Asking Inverse Questions with Geomantic Perfection

A good friend of mine, who’s also a decent geomancer to boot, recently emailed me with a question on interpreting a rather troublesome kind of query with geomancy.  It’s a problem I’ve encountered before with some people and, occasionally, in my own work, and although I think I’ve implied how to handle the issue in other posts around here or that I’ve written enough to allow the astute geomancer to deduce what to do properly, I think it’s about time I’ve made it explicit what I do in these instances.

As we all know, one of the most important aspects, if not the most important aspect, of the process of divination is the art of asking the query.  Knowing how to phrase the query in a clear, concise, and concrete manner that seeks the right amount of information as well as the right information you want is crucially important; as is especially the case with geomancy but as well as with many forms of divination, if you ask a vague query of geomancy, you get a vague answer you can’t do much with.  To help out with this, when I perform a geomantic reading for someone, I first figure out what exactly it is they want to know, and it’s sometimes the case that the query they came to me with is not the one they actually want to ask, and it’s very often we radically change the wording that gets to the point of what they want to know.

Still, sometimes you’re stuck with a weird query, and there’s a particular type of query that leads to a lot of consternation among diviners of all types.  These are the so-called “inverse queries”, where one asks about something not happening.  So, for example, if a proper query has the form “Will X occur?”, then its corresponding inverse query has the form “Will X not occur?”.  Any binary query (one that expects a “yes” or “no” answer) can be phrased in such an inverted way, and while it’s preferable that we don’t use inverted queries but phrase them in their more direct, proper way, there are times when we can’t get out of answering such a query with geomancy.  It’s obnoxious when those cases happen, but they do, and it’s helpful to know exactly how to handle them when they arise.

First, remember that inverted queries are still just queries, and moreover, they’re binary queries that expect a “yes” or “no” answer.  As with all such binary queries, the big technique we want to use to answer them is perfection, which I’ve detailed before in two blog posts here and here.  To summarize the technique of perfection, we analyze the motion of figures between and around the houses of the querent and quesited, and depending on whether the significators of the querent and quesited come into contact with each other in some way, we can say that the chart perfects or denies perfection.  If the significators contact each other, then the chart perfects and affirms the query, i.e. the chart is saying “yes, it will happen”; if the significators do not contact each other, then the chart denies perfection and negates the query, i.e. the chart replies “no, it will not happen”.  This does not say anything about the fortune, misfortune, goodness, badness, helpfulness, or the lack thereof about anything; all perfection determines is whether something will or will not happen.  Perfection can happen in one of four ways, with more possibilities in each technique depending on what’s going on in the chart, but the specific methods of perfection don’t really matter for the purposes of answering inverse question.

So, quick example.  Let’s say I was just given a job offer, and I want to know whether I should take the job.  So, I cast a geomantic chart for the query “Should I take the job?”, which is a proper (not inverse) query.  There are two possibilities here:

  • The chart perfects: this agrees with the query and gives an affirmative answer, thus, “yes, you should take the job”.
  • The chart does not perfect: this disagrees with the query and gives a negative answer, thus, “no, you should not take the job”.

Simple enough, right?  All perfection determines is whether the chart says “yes” or “no” to the query, regardless of what’s asked or how it’s asked.  This means we can do the same thing with inverse queries in a straightforward, although clumsy, manner.  If we use the inverse of the preceding query, let’s say we cast a chart for the query “Should I not take the job?”, and we get one of two answers:

  • The chart perfects: this agrees with the query and gives an affirmative answer, thus, “yes, you should not take the job”.
  • The chart denies perfection: this disagrees with the query and gives a negative answer, thus, “no, you should not not take the job”.

No, that second “not” there is not a typo.  Remember, perfection agrees with what’s been asked, and denial of perfection disagrees with what’s been asked.  If it so happens that you get a denial of perfection for an inverse query, then you’re getting a disagreement with a negative, which effectively affirms the positive.  So, when the chart says “no, you should not not take the job”, it can be read as “no, you should take the job”; the double negative becomes a positive.  Remember, however, that this says nothing about how good or bad the situation is; that’s left up to the nature of the figures themselves, not how they pass around as far as perfection’s concerned.

