The Two Sons of `Iyān: Bird-Based Origins and Other Ideas for Geomancy

In yesterday’s post, we began looking into this funny little thing that the good Dr. Stephen Skinner mentioned in his 1980 book Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy, which was more recently updated and republished in 2011 as Geomancy in Theory & Practice.  When describing the Arabian origins of the art of geomancy, he mentioned a peculiar chant: “Ye two sons of ‘Iyan hasten with the explanation!”  It’s the identity and nature of the entities these were referring to that’ve puzzled me for going on ten years now, and unfortunately, Skinner never cited this statement anywhere.  After doing a bit of Arabic language hacking, we ended up with a proper spelling of the big name here to be `Iyān with the triliteral root `-Y-N (`ayn yā’ nūn), which ties it into the letter `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Arabic script according to the Phoenician order (potential geomancy connection!), and thus to notions of eyes, sight, and vision (possible divination connection!).  We continued to dig a bit further, and we found several sources that talk about what Skinner did in his own books, though with about as much specificity, which wasn’t much.  However, we did begin to make some headway into understanding some of the first swirlings of geomantic practice and how it developed from earlier proto-geomantic practices in Arabaian and related cultures.  Today, we’ll pick up where we left off and keep investigating what `Iyān might refer to.

Though our discussion yesterday focused on the lines produced for geomantic (or proto-geomantic) divination, there were a few other references that we should investigate.  Going back to Lane for a moment, the entry for `Iyān mentions something about arrows.  Let’s bring that up again:

… اِبْنَا عيَانٍ means Two birds, (Ḳ, TA,) from the flight or alighting-places, or cries, &c., of which, the Arabs augur: (TA:) or two lines which are marked upon the ground (Ṣ, Ḳ) by the عَائِف [or augurer], by means of which one augurs, from the flight, &c., of birds; (Ṣ;) or which are made for the purpose of auguring; (TA;) then the augurer says, اِبْنَى عيَانْ اًسْرِعَا البَيَانْ [O two sons of `Iyán, hasten ye the manifestation]: (Ḳ,* TA: [see 1 in art. خط :]) in the copies of the Ḳ, اِبْنَا is here erroneously put for اِبْنَى : or, as some say ابْنَا عِيانٍ means two well-known divining arrows: (TA:) and when it is known that the gaming arrow of him who plays therewith wins, one says جَرىَ اِبْنَا عِيَانٍ [app. meaning The two sons of ‘Iyán have hastened; i.e. the two arrows so termed; as seems to be indicated by a verse cited in the L (in which it is followed by the words بِالشِّواء المُضَهُّبِ with the roast meat not thoroughly cooked), and also by what here follows]: (Ṣ, L, Ḳ, TA:) these [arrows] being called ابْنَا عِيانٍ because by means of them the people [playing at the game called المَيْسِر] see the winning and the food [i.e. the hastily-cooked flesh of the slaughtered camel]. (L, TA.)

Lane says that abnā `Iyān could refer to “two well-known divining arrows”, i.e. belomancy, which was known and practiced throughout Mesopotamia, Arabia, and the Near East dating back to ancient biblical times.  In this style of divination, the arrows used for divination were required to be fletched with feathers, at least for the sake of distinguishing them.  This also brings up the memory of the pre-Islamic god Hubal worshiped by the Quraysh tribe (the tribe of the Prophet Muḥammad himself) in the Ka`bah in Mecca (when it was still a pagan shrine) who performed acts of divination with arrows for his devotees.  However, what little is known of that method of divination was that Hubal used seven arrows, not two as Lane suggests.  Plus, from what I can find (especially from Robert Hoyland’s 2002 work Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam), there were several methods of belomancy:

  1. Using three arrows (one marked for “God commands it” or just as “do it”, one for “God forbids it” or as “don’t do it”, and one that was either left blank or marked as “not clear”), one would put them in a quiver on the back, and one would be randomly drawn.  The one that was drawn indicates the course to take; if the blank one was drawn, it was put back and another arrow was randomly drawn until an answer was obtained, or it was interpreted as “wait”.
  2. Using the same three arrows, they would be fired off, and the one that flew the furthest (or got closest to its target) indicated the answer.
  3. The arrows (perhaps the same three, or different ones?) were tossed or thrown in a certain way, and then interpreted based on the ways or the directions they fell.
  4. The seven arrows of Hubal:
    1. “Blood price”: When several people fought over who should pay blood-price, they drew lots and whoever drew this one would have to pay it.
    2. “Yes” and “No”: When they had a simple binary question, they drew lots until one of these two came up.
    3. “Water”: If someone wanted to dig for water, they cast lots containing this arrow and wherever it came forth they set to work.  (This seems unclear to me; perhaps onto a map, or into a field?)
    4. “Of you”, “Affiliated”, and “Not of You”: Whenever they wanted to circumcise a boy, make a marriage, bury a body, or make some sort of alliance or contract wit, or if someone had doubts about someone’s genealogy, they used these arrows to determine the specific relationship to someone.  “Of you” indicates that they belonged to the same tribe; “affiliated” that they were not of the same tribe but an ally of it; “not of you” that they were unrelated and unaffiliated.

None of this really comports with what we know about geomantic or proto-geomantic practice, whether from the sources Lane quotes or from Skinner’s research, unless we were to focus on the “Yes”/”No” style of Hubal-directed belomancy (which, well, it is a binary answer at least, which can be seen to tie into geomancy or proto-geomantic divination).  Plus, connections to Hubal and his divination cult seem to be a stretch; after all, Islam came about in Arabia around in the first half of the 600s ce, by which point the cult center of Hubal was effectively destroyed with the harrowing of the Ka`bah.  Even if we admit the likely possibility that there were proto-geomantic practices in Arabia at the time of the Prophet Muḥammad (and who’s to say that the earliest geomantic diviners didn’t use arrows to mark sand instead of using a simple staff?), an argument could be made that we’re looking at the wrong place for such a connection to geomancy.

Perhaps, instead, we should be looking towards the pre-Islamic gods of the sands of the Sahara rather than towards pre-Islamic gods of the Arabian peninsula.  After all, `Iyān doesn’t really seem to appear in the names of Arabian pagan religion, but it might in a Saharan one, perhaps even one with Egyptian, Canaanite, Hellenic, or Roman origins.  This is getting into some really weird and extraordinarily vague and far territory, though, and we don’t have a strong enough reason to get deep into any of it; there’s far too much variability if we widen our scope to all those other cultures, and it could well be a wild goose chase.

If not that, though, it could also be the result of the name of a spirit who wasn’t a god that was propitiated and propagated for calling upon in divination, much as how the Lemegeton duke Bune is now goetically synonymous with wealth magic, and whose name either happened to be close enough to `Iyān to be interpreted as such.  This is one possibility that my colleague and resident North African and Mediterranean traditions expert Arlechina Verdigris suggested, perhaps even a reuse of the name “John” as heard by Arabic ears (think how “John” is spoken by modern Spanish speakers, almost like “yohn” or “zhohn”), but in this context, that explanation seems a to stretch a bit too far, as “John” is usually rendered as يَـحـيٰى  Yaḥyā (especially by Arabic-speaking Muslims) or as يُوحَنَّا  Yūḥanna (especially by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians), neither of which share much in common with the name `Iyān,  Plus, the name “John” as pronounced as such by English speakers would have been introduced only far too recently compared to the sources we’re looking at from before, considering the old origins of the chant in question.  That `Iyān could be the name of a spirit (jinn? ancestor?) or a pre-Islamic or otherwise pagan god from the Sahara or from Arabia is a possibility, but considering the variability of such names and spirits, and how so many spirit names are isolated to maybe a handful of magicians at most, I don’t know how likely this idea might be; my hunch is that it’s not, but at any rate, it’s not something that’s within my power to research, given my dearth of Arabic knowledge and Arabic materials to consult.

Okay, this line of questioning doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere without further resources that may or may not be available, so let’s backtrack a bit.  There’s one more thing we’ve yet to discuss when it comes to `Iyān and its two sons, and that’s the topic of birds.  According to Lane’s entry on `Iyān, the “two sons” ابْنَا عِيانٍ (abnā `Iyān) refers first to the practice of augury, and specifically the interpretation of omens that result from hearing or watching birds.  Lane goes on to say that the phrase “two sons of `Iyān” refers to the “two lines which are marked upon the ground by the augurer, by means of which one augurs, from the flight, &c., of birds”.  Consider what that actually means here, especially in the light of Lane’s entry for khaṭṭ: the abnā `Iyān, the “two lines or marks” that were made when engaging in geomantic or proto-geomantic divination, were produced by the tracks of birds, specifically “two birds…from the flight/alighting-places/cries of which the Arabs augur”.  That would explain why birds are mentioned alongside geomancy; rather than using augury or ornithomancy (divination by birds) generally, such as in ways that would focus on what the birds were or how they fly or in what direction, these proto-geomancers would focus instead on how birds land upon and walk across the sand.  In this way, proto-geomancers would inspect the tracks left by birds on the ground and tally them up two-by-two until one or two footprints, or sets of tracks, were left.

If that’s what’s really being suggested or reported by Lane here, then that could mean that the practice of making marks in the sand with a staff or wand would be a way to produce such omens on demand for augury-on-the-fly, no birds required.  And when you look at such tracks left in sand…

…it’s actually pretty believable as an origin for the original geomantic method of making figures.  And, tracing the development a bit further: from inspecting the marks left behind from birds, we began to make our own to inspect anytime we wanted; from tallying up two lines of marks, we went to four, and from four to sixteen; by clustering them together, we got the Mothers; by transposing them, we got the Daughters; by adding them together and using the same basic tallying technique, we got the rest of the figures of the chart.  With a bit of mathematical finagling, we can ensure that the Judge is always an even number, which, as we discussed in the previous post, would be significant to ensure a fair judgment to be produced, even if not strictly favorable for the querent and query.  (Image below from Dawat-e-Rohaniat.)

We may well be looking at the ultimate historical origin of geomancy here: a human-innovated practice of replicating bird tracks on sand and using fundamentally Arabian ornithomantic methods to interpret them.  If that’s the case, then geomancy, ultimately, is from birds.  Birds, little divine messengers from the skies coming down to Earth, instructing us in their language, then flying back off returning to Heaven once we don’t need to directly rely on them anymore.  It’s like we can hear echoes of this in the story of how the archangel Gabriel taught the art of geomancy to the prophets, the founders of geomancy—Adam, Daniel, Hermēs Trismegistus, or Enoch, according to the different historiolas we find in geomantic texts.

Birds.

Huh.

As intoxicating as it is to think that I figured out what the ultimate origin of geomancy might be, I have to admit that this is all really interpretive and hypothetical.  There’s not a lot going on here besides chaining some circumstantial evidence, unclear etymologies and definitions, and a good amount of interpretation on my part.  No matter how likely it might be that geomancy was derived from inspecting the tracks of birds on sand (which I think is pretty likely given all the above), we shouldn’t consider it verified fact.  Unfortunately, geomancy is sufficiently old and the evidence sufficiently sparse that the origins may well be lost in the sands of time, so to speak, and while the evidence is pointing towards an Arabian origin instead of a Saharan one, there’s still nothing here that conclusively shows its actual geographic origins in either Arabia or the Sahara; still, though I’ve favored the Saharan origin up until now, I’m starting to be more inclined towards the Arabian origin.  Even so, even if we want to accept this ornithomantic Arabian origin for geomancy, there’s a little more for us to consider to get a deeper insight into what could be going on here, so let’s continue.

What we’re missing now is a more solid connection between `Iyān and birds.  Taking specific birds a little bit further into consideration, I came across this massive list of Arabic names for birds, and I found the name العين al`ayn (I think?) which appears to share the same root as `Iyān, and which refers to Oriolus oriolus, the Eurasian golden oriole.  Lane does in fact discuss it in a related entry to our main topic on page 2269: “a certain bird yellow in the belly, [dingy, dark, ash-color, or dust-color] on the back, of the size of a [species of turtle-dove]”.  The golden oriole largely fits the bill for this.  There’s also the fact that it forms pair-bonds that last between breeding seasons, which would be a symbol of life and creativity, and would tie into the notion of even numbers being positive and odd numbers (a single, lone bird without a mate, or whose mate was lost) being negative.  So if we were looking for a…I guess, a patron/tutelary animal for geomancy, then based on all the above, this would be it:

Perhaps above any other kind of bird, it’d be the golden oriole that would be best-suited for making tracks in the sand for divination, and the lines of its tracks it left behind would be its “sons”.  In watching such a bird to cross tracks, we’d urge it to hurry up to make a sufficient number for our proto-geomancer to interpret it: “ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten with the explanation”.

The only problem with assigning the golden oriole to be an entity marked by `Iyān is that this bird isn’t really common to Arabic-speaking areas; its distribution is largely across almost all of continental Europe south of Scandinavia in the winter, and across central and southern Africa from Cameroon and points south in the summer.  As pretty of a bird and as appropriate though it might be based on the description in Lane,  I’m not wholly pinning this as being what `Iyān is referring to.  However, birds know no borders, and it’s also pretty true that they’d certainly have to pass through the Arabian peninsula and northern Africa during their migrations, and it does have its non-migratory homes in some Arabic-speaking areas that are just on the edge of the expected range of locations for the origin of geomancy, from the northwest edges of the Maghreb in the west to Mesopotamia in the east.  It’s nothing I’ll wage a bet on, but it’s certainly not nothing.

Regardless of whether the golden oriole is specifically tied to `Iyān, there’s definitely some connection between birds and either `Iyān specifically or divination generally.  I mean, that there should be one wouldn’t be terribly surprising, since the word for bird is طير ṭayur, and the classical term for augury or orthithomancy is تطير taṭayyir, which was extended to divination in general, just as we might use “augury” in a wide sense to refer to all divination.  Both of these words come from the same root of Ṭ-Y-R, referring to flying or taking off.  This recalls the notion of divining arrows from above being set loose to fly; as noted, they were required to be fletched with feathers, giving them a bird-like connection and, thus, giving them a distant or alluded-to tie-in to augury by birds.  And, further, fletching would also be needed to make them “fly”, which would tie them symbolically into the Ṭ-Y-R root.  Plus, as noted above, who’s to say that they wouldn’t use fletched arrows instead of a simple staff to make marks in the sand?  Divining arrows are divining arrows, no matter how you use them, after all, and it would give these proto-geomancers a stronger connection to deeper cultural practices of divination.  Perhaps we modern geomancers might consider using fletched arrows for marking sand, if we wanted to use wands at all for ritual divination!

While mulling this over, the wonderful Nick Farrell dug up an interesting article for me, “Some Beliefs and Usages among the Pre-Islamic Arabs, with Notes on their Polytheism, Judaism, Christianity, and the Mythic Period of their History” by Edward Rehatsek (The Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, volume XII, 1876, pp. 163-212).  This article mentions the same thing we’ve seen before in Skinner, Lane, and Abu Dāwūd, but Rehatsek specifically considers it alongside and mixed in with ornithomantic omens.  Consider specifically pp.172ff, emphasis mine:

Many things were believed to be unpropitious by the Arabs, whilst certain birds were also considered to portend evil, and others good.  When an Arab augur, who was called Zâjar (literally meaning ‘a driver away’, because by doing so the direction of the flight of a bird, from which nearly everything appears to depend, is ascertained), began his soothsaying operation, he drew two lines called eyes, as if he could by means of them observe anything he liked; and when he had through these perceived something unpleasant he used to say, “The sons of vision have manifested the explanation.”*  It is natural that birds which were known to settle on the backs of wounded camels and to hurt them should have been considered unlucky; such were the crow, and a kind of woodpecker, but the former was also considered so for another reason—namely, because it implied separation.  When a tribe strikes its tents and departs to new pastures, the crows alight on the spot of the abandoned encampment in search of food, and there is nothing passing in front, or crossing over from the right side to the left, and no beast with a broken horn or any other object more unlucky than a crow, but the omen was increased when it happened to sit on a Bán tree and pulled out its own feathers.  As the Bán tree also implies separation, the omen is taken from this signification, and applicable not only when a crow, but also when a dove, a bird of good luck, is perched on it; but poets like plays on words, and hence the lapwing, whose name is Hudhud, also indicates the direction Huda; whilst the eagle called U’káb, being nearly homophonous with U’kb, “the end”, and the dove Ḥamám with Humma, “it was decreed”, are on these accounts respectively considered to put an end to separation, and to imply that the meeting of friends is decreed.

* Arab. Prov. [Arabum Proverbia] tome i., p. 695, ابنا عيان اظهر البيان In the beginning of the operation they were also in the habit of addressing an invocation to these two lines, or eyes:— ابنا عيان اظهرا البيان “O sons of vision, manifest the explanation?”

We’re starting to tap into some of the symbolism behind even and odd here, and we can see that we were on the right track from before, but this time it’s made a bit more explicit; we might have considered that, perhaps, birds seen in pairs was considered a good omen in general, while a lone bird was considered bad, and that could still be the case especially for birds like the golden oriole that forms long-term pair-bonds, but now we’re tapping into deeper cultural lore about separation and number.  When the result of divination is even, then things are in pairs, considered fortunate because it suggests coming together or staying together (remember that the origin of the Arabic word for “even” ultimately comes from Greek for “yoked together”, as in marriage); when the result is odd, then it implies separation and being left alone (literally “wholly one”).  For a migratory, nomadic people living in a harsh environment, survival often depended on your tribe and not being left alone or being cast out, for which separation could truly mean an ill fate up to and including death by dehydration, starving, heat, or exposure; the same would go for humans from their tribes as it would for animals from their herds.  To consider it another way, if the marks being made in the sand are “eyes”, then in order to see clearly, we need to have two of them, since eyes naturally come in pairs (at least for us humans and many other animals).  If we end up with an odd number, then we’ve lost an eye, and cannot see clearly.

