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.

Colored Views

I recently saw someone on my Twitter feed post a sentiment along the lines of annoyance that people still use the term “white magic” to market or label things in the occult,   The annoyance stemmed, according to them, because the use of “white” to mean “pure” or “good”, and “black” to mean “impure” or “evil”, has significant racist underpinnings.  It got into a kind of mini-debate where I honestly don’t get what there is to be offended about the terms, and that this person wanted the language to change since clearly it has an impact on the occult community with notions of social racism and that the use of such terms acts as a shaming mechanism.

This person also has a Tumblr, and as my witful sister once said about people on that network, “I had no idea there were so many things to be offended about”.

The use of white to mean purity and black to mean impurity goes a long, long way back before the civil rights era or, as far as I can tell, the use of skin color for social discrimination.  Many color associations are ancient, if not instinctual to humans based on our own evolution, and many others are based on traditions and beliefs that go as far back as the beginnings of society itself.

  • The Bible, arguably a foundational document in Western culture, contains many uses of white and black.  The Asperges Me has the phrase “wash me and I will be whiter than snow”.  God separated the darkness from the light on the First Day of Creation.  There are many injunctions to keep pure with white clothes in the Old and New Testaments.  White is associated with innocence, sacrifice, and purity, a la Jesus as the Sacrificial Lamb.  Black and darkness are associated with evil, ignorance, demons, and the like.  (Just as a note, the people who wrote these books were decidedly not white.)
  • Ancient Greek religion considered white animals appropriate for the celestial gods and black ones for the underworld gods.  They also considered the black underworld to be the home of pains, Furies, tortures, and the like, while the white heavens were the home of the beautiful gods and Olympos.  Hades was considered to be a gloomy, dim, dark place for the dead, and Tartarus was said to be the darkest pit of them all for the most wicked.
  • Kali, a violent destroyer purger goddess in Hinduism, is portrayed with black or dark-blue skin, and whose name means “dark one”.  She, however, is often seen as a fearful figure, but has powers for a kind of hard-to-fathom cosmic good, as well.
  • Asian cultures often use white in funerary and purification rituals.
  • Yoruban mythology has the orisha Obatala, the King of White Cloth, good for purification, cooling down, and being detached from drama and pain.  Babalu Aye, the orisha of death and disease, has dark colors like black and purple.  (And these people, who are based in modern-day Nigeria, are most certainly not white.)
  • Cornelius Agrippa mentions that prayers and holy work should always be done with light present, and the Heptameron rituals offer a blessing to purify fire and incense for light and spirit to cast out any darkness or deception from the working area.
  • In ancient Egyptian thought, black was associated with Osiris, the god who died and was reborn, and also with fecundity and fertility, since it was the color of the fertile life-sustaining black soil that remained after the Nile floods each year.

These are only a very few examples I can pull off the top of my head, and I’m sure there are many more some of my readers can think of.

Why might we have had these associations?  Honestly, because we see them in the world.  White things turn black with dirt, grime, and mold.  Food that turns black from another color tends to indicate that the food has gone bad and may make one sick or die when ingested.  Corpses decompose and rot, turning dark colors, over time.  Diseases often leave black marks or sores.  Things that are consumed in fire become blackened and charred.  Metal becomes tarnished and dark.  Nighttime, a time of blackness, is when we cannot see easily and more things can more easily harm or kill us in the cover of shadow than in the daytime.   And so forth, and so on.  These color associations are as old as many others, such as red indicating life and vitality, blue indicating peace or wisdom, gold indicating nobility or wealth, and so on.  Does that make white better than black?  No.  Does that make black worse than white?  No.  They have different purposes for different ends.  Neither is better than the other, just as gold isn’t a better color than silver, or blue over orange.  They have different purposes according to their hue and saturation; that’s it.

Of course, that apparently didn’t matter to this one person.  Apparently, because it’s got such a long history and because it’s so entrenched in our symbolic languages, that’s all the more reason for us to stop using it entirely.  It’s apparently harmful, ignorant, and disastrous to people’s mindsets, and acts as a shaming mechanism to put people of color down.  This person linked me to a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., on this:

Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything black, ugly and evil. Look in your dictionary and see the synonyms of the word “black.” It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word, “white.” It’s always some pure, high and. I want to get the language so right that everybody here will cry out, “Yes I’m Black and I’m proud of it. I’m Black and I’m beautiful”.

