On Overwriting Traditions

I’ve been looking back a bit on my blog lately, going through archives for more notes that I can tie into future posts and research, cleaning up some of the formatting and dead links, getting rid of useless or pointless tags, and so forth.  After almost 700 posts totaling over one million words across eight and a half years, it’s quite a lot.  And, heh, it turns out that on my very first blog post (all the way back in pre-WordPress 2010 when I was still on Blogspot, when this was a blog meant for the worship of the Great Worm XaTuring), I had already referenced geomancy as my favorite divination system.  Plus ça change, plus c’est pareil, I suppose.

Admittedly, geomancy has been a focus of my work and, thus, of this blog.  Of the just-under-700 published posts on this blog, about 120 posts are in the geomancy category, or about 18%.  That’s a nontrivial amount of ink to have spilled, I claim, and that’s all in addition to the actual ebooks and future textbook I’m writing.  I’ve talked about the meanings of the figures, a variety of divinatory techniques, new connections to other occult fields, and a number of innovations and developments to enhance the art and practice of geomancy in both a divinatory and magical sense.  Some of these innovations are original to me, others based on adapting similar techniques with enough compatible logic from other geomantic systems, and some are based on the revelations and guidance from spirits and other colleagues who wish to remain nameless (but who have my thanks and respect and gratitude all the same).  It’s a fascinating field that stands to still be enhanced in innumerable ways, and it is a source of joy and pride for me to play some sort of role in that.

Sometimes, when I’m bored at work, I’ll indulge in a daydream or two.  One such daydream, when I think about some of the exciting innovations in geomantic practice I’ve published on my blog, happens where I’m contacted out of the blue by some mysterious figure and informed that I’ve been revealing too many of their order’s secrets, that they belong to an ancient order of secretive geomancers who have been in hiding for untold centuries in some far-off land.  Clearly, with as much information as I possess, I must have been spying on their order or stealing from one of their members and am exposing their hard-earned, hard-kept methods and techniques of The True Geomancy for the vulgar uninitiated of the world, destroying their order single-handedly in a more mysterious, epic way than Scott Cunningham did Wicca.  None of it is true, of course, but the similarities between what I write and what they teach could not be denied!  Perilous threats, a thrilling escape, a parley with the order’s masters—you get the picture.  I haven’t yet figured out how I might resolve such a situation: I could always force a deal, that in exchange for being taught all their secrets as a full member of their order, I would ensure that no further initiated knowledge would pass through my fingers to my blog’s readers or through my lips to students who were not initiated in the order as well.  Or I could engage them in a fantastic battle of magic, wit, cunning, and probably a good-natured explosion or poisoning or three.

What?  I like letting my imagination run free sometimes, and who doesn’t love a good adventure to whisk them off their feet, even if they’re already reclining in their spinny office chair on a lazy Monday?

While it would tickle me to no end to learn that there might indeed be some ancient order of geomancers (and you can bet your last grain of sand I’d join if I could!), I doubt such a thing exists, at least on any scale large enough to commit cross-continent conspiracy.  But, even on a less logistical scale than that, there’s also the thing that there’s no one single, monolithic geomantic tradition.  Sure, there are absolutely things we can cross off as definitely not being geomancy—feng shui, vastu shastra, ley lines, sacred geography, and the like all come to mind—but even within the actual ballpark of “geomancy”, there are so many different kinds.  Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice does a great overview of the historical development and spread of geomancy from its hypothetical origins to its modern day spread across the world, so there’s no need for me to go on at length on all the different traditions of geomancy here, but are there ever so many, indeed!

Now that I think about it, though, I suppose that might not quite be evident from our point of view for Western geomancy.  Geomancy was written about publicly across Europe from about 1200 to 1700, when it basically fell from popularity into obscurity along with so many other occult disciplines.  Five hundred years, starting west in Spain and east in Greece and spreading through the rest of Europe like wildfire, and…well, we simply don’t seem to have too much variation.  Sure, different techniques came and went, and different geomancers put certain focuses on different things than did other geomancers.  We don’t really see any significantly different variations after the rise of printed geomancy books until we get to more modern times, such as with Napoleon’s Book of Fate (with its five-lined figures) or Les Cross’ Astrogem Geomancy method.  One could argue that the Golden Dawn, with their innovations and takes on geomantic practices, could be considered a distinct variant, and I’d agree with that, too, but again, that’s still pretty modern.

I can’t really say, however, what the state of Western geomancy was like at a low level before the 1400s when printed books started circulating around Europe.  We know it was practiced, and we have a good number of manuscripts from that time period, but so few are easily accessible to many including myself, and almost all of what’s commonly available (especially digitized) is all from after the rise of printed books.  As we all know, the printing press radically changed how information was produced, disseminated, and stored which had countless effects on literacy, religion, science, and other disciplines.  It not only broke down control of information and studies within a variety of small locations, it also freed up people to form their own control networks of information.  It is entirely possible that individual areas, monasteries, universities, and other types of school had their own takes and views on geomantic practice that was largely insular unto themselves; sure, they might all have been on the same course and stemmed from more-or-less the same origins, but each could have had their own “dialect” of geomancy.  With the advent of publicly and popularly published texts, those dialects might have all been washed away or standardized, with each author contributing a slight tweak that may or may not have been carried on or even documented by later authors.  I know that the Lectura Geomantiae I translated a while ago was from the 1400s but still in the manuscript era, so it could be indicative of how things might have looked before or as the printing press got underway: still definitely geomantic, still definitely implementable and usable by anyone, but there are some definite quirks that it displays that aren’t attested elsewhere.

Reading Skinner’s treatise on the history of geomancy, it would seem that the Arabic styles of geomancy are more varied.  Setting aside the West African art of Ifá (which developed in its own way apart from geomancy to the point where I wouldn’t barely consider it geomancy at this point), we do see at least several strains of geomancy, including Malagasy sikidy which, although it’s definitely taken an independent turn with how it generates figures, is still recognizably a form of geomancy with many of same core meanings of figures and figure positions.  Looking at the available literature today, we can definitely see that there are different styles of Arabic geomancy, ranging from the traditional Saharan and sub-Saharan forms in Africa to the more popular and well-known methods as taught by modern books written in Farsi and Urdu.  How different might such styles be?  I can’t actually say for sure, unfortunately, but from what little I have seen, there are distinct differences in whether one wants to use taskins as a primary method or follow the Via Puncti-style technique as a general approach, but that could simply be boiled down to smaller approach differences within a same overall “school” of geomancy—and what competent geomancer with the ability to learn, read, and hear wouldn’t want to be familiar with any possible method that might be of use?

But, again, it’s not like the Arabic-speaking world hasn’t had access to the printing press.  Heck, their literacy rates whooped the ass of Europe for centuries on end, and we would never had a Renaissance if it weren’t for Arabic teachers and students and scientists.  There are definitely texts and authors in Arabic geomancy that are at least as important to the Arabic-speaking geomancing world than Fludd and Heydon are to us, and those books were some of the first to be disseminated, and today, there are probably as many books on `ilm al-raml or khatt al-raml in Arabic, Farsi, or Urdu as there are for Tarot in English, Spanish, and French.  Again, we would probably see a similar…you might call it a “flattening” of dialetical variation in geomantic practices, especially for people with connections to the Internet who might also not have the ability to learn from teachers who were only (or primarily) taught in a localized variant of geomancy.

When it comes to languages and dialects, I admit I’m something of a glossophile.  Even though my language skills are awful, I adore the abundance and variety of languages in the world, and especially of the regional and cultural dialects and registers that individual languages have in all their uses and contexts.  As much as I love the number of languages, I grieve when languages are suppressed, lost, or otherwise condemned to extinction.  It’s an expected (though still unfortunate) result of internationalization, globalization, capitalism, and imperialism, but sometimes it comes about as a surprise, and it sucks.  With language death comes culture death and worldview death; a language is far more than just a way to communicate, but a way to understand and perceive everything as well as holding an implicit record of culture, exploration, and continuity that ties the present to the past across time and space.  In many ways, local variations of something comparatively minor like geomancy are just as crucial to understand such worldviews, histories, cultures, and spiritualities; with such variations being flattened, absorbed, or outright lost, we lose quite a lot more, as well.