Up until this point, we’ve been largely been assuming `Iyān as the name for a distinct entity and the “two sons of `Iyān” to be lesser entities under it or the productions made by the entity, as if we’re supplicating spirits or asking for aid from them.  However, there’s the distinct and possibly likely chance that we’re on the wrong track entirely.  Given that “poets like plays on words”, Iyān (which Rehatsek translates as “vision” though “inspection” is a better term, but cf. the Greek suffix -manteia to mean both) isn’t really an entity at all, but just a poetic turn of phrase, a personification of the concept of divinatory investigation rather than a deification of it (which might be just a little too animist/polytheistic for observant Muslims).  Thus, rather than thinking of the “sons of `Iyān” to represent entities under a bigger entity like how the phrase “sons of God” refers to angels under the Divine, it might be better to think of “sons of `Iyān” to represent the extensions or productions of divinatory “eyes” through a process of divination so as to perform an “inspection” or investigation of a matter.  This would be like another Arabic turn of phrase seen in poetry, the “two sons of time” relating to the day and night, and how the “daughters of time” could represent the vicissitudes or afflictions that time imposes on us.  So, saying “sons of `Iyān” is basically saying “results of the inspection”, i.e. the outcome of the divination, which we would realistically want to hasten so as to get a proper answer.  In the context in which Skinner et alia are describing this chant used by an assistant towards the diviner, it could be a way to spur the diviner on into a sense of frenzy and frenetic urgency, helping them lose themselves in the striking of the earth to produce a truly divine result, which would afterwards then be tallied up, reduced down, and accounted for.

Yet…well, I want there to be some sort of spiritual entity behind `Iyān and their two sons.  It’s kinda one of the things I was hoping to find, but what evidence that I can find doesn’t really support that premise.  Is the possibility ruled out?  No, and far from it!  As mentioned above, there is a possibility (though a faint one, as I’d reckon it) that `Iyān may be a holdover deity from some pre-Islamic, tribal, or pagan religion or some other jinn, angel, or other spiritual entity, but opening up that research…well, my gut feeling is that there’s probably not a lot to find along those lines, especially considering the scope of that sort of research.  But, at any rate, there’s not enough evidence to support the idea that the chant “Ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten with the explanation” is an invocation of a spirit, but more of a metaphorical exhortation to the diviner.  If `Iyān is considered to be an entity at all, it’d likely fall in the same category as all the minor divinities in Greek religion, divinized concepts of things like health or fruit-bearing trees or the like that might have stories told about them but never actually received cult, worship, or ritual.  That seems to be the most likely result to me, as much as I find it a disappointment.  But, hey, we’ve learned quite a bit along the way all the same, and that’s still a great result for all of us!

…well.  I think we’re at the end of this discussion and line of research, honestly.  To summarize this little garden-path effort of mine:

  • Stephen Skinner, in his 1980 work Terrestrial Astrology, mentioned in passing a practice of some of the earliest geomancers (or proto-geomancers) where they would use the chant “O two sons of ‘Iyan, hasten with the explanation!”, though this comment was not backed up with a source or reference, and left me befuddled for ten years until recently.
  • By looking at rules of Arabic word derivation, we were able to deduce the proper spelling of this word, `Iyān, and link it to the letter `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician script and all scripts that derived from it, including the Arabic script.  This word has the root `-Y-N which links it to notions of the eye, sight, and vision, and thus has connotations of divination, along with a numerological link to the 16 figures of geomancy and any 4×4 combination of the elements.  That the numerological value of `ayn is 70, and that its reduction from 16 → 1 + 6 = 7 is also a nice bonus, tying it to seven planets and all other things with the number seven.
  • `Iyān, as a word, means “inspection”, “a witnessing of events”, “a coming into sight/light”.  This word is a verbal noun of the verb ʿāyana, meaning “to inspect” or “to witness”, but also more broadly as “to investigate” or “to behold”.
  • While investigating the word `Iyān, we were able to find a text that discusses what Skinner did with a bit more depth, as well as comparing it to other sources that describe the same fundamental practice which is likely proto-geomantic rather than geomantic as we’d recognize it.
  • This proto-geomantic practice, with origins that are attested to be either pre-Islamic or early-Islamic, involves making two lines of marks in the sand, then reducing them two-by-two until either one or two points are left.  If two points, an even number, the result is considered favorable and good; if one point, an odd number, the result is considered unlucky and bad.
  • The word `Iyān is commonly mentioned in other texts as relating not to geomancy or proto-geomancy, or at least not just those things, but to augury and ornithomancy as well.  In addition to Arabian augurs interpreting the position, direction, motion, types, and actions of birds, they would also observe the tracks they produced on the sandy ground as meaningful for omens.
  • It was from using the tracks left behind by birds and counting them for an even or odd number of marks that likely formed the ultimate origin for the (proto-)geomantic practice of making marks in the sand to produce the same.
  • The (proto-)geomancers would make marks in the sand while in a frenzy or other kind of trance state so as to obtain the same divinatory virtue through their manmade marks as might be given more purely from the cosmos through the tracks of birds.
  • The (proto-)geomancers would consider the “two sons” to be the two lines of marks they made as “eyes” (`uyūn)  that “witnessed” (yu`āyinūna) the events, circumstances, and actors involved in the query put to divination, and the whole matter would be considered an investigatory “inspection” of the matter (`iyān).
  • Even numbers, by virtue of coming in or being arranged as pairs, culturally connoted being together or holding fast, a sign of good fortune, livability, viability, survivability, meeting, and support, and thus were seen as fortunate, positive, or affirmative answers in proto-geomantic divination.  Conversely, odd numbers, by virtue of standing alone, connoted loss, exile, abandonment, absconding, maiming, and other notions of separation, which ere considered to be unfavorable, negative, or denying answers.
  • Given the symbolism behind even and odd in Arabian (nomadic) culture, later geomantic practices may have innovated a specific use of not just bundling lines into figures, but processing the resulting figures in a certain way as to always end up with an even figure in the end (the Judge) so as to ensure that the total reading may be good in some light, even if not favorable, so as to ensure a fair and valid judgment.
  • `Iyān is likely not being referred to in the chant as a spiritual entity unto itself, but in a personified way as a figure of speech, commanding “the two sons of `Iyān” to be speedy in giving an answer, said to encourage the diviner to engage in the process of frenetic/ecstatic/trance-based divination speedily without delay or delaying.
  • There is a potential connection between (proto)-geomantic divination as `Iyān and the Eurasian golden oriole (al`ayn) based on their shared word roots, as well as the role birds played in providing the initial marks for this divination to be performed with, which could provide a preferred bird by which one can perform land-based proto-geomantic augury, or which provides a kind of tutelary animal for the practice, especially through the use of its feathers, which may be used and appended to the end of a divining staff/stick to form “arrows”, tying it into an older practice of Arabian and Mesopotamian belomancy.  The “arrows”, then, would take the role of the “two sons of `Iyān”, though this might be a reuse or repurposing of the chant for a more general divinatory purpose rather than one relegated to (proto-)geomancy.
  • There is a small possibility that `Iyān may well be the name of a pagan god or another spirit of divination and that the “two sons of `Iyān” are its facilitators or emissaries that bear out the message of divination from `Iyān, but this is more likely a misreading the chant from a animist or polytheist perspective that wasn’t historically used.

This post turned out a fair bit longer (almost four times the average length!) than I expected, so much so that I had to break it up into two already-long posts, so if you managed to get this far, then I thank you for sticking with me.  Honestly, though this little bit of research didn’t end up where I wanted it to (I was kinda hoping for an old, extant, and commonly-cited spirit to appeal to for divination within a geomantic milieu), I’m honestly glad because I’ve been able to piece together plenty of information that actually clarifies an academic problem I’ve been on-and-off dealing with for ten years.  Even if there’s no historical “who” behind `Iyān and their two sons, at least we now know the “what”, and that’s still immensely important and advances the state of geomantic research, at least a tiny bit.  And, hey, we’ve left the door open for further opportunities and exploration, both academic and spiritual, too:

  • If all that was desired was an odd or even result from marking tracks off two-by-two, then why were two sets of tracks inspected at a time instead of just one?  Two sets of tracks would get you two results; does this have a connection with geomantic dice that split up a single figure of four rows into two sub-figures of two rows?
  • Are there any specific birds besides the Eurasian golden oriole that might be especially important in making tracks on the sand which were used for (proto-)geomantic divination?
  • Does the Eurasian golden oriole play a role in any of the spiritualities, superstitions, or symbolisms of Near Eastern, Middle Eastern, or African traditions that we might ply for more information?
  • What New World birds might take the same ecological or spiritual role as the Eurasian golden oriole?
  • How, exactly, were just two lines of marks read by birds, or where did the custom come from of making/marking two lines instead of just one?
  • Are there any other animals that we might associate with geomancy through the name `Iyān or the root `-Y-N, whether birds or otherwise?
  • What other geomantic mysteries might be hidden within `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician script which has a root numerological value of 7 (either through reduction from its normal value of 70 or by reducing its ordinal number 16 into 1 + 6 = 7)?  We noted an alphabetical connection with a handful of divine epithets of Allāh, including the famous one Al-`Alīm (“The All-Knowing One”), but what other roots that start with `Ayn might be significant, if any?
  • Unlikely though it is,`Iyān could still be the name of a spirit or non-/pre-Arabian deity.  If so, where does this entity come from, from what culture, what tribe, what area, and what would a more native interpretation of the name be?  What does this entity do, and who are its two sons?
  • Just because there hasn’t been a specific spirit-based use for the original chant “O ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten ye with the explanation!” doesn’t mean that there can’t be one ever.

Once more, my thanks to Dr. Amina Inloes, Nick Farrell, and Arlechina Verdigris for helping me with organizing my thoughts, refining my ideas, providing me with useful materials, and in general being wonderful people in my life.  May God and the gods bless you all.

The Two Sons of `Iyān: Obscure Chants and Proto-Geomantic Divination

The Two Sons of `Iyān: Obscure Chants and Proto-Geomantic Divination

When it comes to the geomantic scholars of the Western world, there’s few who can touch the research of Dr. Stephen Skinner.  Internationally acclaimed for his work and practice involving feng shui as well as his doctorate-level research and publications on various grimoires and magical texts from the west, he’s also an expert in the practice and history of geomancy.  I first encountered him back in college, probably around 2008 or 2009, through his older, now out-of-print book Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy, which has more recently been updated and published under the title Geomancy in Theory & Practice (and, more importantly, with a title that Skinner doesn’t hate, as Terrestrial Astrology was a title he regretted but which his editor insisted on).  This is a simply wonderful text that, although I consider it to be a bit light on the actual practice of geomancy, its true value shines in delving into the evidence, history, lineage, and contextual development of geomancy as a divinatory art in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe from its beginnings around a thousand years ago until today.  (There’s also his older work, The Oracle of Geomancy: Techniques of Earth Divination, which is also long out-of-print and…well, I wasn’t particularly enthused by it, but it’s a solid work of geomancy for its time before other research and experimentation was being done.)

In Terrestrial Astrology as well as Geomancy in Theory & Practice, Skinner opens up the book after the introduction by talking about geomancy and its Arabic origins as `ilm ar-raml, “the science of the sand”, also called khaṭṭ ar-raml, “marking the sand” After clarifying some of the language about it, he describes some of the basic processes used early on in the very nascent stages of geomancy:

For the purpose of divining by khatt al-raml, the diviner, accompanied by an assistant or acolyte, drew with the utmost haste a quantity of lines or ripples in the sand, allowing himself to be carried away, so that he did not know how many lines he had drawn.  Then he slowly wiped out groups of two ripples at a time, whilst his assistant often recited an incantation in Arabic, such as the words: “Ye two sons of ‘Iyan hasten with the explanation!”

The marks they made were joined by other marks (khutut) in order to complete a figure (shakl).  When these figures became stylized, a board was used, which was covered with sand or even flour, and the finger was drawn over it at random; the shapes formed in this way were then examined.  If in the end two lines were left (i.e, there was an even number of lines drawn) then this foretold success.  If however only one line remained (an odd number of lines drawn) then disappointment was certain. Here can be seen the germ of the later and more complex practice, where each line is reduced to odd (only one left) or even (two remaining). In this, the simple form of khatt al-raml, only one set of marks were made, leading straight to a lucky/unlucky prediction.

It’s that reference to “Ye two sons of ‘Iyan” that’s always mystified me.  I could never figure out what or who “‘Iyan” is or was, much less their “two sons”, and Skinner says no more about it in his works, nor is any reference provided for this statement.  Worse, when I emailed the good doctor, he unfortunately said that it’s been so long since this was written (Terrestrial Astrology was published almost 40 years ago!) that he was unable to recall where it might have come from.  Such mysterious figures, perhaps mythological, maybe angelic or even demonic, hailed in a diviner’s chant to induce a trance or stronger, more truthful connection to the art in order to obtain knowledge?  This struck me as being something that should be investigated, but unfortunately, Skinner’s text, identical in both Terrestrial Astrology as well as Geomancy in Theory & Practice, is the only reference to ‘Iyan or their two sons I’ve ever found.  It could be that this was entirely a highly localized or individual practice that Skinner was reporting on, or an extremely esoteric one that was limited and bound up in particular occult practices.

Lately, I’ve been taking another look at this, and I’ve been doing some thinking about it.  What follows is basically extrapolating from very scant knowledge and information here, coupled with a bare-bones knowledge of Arabic grammar and word derivational systems, but I suppose, if we take a look at the name ‘Iyan a bit closer, we might be able to get something.  What follows could well be a wild goose chase which might put me on par with Athanasius Kircher’s attempt to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs (surprise, it didn’t go well).  But, well, what might we find if we look?  Let’s see where we end up.

First, it’s important to note that when Skinner brings up Arabic words or glosses, he’s not always faithful in his transliteration from Arabic to Roman script.  Although the tables at the end of the book have the names of the figures in Arabic written in both Arabic script and in good transliteration, and a number of Arabic names in the endnotes are transliterated with diacritics for long vowels and the like, it’s in the text itself that long vowels aren’t indicated, there’s no standardization of how ‘alif and `ayn are transliterated, and other such problems that make it hard to understand what the original Arabic might have been based on the names given to us.  So, with ‘Iyan, we have several problems:

  • Is the mark before the I supposed to represent an ‘alif or an `ayn?
  • Which vowels are long or short?

It’s impossible to tell what these might be since we have no other information, and I’m no expert in Arabic.  But…well, consider that names typically have meaning of some sort, and the way Arabic works—and Semitic languages generally—is on a delightfully productive system of what’s called “roots” and “patterns”.  There’s this notion of a consonantal root in Semitic languages, usually of three letters but sometimes two and sometimes four, and the root has a general concept associated with it, much like the semantic radical of a Chinese character.  By filling in the consonantal root with particular vowels and appending prefixes, suffixes, and other infixes, a variety of words that give variations on the underlying can be obtained from a single root.  Consider the triliteral (three letter) consonantal root K-T-B, which refers to writing generally:

  • kitab (book)
  • kutub (books)
  • kataba (he wrote)
  • katabat (she wrote)
  • katabtu (I wrote)
  • kutiba (it [m] was written)
  • yaktubna (they [f] write)
  • yatakātabūn (they write to each other)
  • kātib (writer [m])
  • kuttāb (writers)
  • katabat (clerks)
  • maktab (office)
  • makātib (offices)
  • maktabat (library)
  • istaktaba (to cause someone to write something)

The number of derivations goes on and on.  Note how all the words in that list share the root K-T-B, sometimes with one of the consonants doubled (as in kuttāb), sometimes with extra consonants added (as in maktabat).  All these words have something semantically related to the act of writing or something written, which is grounded in the K-T-B root.  Likewise, not just nouns or verbs or adjectives can be derived from roots, but names can, as well.  Consider that the name Muḥammad is derived from the root Ḥ-M-D, generally relating to notions of “praise” or “thanks”; thus, Muḥammad literally means “praiseworthy”, and is related to the commonly-heard phrase “Alḥamdulillāh”, meaning “praise be to God” or “thank God”; this phrase is referred to as ḥamdala, and the recitation of it (like one might for reciting the prayer bead devotion Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah) is taḥmīd.  Again, same triliteral root, but endless words that can be derived from it, all tying to the same thing.

So…what if we were to interpret ‘Iyan as a word that was derived from a consonantal root?  Given how short it is, it’s not like we have a lot of options to choose from.  If we take out the two vowels, I and A, we end up with three consonants, with the first one being unclear between two choices:

  • ‘-Y-N (‘alif  yā’ nūn)
  • `-Y-N (`ayn yā’ nūn)

As it turns out, the first option (starting with ‘alif) isn’t attested as a triliteral root in Arabic, nor in any Semitic language, but the second one (starting with `ayn) is in every one of them. `-Y-N is a root used in Ugaritic, Arabic, Hebrew, Akkadian, Amharic, Syriac, and Aramaic, and is most notable for being the letter `Ayn or `Ayin itself in all the writing systems that derive from the original Phoenician script, and thus is also the origin of the Roman letter O and Greek omikron.  Originally, the Phoenician letter `ayn had the form of a simple circle, much as the Roman letter O is, though its form shifted in the various Semitic languages that used it.  The shape of the letter, and the name and meaning of the letter itself, connote an eye, which ultimately derives from the Egyptian hieroglyph 𓁹 (Gardiner D4), perhaps most famously used for the spelling of the god Osiris.  You can see the evolution of the letter below from its Egyptian origin to its Phoenician (also Greek and Latin) form, its traditional Square Hebrew form, and in its Arabic forms (with all its position variants shown below, with position variant images taken from Arabic Reading Course).

