Another System of Elemental Affinities for the Geomantic Figures

There’s not a lot of modern geomantic literature out there, it’s true.  Most geomantic stuff written is decisively pre-modern (a good deal of which is already digitized and free to access by anyone!), and the rest of it that is modern is…well, sometimes it’s hit or miss, though there are more winners among the lot than not.  Still, compared to the endless books put out on Tarot or astrology or runes or playing cards, there’s just not a lot out there as far as geomancy books are concerned.  But, interestingly enough, it turns out that the French have been quite busy with geomancy in the 20th century.

Unlike modern Anglophone publications on geomancy, of which there really haven’t been all that any, I’ve got at least a dozen books stacked on my desk, all published in the 20th century in French, some more scholastic or academic than others, some more pop-divination or pop-occult than others.  It’s honestly refreshing in many ways, though not nearly so surprising in others; after all, the French are well-known for having colonized much of Africa and large parts of the Middle East, and I’m positive that their colonialism and imperialism fed into their anthropological and cultural studies of many of the places that they situated themselves and took over.  Without putting a silver-lining spin on it, this research does help Western understanding of African and Arabic styles of geomancy, and has led to plenty of texts being written in French on geomancy, deriving information from both the Western European tradition as well as the African and Arabic traditions of the art.

Much of the French geomantic literature is pretty standard stuff that you’d find in any other geomantic text, but there are a lot of surprising finds, too.  Some of the more outré topics I’ve invented or delved into (e.g. geomantic emblems or geomantic magic squares) were already known to and explored by French geomancers, which is an incredible relief to me—it means that I’m not the only crazy one in the room, and I don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel when I can see what else has already been written about it—or some of the really obscure finds I’ve had to piece together were already well-described and known to the French (e.g. the traditional assigning of the geomantic figures being based on an older system of associations to the lunar mansions) but perhaps the one most startling thing about many (but not all) French geomantic texts is the system of elements they use to describe the elemental rulerships and affinities of the figures.  As we all know, the geomantic figures are composed of different combinations of the four classical elements, but each figure is also generally aligned with one particular element as a whole.  Which element that would be is based on one of two systems, an older and more pervasive one that appears based on which elements are active or passive in a figure (e.g. Albus given to Water) and a slightly more recent one based on the planetary-based zodiacal rulerships of the figure (e.g. Albus given to Gemini because it’s a Mercury-ruled figure).  Heck, I’ve even come up with a theoretical association of my own, also based on the elemental structure of a figure but less symbolic and more based on what cancels out and what’s left after that (though I don’t myself use this one).

But this particular system so common in so many French geomancy texts is different.  Like the traditional elemental system and my own innovative theoretical one, this French system is also structural, but it’s not really based on which individual elements are active or passive in a figure.  Rather, it’s based on the dot patterns of the upper two lines of a figure.  Consider the qura`ah (or qirrah), the spindle-dice so commonly used in and associated with Arabic and Persian geomancy:

As I’ve mentioned before, a pair of these spindle-dice are used together to generate four Mother figures all at once: you take both, spin the blocks on each spindle, and slap them down together on the table, and you read pairs of blocks, one from each spindle.  So, in the image above, the four Mothers that would result from that particular arrangement of spindle-dice are Caput Draconis, Acquisitio, Caput Draconis, and Albus.

Geomantic figures are essentially binary numbers (base-2): you have four rows, each row having one or two dots, giving you a choice of sixteen figures (2⁴ = 16).  However, you could also consider the geomantic figures as quarternary numbers (base-4), too: rather than considering individual rows, you look at the upper two rows and bottom two rows together.  In this way, rather than a single row being one of two options (single point or dual point), you get a pair of rows that has one of four options (4² = 16: single-single, single-dual, dual-single, dual-dual).  If we break down a geomantic figure into two pairs of rows rather than four individual rows, we can consider what the symbolism of a pair of rows means.

What these French geomancies do is give a different elemental association to the points found in pair of rows:

  • Single-single (shaped like a vertical line, :, e.g. the upper part of Fortuna Minor): Fire, a single flame burning upwards.
  • Single-dual (shaped like an upwards-pointing triangle, , e.g. the upper part of Puella): Water, something that pours out and expands downwards.
  • Dual-single (shaped like a downwards-pointing triangle, , e.g. the upper part of Caput Draconis): Air, something that rises and expands upwards.
  • Dual-dual (shaped like a square, , e.g. the upper part of Albus): Earth, the stability of the level plane.

EDIT:  Okay, I don’t know what’s going on, but apparently the dot patterns don’t show up in text right on all computers.  On some computers it displays as described, but on other computers it displays where the Earth four-point square is set to Air, the Water upwards-triangle is set to Earth, and the Air downwards-triangle is set to Water.  I don’t know how to resolve that or why that happens.  The content of the post is right, but the dot characters here may not be depending on your platform, browser, etc.

Some texts go further and try to relate these point-arrangements to the I Ching—which I don’t agree with due to a lack of any significant connection historical or otherwise—saying that single-single Fire is given to old Yang, dual-single Air to young Yin, single-sual Water to young Yang, and dual-dual Earth to old Yin.  Whatever.  I don’t agree with a Chinese or I Ching-based origin of geomancy, as there’s already plenty of evidence suggesting that geomancy originates in Arabia, and even if not, I’d still favor a north African origin anyway.  What connections there are between geomancy and I Ching, I find, are entirely superficial, and it didn’t help that European missionaries didn’t know what else to call fēng shuǐ besides “geomancy”, leading to centuries of misnaming and misunderstanding.  Just like with the pips of dominoes and the points of geomancy (as I brought up a bit ago), just because things look kinda similar doesn’t mean that they share a common origin.