Then I think about those same people on the Internet who have access to cheap, publicly-accessible resources without the ability to find, contact, or learn from local, traditional experts (myself included!) who find what they can and work with what they find.  Consider the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook; as an admin, I see who applies, and for each person who comes from a Western or European cultural background, I see another who comes from a West African (usually Muslim and Nigerian) background.  While I’m thrilled that so many people across the world want to learn and discuss geomancy, I also wonder if, perhaps, they’re joining to learn what they might consider “the only useful geomancy”.  After all, I’m also a member of a number of other non-Western geomancy groups, and it doesn’t seem like many are active or share as much information, criticism, or guidance as mine does (which I can’t help but be at least a little proud of); to be fair, I can see why (and often understand and agree) with why those who might be experts in their field would want to be cagey and protective of their knowledge, but at the same time, nobody can learn learn if nobody is willing to teach.  And, without evidence that one can even teach or wants to do so, mystical vague answers like “pray to God and he will teach you” come off as more holier-than-thou covering-my-ass to keep from being disgraced that I may not actually know what I’m doing, which can be a turn-off for potential students (whether of a given teacher or an entire field).

Then I think I about my own blog, and how much I talk about geomancy.  I try to make it clear that many of my thoughts are just my own, that my experiences are my own, that some things are experimental or tied up in something unique and solitary to my own practice and understanding of the cosmos, and the like, but it cannot be denied that my posts on geomancy are referenced by many across the Internet, sometimes as another useful data-point on technique, sometimes as gospel.  (WordPress stat tracking, after all, comes in use when looking at such trends.)  I can’t help but wonder: what effect on the overall variations, traditions, and schools of geomancy do I have as an author with a publicly-available platform?  I want to expand the techniques and understanding of Western geomancy by offering another perspective on that which already exists as well as introducing new methods or variations thereof that aren’t yet there or aren’t well-known.  In one way, I’m helping (I hope) to introduce new variety in the field of Western geomancy, but by that same action, am I not also helping to bring in easily-accessible geomancy to those who might prefer such ease to learning local traditions that are harder to come by?  Am I not literally writing over the teachings of valid and historically-extant, possibly-threatened traditions of geomancy, as one might talk too loudly and end up drowning out other voices, whether I intend for it to happen or no?

Earlier this summer, in a conversation regarding how certain days are celebrated for the orisha in La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, Jesse Hathaway from Wolf & Goat (also of his own blog Serpent Shod and podcast Radio Free Golgotha) opined elegantly about how trends come and become tradition through misunderstanding and popular use.  Specifically, I thought it was proper to celebrate the feast day of the hunter-tracker Oshosi on June 6, which is the feast day of his Catholic syncretization, Saint Norbert of Xanten, which, when I posted a public praise of the orisha on Facebook, caught Jesse off-guard in the sense of “wait that’s today?”.  We got to talking about how the use of saint days were historically used, when certain saint days came into vogue, and how different aspects of saints can be confused and lead to non-traditional changes in practice.  One of the insights he had focused on how those who intend to keep traditions alive end up changing them all the same: enthusiasm and good intentions can just as easily uphold old practices as well as erase them and institute new ones in their place.  After all, not all things that are “done right” in the conservative sense are made public or made for public consumption, and when secretive, underground, or otherwise mysterious practices that people are interested in suddenly have to compete for attention and publicity with stuff being put out in the open by the uninitiated or newly-initiated, where do you think people are going to look first?  As Jesse put it, it’s a constant cycle of “destroy to create, create to destroy”, and that it’s easy to create a new practice that can erase older tradition if you are not aware of what it is you’re actually putting out there.  It behooves us all to be aware of our intentions and see whether what happens as a result of furthering them is worth it.

The same advice for that topic can go for any of us who publicly discuss geomancy, or any tradition, for that matter.  As Jesse punned, our canon for instruction can just as easily become a cannon for destruction; we don’t just follow and preserve unchanged that which we recieved, but we augment it, extrapolate it, whittle it down, and build it up as we carry it forward, whether we mean to or not.  Every step we take crushes some blade of grass or erases some other footprint, and if enough people follow, a new path can be forged (forced) where either there was none before or across others that become disused, differently used, or less used.  For a good example, consider how synonymous “Hermetic magic” has become with “Golden Dawn” in the 1900s: familiarity is borne of popularity, and forgetfulness from the lack thereof.  Hermetic magic has been around for far longer and with so many different variations, traditions, lineages, styles, and methods than the Golden Dawn has by far, and yet, most people even today will think of the Golden Dawn-style approach when you bring up the word “Hermetic” to the exclusion of all else that’s out there.

Geomancy is far more than just what I do, or what Robert Fludd did, or what Al-Zanati did.  The old geomancers of the past might be indelibly linked to geomancy, but geomancy is not synonymous with any one author or geomancer.  It would be folly for someone to follow what I teach (or what anyone teaches) as geomancy to be the be-all-end-all of the art, and I don’t think that anyone would seriously take that approach.  Still, even learning a little can bleed over into other techniques; while I intentionally look around to see what I can incorporate as a useful method for my geomantic practice from the practices of others, bearing in mind the origin and tweaks needed to make a nuanced distinction, not everyone has the capacity to bear nuance in mind when they’re learning something, especially if they’re a novice, and “bleeding over” can turn into outright overwriting and overwhelming.  That then carries on from one mouth to the next, and then the next, turning “innovator” into “competitor” and, potentially, “conqueror”.  It doesn’t matter if it was made up on the spot or as a joke; if it was carried on from one generation to another, it can fast become assumed as a tradition, and its origins can quickly be forgotten or, worse, mythologized (cf.  the pot roast principle), and once it becomes popular enough, it can threaten to overwhelm all that already was there.  We may like to think that we test and hold onto only the valuable things that work and are validated by trial and error so that we could weed out all the made-up stuff, but be honest: even accepting that made-up stuff works from time to time, sometimes we value our teachers’ teachings too much to question it.

It’s hard for us in a Western setting to not inadvertently do this kind of thing, with our usual preference for books and solitary practice rather than (or due to a dearth of) lineage and teachers.  Many of us look towards publicly published material to learn from, myself included in many cases, because teachers either do not exist or are unwilling to pass on their skills for one (usually valid) reason or another.  We then form communities to build ourselves up, reinforce each other with criticism and discussion, and enhance our mutual understanding of a given field.  This, when done properly, can become the definite foundations of a new school or tradition unto itself, and can be a beautiful and wonderful thing!  Even still, there’s the unavoidable risk (or unavoidable result?) that older traditions could be waylaid, forgotten, or abandoned in the course of this same thing, which can be a huge loss, even if nobody is aware of it to begin with.  I fear that, to be honest.  I don’t want other traditions of geomancy—or any occult or religious or spiritual field—to be lost or abandoned or overwritten, because when that happens, valuable knowledge is lost.  We can still learn from each other while still celebrating distinction and difference, but you can’t do that when there’s nothing to distinguish or when there’s nothing to distinguish.

I can’t properly control what people do with the stuff I post; I can offer my experiences, warnings, and cautions, but once something is out there on the internet, it’s out there for all.  I could always just not post the stuff and avoid the problem entirely, but there’s value and purpose in my writings on geomancy that I think can be used well, just as they can be misused or abused.  The dilemma of the engineeer is the same as the dilemma of the author: you can specify and design all you want, but humanity is going to do with your product what it’s going to do regardless of what you intended it for.  Even if it’s nowhere near as epic as my daydream, I really do hope that my writings on geomancy don’t destroy the traditions that have been practiced and carried on long since before I was born.  All I want is to spread knowledge and technique and ability and understanding, and I think I’m successful at least a little bit in that, and the worth and value in doing that is good.  Is it worth the inadvertent flattening of geomantic traditions?  I…don’t know.  I don’t think I’m popular enough to become a prophet of geomancy whose judgment is binding on practices worldwide (God and gods willing, I never will be!), but I do know that my word spreads.  I just hope my warnings and caveats spread, as well.

On the One True Geomancy (or Astrology, Alchemy, Etc.)

