A Follow-up on the Chaplet of the Eight Dragons

After I put up that post not too long back about the “Chaplet of Eight Dragons”, I’ve been trying to figure out more about it.  There’s really not a lot out there, and even after making a pair of them for myself and my shrine, it’s a pretty mysterious thing.  Happily, we did have a lead for more information: from Francis Warrain’s 1968 Physique, métaphysique, mathématique, et symbolique cosmologique de la Géomancie we get to the 1949 text De l’Architecture Naturelle, ou Rapport de Petrus Talemarianus sur l’établissement, d’après les principes du Tantrisme, du Taoïsme, du Pythagorise et de Cabale, d’une «Règle d’Or» servant à la Réalisation des Lois de l’Harmonie universelle et contribuant à l’accomplissemenet du «Grand Œuvre» (or, in English, Natural Architecture, Or, a Report by Petrus Talemarianus on the Establishment of a “golden Rule” According to the Principles of Tantrism, Taoism, Pythagoreanism, and the Kabala, Serving to Fulfill the Laws of Universal Harmony and Contributing to the Accomplishment of the GreatWork).  This book is pretty hard to find, but with the loving-kindness of my friends who let me use their academic institution interlibrary loan benefits, I was able to get a copy of the thing—and in an English translation put out in 2007, no less!

It is a cinderblock of a book.  And…well, it’s certainly eclectic and syncretic in its approach to everything, that’s for sure.  It’s a dastardly slog of a read, and it flips back and forth between topic to topic to topic.  The prefaces done by the translators describe much about the text:

Véga’s publication of [this book] in 1949 was another act of positive defiance.  The extravagance and gigantic size of the book, its superb typography and hundreds of illustrations, and the declared intention of teaching architects how to build houses and palaces, churches and temples with natural materials, in accordance with natural laws, were as contrary as possible to the drabness and shoddiness of the postwar world

The whole atmosphere of L’architecture naturelle seems in accord with its authorship by an aristocratic recluse, who chose as a pseudonym a Latinization of his ancestral home, while [Alexandre] Rouhier, the pharmacologist-editor, inserted the incongruous references to the personalities and interests of the Wronksian circle.  There is evidently room for further investigation of this enigmatic character.

The text truly is beautifully illustrated, blending elements of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, European, Egyptian, Greco-Roman, and other architectural disciplines along with no end of alchemical references.  Disappointingly, however, the “Chaplet of Eight Dragons” only appears once in the entire book: that of the printer’s mark itself, which in the translation is the very last image in the entire book:

 

Likewise, the only reference to the thing I could find in the book was in the addenda, which offers notes and observations about some of the minor illustrations in the book, namely the frontispiece, various prayer beads used to line the table of contents, and other small decorative but symbolic details about the book, finishing up with a bit about the printer’s mark itself:

The geomantic necklace or rosary which surrounds the printer’s mark is constituted by the juxtaposition, end to end, of 8 rosaries, each formed of 16 rows of beads, 8 even and 8 odd, i.e. of 24 (= 8 × 3) beads.  The whole necklace therefore comprises 192 (= 8 × 24) beads, which is a third of the number of lines which constitute the 64 hexagrams of Fou-Hi.

These 8 rosaries, constituting one larger rosary, are linked together according to positions which can be variable but which are always strictly ordered and precise.  On this rosary, which forms a closed circuit, the alternation of even and odd rows is such that, if taken in successive groups of 4, progressing by one rank each time, one obtains in each smaller rosary the 16 elementary figures of geomancy, without any figure ever being missing or repeated.  The order of succession of these 16 figures varies with each of the smaller rosaries.

Depending on whether one “reads” the rosary in clockwise or anticlockwise direction (and now the total number of beads becomes 384, which is the number of the beginning of the composition of the Soul of the World according to Plato), one may observe that there are, in reality, two rosaries perfectly distinct from one another but contained within the same object; this rosary therefore represents Duality within Unity, the “Yin-Yang” of Taoism.

On this geomantic rosary there are, 8 times over, distributed in a uniform manner in all the 16 ranks, an identical series of 6 ranks: 4 consecutive odd ranks of beads, preceded and followed by an even rank, which thus yield, in an invariable order, the succession of the 3 following figures: Caput draconis, Via, Cauda draconis being, according to their astrological correspondences, the North Node, Moon, and South Node.  Being distributed regularly on the necklace, they can be taken as points of departure for each rosary, which results in the Rosarium geomanticum being given its name, “Rosary of 8 Dragons.”  These dragons are amphibian, because if one “reads” the rosary in the opposite direction from the preceding, the succession of the 3 figures becomes Cauda draconis, Via, Caput draconis: the head of the dragon takes the place of its tail and vice versa.  On the north spire of the cathedral of Chartres, the weathercock bears the alchemical sun (pictured to the right of the Bottle, p. 361), the Virgin with the Child is seated upon a lead finial; and at her feed are 8 serpents, each facing in the 8 directions of space.

To this octuple succession of amphibian dragons uniformly distributed on the necklace, there is opposed by complement another octuple succession not uniformly distributed, which is comprised of 4 consecutive even rows of beads, preceded and followed by an odd row, and which thus yields, in an invariable order, the succession of the 3 following figures: Lætitia, Populus, Tristitia, according to the astrological correspondences Jupiter, Moon, and Saturn.

The metaphysical meditations that one can obtain by means of this rosary are, like those obtained with the aid of other rosaries, practically limitless.

No references to calling it the “Rosary of the Geomancers of Allahabad” that I could find, as Joël Jacques called it in his eclectic book on geomancy, and as far as I could tell skimming through this behemoth of a text, there’s nothing to back up Francis Warrain’s claim that “[t]hese ‘rosaries’ are commonly used, it seems, in certain and highly secret tantric sects as supports for very complex metaphysical meditations, as well as for geomantic divinatory uses, and also for subtle purposes of ‘recognition initiation'”.  However, it is known that the author of D’architecture naturelle and Francis Warrain were in contact with each other, so perhaps Warrain had some other information at his disposal that isn’t otherwise published—along with the tantalizing final line from the addenda of the book itself.  After all, as the section in the addenda describing the illustrations of prayer beads says:

The use of the rosary as a material support for the recitation of the formulae of prayer (mantras), undoubtedly originating in India, is common to all the doctrines which use the “Shakti” (Word) as a basis; its effect is to cause the awakening of “Kundalini”; it is completed by the use of the mystic diagrams (yantras), which are like a visual representation of the Mother under her subtle aspect.  The repetition of the “mantras”, following the numbers and mutations subject to the laws of the regular partition of the sphere, which are of cosmic harmony, aided by the contemplation of the “yantras” subject to the same laws and by a devoted attitude (mudras), causes rhythmic vibrations which have their repercussions throughout the series of multiple states of being, and serving to realize the interior illumination which is the goal of all “incarnation.”.

There are otherwise scant few references to geomancy in general in D’architecture naturelle, so despite the massive undertaking of this book and despite a few references to the Qur’ān, the ancient Egyptians, or Gilgamesh and Enkidu here and there, it would seem that topics of generally Middle Eastern or African origin didn’t seem to be of much interest to the author, instead focusing on European, Greco-Roman, Chinese, and Indian topics of spirituality and occult architecture.

It’s honestly unclear to me at this point what the real origin of the “Chaplet of Eight Dragons” is; though there are suggestions there are Persian or South Asian origins to the thing, without people from Iran, India, or Pakistan to corroborate this or flesh it out some, there’s not a lot going on here for that.  Happily, one of my Pakistani friends says he’s seen such a thing in use, so it doesn’t seem to be an outright invention by fanciful Western authors, but I can’t say much more about it at the present time.  Outside of these modern French geomantic and occult texts, the only other thing I can find it is this French geomancer’s blog, where she makes such rosaries based on similar resources as what I’ve already seen.  I suppose time will tell what other resources might arise to flesh out this little geomantic apparatus.

A Simple Hermetic Prayer Rule

I’m not sure what a Hermetic parallel to Christian primitivism would be, especially given how little we know about actual Hermetic practices on-the-ground in the early part of the first millennium, but maybe something like this could be considered.

Like how I recently introduced a new prayer, the Praise of the Invisible and Invisible God based off Book V from the Corpus Hermeticum, I’ve been combing through other parts of the classical Hermetic corpus to come up with other prayers to recite.  What survives is largely philosophical, but there are occasional praises of God, exhortations of praise or prayer, and other exclamations of faith that dot the Hermetic literature.  We already pointed out a lengthy one from Book V not too long ago, but there are others, as well, and a few outright prayers, too, like the famous prayer from the end of Book I from the Corpus Hermeticum to the Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Asclepius, or the Perfect Sermon which also makes an appearance in the Nag Hammadi texts.  I’ve been experimenting with the explicit prayers that appear in the Hermetic canon, but I’ve even been coming up with others only based on it, even making my own kind of “Hermetic Mass” based on Book XIII (which talks a lot about the tormentors and blessings of the various spheres of the cosmos).

So far, as far as raw material to come up with new prayers goes, Book I is probably among the most fruitful.  It’s this very book of the Corpus Hermeticum that is named after Poimandrēs itself (though many translate this to “Shepherd of Men”, following Ralph Marcus, I favor a Coptic interpretation of this as “Reason of Sovereignty”), a testament of Hermēs Trismegistos himself when he obtained the divine vision of the creation of the cosmos and passage of souls, and how to achieve henosis both in this life and in the afterlife.  It’s at the end of this that Poimandrēs exhorts Hermēs to go forth and save the human race from the torments of their mortality (Copenhaver translation, and also note my italicized text in that last paragraph):

As he was saying this to me, Poimandres joined with the powers. Then he sent me forth, empowered and instructed on the nature of the universe and on the supreme vision, after I had given thanks to the father of all and praised him. And I began proclaiming to mankind the beauty of reverence and knowledge: “People, earthborn men, you who have surrendered yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of god, make yourselves sober and end your drunken sickness, for you are bewitched in unreasoning sleep.”

When they heard, they gathered round with one accord. And I said, “Why have you surrendered yourselves to death, earthborn men, since you have the right to share in immortality? You who have journeyed with error, who have partnered with ignorance, think again: escape the shadowy light; leave corruption behind and take a share in immortality.”

Some of them, who had surrendered themselves to the way of death, resumed their mocking and withdrew, while those who desired to be taught cast themselves at my feet. Having made them rise, I became guide to my race, teaching them the words—how to be saved and in what manner—and I sowed the words of wisdom among them, and they were nourished from the ambrosial water. When evening came and the sun’s light began to disappear entirely, I commanded them to give thanks to god, and when each completed the thanksgiving, he turned to his own bed.

Within myself I recorded the kindness of Poimandres, and I was deeply happy because I was filled with what I wished, for the sleep of my body became sobriety of soul, the closing of my eyes became true vision, my silence became pregnant with good, and the birthing of the word became a progeny of goods. This happened to me because I was receptive of mind—of Poimandres, that is, the word of sovereignty. I have arrived, inspired with the divine breath of truth. Therefore, I give praise to god the father from my soul and with all my might:

After this, Hermēs recites his famous prayer itself, which has been a staple of mine and many other Hermeticists’ practices, a beautiful bit of devotional speech and supplication.

It’s the latter two paragraphs there that I took another look at, and considered that those would be excellent to base a prayer on.  Consider: Hermēs reaches out to those who seek after Truth, and “sowed the words of wisdom among them, and they were nourished from the ambrosial water” (i.e. water of immortality), after which those same people give thanks to God.  And after that, Hermēs himself gives thanks for “what [he] wished” (or prayed) for: his bodily sleep became sobriety of the soul, his eyes’ closing became true vision, etc.  And then, because of all that, he gives his famous “Holy is God…” prayer, a kind of “Threefold Trisagion”.

So I sat with this a bit, extracted the important bits, compared the translations of Scott, Copenhaver, and Salaman along with the original Greek given in Scott, and, after a good bit of writing and rewriting, I came up with the following prayer:

Sow in me the words of wisdom, and nourish me with the water of immortality.
By this, for this, and for everything, I give unto you my thanks.

May the sleep of my body become the sobriety of my soul.
May the closing of my eyes become true vision of Truth.
May my silence become pregnant with the Supreme Good.
May my birthing of the Word become the generation of true wealth.

Let me be receptive to the Nous, the Sovereign Knowledge,
that I may be inspired by the divine breath of Truth,
that I may praise God with all my soul and all my strength.

This actually works fairly well, in my limited experience trying it out, as a prayer in its own right, especially before using before the Threefold Trisagion.  The thing is that it’s very much directed towards being used before one retires to bed at night, what with the references to sleep and closing one’s eyes, as well as the original context of the content being used before people “turn[ing] to [their] own bed[s]”.  If this is a prayer that would best be used in the evening before sleep, what about one in the morning when one rises from sleep?  Easy; note the italicized parts below:

Sow in me the words of wisdom, and nourish me with the water of immortality.
By this, for this, and for everything, I give unto you my thanks.

May the rousing of my body become the awakening of my soul.
May the opening of my eyes become true vision of Truth.
May my speech become fruitful with the Supreme Good.
May my birthing of the Word become the generation of true wealth.

