Even after all this time, one of the things I love about the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook is that it’s actually fairly active, at least as far as geomancy groups go, and it maintains its activity over long durations of time. Between group chart analyses, questions about techniques, and sharing of neat finds online or in books about geomancy, it’s always a source of joy and delight to drop in and see how the conversation is going. If you’re on Facebook and are interested in geomancy, I highly encourage you to join!
Recently, one of the members posted a question about a particular taskin he found. Taskins, for those who may have forgotten or never knew the term, are the mnemonic orderings of figures used in Arabic geomancy to organize and categorize different sets of correspondences. Though often given as nothing more than a simple order with a name of the order attached, they can refer to pretty much any set of correspondences, such as directions, parts of the body, or how to simply number the figures from 1 to 16. This one member shared a particular taskin, but because there are few Arabic-style geomancers in the group (and fewer still who are willing to discuss the techniques), there wasn’t much to be shared or discussed about the topic to answer his question. However, we did find something interesting: one English-speaking author has written at least something that’s used in Arabic geomancy, and I decided to investigate further.number the figures from 1 to 16
Nineveh Shadrach is a Western author who specializes in an interesting and intriguing hybrid of Arabic and Middle Eastern magic with European and more broadly Hermetic styles and techniques, and he’s been on my reading list for ages. The post in the Facebook group steered me to one of his older books, “Secrets of Ancient Magic: Path of the Goddess” (2001, 2004, Ishtar Publishing), co-authored with Frances Harrison. The book itself appears to be out of print, and though parts of it were used in later publications, the section on geomancy appears to be kept only in this book. He discusses the basics of geomantic divination as any larger work on magic generally might and takes an approach that veers closer to Arabic-style geomancy than what most European authors have written, but one technique caught my eye, and that really got me thinking about how to apply it in my own practice.
Shadrach’s “Elemental Analysis” technique doesn’t look at the figures in the chart on their own, but rather generates sixteen (!) new figures based on the elemental lines of those in the chart. Shadrach uses a system of assigning whole elements to the houses in which figures can fall based on the astrological order of elements (Fire, Earth, Air, Water), extending it to the four houses of the Court:
Based on this, one can make a “Fire of Fire” figure by taking the Fire lines of the figures in houses of Fire, i.e. houses I, V, IX, and XIII. To make the “Air of Fire” figure, one takes the Fire lines of the figures in houses of Air, i.e. houses III, VII, XI, and XV. In other words, to make a figure “X of Y”, one takes takes the Y-element lines from the X-element houses. In this sense, one generates a figure such that the elemental lines taken provide the secondary element, and the elemental houses provide the primary element.
The resulting figure can be considered a kind of “elemental distillation” of the chart that hones in on a particular aspect of the situation as filtered through a primary and secondary elemental framework. For instance, Shadrach gives the example that, in a relationship reading, one would look at the Water figures (i.e. the figures generated from distilling the figures found in houses of Water) generated by this technique, and should the Air of Water figure (Water lines from houses III, VII, XI, and XV) be unfortunate, then it could be said that there might be “communication problems when it comes to emotional expression”. This figure would then be further inspected to see where in the actual geomantic chart it might be found to further whittle down where such problems might occur. For instance, should the Air of Water figure be Carcer in such a reading, perhaps indicating isolation and a sense of loneliness in the relationship, and should Carcer be found in house V, it could indicate that there are issues involving intimacy, a lack of sexual communication or agreement, and possible unspoken and undiscussed fears of of sexual impotency causing feelings of inadequacy.
There are a few neat things about this technique, but also a few things I would change. For one, Shadrach uses the elements in the order of how they appear in the Zodiac: Fire, Earth, Air, Water. I disprefer this ordering in favor of the usual geomantic order: Fire, Air, Water, Earth. The latter works better, as well, since I don’t like involving zodiacal schemas and systems where they’re not explicitly called for, and this overall idea of elemental distillation seems more appropriate for the Shield Chart. For that, I already have a system of assigning elements to the “fields” (not “houses”!) to the Shield Chart:
Additionally, I don’t like how the phrasing of Shadrach’s technique works in what elements you take from where. In his system, “X of Y” indicates that you’d take the Y-element lines from the figures in X-element locations, and the Y-element is dominant. However, this seems backwards to me; the elemental lines take place within the figure found in a given elemental location, so it seems like the the overall “contextual” (or primary) element would be that determined by the location/house/field, and the “modifying” (or secondary) element would be that determined by the line. So, if Shadrach’s system would define “Air of Water” as being the Water lines taken from the figures in Air locations, I would instead say that it’s the Air lines taken from the figures in Water locations. This would make more sense to me in lining up with his example about the Air of Water figure representing communication in emotional matters: taking the Air lines from the Water figures would represent the combined powers of Air within the overall context and world of Water. So, when I would say “X of Y”, I would indicate taking the X-element lines from the Y-element figures: again, the Y-element is primary.