…and this quote didn’t really further their argument in any way I could see.  In fact, their argument (as little as they made before the discussion was ended and they rage-unfollowed me) didn’t seem to amount to anything more than “the use of white and black color symbolism is always racist, period”.   I assume, to expand on what they didn’t, that because we use the word “black” to describe people of African descent, all the associations of color we have with black automatically are transferred to them, so we should get rid of the associations, because all those associations are demeaning when applied to humans.  And, to an extent, I agree; calling someone impure, evil, ignorant, and the like is a dick move, even if they are those things.  But calling them those things by means of a color that kinda-sorta resembles the optical result of the melanin in their skin?  That’s even more of a dick move, because it ignores their actual state and misapplies the term itself entirely.  Beating this term and all its associations of ignorance, evil, and the like into their heads because they’re described with a black skin tone is racism, flat out, but that’s not a function of the color having those attributions.  That’s a function of the person being a racist and a douchebag.

To me, the MLK quote indicates that people do, in fact, use the term “black” to signify both evil and people of African descent at the same time.  MLK, as I understand him, wanted to break that association as applied to people.  As a Christian minister, though, he was surrounded with the color associations day in and day out, since it formed a lot of his ethics, religious background, philosophy; these things, however, are meant in a spiritual, metaphoric sense, not necessarily physical.  MLK doesn’t believe that those same associations should apply to people on the basis of their skin color, which is a physical attribute detached from spiritual color, and I agree with that.  Besides, as a magician, I find lots of uses for white and black that do, in fact, correspond to these spiritual meanings.  For purity and blessing and elevation works, I’ll wear white clothes; for cursing, underworld, or grieving jobs I’ll wear black ones.  This is something completely different from skin color; discrimination with skin color came long, long after the spiritual associations of the colors white and black.  This person thinks we should get rid of the color associations; why not, instead, get rid of the racism?

Do I think that the use of white and black in the occult can be bent for social discrimination?  Sure it can!  This would be to abuse the associations, however, and would make one equivalent to European colonists and slavetraders who thought that one with dark skin had “the mark of Cain” or was dumber or whatever.  One’s skin color has no effect on one’s propensity for magic, physical purity, or spiritual purity; it’s a non-issue.  To associate “black magic” with evil and also with black people is to do a disservice to the color itself; to think that black people are always up to no good is mere racism, outside of any occult meaning of the term, and to think that black people cannot do white magic is disastrously wrong on so many levels.  To use metaphysical associations of color to justify social and worldly racism is racism.  It’s just another tool racism can use to propagate itself, but it isn’t a function of the colors themselves.  And if you’re the one doing this?  You’re racist.  Cut that shit out.

Do I think we should use the terms “white magic” and “black magic” at all?  Hell no!  These terms are utterly stupid and fail to illustrate the nuances and fine gradations within the Work as a whole and individual workings.  A noble, magnanimous prayer for victory for one’s country in war necessarily prays simultaneously for the destruction, demolition, and death of the other country (cf. Mark Twain’s The War Prayer).  A working for justice for one who is harmed often harms the one who perpetrated it.  A ritual to kill someone in power often saves those that a megalomaniac leader would torture in turn.  Any particular ritual or working can affect the world in dozens, hundreds, myriads of ways, and to say that “this spell only does good” or “this spell only does bad” is flat-out wrong.  The use of these labels simply isn’t useful in learning, working, or dealing with magic, and should be abandoned.

Do I think the terms “white” or “black” have any use in magic?  Gods, yes.  I think you’ll find the use of colors well-written about on this blog, even in this very post, and white and black are no exception.

Do I think the terms “white” or “black” can be used as a shaming mechanism?  I…guess?  I mean, if you care about labels and descriptors applied by others so much that it forces you to do something or prohibits you from doing something, that’s your business.  If you care about results and getting work done, then it’s not going to matter so long as you actually make your plans and follow them through.  In other words, this kind of “shame” is beneath me and a waste of my time.  Worrying about how other people, with their itty-bitty tiny sliver of human perception seeing no more than an infinitesimal fraction of the cosmos, are going to label your workings when they’re not involved and operating with incomplete knowledge, is not going to help you.  Now, if you’re the one trying to shame others by using these terms, what the hell is wrong with you? It’s honestly none of your business to judge and shame others.  Everyone from Jesus Christ (“judge not, that ye be not judged”) to Aleister Crowley (“it is necessary that we stop, once for all, this ignorant meddling with other people’s business”) has said to stop worrying about what other people are doing and start worrying about yourself, your own actions, and your own will.  It does often happen that people are conditioned by other people using shaming mechanisms or reinforcement techniques and are actually affected by this; it’s shitty, and it happens.  Instead of breaking the associations, which are in fact helpful to have from both a magical and an evolutionary standpoint, why not instead stop using the shaming mechanisms to oppress others, and help those who are oppressed and conditioned to break out of that conditioning through philosophy, magic, and spiritual growth/healing?