Let me be receptive to the Nous, the Sovereign Knowledge,
that I may be inspired by the divine breath of Truth,
that I may praise God with all my soul and all my strength.

This also works well as a morning prayer unto itself, but again especially so when followed by the Threefold Trisagion.  But there’s something else we can add, as well: the Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Asclepius.  Note how in that penultimate paragraph above from Book I that, after Hermēs gives his teaching to people, he “commanded them to give thanks to god, and when each completed the thanksgiving, he turned to his own bed”.  This means that, after the first two lines of the two derived prayers above, we could recite the Prayer of Thanksgiving, then continuing with the rest of the prayer, then finished by the Triple Trisagion.

On top of all this, we can take inspiration from the last part of the Asclepius that gives instructions on prayer (Copenhaver translation):

As they left the sanctuary, they began praying to god and turning to the south (for when someone wants to entreat god at sunset, he should direct his gaze to that quarter, and likewise at sunrise toward the direction they call east), and they were already saying their prayer…

My big issue with this is turning to the south, since the Sun doesn’t set in the south, yet the Asclepius says to face the south while also saying one “should direct his gaze to that quarter” where the Sun is setting.  My guess would be that the use of “south” here was a mistranslation or mistransmission in the text, and it should say “west”, maybe “southwest” to reflect a more realistic setting of the Sun for places in the northern hemisphere, especially between the autumn and spring equinoxes—yet in Book XIII of the Corpus Hermeticum, Hermes tells this same thing to Tat before he imparts the Secret Hymn, the Initiatory Hymn of Silence (note the italicized part):

Be still, my child; now hear a well-tuned hymn of praise, the hymn of rebirth. To divulge it was no easy choice for me except that I do it for you, at the end of everything. Hence, it cannot be taught; it is a secret kept in silence. Therefore, my child, stand in the open air, face the south wind when the setting sun descends, and bow down in adoration; when the sun returns, bow likewise toward the east. Be still, child: …

So, yeah, we really should be facing the south for sunset/evening prayers.  In this light, keeping in mind the Egyptian context here of Hermetic texts, it makes sense: the Way of Truth of Hermēs Trismegistos is also a Way of Life, and the direction of the West was the direction of the lands of the dead, and so inappropriate for prayers of immortality to the immortal God.  (Why, then, the direction of North wasn’t used, the direction of immortality itself, is not something I’ve puzzled out yet, but I’m tired, so it can wait.)

In either case, let’s take inspiration from this for our prayer routine above.  In the morning (ideally at sunrise), we’d say the morning prayer (with Prayer of Thanksgiving in the middle and Threefold Trisagion at the end) facing the east, and in the evening again (ideally at sunset) with the evening prayer (again with the Prayer of Thanksgiving and Threefold Trisagion) facing the south (though, if one is in the southern hemisphere, one should probably face the north instead).  Following the practice given in Book XIII as noted above as well as in the Asclepius, prayers are best made “in open air” (cf. “as they left the sanctuary” in the Asclepius), starting from a standing position, and bowing during adoration (e.g. the Secret Hymn, the Threefold Trisagion, etc.); prayers with words should be said aloud, audibly if not in a low voice, while prayers without words would be said in silence.  If standing is not possible, kneeling would be fine, prostrating instead of bowing at the appropriate times; which is my own personal preference, especially if indoors, and even more so if meditation, contemplation, readings, or other prayers are to be said either before or after this.

So there’s that: a simple prayer rule for devotional Hermetic practice, derived entirely from the classical Hermetic canon.  Short, elegant, straightforward, earnest; what more could one want, even if only to start with as a seed for extended or more elaborate prayer practices of Hermetic theurgy and henosis?  It’s something otherwise detached from any other religion or spiritual practice, and, perhaps most importantly, uses the actual words of Hermēs Trismegistos for our own prayers, and to repeat those same words (or to use them in a similar way) for following the Way of Hermēs is a powerful practice, indeed.

Speaking of “following the Way”, there’s something else I was considering.  We used that excerpt from Book I of the Corpus Hermeticum to create those evening and morning prayers above, but we focused on the latter two paragraphs of the excerpt for that.  The first two paragraphs, on the other hand, take a distinctly different tone: that of a call to wake up, a call to the Way of Truth that Hermēs Trismegistos began to teach at the instruction of Poimandrēs.  Like Buddha going around from town to town with the call of “Anyone for the other side?” or the Islamic adhān calling Muslims to prayer, similar language could be used as a preliminary…perhaps not “prayer”, but reminder of what it is to follow the Way and why we should do so.  Though I doubt there are many communities that would need such a grand call, it could be useful before both individual or group practice before any major Hermetic theurgic undertaking, even (or especially) those that rely on heavier PGM-style magic and ritual.  To that end, I figured I’d end this post by sharing my rewrite of Hermēs’ original call, based again on comparing the older translations of Scott, Copenhaver, and Salaman amongst each other:

O all you children of mankind, o all you born of the Earth, o all who you have given yourselves over to drink and sleep in your ignorance of God! Make yourselves sober, cease your drunken sickness, end your bewitchment by unreasoning sleep! Why have you given yourselves over to death, since you have the power to partake of immortality? You who have wandered with Error, you who have partnered with Ignorance: think again, and repent! Be released from the darkness, take hold of the Light, take part in divine immortality, leave behind your corrupt destruction! Do not surrender to the way of death by your mockery or distance, but come, rise, and be guided on the way of life!

Musings after a Marathon Month of Mancy

So, funnily enough, as it turns out?  72 hour-ish-long geomancy readings, eight domino readings, four video consultations, three planetary adorations, one New Moon celebration, one consultation done for myself, and taking two online classes?  All on top of the usual full-time job (surprise, I became the lead developer of a high-profile project with low-profile resources!) with three hours of commuting three days a week, daily practice, and managing a household?  It might, just might, have been a bit too much for me to handle with my usual amount of comfort and flair.  Yet, here I am, somehow alive after it all, thanks be to God and the gods.  I’m tired, my back and arms are sore, but I managed to get all my yearly readings done (and quite a bit else) before January was out, and for that, I’m pretty damn proud of myself.  It’d be nice to have a weekend to relax, but there’s always more Work to be done—as well as a few out-of-town trips that needed making, as well.  Oh well; no rest for the wicked, I suppose.

Over the past month, I’ve done probably the most divination I’ve done in a single month’s worth of time, and this was one of the busiest and among the most challenging months I can ever recall having (as well as one where I’ve slept the least).  It’s gauntlets and marathons like this that give us a chance to learn, not just about the things we do but about ourselves, and I wanted to share some of the observations, realizations, and concessions I’ve come to terms with from all this work this past month.  To be sure, I learn more and more about geomancy with each and every chart I cast, but I want to focus on some of the bigger and broader things than mere technique.

First, and probably most practically, I don’t think I’ll be doing a special for yearly divination forecasts again.  I’ve done them for three years now, and while it’s great practice for my own divination skills and a great thing for us all to do at the start of a new year (depending, of course, on when your new year starts), and while everyone loves a good deal, let’s be honest: I don’t charge enough for my usual reading rate (US$44 per geomancy reading) to make a special worth it.  Each yearly forecast takes about 60 to 90 minutes to do, and that’s after my usual reading ritual process of preliminary preparation and prayer, to say nothing of how much it takes out of me to do such a widespread and all-encompassing reading, including typing a 2000-to-3000 word report on it individual for each person.  While the energy spent on divination isn’t exactly repayable through money, it certainly helps, that’s for sure, and…well, let’s be honest, I know I undercharge for my divination services.  I consider them fair prices for me, and I would prefer to err on the side of caution to avoid any risk of gouging my clients while also ensuring that such divination can be accessible to those who need it.  I do not claim that my prices are inherently better than others, and those who charge more often have very good and necessary reasons for doing so, and I charge what I can because I can afford doing so (this is just my side gig, with my full-time job paying the real bills) without it impacting my actual skills and ability to do the work asked of me.  I charge what I charge because I think it’s fair, and I plan to keep them fair.  If people want or feel obliged to pay more, either out of appreciation for the work done or to ensure that my prices stay low for the sake of others who need it most, then you’re always invited to tip your diviner—such as through my Ko-fi account.

So, while I won’t be doing yearly specials for this type of reading anymore, that’s not to say I won’t be doing yearly forecasts.  If you find yourself, dear reader, wanting such a forecast done for you for the new year (using whichever New Year date you choose), you’re more than welcome to book a reading with me, just at my normal rate as I would for any other query.  However, towards the end of this year (and in the future, if this year works out well), I do plan on compiling a list of all the diviners, astrologers, readers, and seers among my colleagues and those I trust and look up to who do plan on doing yearly specials, for those who are looking for something specific from another reader.  It’s something I want to try out, especially to share good business with good people.

Also, besides tipping your diviners (if they deserve it or if you feel it’s appropriate to do so) and taking note of other diviners who do good work?  It’s absolutely, super important for us to get feedback on our work we do, and it’s so rare that we ever actually get it.  Retrospective feedback is like pure gold for us, because while we always stand to learn from books or teachers, learning from experience is at least as important (and in many ways is even more so), because retrospective feedback is what helps us refine our techniques, learning what actually works in practice or what doesn’t, realizing what a given omen actually meant in retrospect, and the like.  By postdicting our predictions, we can make better predictions, and that helps us all.  In-the-moment feedback is important to us, too, because that helps us navigate the energies, flows, and currents of power and fate during the divination itself, but that’s silver to the gold of retrospective feedback.  So, be kind, rewind: after you get a divination reading from someone, and after the event or situation inquired about comes to pass, take another look at the reading you got, see what matches and what didn’t, see what was precise and what wasn’t, see what was accurate and what wasn’t, and go back to your diviner and share your results.  I promise you, they’ll be ecstatic with this, even if they fucked things up, because it’s a chance for them (and all of us) to learn and improve.

Oh, and another thing?  Reviews!  For many people, the best way to advertise is simply through word-of-mouth, or leaving a good comment about someone whose work pleased you with their skill, precision, accuracy, and approach.  I know I don’t and won’t pay for advertising (in fact, I actively pay for webhosting to keep ads off my platforms as much as possible) and would rather let my work speak for itself, but I certainly won’t mind others speaking for me, either.  Diviners are still professionals, and professionals need to be able to profess their skills, otherwise they’re no professionals; if you found that such a diviner (whether me or anyone else) did a good job, consider leaving a comment on their blog, or telling others about them.  I’m not exactly greedy for more clients, but I won’t deny that I’d like to have a few more regulars or a bit more activity in that area of my life, and reviews are great for that.  Also, not gonna lie, getting a good review really just makes us as diviners feel good, and sometimes, that makes all the difference in whether we continue practicing publicly at all.  If you’d like to leave a review for me, feel free to simply mention my website on social media, leave a review on my Facebook page, or send me an email and let me know that it’s a review that I can share on my blog (and, if I get enough of them, I may even put up a whole testimonials page to collect them all).

As for getting more clients and business along the lines of divination, I think it’d be good, but the past month…well, it was hell for me to get all the work done on time.  It wouldn’t be so bad if I weren’t already working a full-time job, but as it is, and given how much else I get up to, this month has really impressed upon me that (a) more people actually come to me for divination than I anticipated and (b) my time is far more limited and constrained than I had thought, and I had been taking the flexibility of my schedule for granted.  While it was great to do four or six divination readings a day, it got old real fast when it was day after day of it while also trying to juggle household affairs and work concerns, both of which took a hit due to the time and energy I couldn’t devote to them as I should, along with the stability and quality of my sleep.  This marathon month of μαντεια showed me that, barring making this my full-time job (which would necessitate a significant price increase to make ends meet) instead of my stable software engineering job, that I just can’t do this kind of work at this rate, and that I need to both throttle the work I do as well as get better at scheduling it.  In the future, I plan to limit myself to 10 to 12 divination readings, consultations, or other client tasks a week, depending on what else is going on, compared to the 16 or more I was doing this past month.  There is a possibility that this may increase wait times for some clients, but I already specify an up-to-two-week turnaround time for my services, which I was (somehow) able to keep up with this month (and January is my absolute busiest month for divination readings), so I think that this possibility is fairly small in reality.