All this is basically a geomantic form of the theorem of double negation in propositional logic: “if a statement is true, then it is not the case that the statement is not true” or, said another way, A = not (not A).  While the idea here is simple enough, and while these types of inverse queries that may or may not be answered through a double negative can be interpreted in a straightforward manner, this causes the practice of geomancy to quickly get unwieldy and confusing for many, so we prefer to use proper queries instead that avoid the whole business of trying to eliminate double negatives.  It’s preferable to phrase queries so that you avoid this kind of logical weirdness, and some shades of meaning could be toyed with in ways that haven’t been fully explored.  For instance, say that a chart for the query “will I not get the job” perfects by translation; what then?  Strictly speaking, this means that there is a third party helping to achieve the query, so someone is helping you not get the job, which could be interpreted as someone arguing against it with the interviewer, stealing the job from you, winning out over you, or something similar depending on the other factors in the chart.  This is often a more roundabout and confusing way to ask something when you could more easily ask “will I get the job”, which in many respects is more direct and simpler to interpret.

However, one case when I have found it helpful to ask an inverted query is when I’m confirming something.  While it’s generally bad form to ask the same question multiple times of an oracle, I’ve found that it’s good and acceptable practice to confirm something by negating its inverse, and this goes for many forms of divination including geomancy.  For instance, say I’m unsure about taking a given job offer, so I ask “should I take the job”, and the chart perfects, so it would seem that I should take the job.  Not willing to use that as my sole data point, however, I would then throw another chart and ask “should I not take the job” to confirm its opposite; here, the chart denies perfection, so no, I should not not take the job, i.e. I should take the job.  This method of asking a proper query immediately followed up by an inverse query is good for absolutely confirming something along the following lines:

  1. The proper query is of the form “Should I do X?”
  2. The inverse query is of the form “Should I not do X?”
  3. If the proper query perfects and the inverse query denies perfection, we have “yes, you should do X” and “no, you should not not do X”.  Both are saying that you should do X, and the agreement between the two strongly confirms this.
  4. If the proper query denies perfection and the inverse query perfects, we have “no, you should not do X” and “yes, you should not do X”.  Both are saying that you should not do X, and the agreement between the two strongly confirms this.
  5. If the proper query and inverse query both perfect, we have “yes, you should do X” and “yes, you should not do X”.  Both are saying that you could do either X or not X equally well, implying that either way is acceptable or suggested, or that it doesn’t matter which course of action you take.
  6. If the proper query and inverse query both deny perfection, we have “no, you should not do X” and “no, you should not not do X”.  Both are saying you should do neither X nor not X, implying that you might be better off looking for a third option to pursue instead of either of these two.

This method of confirming an answer, while it might bug the occasional spirit, tends to work very well in practice, and if you’ve already done all the work of casting a full geomantic chart to get a complete answer to see whether one should pursue a given course of action and the effects thereof, if the need for confirmation is strong enough, it can often be worth the extra work to cast another full geomantic chart just to make sure that the opposite course of action isn’t recommended.  In doing so, however, we might find out that we have more options than we thought we did, or that we might want to consider something entirely different besides X and not-X.

Now, all that said, when it comes to asking inverse queries, they may not always have the word “not” in them.  The English language has a truly rich and immeasurable vocabulary, and we have many words that are the exact opposite of other words (yes, antonyms are a thing!).  So, while it may not be apparent that “should I turn down the job offer?” is an inverse question, it’s easy to see that turning down a job offer is equivalent to not taking the job offer.  Once we understand that turning down a job offer is the inverse of taking the offer, we can think of this as an inverted query, and we might switch instead to “should I take the job offer?” for clarity’s sake.  This begins to get into the debate of how to properly and best phrase a query, but I think we can see the logic now behind proper queries and inverse queries.

Divination as Intel

One of my favorite webcomics (which is ending this year at 10+ years old, alas!) is Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire.  In addition to being a painfully/punfully witty and action-packed high-fantasy webcomic, it also centers around the young Dominic Deegan, a career seer, an oracle who receives visions, and occasional savior of the world.  Given my own divinatory inclinations, this shouldn’t surprise anyone that I like the comic so much.

Despite my guesses that DD’s artist Mookie isn’t an occultist or seer himself (though I could be wrong), he does hit the mark fairly close when it comes to certain topics and problems that come to divination.  Among my most favorite comics is the one from January 5, 2007, where Dominic says a bit about the nature of divination to his students in a class for second sight.  His students are shocked, shocked to know that part of their required reading involves the massive “A Brief History of Everything (Unabridged Version)” :

When a seer looks into a crystal ball and spouts some cryptic message, it’s not because second sight is inherently mysterious.  It’s because the seer doesn’t know what he’s looking at and he’s probably disguising his ignorance with cliché mysticism.  To master second sight you must have knowledge, which is found in books, which is why we have so much required reading for this class.

