as knocking the idea. It’s a fascinating structure, really; and the longer I ponder it the more interesting it becomes.
I HAVE made some study of alchemy, so I’ll see if I can put together a similar post on the use of alchemical metaphors or processes alongside of geomantic figures…
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