Something else I’ve learned is that, as it turns out, I do a lot of typing.  (Surprising, I know.)  In the past month, I’ve banged out about 80 divination reports on top of all the other notetaking, programming, and writing I do, and that adds up to about 160,000 words—far more than even what I typed out for my Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration thesis-length blog project last summer (only about 100,000 words).  My arms, wrists, and hands are tired, y’all, and I’m starting to feel the pains of work and pangs of age the more I do this, especially since my full-time job is already so heavily typing-based.  I’ve been using a standard 104-key mechanical keyboard this whole time, a sturdy and lovely thing, but it was getting to the point where I had to take more breaks than ever between typing/divination sessions, and that only slowed me down further.  With the proceeds from all these divinations, I splurged and got myself a nice split-keyboard for ergonomic and power-computing use; although it’s taken me some getting used to using it, typing feels so much better and more relaxing, which is only a good thing for me. For those who are interested, it’s the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, which some of my more technologically-inclined friends might have seen ads for online on various social media platforms.  This is, hands down, the most elegant, amazing, and productive bit of computer input technology I have ever had the pleasure of using, and though it costs a pretty penny (especially with some of the add-ons which are still in development), I am super, super happy that I got this thing.  Not only does typing no longer hurt, but I can do so much more right from the (eminently and easily customizable) keyboard that I couldn’t do with my old keyboard.  (I do miss having a separate numpad, and I’ve been having a hell of a time replacing that, but I can still just use extra inputs on this “60%” keyboard as it is without it just fine, even though that too takes getting used to.)  If you’re interested in one of the finest and well-made keyboards out there, whether or not you need it for ergonomic reasons, then this is the keyboard to use.  (Also, despite my love for the clacky-style Blue mechanical switches, I decided to go with Brown switches for this keyboard.  It turns out that, even though I love the sound and feel of banging out words like several machine guns going off at once, it’s somewhat more annoying for my coworkers, clients, and interviewers who have to listen to it on phone calls or recordings.  Brown switches still feel nice, at least, and have a much calmer sound.)

Switching gears from logistic and physical concerns, there were a bunch of other spiritual realizations that I made, too, during this month that affects or enhances my divination practice.  Probably the best lead-in to this is how truly fundamental daily practice is for me.  Yes, I’ve harped on it before for years now, as have countless other magicians, Jason Miller of Strategic Sorcery among them, but having a daily practice really is the bedrock of a magical and spiritual life, and if you don’t have that, then you’re building on sand.  For me, my daily practice is my anchor-point for the day, and I have a rule about it: if I don’t do my daily practice, I cannot do anything else spiritual for the day.  I mean, consider: if I skip my daily practice because I’m so fatigued or so unwell to not be able to do 40 to 60 minutes of meditation and prayer, then I necessarily don’t have the energy or health to do anything else, right?  And if I don’t have time to do my daily practice, then I must likewise not have time to do anything else on top of that that day.  Otherwise, if I have the energy and if I have the time, then I have no reason to not do my daily practice, and if I can’t manage my daily practice out of sheer laziness, then I have no business trying to claim anything else that day, because I don’t feel appropriate working for others if I don’t do the work I need to do for my own well-being and spiritual maintenance.  My daily practice is essential for everything else I do, and even if I use some of the same prayers in divination readings as I do in my daily practice, my divination readings are not part of my daily practice, yet still build on it.  I feel like this is a good rule to have for those who need to stick to a daily practice and have other things planned, like divination readings, consultations, conjurations, or the like, and it’s one I force my students to keep, too.

Related to prayers, doing all these divination readings day after day has been a wonder for three other things:

  • Memorizing prayers.  I have a particular ritual process that uses several prayers that I precede and conclude divination with, and though some of them I’ve memorized, there were others that I was struggling to for the longest time.  Doing this same ritual day after day after day, saying the same prayers day after day after day, has finally helped me to memorize them without dedicating extra time just for memorization, because I’m still engaging in repetition of the same prayers.
  • Hygiene.  As part of that ritual process, I precede everything with ablution, which for me is flossing/brushing my teeth, saying a prayer, washing my hands and arms and face and feet, and then concluding with another prayer.  I like going into spiritual work cleaned from physical concerns or worldly “dust”, since this helps me focus better on the work to be done.  Yes, I start every day with a thorough ablution (i.e. a shower), but if it’s been more than a trivial amount of time between that and doing divination or other ritual work, or if I’ve had to get significantly involved in worldly or decidedly non-spiritual stuff, I perform a lesser ablution as above to reset and refresh myself.  More than that, though, doing divination for so many people in succession is itself…I don’t want to say dirtying or sullying, but such frequent ablution helps keep me going without getting too dragged down in a spiritual morass.  I did, of course, also finish up the month with a full spiritual bath on top of ablution to really reset myself, and I probably should have been taking weekly baths during the month to keep myself cleaner and fresher than I was, so I’ll make a note of that for future times when I’m swamped with divination work.  All that said, my teeth have never been so clean, and my dentist would be proud.  However, I was guided by my HGA to focus especially on my eyes and mouth when doing pre-divination ablution for the obvious spiritual symbolism: clarity of vision to see, purity of speech to communicate.  Ablutions, too, can be tweaked for broader spiritual purposes.
  • Anointing with oil.  Though it’s not an essential part of my divinatory ritual process, I do like anointing myself with a special oil prior to engaging in divination.  Though I could certainly just use holy oil, I rather prefer to use Quadrivium Oil‘s special Vision oil, currently only available as an alcohol-based spray.  Quadrivium is one of my oldest colleagues in the Work, and her oils have been a mainstay of parts of my practices for years, and her Vision blend (which I helped test for her back in the day!) is a wonder for me.  While it’s not necessary for me to use it, I greatly enjoy doing so and enjoy the boost it gives me.  Also, it turns out that anointing myself with this oil day after day after day, combining it with my usual anointing prayers, doesn’t just help me with divination skills, but has also had rather interesting effects on the quality, frequency, and semantic content of my dreams, too.  That was a side effect I hadn’t anticipated, but which I’m happy about all the same.

Something I want to remind people about when it comes to yearly readings specifically, and all forecast-type readings generally, is that forecasts are just that: forecasts, descriptions of high-level trends that cover some specified length of time.  While super big things that are planned to happen during that timeframe can likely be described or accounted for in forecasts, in general, it’s not a good idea to read too much into forecasts, especially long forecasts that extend over a month, and definitely like those that go on for a year or more.  A number of clients this year had super-specific queries that they wanted investigated in the yearly chart, and I had to remind some of them that a yearly forecast only reliable describes high-level, long-term influences that describe the year as a whole, and trying to read specific things into that is clumsy and misguided at times.  This isn’t to say that I can’t and don’t get super-specific with these forecasts, as many of my clients can attest, but the specificity of abstract trends is not the same thing as the specificity of concrete events.  When in doubt, if you’ve got something actually specific to ask, it’s better to get a separate reading to investigate that.  That goes not only for forecast-type readings, but for any other reading, too, depending on how many things you want to know.  I know that some geomancers, especially of an Arabic or Persianate bent, feel confident in reading all sorts of unrelated queries from a single querent within the one and same chart, but that’s not an approach I feel comfortable doing, not because I can’t, but because I find that there’s just too much crosstalk in a chart that’s put to too many queries at once.  Rather than having to sift through the crosstalk, I find it easier and cleaner to just do one chart per query, which also increases the reliabilty of the readings, in my opinion.  I do try to work with the querent to reframe and rephrase their queries so that it covers everything they want to know as much as is possible, given the mechanics and techniques of geomancy at my disposal, but sometimes, some queries are just so unrelated that they’re best broken out into separate charts.

Along those same lines, I want to also emphasize that it’s so often important for us as diviners to understand the context of the query, not just what the querent is asking with their communicated words, but how and why they’re communicating it, as well.  While some diviners make a point of having the querent not ask their query as a proof of the diviner’s own psychic ability (or ability to read between the lines along with body language), I don’t make the claim that I’m outright psychic.  (I mean, I reasonably could, but I don’t.)  So much of the divination I do is done online by email or over Zoom or Skype, and it’s hard to get a good read on the immediate energetic feel for people without spending a lot more time and energy than I want to to tune in; I find it easier to rely on the words themselves, especially because geomancy is such a literal oracle: as opposed to other divination systems that answer the query you should be asking, whether or not you phrased it that way, geomancy answers exactly the query you ask, no more and no less.  Although there are some styles of divination where you let the oracle speak for itself as it answers a query only it knows, I don’t find geomancy to be one of those oracles, and I find it helpful for us geomancers to have a reasonably complete understanding of the query, not only so that we know exactly what the querent wants to know, but also so that we know what techniques to use and what to look for in the chart going into the divination.  Besides, there was one time earlier this past month (not using geomancy, I might add, and trying to use a more context-free form of divination) where I got burned by not really spending as much time as I otherwise have done with the querent in understanding what was going on leading up to the reading.  The reading was still eminently helpful, but my manner of delivery was shit and ended up hurting more than I wanted it to.  It was all sorted out in the end, but I still feel bad about that.  Knowing more of the context and reading more between the lines would have prevented that, and it’s a lesson I won’t soon forget.

And that leads to perhaps my biggest and most important realization about divination: divination is an act of intimacy.  In fact, I consider it one of the most interpersonally intimate things we can do as human beings with spiritual capacity.  Normally we consider physical sex to be the height of physical intimacy—the nudity and literally baring it all before someone else, letting them feel you from the inside, letting them know what makes you tick and pulse—but consider that divination goes so much further beyond that.  With divination, a querent lets me see their past, their present, and their future; with divination, a querent lets me see their hopes and dreams, their fears and anxieties, their envies and jealousies; with divination, a querent lets me see them more fully, even through a glass darkly, more than any parent, any doctor, any lover ever could.  It’s because of this intimacy that both diviner and querent need to take care, the diviner to keep a good measure of distance to avoid bias as well as spiritual pollution or contamination from the querent, and the querent to find a diviner they trust with finding out anything (or everything) about them.  This is why it’s so important for diviners to learn to keep readings confidential, just as lovers wouldn’t blab about the kinks of their partners or the lushness of their genitals, just as doctors wouldn’t gossip about the hilarious or depressing health problems their patients get into, just as parents wouldn’t air the dirty laundry of their children to the world.  Divination is intimate, and I’m somewhat embarrassed I’m only just now realizing the full import of how this intimacy truly takes form.  In that light, I want to extend my deepest appreciation and thanks to each and every one of my querents and clients for allowing me to divine for them, for trusting me to take care of them when and how they need care.  Thank you.

Alright, that’s enough for one night; it’s time to relax, especially after two separate out-of-town trips and another online lecture taken care of this past weekend.  Haha, just kidding; I’ve got plenty more to take care of this week, but at least things are going to ease up a bit, and I’m going to do my best to make sure things stay good and proper for me as much as it is my clients.  But I am definitely going to call out one day soon for a well-deserved trip to the local Korean spa and bathhouse.

A Hermetic Praise Prayer from Book V of the Corpus Hermeticum

What with my recent Christmas haul (including a good number of books I got for myself), I’ve been going through and rereading my Corpus Hermeticum again.  There’s nothing quite like it for those of a Hermetic practice—as the core texts of our religious and spiritual approach, it’s the equivalent of a Bible for us—but something caught my eye when I was going through my copy recently.  In book V, Hermēs Trismegistos dedicates a particular discourse to his son Tat, and opens up with the following (according to the Copenhaver translation):

This discourse I shall also deliver to you in full, O Tat, lest you go uninitiated in the mysteries of the god who is greater than any name.
You must understand how something that seems invisible to the multitude will become entirely visible to you. Actually, if it were (not) invisible, it would not (always) be. Everything seen has been begotten because at some point it came to be seen. But the invisible always is, and, because it always is, it does not need to come to be seen. Also, while remaining invisible because it always is, it makes all other things visible. The very entity that makes visibility does not make itself visible; what (begets) is not itself begotten; what presents images of everything (is not) present to the imagination. For there is imagination only of things begotten. Coming to be is nothing but imagination.

Clearly, the one who alone is unbegotten is also unimagined and invisible, but in presenting images of all things he is seen through all of them and in all of them; he is seen especially by those whom he wished to see him. You then, Tat, my child, pray pray first to the lord, the father, the only, who is not one but from whom the one comes; ask him the grace to enable you to understand so great a god, to permit even one ray of his to illuminate your thinking. …

The rest of book V is basically Hermēs going on to Tat about all the ways God (the One, the Father, the Creator, the Good, etc.) is visible, though God itself is invisible.  Such a series of praises isn’t foreign or unusual in the Corpus Hermeticum or other Hermetic texts, but what struck me is that so much of the book is itself written as if it were a prayer, as if Hermēs was telling Tat not only to pray but also what to pray.  Between rhetorical questions about the creation and creating of God and points where Hermēs himself goes on about how and why even he might pray, book V is basically a prayer unto itself, a praisegiving for Tat to make to God, the God who is invisible and also entirely visible.

This notion of turning the bulk of book V into a prayer struck me as something that might be useful, perhaps for my own practice and perhaps for others.  After all, actual examples of pure classical Hermetic practice that stand out to the mind as being distinctly Hermetic aren’t all that easy to come by, and the Corpus Hermeticum doesn’t have that many prayers; while there are a few true prayers embedded within Hermetic texts (like the Prayer of Hermēs Trismegistos from book I, the Initiatory Hymn of Silence from book XIII, the Prayer of Thanksgiving from the Asclepius, and the Hymn to the Eighth and the Ninth from the Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth), there aren’t a lot of other “true” prayers that we might associate with the practices of the Corpus Hermeticum.  But book V gives us basically a sermon, a prayer unto itself that we might be able to use, and that’s what caught my attention.