I also note that `ayn is the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac scripts, as well as the sixteenth letter of the traditional Arabic (abjadi) order.  Which…come on, now.  Of all possible letters that we’d end up with, we’d end up with the sixteenth one?  Sixteen, the number of geomantic figures? And on top of that, it also has the numerical value of 70, and if we were to reduce 16, then we get 16 → 1 + 6 = 7.  Which ties it into all the other mysteries of the number seven: seven planets, seven angels, and so forth.  I think we may well be onto something with our idea that this mysterious name could be a derivation from something else.

And, because I was curious, I wanted to look at which of the 99 traditional names of Allāh (really, more like epithets or attributes) in the Islamic tradition, began with the Arabic letter `Ayn.  There are six such names:

  1. Al-`Azīz (الْعَزِيزُ), “The Mighty”
  2. Al-`Alīm (اَلْعَلِيْمُ), “The All-Knowing”
  3. Al-`Adl (الْعَدْلُ), “The Just”
  4. Al-`Aẓīm (الْعَظِيمُ), “The Magnificent”
  5. Al-`Alīy (الْعَلِيُّ), “The Sublime”
  6. Al-`Afūw (العَفُوُّ), “The Pardoner”

It’s name #2, Al-`Alīm, that’s important for us as geomancers.  Along with Al-Khabīr (ٱلْخَبِيرُ), “the All-Aware”, Al-`Alīm is one of the most common names of Allāh used in Arabic geomancy when making invocations and prayers to God for the sake of divination.  It comes from the root `-L-M, which refers to knowing, teaching, and learning; note that the Arabic term for geomancy, `ilm ar-raml, begins with a word from this same root meaning “science”.  This specific name of Allāh encompasses such meanings as the Knower, the All-Knowing, the All-Knowledgable, the Omniscient, and the Possessor of Knowing Everything about Everything.  Fittingly enough, I recently spotted over on Chris Warnock’s Renaissance Astrology website a new Arabic-style Jupiter talisman specifically for the name Al-`Alīm, where he gives this description of the power of the name from the 13th century grimoire Shams al-Ma’arif (and note how it talks about knowing things that are unseen and seen, tying back into the eye and seeing imagery of the `-Y-N root):

Whoever undertakes the dhikr of this Name of sublime essence, Allāh (exalted be He) brings him to knowledge of the subtlest aspects of the sciences and their most hidden secrets. To the one who engraves it…when Mercury is highly dignified, Allāh makes him express himself with wisdom and teaches him the sapiential subtleties of mystical knowledge…when Jupiter is highly dignified, obtains an understanding of what the mystic sciences contain. … His control in the universe is strengthened and Allāh (exalted be He), frees him from all misfortunes and avoids everything that displeases him. And whoever uses his dhikr, learns what he did not know and wisdom becomes manifest in his words.

The Name has the number 150, and adding its divisors totals 222, and this number alludes to His Name Mālik al-Mulk “Lord of Sovereignty”. Hence, the wise are the kings in reality, indeed, they are the lords of the sovereignty of kings. And this is the number that makes manifest the secret of the letter yā’ in the three orders, since it is a bond, it is a coercive word and it entails a formal representation and an approach, while none of these three degrees takes place without Knowledge, which is only attributable to Him, meditate on that.

And since the manifestation of Science belongs to the sanctified spirits, the spirit of the angel Gabriel is destined to instruct the prophets, being one of the noblest our prophet Muḥammad (Allāh bless and save him) who was inspired by humility, for Allāh said: “He has taught an angel of great power and strength, since he appeared in his true form” (Qur’ān 56:5-6).

And since the holy spirit that corresponded to Jesus (peace be upon him) was a vestige of the revealing breath of Gabriel to Adam, for Jesus was the wisest of the prophets to know the details of the sciences and the subtleties of Wisdom. And among the noblest of his knowledge was the science of the letters, and hence its name comes to him, because in it resides his divine gift by indicating by the letter `ayn, science, by the letter yā’, the grace of the descended revelation, by the letter sín, the points of union of what is divided and by the letter alif, absolute knowledge. And the name Jesus has the number 141, which is precisely the value of the name `ālim (scholar), but since He has knowledge of the hidden things, and that is `alīm then his name is written with the letter yā’ and thus its number equals 150, which is the value of `alīm. Meditate on that, for Allāh speaks the Truth and He leads the way.

The names of the letters of His Name `Alīm add up to 302, alluding to His Name Basīr “the Seer”. And since science (`ilm) is an inherent sign of the external appearance of the object of knowledge, and that the acquisition of a concept involves the totality of its visible aspect, that is, it is the acquisition of the external image of the object in the mind, the meaning of `Alīm as the Knower of All is necessarily the one before whom the essence of each thing manifests itself in the totality its hidden essence as well as its external form. That is one of the secrets of `Alīm for intensification is not possible through the letter wāw, due to its importance and its height that reaches the end of the limits and reaches the totality of existence. So intensification is possible by one of these two options: either with the reduplication of a consonant, as in saying `allām, which refers to the one who has acquired a large amount of knowledge or with the letter yā’ which refers to the revelation of the most subtle details of a notion and the perception of its hidden aspects. For this reason only Al-`Alīm knows the details of a concept in the same way that He knows its most general aspects, and knows its hidden aspects in the same way that its aspects are visible.  That is why Allāh said (exalted be He) “above all, possessor of science there is a knower” (Qur’ān 12:76), so the possessor of science ū-l-‘ilm is the one who knows the general aspects of things and the knower `alīm is the one who knows its particular aspects. The possessor of science is the one who knows the external aspects of things and the knower is the one who knows their internal aspects; the possessor of science is the one who knows the evident aspects of things and the knower is the one who also knows their hidden aspects. The meaning of this yā’ has been indecipherable for many sensible people, because the most unknown of His Science are the most particular aspects, and this is evident in His words, “over every possessor of knowledge is one more knowledgeable”  (Qur’ān 12:76).

And you should know that the superiority of some of the wise over others is not the result of acquiring a greater amount of knowledge, since if so, He would have said “above all possessing knowledge there is a wise man (‘allām) who knows more.” Rather it has to do with the acquisition of the particular notions of the intelligibles and the hidden parts of their secrets. Now, the multitude of knowledge together with the detailed inner knowledge results in sapiential superiority, but without this last type of knowledge superiority does not take place. This is the meaning from the words of Allāh when he said to His prophet Moses (peace be upon him): “We have a servant at the intersection of two great rivers, whom they call Khiḍr , who is wiser than you.” Khiḍr was not wiser than Moses because he had more knowledge as Allāh said about Moses “And we wrote for him in the Tables an exhortation for everything and an explanation for everything” (Qur’ān 7:145), so the greater wisdom of Khiḍr refers to his understanding the hidden aspects of things in the same way that he knew their visible aspects. This is why his place was at the point of confluence of two great rivers, which were the river of the apparent and the river of the unapparent, so Moses knew that Khiḍr was in possession of a gnosis that he did not have.

You who study these words, focus your effort on expanding your knowledge 3, for this is what Allāh (praised and exalted be He), ordered His prophet to ask with His saying: “my Lord, increase me in knowledge” (Qur’ān 20:114). Meditate on these spiritual words and dispose of these divine subtleties, of these gifts of faith and of these sources of light, for you will find immense happiness in those knowledge that contains the allusions, and Allāh is the wisest!

Anyway, back to the main topic at hand.  So we have this root, `-Y-N, the meaning of which is semantically related to eyes and sight (and also, apparently, springs and flowing, perhaps with an origin of a notion of crying?), which is well-attested in the Qur’ān, and could well be a derivation from the same root as the sixteenth letter of the script, and which can be given some strong connections to knowing things generally if we also consider the root `-L-M and its connections to science and God.  This is a bit too strong to be mere coincidence to me, so let’s run with it some more.  This means that we can go with the `ayn instead of ‘alif, yielding us `Iyan and not ‘Iyan.  Good!  But, now, what about the vowels themselves?  With these two vowels, we can end up with both short, one short and the other long, or both long:

  • `Iyan
  • `Īyan
  • `Iyān
  • `Īyān

However, we know from rules of Arabic that any “i” sound followed by yā’ is almost always going to be inherently long, so we could write this name as either `Iyan (with or without a long A) or as `Īan (again with or without a long A).  So we can ignore the long I choices above, which whittles it down further, down to either `Iyan or `Iyān.  The former just doesn’t seem to come up in any dictionary or grammar as a form of anything.  `Iyān (or `Iyaan, عِيَان), however, is a legitimate word which means “weak” or “sick”, especially in Egyptian Arabic, but only when interpreted as coming from the root `-Y-Y and, even then, only properly with the vowels `ayyān, so that’s not what we’re going with.  But, when derived from `-Y-N, we get the verbal noun of عَايَنَ `āyana, the verb which means “to inspect”; note how it’s still related to the semantic field of eyes, looking, seeing, watching, etc.  Thus, `Iyān would mean “an inspecting” or “inspection”, but it can also mean “seeing with one’s own eyes”, “to come to light/be revealed before one’s eyes”, “clear, evident, plain, manifest” in the sense of “being seen clearly with the eyes”, as well as “witnessing” as in “eye-witnessing”.  (The notion of a witness here is appealing, given the fact that we have two Witnesses in a geomantic chart.  A possible connection to the “two sons”, perhaps?)

I got that list of meanings for `Iyān from an online version of the fourth edition of the Arabic-English Dictionary by the venerable Hans Wehr.  However, that website looks up glosses in several texts simultaneously (a wonderful study resource!), and while looking at Wehr’s dictionary, there’s something interesting I noticed in another text.  On the website that I was able to access that entry, the single page also shows entries from other texts about Arabic language and vocabulary, including the Arabic-English Lexicon compiled by Edward William Lane (aka Lane’s Lexicon) in the 19th century, itself compiled from earlier dictionaries and lexicons of Arabic in Arabic.  The entry for `Iyān in Lane’s Lexicon is…shockingly, miraculously, exactly what we were looking for all along here, and includes a reference that’s exactly what was in Skinner!  From page 2270 (forgive any errors in my copying and trying to type the Arabic):

… اِبْنَا عيَانٍ means Two birds, (Ḳ, TA,) from the flight or alighting-places, or cries, &c., of which, the Arabs augur: (TA:) or two lines which are marked upon the ground (Ṣ, Ḳ) by the عَائِف [or augurer], by means of which one augurs, from the flight, &c., of birds; (Ṣ;) or which are made for the purpose of auguring; (TA;) then the augurer says, اِبْنَى عيَانْ اًسْرِعَا البَيَانْ [O two sons of `Iyán, hasten ye the manifestation]: (Ḳ,* TA: [see 1 in art. خط :]) in the copies of the Ḳ, اِبْنَا is here erroneously put for اِبْنَى : or, as some say ابْنَا عِيانٍ means two well-known divining arrows: (TA:) and when it is known that the gaming arrow of him who plays therewith wins, one says جَرىَ اِبْنَا عِيَانٍ [app. meaning The two sons of ‘Iyán have hastened; i.e. the two arrows so termed; as seems to be indicated by a verse cited in the L (in which it is followed by the words بِالشِّواء المُضَهُّبِ with the roast meat not thoroughly cooked), and also by what here follows]: (Ṣ, L, Ḳ, TA:) these [arrows] being called ابْنَا عِيانٍ because by means of them the people [playing at the game called المَيْسِر] see the winning and the food [i.e. the hastily-cooked flesh of the slaughtered camel]. (L, TA.)

This entry references خط, khaṭṭ, which is another of the terms for geomancy.  Turning to that entry in Lane’s Lexicon, page 762 (again please forgive any errors):

خَطَّ aor. -ُ , inf. n. خَطٌّ, He made [a line, or lines, or] a mark, عَلَى الأَرْضِ , upon the ground.  (Mṣb.)  You say, خَطَّ الزَّاجِرُ فِى الأَرْضِ , aor. and inf. n. as above, The diviner made a line, or a mark, or lines, or marks, upon the ground, and then divined.  (TA.)  And الزَّاجِلٌ يَحُطُّ بِإٍصْبَعِهِ فِى الرَّمْلِ وَيَزْجُرُ [The diviner makes, lines, or marks, with his finger upon the sand, and divines.]  (Ṣ.)  Th says, on the authority of IAar, that عِلْمُ الخَطِّ is عِلْمُ الرَّمْلِ [or geomancy]: I’Ab says that it is an ancient science, which men have relinquished, but Lth says that it is practised to the present time; [to which I may add, that it has not even now ceased; being still practised on sand and the line, and also on paper;] and they have conventional terms which they employ in it, and they elicit thereby the secret thoughts &c., and often hit upon the right therein: the diviner comes to a piece of soft ground, and he has a boy, with whom is a style; and the master makes many lines, or marks, in haste, that they may not be counted; then he returns, and obliterates leisurely lines, or marks, two by two; and if there remain two lines, or marks, they are a sign of success, and of the attainment of the thing wanted: while he obliterates, his boy says, for the sake of auguring well, اِبْنَى عيَانْ اًسْرِعَا البَيَانْ [O two sons of ‘Iyán (meaning two lines or marks), hasten ye the manifestation]: I’Ab says that when he has obliterated the lines, or marks, an done remains, it is the sign of disappointment: and AZ and Lth relate the like of this.  (TA.)  It is said in a trad. of Mo’áwiyeh Ibn-El-Ḥakam Es-Sulamee, traced up by him to its author, كَانَ نَبِىّْ مبَ الأَنْبِيَآءِ يَخُطُّ فَمَنْ وَافَقَ خَطَّهُ عَلِمَ مِثْلَ عِلْمِهِ [A prophet of the prophets used to practise geomancy; and he who matches his geomancy knows the like of his knowledge].  (TA.)  You say also, when a man is meditating upon his affair, and considering what may be its issue, or result,  ‡ [Such a one makes lines, or marks, upon the ground].  (TA.)  [See also نَكَتَ: and see St. John’s Gospel, ch. viii verses 6 and 8.]  And  خَطَّ بِرِجْلِهِ الأَرْضَ means ‡ He walked, or went along.  (TA.)

It’s clear that we’re arriving at basically the same source, or a highly similar source with the same origins, as Skinner himself was using.  For the sake of further scholarship by any who come across this post, the abbreviations in Lane’s Lexicon come from page xxxi of the preface refer to the following authors and authorities in Arabic lexicology (in their original transliterations as Lane gives them, a more modern list and transcriptions given on this page):

  • TA: the “Táj el-‘Aroos”
  • Mṣb: The “Miṣbáḥ” of el-Feiyoomee, full title “El-Miṣbáḥ el-Muneer fee Ghareeb esh-Sharḥ el-Kebeer”
  • Ḳ: The “Kámoos” of El-Feyroozábádee
  • Ṣ: The “Ṣiḥáḥ” of El-Jowharee
  • I’Ab: Ibn-Abbás
  • L: The “Lisán el-‘Arab” of Ibn-Mukarram
  • Lth: El-Leyth Ibn-Naṣr Ibn-Seiyár, held by El-Azheree to be the author of the “‘Eyn”, which he calls “Kitáb Leyth”
  • AZ: Aboo-Zeyd

These are all Arabic sources, so it seems like that line of research comes to an end there, until and unless I ever learn classical Arabic.  Still, all the same, at least we found a (likely) source for Skinner’s claim about this strange chant, which I’ll gladly take as a win!  Still, even if we have a (likely) point of origin for this strange chant that Skinner describes, what exactly does it mean? Well, unfortunately, there’s no real solid information about the identity of `Iyān or their two sons in Lane, but at least we know we were on the right track tracing it down by considering what its likely Arabic spelling was, and giving that a consideration.  I strongly doubt that `Iyān is merely a name without meaning or that it doesn’t have some notion of watchfulness, witnessing, accounting, or observing; I think its relationship with the letter `Ayn and, by extension, eyes and sight really is important in some way.

Lane first says that the “two sons” of `Iyān refer to “two birds…from the flight/alighting-places/cries/&c. of which the Arabs augur”, but…birds?  That seems a little out of left field, so let’s set that aside for now and return to what we know.  (We’ll return to it, I promise.)  Based on the rest of Lane’s entries, even this same one on `Iyān when we consider what the two lines of marks in the sand would entail, it seems reasonable to assume that the “two sons” of `Iyān refer to either the numerical concepts of odd (فرد fard, literally “alone”) and even (زَوْجِيّ zawjiyy, from زوج zawj meaning “pair”, ultimately from Greek ζεῦγος meaning “yoke” in reference to marriage), or to the two units that make up the first even whole number; it’s this latter that might well have the better argument going for it.  Note that, interestingly, it’s even numbers that are considered good and affirmative, while odd numbers are bad and negative; this seems to be a general inversion of what we usually encounter in numerology, where it’s the odd numbers (being relatively masculine) that cause change while even numbers (being relatively feminine) maintain stasis.  And yet, looking back at Skinner:

Figures which contain a total number of even points are said to be Helu, sweet or a good omen, whilst those which contain odd numbers of total points Murr, bitter, or ill-omened.

