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
Ǧamaʿat
Group
Oyẹku
Via
Way
طريق
Ṭariq
Way
Ogbe
Albus
White
بياض
Bayaḍ
White
Oturupọn
Coniunctio
Conjunction
اجتماع
Iǧtimaʿ
Meeting
Iwori
Puella
Girl
نقى
Naqi
Pure
Otura
Amissio
Loss
قبض الخارج
Qubiḍ al-ḫariǧ
Catching the outside
Ọsẹ
Fortuna Maior
Greater Fortune
نصرهّ الداخل
Nuṣraht al-daḫil
Inside victory
Iwọnrin
Fortuna Minor
Lesser Fortune
نصرهّ الخارج
Nuṣraht al-ḫariǧ
Outside victory
Irosun
Puer
Boy
فرح
Farih
Happiness
Irẹtẹ
Rubeus
Red
حمره
Ḥumrah
Red
Ika
Acquisitio
Gain
قبض الداخل
Qubiḍ al-daḫil
Catching the inside
Ofun
Laetitia
Joy
ليحان
Layhan
Bearded
Ọbara
Tristitia
Sorrow
انكيس
Ankis
Ọkanran
Carcer
Prison
عقله
ʿUqlah
Odi
Caput Draconis
Head of the Dragon
عتبة الداخل
ʿAtabaht al-daḫil
Inner threshold
Ọsa
Cauda Draconis
Tail of the Dragon
عتبة الخارج
ʿAtabaht al-ḫariǧ
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.

Directions of the Geomantic Figures

Recently, someone commented on one of my geomancy-related pages asking about the directions associated with the geomantic figures.  I’m…actually surprised I don’t have a post written about that, and it’s a good topic, so I figured I’d oblige and discuss that briefly.  Like with anything, there are more than one set of correspondences that can be used, depending on what source you’re working from or what techniques you’re using, but it’s not like that’s anything new to someone who’s familiar with the corpus of knowledge for geomancy.

Probably the most straightforward way is to associate the directions with the four elements, as given by Cornelius Agrippa (book II, chapter 7), and use the elemental rulers of the geomantic figures from that.  This results in a simple association:

Direction Element Figures
East Fire Laetitia, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Amissio
South Earth Tristitia, Caput Draconis, Carcer, Fortuna Maior
West Air Rubeus, Puer, Coniunctio, Acquisitio
North Water Albus, Puella, Via, Populus

Easy enough, and this is the system I prefer to use myself.  However, I know of at least one other cardinal direction association in Western literature, and this one comes from the great English geomancer Robert Fludd.  Question 21 in book IV of his 1687 work Fasciculus Geomanticus talks about a method to lost or hidden objects.  I have a whole post already discussing this topic, but I figured I’ll quote and translate this particular section from Fludd in full for its own sake, as it offers its own take on finding such things:

Question XXI.
Where might the lost thing lie or be hidden?

The first is given to the querent, the tenth to the thing, and the fourth to the place under consideration.

In addition, another way to know the place of the hidden thing: consider by the fourth figure in which part of the world the thing may be in.  That area is divided from the East to the West [and] from the South to the North, for there the thing will be found, which the fourth figure will demonstrate.  And if that area is too large for the sudden discovery of the hidden thing, it is necessary to again divide that part into four other parts, and so often it is known until what time the place may be sufficiently small for the quick discovery of the hidden thing, and the fourth figure will always be the demonstrator of the place in this manner.

Or, rather, a place is divided into four parts, namely into the East, West, South, and North.  Next, look upon the fourth figure, especially of what element it might be.  For if it is of the Air, this indicates the Eastern part, if of fire the South, if of Water the North, if of Earth the West.  For example:

  • East: Laetitia, Acquisitio, Puer, Coniunctio ([figures of] Air)
  • South: Rubeus, Fortuna Minor, Amissio, Cauda Draconis ([figures of] Fire)
  • West: Fortuna Maior, Caput Draconis, Tristitia, Carcer ([figures of] Earth)
  • North: Populus, Via, Amissio, Albus ([figures of] Water)

When, therefore, you find the fourth, where the thing may be found, you will make a new judgment, and similarly judge by the fourth house as before.  Then, the indicated area is again divided into four equal parts; this method is repeated until the place is reduced into a small or confined space.

