A New Model of Elemental Assignments to the Geomantic Figures

We all know the basic four elements of Western occult cosmology, don’t we?  Of course we do!  We know that there’s Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, in order from least dense to most dense, or from most subtle to least subtle, whichever you prefer.  They’re even described in the Divine Poemander, the opening chapter of the Corpus Hermeticum as being fundamental (even in this same order!) to the creation of the cosmos:

And I saw an infinite sight, all things were become light, both sweet and exceeding pleasant; and I was wonderfully delighted in the beholding it. But after a little while, there was a darkness made in part, coming down obliquely, fearful and hideous, which seemed unto me to be changed into a certain moist nature, unspeakably troubled, which yielded a smoke as from Fire; and from whence proceeded a voice unutterable, and very mournful, but inarticulate, inasmuch as it seemed to have come from the Light.  Then from that Light, a certain holy Word joined itself unto Nature, and outflew the pure and unmixed Fire from the moist nature upwards on high; it was exceeding Light, and sharp, and operative withal. And the Air, which was also light, followed the Spirit and mourned up to Fire from the Earth and the Water, insomuch that it seemed to hang and depend upon it.  And the Earth and the Water stayed by themselves so mingled together, that the Earth could not be seen for the Water, but they were moved because of the Spiritual word that was carried upon them.

According to long-standing doctrine, going back to the time of Aristotle and before him even unto Empedocles, the four elements are considered to be arranged according to the two qualities each element has.  One pair of qualities exists on a spectrum from Hot to Cold, and the other from Dry to Moist.  If you take both Hot and Dry, you end up with Fire; Hot and Moist, Air; Cold and Moist, Water; Cold and Dry, Earth.  In this way, each element pertains to two qualities:

Hot Cold
Dry Fire Earth
Moist Air Water

This sort of arrangement has classically been described graphically with a kind of diamond-square diagram, showing how the four elements arise from combinations of these two qualities.  In the below diagram, Fire is represented by the upwards-pointing triangle in the upper left positioned between Hot and Dry, Air by the upwards-pointing triangle with a horizontal bar in the upper right between Hot and Wet, and so forth.

The thing about the four elements is that, while they are combinations of two qualities, they’re not necessarily static combinations thereof.  Some philosophers have specified that the elements are primarily of one quality and secondarily of the other that allows them to change into each other or react with each other in a more fluid way.  Fire, for instance, is both hot and dry, but in this fluid system, is specifically considered to be primarily hot and secondarily dry.  In the diagram above, we can see this in that, going clockwise around the diagram, the primary quality of an element is clockwise from that element’s corner, and the secondary quality is counterclockwise; in this sense, the primary quality is what that element is headed into, and the secondary quality is what that element is leaving behind.  Thus:

  • Fire is primarily hot and secondarily dry.
  • Air is primarily wet and secondarily hot.
  • Water is primarily cold and secondarily wet.
  • Earth is primarily dry and secondarily cold.

From this, let’s say that the four qualities themselves—even if they’re proto-elemental—can be ascribed to the four elements themselves, such that Heat is basically the main characteristic of Fire, Moisture of Air, Cold of Water, and Dryness of Earth.  (This offshoot of the Empedoclean-Aristotelian system is in opposition to the Stoic system, which gives Heat and Coldness to Fire and Air, and Moisture and Dryness to Water and Earth, but that doesn’t matter for the purposes of this system which is effectively unrelated.)  So, although Heat is part of both Fire and Air, Heat is more aligned towards Fire than Air.

We also know that certain elements—more properly, certain qualities of the elements—cannot be together lest they cancel each other out because of their inherent opposition.  Heat and Cold cancel each other out, as do Moisture and Dryness.  Thus, when we say that Fire and Water cancel each other out, it’s really their elemental qualities that cancel each other out, leaving behind a mess.  What remains when different elements cancel each other out, or some combination of elements reinforcing each other in some ways or reducing each other in other ways, can be instructive in how to alchemically understand these elemental reactions from a basic principle.

Now consider the 16 geomantic figures.  Each figure, as we all know by now, is represented by four rows, each row having one or two dots.  Each row represents one of the four elements: from top to bottom, they’re Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  A single dot in a row signifies the presence or activity of that element in the figure, while two dots in a row signifies its absence or passivity.  Thus, Laetitia (with only one dot in the topmost Fire row and two dots in the other rows) has only Fire active, and so forth.  We know that there are many different ways to assign the elements to the figures, some being more recent than others, and the way I like to assign them has the benefit of being one of the oldest used in Western geomancy…mostly, with the figures Laetitia and Rubeus swapped around so that Laetitia is ruled by Fire and Rubeus by Air.  Moreover, my way of assigning the elements also has a benefit of giving each figure both a primary and a secondary elemental ruler, which has come in use in various techniques more often than I had originally anticipated.