Courtesy of the good Dr. Amina Inloes, whom I occasionally harass for help with topics involving Arabic and Islam and who generously and amply provides it, I was directed to the Sunan Abu Dāwūd, a massive compilation and commentary on the ʼaḥādīth (the extra-scriptural traditions of Islam) written sometime in the 800s ce, which would be a little before we start seeing geomancy proper arise.  At the bottom of page 147, footnote 3 confirms all the above (which you can put through Google Translate or get an actual Arabic speaker to translate it for you):

قال الشيخ : صورة الخط : ما قاله ابن الأعرابي، ذكره أبو عمر عن أبي العباس أحمد بن يحيى عنه ، قال : يقعد المحازي : [المحازي والحزاء : الذي يحزر الأشياء ويقدرها بظنه] ، ويأمر غلاماً له بين يديه فيخط خطوطاً على رمل أو تراب، ويكون ذلك منه في خفة وعجلة، كي لا يدركها العدّ والإحصاء، ثم يأمره فيمحوها خطين خطين، وهو يقول : ابني عيان أسرعا البيان، فإن كان آخر ما يبقى منها: خطين فهو آية النجاح، وإن بقي خط واحد فهو الخيبة والحرمان

The bold bits are what we’re looking for.  The first bold line basically gives the same chant as found elsewhere: “sons of `Iyān, hasten the statement” (ibnay `iyān ‘asra`ā al-bayan), and the last bit the same fundamental rule that “two lines is the sign of success, and if one line remains, it is disappointment and deprivation”.  The important thing we get from this is that, when Abu Dāwūd was writing this in the 800s ce, he was likely reporting on proto-geomantic practices that provided for the foundation of geomancy proper as we’d recognize it, and which were most likely in use for quite some time beforehand, especially if references to divination by making marks in the sand in other texts operated on these same principles going back at least to early-Islamic, if not into pre-Islamic, times.  Granted, we don’t have a lot of references to this kind of proto-geomantic divination in pre-Islamic times; most of the time it’s just said in passing, and when they do mention some specifics, they just don’t get more specific than just this.

However, even with what little we have, we kinda start to see a potential explanation for why a geomantic chart is created in such a way that the Judge must be an even figure, and why we use such a recursive structure that takes in four figures and then manipulates them to always get an even figure as a distillation of the whole chart, whether or not it’s favorable to the specific query.  Related entries to `Iyān in Lane’s Lexicon, specifically عِينَةُ `iynah (pg. 2269), refer to “an inclining in the balance” or set of scales, “the case in which one of two scales thereof outweighs the other”, as in “in the balance is an unevenness”.  In this light, even numbers would indicate that things are in balance, and odd numbers out of balance; this idea strikes me as similar to some results used in Yòrubá obi divination or Congolese chamalongo divination or other African systems of divination that make use of a four-piece set of kola nuts, coconut meat, coconut shells, cowries, or some other flippable objects, where the best possible answer is where two pieces face-up and two fall face-down, while there being three of side and one of the other either indicates “no” or a generally weak answer.  For the sake of the Judge, then, we need it to be impartial (literally from Latin for “not odd”) in order for it to speak strongly enough to answer the question put to the chart.  Heck, in Arabic terms, the word that I’ve seen used for the Judge is میزان mīzān, literally “balance” or “scales” (the same word, I might add, that’s used to refer to the zodiac sign Libra).

And, to look at it another way, how is an even figure formed? An even geomantic figure is formed from the addition of either two odd parents or two even parents; in either case, the parity of one figure must be the same as the other figure in order for their child figure to be even.  Thus, for the Judge, the Witnesses must either both be even or they must both be odd.  “Brothers”, indeed; as that old Bedouin saying goes, “I against my brothers; I and my brothers against my cousins; I and my brothers and my cousins against the world”.  Brothers implies a similarity, a kinship, and even if they fight against each other, they must still be similar enough to come to terms with each other.  And consider the mathematical and arithmetic implications of what “coming to terms” can suggest!  Thus, the two Witnesses must be alike in parity in order for the scale of the Judge to work itself out, and perhaps, the figure with more points would “outweigh” the other and thus be of more value.  For example, if we have a Right Witness of Laetitia and a Left Witness of Puella, both odd figures, then the Judge would be Fortuna Maior, but Laetitia, having more points, would “outweigh” Puella, favoring the Right Witness representing the querent.  Thus, perhaps the Judge might be taking on the role of `Iyān and the Witnesses its two “sons”?  After all, you need both the Witnesses in order to arrive at the Judge, so telling them to hurry up would naturally speed up the calculation of the Judge.

However, what we’re seeing from Skinner, Lane, and Abu Dāwūd is clearly proto-geomantic and isn’t really about figures as much as it is about lines, so this is probably an anachronistic imposition of `Iyān and their two sons onto later developments.  As fitting as it might be, and as fascinating as all this is, it doesn’t do anything for us as far as showing what `Iyān itself might originally refer to.  But there are other leads we can take; after all, wasn’t there something about birds?  We’ll pick up on that tomorrow.

On Geomancy and Light

Those who follow me on Twitter know that I’ve been working on a new shrine project of sorts.  Earlier this year, I had the sudden kick-in-the-ass inspiration to start compiling things together, so I started pricing them on my wishlists and getting notes together.  I swore, up and down, that I would pay off my credit card before getting any of it.  But, yanno, just to see how much it would all cost when tallied up, I put it all into my online shopping cart to check out the shipping and taxes, and whoops there went $700 and suddenly I have all these packages showing up at my house however could this have happened let’s get to work, I guess my poor credit card statement.

Long story short, after I made that second post about geomantic holy days earlier this year, I got some sort of spirit all up in me that necessitated, demanded I put this thing together.  I ended up making a Shrine of the Geomancers, honoring the four Progenitors of the art Adam, Enoch, Hermes Trismegistus, and Daniel under the tutelage of Gabriel, with a notable Islamic influence.

I’ll save some of the details and what goes along with this whole shrine later, including a few things that aren’t shown in those above pictures, since it’s such a new thing that even I’m not sure why I have everything on it yet, just that I know I need it.  The last time an inspiring spirit this forceful came upon me was when I ended up writing my Sixteen Orisons of the Geomantic Figures in a single night (and then spent the next month editing and polishing), which you can take a look at in my ebook, Secreti Geomantici (also on Etsy!).  That was pretty fun, too, though exhausting.  I ended up making sixteen prayer-invocations to channel and work with the forces of the figures; that was just a night of power for me, as if I couldn’t shut off whatever fire hydrant of Words was turned on in my head.  The same thing happened with this shrine: I had to get these things and put them together.  Had to.

On top of getting this shrine put together, I’ve had to take a break from writing my geomancy book to take a detour into writing prayers, invocations, and incantations for geomantic practice.  Taking heavy inspiration from Islamic supplications and verses of the Qurʾān, the Book of Daniel, the Psalms, Solomonic and Hermetic literature, and other sources, I’ve been putting together a bunch of prayers—some that I wrote as original works, some I wrote a long time ago, some I’m heavily basing off other sources but tweaked for purpose and diction—for use with this shrine.  Many of the old prayers I wrote a while back, like my Prayer of the Itinerant or my Blessing of Light, fit right in with all these new ones.  It’s like so much of my previous routine, habits, and practices get tied into something so nice, so neat, so…oddly complete in this new shrine practice.  I honestly don’t know where this is all coming from, and it’s surprising me as much as it would anyone else.  If ever I would think that spirits can and do work through us, this would be one of those cases, absolutely.  There are still a lot of prayers I know for a fact I need to write and compile, but even with what I have, I’m pretty thrilled with what I have to work with.  It’s like stumbling on a new grimoire full of detailed instructions—except you don’t know for what, exactly.  It’s also happily convenient that I’m doing all these geomancy readings and follow-up divinations for the New Year, which gives me ample opportunity to try some of these very same prayers.

Now that the shrine is put together and all these prayers are coming together, I need to figure out exactly how to put this all to practice; after all, after dropping so much time and money and energy on this, there’s no way in hell I can just let this thing sit and gather dust (as if the same spirit that had me get all this together in the first place would let me).  I’ll work out routine and times and stuff later, but for now, it’s lovely.  As I noted above, there’s a heavy Islamic influence in this, and why not?  After all, geomancy is ultimately an Islamic occult art and science that arose in the sands of north Africa.  While I’m not going to be doing ṣalāt or proclaiming the five pillars of Islam, I feel it’s still important to honor the traditions and faiths of those that learned, taught, and spread the art of geomancy so far and wide in a language, or at least with symbols and practices, that would be familiar to them.  Which is also why I’m turning to so many supplications and verses of the Qurʾān for prayer inspirations, in addition to the fact that I already know that some such verses are used just for geomancy and divination generally.

One of the things I got for the shrine is a misbaḥah, a set of Islamic prayer beads.  It’s a lot simpler than a rosary, but slightly more complex than a mala; this has 99 beads, with two separators (that apparently aren’t used in counting prayers) to divide up the whole misbaḥah into three sets of 33 beads.  This kind of prayer beads can be used in any number of ways in Islamic devotions, not least the famous Tasbīḥ of Fāṭimah, and a way of kinda-sorta maybe-not-divination-per-se seeking guidance from Allah (istikhāra) can be done using misbaḥah, too, by focusing on the question for guidance and selecting two beads at random on the misbaḥah, and counting down until there are either only one or two beads left.  (The geomantic applications here are obvious.)  There are simpler ways, too, such as just intoning and focusing on one of the attributes or names of Allah, of which there are 99.

(Also, just as an entirely hilarious tangential aside?  This current post is marked as post #9999 in WordPress’ internal system for my blog.  So that’s a kinda fun synchronicity.)

One of the 99 names of Allah in Islam is النُّورُ (an-Nūr), literally “the Light”.  This is often used in the sense of being the Pure Light of the world, or the Prime Light of creation, or the One who Guides by Light.  It’s also especially associated with the Verse of the Light, a beautifully mystic verse taken from Qurʾān 24:35 (my own rendition):

God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth.
The image of his Light is that of a niche.  In it is a lamp.
The lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a brilliant star.
Lit from the oil of a blessed olive tree, neither of the East nor of the West,
whose oil would almost glow on its own even if fire had not touched it.
Light upon Light!
God guides to his Light whom he wills.
God gives images to follow for his people.
God is All-Knowing of all things.

The use of “The Light” as a name of Allah (or, just, yanno, God, because they really are the same and so much of Arabic theology can be expressed beautifully in Hermeticism and vice versa) is meaningful to me, given how important divine light is in my own personal theology and magical practice, especially in my Hermetic work, given how Light can be thought of as a thing that allows the intelligible to be intelligible and the visible to be visible, as both light of Nous (Mind) and light of Logos (Word).  Even my own magical motto, Lautitia Laborum Lucis Laetor “I rejoice in the splendor of the works of the Light”, is based on this same idea, and many of my more meaningful prayers incorporate Light in some way, whether directly or by puns, like in my Prayer of the Itinerant:

Shed your light on my path that I may see where I go.
Lighten the burden on my shoulders that I may go without hesitation.
Enlighten my heart that I may go with fortitude, courage, and wisdom wherever I may be.

Even before having encountered this Islamic sense of the notion, Light has already been and continues to be for me a powerful force unto itself, and a pure one that is directly associated in my mind and cosmological models with the highest divinity and source of all that is.

Then we bring in a bit of numerology.  Normally, I don’t take numerology particularly seriously; sure, gematria and isopsephia are nice tools to have, and I’ve experimented with it in some classical systems before now and again, but it’s largely a curiosity for me to find other connections with.  But take a look at the name an-Nūr more closely; the “an-” (really “al-” but Arabic rules assimilate the sounds) is just an article, so the real word to look at is Nūr, Light.  In Arabic numerology (which follows the same principles as Hebrew and Greek, since they all come from the same written language to begin with), the value of Nūr is 256.

Those who are familiar with binary mathematics and geomancy should be slapping your heads right about now.  256 = 16 × 16, the total number of pairwise combinations of geomantic figures with each other.  But even then, if we were to reduce it further, 2 + 5 + 6 = 13, and 1 + 3 = 4; alternatively, 256 % 9 = 4.  Four is also a huge number for us, there being four elements, four rows in a geomantic figure, four Mothers/Daughters/Nieces/Court figures, and so forth.  I don’t really need to expound on the myriad meanings of the number 4, given its importance in Hermetic, Pythagorean, and other systems of the occult.  Taking it a bit further as a letter-numeral, 4 is represented by the Hebrew Dālet, Arabic Dāl, and Greek Delta.  Its original meaning and form likely indicated “door”; in stoicheia, I principally associate Delta with the zodiacal sign Gemini, but it can also refer to the element of Water and the zodiacal sign of Cancer in other systems.  I also note that the Arabic Dāl is also the letter used to represent the element of Water in the Dā`irah-e-BZDḤ and Dā`irah-e-ABDḤ organizing systems of the figures, the former of which I’ve put to use in my geomantic energy working as being an Arabic-inspired seed syllable for Water.  Four is, also, the number associated with the sephirah Chesed on the Tree of Life, given to the planetary sphere of Jupiter.

On top of that, although the usual word for “light” in Hebrew is or (אור), the word nur (נור) using the same exact letters as in Arabic, and thus with the same exact numerology, refers to things that flare, flash, fire, or shine; this is an old Semitic triliteral root N-W-R that means light, illumination, and shining.  So that’s also really neat.  This word can also be associated with Hebrew ner (נר) meaning “candle”; “candle” is one of the names and images for the figure Via in some lineages of geomancy according to JMG and Skinner, and Via is sometimes considered to be the oldest or most important and powerful of the geomantic figures, as it contains all of the four elements active and present within itself as a complete whole.

Keeping with Hebrew numerology a bit longer, if we wanted to associate the usual Hebrew word for light numerologically, consider that or (אור) has a value of 207.  256 – 207 = 49, and 49 = 7 × 7, the total number of pairwise combinations of the seven planets as well as just being 7² and important for its own sake; that’s a fun connection, if not a bit contrived.  I also note that 256 is the same value as “spirit of the mother” (רוח אמא, ruach ima), which is important to recognize given that the first four figures we make are called the Mothers and are ungenerated from any other figure in the geomantic process.  It’s also the same value of the words B’nei Tzedeq (בני צדק), or “Sons of the Righteous”; in addition to being a popular name for Jewish synagogues and temples, it’s also a term used by the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls to refer to the good and devout portion of humanity (including/especially themselves), as opposed to the B’nei `Avel (בני עול), the “Sons of Iniquity”.  Besides the Qumran connection, if there were ever a choir of angels to be associated with geomancy or if we ever wanted a good Hebrew euphemism to refer to geomancers, I suppose B’nei Tzedeq would be a good start.  Plus, Tzedeq is also the Hebrew name for the planet Jupiter, hearkening back to the numerological connection with Chesed above.

I also, somewhat regrettably and hilariously, note that 256 is the numerology of the name Viagrahel, the angel of Viagra, for which I will never thank/blame Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick enough.  (I’m as shocked as you are that that, of all things, would come back to bite me in the ass after almost seven goddamn years.  It’s like my life is one big Chekhov’s dildo.)

What about Greek?  There aren’t many words I can find that add up to 256, but there’s one big one I know of: ἀληθής (alēthēs), meaning “[that which is] unconcealed/true” but also with uses that encapsulate: real, unerring, actual, not forgetting, careful, honest.  The root of this word is –lēth-, which refers to forgetfulness (as in the mythological river of the underworld Lethe and also our modern word “lethargic”, referring to idle forgetfulness).  In that case, ἀληθής refers to things that are unconcealed, true, and honest by means of recovery from forgetfulness or by keeping forgetfulness and ignorance at bay, or alternatively, that which cannot escape notice or remain hidden.  All this ties into the actual Greek word (and, for that matter, goddess) for truth, ἀλήθεια (alētheia), too.  Even if I couldn’t find any other Greek numerological equivalent, I think this one is huge enough to make up for any others.

So where do we end up?  We have a particularly beautiful attribute of the divine, “the Light”, used in the worship and reverence of God in Islam, the religious culture in which geomancy historically developed.  To be extraordinarily terse, notions of divine light fill numerous religious and philosophical traditions as being representative of divinity, especially in any Western tradition influenced by Neoplatonism, Abrahamic faiths, or Hermeticism.  This can be further stretched through a bit of numerology, connecting the word for Light to words for fire, illumination, revelation, and truth.  Calling God “the Light” is a lot more than just thinking of that which allows us to see; God is, in a more complete sense of this attribute, the sudden and revealing flash of illumination that allows us to see that which is true and real, bringing it out of darkness, forgetfulness, and ignorance  God is the quiet, true Light behind all Fire, able to spread and open doors of wisdom to us, communicating to us on an intellectual and emotional level through our sense faculties.  This Light is not just a quiet flame in a dimmed lamp that barely illuminates the shelf it sits on, but it is a fierce, conquering, undeniable, unassailable blast into the darkness, a Light that completely destroys and wipes away anything that could or would try to cover it, a Light that breaks into the cracks of any door, window, wall, or mind and fills every niche, crevice, and corner with its presence.   It is the Light of God, or even the Light that is God, that allows the unseen to be seen, the hidden to be revealed, the unknown to be known, and the forgotten to be remembered.  God is not just Light, but the Light of Light, Light within Light, and Light upon Light.