Back to the topic at hand.  This is an interesting way to adapt the four-element symbolism to the simple shapes produced from two, three, or four points put together.  Admittedly, I find it a little weird, since I’d normally be inclined to give the single-dual upwards-pointing triangle to Air and dual-single downwards-pointing triangle to Water, but I get where this symbolism is going from; after all, Water is associated with downwards motion and Air with upwards (or at least sideways) motion, and I’d want to look at the shapes these points make from the perspective of direction rather than expansion, but I get it.

That’s the whole basis for this elemental symbolism.  To find the elemental association of a particular figure, simply look at the upper two lines of a figure, and that point arrangement gets you the ruling element of that figure.  That’s all there is to it.  Thus:

  • Fire figures (upper two lines single-single): Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Fortuna Minor
  • Air figures (upper two lines dual-single): Caput Draconis, Coniunctio, Acquisitio, Rubeus
  • Water figures (upper two lines single-dual): Puella, Amissio, Carcer, Laetitia
  • Earth figures (upper two lines dual-dual): Fortuna Maior, Albus, Tristitia, Populus

Far less common than this, though, some texts will also look at the bottom two rows of a figure in the same way to get a sub-element, such that Via is Fire-on-Fire, Albus is Earth-on-Water, and so forth, but that’s super uncommon—but, then, so is the notion of sub-element or secondary elemental rulers in general (even if I make heavy use of such symbolism).  Most texts simply leave the association at one element based on the upper two rows, and that’s about it.  Still, because I’m fond of tables and charts, we can come up with a simple such table that plots out which figure belongs to which primary (upper) and secondary (lower) elemental structures:

Upper
Fire
(:)
Upper
Air
(⸪)
Upper
Water
(⸫)
Upper
Earth
(⸬)
Lower
Fire
(:)
Via Caput
Draconis
Puella Fortuna
Maior
Lower
Air
(⸪)
Cauda
Draconis
Acquisitio Carcer Tristitia
Lower
Water
(⸫)
Puer Coniunctio Amissio Albus
Lower
Earth
(⸬)
Fortuna
Minor
Rubeus Laetitia Populus

I suppose the symmetry of the figures would be better preserved if I swapped around the Air and Water rows and columns, but I rebel at that, personally, so whatever.

As far as how to use such a system of elemental affinities and rulerships, I mean, it’s the same as any other: they can be used as a basis for meditating upon and contemplating the figures, understood in relationship to other figures, compared in terms of elemental strengths or weaknesses based on what’s around it or where it’s placed in a chart, and the other usual uses; in that, it’s just another system of elemental rulerships available for the figures, just like any other.  What I can’t really figure out, however, is where this system came from.  It doesn’t appear in any older European or Western text I’m aware of, and only seems to appear in most (but not all) French texts, suggesting a common language-bound origin—and, given the French history of colonialism and imperialism in areas where African and Arabic traditions of geomancy were practiced, might have just such an origin.  Plus, the use of pairs of rows in a figure does neatly echo the use of spindle-dice, which were historically only found in the Middle East and South Asia, further suggesting an Arabic practice—though maybe not an utterly ancient one, since the spindle-dice were not there from the beginning of the practice and I don’t recall seeing any row-pairwise analysis of figures brought up in any of the texts I’ve glanced over.

Now, back in the days from the old Geomantic Campus Yahoo! Group days, I swear I saw some image of some North African instance of geomancy that gave these same row-pairwise associations of the elements (like there was a tarp up in the background of a reading being done with some diagrams, including linking the four elements to the Tetragrammaton), but looking back through the group (before the old archives of all Yahoo! groups vanish in a few days), I can’t seem to find anything along those lines, so maybe I saw such a thing somewhere else.  I know I’ve come across such a thing a long time ago, but at the time I didn’t think much of it, so I don’t have any notes or references to such a system.  (If anyone knows the picture, direct me to it, as I’d be greatly appreciative.)  And, as I’ve said, most—but not all—of these modern French geomancy texts seem to share this system, and it really only seems to be French geomancy texts that do this.  To me, this indicates a single, common origin that spread outwards from there within the Francophone geomanticulture (hey, we have “occulture”, why not “geomanticulture” too?).  Happily, many French geomantic texts include a bibliography, so it’s not terribly hard to track down such texts.

From what I can see, this system of elements likely happened at some point between 1940 and 1986.  I give these two dates because these are the years of publication for the famous French occultist, Mason, and Martinist Robert Ambelain, who published La Géomancie Magique in 1940 and La Géomancie Arabe in 1986; in the former, he gives the usual older European (pre-Agrippa) form of elemental assignments to the figures, but in the latter, this row-pairwise one.  However, earlier texts than La Géomancie Arabe use this system, too, like in the 1978 La géomancie: un art divinatoire by Alain le Kern.  So, probably somewhere around the 1950s, this new method of assigning elements came into the French geomanticulture (the word’s sticking with me now), and may well have an Arabic origin or, more likely, a North or Northwest African origin.  Beyond that, I can’t currently tell.

Still, it’s a nifty system.  Another method to think about, for those who find a logic in it.

One response

  1. Pingback: The Chaplet of Eight Dragons, or, the Rosary of the Geomancers of Allahabad « The Digital Ambler

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