So, in my version of the method, I would make my elementally distilled figures as such:
- Fire of Fire: Fire lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
- Air of Fire: Air lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
- Water of Fire: Water lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
- Earth of Fire: Earth lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
- Fire of Air: Fire lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
- Air of Air: Air lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
- Water of Air: Water lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
- Earth of Air: Earth lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
- Fire of Water: Fire lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
- Air of Water: Air lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
- Water of Water: Water lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
- Earth of Water: Earth lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
- Fire of Earth: Fire lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence
- Air of Earth: Air lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence
- Water of Earth: Water lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence
- Earth of Earth: Earth lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence
This is all well and good, but what exactly does this get us? We already have sixteen figures in our geomantic chart, each in its own house that provides the context of each figure, along with how to group the figures into triads, using the Way of the Point, and a variety of other techniques, so why should we come up with more figures for the sake of them? To get more detail out of the reading, of course! It always bears remembering that there’s no one single school of geomancy, nor has there ever been, and many techniques were used only by certain people in certain locations or traditions within geomancy. As it spread across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, geomancy could almost always be recognized as geomancy, but it also adapted itself to the cultures, tribes, and specific strains of knowledge it found itself practiced within. The use of elemental distillation can be seen as another example of such a technique to extract as much information out of a chart, either on its own or in tandem with other techniques available at the geomancer’s disposal.
Above and beyond just interpreting the figures in the fields (or houses), the technique of elemental distillation can be used to note the specific energetic currents present in a situation, how they’re resolving, and to what end. Using the elements of field and figure technique, we can see whether the energies in a given aspect of one’s life are able to flow freely and do what they need to for the sake and benefit of the querent, or whether they’re stymied, blocked, and undone based on whether the element of the figure matches the element of the field within which it’s found. Using this elemental distillation technique, we can get a similar notion of what energies are present in a situation, but from the other side of the equation: we’re seeing what the actual powers and forces at work are, and then seeing how they interact and affect the situation. So, if we find that the Air of Water figure is fortunate, then we know that the Water energies in the situation are able to to travel, mix, and match more-or-less freely, and if the Water of Air figure is fortunate, then we know that the Air energies in the situation are able to congeal, stick, and be understood in a more profound way than the merely intellectual.
We could take this technique in another direction, though. I’ve previously established a system of primary and secondary elemental rulers for the figures, such that every geomantic figure is ruled by a main element and a sub-element based on their elemental structure. In that case, we can consider our elemental distillations to be like the sixteen original figures themselves in an applied sense, with the sixteen original figures being their ideal “fields”. Consider: if we’re looking at the Air of Water distillation, then we’ve got a figure that is primarily Water and secondarily Air. The figure that is primarily Water and secondarily Air is the figure Via. Thus, the Air of Water distillation of a chart indicates how well the situation described by the chart can facilitate the energy of Via, or total change and flow. Likewise, the Fire of Fire distillation of a chart indicates how well the situation described can facilitate the energy of Laetitia, or joy and uplifting motion. If we were to find fortunate figures, especially figures that agree in element or the very same figure itself, then we can say that the energies and forces represented by that ideal figure are present and able to effect change in the situation; if unfortunate figures result from distillation, then the forces represented by the corresponding ideal figure are weakened or absent.