More than that, this sacred Light of the Mind and of the Word can reach us at any place and at any time, but we can approach it too through the devout study of the mysteries of the geomantic figures, specifically in how they add up amongst themselves in their 256 different combinations.  This same illuminating Light is the fundamental impulse from which the first stirrings of knowledge can be made, and provide the seeds themselves from with the four Mothers in geomantic divination are formed, from whom the entire rest of the geomantic process can be derived.  The Light of God is the necessary existent in order for us to see and know things by geomancy.  Understanding the geomantic figures themselves to be representative of the actual combinations of the four elements amongst the elements in 4 × 4 = 16 ways, and the combinations of elements amongst themselves in 16 × 16 = 256 ways, all of the possible things that come to be in the world and all the ways in which they pass into being and pass out of being are also undergirded by the Light of God, being ways in which that same Light emanates from God into the world, condensing through the four elements from Fire to Air to Water to Earth, mixing and matching between all possible states.  All this is fundamentally Light.

I always felt that Light was important for me to focus on in a religious and spiritual sense.  It’s nice to see that all coming together in ways that the ancients themselves would appreciate, and in ways that show me new things in new combinations.  And, perhaps, to reinforce the habit of keeping a lit candle or lamp burning nearby when I do geomancy.

On Geomantic Energy Centers, and the Via Elementorum Exercise

So, the last post on my system of epodes, or bīja/mantra-like intonations, for the elements and geomantic figures, wasn’t originally going to be a post of its own.  It was originally just a small thing that was going to fall within another post on a novel technique of mine, a kind of geomantic energy work, based on a notion of geomantically-derived energy centers in the body.  That topic was brought up earlier this summer in the context of how such a system of energy centers inspired by geomancy could be developed and explored, and I’ve been thinking about how to actually begin working with the subtle energy body in a geomantic way.  The idea is that, based on the Geomantic Adam diagram from MS Arabe 2631, we can posit that there are four main energy centers in the body, each associated with the four elements: a Head center for Fire, a Throat center for Air, a Belly center for Water, and a Groin center for Earth, based on the parts of the body associated with the figures Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia, which each have only one element active in their (you guessed it) so-called head, neck, belly, and feet lines.

Of course, based on the Geomantic Adam diagram, it could totally be conceived that there are 16 such energy centers in the body, one for each geomantic figure, as indicated according to the diagram.  However, of these, the four primary ones would be those corresponding to the pure-element figures Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia.  However, for the sake of fullness, here’s where I’d place all such energy centers:

Figure Body Part Energy Center
Laetitia Head Center of the head behind the eyes
Rubeus Throat and neck Center of the throat
Puella Left shoulder Upper left chest between shoulder and collarbone
Puer Right shoulder Upper right chest between shoulder and collarbone
Carcer Chest and breast Center of chest cavity by the heart
Amissio Left hand and arm Middle of the palm of the left hand
Acquisitio Right hand and arm Middle of the palm of the right hand
Albus Stomach, upper belly Solar plexus, just under the sternum
Coniunctio Ribcage Sternum
Populus Back Spine between kidneys
Via Intestines, lower belly Just below navel
Tristitia Crotch and genitals Perineum
Fortuna Maior Left hip and upper leg Crease between left buttock and thigh
Fortuna Minor Right hip and upper leg Crease between right buttock and hip
Cauda Draconis Left foot and lower leg Middle of the sole of the left foot
Caput Draconis Right foot and lower leg Middle of the sole of the right foot

Now, most of these are definitely secondary to the purpose of this post, which is to demonstrate a simple energy exercise to work with the primary four energy centers, and honestly, most of these secondary centers are simply conjectural with varying degrees of confidence.  For instance, I’m totally about the placement of the centers for Amissio and Acquisitio as well as Cauda and Caput Draconis and why they’re positioned where they are.  However, for ones like Coniunctio, Carcer, or Populus, I’m much less sure about these.  There’s also the possibility of extending these to other parts of the body, say the orifices of the head or to other major organs in the body, much as there are secondary chakras that connect to the primary seven chakras distributed throughout the body.  However, all these can be explored another time in another post; for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll limit ourselves to the centers for Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia.

First, before we continue with describing the energy exercise, the practitioner will need to decide on one main thing for their implementation of the exercise.  The first is a set of elemental epodes, bīja-like intonable single-syllable “mantras”.  This is what I discussed in the last post, and what I had to break out of this one, because (as can be seen), it was too big to be just thrown into another topic and really deserved being fleshed out in its own post.  After all, when dealing with such innovations, it really helps to lay out a solid theoretical foundation and expand on the whys and hows and wheres so that, when we begin to involve these new elements of rite and ritual, we can have a good understanding from the get-go about what can be used where and for what purposes.  While I give a whole bevy of possible systems of elemental epodes, there are four I would recommend most to choose from:

  • Arabic system
    • Fire:  (با)
    • Air:  (زا)
    • Water:  (دا)
    • Earth: ḥā (حا)
  • Simple Greek system
    • Fire: ba (ΒΑ)
    • Air: za (ΖΑ)
    • Water: da (ΔΑ)
    • Earth: ha (Ἁ)
  • Hybrid Greek system
    • Fire: bi (ΒΙ)
    • Air: zu (ΖΥ)
    • Water: (ΔΗ)
    • Earth: ha (Ἁ)
  • Exact Mathesis system
    • Fire: kho (ΧΟ)
    • Air: phu (ΦΥ)
    • Water: ksē (ΞΗ)
    • Earth: thō (ΘΩ)

Personally, because I have a hard time pronouncing the Arabic letter ḥāʾ and because I like using the planetary vowels to extend the system, I prefer to use the hybrid Greek set of, which I also plan on using in the future for the other geomantic figures besides the four pure elemental ones of Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia.  However, for the purposes of this energy exercise, you can go with a simpler, more straightforward system if you so choose.

Beyond knowing your preferred set of elemental epodes, let’s also establish a few other things:

  • The gesture of Laetitia is a hand gesture made with the index finger pressed down into the palm and the thumb covering the index finger, with the other fingers extended.
  • The gesture of Rubeus is a hand gesture made with the middle finger pressed down into the palm and the thumb covering the index finger, with the other fingers extended.
  • The gesture of Albus is a hand gesture made with the ring finger pressed down into the palm and the thumb covering the index finger, with the other fingers extended.
  • The gesture of Tristitia is a hand gesture made with the little finger pressed down into the palm and the thumb covering the index finger, with the other fingers extended.
  • The six permutations of the Divine Name: “ΙΑΩ ΑΩΙ ΩΙΑ ΑΙΩ ΙΩΑ ΩΑΙ”.  These are just the six different ways the name ΙΑΩ (ee-ah-ough) can be spelled.  Those who prefer an Arabic flavor can pronounce these using only the three (long) vowels available in standard and classical Arabic: “ĪĀŪ ĀŪĪ ŪĪĀ ĀĪŪ ĪŪĀ ŪĀĪ” (ياو اوي ويا ايو يوا واي).
  • There’s a particular Arabic phrase that’s a famous palindrome in Islam: “RABBAKA FAKABBIR”, literally “glorify your Lord”, from the Qur’an 74:3, “‏رَبَّكَ فَكَبِّرْ‎” (you can see it in full vocalized Arabic and hear it cantillated here).  That it’s a palindrome here will work well for our purposes, as well as recalling the Arabic and Divine origins of geomancy.  Of course, if you wanted to Hellenicize it and make it a proper palindrome in a Greek script, I would recommend spelling it as “ΡΗΒΒΑΚΑ ΦΑΚΑΒΒΗΡ”, but this is just a small detail.

Alright!  At this point, we have a a rough set of four main energy centers in the body, a set of intonations, and a set of gestures to use.  With all those at our disposal, we’re now (FINALLY omg) able to describe the actual energetic exercise.  First, let’s try something simple, shall we?  Those who are familiar with the work of Strategic Sorcery’s Jason Miller will be familiar with his well-known primer on magic, The Sorcerer’s Secrets.  In that book, he describes a simple energy practice called the The Pillar and The Spheres, a quick, short, and easy method of getting the subtle energy body cleansed and primed for more powerful work.  I’m using that as my template for the really simple energy exercise that follows:

  1. Stand upright with good posture, with the feet shoulder-width apart.  If standing is not possible, sit in a straight-backed chair.  Relax the body, keeping good posture.  Clear the breath and empty the lungs.  If desired, perform a Pillar-like exercise at this point to clear out the central channel, such as that of Jason Miller or my own variant, the Pillar of Heaven and Earth (see this post for more information).
  2. Focus the attention on a spot in the middle of your head, behind the forehead, just somewhat above the spot between the ears and behind the eyes.  See an empty sphere at this spot.  Breathe in a hot, dry, upwards-motion, red-colored energy that fills this sphere.  Intone the epode of Fire, seeing the sphere burn brightly, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  3. Focus the attention on a spot in the middle of your throat.  See an empty sphere at this spot.  Breathe in a warm, moist, spinning, yellow-colored energy that fills this sphere.  Intone the epode of Air, seeing the sphere whip upon itself, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  4. Focus the attention on a spot at the solar plexus, in the soft spot just under the sternum of the upper abdomen.  See an empty sphere at this spot.  Breathe in a cool, wet, downwards-motion, blue-colored energy that fills this sphere.  Intone the epode of Water, seeing water fill and surround this sphere, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  5. Focus the attention on a spot at the perineum, at the base of the spine between the genitals and the anus.  See an empty sphere at this spot.  Breathe in a cold, dry, heavy and compressing, dark-colored energy that fills this sphere.  Intone the epode of Earth, seeing rock and soil crack and crystallize through this sphere, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  6. Spend a few moments relaxing, maintaining the visualization and manifestation of the four energy centers in the head, throat, belly, and perineum.

Okay, easy enough!  With or without any other preliminary work, such as a Pillar activity or some other practice, this is simple and straightforward enough, and is what I would recommend for a first-attempt by those who would want to start working with a four-primary-center subtle body system within a geomantic contexts.  After getting used to this, we can elaborate on the process a bit and start incorporating other things that we’ve already discussed.  One of the inspirations for this method is something I’ve been doing a while, the Attunement portion of my old Q.D.Sh. Ritual, except here we’re using different intonations and making use of the geomantic gestures in addition to the basic exercise template given above.

  1. Stand upright with good posture, with the feet shoulder-width apart.  If standing is not possible, sit in a straight-backed chair.  Relax the body, keeping good posture.  Clear the breath and empty the lungs.
  2. Breathe in deeply.  As you draw in breath, visualize a clear beam of pure, cool light shooting down from the infinite heavens above through the crown of your head, through the center of your body, and out from your perineum downwards, clearing out your body of all darkness.  Intone the word “RABBAKA”, exhaling all air from the lungs, visualizing and feeling the beam of light continue shooting down through you.
  3. Breathe in deeply.  Visualize a clear beam of powerful, hot light shooting up from the infinite hells below through the perineum, through the center of your body, and out from the crown of your head, stabilizing your body with fortitude.  Intone the word “FAKABBIR”, exhaling all air from the lungs, visualizing and feeling the beam of light continue shooting up through you.
  4. Focus the attention on a spot in the middle of your head, behind the forehead, just somewhat above the spot between the ears and behind the eyes.  See an empty sphere at this spot.  Lower your left hand down and out to the side and raise your right hand up and out to the side, making the gesture of Laetitia with both hands.  Breathe in a hot, dry, upwards-motion, red-colored energy that fills this sphere.  Intone the epode of Fire, seeing the sphere burn brightly, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  5. Focus the attention on a spot in the middle of your throat.  See an empty sphere at this spot.  Raise both your hands up and out to the sides, making the gesture of Rubeus with both hands.  Breathe in a warm, moist, spinning, yellow-colored energy that fills this sphere.  Intone the epode of Air, seeing the sphere whip upon itself, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  6. Focus the attention on a spot at the solar plexus, in the soft spot just under the sternum of the upper abdomen.  Lower your right hand down and out to the side and raise your left hand up and out to the side, making the gesture of Albus with both hands.  See an empty sphere at this spot.  Breathe in a cool, wet, downwards-motion, blue-colored energy that fills this sphere.  Intone the epode of Water, seeing water fill and surround this sphere, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  7. Focus the attention on a spot at the perineum, at the base of the spine between the genitals and the anus.  See an empty sphere at this spot.  Lower both your hands down and out to the sides, making the gesture of Tristitia with both hands.  Breathe in a cold, dry, heavy and compressing, dark-colored energy that fills this sphere.  Intone the epode of Earth, seeing rock and soil crack and crystallize through this sphere, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  8. Inhale deeply.  Place both hands together at the lowest point they can reach without bending over, palms pressed together.  Slowly raise them outwards and up in a large circular motion separately so that they meet again high up above your head.  Intone the first half of the permutations of the Divine Name “ΙΑΩ ΑΩΙ ΩΙΑ” while doing this, exhaling all air from the lungs.  Visualize the four centers becoming connected along a single path of light upwards from the perineum center up to the head center.
  9. Inhale deeply.  Slowly lower the hands outward and down in a large circular motion separately so that they meet again at their lowest point.  Intone the second half of the permutations of the Divine Name “ΑΙΩ ΙΩΑ ΩΑΙ” while doing this, exhaling all air from the lungs.  Visualize the four centers becoming further connected along a single path of light downwards from the head center down to the perineum center.
  10. Again focus on the perineum center.  Lower both your hands down and out to the sides, making the gesture of Tristitia with both hands.  Breathe in more Earth energy into this sphere.  Intone the epode of Earth, seeing the energy of the sphere begin to travel up and down the central energy path of the body, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  11. Again focus on the solar plexus center.  Lower your right hand down and out to the side and raise your left hand up and out to the side, making the gesture of Albus with both hands.  Breathe in more Water energy into this sphere.  Intone the epode of Water, seeing the energy of the sphere begin to travel up and down the central energy path of the body, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  12. Again focus on the throat center.  Raise both your hands up and out to the sides, making the gesture of Rubeus with both hands.  Breathe in more Air energy into this sphere.  Intone the epode of Air, seeing the energy of the sphere begin to travel up and down the central energy path of the body, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  13. Again focus on the head center.  Lower your left hand down and out to the side and raise your right hand up and out to the side, making the gesture of Laetitia with both hands.  Breathe in more Fire energy into this sphere.  Intone the epode of Fire, seeing the energy of the sphere begin to travel up and down the central energy path of the body, exhaling all air from the lungs.
  14. Breathe in deeply.  As you draw in breath, visualize a clear beam of powerful, hot light shooting up from the infinite hells below through the perineum, through the center of your body, and out from the crown of your head, connecting your energy centers and their elements to all the heavens above and fortifying them with all the hells below.  Intone the word “RABBAKA”, exhaling all air from the lungs, visualizing and feeling the beam of light continue shooting up through you.
  15. Breathe in deeply.  As you draw in breath, visualize a clear beam of pure, cool light shooting down from the infinite heavens above through the crown of your head, through the center of your body, and out from your perineum downwards, connecting your energy centers and all their elements to all the hells below and sanctifying them with all the heavens above.  Intone the word “FAKABBIR”, exhaling all air from the lungs, visualizing and feeling the beam of light continue shooting down through you.
  16. Spend a few moments relaxing, maintaining the visualization and manifestation of the four energy centers in the head, throat, belly, and perineum, most powerfully located at their respective centers but able to facilitate and flow their respective elements in a balanced and gentle way through the main column of the body and radiating outwards from there, connecting to the cosmos both above and below.

And there you have it!  The only thing left is a fancy name, isn’t it?  How about the Via Elementorum, literally “The Way of the Elements”?  After all, we are essentially making a path for the four elemental powers to radiate from in the body, and the four energy centers, when all fully activated, resemble the four single points in the figure of Via, which means the Road; in a sense, though we’re working with the four elements individually as represented by Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia, when all four are added, it’s the figure Via that results, the full sum of all elements active together at once.  I would make a corresponding Arabic name, but I don’t really know Arabic; it’d probably be something like Ṭarīq al-ʿAnāṣiri (طَرِيق الْعَنَاصِرِ).  Those who know Arabic are more than welcome to correct this or suggest a better name.

With a geomantic energy exercise like this, it can serve as a foundation for more profoundly exploring the geomantic figures and how they relate to the body, allowing the body a new way to interact with the elements and channeling the powers of the figures, giving us new avenues for exploring geomantic magic, and a whole slew of other things to consider and adapt.  Who knows, this might even get me back on a regular energy work exploration routine, figuring out exactly how far I can take this novel system!  Of course, it is experimental, and modifications and refinements will likely need to be made along the way.  Still, it’s something to start with, and it could be extraordinarily useful even on its own merits.

On the Elemental and Geomantic Epodes

Ever since I wrote that post about how the physical body can be represented by geomantic figures, I’ve been trying to puzzle something out for myself.  At the end of the post, I introduce the concept of a system of geomantically-derived energy centers in the body based on four centers and four elements: the Fire center in the head, the Air center in the throat, the Water center in the upper belly, and the Earth center at the perineum.  This is based on the Geomantic Adam diagram given in MS Arabe 2631, which divvies up the geomantic figures to the parts of the body in a way that’s untied to any astrological method (which is the usual method used in European and Western geomancies):

In addition to proposing four such energy centers, I also propose three possible sets of intonations based on the obscure BZDH technique from some forms of geomancy, and also suggest that the sixteen geomantic gestures or “mudras” can be used in addition with these to form the basis of a kind of geomantic energy practice.  However, I didn’t really describe any implementation beyond laying these individual parts of such a hypothetical practice down, because I hadn’t yet come up with a way to put the parts together into a whole.  I’ve been puzzling over how to do just that since the post went up earlier this summer.  I mean, it’s not hard to just slap some energy into parts of the body and call it a day, but let’s be honest: I want to do this right and be able to incorporate it into my own practice in a way that’s not harmful, and as we all know by now, it’s just as easy to use energy to make a body awful as much as it can be made awesome.