Within reason, of course, I enjoy fielding questions from my readers through social media, whether it’s through @s on Twitter or messages on Facebook.  I do my best to answer them as they come, and I generally have an answer, though it might take me a bit to compile it in full.  Sometimes, the answer just can’t be made simple enough for a quick message, and we need to engage in a proper conversation to flesh everything out.  However, on occasion, some of those questions or the discussions we have over them raise something up in my mind that I think needs to be explored more, and this is just one such an occasion.

One of my friends on Facebook—introduced to me by a mutual friend over (what else?) geomancy—had some questions and problems with reading over some of my posts, specifically where I catalog an assortment of geomantic texts’ attributions of elements to the figures.  Basically, in that post, I go over how there’s a lot of talk in books modern and classical about how to reckon the elemental rulerships of each of the figures, and there are a surprising number of variations about how to go about just that.  Modern confusion can arise from John Michael Greer’s use of a dual system of outer and inner elements of the figures, outer elements based on Zodiacal attributions and inner elements based on structural concerns, and I’m sure that I haven’t much improved on that with my own system of primary and secondary elements (though I find it increasingly useful).  My friend was happy to scrap the outer element system of JMG, but after reading my post, things only got more confused and muddled for her.  She vented a bit to me about some of her frustrations in learning geomancy from my blog:

I think I am a bit disheartened.  According to your work even the planetary rulerships vary from Agrippa to the Golden Dawn.  When I found geomancy, I was excited because it was based on numbers and my study of sacred geometry, and it made me hope that this system was at root based upon the same principles.  After reading a lot of your work. I am left with “everyone does it different, good luck!”

You know what?  That’s completely fair, and it’s easy for me to have lost sight of that.  I appreciate her bringing me back down to earth a bit by sharing her feelings with me on this.

As you may have noticed, dear reader, the Digital Ambler is my blog.  Yes, it’s a website where I advertise my services and ebooks and share my research and rituals and make myself available for a variety of consultations and readings, but first and foremost, the Digital Ambler is my blog.  I write about what I want on my blog at the rate I want with the focuses I want in the way I want; it is, after all, my blog.  However, I write my blog for the public to read not just to keep track of my own notes, experiments, projects, ideas, and studies, but also to help others in the occult, Hermetic, and geomantic communities as well.  Over the years, my blog has become something of a resource for many, and I take a bit of pride and satisfaction and fulfillment that I’m able to help at least a few people through my writing.

One of the ways I think I help is that I share my research and notes, and when it comes to geomancy, there’s a lot to research—about a thousand years, to be precise, across Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe.  Even with my limited resources, I have access to texts by John Case, Robert Fludd, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, Christopher Cattan, John Heydon, Bartholommeo della Parma, Gerard of Cremona, and Pietro d’Abano, to say nothing of more modern authors ranging from Franz Hartmann to Stephen Skinner and JMG himself.  As time goes on, I hope to get access to even more obscure materials that exist in undigitized, microfiche, or manuscript form.  And, I expect, as I get access to more such resources, I’ll learn more about how geomancy was practiced by a variety of practitioners across the millennium it’s been in use.

As a researcher, it’s evident and plain to me that geomancy is not a single, fixed subject.  Yes, even from its inception and introduction into Europe, there have been many things fixed and stable about the art: the basic meanings of the figures, the basic use of the Court and Shield Chart, how to use the House Chart, what planets the figures refer to, and so forth.  However, there are a great many things that vary between one author and the next: whether this technique or that is more useful, how many variations on a single technique there might be, how to assign the zodiac signs to the figures, how to assign the elements to the figures, how to do this or that and…well, as can be seen across many of the posts on my blog where I document classical techniques, there’s a fair amount of variation in geomantic practice.  For me to introduce that into my blog is part and parcel of my research: I research to document what was done, no matter how it was done, so I can figure out what was kept back then and why, as well as what I might keep that works and how to make what works work even better.

Why is there so much variation in what was done?  Simply put, it’s because geomancy is not a monolithic tradition: there is no canon, no centralization, no governing authority that says “this is proper geomantic practice” and “that is not proper geomantic practice”.  We in our modern age are used to such centralized authorities certifying what’s in and what’s out or what’s good and what’s bad to the point where we take it for granted, and we expect to see that such centralization would be present in previous eras.  It’s simply not the case.  Sure, there were commonly-available resources and texts, especially after the invention of the printing press and the beginning of mass-produced books, but it still was nothing like the scale of today’s “Art and Practice of Geomancy” or “Geomancy for Beginners” or “Geomancy in Theory and Practice”.  What was available were texts produced on a much smaller scale available to a smaller percentage of wealthier people who could afford books within a much more localized region; besides those, there were actual, living, breathing geomancers who not only practiced, but taught as well.  Though I’m sure some students of geomancy kept in touch with others, each geomancer was likely to be left to their own devices, see what works, and see what doesn’t, then develop and refine their own practice on their own.  Couple a few decades of that with books that may not always be 100% correct or vetted for typos and clarity, and minor variations are bound to result.

The commonalities between different geomancers and texts vastly outweigh the differences between them, to be sure, but many of us who like to investigate the details and ply those for whatever we can might be foiled by encountering so many different ways to assign figures to elements or what have you.  As my friend said, it can often come across that, when I present my notes on how geomancers of the past practiced this art, it might just come across as “everyone does it different, good luck”.  To an extent…yeah, actually.  Everyone did do it different.  Heck, everyone still does it different; I don’t do the same exact geomancy that Stephen Skinner or JMG or Al Cummins or Eric Purdue might do.  We all understand the basics of geomancy, and the commonalities of our practices far outweigh our differences, but there are definitely differences to be had.

To be fair, though, this isn’t just a thing with geomancy.  Astrology has the same variations across its many thousands of years of practice and development based on era, land, language, and author.  Today, you’ll still find arguments about which house system is best, how to allot certain things to certain houses, whether the modern planets have any purpose in horary astrology, and so forth.  You’ll find the same thing in general Hermetic magic (Golden Dawn or Thelema? Lemegeton or Grimoirum Verum? Heptameron or Trithemius?), in ancient Greek religion (Hesiod or Homer? Attic or Doric? Delphi or Dodona?), and really in any ancient tradition.  No tradition is ever truly monolithic unless it was designed that way, and even then, if it’s at all taught and carried on by successive generations of students, there are bound to be variations.  That’s how we ended up with Theravada and Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism from a single teacher, and within each vehicle of Buddhism all the different sects and schools thereof.  That’s how we ended up with Catholic and Orthodox and Protestant Christianities, and all their own sects and denominations.  Spiritual traditions, sciences, and lineages are inherently messy in their development; as I said to my friend, “if it’s confusing, it’s because there are a lot of different voices shouting different things under the same big tent”.

So what do we do about it?  Is it really as simple (and confusing) as “everyone did it different, good luck”?  Well…yes, actually.  In my research-related posts on this blog, I don’t often just document what was done, but I also give my thoughts on what makes the most logical sense or what has the strongest justification, as well as share my own thoughts, experiences, and preferences on the variations on technique.  I do my best to show my own practices and why I do things the way I do and where I get the things I do from, but at the end of the day, it’s a combination of study and experimentation that informs my practice: study the things that are common and fixed in the tradition, experimentation to see which variations work best.  The way I teach geomancy is going to be different from other geomancers past and present because it’s going to be informed by my own practices, experiences, and experiments; consider that I find (much as Robert Fludd himself did) that the techniques to predict letters and numbers are crap. Heck, even among geomancers today, what I consider vital and important to the art (as far as details go, at least), Al Cummins may find ridiculous or nonsense, and vice versa.  That’s fine!  We each have our own opinions informed by our own studies, and that’s great!  It’s not going to be as simple as 2 + 2 = 4 where there’s only one right answer, but it’s going to be “which art movement is better to understand the 19th century occult movements, Pre-Raphaelite or Art Nouveau?”.

If you’re looking for the One True Geomancy (or One True Astrology, or One True Solomonic Grimoire, or One True Alchemy, etc.) with all and only the right techniques, well, you might be disappointed.  There’s really no objective, centralized, certified Manual of Geomantic (or Astrological, Solomonic, Alchemical, etc.) Practice out there, nor will there ever be.  The best you can do is find a single teacher and study what that one teacher teaches, and even then, they might change their views over time, just like you will.  In the meantime, though it might be a rough road to follow, learning what was done and seeing all the variants out there of a given technique is helpful because it informs you of what was done before to give you an idea of what works and what options you have when working your own practices.  In doing so, you have guides that point in useful directions (maybe not always the right directions) to show you where you should focus your practice or steer your practice towards or away from.  Experimentation is a must in this and every kind of occult art, but you can and should listen to your peers and colleagues and teachers to see what was done before so you don’t invent the wheel all over again and again and again.