After a bit of reworking the original text to make it flow a bit better as a prayer to be recited, plus a bit of extra backup from other books in the Corpus Hermeticum, I ended up with the following, what I’m calling (at least for the nonce) the “Praise of the Invisible and Visible God”, a prayer of praise and adoration to God in the Hermetic sense, a highly panenthiestic prayer that recognizes that God is both transcendent of creation while being immanent within it, and that even though God itself is invisible and unable to be seen by the eyes, all that exists (and all that doesn’t!) is a part of and testament to God.

It is to you that I pray,
o Lord, o Father, o Only and Single, o One Alone,
you from whom the One itself comes.
Grant me, o God, your understanding and the understanding of you.
Grant me even but a single ray of illumination to shine forth in my mind,
all for the sake of understanding you.
Unbegotten, unimagined, and invisible are you,
and you are in every begetting, in every image, in every vision,
by all, though all, in all, to all!
You, o God, are generous, not grudging with your bounty.
You, o God, are seen by those whom you wish to see you.
You, o God, are seen throughout the entirety of the cosmos.

All that is in Heaven bows and submits themselves to the Sun,
greater than Earth and Sea, greatest of all the gods in Heaven,
yet allows smaller stars than him to circle above him and around him
all according to your order and design for itself and all else,
for the Sun itself bows and submits itself to you
in reverence, in deference, in awe, in fear.
It is you, o God, who keeps the order of the passage of the Sun and Moon and Stars.
It is you, o God, who rules over the Bear that turns all of Heaven around the Pole.
It is you, o God, who set the boundary to the sea and who set the Earth in its place.
It is you, o God, you who are the maker and master of all this and all else.

Order is made by you, o God, by place and number and measure,
and without you, neither place nor number nor measure could be preserved.
You order all the cosmos, everything within it, and everything without it.
All things created with place and number and measure
are ruled by you in the order you have given it;
all things uncreated without place or number or measure
are ruled by you in the order you have not given it.
You have created the order of the cosmos,
you have created the cosmos of order:
the firmness of earth and the fluidity of sea,
the streaming of rivers and the flowing of air,
the piercing of fire and the coursing of stars,
all sped round about the celestial pole.
This is the Unmoving being moved, the Unmanifest being made manifest;
to see all this poised between Earth and Heaven,
this is your holy vision of beauty and joy!

It is you, o God, who made the beautiful form of humanity,
made in the womb of mortals, made in the image of immortality.
Who else could trace the line around the eyes?
Who else could pierce the holes for nostrils and ears?
Who else could open up the mouth?
Who else could stretch out and fasten together the sinews?
Who else could make channels for the veins of blood?
Who else could strengthen and harden the bones?
Who else could cover the flesh with skin drawn taught?
Who else could part the fingers for each hand?
Who else could flatten and widen the soles of the feet?
Who else could bore holes for the passages of the body?
Who else could stretch out the spleen?
Who else could make the heart into the shape of a temple?
Who else could join and fix the ribs together?
Who else could hollow out the lungs?
Who else could make spacious the belly for nourishment?
Who else could set the honorable parts of the body to be visible and praised?
Who else could hide away the unseemly parts of the body for private discretion?

All that is in Heaven and all that is on Earth,
all placed, all numbered, all measured,
all beautiful and yet all different:
what father, what mother, what crafter, what artist could have made all this?
So many different skills upon a single substance,
so many different labors within a single work!
God, the God unmanifest beyond manifestation,
who created all creation by his own will,
whose greatness is beyond any name,
whose work alone is to create all creation!

All things are within you, o God,
creating all that is in Heaven and all that is on Earth,
in the skies and in the seas, in the depths and in the heights,
in every part of the cosmos you have created!
There is nothing in the cosmos that you are not,
but you are all things in the cosmos and all things outside it.
Utterly unmanifest, you can be perceived by the mind,
yet most manifest, you can be perceived by the eyes.
O God invisible, o God entirely visible!
O God of no body, o God of all bodies!
O God of no names, o God of all names!
O Father of all!

How even shall I praise you, o God?
To those who act on your behalf? With those who act according to your purpose?
For whomever I turn to, I turn to you; should I turn within, still I turn to you!
For I and all others are within you and part of you,
and you are all that is, being praised from within yourself to yourself.

Where even shall I look to praise you, o God?
To the East or the West? To the North or the South?
Above or below? Within or without?
There is no direction, no place, no space, no being apart from you.

What even shall I bring to praise you, o God?
What could I give that you do not already have?
What sacrifice could I make that is not already yours?
All is within you, and all comes from you.
You give everything, and you take nothing.
You have all, and there is nothing that you do not have.

When even shall I praise you, o God?
In what time or season, what day or hour could we find you?
You cannot be found in any time, for you are within and beyond all time.
You are eternal, immortal, unbegotten,
who neither can nor ever could have come to be,
who always is, who always was, who always will be.

What even shall I hymn as praise to you, o God?
For what you have made? For what you have not made?
For what you have revealed? For what you have hidden?
You are everything, o God:
all that is and all that is not, all that is revealed and all that is hidden,
all that has come to be and all that has not come to be.

Why even shall I praise you, o God?
For that which is a part of me? For that which makes me what I am?
For that which is apart and separate from myself?
You are whatever I am and all that I am,
you are whatever I make and all that I make,
you are whatever I say and all that I say,
I and all else that is or is not.

You are that which understands,
you are that which is understood,
you are the Creator who creates,
you are the God who acts,
you are the Good who are the cause of all.

For the finest part of matter is air,
and the finest part of air is soul,
and the finest part of soul is reason,
and the finest part of reason is mind,
and the finest part of mind is God.

While there are definitely other praises to God in the Corpus Hermeticum, which can and should probably also be repurposed as prayers much like the above, the above from Book V is probably one of the longest and most notable that comes to my mind.  Although simply reading book V itself would suffice for meditation and contemplation (and this is something all Hermeticists should periodically do with such the Hermetic texts), I feel like making it slightly more poetic is beneficial for routine religious practice for fellow Hermeticists, as well.  If I like it once I take another look at this in a few days, I’ll go ahead and add it to the Prayers pages.

The Chaplet of Eight Dragons, or, the Rosary of the Geomancers of Allahabad

More surprises from 20th century French geomancy texts, but this one caught me really by surprise.

As I mentioned the last time I brought up these modern French geomancy texts, there’s an interesting mix of elements that are both plainly familiar and starkly unfamiliar in terms of the usual tradition of Western geomancy.  Obviously, the bulk and foundation of these works are from the usual Western sources from the medieval and Renaissance periods, including Robert Fludd, Henri de Pisis, Christopher Cattan, and others; that much isn’t surprising.  What is surprising is that there’s so much different in them that we don’t see in the modern English geomantic literature, which I assume is due to the introductions of African and Middle Eastern geomantic techniques and concepts that resulted from French imperialist and colonialist activity.  There’s no other European examples of some of the techniques and associations these French texts make, even if it’s not explicit—but sometimes it is, as in this interesting little thing, Le Rosaire des Géomanciens d’Allahabad or “The Rosary of the Geomancers of Allahabad”:

It’s a kind of beaded necklace, in an interesting pattern broken down into eight sections, each of which is composed of one segment of white beads and another of black beads, sometimes of one bead per “slot”, sometimes of two.  For reasons that we’ll discuss soon, another term for this device is Le Chapelet des Huit Dragons, “The Chaplet (or Wreath) of Eight Dragons”.

The moment I laid my eyes upon it, I knew immediately what this was based on.  Years ago, I had come up with the notion of geomantic “superfigures” (which I later called “emblems”), combinations of 16 rows of single or double points that, for every consecutive set of four rows (plus three “hidden” rows at the end duplicating the first three), contain all sixteen geomantic figures.  As a mini-example, consider a series of seven rows: single, double, double, double, double, single, single (·::::··); rows 1 through 4 gives the figure Laetitia, rows 2 through 5 Populus, rows 3 through 6 Tristitia, and rows 4 through 7 Fortuna Maior.  If we extend that, we can come up with a series of single/dual point sequences that contain all sixteen geomantic figures exactly once, which was what I intended to do with my superfigure/emblem idea.  Unfortunately, even after coming up with a (really stupidly complex) way of assigning rulerships and correspondences of the 256 emblems to the base 16 figures, as well as thinking of ways to actually use the damn things, I never really got all that far with them.  (If you’re not familiar with this notion, at least read the first two posts linked above in this paragraph, which explain about the structure and what “hidden” means for those final three lines.)

I had no idea nor any means at the time to find out whether such a concept had ever before arisen in the minds of other geomancers, but given that geomancy is a thousand years old and spread across so much of the world, I would have been surprised if I were truly the first to come up with this idea.  Still, I hadn’t encountered anything of the like in any geomantic text I had come across, nor had I yet—until I came across these French geomantic texts, which finally gave me something to work with.  The two texts I’ve found this in (there may well be more that I just haven’t come across yet) is Francis Warrain’s Physique, métaphysique, mathématique, et symbolique cosmologique de la Géomancie (1968), along with the highly eclectic Joël Jacques’ Les signes secrets de la Terre Géomancie (1991).  Interestingly, however, it does not appear in Robert Ambelain’s La Géomancie arabe (1984), which takes a good chunk of its information from his earlier La Géomancie magique (1940), which suggests a different origin entirely (which isn’t to say that Ambelain’s later text was an accurate or precise representation of Arabic geomancy, because it’s not, but it does have a few other different interesting things in it related to jinn lore).

Warrain’s book includes a lengthy chapter, Cycles des seize figures Géomantiques Emboitées (“Cycles of the Sixteen Nested Geomantic Figures”), which talks about these sorts of things; I’m going through it slowly with the generous help of Google Translate, because my French isn’t exactly up-to-par for casual reading.  However, the following chapter (my translation) talks directly about this interesting rosary, albeit only briefly, as it seems to be more of a note in a later edition of Warrain’s manuscript.  (The edition of his book I have is from 1986, while the esotericist and metaphysician Warrain himself died in 1940, making this a posthumous release of an earlier work.)

Editor’s note: We found in one of the last manuscripts of “La Géomancie”, revised and reworked rather late by Francis Warrain himself, the following additional text, concerning this present problem of “The Nesting of Figures” to which he provides additional documentation. We give below this complete amending text:

Oswald Wirth succeeded in representing the complete sequence of the sixteen Figures on a circle divided into sixteen equal parts, each carrying a single point (“monopoint”) or a double point (“bipoint”), these points being distributed so that starting from any radius and traversing the circumference always in the same direction (“dextrogyre” or “sinistrogyre”) the points located on four consecutive rows give, when one reads them successively four to four, and progressing each time from a point (monopoint or bipoint), the sixteen different Figures of Geomancy, without any of them being repeated.

It is possible, by doing so, and by modifying each time certain successions of points, to obtain 8 different combinations in the grouping of the Figures and to produce materially, using wood beads or glass beads or vegetable seeds, eight different “geomantic rosaries” of 24 grains each, which can close by butting on themselves, or which, abutted to each other and closed in a closed cycle, constitute a long “rosary” made of 128 successive rows of monopoints and bipoints, 64 rows from one and 64 rows from the other, or 192 beads in total.

Other researchers than Oswald Wirth (I learned only late) had also realized this problem in a very complete way, in all its generality.

Mr. Marcel Nicaud, renowned painter, xylographer, and famous fresco artist, attached to the Musées Nationaux Français, and had fully achieved this by a simple and precise mathematical process which was personal and invented by a special technique. (1)

I will present this problem of “Sixteen nested geomantic figures” in general, and as I have personally conceived and solved it. Are there other solutions to discover? I don’t think I can say!

The singular designation of “Rosary of the Eight Dragons” is given to this “Rosary” because, arranged in a circle on a plane, it comprises, placed in the 8 directions of space, the unchanging representation of the Figures of Caput Draconis and of Cauda Draconis separated from each other by the Figure of Via, that is to say the symbolic representation of 8 “Amphisbenes” or mythological tantric two-headed dragons.

(1) It is to Marcel Nicaud, skillful engraver and subtle esotericist, that the illustration of this astonishing masterpiece of arithmology and symbolic esotericism is due, due to the prodigious traditional knowledge of one of our last “Authentic Masters” which is entitled From Natural Architecture, or Report by Petrus Talemarianus on the establishment, according to the principles of Tantrism, Taoism, Pythagorism and Cabal, of a “Golden Rule” used for the Realization of the Laws of Universal Harmony and contributing to the accomplishment of the “Grant Work”. Les Editions Véga, Paris, 1950.  It is from this “summa” that we extracted the “Geomantic Rosary” illustrating the text opposite.

(2) These “rosaries” are commonly used, it seems, in certain and highly secret tantric sects as supports for very complex metaphysical meditations, as well as for geomantic divinatory uses, and also for subtle purposes of “recognition initiation”.

It’s a short section, admittedly, and doesn’t say a lot, but it does give some names of other Western esotericists (especially the famous Oswald Wirth, contemporaneous with Warrain) to look up for future research regarding the geomantic emblems (however they phrased or worded the concept).  The Nicaud book is extant, both in French and in English, but it’s difficult and expensive to find, so it may be some time before I can get my hands on it.  I don’t know which Wirth book Warrain refers to, but I’ll see if I can dig it up.