Now, I was originally going to just write a post about a more-or-less solid energy practice that uses four energy centers in the body, one for each of the four elements.  I’m still going to write that post, because I already started it, but I realized that there’s a significant chunk of it that needs to be clarified in its own post, because there’s a number of options one might choose for it with different bits of logic and arguments for and against each choice.  This section kept growing and growing, and it eventually dwarfed the actual point of the post itself, so I decided to get this bit out of the way first, especially since I’ve already introduced the topic when I brought up the notion of a geomantic energy practice to begin with.

For me in my magical practice, the spoken word is important, especially when it comes to things that are intoned, such as barbarous words or particular chants.  For instance, the seven Greek vowels are absolutely vital to my work, because each vowel is associated with one of the seven planets.  In fact, each of the letters of the Greek alphabet has its own spiritual associations to the planets, signs of the Zodiac, and elements.  It’s the elemental letters that are the focus here now: if I wanted to intone a special word to attune myself to the power of an element just like how I’d intone a vowel to attune myself to the power of a planet, what would I use?  I can’t really intone a consonant, so I invented special “power words” for the four elements by taking the corresponding consonant for the element, intoning ΙΑΩ, and ending with the consonant again, as below:

  • Fire: ΧΙΑΩΧ (KHIAŌKH)
  • Air: ΦΙΑΩΦ (PHIAŌPH)
  • Water: ΞΙΑΩΞ (KSIAŌKS)
  • Earth: ΘΙΑΩΘ (THIAŌTH)

This method works, but to be honest, I’ve never really liked it.  It’s always felt kind of imbalanced and inelegant, especially compared to some of the more refined barbarous words of power or the simplicity and clearness of the vowels for the planets.  When I first started thinking of what I could intone for a geomantic energy practice, my routine use of these words first came up, but I quickly remembered that there are other options available to me besides just this.  All I need to find is some appropriate, elegant system of four words for intoning for the sake of attuning to the four elements.

Also, what am I calling this particular type of power word, anyway?  These are small, usually single-syllabled things to intone or chant to attune with a particular force.  I suppose that these are barbarous names of a sort, but the fact that they’re so easily constructed doesn’t seem quite appropriate to call them “barbarous”.  The closest thing I can think of are bīja, which is a Sanskrit term meaning “seed”, but referring to single syllable mantras that can be intoned and thought of as encapsulating or emanating particular elements or powers.  Think of the syllables oṃ, dhīḥ, hūṃ, or other single-syllable such mantras found in tantric Buddhism or Hinduism.  These are powerful syllables and contain some aspect of the cosmos or dharma in their own right, and many deities, bodhisattvas, buddhas, and other entities or powers have their own bījas.  That’s a good concept and term for this, but I can’t think of any Western or non-Sanskrit term to call them, like how we might have “chant” or “orison” for the word mantra, “gesture” for mudra, or “energy center” for chakra.  Since I like having Greek-based terms, here are a few I would think are appropriate:

  • Odologue, which could come either from ᾠδόλογος ōidólogos meaning “song-word” or, alternatively, ὁδόλογος hodólogos meaning “road-word”, and either Greek word could be used here.  Odology, after all, can refer to “the study of the singing voice” or “the study of roads and paths”, and considering the purpose and use of these bīja-like words,
  • Rhizophone, from Greek ῥιζόφωνη rhizóphōnē, literally meaning “root sound”.  This is about as close a calque to bīja as I could think, helpfully suggested by Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick (who has a new website now, go update your RSS readers and links!).
  • Epode, which is simply the Greek word ἐπῳδή epōidé, meaning “song sung to something”, and more figuratively an enchantment, charm, or spell.  Unlike odologue or rhizophone, epode is actually a known word, both in Greek and in English, and though it can be used more broadly for spells or charms in general, the notion of something being sung here is important, which is basically intonation.  Though I like the above two words, let’s be honest: epode here is probably the best to go with.
    • There are other words used in Greek to refer to magic spells or charms, like kḗlēma or thélktron or other words, so we can reserve “epode” for what are basically mantras.
    • “Epode” could be used to give a useful Greek translation of “mantra” generally, as opposed to just bīja syllables, which are themselves considered single-syllable mantras.  For this, “root epode” or “small epode” could be used to clarify single-syllable epodes.
    • Likewise, “epode” wouldn’t necessarily be of the same type of word as “names”, ὀνόματα onómata, referring to the barbarous words of power that may simply be spoken, shouted, or intoned depending on the situation.  Plus, the barbarous names themselves aren’t usually constructed, patterned after anything, or even understood as having distinct or intelligible meanings.

So, what we’re doing here is coming up with elemental epodes, simple words that can be intoned or sung to attune or call down the forces of the elements, just how the intonation of the seven Greek vowels can do the same for the planets.  In fact, those vowels, when sung in a magical way, would become epodes in their own right.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.  One straightforward option is to just use the Arabic or Greek words for the four elements themselves as things to intone:

  • Arabic:
    • Fire: nar (نار, pronounced “nahr”)
    • Air: hawa’ (هواء, pronounced “HAH-wa” with a sharp stop in the throat)
    • Water: ma’ (ماء, pronounced “ma” with a sharp stop in the throat)
    • Earth: turab (تراب, pronounced “tuh-RAHB”)
  • Greek:
    • Fire: pũr (πῦρ, pronounced “pür” like with the German ü or French u, or as “peer”)
    • Air: aḗr (ἀήρ, pronounced “ah-AYR”, smoothly without a stop in the sound)
    • Water: húdōr (ὕδωρ, pronounced “HEE-dohr” or “HÜ-dohr”, again with that German/French sound)
    • Earth: gē̃ (γῆ, pronounced “gay”)

However, I’m not a fan of doing this.  For one, the words themselves aren’t necessarily important if the resonance and link between what’s uttered/intoned and what’s being connected with is strong.  Here, all I really have to go is the semantic meaning of the words.  Plus, I don’t like how some of them are two syllables and others only one, and they all feel inelegant in some of the same ways as my *ΙΑΩ* words from above.  So, while the words for the elements could be used, it’s not one I’d like to use.

And no, I won’t use Latin or English for such things, either.  I don’t hold either to be a very magical language like how I’d hold Greek or Hebrew or Arabic, largely due to the lack of meaningful isopsephy/gematria or stoicheia of the letters for the Roman script common to both Latin and English.  I also didn’t list Hebrew here because, for the sake of my energy work, I largely focus on Greek stuff (for the Mathēsis side of things) or Arabic (for the geomantic side), and Hebrew doesn’t fit into either category.

However, there is another option for coming up with an intonation that is rooted in geomantic practice: the BZDH (or BZDA) technique.  This is a little-known technique in Western geomancy that seems to have had more use in Arabic geomancy.  As I said in the earlier post about the geomantic figures and the human body:

From my translation of the 15th century work Lectura Geomantiae:

By the Greek word “b z d a” we can find the house of the figures, which is to say in which house the figures are strongest, wherefore when the first point starting from the upper part of the beginning figure is odd, the second house is strong; when the second point is odd, the seventh house is strong; when the third point is odd, the fourth house is strong; when the fourth and last point is odd, the eighth house is strong. Thus we will find by this number the proper houses of the figures; by “b” we understand 2, by “z” 7, by “d” 4, by “a” 8, as in this example: “b z d a”.

This may not make a lot of sense on its own, but compare what Felix Klein-Franke says in his article “The Geomancy of Aḥmad b. `Alī Zunbul: A Study of the Arabic Corpus Hermeticum” (AMBIX, March 1973, vol. XX):

The best taskīn is that of az-Zanātī; it bears the key-word bzdḥ: according to the principle of Gematria, the transposition of letters of a word into numbers, in place of bzdḥ there result the numbers 2748. Thus the Mansions of the taskīn are indicated; each spot denotes one of the four elements; in the 2nd Mansion there is only the element Fire (Laetitia, ḥayyān), in the 7th Mansion only Air (Rubeus, ḥumra), in the 4th Mansion only Water (Albus, bayāḍ), and in the 8th Mansion only Earth (Cauda Draconis, rakīza ẖāriǧa).

Stephen Skinner clarifies this even further in his works on geomancy.  From his 1980 book “Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy”:

Further specialized configurations or taskins are outlined together with mnemonics for remembering their order. Gematria, or the art of interpreting words in terms of the total of’ the numerical equivalents of each of their letters, is introduced at this point. Using the mnemonic of a particular taskin such as Bzdh, Zunbul explains that the letters represent the four Elements, in descending order of grossness. Each letter also represents a number in Arabic, thus:

b – 2 – Fire
z – 7 – Air
d – 4 – Water
h – 8 – Earth

This mnemonic therefore indicates House number 2 for Fire, House number 7 (Air), House number 4 (Water), and House number 8 (Earth). For each of the Houses indicated in this taskin, we see that the second is most compatible with Fire, the seventh with Air, and so on. Therefore, if the geomantic figure Laetitia (or in Arabic Hayyan), which is solely Fire, occurs in the second House, this would be. an extremely favourable omen. Likewise, the occurrence of Rubeus (or Humra), which is solely Air, in the seventh House would also be extremely auspicious. Further chapters are devoted to even more complicated combinations of the basic figures, and to labyrinthine rules for everything from marriage to medicine. Diagnosis by raml even became a lay rival of the latter, and tables were educed of the relationship between specific parts of the body and the geomantic figures.

In other words, based on these letters, we could intone a particular sound that starts with the letter “b” for Fire, “z” for Air, “d” for Earth, and “ḥ” (think of the guttural “ch” of German, but further back in the throat).

So, in this technique, we have four consonants that correspond to four elements.  We could use this BZDH technique to use these four consonants, each associated with one of the four elements according to an obscure technique in Arabic and early Western geomancy, to create a simple, clear syllable for each element when paired with a simple long vowel:

  • Arabic method:
    • Fire:  (با)
    • Air:  (زا)
    • Water:  (دا)
    • Earth: ḥā (حا)
  • Greek method:
    • Fire:  (ΒΗ)
    • Air:  (ΖΗ)
    • Water:  (ΔΗ)
    • Earth:  (Ἡ)
  • Latin method:
    • Fire: ba
    • Air: za
    • Water: da
    • Earth: a

Note that I’m largely using the “ah” sound a lot for these.  For one, in Greek, this is the vowel Alpha, which is associated with the Moon, which is one of the planets closest to the sphere of the Earth and which is one of the planets most aligned with the element of Earth.  Additionally, this would be represented in Arabic with the letter ‘Alif, which has the form of a straight vertical line, much like the geomantic figure Via (or Tarīq using its Arabic name), which is also a figure associated with the Moon and which is important as it contains all four elements; in this case, the “ah” sound would be most aligned to that of the powers of geomancy as a whole, I would claim.  Note, also, how the Latin transcription of ḥ (to represent the element Earth) turned into “a”; if you wanted to think of geomancy as primarily being an oracle of Earth (which is a claim I take some issue with), then the “ah” sound would indeed be closest for phonologically working with the elements from a geomantic perspective and from our worldly, manifest basis.  Yet, we’re using Ēta for the Greek method given above; for one, this is because there’s no distinct vowel for “long a”, but “long e” is a close-enough approximation.  Using ΒΑ, ΖΑ, ΔΑ, and Ἁ for them would work as well, but using Ēta is also acceptable in this case.

Now, remember that these four consonants are used because they have their origins in being specifically labeled as elemental in the original geomantic technique from whence they come due to their numerological (gematria or isopsephic) significance. The mnemonic BZDḤ was used based on the numerological values of those letters in Arabic: bāʾ for 2, zāy for 7, dāl for 4, and ḥāʾ for 8.  Interestingly, these same consonants were used in the European version of the technique as BZDA (with A replacing Ḥāʾ, though it makes more sense to consider it H) even though it’s not technically the letters that were important, but their numerical equivalents.  If we were to simply go by their numerological (or numeric order) basis, then we should use ΒΔΗΘ for Greek or BDGH for Latin.  I suppose that one could use these letters instead for the BZDH technique-based intonation syllables, but I feel like using the original BZDH (or BZDḤ) is truer to the elements themselves, though the true Greek system could also work given their stoicheic meanings: Bēta associated with the Fire sign Aries, Delta associated with the Air sign Gemini, Ēta (used consonantally as an aspiration/aitch letter) representing the planet Venus which can be associated with the element of Water, and Thēta associated with the element of Earth itself.  So, one could also use a Greek ΒΔΗΘ system like this (using Ēta below, but again, Alpha would also work):

  • Fire:  (ΒΗ)
  • Air: (ΔΗ)
  • Water: (Ἡ)
  • Earth: thē (ΘH)

Or a Latin BDGH system as:

  • Fire: ba
  • Air: da
  • Water: ga
  • Earth: ha

Again, I’m not a fan of using Latin generally, but I can see an argument for using a BDGH system here because it’s not really words, isopsephy, or stoicheia here that are necessarily important.  However, if we were to use Greek isopsephy for determining which letters to use to represent the four elements for a Greek ΒΔΗΘ system, why not use the Greek stoicheia for them, instead?  It breaks with why we were using numbers to begin with, but we already know the letters Khi, Phi, Ksi, and Thēta work quite well for the four elements themselves, so if we were taking a purely elemental approach, it seems more proper to just use the elemental letters instead of the numerologically-appropriate letters and their natural vowels (specifically their long versions to keep with the theme of using long vowels for the epodes):

  • Fire: khei (ΧΕI)
  • Air: phei (ΦΕI)
  • Water: ksei (ΞΕI)
  • Earth: thē (ΘH)

There are definitely arguments for the use of the stoicheically-appropriate letters (ΧΦΞΘ) over the others, or the isopsephically-appropriate ones (ΒΔΗΘ), or the transliterated Arabic ones (ΒΖΔΗ).  In a more Mathēsis-pure approach, I’d probably go with the stoicheic letters, but in this particular case, I’d recommend most the transliterated Arabic ones, because that set of letters ties this energy practice closest to the original geomantic technique.  I suppose experimentation would show which is best, but I’m most comfortable sticking with the BZDH technique.

However, even using the BZDH technique as a foundation for this, an interestingly extensible system of syllables can also be devised where the BZDH technique of using different consonants is mixed with using Greek vowels that were similar enough in element to those four consonants.  For this mashup, I used my Mathēsis understanding of the planets and their positions on the mathētic Tetractys or the planetary arrangement for the geomantic figures to get vowels for the elements, and settled on using Iōta (Sun) for Fire, Upsilon (Jupiter) for Air, Ēta (Venus) for Water, and Alpha (Moon) for Earth.  Though Mars would be more appropriate for Fire and Saturn for Earth, their corresponding vowels are Omicron and Ōmega, which may not be distinct enough for this purpose, as I feel like it should be, so I made a sufficiently-acceptable substitution to use the Sun for Fire instead of Mars, and the Moon for Earth instead of Saturn.

What’s nice about combining the BZDH technique with the planetary vowels is that we can mix and match both systems and, using our system of primary and secondary elements of the figures, get a distinct epode not only for the four elements but also for each of the sixteen geomantic figures, which can be extraordinarily useful in its own right for other magical and meditative purposes.  (And here I thought that little innovation of mine was no more than “a few sprinkles on the icing of the cake of Western geomancy” when it’s come in use time and time again!)  So, let’s see about making such a full system for all sixteen figures using the three competing Greek systems (Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ, Isopsephic ΒΔΗΘ, Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ):

Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ System
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΒΙ
BI
Laetitia
ΖΙ
ZI
Puer
ΔΙ
DI
Puella

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

HU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΖΗ

Coniunctio
ΔΗ

Albus


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

HA
Tristitia
Isopsephic ΒΔΗΘ System
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΒΙ
BI
Laetitia
ΔΙ
DI
Puer

HI
Puella
ΘΙ
THI
Carcer
Air ΒΥ
BU
Fortuna Minor
ΔΥ
DU
Rubeus

HU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΔΗ

Coniunctio


Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΒΑ
BA
Cauda Draconis
ΔΑ
DA
Acquisitio

HA
Populus
ΘΑ
THA
Tristitia
Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ System using Vague Elemental Vowels
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΧΙ
KHI
Laetitia
ΦΙ
PHI
Puer
ΞΙ
KSI
Puella
ΘΙ
THI
Carcer
Air ΧΥ
KHU
Fortuna Minor
ΦΥ
PHU
Rubeus
ΞΥ
KSU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΧΗ
KHĒ
Amissio
ΦΗ
PHĒ
Coniunctio
ΞΗ
KSĒ
Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΧΑ
KHA
Cauda Draconis
ΦΑ
PHA
Acquisitio
ΞΑ
KSA
Populus
ΘΑ
THA
Tristitia

Note that in the ΧΦΞΘ system below, instead of using Iōta for Fire and Alpha for Earth (as given in the “vague elemental vowels” table immediately above), I went with Omicron for Fire and Ōmega for Earth because, well, if we’re going to go all the way and stick solely to using stoicheically-appropriate consonants, it makes sense to follow through and stick to using the most precisely, stoicheically-appropriate vowels. However, it breaks with the other systems here, so while this is perhaps the most suited to a pure Mathēsis or purely-Western approach, it doesn’t fit with any of the others and it makes a total break with any BZDH system we have.  Additionally, the similarity between Omicron and Ōmega here can cause some confusion and difficulty for those who aren’t precise with their pronunciations, even if the system is precisely correct as far as stoicheia goes.