On Gender in Magic, or, What to Rename Puer and Puella

Twitter is always full of fun people.  Yeah, the platform is garbage and full of Nazis, white supremacists, TERFs, and a variety of alt-right douchebags, but it’s also been the platform I’ve been on for the longest sustained period of time going back to…god, mid-2010, I guess.  In that time, despite its changes for the worse and the increases of awful people, I’ve also made many good friends on the platform, ranging from furries and fanfiction authors to astrologers and occultists and any number of people in between.  Lately, I’ve been enjoying the company of a good number of (somehow all bewilderingly attractive) astrologers and diviners, which gives me endless entertainment and education (and gawking over how insultingly good they look in their photos).

Not that long ago, one of my mutuals started up a conversation among this very group that struck a chord with me:

This, yes, absolutely, forever.

Even from an early date in my occult studies, stuff about gender has always not set exactly well with me, e.g. the whole bullshit Law of Gender from the Kybalion, yet another reason why I hate and detest the damn text.  I mean, while I am gay, I’m also comfortable in my cisgender identity as a man, but I have quite a few other friends and colleagues who aren’t but who are transgender, genderfluid, nonbinary, agender, or otherwise.  That so much in traditional magical literature relies on a system of gender that doesn’t work for so many of us is…troubling, honestly.  It’s nothing insurmountable for me, and I would hope that it’s likewise not a total obstruction for others, but that it poses a problem for many of us can’t be denied.  Like, for me, who has no sexual or romantic attraction to women, the notion of an element being “feminine” would logically suggest that it should be cut off from me as something inherently foreign, which is certainly not the case.

Time and again we come across scientific evidence and studies that show that there aren’t even always two physical sexes per species, or that the roles and responsibilities of each physical sex shift and change between species or even between stages of life in a species, or which change based on the environment around and hormones within the members of that species.  If occult philosophy is rooted in natural philosophy, i.e. if studying the occult is grounded in studying the world around us, then shouldn’t we actually respect what we find in the world around us rather than imposing a really simplistic view that doesn’t even work for us as a species or a civilization?  To be fair, I do understand and agree that most humans are cisgender and heterosexual, and most animal species reproduce sexually in a way that we can identify as being carried out by something resembling heterosexuality in humans.  That, however, does not mean that it is any more natural than variations seen in gender, sex, or sexual behavior, because those are as natural as the more common set.  Being uncommon does not mean being abnormal.

There’s also the argument that oh, even as a gay man, I should be in touch with my “feminine side”.  Tell me, what is a “feminine side”?  What are the essential qualities that make something feminine?  I know many women who don’t have such qualities, and many men who do.  I know that much of what one culture describes as “feminine” is considered masculine by another culture, or vice versa.  I know that much of what nontoxic masculinity is could easily be described as expected feminine behavior, and vice versa.  To me (and I speak only for myself in this), gender is a role that one plays based on cultural norms, with nothing essential about it; there can be no “masculine side” and “feminine side” because both of those are meaningless terms that just play out in a given context or arena of culture, society, and communication.  To be sure, these things have power and meaning as far as such things do, but there’s nothing essential, fundamental, or elemental about them that needs to be carried into a fair amount (maybe all?) Western magical practices.

I know that it’s certainly traditional to refer to the elements of Fire and Air (and all their corresponding tools, symbols, planets, zodiac signs, and other correspondences) as masculine or male and to Water and Earth (and all their correspondences) as feminine or female, but we can do so much better.  For one, knowing that each element is a combination of heat and moisture, a system going all the way back to Aristotle:

Dry Wet
Hot Fire Air
Cold Earth Water

What quality immediately jumps out at us that links the “masculine” and “feminine” elements?  It’s heat!  The “masculine” elements Fire and Air are both hot, and the “feminine” elements Water and Earth are both cold, so why not just call them hot and cold, or warm and cool, instead?

This and so many other alternatives to “masculine” and “feminine” were proposed in the conversation on Twitter, some of which I like and others I don’t as much care for, including:

  • solar and lunar
  • diurnal and nocturnal
  • odd and even
  • independent and communal
  • fast and slow
  • electric and magnetic
  • celestial and terrestrial
  • light and dark

(Personally, when not using the celestial and terrestrial dichotomy from my Mathēsis stuff, I absolutely adore the electric and magnetic dichotomy, because electricity and magnetism are really the same underlying force that operate in two different ways.)

There is also, of course, the almost-as-traditional “active” and “passive”, but this is dispreferable in another way, because “passive” has some unfortunate connotations that also doesn’t exactly work.  For instance, if I throw a large amount of water onto a fire, well, fire is supposed to be an active element, right?  So it should act upon the water, but what happens is that the water puts out the fire: the “passive” element acts upon the “active” one.  Not exactly helpful in that light.  Plus, the connotations of “active” and “passive” play into the traditional male-female roles during sex, where the “active” man is on top penetrating the “passive” woman on bottom.  Okay, boring.

You could reframe this “active” and “passive” issue using, for instance, “convex” and “concave”.  Consider the Chinese characters for these words: 凸 and 凹, respectively (as might be evident).  Like…you can see it too, right?  It’s not just my mind in the gutter?  If we equate “convex” with “active” and “concave” with “passive”, well…let me tell you that anyone who’s receiving in sex and is just remaining passive is doing sex wrong and should be ashamed of themselves.  You can take it and still run the show.  Being “passive” does not equate with being inert, boring, or ineffectual; being “receptive” or “concave” does not equate with being submissive, unassuming, or calm.

Personally?  I’m all for getting rid of the notions of gender in our elements, tools, zodiac signs, and other correspondences.  You can include them if you like, but I don’t care to have a system or cosmos that’s inherently structured and built upon them, especially when everything has an undivided, indivisible, undifferentiated Source.  You can have polarities and dichotomies and spectrums without having gender, and gender is not the be-all end-all of polarities.  We don’t have to reduce all dichotomies to a socially-bound, Western categorization of how certain people with certain physical differences should behave.  We can be so much better than this. We can do so much better than this.  We don’t have to be locked into a procrustean bed of gender-locked magic and cosmology when we can literally see and interact with cosmic forces that do not follow laws of gender and, indeed, break the very systems that gender tries to support and maintain.

Then I take a deep breath, and I go outside, and I…look at geomancy, and I’m reminded of the figures Puer and Puella.  And I frown, because we have this very gender/sex issue embedded in two of our figures, going back to the founding of geomancy itself.

I’ve gone on at length about these figures before, describing how their elemental structure suggests and effects their divinatory and occult significations, and so much else.  Yet, here it is, the male-female dichotomy itself staring at us in the face.

Geomancy itself is a system built upon dichotomy.  Dichotomy literally means “a cutting (categorization) into two”, which is the fundamental aspect of binary systems.  Geomancy, as a binary system, has rows that have one point or two points.  In this particular case, I think the use of “active” and “passive” is useful to describe such an arrangement, because it’s referring to the literal existence or non-existence of a given element within a figure.  For instance, if Fire is active, then it can cause a change in another figure’s Fire line (odd to even or even to odd); if Fire is passive, then it preserves and takes on whatever is in another Figure’s fire line (odd stays odd and even stays even).  This is how I interpret odd or even as far as numbers go, and to me, the mere presence or absence of an element has nothing to do with that element being “male” or “female”.  Again, gender/sex is just one kind of polarity, if it even is to be reckoned having two poles at all.