In Jacques’ book, on the other hand…well, Les signes secrets de la Terre Géomancie is, like I said, a rather eclectic text.  It places a good amount of emphasis on the transnational, transcultural role of geomancy, by which I mean equating Western geomancy with Ifá and I Ching, which isn’t a great approach in my opinion, and it makes a lot of the usual New Age jumps between Hinduism and Buddhism and this and that and the other into one confused mess with questionable numerological and etymological leaps of logic.  Still, eclectic and spastic as it can be, it also has a few good points on this particular topic (capitalization preserved from the original text, my translation):

To return to a more particularly cosmogonic research: to this desire to inscribe the Geomantic Figures in the astral cycles, at least to give them a representation which could represent the Sky, to this desire to unite the mantic arts around the divine Revelation of the origin of things, we will dwell for a moment on what appeared to us as an African contribution to Geomancy, an external contribution to the Mediterranean basin which can be considered as a bridge between the worlds, from one culture to another: the Rosary!

There is a form of representation of the distributing Figures of traditional Geomancy that it is possible to compare the lunar cycles which we spoke above: it is the geomantic Rosary which is said to serve as a sign of recognition to some magicians of the East. This geomantic rosary also bears the names of “Rosary of Allahabad”, “Rosary of the Geomancers of Allahabad” or “Rosary of the Eight Dragons”.  With regard to this designation, it is quite difficult to formulate an exact explanation because no ancient rosary has been found in this city in the north of India.  However, in Arabic, Allahabad means “the City of God” or, in other words, “the Heavenly City”.  It therefore seems somewhat random to us to want to link this name to a current geographic reality; the Agharta concept would be more acceptable…

The total number of beads composing the rosary is 192, making it therefore possible to link the reduction to the name of JERUSALEM (Yod-Resh-Vav-Shin-Lamed-Mim = 93, which is 99 less than 192) which leads us to think that the name “Rosary of the Geomancers of Allahhabad “, since Jerusalem is also a holy city of Islam, is a rather recent name indeed for the rosary.   The rosary is in the form shown in the figure above.  Each DRAGON is red, the color of fire, and made up of three elements: AIR-FIRE-WATER, in this order, i.e of a coupling and an opposition.  The total number of points in each DRAGON is eight.  Eight is the first female cubic number, and eight represents the EARTH (the element absent from the composition of the DRAGON), the element in which has the deepest mysteries. It is a conventional chthonic symbol called number of Pluto (the One who lives under the Earth).  It is a sacred sign among the Japanese, representing multiplicity, shown in the form of an eight-petaled flower, a representation of the Lotus also found in many Western representations of Romanesque art.  Eight is the letter Ḥeth of the Hebrews, the first letter of the word Ḥai (Ḥeth-Yod-Heh) which means LIFE (8 + 1 + 5 = 14 = 5⁷), and is also the first letter of the name of the eighth Sephirah, HOD, or Glory.  Eight is the symbol of infinity, but let us also remember: the eight arms of Vishnu, the eight spokes of the Wheel of the way of Buddhism, the eight paths of the Tao, the eight forms of SHIVA.  “The one whom Christ brings to life is placed under the figure EIGHT”, wrote Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century; this is not surprising because, if 8 is turned onto its side, it represents infinity, but it also takes the form of a stylized fish, a primitive symbol of Christianity, the religion which by epiphany connects man to eternity.

These eight deployments represent ALL the composition possibilities of the 16 Distributing Figures of Geomancy preceded or followed by the DRAGON. Symbolically, they connect the first two male and female couples (1 + 0) by the 10 lines of each of the cycles to the essence of the Zodiac, the Ouroboros.  10 is Malkuth, the Kingdom.  The dragon bites its tail, which in no way means that the theme at rest, i.e. that in which each Figure is in its place, is among these cycles.  Each now has the keys that will allow him to discover the riches of the rosary and especially why it is also called “rosary”.  Six rows of the DRAGON among eight red points, ten rows for the cycle among sixteen black points: note, however, that in the sacred language of Christians, Hebrews, and Arabs, red has always been associated with FIRE and divine love, but black symbolizes the night and everything that is more malicious than death.

Interestingly, Jacques uses that possibly Arabic but definitely French system of elements and elemental associations to pairs of rows of figures, both in the passage above and throughout his book, but Warrain doesn’t appear to use the system at all.  Warrain, likewise, didn’t mention anything about colors for the beads; although Jacques may have found another text that talks about it, he doesn’t list Wirth or Nicaud in his bibliography, so his use of colors might well be an innovation or extrapolation from the image on his part.

So, with those introductions out of the way, let’s talk about the structure of this device.

  • The “Chaplet of Eight Dragons” (hereafter “the Rosary”) is broken down into eight sections, each section an emblem of itself, all starting with the binary structure 011110 (:····:), itself consisting of the figures Caput Draconis, Via, and Cauda Draconis.  The other rows of a given section provide the rest of the emblem.
  • The draconic points/beads (for the 011110 segments) are always in another color (e.g. red) compared to the non-draconic beads that provide the rest of one complete emblem (e.g. black).  The draconic segment 011110 of each section is important, as it grounds and anchors the Rosary to eight directions, with the gaps between them consisting of the same number of beads/points but in an irregular way.
  • Each section consists of 24 points/beads, eight from the draconic segment and 16 from the non-draconic segment.
  • There are sixteen total emblems that start with 011110, but there are only eight sections on the Rosary.  In the depiction above, those eight sections are the following emblems (with their corresponding geomantic figure breakouts), starting with the 011110 segment at the top and proceeding clockwise around the Rosary, with the “hidden” final three lines (which are the first three of the following 011110 segment, which fully completes the emblem) in parentheses:
    1. 0111101100101000(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia (, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior)
    2. 0111101000010110(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio (, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior)
    3. 0111100001101001(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer (, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella)
    4. 0111100101101000(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia (, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior)
    5. 0111101100001010(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio (, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior)
    6. 0111101000011001(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer (, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella)
    7. 0111100001001101(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer (, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella)
    8. 0111100100001101(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer (, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella)
  • The other eight emblems that start with 011110 are also present on the Rosary; they simply need to be read counterclockwise around the Rosary.  Starting from the 011110 segment at the top and proceeding counterclockwise from there in the depiction above, these get us the following emblems (with their corresponding geomantic figure breakouts), with the “hidden” final three lines in parentheses:
    1. 0111101011000010(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus (, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior)
    2. 0111101011001000(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia (, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior)
    3. 0111101001100001(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia (, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella)
    4. 0111100101000011(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior (, Coniunctio, Puer, Puella)
    5. 0111100001011010(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio (, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior)
    6. 0111101001011000(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia (, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior)
    7. 0111100110100001(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia (, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella)
    8. 0111100001010011(011): Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior (, Coniunctio, Puer, Puella)

That’s what we know from looking at this thing at a glance.  The next big thing to figure out would be why this specific order of emblems is used on the Rosary, and for that, we need to pick up on a few other details looking at the general structure of the Rosary:

  • Proceeding clockwise around the Rosary from the topmost draconic segment, the emblems used follow 011110 using an odd-odd-even-even-odd-odd-even-even pattern for the first non-draconic row, i.e. the first non-draconic row in the first two segments have a single point each, the next two double, the penultimate two single, and the last two double.
  • However, the final non-draconic row of each section has double, double, single, double, double, single, single, single points.  This leads to an interesting asymmetry where if we go clockwise around the Rosary, we have a regular pattern, but no such pattern if we go counterclockwise.
  • There’s almost a perfect symmetry with the first full figure from the non-draconic segment clockwise around the Rosary: the first and fifth non-draconic segments start with 1100 (Fortuna Minor), the second and sixth 1000 (Laetitia), the third and seventh 0001 (Tristitia), but the fourth starts with 0101 (Acquisitio) and eighth with 0100 (Rubeus).  However, at least for the first three non-draconic rows, the symmetry is perfect.  Following the initial Caput Draconis-Via-Cauda Draconis breakout of every section, this gives the first and fourth sections (which start with the non-draconic 110) an initial figure breakout of Puer-Puella-Coniunctio; the second and fifth sections (100) Puer-Amissio-Rubeus; the third and sixth sections (000) Fortuna Minor-Laetitia-Populus; and the fourth and eighth sections (010) Fortuna Minor-Carcer-Albus.
  • This also means that the first, second, fifth, and sixth sections, because the first non-draconic row has a single point/bead, have Puer as the first breakout figure following the initial Caput Draconis-Via-Cauda Draconis breakout of every section, and that the third, fourth, seventh, and eighth sections all have Fortuna Minor as the first breakout figure.
  • There’s much less symmetry counterclockwise, however: the first and fifth non-draconic segments counterclockwise have 1011 and 0001 (Puella and Tristitia), the second and sixth 1011 and 1001 (Puella and Carcer), the third and seventh 1001 and 0110 (Carcer and Coniunctio), and the fourth and eighth have 0101 and 0001 (Acquisitio and Tristitia).  The only symmetry I can find here is that the first non-draconic row of the first and fifth segments are opposed (1 and 0, yielding the figures Puer and Fortuna Minor), the second and sixth aligned (1 and 1, both yielding Puer), the third and seventh opposed (1 and 0, again yielding Puer and Fortuna Minor), and the fourth and eighth aligned (0 and 0, both yielding Fortuna Minor).
  • Looking at the two rows on either side of the draconic segments clockwise as “bounds” for each “dragon”, then going clockwise, then the first dragon is bound double-double, the second double-single, the third double-double, the fourth single-double, the fifth double-single, the sixth double-single, the seventh single-double, and the eighth single-single.  This means that there are two double-double bound dragons, one single-single bound dragon, two single-double bound dragons, and three double-single bound dragons.  No real symmetry here to speak of.

All sixteen 011110-starting emblems are represented, eight clockwise and eight counterclockwise; this is why this is a “Chaplet of the Eight Dragons” and not “Chaplet of the Sixteen Dragons”.  However, based on the lack of symmetry going counterclockwise around the Rosary, or at least given how little symmetry there is going counterclockwise compared to there is going clockwise, it seems that there really is directionality involved in the Rosary, and that it seems stronger going clockwise.  This means that the eight emblems read clockwise around the Rosary are probably more important than those going counterclockwise, or that the eight counterclockwise emblems arise as an effect from the positioning of the eight clockwise ones.

What doesn’t rely on directionality, however, is something I hadn’t noticed before when it came to the geomantic emblems: starting from any point of any emblem and taking the first four figures drawn from the seven rows starting from the one chosen, if you take those seven rows as representing four overlapped geomantic figures and then take them as four Mother figures for a geomantic chart, the four Mother figures will be the same as the four Daughter figures.  More concretely, say you randomly choose a point on the Rosary, and you end up at the first row of the segment 1000010.  Breaking that out, you get the four figures Laetitia (1000), Populus (0000), Tristitia (0001), and Albus (0010).  If you use those as Mother figures for a geomantic chart, then the four Daughters that result will also be Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, and Albus, in that same order.

This is a fascinating property that I hadn’t picked up on before, and yields a special class of geomantic chart I call “repetitive charts”: charts where the four Mothers are the same as the four Daughters and in the same order, and thus the first two Nieces are the same and in the same order as the last two Nieces, the two Witnesses are the same, the Judge is Populus, and the Sentence is always the same figure as the First Mother.  There are 1024 (2¹⁰) such repetitive charts, and there’s a particular way you can construct one based on the sixteen rows of points of the four Mother figures.  First, remember that the sixteen rows that collectively comprise the Mother figures are the same as those that comprise the Daughter figures, just read horizontally across from top to bottom instead of vertically down from right to left:

Daughter
1
Row
13
Row
9
Row
5
Row
1
Daughter
2
Row
14
Row
10
Row
6
Row
2
Daughter
3
Row
15
Row
11
Row
7
Row
3
Daughter
4
Row
16
Row
12
Row
8
Row
4
Mother
4
Mother
3
Mother
2
Mother
1

In order to create a repetitive chart, certain rows have to be the same, reflected across the top right-bottom left diagonal:

C B A
E D A
F D B
F E C

Thus, Row 2 must be the same as Row 5 (A), Row 3 must be the same as Row 9 (B), Row 4 must be the same as Row 13 (C), and so forth.  Thus, if the third row of the First Mother has a single point, then the first row of the Third Mother must also have a single point.  Rows 1, 6, 11, and 16 are marked by asterisks (∗) and can be anything, single or double, and won’t affect the repetitiveness of the chart.  Thus, there are ten distinct choices to make here: the six mandated-repeated rows A, B, C, D, E, and F, and the four wildcard rows (∗).  Because there are ten choices to make between two options, this means that we have 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 = 2¹⁰ = 1024 repetitive charts.