Still, what would happen if we used a different method beyond overall signification to assign the figures to the elements?  What would happen if we took the structure of the figures themselves as the sole key to understand their elemental affinities based on what’s present, what’s absent, what cancels out, and what reinforces each other?  Knowing that certain elemental qualities do just that when put together, what would happen if we took that structural approach to the elements active within a geomantic figure?  For instance, Puer has Fire, Air, and Earth active; we know that because of their opposing qualities, Air (Hot and Wet) and Earth (Cold and Dry) cancel each other out, leaving only Fire behind, giving Puer a basically fiery nature.  What if we took this approach to all the figures, seeing what came out of such elemental interactions amongst the elements present within a geomantic figure?

Fire First
Row
Second
Row
Third
Row
Fourth
Row
Remainder Result
Laetitia Hot
Dry
Hot
Dry
Fire
Fortuna
Minor
Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Hot ×2 Hot
Amissio Hot
Dry
Cold
Wet
Ø Null
Cauda
Draconis
Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Cold
Wet
Hot
Wet
Air
Puer Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Cold
Dry
Hot
Dry
Fire
Rubeus Hot
Wet
Hot
Wet
Air
Coniunctio Hot
Wet
Cold
Wet
Wet ×2 Wet
Acquisitio Hot
Wet
Cold
Dry
Ø Null
Puella Hot
Dry
Cold
Wet
Cold
Dry
Cold
Dry
Earth
Via Hot
Dry
Hot
Wet
Cold
Wet
Cold
Dry
Ø Null
Albus Cold
Wet
Cold
Wet
Water
Populus Ø Null
Carcer Hot
Dry
Cold

Dry

Dry ×2 Dry
Caput
Draconis
Hot
Wet
Cold

Wet

Cold

Dry

Cold
Wet
Water
Fortuna
Maior
Cold
Wet
Cold
Dry
Cold ×2 Cold
Tristitia Cold
Dry
Cold
Dry
Earth

Note the overall results we get:

  • Eight figures end up with an actual element that represents them, four being a result of that element being the only active one in that figure (e.g. Laetitia, being Fire, because only Fire is active), and four being a result of that element being active, its opposing element being inactive, and the other two elements that cancel out being active (e.g. Puer, being Fire, because Fire is active but so is Air and Earth, which cancel each other out).
  • Four figures end up with being not an actual element, but a single quality, because it contains the two elements active in that figure that have that quality, with the other qualities of those elements canceling out (e.g. Fortuna Minor is pure Heat, because Fire and Air are active within it, both elements of Heat, though the dryness of Fire and moisture of Air cancel each other out).
  • Four figures end up with being null and void of any element or quality.  One is trivial, Populus, because it just has nothing active in it to begin with, but the other three (Via, Amissio, and Acquisitio) are combinations of only opposing elements that all cancel each other out somehow.

If we separate out those eight figures that end up with an element into a “pure element” group (where the figure consists of only that single element itself) and a “muddled element” group (where the figure consists of that element plus two other elements that oppose each other and cancel out), we end up with a neat grouping of four groups of four figures.  Even nicer is that the Pure Element, Muddled Element, and Single Quality groups all have each figure representing one of the four elements (the Single Quality representing elements by means of their most closely associated quality, e.g. Fire by Heat, Water by Cold).  That leaves us with a convenient scheme for assigning the figures to the elements in a new way…

Fire Air Water Earth
Pure
Element
Laetitia Rubeus Albus Tristitia
Muddled
Element
Puer Cauda
Draconis
Caput
Draconis
Puella
Single
Quality
Fortuna
Minor
Coniunctio Fortuna
Maior
Carcer
Null
Quality
…?

…mostly.  The Null Quality group of figures (Via, Populus, Amissio, and Acquisitio) don’t fall into the same patterns as the rest because…well, they’re all null and void and empty of any single element or quality.  We’ll get to those later.

First, note that the Pure Element, Muddled Element, and Single Quality groups, we see a process of descension from one element to the next.  Descension is the process by which the elemental rows of a geomantic figure are “shifted” downwards such that the Fire line gets shifted down to the Air line, Air down to Water, Water down to Earth, and Earth cycles back up again to Air; I discussed this and the corresponding reverse technique, ascension, in an earlier post of mine from 2014.  Moreover, note that all these groups descend into the proper elements ruling that figure in lockstep, so that if we take the Fire figure from one group and descend it into the Air figure of that same group, the other Fire figures from the other groups also descend into the Air figures of those groups.  That’s actually a pretty neat reinforcing of this new system of assigning elements to the figures, and in a conveniently regular, structural way.