So, what to do about Puer and Puella?  Well, I know that the names of figures aren’t fixed.  Throughout the history of geomancy, many sets of names have been applied to the figures, even within the same language.  Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice gives a huge table of all the names he’s been able to document for the figures across multiple manuscripts, books, and traditions.  For instance, the figure Fortuna Maior (literally meaning “Greater Fortune”) has also been called:

  • Auxulium intus (interior aid)
  • Tutela intrans (entering assistance)
  • Omen maius (greater omen)
  • Honor intus (interior honor)

Still, despite the variation in names, they all have more-or-less the same meaning.  But then we come to figures that don’t have any similarity with their common names, such as Imberbis (beardless) for Puer.  Such names come from a much older, Arabic-inspired tradition that uses similar names for the figures, which tie into the meanings through other symbolic means; “beardless”, for instance, refers to young men who are yet energetic while still not old enough to have the full features of maturity.  Other names for Puer include Flavus (blond, perhaps referring to the bright golden hair color associated with young children?), Belliger (warring), or even Gladius Erigendus (erect sword, which…mmhm.)

What I’m saying here is that the names of the figures have gone through quite a lot of change and variation over the centuries, and what matters is that the names are descriptive of the meanings of the figures in divination and magic.  Puer means a whole lot more than “boy”, of course, as does Puella than merely “girl”, but a whole set of personality, physical, temperamental, and situational traits that go far beyond merely what might be considered masculine or feminine as determined by medieval European society.  So, why not think of other names for these two figures that can decouple them from a reliance on the male-female distinction?

Personally, I like going with Hero and Host, playing off not just the initial sounds of the words, but on the dichotomy of hostility and hospitality, rough and smooth, or as my mutual above phrased it, “gall and grace”.  They tie into my own meditations and visualizations of the figures, too.  On Puer:

The young man dressed in rags and armor, riding his horse, drops his armor’s visor, raises his sword, and plunges into the fight.  All he’s in it for is to fight, and the fight is real, especially if he’s the one to start it (he usually is).  If he’s on the right side in the fight, he’ll lay his enemies bare and clear the field to pave the way for future foundations; if not, he’ll live to fight for a hopeless and regretful day later.  But that doesn’t matter to him, anyway; he lives for the fight, the struggle, the excitement, the passion, the heat, and the war that never ends for him.  His visor limits his vision, cutting out peripheral vision entirely and causing him to focus on what’s right ahead of him; just so does he only care for the current day and the current battle.  He’s young and without experience of victory, or even finesse in battle, his rashness and recklessness giving him all the flailing speed and power he needs, but he’s fighting not just to fight but also for that experience he lacks.  And, after all, he’s fighting because there’s one thing he’s missing: someone to really fight for.  Don’t expect him to be your ally when you call, but expect him to call on you or pull you into the fight.

And on Puella:

…I saw myself walking into a massive pyramidal hall, an ancient temple with smooth golden sandstone walls neatly fit together rising up to a square hole in the ceiling, with a light shining down into it illuminating everything the temple with a rich, warm, delicate light.  The whole of the temple was filled with treasures, rich tapestries, delicate statues and figurines, and piles of paintings; it was a temple in the old style, a warehouse and storeroom for all the holy treasures a temenos or church would’ve accrued over the centuries.  At the end of the temple, meandering through a forest of statues and stacks of gold, kneeling down in prayer was a young maiden, dressed in the finest dress, modest but alluring, sweet but experienced.  I approached her, and she looked up at me with the most genuine, kindest, warmest smile I’ve ever seen; she stepped up, took my hand, and walked me around the temple.  It was bliss, even for me who doesn’t go for women, but she told me about how she had been expecting me, preparing all this for me, watching out for my arrival; she told me that she wanted to make sure I was alright.  I told her that I was, and by then, she had led me to the entry of the temple and gently guided me out with the kindest and warmest of farewells.  I left with a smile on my face, both in my mind and in my physical body.

You can just as easily swap out “young man” for “young woman” in the former, and “young maiden” with “young prince” in the latter.  Neither of those rely on gender or sex.  There might be an argument for the dot patterns of the figures: some say that Puer represents an erect phallus and Puella an open vagina, and I can agree with those!  But dot patterns are fickle things, and they can be interpreted as any number of other things, too: Puer can represent a sword and Puella a mirror (a la the original forms of the glyphs for the shield-and-spear of Mars and the handheld-mirror of Venus), or Puer could represent a person with their arms low in a defensive fighting stance and Puella a person standing with their arms out in embrace and welcome.  If you’re troubled by the notion of Puer representing a woman because of its emphasis on erection, don’t forget that the clitoris also swells with blood when its owner gets aroused—a.k.a., an erection.  As for men worrying about being seen as womanly by being associated as the Host (née Puella), don’t forget that some of the greatest role models we have for nontoxic masculinity in the West include Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross, the perfect neighbor who welcomed all to his neighborhood and a stunning artist who found beauty in all scenes and spread it to all who wanted it.

As for the new terms, I can also hear some saying “well, hero has a feminine version, ‘heroine’, and host has a female version, ‘hostess’, these aren’t gender-neutral terms!”  Sure, I suppose, if you want to use the French, Latin, or Greek roots of the words we have, where the language was inherently gendered along grammatical lines.  But, at least in English, we don’t really have gender on words unless we force gender onto those words; “host” suffices just fine for men or women, as does “hero”.  We don’t need to specify “hostess” or “heroine” unless we want to emphasize that someone is hosting and is also a woman, or that someone exceptionally brave and courageous is also a woman; we can use the unmarked forms of the words as being applicable to any (or no) gender just fine.  After all, we call women “director”, “doctor”, “administrator”, and “aviator”, not “directrix”, “ductrix”, “administratrix”, or “aviatrix”, which are the proper feminine versions of those words.  We can drop the gendered endings because they’re not necessary unless we want to absolutely reinforce the notion that someone’s gender must be specified at any and every given opportunity.

Will I start using and enforcing the terms Hero and Host on my blog?  For the sake of communication, probably not.  Chances are I’ll just keep them to myself and refer to them that way in my head, using the more popular and common names that have been in solid use for five centuries or more in public for the sake of communication.  Still, when teaching these figures, I think it’d be useful to have an alternate set of names for them as well, which most texts are already liable to do.  Adding another pair of names to help decouple gender from magic isn’t too hard an effort to make, but the results are worth it, I claim.

I was on a podcast over at My Alchemical Bromance!

Personally speaking, my preferred medium is the written word.  I get to clarify and refine my thoughts into an actually acceptable format, it’s easy to peruse if you have time or skim through if you don’t, and searching through it is trivial with most modern search functions (though I have my issues with the WordPress search from time to time).  It’d be a weird day indeed if I were to start making videos or podcasts of my own as a Thing, but I’m certainly not opposed to other people doing it, especially when they’ve got good practice at making it work well for them and entertaining to boot!  I like leaving this sort of thing to the good people who’ve mastered it.

Not that long ago, I was invited to chat with the good Rev. Erik L. Arneson over on his podcast of My Alchemical Bromance,  Rev. Arneson, who also manages the website, blog, and reading services of Arnemancy which focuses on a variety of Hermetic topics old and new, invited me onto the show to chat about the Greek Magical Papyri, geomancy (which I think is becoming almost my cliche thing? eh, it’s definitely my thing, to be sure), ceremonial magic, and a variety of other topics as we share a drink.  He had a fancy beer, while I drank my already-half-emptied 1.5L bottle of Barefoot Sweet Red blend, leftover from offerings done earlier in the week, which he mirthfully mocked me for (and rightfully so).

What?  Y’all knew I don’t bother with taste if I don’t need to.

You can listen to the episode directly on their website at this page, or you can listen to the 1hr37min debaculous chat here:

Once you’re done (and I do hope you enjoyed it—it was super fun chatting with the good reverend), be sure to like them on Facebook, follow them on whatever RSS feeder you prefer, and subscribe to their podcast!

Digitized Traditional and Renaissance Geomancy Resource List

Time and again recently, I’ve had to flip through a variety of archives to find specific books on geomancy.  These aren’t my normal books, but some of the venerated (and pain-in-the-ass) source books that modern geomancers in the West tend to work from, whether directly from their own pages or indirectly through modern translators and teachers.  After amassing a bit of a list of my own, and being tired of digging through awful interfaces to find a few texts, I decided to go on and compile a fairly reasonable list of geomantic texts that are freely available online in some digitized format or another.  Most of these are from the 1500s through 1700s, with very few exceptions.  There are others available online, of course, but some of those aren’t really in the public domain and I’d really rather not get slammed for piracy so publicly.