Turning back to the Rosary, we know that there are 128 rows on the Rosary, which means that there are 128 options for picking out such charts if we use it clockwise, and another 128 options counterclockwise, which means we have 256 possibilities total for picking out charts using this method.  However, not all these charts are distinct, because the same sequences of seven rows (e.g. 0111100) appear multiple times in the Rosary.  If we focus on just all possible combinations of single or double points among seven rows, then this means that there are only 2⁷ = 128 possible distinct charts, but not all combinations of points among seven rows are present on the Rosary, either (e.g. the case of 1111111, where all four Mothers are Via).  In fact, based on the figure breakouts given above, we know there are only 74 possible distinct charts using the Rosary, formed from the following Mothers:

  1. Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer (2 repetitions)
  2. Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia (2 repetitions)
  3. Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis, Via (6 repetitions)
  4. Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor (4 repetitions)
  5. Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Puer (2 repetitions)
  6. Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus (4 repetitions)
  7. Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis (4 repetitions)
  8. Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio (4 repetitions)
  9. Albus, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior (2 repetitions)
  10. Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus (2 repetitions)
  11. Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis (2 repetitions)
  12. Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio (2 repetitions)
  13. Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Albus (2 repetitions)
  14. Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior (4 repetitions)
  15. Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus (6 repetitions)
  16. Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor (8 repetitions)
  17. Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer (8 repetitions)
  18. Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio (2 repetitions)
  19. Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella (4 repetitions)
  20. Carcer, Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia (2 repetitions)
  21. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via (4 repetitions)
  22. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor (1 repetition)
  23. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer (3 repetitions)
  24. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus (3 repetitions)
  25. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior (1 repetition)
  26. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus (4 repetitions)
  27. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio (2 repetitions)
  28. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus (4 repetitions)
  29. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella, Coniunctio (2 repetitions)
  30. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus (3 repetitions)
  31. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior (1 repetitions)
  32. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus (4 repetitions)
  33. Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio (2 repetitions)
  34. Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus (4 repetitions)
  35. Coniunctio, Puer, Puella, Caput Draconis (2 repetitions)
  36. Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis (8 repetitions)
  37. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer (1 repetition)
  38. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia (1 repetition)
  39. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio (4 repetitions)
  40. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Puella (2 repetitions)
  41. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio (4 repetitions)
  42. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Rubeus (2 repetitions)
  43. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis (1 repetition)
  44. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio (1 repetition)
  45. Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia (8 repetitions)
  46. Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus (8 repetitions)
  47. Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior (8 repetitions)
  48. Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio (6 repetitions)
  49. Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Rubeus (2 repetitions)
  50. Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis (4 repetitions)
  51. Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio (4 repetitions)
  52. Puella, Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis (8 repetitions)
  53. Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer (3 repetitions)
  54. Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia (3 repetitions)
  55. Puella, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio (2 repetitions)
  56. Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella (4 repetitions)
  57. Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer (4 repetitions)
  58. Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia (4 repetitions)
  59. Puer, Puella, Caput Draconis, Via (2 repetitions)
  60. Puer, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor (2 repetitions)
  61. Rubeus, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio (2 repetitions)
  62. Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis (3 repetitions)
  63. Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio (3 repetitions)
  64. Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia (8 repetitions)
  65. Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio (2 repetitions)
  66. Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella (3 repetitions)
  67. Tristitia, Albus, Rubeus, Carcer (2 repetitions)
  68. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via (4 repetitions)
  69. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor (1 repetition)
  70. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer (3 repetitions)
  71. Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer (4 repetitions)
  72. Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia (4 repetitions)
  73. Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio (6 repetitions)
  74. Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella (2 repetitions)

Organized by how many repetitions there are for each set of Mothers:

  1. One repetition (8 sequences)
    1. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor
    2. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior
    3. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior
    4. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer
    5. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia
    6. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis
    7. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio
    8. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor
  2. Two repetitions (24 sequences)
    1. Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer
    2. Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia
    3. Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Puer
    4. Albus, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior
    5. Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus
    6. Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis
    7. Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio
    8. Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Albus
    9. Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio
    10. Carcer, Albus, Rubeus, Laetitia
    11. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio
    12. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella, Coniunctio
    13. Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio
    14. Coniunctio, Puer, Puella, Caput Draconis
    15. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Puella
    16. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Rubeus
    17. Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Rubeus
    18. Puella, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio
    19. Puer, Puella, Caput Draconis, Via
    20. Puer, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor
    21. Rubeus, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio
    22. Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio
    23. Tristitia, Albus, Rubeus, Carcer
    24. Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Puella
  3. Three repetitions (9 sequences)
    1. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer
    2. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus
    3. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus
    4. Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Carcer
    5. Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia
    6. Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis
    7. Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio
    8. Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella
    9. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer
  4. Four repetitions (21 sequences)
    1. Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor
    2. Albus, Acquisitio, Amissio, Rubeus
    3. Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis
    4. Albus, Acquisitio, Puella, Coniunctio
    5. Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer, Fortuna Maior
    6. Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio, Puella
    7. Carcer, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via
    8. Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus
    9. Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus
    10. Coniunctio, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus
    11. Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio, Rubeus
    12. Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio, Puer, Amissio
    13. Fortuna Minor, Carcer, Albus, Acquisitio
    14. Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis
    15. Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Coniunctio
    16. Puer, Amissio, Acquisitio, Puella
    17. Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Carcer
    18. Puer, Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia
    19. Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via
    20. Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Carcer
    21. Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Laetitia
  5. Six repetitions (4 sequences)
    1. Acquisitio, Puella, Caput Draconis, Via
    2. Amissio, Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus
    3. Populus, Tristitia, Albus, Acquisitio
    4. Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer, Amissio
  6. Eight repetitions (8 sequences)
    1. Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor
    2. Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis, Puer
    3. Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis
    4. Fortuna Minor, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia
    5. Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Albus
    6. Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior
    7. Puella, Caput Draconis, Via, Cauda Draconis
    8. Rubeus, Laetitia, Populus, Tristitia

Now, 74 is a really strange number that doesn’t really appear otherwise in geomancy, and the distributions here are a little unusual, so maybe there’s something to investigate along those lines more.  Perhaps there’s significance to these 74 charts in some way, but I’m not so sure.  For that matter, there could be other significance or meaning attributed to the whole emblematic order of the Rosary, but it’s not clear to me.  Still, even if this post raises more questions than it answers regarding this intriguing little device, at least all this is something to note, whether for my or future geomancers’ research, so maybe someone can do something with this information.

Colors of the Planets

The core components of much of the ritual I do is simple: a candle lit for God and prayer.  Everything else is, strictly speaking, optional.  Yes, even incense, especially when simply performing prayer and adoration of the Divine, as Hermēs tells his students towards the end of the Perfect Sermon:

[Asclepius said:] “Let us suggest to father, Tat,—what he did bid us do,—that we should say our prayer to God with added incense and with unguents.”

Whom when Thrice-greatest heard, he grew distressed and said: “Nay, nay, Asclepius; speak more propitious words! For this is like to profanation of [our] sacred rites, when thou dost pray to God, to offer incense and the rest. For naught is there of which He stands in need, in that He is all things, or all are in Him. But let us worship, pouring forth our thanks. For this is the best incense in God’s sight, when thanks are given to Him by men.”

So, really, even perhaps my candle lit for God, a sacred flame I have burning at my main shrine whenever I do any sort of temple work, could be considered extraneous; I prefer, following usual ancient practices, to always have a sacred lamp lit with a sacred fire, so that I never pray or work in darkness.  But, when performing pure theurgy, Hermēs suggests that prayer is the only required element—indeed, the only element that should be used.

But that’s really only applicable for God and the highest-of-the-high practices I engage in.  And there are a lot of other gods and practices I engage in, and other components, like incense, are pretty damn useful.

I don’t think I’m making a controversial claim for when I say that everything present in a ritual should be present to further that ritual’s application and efficacy; having extra elements or components there that either aren’t used or aren’t related to the ritual shouldn’t be there in the ritual itself.  This is far from encouraging minimalism, of course; with this maxim, you can get as complex and as complicated, as embellished and exaggerated as you like, by throwing in element after component or tool after supply into a ritual.  Sometimes, that can be extremely helpful; other times, not so much.  But this goes far beyond simply the choice or variety of incense and libation; everything in a ritual, down to the thread used to hem your robes (or sweatpants), can be engineered towards a particular ritual.  After all, if you want to take a more psychological or semantic approach to ritual, everything in a ritual is a symbol, and all symbols have meaning.  And color symbolism is huge in many kinds of occult and spiritual work.

With my renewed Hermetic practice I’ve been working on since the beginning of the year, I’ve been mulling over how I would want to make a new set of planetary talismans.  I have an old set from when I was doing Fr. Rufus Opus’ Red Work course, which I’ve used ever since, and have been solid tools in their own right.  Materially, they’re just halves of wooden craft yo-yos that I took apart; taking them apart left a hole in the underside of them, which I filled with the appropriate planetary metal, and after I did that, I woodburned the name and seal of the planetary angel and used the planetary characters from the Magical Calendar (originally(?) used for the Table of Practice from the Ars Paulina of the Lemegeton) around the sides.  The effect was pretty nifty, if I do say so myself.

For these talismans, I painted each talisman in an appropriate planetary color: purple for the Moon, orange for Mercury, green for VEnus, yellow for the Sun, red for Mars, blue for Jupiter, and black for Saturn.  Of course, “appropriate” here could be debated; the source for these colors is largely taken from Golden Dawn practice using their Queen scale of colors for the sephiroth of the Hermetic Tree of Life.  Of course, the Queen scale—perhaps the most commonly known and used—is just one of four scales; there’s also the King scale (indigo, violet purple, amber, clear pink rose, orange, deep violet, crimson), the Prince scale (very dark purple, russet red, bright yellowish green, rich salmon, bright scarlet, deep purple, dark brown), and the Princess scale (citrine flecked azure, yellowish brown flecked gold, olive flecked gold, golden amber, red flecked black, deep azure flecked yellow, grey flecked pink).  The link above gives an appreciable examples of all these colors (which, rather than being vague suggestions, were actually meant to be quite exact and specific), as well as for the other sephiroth and each of the paths on the Tree of Life.  Complicated, to be sure, but if nothing else, the Golden Dawn takes complication and turns it into an art form.  Plus, those who have ever read Alan Moore’s comic series Promethea (still a great primer on popular modern Western Hermetic mystery cosmology from a Golden Dawn/Thelemic standpoint) will find these colors for the planets incredibly familiar, as the artist specifically used these color scales for the sephiroth as Sophie Bangs (and Promethea) ascends through them from Earth/Malkuth to God/Kether.

But…well, I’m not a Golden Dawn magician.  Like, I’ve never done the LBRP, or any [LG][IB]R[PH] type of ritual, or a Middle Pillar, or whatever.  While these colors (or at least the Queen scale colors) are incredibly common, and incredibly useful, this surely can’t be the only magical color system for the planets, and while I don’t want to fix what’s not broken, I do want to try distancing myself from Golden Dawn stuff and see if other systems work, hopefully as well if not better.  To that end, I’ve been looking into what other options there might be in the usual magical literature we typically consult from the pre-Golden Dawn days, like Agrippa et al., and seeing what such color symbolism might already have been present in classical or antique times.

For the usual grimoires we might turn to, we can find color lists in the following texts:

Plotting them out and comparing them, we can get a color table like the following:

Planet Key of Solomon Key of Knowledge Agrippa

Colors

Agrippa Planets Agrippa Clothes
Saturn black black black, earthy,
leaden, brown
dull blue black
Jupiter celestial blue green sapphire, “airy colors”,
green, clear, purple, darkish, golden,
mixed with silver
pale citrine blue
Mars red red (“vermilion”) red, burning/fiery/flaming colors,
violet, purple, bloody/iron colors
fiery red red
Sun gold, yellow, citron rich yellow (“saffron”),
green
gold, saffron, purple, bright colors yellow or
glittering red
yellow, gold
Venus green azure, violet white, pale colors,
eye-catching colors,
ruddy between saffron and purple
white and shining,
or red
white, green
Mercury mixed colors yellow-orange
(“eggyolk”)
glittering mixed and changing
Moon silver or argentine earth white
(“white lead”)
“fair” (pale white) green, silver

I’m sure there are plenty of other Western Renaissance and medieval sources for attributing magical colors to the planets, but this is already lining up to be kinda uniform, and we can see how such a color system informed the Golden Dawn set—at least as far as the Queen scale is confirmed.  But the use of color symbolism for the planets is much older than this; it’s not like colors are a new thing for magicians or people generally.  As many of my readers know, using rituals and information from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM) is one of my favorite things to do, so I thought about looking back to classical and pre-modern sources in the West for more information.  Happily and fortuitously, Tony Mierzwicki in his Graeco-Egyptian Magick has basically already done the work for us there.  I’ll summarize his findings and sources:

  • PGM CX.1—12, some sort of astrological divination that uses mineral or metallic objects: Sun, gold; Moon, silver; Saturn, obsidian; Mars, yellow-green onyx; Venus, lapis lazuli streaked with “gold” (pyrite); Mercury, turquoise (καλλάϊνος, literally “like a precious stone of a greenish blue”, turquoise or chrysolite, or even the famous blue-green Egyptian faïence); Jupiter, “a dark blue stone, but underneath of crystal” (“ὁ δὲ Ζεὺς ᾔτῳ κυάνου λίθου ὑπὸ δὲ κρυστάλλου”, possibly amethyst).  Mierzwicki gives the “apparent colors” for these planets then as: Sun, gold; Moon, silver; Saturn, black; Mars, yellow-green; Venus, blue; Mercury, blue-green; Jupiter, dark blue and clear (or indigo/dark puple and white).
  • Mierzwicki also matches PGM CX.1—12 with evidence from the seven-stepped zigurrats of Ecbatana and Khorsabad, according to Herodotus and archaeological evidence, respectively: gold/gold, silver/silver-grey, orange/orange, blue/blue, red/reddish-purple, black/black, white/white.  Mierzwicki gives these the planets Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, respectively.