One way we could apply this in divination would be to think of a given figure that represents something the querent wants or is aiming for in the situation. For instance, in a query about promotion, Laetitia would be an excellent figure, because it represents upwards motion and is a figure I find particularly well-suited to promotions and elevations in general and the workplace in particular. Laetitia, then, is the ideal figure we want to investigate in the chart, and since the corresponding elemental phrasing of Laetitia is “Fire of Fire” (primarily and secondarily fire), we’d look at the Fire of Fire distillation of the chart. If we find a favorable figure here, we can say that a promotion is likely; if an unfavorable figure, unlikely. This technique could be used to get subsidiary or unrelated information out of a chart, too, in addition to the main situation the chart is focused on.
To remind us all of the elemental rulerships of the figures, using both primary and secondary elements:
- Fire of Fire: Laetitia
- Air of Fire: Fortuna Minor
- Water of Fire: Amissio
- Earth of Fire: Cauda Draconis
- Fire of Air: Puer
- Air of Air: Rubeus
- Water of Air: Coniunctio
- Earth of Air: Acquisitio
- Fire of Water : Puella
- Air of Water : Via
- Water of Water : Albus
- Earth of Water : Populus
- Fire of Earth: Carcer
- Air of Earth: Caput Draconis
- Water of Earth: Fortuna Maior
- Earth of Earth: Tristitia
I’m sure there are a bunch of other ways to incorporate such an elemental distillation technique of generating secondary figures out of a chart, including using the Via Puncti to determine an element and seeing which of those elemental distillations can further clarify the root causes of a situation, incorporating the distillations into the House Chart as Shadrach suggests, and other techniques. What’s fascinating about this technique, however, is that we’re using a single chart to make new figures for the sake of interpretation. Generally, whenever secondary figures are generated in the geomantic corpus (i.e. using the figures of one chart to make new figures that aren’t part of that chart), it’s generally within the context of making up four new figures for a new chart because the old one can’t be read or is too confusing to be read. Shadrach’s technique is pretty much the only technique I’ve come across that uses the figures to make new figures without using addition—at least in a system that still calls itself “geomancy” by name.
In the variant of geomancy practiced in Madagascar called sikidy, we see something similar. A sikidy chart contains sixteen figures; though its arranged in an unfamiliar way, it turns out that the first four figures are generated randomly and are read downwards, the next four are just the first four read horizontally, and the other eight are the results of adding two of the other figures together. In other words, a sikidy chart follows the same exact algorithm as a geomancy chart to get a set of four Mothers, four Daughters, four Nieces, and a Court, just not by those names. As in geomancy, the field or house of each position in the chart indicates a general realm of life or aspect of the situation, and the figure inside each house indicates how that area of life is effected or affected. Since sikidy was introduced by means of Arabic trading, we see Arabic and Hermetic influence in how sikidy is read, such that the second field is about property (just as our house II), the third field about local or familial relations (house III), the fourth field about one’s town or village (house IV), and so forth.
What’s interesting, however, is that sikidy practitioners are not just limited to 16 fields, but instead can find up to 34 based on how they combine the individual rows of the total chart. According to Stephen Skinner (here taken from his 1980 book “Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy”), he gives an additional 18 secondary figures for a total of 34:
|3||Fàhatelo||Relations of the querent||Randomly generated|
|4||Vòhitra||Town or village||Randomly generated|
|5||Zatòvo||Young person, descendants||First line of 1, 2, 3, and 4|
|6||Marìna||Slave, strong men||Second line of 1, 2, 3, and 4|
|7||Vehivavy||Woman, i.e. wife||Third line of 1, 2, 3, and 4|
|8||Fahavalo||Enemies||Fourth line of 1, 2, 3, and 4|
|9||Làlana||Way, road||1 + 2|
|10||Asorotany||Nobleman, king, ancestors||3 + 4|
|11||Nía||Food||5 + 6|
|12||Fahasivy||Spirits of the dead||7+ 8|
|13||Mpanontany||The enquirer||9 + 10|
|14||Masina||The diviner||11 + 12|
|15||Andriamanitra||God||13 + 14|
|16||Trano||House||1 + 15|
|17||Zatòvo an-trano hafa||Young persons generally||First line of 16, 9, 13, and 10|