It’s with the Null Quality figures (Via, Populus, Amissio, and Acquisitio) that that pattern breaks down.  We know that Amissio and Acquisitio descend into each other in a two-stage cycle of descension, while Via and Albus descend into themselves without a change.  We can’t use the process of descension like we did before to make a cycle of elements within a quality group of figures, and because of their null quality, we can’t just look at the elements present in the figures themselves to determine what element they might be aligned with as a whole in this system.  So…what next?

Take a close look at the figures we already have charted, and follow along with my next bit of logic.  For one, we know that all the odd figures are either in the Pure Element or Muddled Element group, which means all the even figures must be in the Single Quality or Null Quality group.  On top of that, if we look at the figures that are already charted to the elements, we can note that Fire and Air figures are all mobile, and Water and Earth figures are all stable.  This suggests that Via and Amissio (the mobile Null Quality figures) should be given to Fire and Air somehow, and Populus and Acquisitio (the stable Null Quality figures) to Water and Earth somehow.  We’re getting somewhere!

The Null Quality figures share more similarities with the Single Quality figures because they’re both sets of even figures.  Even though the Single Quality figures follow a process of descension between one element and the next, we also see that figures that belong to opposing elements (Fire and Water, Air and Earth) are also inverses of each other (inversion being one of the structural transformations of geomantic figures, this one specifically replacing odd points with even points and vice versa).  This can be used as a pattern for the Null Quality figures, too, such that inverse Null Quality figures are given to opposing elements. This means that we have two possible solutions:

  1. Via to Fire, Amissio to Air, Populus to Water, Acquisitio to Earth
  2. Amissio to Fire, Via to Air, Acquisitio to Water, Populus to Earth

At this point, I don’t think there’s any structural argument that could be made for one choice over the other, so I shift to a symbolic one.  In many Hermetic and Platonic systems of thought, when it comes to pure activity or pure passivity (though there are many other alternatives to such terms!), Fire and Water are often thought of as perfect examplars, so much so that the Hexagram is literally interpreted as a divine union of masculine/ejective/active Fire (represented by the upwards-pointing triangle) and feminine/receptive/passive Water (represented by the downwards-pointing triangle).  Taking it a step further, in some interpretations of this mystical formation of the hexagram, this combination of Fire and Water produces the element of Air.  If we translate this into geomantic figures, we can consider “pure activity” (Fire) to best be represented by the figure Via (which could, I suppose, be taken as the simplest possible representation of the phallus, being a single erect line, or as the number 1 which is also historically considered to be masculine or active), and “pure passivity” (Water) as Populus (which, likewise, could be seen as the walls of the birth canal or vulva, as well as the number 2 which is considered feminine or passive).  If we give Via to Fire and Populus to Water, this means that we’d give Amissio to Air and Acquisitio to Earth.  Note how this actually works nicely for us, because the Null Quality figure we give to Air is itself composed of Fire and Water, matching with that mystical elemental interpretation of the Hexagram from before.

Now we can complete our table from before:

Fire Air Water Earth
Pure
Element
Laetitia Rubeus Albus Tristitia
Muddled
Element
Puer Cauda
Draconis
Caput
Draconis
Puella
Single
Quality
Fortuna
Minor
Coniunctio Fortuna
Maior
Carcer
Null
Quality
Via Amissio Populus Acquisitio

Next, can we impose an ordering onto the figures given these elemental assignments and quality groups?  Probably!  Not that orders matter much in Western geomancy as opposed to Arabic geomancy, but it could be something useful as well, inasmuch as any of this might be useful.  The order I would naturally think would be useful would be to have all sixteen figures grouped primarily by element—so all four Fire figures first, then the four Air figures, and so on—and then, within that group, the most representative of that element down to the least representative, which would suggest we start with the Pure Element figure and end with the Null Quality figure.  So, which comes second, the Muddled Element or the Single Quality?  I would suggest that the Single Quality figure is more like the element than the Muddled Element figure, because the Single Quality is representative of the…well, single quality that is representative of that element and, though it has some things canceling out within the figure, those things that cancel out based on their corresponding elements active within the figure are still harmonious and agreeable to the overall element itself.  Meanwhile, the Muddled Element is more removed due to the presence of other opposing elements that fight within itself, dragging it down further away from a pure expression of its overall element.  These rules would get us an order like the following:

  1. Laetitia
  2. Fortuna Minor
  3. Puer
  4. Via
  5. Rubeus
  6. Coniunctio
  7. Cauda Draconis
  8. Amissio
  9. Albus
  10. Fortuna Maior
  11. Caput Draconis
  12. Populus
  13. Tristitia
  14. Carcer
  15. Puella
  16. Acquisitio