While Fludd’s and my elemental associations for the figures differ slightly, the idea is the same: associate the elements with the directions, and use the elemental rulers of the geomancy figures as a basis for knowing their directions.  Another thing to note is his manner of associating the elements with the directions; I haven’t seen this specific manner of associating directions with the elements before, but I have written about different ways to correspond the elements with the directions and how it works for someone internally to their own system.  I prefer the Agrippa-style correspondences, based on the celestial directions of the four cardinal signs of the Zodiac, but your mileage and preferences may vary.  Use the system most appropriate to you.

Another similar system that we know of comes from Arabic geomancy, where we have the following diagram from Arabic MS 2697 from the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris:

Originally used as a method to find water, the idea is fundamentally the same:

  • East: Carcer, Puella, Fortuna Maior, Tristitia
  • South: Acquisitio, Caput Draconis, Rubeus, Coniunctio
  • West: Amissio, Via, Albus, Cauda Draconis
  • North: Populus, Laetitia, Puer, Fortuna Minor

According to E. Savage-Smith M. Smith in their Islamic Geomancy and a Thirteenth-Century Divinatory Device (1980), they describe the method used for this (p. 66):

… Near the location where the item is thought to be, the geomancer is told to make a tableau and then to count how many waters are in it (i.e. to count the figures having a single dot in the third rank and to multiply this number by three).  If less than eight there is nothing there; otherwise, the geomancer should proceed to make a new tableau, after marking the directions of the compass on the ground.  He then counts all the elements in the tableau, multiplying the number of single dots in each rank by the value of the rank [ed. note: 1 for fire, 2 for air, 3 for water, 4 for earth].  the sum is then divided by 128, the remainder divided by 16, that remainder divided by 9, and finally that remainder divided by 4.  If one is left the direction is easy; if two, west; if three, north; and if four south.  The geomancer then faces that direction and draws a square on the ground and follows the same procedure to produce a new tableau, and the numerical process is repeated until one, two, there, or four is left.  Then the geomancer looks a the Mother in the tableau which corresponds to this remainder and locates that figure in the square diagram in the manual … The corresponding position on the square which he has drawn on the ground in front of him determines where the object is.  If it is buried, then the depth can be determined by knowing that the element of fire is assigned the depth of a finger, air the depth of the breadth of a hand, water the length of a cubit, and earth the length of a human body.  The geomancer then looks at the figure of the Mother which was found to be the indicator, counts the ranks containing only one dot, and adds up the corresponding lengths.  Then, using a certain ordering of the figures known as the “taskīn of the letters”, he finds the figure that occupies the same position in the taskīn that the Mother occupied in the tableau.  He counts the ranks of that figure which contain a single dot and adds the corresponding lengths.  Finally, he finds the sum of the number obtained from the Mother and the number found from the figure in the taskīn.  This is the depth at which the object is located.

Definitely an interesting method of finding lost objects, especially when they might actually be buried in the desert, but again, the fundamental idea is the same as Fludd’s (if not a little more ritualized).  Elsewhere in the text, Savage Smith and Smith give another association of the geomantic figures with the directions, this time based on their connections with the lunar mansions (though one that I have a hard time wrapping my head around, and which doesn’t look at all similar to the one inherited by Europe):

Direction Season Lunar Mansion Type Figure
East Spring 4 Rising Laetitia
16, 17 Setting Caput Draconis
6 Rising Acquisitio
7, 8, 9 Rising Coniunctio
South Summer 3 Setting Fortuna Minor
20 Rising Populus
5 Setting Rubeus
21 Rising Puella
West Autumn 4 Setting Tristitia
16, 17 Rising Cauda Draconis
6 Setting Amissio
14, 15 Both Carcer
North Winter 3 Rising Fortuna Maior
13 Both Via
5 Rising Albus
21 Setting Puer

Savage-Smith and Smith go on at length about this system of lunar mansions and how they relate to rising and setting along, but that’s outside the scope of the current post.