It’s important to note that red is generally a taboo color in PGM and Egyptian stuff generally, as it’s considered to be a color associated with Set, and thus Typhōn.  This is why so many PGM rituals call for “lamps that are not colored red”, and might explain the lack of red in the above PGM text, which appears to be currently the only one known that links particular colors (well, stones and minerals) to the planets.  However, scanning through the rest of the PGM for bits and pieces that are color-related, we can also get the following:

  • PGM XII.270ff:  heliotrope (green chalcedony with small spots of red jasper) for the Sun
  • PGM V.213ff: “costly green stone” (“σμάραγδον πολυτελῆ”, “expensive emerald”) for a scarab ring to speak with the Sun
  • PGM VI.2622ff: purple used to color a skin that encloses a phylactery for calling upon the Moon
  • PGM V.370ff: purple used for a cord to wrap up hair as a sacrifice to the Moon (well, really, Hermēs, but here meaning Thoth as a lunar god)
  • PGM IV.2891ff: white used for a dove as an offering to Venus
  • PGM IV.3209ff: white used for a saucer and wax for a saucer divination under Venus
  • PGM VII.478ff: white used for a dove, the droppings of which are used in a ritual to Eros, connected to Venus
  • PDM xiv.920ff and 933ff: white is the color of a stone called “foam of the moon”, like galbanum or glass

So, not a lot, as it turns out.  But at least we have something we can plot out in another table:

Planet PGM CX.1—12 Babylonian Other PGM
Saturn black black
Jupiter dark blue/purple and white white
Mars yellow green (or red) red
Sun yellow, gold yellow, gold green
Venus rich blue blue white
Mercury light blue-green orange
Moon white, grey, silver silver purple, white

Funnily enough, in the process of writing this post, one of my mutual followers on Astrology Twitter, @jaysunkei, posted a surprised tweet about planetary colors, especially that for the planet Mercury, which started off a whole bunch of conversations about different texts and traditions of colors, including those listed above:

The stuff posted in that Twitter thread gives us even more options to work with based on a variety of astrological sources as well as cultural ones (cf. David McCann’s article The Astrology of Color on Skyscript.co.uk and this article about colors and planets through different cultures and time periods):

Planet Picatrix Al-Biruni Ibn Ezra Lilly Sepharial
Saturn black, dark black, dark black, dark white, pale, ashy, black, dark black, dark
Jupiter green brown, white green purple
Mars red red red red red
Sun yellow orange red yellow, red, purple orange
Venus light blue, light green white, yellow light green light blue, light green, white light blue, light green
Mercury blue purple, mixed colors blue, grey, mixed colors blue, grey, pink, yellow
Moon orange, yellow blue, orange, yellow green, white green, orange, yellow, white green, orange, yellow, white

In the end, it looks like we have a lot of options to pick from, all based on different authors and time periods and cultures and styles of working, some more astrological than magical, others more magical than astrological, some more grounded in the Earth and some more grounded in Heaven.  There are a few commonalities, sure, and if I were to summarize some of the most common colors to make a “general” color scheme for the seven planets, I’d go with the following:

  • Saturn: black.  Everyone seems to be in agreement with this one, although this could be expanded to any super dark, dull color, more like a hue.
  • Jupiter: blue or purple.  Blue seems to be more common than purple, but both are considered “royal” colors, which fits in nicely with Jupiter’s significations.  Still, blue seems to be more common.
  • Mars: red.  This is pretty common across everyone, shockingly enough.
  • Sun: gold or yellow.  Gold, of course, is ideal for the Sun, but that’s more a metal rather than a color; a rich yellow, tending slightly more towards orange than green, would be better if a simple color is preferred.
  • Venus: primarily green, secondarily white.  Green seems to be more common than white (though “green” here is probably best described as a “light blue-green”, like teal, aquamarine, spring green, cyan, Persian green, jade green, or turquoise), though white is also a common option.  However, white can also be used for the Moon, so be careful here (more on this below).
  • Mercury: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  Mercury’s colors are all over the map, and I think the best way to describe Mercury’s color is “plaid”, meaning any set of mixed, changeable, shifting, or interwoven colors.  Barring that, however, orange seems to not be a bad choice, as this is sometimes considered to be a “muddled” or “mixed” color itself, compared to the more pure yellow or red.
  • Moon: silver or white.  Silver is preferred, but this is more a metal than a color, so the best way to describe this in terms of simple colors is just white.  However, white is also an option for Venus; if white is chosen for Venus, use silver for the Moon, and if white is used for the Moon, use green for Venus.

Lots of options, indeed, and of course the above isn’t exhaustive; there’re also Mesoamerican and Native American traditions, Chinese and Indian/Vedic systems, and other systems of astrology and magic out there that have their own color associations with the planets and stars, too.  But, even with this much, at least we can make things look nice for ourselves and our works.

Dominoes and Orisha

This summer was a lot more writing-filled than I would ever have anticipated, and not just because of the whole Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration thing, either. (I’ll stop harping on it eventually.) Really, this year was more surprising than not in a lot of ways, and one of the things I ended up getting myself into was, of all possible things, domino fortune-telling. Like…that one really did catch me off-guard, not least because I’m kinda terrible at actually playing the game. What started it all was, back on Curious Cat earlier this year, I was asked about the connections between dominoes and geomancy; since both geomantic figures and dominoes are composed of combinations of points, there’s gotta be a connection there between them, right? Nope! I have never once encountered any connection to dominoes in any geomantic text I’ve ever come across, whether traditional or modern, and I couldn’t think up any connection between them, either. I charted the different dot-patterns and tried to fit the dominoes with geomantic figures, and I just couldn’t come up with anything. They’re just too different to make simple comparisons with, and there’s not a lot else to go on. It just goes to show that just because different things kinda-sorta superficially look the same doesn’t mean that they’re connected at all.

And that’s where I intended to leave dominoes. Except…I didn’t. In fact, I pretty much outright couldn’t. Something snagged my attention hard to dominoes, and so I began researching domino fortune-telling. It might have been a spirit guide or ancestor of mine waiting for just such an opportunity, or it might have been something genuinely instinctive and curious in myself. Either way, this was something that I couldn’t simply drop, and I ended up taking it quite a bit further than was probably reasonable, but whatever.

It started with my recalling an old hand-me-down book from my brother’s neopagan days, Ray Buckland’s 1992 Secrets of Gypsy Fortunetelling, which had a brief section on dominoes. I dug the book out from the back of my dusty shelves, and started there. It seemed straightforward enough: each of the 28 bones of a double-six set of dominoes has a particular set of omens associated with it, along with meanings particular to the suits (the number of pips on either end of a bone) and weights (the total number of pips on a bone). There didn’t seem to be a lot to it, and there wasn’t a lot there to begin with. So, not being satisfied with just one book, I started to see what else was out there. Skip ahead a few months: 50 books later and half as many websites in several European languages, I ended up compiling over 150 pages of notes for the various interpretations of the bones, how they seemed to shift and turn and twist over the decades, what different authors seem to have thought about their own takes, and the like. These notes ended up getting transformed into a book format, which is now at over 200 pages and which will go to print once I finish getting a few other things wrapped up with it.

I should note that domino fortune-telling isn’t that old a practice. The earliest text I can find that describes this system of domino fortune-telling is from 1873, Mehemet Ali’s Oriental Interpretation of Dreams. This text gives a simple one-line interpretation for the 28 bones of a double-six set of dominoes, and these interpretations were later copied, sometimes vertabim from one text to another, sometimes expanded from one whole sentence to one whole paragraph. Now, I’m not ruling out the possibility of domino fortune-telling being in earlier texts or having an earlier origin than the early 1870s, but I have noticed that this type of dream-interpretation/pop-divination book (and there are dozens of examples on both sides of the Atlantic!) doesn’t include sections for dominoes before 1873, but they almost all did after 1873. (Side note: many of these texts include sections on playing card divination, numerology, astrology, and palmistry, but none include anything about geomancy, or at least, none in any reasonable way beyond the simplest of look-up tables, like in the 1884 Napoleon’s Oraculum and Dream Book, and even there, there’s no connection between dominoes and geomancy.) Even if we want to give the origins of domino fortune-telling an earlier date, we just don’t have the evidence to make it too early. After all, dominoes were only introduced into (or invented in, depending on your historical approach) Europe, specifically France and Italy, in the 1700s, reaching England and Germany only in the later part of that century, and spreading from there into the Americas after that. So, if it seems that the art of domino fortune-telling is young, then that’s because it is, because dominoes themselves are young in the West.

An interesting thing I noticed was that, as domino fortune-telling texts came over into the Americas, a particular subset of modern Spanish texts with Caribbean or Latin American origins all seemed to share a common trend not seen in other domino texts: links between dominoes with the orisha, West African deities carried over into the Caribbean and Brazil through the slave trade, with one of the most famous branches of orisha religion being a Cuban one, La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, also known as Santería. Myself being an initiated priest of Ogún in this religion, I was intrigued by this. Sure, dominoes are a huge thing in the Caribbean, and Cubans are known to start outright jihad over the game (sometimes friendly, sometimes not), but to see dominoes prescribing ritual solutions or suggesting things about orisha alongside the traditional interpretations of dominoes caught me off-guard. Sure, it’s not a lot of information along these lines, but it does exist in a handful of texts and sources, so that got me wondering how this mash-up came to be. This led to a separate strain of research alongside the rest of my domino fortune-telling investigations.

Now, bear with me here, dear reader. I know there are a few unknowns here, and I know that I’m still young in Lukumí, so there’s plenty that I don’t know. But something about the mash-up between dominoes and orisha just doesn’t smell right or feel right to me, so let me explain why. If I’m wrong, then I look forward to being educated better on it by those who know better than I do.

The thing about Lukumí (and orisha religion in general) is that, for all its own innovation and adaptations it’s had to undergo in order to survive under oppression and slavery, it’s still a comparatively rigid and closed system; it is in many ways as much an institution and religion as the Roman Catholic Church. After all, the word “regla” indicates “rule”, like the Benedictine Rule for monks in Catholicism, in the sense of there being a defined set of protocols and practices that must be followed in order for something to be considered legitimate within the bounds of orisha religion (or at least a particular type of orisha religion, like Brazilian Candomblé, Yoruba Traditional/Isheshe, Trinidadian Shango Baptist, etc., all of which have slightly different sets of protocols). This is founded on the pacts that we humans in the initiated priesthoods of orisha have made and established with orisha, and which are propagated as part of initiation into these priesthoods: if you’re a priest, you’re held to those pacts, and if you’re not in those pacts, then you’re not a priest. Within these pacts is regla; outside these pacts is…well, not a lot of note, really. To operate outside of these pacts is to operate outside regla, which isn’t looked upon favorably and wherein lies danger. This might sound like gatekeeping, but as an initiated priest myself, it’s literally my job to gatekeep: priests are the ones who maintain these pacts with orisha, and until the day comes when there are no more living priests of the orisha, these pacts will be maintained and must be defended. Orisha worship is a living and vibrant tradition, not something to be reconstructed (like Nordic, Hellenic, or Celtic practices) or approached on a whim based on something neat you read in a book that one time. To work within orisha religion is to initiate, study, train, and follow the practices and customs of your lineage based on the pacts that founded them; unlike other modern pagan or non-Abrahamic practices available in the West, orisha religion isn’t a DIY build-from-the-ground-up practice you can just do as you like with. You don’t have to initiate to worship orisha, but you do have to initiate to “work with” them (which is a turn of phrase that I find increasingly off-putting, but which I think gets my point across here).

Similarly, unlike many forms of popularly-practiced paganism, Lukumí doesn’t lend itself to free-wheeling syncretism due to the importance of maintaining these pacts and regla; you can’t just up and say that Ogún speaks through this particular Tarot card or that Oshún problems are indicated given a particular astrological transit, because neither Tarot nor astrology have any connection to orisha. Yes, there is (limited) syncretism in Lukumí, developed according to a Lukumí-specific logic, and those are valid and legitimate to varying extents depending on who you’re talking to, especially when you factor in an old-world style of Catholic saint devotion a la interpretatio Graeca. But syncretism has its limits, and when it comes to communicating with orisha or discerning their actions and recommendations, there are certain sanctioned forms of divination that are accepted by both orisha and their priests, e.g. dilogún (reading with sixteen cowrie shells), obi (reading with four pieces of coconut meat or kola nut), or Ifá (its own thing). If something isn’t sanctioned, then it’s not regla; if it’s not regla, it’s not legitimate; if it’s not legitimate, it can’t be trusted; if it can’t be trusted, it shouldn’t be used. And, well…dominoes just aren’t sanctioned for orisha-related divination, just like Tarot or runes with orisha.