|18||Marìna an-trano hafa||Slave||Second line of 16, 9, 13, and 10|
|19||Vehivavy an-trano hafa||Women generally||Third line of 16, 9, 13, and 10|
|20||Firiariavana an-trano hafa||Escaping enemy||Fourth line of 16, 9, 13, and 10|
|21||Kororozy||Dragon’s head||Fourth line of 12, 14, 11, and 15|
|22||Olon-dratsy||Bad omen||Third line of 12, 14, 11, and 15|
|23||Alika||Dog||Second line of 12, 14, 11, and 15|
|24||Tsinin’ny velona||Fault of the living||First line of 12, 14, 11, and 15|
|25||Akòho||Hens||Diagonally down-left of 1, 2, 3, and 4|
|26||Vòromboahàzo||Pebbles||Two down-left then two down-right of 1 and 2|
|27||Ondry||Sheep||Diagonally down-right of 4, 3, 2, and 1|
|28||Osy||Goats||Two down-left then two down-left of 4 and 3|
|29||Ra be mandriaka||Much bloodshed, disaster||Two down-right then two up-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15|
|30||Tsinin’ny maty||Fault of the Dead||Diagonally down-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15|
|31||Biby ratsy||Wild Cat||Two up-right then two down-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15|
|32||Tsinahy||Unexpected Fate||Diagonally up-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15|
|33||Tsi-efa||The Incomplete||Diagonally down-left of 16, 9, 13, and 10|
|34||Mamòha éfa||Revival of Past Evils, e.g. disease||Diagonally up-left of 16, 9, 13, and 10|
These aren’t all possible ways to obtain secondary figures from a sikidy chart, either. Marcia Ascher in her 1997 paper Malagasy sikidy: a case in ethnomathematics describes the following 15 secondary figures (though, unfortunately, with neither names nor significations), but who also gives a different arrangement of the bottom set of eight figures (our Nieces and Court):
Knowing that fields 1 through 16 are generated in the same way as before, just with a different arrangement of 9 through 16:
|17||Diagonally down-right of 9, 13, 10, and 15|
|18||Diagonally down-right of 10, 15, 11, and 14|
|19||Diagonally down-right of 11, 14, 12, and 16|
|20||Diagonally down-left of 16, 12, 14, and 11|
|21||Diagonally down-left of 14, 11, 15, and 10|
|22||Diagonally down-left of 15, 10, 13, and 9|
|23||17 + 20|
|24||18 + 21|
|25||19 + 22|
|26||Two down-left then two down-right of 16 and 12|
|27||Two down-right then two down-left of 11 and 14|
|28||Two down-left then two down-right of 15 and 10|
|29||Two down-right then two down-left of 9 and 13|
|30||26 + 27|
|31||28 + 29|
To be fair, Ascher is less concerned with the practice of divination and more with how recursive and spacial mathematics factor into traditional practices among Malagasy traditions. Still, she does also imply that there are other secondary series besides the ones she enumerated, too. Again, there’s always that “variant lineages within traditions” bit to contend with that makes geomancy a vibrant and varied garden instead of a sterile and monolithic chamber.
What this detour into sikidy shows us is that there are more ways to generate figures besides simply adding two figures together or transposing the Mothers into the Daughters; indeed, sikidy practitioners seem to delight in finding new ways to come up with such figures in regular patterns. Though we can’t really adopt many of the same exact techniques, it does show us an otherwise unexplored venue (unexplored, at least, by all except Shadrach) in how we can generate other figures from a chart using non-additive means, and that the process has been used elsewhere to continuing success by geomancers in other traditions. This suggests that, with the proper logic and testing, we can adopt similar techniques in our own Western kind of geomancy, much as the version given above of Shadrach’s elemental distillation. In fact, “distillation” is a good way to describe the generation of such figures, I claim, as you’re necessarily looking across four (or two, in the cases of some sikidy figures) different figures to come up with one.
Unlike some of the other techniques I’ve proposed on this blog before, this one is exceptionally exciting but also exceptionally hazy; Shadrach’s guidance on divvying things up by their overall element weirds me out and I claim it could use more rigor, and there are other possibilities such as using my ideal figure interpretation as well as incorporating it into the usual interpretations of the fields and houses. Though it’ll eventually make its way into my geomancy textbook (which, god, yes, is still in editing and it takes forever especially with everything else going on), this is one I want to play around more with to see exactly what it does and how it does it, as well as how well it might play with other techniques such as the Via Puncti or the field element analysis method.