Now, in addition to all that, John Michael Greer in his Art and Practice of Geomancy (2009) gives get another set of associations, this time by associating the 16 geomantic figures with the 12 houses of the House Chart, and using the directions for each house.  This uses the minor directions (e.g. east-northeast) and can give much more fine gradations in directional guidance, which is excellent for navigation:

House Direction Figure
1 E Puer, Cauda Draconis
2 ENE Fortuna Maior, Fortuna Minor
3 NNE Albus
4 N Populus, Via
5 NNW Rubeus
6 WNW Tristitia
7 W Puella, Caput Draconis
8 WSW Laetitia
9 SSW Coniunctio
10 S Carcer
11 SSE Amissio
12 ESE Acquisitio

That said, I don’t know where JMG got this set of associations from (or I forgot).  At first glance, they seem tied to the planetary-zodiacal correspondence and linking the signs of the Zodiac to the houses, such that Puella is considered associated with Libra due to its association with Venus, and Libra is the seventh sign, then Puella should be given to the seventh house.  Though JMG uses this planetary-zodiacal correspondence, I prefer the one given by Gerard of Cremona; again, your mileage and methods may vary.  Beyond that, though, I’m not certain where this specific geomantic association came from, and it only seems very loosely tied to the planetary-zodiacal correspondences of the figures.

Hope that helps!  Personally, I prefer to use the simple elemental rulerships of the figures as the key to corresponding directions with them, at least where geomancy and its symbols are considered primary.  For instance, if I’m doing a ritual that uses the geomantic figures as the primary symbols I’m working with, I’ll face the direction associated with that figure’s elemental ruler; if I’m doing a geomantic reading, I’ll use that same direction in location/direction-related queries.  If, however, I’m performing a ritual where the planets or zodiac signs are primary, I’ll face the direction of that celestial thing and use the geomantic figures (if I use them at all) facing that direction.  Context, I suppose, is everything, but for the purposes of divination and geomantic ritual, simpler is better.

On Geomancy as Actually Being Earthy

I’ll be honest with you.  I don’t actually think geomancy is nearly as earthy as people make it out to be.

Yes, the word “geomancy” comes from Greek γεωμαντεια, literally “earth-seeing”.  Yes, St. Isidore of Seville and Hugh of St. Victor, two philologists and academics of the medieval era, list geomancy as a form of divination alongside other elemental forms of divination (although St. Isidore lived and wrote about geomancy several centuries before we have records of it ever being practiced).  However, I think this is glossing over something very important.  If you look at the history of the word geomancy, the Greek word was a calque (literal word-for-word translation) from the Arabic term for it, `ilm al-raml, which literally means “science of the sand”.  This is in reference to the way the first geomancers practiced their art, by drawing out the figures and dots and lines in sand or loose, fine soil as would have been done by shepherds and holy men in the desert climates of the Sahara.  Thus, sand being the “earth” of the Arabs, I suppose it’s reasonable to translate `ilm alm-raml literally as “earth-seeing”.

The problem with this is that people have taken the word and gone into some pretty crazy directions with it.  For one, the word “geomancy” is haphazardly applied to such varied things as the Chinese art of feng shui (literally “wind and water”, probably more accurately translated as “auspicious designing”) as well as the more modern art of plotting ley lines and places of natural power, which might better be termed “spiritual/occult geography”.  Modern fantasy stories and role-playing games haven’t helped matters any, for that matter, by badly applying any word ending in “-mancy” to a field of magic, such as pyromancy to bending the forces of Fire or geomancy to bending the forces of Earth to cause harm or help with the wave of a wand or utterance of a word of power.  (Alas that I can’t do that…yet.)

Then again, maybe “geomancy” isn’t the best name for this art of divination I practice, either.  In its deepest, oldest, and most tried-and-true sense, geomancy should be just that: earth-seeing, scrying using dirt or rocks or crystal formations in and upon the Earth itself, just as pyromancy is scrying flames or just as hydromancy is scrying the patterns and images that appear in bodies of water.  To use the word “geomancy” implies a strong connection using the natural resources of the Earth that express the element of Earth, and, well…that’s simply not the case with the art called “geomancy”.