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

deep breath

Okay.  So, that’s all a lot of tables and lists and examples and options to pick from, all of which are nice and all, but where does that leave us?

What we wanted to come up with was a set of four simple intonable syllables—our “epodes”—to work with the four classical elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, much as how we have the seven Greek vowels to work with the seven traditional planets.  While a straightforward option would be to simply intone the words for the elements themselves, we can use an obscure geomantic technique that gives us four consonants to reflect the four elements, which we can then intone by adding a vowel to it.  However, we can make variants of this system based on how far we want to take the logic of why we have those four consonants to begin with, even going so far as to come up with a set of sixteen epodes for each of the geomantic figures.  These geomantic epodes work within the same overall system because the geomantic figures are compositions of the four elements, and the figures Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia are the geomantic figures that represent single elements unmixed with any other, which is a fact I’ve been able to use before for coming up with gestures for the four elements using the same logic.

Now, because of all the possibilities of what script to use (Arabic, Greek, Roman), what consonants to use (BZDH or the script-appropriate variants based on numerical order within that script’s alphabet), and what vowels to use (the “ah” sound, Ēta for Greek variants, or using stoicheically-appropriate vowels based on the planetary affinities towards the elements), we end up with quite a few different options for our elemental epodes:

Fire Air Water Earth
Words Arabic نار
nar
هواء
hawa’
ماء
ma’
تراب
turab
Greek πῦρ
pũr
ἀήρ
aḗr
ὕδωρ
húdōr
γῆ
gē̃
Latin ignis aer aqua terra
ΙΑΩ Names ΧΙΑΩΧ
khiaōkh
ΦΙΑΩΦ
phiaōph
ΞΙΑΩΞ
ksiaōks
ΘΙΑΩΘ
thiaōth
Transliterated Arabic با
زا
دا
حا
ḥā
Greek
Ēta
ΒΗ
ΖΗ
ΔΗ

Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΖΑ
za
ΔΑ
da

ha
Roman BA ZA DA A
Isopsephic Greek
Ēta
ΒΗ
ΔΗ

ΘH
thē
Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΔΑ
da

ha
ΘΑ
tha
Roman BA DA GA HA
Hybrid Transliterated ΒΙ
bi
ΖΥ
zu
ΔΗ

ha
Isopsephic ΒΙ
bi
ΔΥ
du

ΘΑ
tha
Mathēsis Natural
Vowels
ΧΕΙ
khei
ΦΕΙ
phei
ΞΕΙ
ksei
ΘΗ
thē
Vague
Vowels
ΧΙ
khi
ΦΥ
phu
ΞΗ
ksē
ΘΑ
tha
Exact
Vowels
ΧΟ
kho
ΦΥ
phu
ΞΗ
ksē
ΘΩ
thō

See now why I had to break all this out into its own separate post?

Originally, I was using the ΙΑΩ-based epodes, but I never really liked them, especially compared to all the other elegant options we have now based on the BZDH technique or its variants.  Of course, we have quite a few options now, and there are plenty of arguments for and against each one.  Here’s what I recommend based on your specific approach:

  • If you’re using a strict Arabic or classically “pure” geomantic system apart from planetary or other concerns and want to stick to the root of geomancy as much as possible, despite any other advantages out there from the other systems, use the Transliterated BZDH system, most preferably the Arabic system (bā/zā/dā/ḥā) or the Greek-Alpha system (ΒΑ/ΖΑ/ΔΑ/Ἁ), depending on how good your pronunciation skills at pharyngeal consonants are.
  • If you’re using a purely Greek system that wants to use the advantages of the stoicheia of the Greek alphabet as much as possible, use the Mathēsis system with exact vowels (ΧΟ/ΦΥ/ΞΗ/ΘΩ).
  • If you’re a general Western geomancer with no particular leanings towards or against any particular niche, use the Hybrid system with transliterated consonants (ΒΙ/ΖΥ/ΔΗ/Ἁ).  This would be considered the middle approach between the two extremes of “original root source” and “Mathēsis-only stoicheia please”, and is probably appropriate for the largest number of people given its ease of use and pronunciation.

Likewise, for the use of the geomantic epodes:

  • If you want a more general use, go with the Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ System.
  • If you want a specialized mathētic use, go with the Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ System with exact vowels.

Of course, given all the options above, there’s plenty of room for experimentation, and I’m sure one could extend the logic of the BZDH system (whether through transliteration, isopsephy, or stoicheia) even further and combining it with other vowel systems to come up with more options, or there would be still other ways to come up with elemental epodes (and maybe even geomantic epodes, as well) that aren’t based on the BZDH or ΧΦΞΘ systems!  As with so much else with geomantic magic, there’s so much to experiment and toy with, because it’s such a fertile and unexplored field of occult practice, so if you want to experiment with these or if you have other systems you use, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

The Physical and Subtle Human Body According to Geomancy

Every year, towards the end of summer leading through the middle of autumn, is my Hell Season.  Not that it’s a particularly chthonic or calamitous time of year or anything, but it’s just super busy.  Between my and my husband’s birthdays and our wedding anniversary, thirteen saint feast days, eight religious anniversaries, and a few other events and tasks every year take place during this time, and it always gets almost overwhelming at times.  We got a big start on that this year by taking a road trip to Maine this past weekend…all of fourteen hours up and fourteen hours down, with my husband and my sister and I in my tiny two-door coupe.  Plus, there’s a few more things happening later this week that will keep me out of contact for a few more days, so this year’s Hell Season is really getting to a strong start.  (If I’m slow with getting to your messages or requests, I gratefully appreciate your patience!)

Over this past weekend, I was apparently summoned in a Facebook thread; someone was contemplating the elemental arrangement of the geomantic figures, such that the topmost line is given to Fire, the next one down to Air, the next one after that to Water, and the bottommost line to Earth.  Given such an arrangement, they were interested in seeing how the elements given in such an order could overlap with the elements given to particular energy centers in the body (the resource they were using was some neopagan/Wiccan-derivative text that involves another rehash of the seven Vedic-system chakras with a novel Western elemental approach).  There are obvious issues in straightforwardly trying to map the elemental rows of the geomantic figures to a system of chakrasa, not least because they’re different systems with different bases of logic, but also because Western occult systems haven’t historically had a notion of “chakras” or bodily energy systems before the advent of Theosophy and the influx of “Oriental” traditions.  This isn’t to say that there are no energy practices in Western occulture historically, but nothing like what we’d commonly think of as having discrete energy centers or “chakras” in the body connected by meridians.

Still, it was an interesting idea; conceiving of a subtle energy body that uses the structure of the geomantic figures as a basis could be useful.  After all, I find the notion of energy centers in the body to be a useful one in many contexts, so why not conceive of the human body itself as structured geomantically?  From the reply I made on that Facebook thread:

…the system of how the elements are arranged as rows within a geomantic figure is based on their elemental density as well as their natural motion: Fire is the most subtle and burns outwards and upwards, Air is slightly more dense than Fire and moves sideways, Water is even more dense than Air and moves downward, and Earth is densest of all and compresses and condenses unto itself into a stable, unmoving form. This order (Fire, Air, Water, Earth) is different than that used in the Zodiac (Fire, Earth, Air, Water) due to a different logic, however, due to a different logic of how these two systems are built (I don’t have my notes on the latter zodiacal order at the moment and forget that system’s particular logic here).

Historically, the lines of the geomantic figures were already given to parts of the body:

Fire line: head
Air line: throat or arms
Water line: belly
Earth line: feet or legs

In this sense, we can see a sort of match between the metaphorical “geomantic” body parts and the elements of the rows they correspond to: the head with Fire due to the intelligent Divine Spark given to us as well as with sight and perceiving light or Light, the throat or arms with Air as means of communication and breathing, the belly with Water due to it being the seat of health and the humours of the body, and the legs or feet with Earth because they are what support us on the Earth. Such a system doesn’t match with one based on chakras, however, because there wasn’t historically a “chakra system” of the West, though there are other types and notions of energetic or subtle bodies (though not necessarily in those terms). Using Agrippa’s Scale of Four, for instance, we can consider a multipart “human” composed of Mind, Spirit, Soul, and Body, which are given to the elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, respectively, each with the faculties of Knowing, Thinking, Emotion, and Physicality, but these are more like interconnecting “layers” (think of the Egyptian notion of the multipart soul, with the physical body, spiritual body, identity, personality, shadow, heart, double, intelligence, power, and so forth).

Perhaps, if you were to shoehorn a variant of chakra systems onto the geomantic “body”, you could reinterpret it so that the third eye or crown chakra was given to Fire (giving it Will or Divinity) and the throat to Air. Such a “geomantic energy center” system could work, and might be useful to experiment with: the Fire center in the head, the Air center in the hollow of the throat, the Water center in the belly, and the Earth center either in the feet or at the perineum (where the legs meet the rest of the body). Could be interesting to experiment with!

The idea of using a geomantic template of thinking about energy centers in the body does seem interesting to me, but before we go onto that, how are the geomantic figures associated with the body in the extant literature we have available to us?  Given that the planets and signs of the Zodiac are associated with different parts of the body as well as the different organs and systems of the body, it also makes sense that the geomantic figures themselves would also be associated with them, too.  So, let’s start simple, shall we?  John Case in book III, chapter 9 of his 1697 work The Angelical Guide gives the following list of figures associated with parts of the body:

Figure Body Part
Puer Head or face
Coniunctio Belly
Puella Spine and lower back
Rubeus Arms
Carcer Feet
Via Breast or stomach
Albus Belly
Fortuna Maior Legs
Populus Knees
Cauda Draconis Thighs
Caput Draconis Belly
Acquisitio Head
Laetitia Throat
Amissio Navel
Tristitia Genitals and groin
Fortuna Minor Face and cheeks

However, it’s important to note that these associations may be limited in scope.  Case brings this list up in a discussion of queries related to house I, which is also the house that should be inspected to make sure the chart is authenticated: not necessarily valid, but useful and accurate as well as valid.  Specifically, Case says that “the Figure [chart] is verified also by certain moles, marks, or scars”, with the figure in house I indicating the part of the body where the mark may be found.  It’s important to note that the parts of the body are associated with the figures by means of their zodiacal correspondences, though it’s not made explicit in the list above; thus, because Case gives Populus to Capricorn (using the traditional associations of the figures to the Zodiac that I also use), and because Populus rules over the knees (and also bones, skin, etc.), Populus gets all the body associations that Capricorn has.

So much for Case’s simple scheme.  Then there’s the extraordinarily complex method of John Heydon in the Theomagia, where he gives a table of how the figures relate to the parts of the body based on what sign they fall in (book I, chapter 26).  (I understand the table is probably gonna be too wide for the usual width on my website, but just bear with me and accept that Heydon did not like to be concise.)

Sign Saturn Jupiter Mars Sun Venus Mercury Moon
Aries Breast
Arms
Shoulders
Heart
Stomach
Head
Belly
Head
Thighs
Feet
Lower back
Legs
Genitals
Head
Knees
Taurus Heart
Breast
Shoulders
Arms
Upper spine
Belly
Neck
Throat
Lower back
Knees Head
Genitals
Thighs
Feet
Throat
Legs
Gemini Stomach
Heart
Navel
Breast
Lights
Lower back
Loins
Arms
Shoulders
Genitals
Legs
Ankles
Neck
Throat
Thighs
Head
Knees
Arms
Shoulders
Feet
Cancer Lower back
Belly
Genitals
Stomach
Heart
Genitals
Bladder
Breast
Lights
Thighs
Feet Arms
Shoulders
Knees
Neck
Throat
Legs
Head
Breast
Stomach
Lights
Leo Genitals
Lower back
Belly
Hips
Thighs
Heart
Back
Knees
Head
Eyes
Breast
Heart
Legs
Arms
Shoulders
Feet
Neck
Throat
Heart
Back
Virgo Thighs
Genitals
Feet
Lower back
Loins
Knees
Belly
Legs
Neck
Throat
Stomach
Liver
Heart
Feet
Head
Breast
Lights
Shoulders
Arms
Belly
Libra Thighs
Knees
Legs
Genitals
Lower back
Genitals
Feet
Shoulders
Arms
Head
Belly
Hips
Neck
Throat
Heart
Stomach
Breast
Lights
Lower back
Loins
Scorpio Knees
Legs
Thighs
Feet
Head
Eyes
Genitals
Bladder
Breast
Stomach
Heart
Neck
Throat
Lower back
Loins
Shoulders
Arms
Belly
Stomach
Heart
Liver
Genitals
Sagittarius Legs
Feet
Head
Eyes
Knees
Neck
Throat
Thighs
Heart
Belly
Back
Shoulders
Arms
Genitals
Breast
Lower back
Loins
Lights
Bowels
Thighs
Capricorn Head
Feet
Neck
Throat
Legs
Arms
Shoulders
Knees
Belly
Hips
Breast
Lights
Thighs
Stomach
Liver
Heart
Genitals
Reins
Loins
Knees
Aquarius Head
Neck
Arms
Shoulders
Feet
Breast
Lights
Heart
Legs
Lower back
Loins
Thighs
Stomach
Liver
Heart
Back
Knees
Belly
Thighs
Genitals
Legs
Hips
Pisces Neck
Arms
Shoulders
Head
Eyes
Breast
Heart
Heart
Stomach
Liver
Feet
Genitals Hips
Belly
Legs
Lower back
Loins
Knees
Thighs
Feet

It’s important to note that, in this case, Heydon uses the usual planetary association of the figures, but only gives Cauda Draconis to Saturn and Caput Draconis to Jupiter.  Later on, in book III, chapter 7, Heydon talks about moles, marks, and scars as well:

Having projected your Figure, consider the Figure in the first House and the Idea and Ruler that governs it, and what part of member in mans body they govern: for the Querent hath a Mole, Mark or Scar in that part of his body.  Example: if Puer be in the first House, it is a cut in the head or face, or burn, or red Mole: If Coniunctio, it is on the belly, viz. a Mole, Mark or Scar: if Puella be in the first, it is on the Reins, viz. a Mark, &c. If Rubeus, the Secrets.

Consider if the first Figure go into any other House out of the first, the Querent hath a Mole in that part also: Consider Populus, and wheresoever she is, that House and Figure tells you in what part the Querent hath another.

What Figure is in the sixth House, notes usually a Mark, Mole, or Scar in the Member it signifieth, as you may read in the 26 Chapter of the first book: if Carcer or Tristitia signifie the Mar, &c. it is generally an excrescence of a dark obscure or black colour.

If Acquisitio or Lætitia, it is usually a purple or blewish Mole: If Puer or Rubeus, it is commonly some Scar, Slash or Cut, chiefly in a House governed by a fiery Idea [i.e. ruled over by a fire sign]; and sometimes a reddish Mole or spots of Gunpowder: If Fortuna Major, or Fortuna Minor, generally of an olive or chestnut colour: if Amissio or Puella, of a hony-color.

If Albus or Conjunctio, whitish or lead-color: if Populus or Via, white, and of the color the Figures signifie that behold them: Caput Draconis, white; Cauda Draconis, black or read: If the figure be Masculine that represents the Mole, Mark, &c. it is on the right side of the Body; if Feminine, judge the contrary.

If the Significator of the Mole, &c. be in the first, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth of any question; it is then visible to the eye, and other forepart of the Body: but the other Houses signifie the Mole is to to be seen, but it is on the back-part of the Body.

If ill Figures be in the first, the Querent is usually blemished: for the Face is signified by the first, let what figure soever be in it.

Note that, in general, the table Heydon gives above is related mostly to specific inquiries about house VI, while the figures themselves as described here typically are simply given the usual zodiacal correspondence to the body.  Heydon, I should note, uses the planetary-zodiacal associations common to later geomancers and which is in use by the Golden Dawn and John Michael Greer and not the older system that I and other geomancers historically used.  Heydon’s information above, however, is useful in determining not just the specific location of marks on the body, but also their type and coloration, too, which is information not otherwise commonly seen in the geomantic literature available to us.

So much for the scant Western resources we have on associating the geomantic figures with the parts of the body: the rule appears to be to link the figures to the parts of the body by means of their shared zodiacal correspondences. I can’t recall there being other sets of explicit associations of the figures with the body in Fludd, Pietro d’Abano, or other European authors, though I don’t doubt they exist; however, I do doubt that they’d do much more than retranslate existing sets of correspondences that exist for parts of the body using their shared zodiacal or planetary associations.

However, that’s not the only such correspondence available; there are others that directly link the figures to the body without a zodiacal or other correspondence go-between.  One Arabic treatise on geomancy, MS Arabe 2631 from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, gives the following diagram on folio 64v detailing a correspondence between the sixteen geomantic figures and the different parts of the body:

 

In this system, the parts of the body are given to the following figures:

Figure Body Part
Laetitia Head
Rubeus Throat and neck
Puella Left shoulder
Puer Right shoulder
Carcer Chest and breast
Amissio Left hand and arm
Acquisitio Right hand and arm
Albus Upper belly, stomach, solar plexus
Coniunctio Left torso and ribcage  Ribcage
Populus Right torso and ribcage (?)  Back
Via Navel, lower belly, and intestines
Tristitia Crotch and genitals
Fortuna Maior Left hip, thigh, and upper leg
Fortuna Minor Right hip, thigh and upper leg
Cauda Draconis Left foot and lower leg
Caput Draconis Right foot and lower leg

Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice gives a translation of these, but some of them are incorrect; he says that “the figure…faces outwards from the page, so left and right have been designated from the point of view of the figure rather than the manuscript page”, so he gives e.g. Puer to the left shoulder, although Puer in the diagram is clearly designated as “al-kutuf al-ayman”, or right shoulder.  I retranslated from the diagram in the manuscript as best I could.  The only figure in the list that was truly mysterious was Via, which was not given a label; Albus is designated as “belly”, so I interpreted that as the upper belly and stomach, and Via as the lower belly and intestines, though it could also refer to the back and spine (which, physically speaking, would resemble the shape of Via).  Similarly, I couldn’t make out what word is given to Populus, but given the symmetry here, I’m assuming it’s referring to the right side of the torso in general, though there is a chance that it refers to the inner viscera of the upper torso and Coniunctio refers to the outer flesh and the ribcage on both sides of the torso in general.  However, I can’t be certain as yet; those who can read this kind of older, book-script Arabic are welcome to comment.