The list of texts I largely go by are found in the bibliographies of Stephen Skinner’s books Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy (1980) and Geomancy in Theory and Practice (2011).  Skinner has done, as usual, a fantastic job at cataloging and indexing so many texts, books, and manuscripts on geomancy, and it’s given me a good start with original sources to check from, in addition to modern resources such as academic papers, blogs, workshops, pamphlets, and the like.  Below are whatever resources, based on Skinner’s bibliographies, that I could find digitized and freely accessible online in a variety of langauges, focusing on those that were published and used in European and Western geomancy from the 1500s onward.

In Latin:

In French:

In Italian:

In German:

In English:

Of course, it should be made clear that this list is by no means comprehensive!  Between the manuscripts that cannot be read except with eyes trained in particular handwriting styles, books that have not yet been digitized or that have but not been made publicly available, and all the books that are still under copyright, and all the other books that are available but which are in Middle Eastern and Asian languages, there are dozens, hundreds of books that discuss geomancy that are not yet available like the ones above.  Still, this is a good start for many, and if you include resources that discuss Arabic or Islamic style geomancy under the name raml or ramal, you can turn up with even more works; alas, I don’t know Arabic, Persian, or Urdu, so I have not included those texts here, but they’re out there, too!

Hopefully, this list of texts can help further the research and study of geomancy and encourage those with the skills to translate whatever texts still remain in obscurity and bring old, buried knowledge to light once more.  If you, dear reader, have any other tips, clues, or links to other historical, Renaissance, or medieval resources that are digitized in some way or are in the public domain, please share in the comments!

More on Geomantic Epodes and Intonations

One of my colleagues on Facebook, Nic Raven Run of Ravens Hall Press, asked me an interesting question to follow up on my post on epodes for the elements and geomantic figures from the other day.  In that post, I offered a set of single syllables that could be chanted or intoned like a bīja, or “seed syllable” mantra, for each of the four elements based on an obscure geomantic method of interpretation (the BZDḤ technique), which I also extrapolated into a system of single syllable intonations for each of the sixteen geomantic figures.  To that end, here are the two systems I would most likely use in my own practice, one based on the BZDḤ system and one based on strict stoicheia for the elements:

  • Hybrid Greek system
    • Fire: bi (ΒΙ)
    • Air: zu (ΖΥ)
    • Water: (ΔΗ)
    • Earth: ha (Ἁ)
  • Exact Mathēsis system
    • Fire: kho (ΧΟ)
    • Air: phu (ΦΥ)
    • Water: ksē (ΞΗ)
    • Earth: thō (ΘΩ)

And their corresponding expansions into the two systems of geomantic epodes using the two systems I would recommend (with the pure elemental epodes in bold text showing their location in the geomantic systems):

Hybrid Greek System (ΒΖΔΗ)
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΒΙ
BI
Laetitia
ΖΙ
ZI
Puer
ΔΙ
DI
Puella

HI
Carcer
Air ΒΥ
BU
Fortuna Minor
ΖΥ
ZU
Rubeus
ΔΥ
DU
Via

HU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΖΗ

Coniunctio
ΔΗ

Albus


Fortuna Maior
Earth ΒΑ
BA
Cauda Draconis
ΖΑ
ZA
Acquisitio
ΔΑ
DA
Populus

HA
Tristitia
Exact Mathēsis System (ΧΦΞΘ)
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΧΟ
KHO
Laetitia
ΦΟ
PHO
Puer
ΞΟ
KSO
Puella
ΘΟ
THO
Carcer
Air ΧΥ
KHU
Fortuna Minor
ΦΥ
PHU
Rubeus
ΞΥ
KSU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΧΗ
KHĒ
Amissio
ΦΗ
PHĒ
Coniunctio
ΞΗ
KSĒ
Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΧΩ
KHŌ
Cauda Draconis
ΦΩ
PHŌ
Acquisitio
ΞΩ
KSŌ
Populus
ΘΩ
THŌ
Tristitia

What this gets us is a system of single-syllable units that can represent not only the four elements but all sixteen figures.  In addition to being useful for energy work exercises among other magical practices, it also gives us an interesting method of encoding geomantic figures phonetically.  For instance, we could encapsulate an entire geomantic chart based on the four Mother figures, such that e.g. BIZAZIDĒ would be interpreted as Laetitia (BI), Acquisitio (ZA), Puer (ZI), and Albus (DĒ).  Another way we could use these is to encapsulate one of the 256 combinations of figures in two or three syllables: for instance, the combination of Coniunctio (ZĒ) and Acquisitio (ZA) to form Fortuna Maior (HĒ) could be written succinctly as ZĒZA or more fully as ZĒZAHĒ.  There are plenty of ways to extend such a system, ranging from Abulafia-like meditating on the 256 permutations of syllables to using them in geomantic candle magic a la Balthazar Black’s technique.

However, note that each such epode is basically considered a unit; yes, it’s composed of an elemental consonant and a vowel that, although they are inherently based on the Greek notion of planetary associations, can be reckoned as elemental symbols as well, and the combination of them composes a single syllable based on the primary (consonant) and secondary (vowel) elements of the geomantic figures.  What Nic was asking about was an alternative system of epodes: how could we use the elemental epodes to “compose” a geomantic figure in the sense of describing which elements were active and passive?  For instance, we could simply describe Via as BIZUDĒHA since it has all four elements, but how might one represent a figure with one or more passive elements?  Nic suggested a phonetic approach using a system of using two sets of vowels, using open vowels for active elements and close vowels for passive elements.  The system Nic was suggesting would be to effectively use a series of diphthongs to approximate such vowels.

I didn’t like this approach, to be honest.  For one, the reason why I’m using the vowels I’m using (which themselves are a mix of open and close in the systems I suggest) are (a) because the Greek system is particularly amenable to occult works and (b) because I’m relying not so much on phonetics as I am the occult symbolism and correspondences of the letters to the planets and, by those same correspondences, to the elements.  In that framework, diphthongs really mess with the system, because a diphthong involves several vowels which “muddle” the planetary/elemental symbolism that I’m trying to accomplish.  Plus, such a system would necessitate eight distinct but more-or-less balanced vowel sounds, and the Greek alphabet or phonetics isn’t really geared for that.  Now, that said, the idea isn’t a bad one!  However, because I’m not operating from purely phonetic principles, it’s not for me to go along that route.  I encouraged Nic (and I encourage others as well, if there are others to whom this idea is appealing) to explore such a phonetic approach to representing elements and their compositions to form geomantic figure representations.

There are other approaches to creating composed epodes for the geomantic figures, though, which I also discussed with Nic.  The first hunch I had was to simply include or omit the basic letters needed; for instance, if the consonants BZDḤ represent Fire, Air, Water, and Earth respectively, then combinations of those letters would represent the active elements in a figure, and we could fill in the vowels according to the rules of instinctual Arabic methods or the methods of pronouncing Greek generated words from before.  So, Via (with all four elements) would simply be BZDḤ or “bahz-dach”, Amissio (with just Fire and Water) would be BD or “bahd”, Fortuna Maior would be DḤ or “dach”, and so forth.  Populus, however, having no elements active, could be represented through silence, soft breathing, or something else entirely like “hmmmm” (using the notion that the Semitic letter for M, Arabic mīm or Hebrew mem, has its origins in the hieroglyph and word for “water”, which is the dominant element of Populus).  It’s an idea, but one I don’t particularly like, either, as it seems clunky and inelegant to use without regularity or much appeal, especially since the use of Ḥ only really works in Arabic, as we’d just end with a vowel in the Greek system which could be unclear.  We could use the mathētic approach of using ΧΦΞΘ instead, but we can do better than that.

Instead of using consonants, let’s think about a system that just uses the seven pure Greek vowels.  Recall in the systems above from the earlier post that there’s a way to use the Greek vowels, which normally represent the planets, to represent the four elements as well:

In the last row of my mathētic Tetractys, note how we have the four non-luminary and non-Mercury planets each associated to one of the four elements: Mars with Fire, Jupiter with Air, Venus with Water, and Saturn with Earth.  Though this system doesn’t quite match Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7), it does with his broader and more fuller explanations and detailing of the planets earlier in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy (book I, chapters 23 through 29).  Thus, as applied in my exact mathētic system of epodes, we can use Omicron (Mars) for Fire, Upsilon (Jupiter) for Air, Ēta (Venus) for Water, and Ōmega (Saturn) for Earth.  The letters Iōta (Sun), Alpha (Moon), and Epsilon (Mercury) are not used in the exact mathētic system of epodes, but are in the vague hybrid system from before, being a little easier to use and distinguish.