Later on, his students complain about the amount of homework he assigns on the first day of class, and assume that Dominic used his own second sight to find out that no other teachers had assigned them homework.  Dominic himself then pops by, having overheard the students, and says that he had actually looked at their other teachers’ syllabi in the teacher’s lounge.  After all, Dominic remarks, “knowledge is power”.  A few days later, while discussing how uncool of a teacher he’ll be with his girlfriend and his archmage-school dean mother, he explains why he sadly guesses most of his students will drop the class:

Second sight is hard.  It requires a solid knowledge of history, politics, religion, arcane theory and even geography to really be of any use.  Otherwise it’s just looking at pictures.

When I do a divination for someone, I often ask them what’s on their mind, what brings them to the shop, what problems they might have going on.  They might bring up a specific problem or a concrete, pointed query, which is awesome, but more often than not they’ll try to cover a broad swathe of their lives with something like “I wanna know what’ll happen in my love life” or something equally vague.  I’ll help guide them to specific questions, because geomancy really shines when given something like that, but also because I need a working context for a chart in order to understand what it’s telling me.  Knowing that Puella falls in the 7th house is all well and good, but without knowing how it specifically relates to the query and the other circumstances in the querent’s life, I don’t really have a way to understand what it means.

Unlike some traditions of diviners and seers who’re trained to be clairvoyant or mystic enough to not require knowledge of the query or its context, I need context.  It’s why I read so much on current events and why I read up on other practices, beliefs, cultures, sciences, histories, and the like.  It’s why I engage the querent in conversation first and see what’s generally going on in their life from their perspective.  It’s why I ask questions probing into their life during the reading to clarify some of the symbols (with only 16 geomantic figures to represent all the infinity of the cosmos, I use any and all help I can get to whittle down the possibilities).  Context matters in divination, and it helps me be more specific and, thus, more helpful to the querent than if I worked without it.

Some diviners and readers often work with vague queries and, through skill and mastery with no small amount of intuition, can delivery fairly specific answers relevant to the querent though the querent may not have said anything about them.  Some divination systems like Tarot can cultivate such an intuition, but more often than not it’s a talent.  Still, when one works with vague questions, much more often than not one is going to get vague answers.  It’s a result of having a limited number of symbols that can mean any number of things without knowing how to whittle it down.  This lack of context can take a potentially meaningful message and water it down into uselessness, effectively turning it into a Forer effect-style blurb (consider how general newspaper horoscopes can be).  It sucks when this happens, because it gives divination and diviners of all kinds, including astrologers, a bad name.

Divination is probably best seen as a form of intelligence gathering, in which one draws a distinction between data and information.  Data is a Latin word literally meaning “that which is given”, or things that one has at their disposal.  Information comes from Latin as well, originally meaning “to shape” but figuratively meaning “to instruct” (which has similar etymology and figurative meanings).  One can define information as “data that makes a difference”; if data tells us nothing new, it’s not really helping us to inform ourselves.  Not all data is information; some data is just noise or is erroneous.  Not all information is data; sometimes information can be obtained through patterns of the data or through an analysis of other analyses.  Divination helps one obtain data or to make sense of patterns in data, but it’s only one method.  To produce truly useful information, one should correlate divination and divined answers with historical research, official expertise, and other sources of information.  Although it’s good to trust divination, it shouldn’t be the only thing one goes by.

Marie Laveau, the queen of voodoo in New Orleans, was a renowned seer and reader, but she also worked as a hair stylist for professional high-class clientele.  Working in that kind of environment exposed her to a wealth of gossip, hearsay, and rumors that she was able to verify or refute on her own or with the help of others, which helped her be seen as much more intuitive to her occult clients.  Likewise, Jason Miller takes a dim view of just relying on divination.  Even as far back as ancient Greece, prophecies from the Oracle at Delphi were debated, tweaked, and analyzed in order to be made of use by the groups who received them (cf. the “wooden walls” that protected the Athenians).  Unless it’s really the only thing one has to go by (which is damn-near never in our modern information-based culture), divination needs to be correlated and buffed out with any and all other information out there.

Specificity and a refining of data matters in order to obtain useful information, especially in an occult art like divination.  No matter how real or vivid a vision may appear, or how explicit a Tarot reading may seem, any divined answer should always be reflected upon, backed up with other information, and analyzed in order to clear out any ambiguity, solve any riddles, and reduce any metaphors to their concrete basis.  Much of this can be fixed by having a wide breadth of knowledge, and many gaps can be filled simply by phrasing one’s query specifically and clearly to the diviner.  Still, as awesome as divination may be, it’s a flaw of any system that works with a finite number of symbols that one needs backup and thought to whittle down the infinite to the finite.