To put it simply, geomancy is not based on Earth, but based on the Earth; it’s not about γη the element, but Γη the place we live.  There is, quite literally, a world of difference between the two.

Consider, if you will, a bit of Qabbalah.  The sephirah associated with the Earth is Malkuth, sephirah #10 at the bottom of the Tree of Life.  This sephirah is seen as the distillation and combination, the entire purpose and the entire root of the Tree of Life.  However, while each of the other sephirah are presented as just one color (e.g. red for Geburah, yellow for Tiphareth, green for Netzach), Malkuth is unusual in that it’s presented as four colors all at once: citrine, olive, russet, and black.  This is because Malkuth isn’t a single atomic force, but a combination of the four elements that are Air, Water, Fire, and Earth.  Older European Hermetic depictions of the cosmos as a series of nested spheres often show the Earth as within four spheres of the elements Earth, Water, Air, and Fire all nested within the sphere of the Moon.

Thus, the Earth is the combination of the four elements Fire, Air, Water, and Earth that together make up our world; the Earth is not synonymous with the element Earth.  Similarly, the art called geomancy uses 16 figures that are themselves amalgamations of the four elements, and manipulates them using binary algorithms to figure out what’s going on in the world we live in.  Geomancy doesn’t just deal with the element of Earth, but it deals with those of Fire, Air, and Water equally as much to figure out what’s going on in the world we live in.  Geomancy isn’t about divination with the element of Earth; geomancy is about divination to understand the Earth and what’s going on in this sphere we call “the World”.  Perhaps another, more appropriate word for this art might be κοσμομαντεια, cosmomancy or “cosmos-seeing”.  It’s more inclusive than just using the element of Earth, since we geomancers actually use all four elements in all their combinations, just as the world, or the κοσμος, we live in expresses all the elements in all their combinations.  Alternatively, seeing how we use the four elements in divination, we might also call it στοιχειομαντεια, stoicheiomancy or “element-seeing”, perhaps which can be translated “theoretical alchemical divination”, which isn’t a bad way to summarize the art of geomancy generally.

However, I doubt I’ll be able to shift to using these alternate terms anytime soon, or encourage others to do the same; the word “geomancy” is simply too entrenched into the art over its millennium-long history, and I’m a little fond of how it rolls off the tongue.  Still, I think it’d do the geomantic community well to take another look at the term “geomancy” and remember that it’s not the element of Earth that we focus on, but the world we call the Earth that geomancy relies upon.  Geomancy can be considered “terrestrial astrology”, as Stephen Skinner famously called it; while it does injustice towards the arts of geomancy and astrology alike, it makes sense from an outsider’s point of view.  Astrology is the understanding of the heavens using heavenly bodies and how they affect us; geomancy is the understanding of the World using worldly elements and how they affect us.

Consider this another way, too: when we read the geomantic chart, we start with the Judge and work our way up.  We literally begin at the bottom and look upward.  That’s basically the perspective of everything from the Earth’s point of view; it looks upward from beneath everything, seeing everything from below.  This ties in elegantly with late Renaissance theories of how geomancy “works”; while most geomancers agreed that it was an act of the soul within humans that allowed it to reach out and contact the divine for guidance, it was also played in part by the anima Mundi, or the soul of the world, that gave us the answers.  In contacting the Earth, we learn pretty much everything that happens, has happened, and will happen, and get a pretty down-to-earth (boo) and objective answer.

So, I think I’ll disagree with how the estimable John Michael Greer labeled the art when he titled his first book on geomancy “Earth Divination: Earth Magic”.  Geomancy is far from being divination-by-earth, but should be seen rather as divination-of-the-Earth.  The distinction in nuance here is pretty big, and I think it’d pay off well for us geomancers to reconsider how our art came to be and the forces we’re calling on.  If we’re just calling on the powers and spirits of the element of Earth to help us in geomantic divination and works, then we’re effectively forgetting the other three-quarters of the art that involve the powers and spirits of Fire, Air, and Water.  I think a healthy spiritual approach to this art should remember that fact, and model itself accordingly.