The connection I made for using these vowels was based on another notion I had of arranging the seven planets into the geomantic figures.  In that topic, one could envision taking seven planetary objects (talismans, coins, stones, etc.) and arranging them on an altar in a regular way to represent the graphical forms of the geomantic figures.  The method I gave for doing this was described like this:

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).

This led us to having the following arrangements:

Note that Via is the only figure that uses only the so-called “ouranic” planets Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn, because Via is the only figure with all elements active.  All the other figures, having at least one element passive, will involve one or more of the planets Mercury, Sun, or Moon, because those “empyrean” planets mitigate and lessen the elemental presence of the row that they’re found in.  The only major exception to this arrangement is—you guessed it—Populus, which uses a different arrangement entirely.  For more information about how and why these figures are arranged with the planets in the way they are and how they might otherwise be used, see the relevant post on my blog, linked just above.  The terms ouranic and empyrean are a distinction I make in my Mathēsis work to distinguish the twelve non-zodiacal forces into three groups, as demonstrated in this post.

Now, remember that each planet has its own vowel, and note where the planets appear in the arrangements above for each figure.  We can come up with a rule that transforms the figures into sequences of vowels to represent the figures like this:

  1. For all figures except Populus:
    1. Every row will have either a single ouranic planet (Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn) or both an ouranic and empyrean planet (Moon, Sun, Mercury).
    2. If a given elemental row has an empyrean planet present as well as an ouranic planet, use the vowel of the empyrean planet there.
    3. Otherwise, if a given elemental row has only an ouranic planet present, use the vowel of the ouranic planet.
  2. For the figure Populus:
    1. All planets are present in their own arrangement to represent the voids of Populus.
    2. Use all the vowels, some mutually-exclusive set, or just keep silent.

Thus, consider the figure Via.  In each row, it only has an ouranic planet, so we simply use their corresponding vowels: ΟΥΗΩ.  For Coniunctio, note how we have two empyrean planets in the figure, the Sun alongside Mars and the Moon alongside Saturn; we would use their corresponding vowels instead of their ouranic equivalents, getting us the vowel string ΙΥΗΑ (Iōta instead of Omicron and Alpha instead of Ōmega).  Likewise, Puer has the empyrean planet Mercury present alongside Venus, so its vowel string would be ΟΥΕΩ (Epsilon instead of Ēta).  The only exception to this would be Populus, as noted above, which could be represented either as the entire vowel string ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ or as simple, holy silence, but we can talk more about that later.

This gets us the following vowel epodes for the figures:

  • Laetitia: ΟΙΕΑ
  • Fortuna Minor: ΟΥΙΑ
  • Amissio: ΟΙΗΑ
  • Cauda Draconis: ΟΥΗΕ
  • Puer: ΟΥΕΩ
  • Rubeus: ΙΥΕΑ
  • Coniunctio: ΙΥΗΑ
  • Acquisitio: ΙΥΑΩ
  • Puella: ΟΕΗΑ
  • Via: ΟΥΗΩ
  • Albus: ΙΕΗΑ
  • Populus: More on that in a bit.
  • Carcer: ΟΙΑΩ
  • Caput Draconis: ΕΥΗΩ
  • Fortuna Maior: ΙΑΗΩ
  • Tristitia: ΙΕΑΩ

What’s nice about this system is that, at least for all the non-Populus figures, we have four vowels that we can intone.  Anyone familiar with the classical Hermetic and Neoplatonic texts and techniques is familiar with how vowel-intoning was considered a pure and sacred practice, and now we can apply it to the figures as well as the planets!  Even better, since each geomantic figure uses a distinct set of vowels, we can permute them in any which way.  Thus, if we wanted to engross ourselves in the world of, say, Laetitia, we could intone all possible variations of its vowel string:

ΟΙΕΑ ΟΙΑΕ ΟΕΙΑ ΟΕΑΙ ΟΑΙΕ ΟΑΕΙ
ΙΟΕΑ ΙΟΑΕ ΙΕΟΑ ΙΕΑΟ ΙΑΟΕ ΙΑΕΟ
ΕΟΙΑ ΕΟΑΙ ΕΙΟΑ ΕΙΑΟ ΕΑΟΙ ΕΑΙΟ
ΑΟΙΕ ΑΟΕΙ ΑΙΟΕ ΑΙΕΟ ΑΕΟΙ ΑΕΙΟ

For each of the non-Populus figures which have four distinct vowels, there are 24 possible permutations of its vowel string, with six permutations that begin with each one of the vowels.  Going through and intoning each permutation could be a powerful meditative practice for each of the figures, and probably especially effective for magical practices, too.

What about Populus?  For that, we have all seven vowels ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ, and to permute all seven of those would…take a considerably longer time than the other figures (there are 5040 possible permutations).  Though going through all such permutations would also be a powerful practice, there are better ways we can use our time.  For one, what about the sequence ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ itself?  It’s simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t really reflect the arrangement of planets we use for Populus: note how we have the empyrean planets (Sun, Mercury, and Moon) down the middle with the ouranic planets (Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn) around the sides in a distinctly mathētic pattern.  For this arrangement, we could use the vowel string ΙΟΥΕΗΩΑ: we have Iōta at the beginning, Epsilon in the middle, and Alpha at the end, with the other four vowels in their elemental order interspersed between them, the hot elements Fire and Air in the first half and the cold elements Water and Earth in the second half.  Using this pattern, we could imagine a kind of lightning-bolt descending from the Sun down to the Moon through Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn, a pattern that would take us from the hottest, brightest, most active powers down to the coldest, darkest, most passive powers.

Another way is to use a condensed vowel string: rather than using the ouranic planets’ vowels at all, why not limit ourselves to the empyrean planets, which are only ever used for passive elements anyway in this scheme?  In this reckoning, we could reduce ΙΟΥΕΗΩΑ to ΙΕΑ (reflecting the center empty “gap” of the dots in the figure Populus), just as we commonly figure that the divine name ΙΑΩ is a reduction of the full string ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ.  Plus, we only ever see the string ΙΕΑ in the (permutations of) the string for the figures that are mostly passive anyway: Laetitia (ΟΙΕΑ), Rubeus (ΙΥΕΑ), Albus (ΙΕΗΑ), and Tristitia (ΙΕΑΩ).  If there were any vowel string that could be considered the inverse of that of Via (ΟΥΗΩ), the mutually-exclusive remaining set of vowels ΙΕΑ would be it!  We could then permute this string in a simple set of six permutations, too:

ΙΕΑ ΕΑΙ ΑΙΕ
ΕΙΑ ΙΑΕ ΑΕΙ

Instead of doing either ΙΟΥΕΗΩΑ or permutations of ΙΕΑ, though, there’s another approach to us: if Populus is devoid of elements, then it has nothing at all, and thus has nothing to intone, so Populus could simply be represented by a pure, holy silence devoid of intonations.  This is also entirely appropriate, and would symbolically make Populus a vacuum of empty space, a blank template upon which the other elements could be applied.  Entirely fitting to represent Populus on its own.

Of course, using that logic, then why would we bother using the empyrean planets’ vowels at all to represent the passive elements in a figure?  We could just stick with the ouranic planets that are active, which would get us the following “short” set of vowel intonations, such as Ο for Laetitia, ΟΥ for Fortuna Minor, ΟΥΗ for Cauda Draconis, and so forth.  Not nearly as elegant, perhaps, but could also work.  I’m not a fan, personally, as it then begins to conflate the elemental presences of the figures with purely planetary ones.  For instance, Laetitia being simply represented by Omicron would then conflate Laetitia with the planet Mars, even though Laetitia is solidly linked to Jupiter, and likewise Rubeus with Upsilon to Jupiter and not Mars.  I wouldn’t recommend this system, personally.