EDIT: Thanks to a few people from the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook, I’ve amended some of the translations further.  Populus is given to the back and Coniunctio to the ribs.  Via, though unlabeled, can be interpreted as the navel, which still ties into the lower belly and intestines.  There still is some ambiguity in the diagram, but this is still far better off than we were before.  My thanks go out to Masood and B.A.!

Personally, I like the layout of the “Geomantic Adam” design above and how the figures are clearly arranged on the body, though I also like the use of planetary and zodiacal associations.  I suppose a blended approach could work: use the geomantic arrangement for general body areas, and the organs and physical systems associated with the planets and elements to fill in the gaps.  So, for instance, since Laetitia rules the head in the Arabic design, one could say that Laetitia would also rule over the brain; however, since Mercury rules over the nervous system as a whole, this could be given to Albus or Coniunctio, and given Albus’ location closer to the solar plexus, I’d wager that Albus could rule both the belly as a general physical area as well as the nervous system.  Further clarification on expanding the Arabic system would be good, I’d think, in one sense or another.

Anyway, back to the diagram.  Even with the parts of the body that are clearly labeled, we can see something fascinating: the figures with only one element active are associated clearly with the parts of the body that we’d call those corresponding elemental rows: Laetitia, with only the Fire/Head line active, is given to the head; Rubeus, with only the Air/Throat line active, is given to the throat; Albus, with only the Water/Belly line active, is given to the belly; and Tristitia, with only the Earth/Feet line active, is given to the privates and groin, which is the lowest part of the torso to which the feet and legs are connected.  Though the manuscript dates only to the 18th century, it’s likely that it has much earlier origins or carries on an older Arabic tradition of geomancy from whence the body-names of the rows of the figures comes.  This, along with a clear use of geomantic relationships between parts of the body that match each other (right hand and left hand, right shoulder and left shoulder, etc.) is greatly indicative that the body-correspondences given in MS Arabe 2631 are strictly geomantic in nature rather than using planetary or zodiacal go-betweens.

This reinforces the idea behind the notion of naming the four rows of a geomantic figure after their corresponding body parts (head, throat, belly, feet) and can be a key to coming up with a geomantic system of energy centers in the body:

  • The Fire Center would be found in the head, likely just under the crown of the skull directly above the top of the spinal column.
  • The Air Center would be found in the throat, in the middle of the neck though perhaps slightly closer to the spine than the front.
  • The Water Center would be found in the belly, closer to the stomach just under the ribcage near the solar plexus.
  • The Earth Center would be found in the groin, near the perineum at the base of the spine.

To offer a conjectural way to work with these energy centers, I’d feel that an intonation of some sort would be appropriate.  My usual power words for the four elements are based in Greek stoicheia, where each of the Greek letters has an occult signification, so I’d normally use ΧΙΑΩΧ for Fire (Khi is the Greek letter associated with this element combined with the divine name ΙΑΩ), ΦΙΑΩΦ for Air, ΞΙΑΩΞ for Water, and ΘΙΑΩΘ for Earth.  However, we can do better than that, especially given even what little we know about Arabic geomantic practices and how they tie into the elements.  One interesting technique comes to mind that crops up in some early European sources with a clearly Arabic origin: the use of the word BZDA.  From my translation of the 15th century work Lectura Geomantiae:

By the Greek word “b z d a” we can find the house of the figures, which is to say in which house the figures are strongest, wherefore when the first point starting from the upper part of the beginning figure is odd, the second house is strong; when the second point is odd, the seventh house is strong; when the third point is odd, the fourth house is strong; when the fourth and last point is odd, the eighth house is strong. Thus we will find by this number the proper houses of the figures; by “b” we understand 2, by “z” 7, by “d” 4, by “a” 8, as in this example: “b z d a”.

This may not make a lot of sense on its own, but compare what Felix Klein-Franke says in his article “The Geomancy of Aḥmad b. `Alī Zunbul: A Study of the Arabic Corpus Hermeticum” (AMBIX, March 1973, vol. XX):

The best taskīn is that of az-Zanātī; it bears the key-word bzdḥ: according to the principle of Gematria, the transposition of letters of a word into numbers, in place of bzdḥ there result the numbers 2748. Thus the Mansions of the taskīn are indicated; each spot denotes one of the four elements; in the 2nd Mansion there is only the element Fire (Laetitia, ḥayyān), in the 7th Mansion only Air (Rubeus, ḥumra), in the 4th Mansion only Water (Albus, bayāḍ), and in the 8th Mansion only Earth (Cauda Draconis, rakīza ẖāriǧa).

Stephen Skinner clarifies this even further in his works on geomancy.  From his 1980 book “Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy”:

Further specialized configurations or taskins are outlined together with mnemonics for remembering their order. Gematria, or the art of interpreting words in terms of the total of’ the numerical equivalents of each of their letters, is introduced at this point. Using the mnemonic of a particular taskin such as Bzdh, Zunbul explains that the letters represent the four Elements, in descending order of grossness. Each letter also represents a number in Arabic, thus:

b – 2 – Fire
z – 7 – Air
d – 4 – Water
h – 8 – Earth

This mnemonic therefore indicates House number 2 for Fire, House number 7 (Air), House number 4 (Water), and House number 8 (Earth). For each of the Houses indicated in this taskin, we see that the second is most compatible with Fire, the seventh with Air, and so on. Therefore, if the geomantic figure Laetitia (or in Arabic Hayyan), which is solely Fire, occurs in the second House, this would be. an extremely favourable omen. Likewise, the occurrence of Rubeus (or Humra), which is solely Air, in the seventh House would also be extremely auspicious. Further chapters are devoted to even more complicated combinations of the basic figures, and to labyrinthine rules for everything from marriage to medicine. Diagnosis by raml even became a lay rival of the latter, and tables were educed of the relationship between specific parts of the body and the geomantic figures.

In other words, based on these letters, we could intone a particular sound that starts with the letter “b” for Fire, “z” for Air, “d” for Earth, and “ḥ” (think of the guttural “ch” of German, but further back in the throat).  To vocalize them, since the Arabic alphabet doesn’t have vowels, I’d probably borrow Greek vowels which I know have similar-enough elemental qualities to what I’m looking for.  Thus:

  • Fire: bi
  • Air: zu
  • Water: de
  • Earth: ḥa

Those who might want to use a more Greek or Western approach could use the Greek letters and the natural vowels associated with them, which is simple given that they all have the same vowel Ēta:

  • Fire: 
  • Air: 
  • Water: 
  • Earth: 

Instead of using these, one might also use the Arabic terms for the elements instead for intonation purposes.  These are just the standard terms for the four elements, but Skinner gives them according to Aḥmad b. `Alī Zunbul as:

  • Fire: nar (pronounced “nahr”)
  • Air: hawa’ (pronounced “HAH-wa” with a sharp stop in the throat)
  • Water: ma’ (pronounced “ma” with a sharp stop in the throat)
  • Earth: turab (pronounced “tuh-RAHB”)

Of course, this is all highly hypothetical and experimental stuff we’re getting into, but then, that’s never stopped me before.  I would venture to say that this sort of geomantic energy center work could easily and happily be paired with my system of geomantic gestures or “mudras”, such that when working with the Fire Center in the head, one would make the gesture for Laetitia while intoning bi or  or nar.  With enough experimentation, I suppose a full (or at least fuller) system of energy work with a geomantic subtle body could be developed for other magical work, or used instead of Vedic- or Chinese-based systems that are commonly found in later Hermetic or Western magical systems.  This is definitely something I want to (slowly) explore, but if you’re interested and willing to give it a shot, why not try experimenting with this system as a base for your own work?  If you do, I’d love to hear what you’d think of such a practice!

Same Figures, but Different Names and Different Traditions

In addition to the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook that I admin, there are a few other groups out there that focus on geomancy.  I may or may not be a member of them, or I might have been at one point before leaving, but there’s one that I belong to that focuses on the Arabic style of geomancy, Ilm-e-Ramal (Geomancy).  What the Geomantic Study-Group is for Western geomancy, this group is for Arabic `ilm al-raml (the formal Arabic term for geomancy, literally “the science of the sand”, sometimes abbreviated to raml or ramal), and since I’d love to learn more about that style of geomancy, I decided to join in.  It’s not always easy, since many of the members use Urdu or Arabic as their primary language, but when there are English conversations, I try to follow along best I can.

One of the major issues in learning Arabic `ilm al-raml for an English speaker is, of course, terminology.  It’s only fair and expected that the users of a system built in one language would use that language to discuss it, but it still poses a stumbling block.  After all, geomancy has been practiced continuously in Arabic- and Urdu-speaking countries far longer than it was in Europe, and they’ve kept the system in their own ways.  Once I see what they’re doing and see certain words repeated in certain contexts, I can usually catch on and follow along, but the biggest impediment to discussing geomancy and `iln al-raml is the different names we have for the figures themselves.  It’s difficult for me to talk about the meanings of a given figure and compare it with what it means in `ilm al-raml when neither of us know which figure we’re supposed to be talking about, after all.

So, with that in mind, I decided to produce the following table that lists the names of the sixteen geomantic figures and their names in Western geomancy (in Latin and English, using their most popular form) and in Arabic `ilm al-raml (in Arabic and English, again using their popular form).  This is to help me out to learn the names of the figures better in Arabic contexts, as well as to help the students of `ilm al-raml learn the European names for Western contexts.  For other variants in these and other languages that have historically been used for geomancy, including Hebrew, Greek, Sudanese, and Malagasy, I’d recommend checking out Stephen Skinner’s book on geomancy, Geomancy in Theory and Practice, and his larger book on correspondences, The Complete Magician’s Tables.

Figure Latin Arabic Yoruba
Populus
People
جماعت
Jamaʿat
Group
Oyẹku
Via
Way
طريق
Ṭariq
Way
Ogbe
Albus
White
بياض
Bayaḍ
White
Oturupọn
Coniunctio
Conjunction
اجتماع
Ijtimaʿ
Meeting
Iwori
Puella
Girl
نقى
Naqi
Pure
Otura
Amissio
Loss
قبض الخارج
Qubiḍ al-kharij
Catching the outside
Ọsẹ
Fortuna Maior
Greater Fortune
نصرهّ الداخل
Nuṣraht al-dahkhil
Inside victory
Iwọnrin
Fortuna Minor
Lesser Fortune
نصرهّ الخارج
Nuṣraht al-kharij
Outside victory
Irosun
Puer
Boy
فرح
Farih
Happiness
Irẹtẹ
Rubeus
Red
حمره
Ḥumrah
Red
Ika
Acquisitio
Gain
قبض الداخل
Qubiḍ al-dakhil
Catching the inside
Ofun
Laetitia
Joy
ليحان
Layhan (or Ḥayyan)
Bearded
Ọbara
Tristitia
Sorrow
انكيس
Ankis
Reversal
Ọkanran
Carcer
Prison
عقله
ʿUqlah
Shackle
Odi
Caput Draconis
Head of the Dragon
عتبة الداخل
ʿAtabaht al-dakhil
Inner threshold
Ọsa
Cauda Draconis
Tail of the Dragon
عتبة الخارج
ʿAtabaht al-kharij
Outer threshold
Ogunda

Because I like using an Arabic transliteration system that uses diacritics for faithful romanization, it can be a little difficult to read the Arabic names, but the accented letters can be read as follows:

  • q sounds like a “k”, but further back in the throat.
  • ṭ, ṣ, and ḍ all sound like normal but with the back of the tongue further to the back and top of the throat.  However, in Urdu, ṭ and ṣ just sound like “t” and “s”, and ḍ just sounds like “z”.
  • ǧ sounds like a soft “g” or “j” (or like in the word “division”).
  • ḫ sounds like the “ch” in Scottish “loch“.
  • ḥ sounds like the “ch” in Scottish “loch” but a little smoother.
  • ʿ sounds like a very soft, whispered “h” sound, if pronounced at all.

So, “Bayaḍ” can sound like either “bah-yahd'”, or “bayz”, “Nuṣraht al-ḫariǧ” will sound like “nus-raht al-khareej”, and so forth.  Note that some of these names are not proper Arabic, and moreover, just like in Western geomancy, there are dozens of names used across the Arabophone sphere.  These are just one set that I’ve found common in geomancy groups online, and are the ones I’m trying to memorize.  Most of the other variants used are just that: variants, which are easy enough to pick up on.

Also, note that I’m using the standard planetary order of the figures in the above chart, which is fairly common for Western geomancers.  While Western geomancy doesn’t really prescribe a particular order as the order of the figures, Arabic geomancy has a set number of particular orders of the figures that are used for various divinatory purposes.  Probably the most common and canonical one is the dairah-e-abdah, which uses a kind of binary ordering, as seen in the following diagram (to be read from right to left):

While it may not seem like it makes much sense for me to make a single blog post doing nothing more than transliterating and translating a single set of Arabic names into English, given my penchant for long-winded exploratory posts, this is still an important first step in increasing Western geomancers’ understanding of Arabic `ilm al-raml as well as Arabic practitioners’ understanding of Western geomancy.  After all, it’s hard to make a journey if the door is still shut, and this helps open the door for both sides.

Now, you’ll notice that I’ve also included a third set of names, which are Yoruba for the figures as used in the sacred divination of Ifá.  I’ve included them for reference (both my own and other scholars of geomancy, especially those with a historical or academic eye), but I want to make something clear that I’ve only mentioned in passing before: Ifá is not geomancy, and geomancy is not Ifá.  Stephen Skinner talks at length about how the art of Ifá came about historically in his geomancy book, but the short of the matter is this: as geomancy traveled along the Arabic trade routes from its (likely) origin in the northern Sahara westward to Morocco and Spain, eastward to Palestine and Greece, and southward through Africa as far as Madagascar, it also traveled to West Africa where it was adopted and adapted by the priests and lorekeepers of the cultures living there.

While geomancy largely retained the same form and (mostly) the same interpretations everywhere else, it underwent dramatic changes and adaptations to the native Yoruba and Fon cultures in what is now Nigeria and Benin to become Ifá.  The form of the figures and several crucial aspects of geomancy were retained, but pretty much the entirety of the art was rebuilt from the ground up and grew apart into its own entirely-unique system.  As a result, although we as geomancers might recognize that Ifá has sixteen figures in the same format we’d consider them to be figures, almost nothing of what we know about geomancy applies to Ifá, and no assumptions should be made regarding any similarities besides the superficial appearance thereof.  To say it another way, if European geomancy and Arabic `ilm al-raml are sisters who grew up in the same house but then left to go their separate ways in neighboring cities, then Ifá is a distant cousin who grew up in an entirely different part of the country with little contact with the rest of the family.

As an initiate in La Regla de Ocha Lukumi (aka Santería), which also has roots in Nigeria and matured alongside Ifá in Cuba, Ifá is something I’m constantly surrounded by, especially since I belong to an Ifá-centric house that respects, utilizes, and incorporates Ifá and its priests (the babalawos and oluwos) in our ceremonies and lives.  While I understand the historical origins of Ifá from geomancy, I also have to understand and respect the mythological origins and religious context of its practice as its own thing.  And, like Santería itself, it’s an initiated tradition, and non-initiates are not taught or permitted to learn the secrets of Ifá; for various reasons, I am not and will likely never become an initiate in Ifá.  Unlike many Western systems including geomancy, where formal initiation is not really a Thing outside magical lodges and certain master-student systems, this might be something of a shock to my readers, but as it is, there is only so much of the external parts of Ifá that I can learn, and even less that I’m willing to share to people, even to those in Santería itself.  I caution my readers to avoid getting too studious of Ifá without considering proper initiation and study under a legitimate and respected babalawo.

Likewise, a similar word of warning for those Western geomancers who aspire to study Arabic `ilm al-raml and vice versa.  Unlike geomancy and Ifá, geomancy and `ilm al-raml are much closer in method, meaning, and use, and many things are easily translatable between the two systems.  However, caution should still be taken, because although they’re very close sister traditions where there are more similarities than differences, they are still different traditions where the differences still matter.  It’s much like the difference between Western astrology and Indian jyotiṣa astrology: same origin, same symbols, slightly different techniques of interpretation and shades of meaning of those symbols.  While some things are translatable between geomancy and `ilm al-raml, not everything is, and the two systems should still be respected as two separate systems.  Experience and study of both systems will show the diligent geomancer what can be brought over with no effort, what must be adapted from one system to the other, and what is unique and proper to one system and not the other.  Though they share the same origin and great similarities, enough time, space, and work has passed that have made the two sciences grow apart into their own unique systems.  Respect that, study the differences, and experiment accordingly.

Also, my thanks go out to Masood Ali Thahim, one of the multilingual good guys in the `ilm al-raml group on Facebook, who helped me with the Arabic spelling and transliteration of the names of the figures as used in `ilm al-raml.