So, what does this leave us with, and where does this leave us?  We have here a new way to associate the geomantic figures to the traditional elements in a way that’s substantially different from either the usual structural method that I prefer or a more zodiacal method that’s also in common use by authors like John Michael Greer and those immersed in Golden Dawn-like systems, though there is still a good amount of overlap between this kind of elemental assignment and the structural method with eight of the figures retaining their same element (all four Pure Element figures plus Fortuna Minor, Coniunctio, Carcer, and Populus).  This is not a method I’ve encountered before in any geomantic text I’m familiar with, and I’m inclined to say it’s pretty much a novel approach to assigning the elements to the figures, though considering how straightforward the process was, or at least how simple the idea behind it was, I’d be honestly surprised that such a thing hasn’t been thought of before now.

I don’t mean to supplant the major two existing systems of elemental assignments of the geomantic figures (the planetary-zodiacal method or the structural method) or their variations as found throughout the literature; personally, I’m still inclined to keep to my structural method of elemental assignments instead of this combinatoric method, as it’s what I’ve most closely worked with for years, and I’ve gotten exceedingly good mileage out of it.  To me, all the above is something like a curiosity, a “what if” experiment of potential.  Still, even as an experiment, this combinatoric method could have more interesting applications outside pure divination, and I’m thinking more along the lines of alchemy, magic, or other such applications where it’s truly the action, nonaction, interaction, and reaction of the elements themselves among the figures is what matters.  We can alchemically-geomantically view the cosmos as arising from:

  • 4 base substances
  • 16 base entities (the 16 = 4 × 4 different combinations of the elements to form the figures)
  • 256 base interactions (the 256 = 16 × 16 = 4 × 4 × 4 × 4 different addition-pairs of the figures)

So, consider: if you add pure Fire and pure Water, that’d be Laetitia + Albus = Amissio, which gets you a Null figure of balance that leads to an overall condition of Air.  (Fitting, given our explanation of why Amissio should be given to Air at all.)  If you add simple Heat to pure Air, that’d be Fortuna Minor + Rubeus = Laetitia, which also makes sense because, as a figure of Air, Rubeus is primarily wet and secondarily hot; if we reinforce the heat, it becomes primarily hot, and the wet condition gets dried out by the overabundance of heat, transforming Air into Fire.  If we add simple Cold and simple Heat, which would be weird to think about even in alchemical terms except unless we’d isolate those qualities from simpler bases (which we do in geomantic terms), that’d be Fortuna Maior + Fortuna Minor, which would become Via, a technically Null figure given to balanced, ideal, spiritual Fire; how odd!  But we wet the same result when we add any of the opposing Single Qualities, which to me would be like a geomantic division by zero.

I think that this combinatoric model of elemental assignments, what I’m going to call the “alchemical model” as opposed to my usual “structural model” or the Golden Dawn-style “zodiacal model”, could be useful for more mystical, philosophical, or magical meditations on the figures.  It’s not one I’ve completely fleshed out or can immediately agree with given how different it can be from the models I’m used to working with, but I think it does hold some promise and is worthy of exploration and testing, especially in a more magical and less divinatory context.

New pictures over in Crafts!

As I continue to battle this damn cold (I haven’t produced this much crunchy phlegm in a good long while), I was able to do a bit of crafting and took some photos of a few recent projects of mine: a seiza bench and an aspergillium.

Since I often sit in seiza position during meditation, prayer, and rituals, I thought it would be nice to craft a little bench which could be used to take pressure off my legs and keep blood circulating. Enter my new seiza bench, based on this design from Michigan Buddhist. It was a day project my father and I worked on while I visited my parents’ over Memorial Day weekend this year. He had the furniture-grade plywood, pine siding, and tools, and I had the plan and the willingness to make it. Once I got home and had the time, I busted out the stain and finish and touched it up as necessary. As a side note, my dad is completely awesome.

I also made a simple aspergillium (or asperger), a tool used to sprinkle holy water around.  Church-style ones are often have a hollow container with holes on the outside and a sponge on the inside, but this is an older-style besom-like one that was simple to craft.   Plus, I don’t have to flick water around with my fingers anymore, which is nice.  I took the nylon heart out of some cotton rope, cut the rope into eight parts, folded over each part and tied some twine around the fold, tied each loose end of each rope to prevent fraying with more twine, bound all of the folded ropes together very tightly, then jammed a sharpened dowel into the bundle.  It holds together nicely and does its job, though I wasn’t following any particular design or style.  I may get around to making a real Solomonic aspergillium, once I get to that stage, but this suffices for now.

More pictures up in the Crafts section, if you’re interested.