So, where does that leave us?  At this point, there are three systems of epodes I would recommend for working with the geomantic figures, two of which are single-syllable epodes (one based on the BZDḤ system with Greek vowels, and one derived from that same system using a purer stoicheic/mathētic approach), and one of which is based on mathētic principles to come up with intonable, permutable vowel strings.

Figure Single Syllable Vowel String
Hybrid Mathēsis
Laetitia ΒΙ
BI
ΧΟ
KHO
ΟΙΕΑ
Fortuna Minor ΒΥ
BU
ΧΥ
KHU
ΟΥΙΑ
Amissio ΒΗ
ΧΗ
KHĒ
ΟΙΗΑ
Cauda Draconis ΒΑ
BA
ΧΩ
KHŌ
ΟΥΗΕ
Puer ΖΙ
ZI
ΦΟ
PHO
ΟΥΕΩ
Rubeus ΖΥ
ZU
ΦΥ
PHU
ΙΥΕΑ
Coniunctio ΖΗ
ΦΗ
PHĒ
ΙΥΗΑ
Acquisitio ΖΑ
ZA
ΦΩ
PHŌ
ΙΥΑΩ
Puella ΔΙ
DI
ΞΟ
KSO
ΟΕΗΑ
Via ΔΥ
DU
ΞΥ
KSU
ΟΥΗΩ
Albus ΔΗ
ΞΗ
KSĒ
ΙΕΗΑ
Populus ΔΑ
DA
ΞΩ
KSŌ
ΙΟΥΕΗΩΑ or ΙΕΑ
or just keep silent
Carcer
HI
ΘΟ
THO
ΟΙΑΩ
Caput Draconis
HU
ΘΥ
THU
ΕΥΗΩ
Fortuna Maior
ΘΗ
THĒ
ΙΑΗΩ
Tristitia
HA
ΘΩ
THŌ
ΙΕΑΩ

This is all well and good, but where does this actually leave us?  What the past few posts on these tangentially-geomantic topics are accomplishing is taking the sixteen geomantic figures and coming up with new ways to apply them in ways outside of strict divinatory purposes, giving them new media such as sound to be “played” or transmitted through, and using those media to accomplish other tasks.  If the planets can be used for astrology as well as magic, there’s no reason why the figures can’t be used for geomancy as well as magic, either.  The ability to form meditative or magical epodes for concentrating, contemplating, and connecting with the figures on deeper levels plays into the same systems that geomantic gestures or energy centers or altar arrangements do: using these figures for a magical, world-changing purpose instead of a merely predictive one.

By the same token, however, so much of this is highly experimental.  All magic is at some point, but given the novelty and how mix-and-match I’m being between Greek letter magic and geomantic systems, this is all deserving of some deep practice and reflection and refinement.  I’m sharing this on my blog because…well, it’s my blog, and it’s interesting to share my theories here, and to spread some of my ideas out there to get feedback on by those who are interested.  At the same time, so much of all this is just theoretical and musings on how to apply certain ideas in certain ways.  I’m confident I can get them to work, but that’s not a guarantee that they will.  Experimentation and practice is absolutely needed, not only to get my own aims and goals accomplished, but even just to see whether certain methods work at all for anything.

Still, while we’re at it, let’s make up a new practice, shall we?  Let’s say we want to have a formalized way of conjuring up the power of a given figure, such as for some intense contemplation or pathworking.  In my Secreti Geomantici ebook, wherein I talk about lots of different magical practices involving geomancy and geomantic figures, I provide a set of sixteen prayers for each of the figures.  We can use those in combination with the geomantic epodes above to come up with a more thorough invocation of a figure.  The process I have in mind would be to recite the hybrid single-syllable epode as few as four or as many as sixteen times (or as many times as there are points in the figure), recite the given orison of the figure, then permute through its vowel string.  Thus, for Laetitia, we could do the following, while sitting before an image of Laetitia (or an altar of planetary talismans arranged in the form of the figure Laetitia) while holding the geomantic hand gesture of Laetitia:

ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ

Jovian Laetitia, standing tall
Granting hope in the hearts of all
Blazing spirit, o fulgent flame
Flashing brightest, of rousing fame
In our dark minds you spark pure Fire
Calcining spite to high desire
Grand arch of joy, embrace us here
And bring us tidings glad and clear

ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ

ΟΙΕΑ ΟΙΑΕ ΟΕΙΑ ΟΕΑΙ ΟΑΙΕ ΟΑΕΙ
ΙΟΕΑ ΙΟΑΕ ΙΕΟΑ ΙΕΑΟ ΙΑΟΕ ΙΑΕΟ
ΕΟΙΑ ΕΟΑΙ ΕΙΟΑ ΕΙΑΟ ΕΑΟΙ ΕΑΙΟ
ΑΟΙΕ ΑΟΕΙ ΑΙΟΕ ΑΙΕΟ ΑΕΟΙ ΑΕΙΟ

ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ ΒΙ

See?  By coming up with small, individual innovations and extrapolations and translations of one set of symbols from one medium into another, we can start using each on their own effectively, or we can start plugging them in to come up with bigger, better, and more profound practices that can really pack a punch.  Geomancy has every potential and every capability to become a full magical and spiritual practice in its own right that can fit right in with any other Western or Hermetic practice based on their own symbol sets; just because extant literature is lacking on the subject doesn’t mean it can’t be done, after all, and with a bit of thought and ingenuity, there are so many avenues that open themselves up for ready exploration.

One final thought about the use of these vowel epodes: we know that for any non-Populus figure, there are 24 permutations of the vowel string epodes.  So, that makes 15 × 24 = 360.  Which is a…stupidly pleasing number, to be honest.  As we all know, Using this little tidbit, we could conceive of a sort of year-long geomantic practice, focusing on one of the permutations of vowel epodes for the figures per day.  This gives us 15  24-day “months” of figures, with five or six days leftover at the end of the year.  In leap years that have six epagomenal days, we could use the permutations of the short epode ΙΕΑ for Populus; in non-leap years, we could just focus on the whole epode ΙΟΥΕΗΩΑ, or we could just keep silent (perhaps more fitting for epagomenal days).  It’s not entirely balanced in that regard, but it does have its own logic and cleanliness that could make it a viable yearly-daily practice for meditating on the epodes of the figures.  I might expand on this idea at a later point, or perhaps rework my geomantic Wheel of the Year to match it in some sense, but it’s something to mull over for now.  The next leap year isn’t for another year and a half, after all.

Geomantic chart interpretation service now available!

Normally, one might be proud of being able to put out a new service for the public.  Though I do in a roundabout way, I mostly feel a little awkward about this one, though.

Long story short: I have a new service available!  Geomancy Chart Interpretation Help is available when you need it.  If you’ve got a geomantic chart you can’t seem to figure out or if things just refuse to add up, I can help you work through the chart, drawing on my experience with reading, divining, and research of the symbols and techniques of geomancy!  This doubles as getting help for a chart as well as giving you a good case example to practice geomancy with.  You can get this service for US$16.00 per chart over on my Services page.

I guess saying this wasn’t so bad, but I feel some type of way about it, even if it is necessary at this point.  To be blunt, my time is increasingly limited: between my full-time office job, commuting, religious obligations, client work, writing, working out, home ownership, and everything else going in my life, I have a lot on my plate.  It’s not enough to keep me down or incommunicado, and I’m able to keep everything flowing well and healthily for myself, my work, and my Work.  However, I’m not able to be as generous with my time nowadays as I used to be, and whereas before I would be glad to help anyone who asked with geomantic chart help, it’s gotten to the point where my availability has decreased and my popularity increased such that I simply don’t have time to accommodate everyone who asks for help.  Cutting back on this helps make sure I have the time and energy I need to keep up with my clients and community, but I still want to help those who need it for their own practices without them having to get an overkill mentoring session.

So, going forward, I’ve decided to start charging a token fee as a matter of course for this type of mentoring and feedback.  I appreciate your understanding, and I thank you for looking to me for guidance and advice when it comes to geomancy, both for getting answers from readings as well as help with readings!

ADDENDUM: I should also note that, if you’re on Facebook, you can also join the Geomantic Study-Group I help admin to propose your chart for community feedback!  We have a growing and active set of members (getting close to 1000 soon enough!), and there are always people ready and willing to help contribute to everyone’s knowledge and experiences, so long as you’re willing to do the same!