There are only a small number of websites that talk about “el quenkén”, supposedly the term for (Lukumí-specific) orisha-centric domino reading based on a similar game played in Nigeria (about which I can find nothing). Unlike other topics involving either dominoes or orisha, websites about orisha-centric domino divination are really scarce, which itself suggests that this just isn’t a “thing”. In print, there are only three texts I can find that talk about this topic, the earliest being Luis Manuel Núñez’ 1989 Santeria: A Practical Guide to Afro-Caribbean Magic; the other two texts, Juan Garcia Cortez’ The Osha: Secrets of the Yoruba-Lucumi-Santeria Religion in the United States and Americas and Carlos G. y Poenna’s The Yoruba Domino Oracle, both published in 2000, offer further developments and explanations of orisha-related domino reading, often directly echoing Núñez. All three texts include the same basic information as the non-quenkén traditional domino texts, just with an added orisha flair. That there are only three texts on this topic, all of which are incredibly modern, compared to the dozens of books about obi, dilogún, and Ifá that go back a hundred years or more, gives me even more cause for concern. Further, there’s an interesting trend between these three texts:

  • Núñez’ text introduces domino reading by saying that dominoes “are not as respected or trusted as the formal oracles” of obi, dilogún, or Ifá, and many of the domino interpretations include directions to “throw [obi]” to confirm something with a particular orisha or to “go see a Santero or Babalawo” for further investigation and reading with dilogún and Ifá, respectively.
  • Cortez’ book, which mixes legitimate practices with illegitimate ones and which includes errors that would only be known to those who are properly initiated, doesn’t include the outright disclaimer that dominoes aren’t as trusted or respected as the sanctioned oracles, but he admits that he “was lucky enough to inherit [this method of reading] from my father’s Santeria book”. This rings odd to me, since Lukumí is primarily an oral tradition where one learns from observation and practice, not books. Moreover, like Núñez, many of these domino interpretations also say to go to a properly-initiated priest for further investigation.
  • y Poenna’s book says that reading with dominoes “is an explicit divination system that has been used for many years in the Yoruba tradition” (based on my research and the accounts of my elders, this statement is a total fabrication), but also says that “they are only helpful for people who are leading stable lifestyles” (what of people who have unstable ones and need stability?) and that “they are not usually read when someone is in a huge crisis” (what good of it, then?), and “often refer the querent to additional divinations using” obi, dilogún, or Ifá. It claims that “domino divination has its roots in the various earth-based systems of geomancy” (it isn’t) and that “it is possible that dominoes themselves were originally created as a means of geomantic divination” (they weren’t) but also that the practice “traces its origin to the Yoruba oracle of Ifa” (it doesn’t). Again, many of the bones instruct the reader to go to a “Pardon” or “Pi de Santo” (horrific misspellings of “padrino” and “pai de santo”, respectively, though the latter term is properly Brazilian and not Spanish or Cuban), or to a babalawo.

The evidence from the above texts speaks loudly to me: orisha-centric domino reading is inherently considered to be incomplete due to the necessary reliance on other diviners and other systems of divination and, fundamentally, cannot be trusted as a form of communication with and from orisha like what these texts otherwise claim. There are indeed times when a sanctioned oracle in Lukumí can redirect you to another priest to get more information, but these situations are well-understood and backed up by the logic of these systems; dominoes, however, do not appear to have such sanction, and it seems like it’s an intrusion into orisha religion, or at least Afro-Caribbean orisha religious culture. Domino fortune-telling on its own outside orisha religion has never had such warnings of “go to a card reader” or “do not trust this oracle more than this other older one”, but it’s only within the context of orisha religion that we see such warnings. That’s pretty telling to me that dominoes aren’t sanctioned, aren’t regla, aren’t legitimate, and aren’t trustworthy in the context of orisha-related practices. This isn’t to say that dominoes aren’t useful for divination and fortune-telling (they most certainly are!), or that diviners who also happen to be olorishas can’t use them for divination (they most certainly can!), just that dominoes should not be read in this particular way with these references to orisha, sacrifices, and the like. In other words, domino reading in general is fine, but orisha-centric domino reading is not.

Now, there is the possibility that maybe, just maybe, orisha-centric domino divination was really carried on from older Yoruba sources and used as a form of communication with orisha by some legitimate priests, weird as it may sound to us nowadays. Or, alternatively, it could feasibly have happened that this was an innovation that was invented and adopted by some legitimate priests and considered to be legitimate within their own small communities, just not a wide-spread or well-known one, and that nobody in my lineage and nobody that I’m in contact with can vouch for it due to an absence of knowledge. This kind of thing can and does happen; there are Lukumí lineages in eastern Cuba that do things incredibly differently than in western Cuba, there are legitimate differences in approach and practice between metropolitan and rural practitioners, and those who are unfamiliar with these differences can err out of ignorance and incorrectly say that different practices they’re not aware of must be illegitimate outright, even when they’re actually legitimate. This sort of unfortunate accusation can and does happen, and it can cause harm to many people when it does. So, I’m not 100% ruling out the possibility that maybe, just maybe, dominoes were used by someone in Lukumí-style orisha religion as a means of communication with orisha with good intent. But, doing what I can do to find out as much as I can find, that honestly doesn’t look like that’s the case. Orisha religion (whether in the Caribbean, Latin America, or West Africa) is much older than dominoes, what records exist about orisha-centric domino reading are all super modern, and none of the respected and well-informed elders I can contact are aware of it. While I won’t mistake evidence for proof, what evidence I have doesn’t speak well for this.

It really would be fascinating to use dominoes for communicating with orisha and obtaining their advice, but there’s no real evidence that orisha-centric domino divination is any older than I am, and judging by the accounts of my elders, there seems to be no legitimate history behind the practice. Granted, my elders are only human, but they have 30, 50, or more years in the religion with their own elders, families, and friends; heck, there’s one example saying that orisha-centric domino reading isn’t valid written by a well-known elder priestess of Yemonja all the way back in December 2005. Orisha-centric domino divination really does seem to be no more than an unsanctioned invention in trying to use the gods and sacred advice of one initiation-restricted religion in an open, unrelated practice. After all, Núñez, Cortez, and y Poenna all agree that, unlike reading obi, dilogún, or Ifá, reading dominoes is not restricted to the priesthood, but without training (which only comes about as part of initiating into the priesthood), non-initiates wouldn’t know how to interpret what orisha is properly saying and what to prescribe because of it beyond the little they have written in their books, especially when compared to the encyclopedic amounts of knowledge and lore reached through dilogún or Ifá. I mean, when you’re trying to get religious guidance and advice, you should want an initiated, respectable, trained priest who has the power, authority, license, and expertise to prescribe ritual and religious solutions, and who knows why and when such things should be prescribed.

Let’s be honest, even from a practical standpoint: no non-initiate has any business pulling the 0-3 domino from the boneyard and telling anyone (according to Núñez) that “you need to feed Eleggua a white rooster on Monday and do what Eleggua tells you to do”, especially if they themselves don’t have an Eleggua, have never thrown obi, or have never sacrificed a bird before. On top of the fact that non-initiates have no license or authority to speak on behalf of orisha, there are other things wrong with just saying even that much that non-initiates wouldn’t be aware of, especially without any particular cause or need pointed out in the reading beyond the most vague of indications, which the nature of domino reading doesn’t really get at to the same depth, breadth, or length that dilogún or Ifá would. It’s exactly like if someone whose own spiritual education doesn’t extend any further than a few meet-ups at the local new-age store were to get the Tarot of the Orishas and start doing readings “with orisha” and telling people “Oshún is on the Ace of Cups here in your querent spot in the spread, so Oshún clearly owns your head”. It just doesn’t work like that, because dominoes (with pretty much complete certainty) don’t and can’t speak for orisha, just as Tarot doesn’t and can’t speak for orisha.

If, dear reader, orisha-centric domino reading is indeed a non-sanctioned invention of popular spirituality that takes orisha from its original sanctioned context, as all the evidence I can find suggests it is, then this would be a good example of appropriation.

Now, as I said, it could still be that orisha-centric domino reading was preserved from an earlier Yoruba tradition (incredibly unlikely) or (questionably) invented either by initiates in Lukumí or by those who were not initiated yet adjacent to initiates (and who probably didn’t want to get into the hassle of properly initiating into the religion, as was/is seen with some spiritual workers who did/do prescribe orisha-related things without initiation). Still, it’s possible for people of the same overall culture to appropriate from a subset of that culture when things proper to that subset are not open to others outside it. So, while this isn’t necessarily outright cultural appropriation, it is religious appropriation. And, yes, it is true that Lukumí does grow and evolve and adapt, within particular parameters and following a particular logic, just as any living tradition does—but this just ain’t it, chief. The absolute most that dominoes might be able to indicate along these lines is that something is up with some part of your own private, priestly, or orisha practices and you might want to get that checked out, but that could apply to any sort of spiritual influence around you, not just or simply orisha (and there are many more influences around us than just them at any given moment), nor would it talk at all in the same way with the same authority, legitimacy, and clarity how dilogún or Ifá might actually talk. Dominoes might be able to speak more to (or even for) other spirits you work with, venerate, or worship, especially if they agree to it, but orisha aren’t in that category. This is, in some ways, much like how espiritismo (the Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean forms of Kardecian Spiritism) interplays with Lukumí: orisha do not and cannot talk in a misa espiritual (basically a séance), but non-orisha spirits associated with them (e.g. deceased priests or culture heroes) can touch on orisha-related things just as they could non-orisha-related things. Still, espiritismo does not and cannot stand in for divinatory or oracular message from orisha, even if some of the mechanisms seem similar, because orisha belong to a closed religion in which espiritismo has no part; the same goes for dominoes. To cross that line is to enter into intrusion into a closed, initiation-locked system and to appropriate from it.

Of course, by my own admission, I don’t think the whole history of the practice of orisha-centric domino reading can be reliably known with such a paucity of sources, and I am still young in the religion as a whole, and thus still learning quite a bit! But, from everything I can see, know, hear, and learn? Bringing something like domino fortune-telling that has no legitimate origin in regla into it (or, rather, taking things out of it for use by non-initiates with already-not-regla domino fortune-telling in the role an initiate would be expected to play within regla) is effectively appropriating and misusing the religion and divination system both. Orisha-centric domino reading does not appear to have a longstanding practice despite (a very few) claims of it being “old”, nor does it have a theological backing to support its use with orisha. And to those who say that it does, I reply: show me the odu in which the dominoes are born and that orisha can speak through them as they would the cowries, and show me your lineage of teachers (not books) who teach this method of divination, because if there is such an odu and if you have such a lineage, I’d love to know about it to properly, happily, and quickly correct my views and this post.

Barring a miraculous discovery of some truly-secret low-key divinatory practice that doesn’t properly fit into Lukumí yet validates what Núñez, Cortez, and y Poena write about the topic—and I honestly don’t think such a revelation is ever going to happen—mixing dominoes with orisha is not something I can support, nor is it something any legitimate initiate or non-initiate can really use in orisha-related or domino-related practices because of the gross disservice it does to the religion and the gross misunderstandings it makes to domino fortune-telling. And, honestly, I really hesitated whether to make known these authors and book titles. I only bring up these texts to indicate the sources I’m talking about, but I emphatically and strongly discourage the reader from reading them, both to protect what legitimate information is contained therein from those who are not initiated (and, likewise, to protect the noninitiate from them), and to prevent the various mistakes in these books from spreading further. However, on top of these books already being published, cat yronwode’s Throwing the Bones: How to Foretell the Future with Bones, Shells, and Nuts encourages readers to check out y Poenna’s book, which I think is irresponsible and dangerous out of ignorance, even if meant helpfully, so I may as well be explicit here about these books to offer some sort of correction in the public record. What’s most troubling is that at least two of the above authors, if not all three, have or at least claim initiation into Lukumí, so I’m not sure where their information is really coming from or what lineages they represent. But, based on the knowledge and accounts of my elders whom I trust, I can’t find anything legitimate or historical about this practice within the context of orisha religion.

Domino fortune-telling is something which I gladly accept, study, encourage, and am myself beginning to practice—it’s just that I should (and will) only do so responsibly outside Lukumí, not within it. There has never been too much information behind it, but I’ve been able to develop a really strong and widespread body of information for each of its symbols, which is fantastic to make it a really helpful and usable system of divination, but it’s just not on the same level as legitimate forms of divination of orisha religion. And that’s okay! It doesn’t have to be, since the focus isn’t for communicating with orisha anyway. I think that’s the best way to go about it, both for myself and for others. So, for my readers who are likewise interested in domino fortune-telling: the core stuff is good and useful, just set aside anything that mixes it with orisha. And, for my readers who are interested in orisha religion: don’t pay attention to anyone who says they’ll do an orisha reading for you with anything less than legitimate methods.