On Gender in Magic, or, What to Rename Puer and Puella

Twitter is always full of fun people.  Yeah, the platform is garbage and full of Nazis, white supremacists, TERFs, and a variety of alt-right douchebags, but it’s also been the platform I’ve been on for the longest sustained period of time going back to…god, mid-2010, I guess.  In that time, despite its changes for the worse and the increases of awful people, I’ve also made many good friends on the platform, ranging from furries and fanfiction authors to astrologers and occultists and any number of people in between.  Lately, I’ve been enjoying the company of a good number of (somehow all bewilderingly attractive) astrologers and diviners, which gives me endless entertainment and education (and gawking over how insultingly good they look in their photos).

Not that long ago, one of my mutuals started up a conversation among this very group that struck a chord with me:

This, yes, absolutely, forever.

Even from an early date in my occult studies, stuff about gender has always not set exactly well with me, e.g. the whole bullshit Law of Gender from the Kybalion, yet another reason why I hate and detest the damn text.  I mean, while I am gay, I’m also comfortable in my cisgender identity as a man, but I have quite a few other friends and colleagues who aren’t but who are transgender, genderfluid, nonbinary, agender, or otherwise.  That so much in traditional magical literature relies on a system of gender that doesn’t work for so many of us is…troubling, honestly.  It’s nothing insurmountable for me, and I would hope that it’s likewise not a total obstruction for others, but that it poses a problem for many of us can’t be denied.  Like, for me, who has no sexual or romantic attraction to women, the notion of an element being “feminine” would logically suggest that it should be cut off from me as something inherently foreign, which is certainly not the case.

Time and again we come across scientific evidence and studies that show that there aren’t even always two physical sexes per species, or that the roles and responsibilities of each physical sex shift and change between species or even between stages of life in a species, or which change based on the environment around and hormones within the members of that species.  If occult philosophy is rooted in natural philosophy, i.e. if studying the occult is grounded in studying the world around us, then shouldn’t we actually respect what we find in the world around us rather than imposing a really simplistic view that doesn’t even work for us as a species or a civilization?  To be fair, I do understand and agree that most humans are cisgender and heterosexual, and most animal species reproduce sexually in a way that we can identify as being carried out by something resembling heterosexuality in humans.  That, however, does not mean that it is any more natural than variations seen in gender, sex, or sexual behavior, because those are as natural as the more common set.  Being uncommon does not mean being abnormal.

There’s also the argument that oh, even as a gay man, I should be in touch with my “feminine side”.  Tell me, what is a “feminine side”?  What are the essential qualities that make something feminine?  I know many women who don’t have such qualities, and many men who do.  I know that much of what one culture describes as “feminine” is considered masculine by another culture, or vice versa.  I know that much of what nontoxic masculinity is could easily be described as expected feminine behavior, and vice versa.  To me (and I speak only for myself in this), gender is a role that one plays based on cultural norms, with nothing essential about it; there can be no “masculine side” and “feminine side” because both of those are meaningless terms that just play out in a given context or arena of culture, society, and communication.  To be sure, these things have power and meaning as far as such things do, but there’s nothing essential, fundamental, or elemental about them that needs to be carried into a fair amount (maybe all?) Western magical practices.

I know that it’s certainly traditional to refer to the elements of Fire and Air (and all their corresponding tools, symbols, planets, zodiac signs, and other correspondences) as masculine or male and to Water and Earth (and all their correspondences) as feminine or female, but we can do so much better.  For one, knowing that each element is a combination of heat and moisture, a system going all the way back to Aristotle:

Dry Wet
Hot Fire Air
Cold Earth Water

What quality immediately jumps out at us that links the “masculine” and “feminine” elements?  It’s heat!  The “masculine” elements Fire and Air are both hot, and the “feminine” elements Water and Earth are both cold, so why not just call them hot and cold, or warm and cool, instead?

This and so many other alternatives to “masculine” and “feminine” were proposed in the conversation on Twitter, some of which I like and others I don’t as much care for, including:

  • solar and lunar
  • diurnal and nocturnal
  • odd and even
  • independent and communal
  • fast and slow
  • electric and magnetic
  • celestial and terrestrial
  • light and dark

(Personally, when not using the celestial and terrestrial dichotomy from my Mathēsis stuff, I absolutely adore the electric and magnetic dichotomy, because electricity and magnetism are really the same underlying force that operate in two different ways.)

There is also, of course, the almost-as-traditional “active” and “passive”, but this is dispreferable in another way, because “passive” has some unfortunate connotations that also doesn’t exactly work.  For instance, if I throw a large amount of water onto a fire, well, fire is supposed to be an active element, right?  So it should act upon the water, but what happens is that the water puts out the fire: the “passive” element acts upon the “active” one.  Not exactly helpful in that light.  Plus, the connotations of “active” and “passive” play into the traditional male-female roles during sex, where the “active” man is on top penetrating the “passive” woman on bottom.  Okay, boring.

You could reframe this “active” and “passive” issue using, for instance, “convex” and “concave”.  Consider the Chinese characters for these words: 凸 and 凹, respectively (as might be evident).  Like…you can see it too, right?  It’s not just my mind in the gutter?  If we equate “convex” with “active” and “concave” with “passive”, well…let me tell you that anyone who’s receiving in sex and is just remaining passive is doing sex wrong and should be ashamed of themselves.  You can take it and still run the show.  Being “passive” does not equate with being inert, boring, or ineffectual; being “receptive” or “concave” does not equate with being submissive, unassuming, or calm.

Personally?  I’m all for getting rid of the notions of gender in our elements, tools, zodiac signs, and other correspondences.  You can include them if you like, but I don’t care to have a system or cosmos that’s inherently structured and built upon them, especially when everything has an undivided, indivisible, undifferentiated Source.  You can have polarities and dichotomies and spectrums without having gender, and gender is not the be-all end-all of polarities.  We don’t have to reduce all dichotomies to a socially-bound, Western categorization of how certain people with certain physical differences should behave.  We can be so much better than this. We can do so much better than this.  We don’t have to be locked into a procrustean bed of gender-locked magic and cosmology when we can literally see and interact with cosmic forces that do not follow laws of gender and, indeed, break the very systems that gender tries to support and maintain.

Then I take a deep breath, and I go outside, and I…look at geomancy, and I’m reminded of the figures Puer and Puella.  And I frown, because we have this very gender/sex issue embedded in two of our figures, going back to the founding of geomancy itself.

I’ve gone on at length about these figures before, describing how their elemental structure suggests and effects their divinatory and occult significations, and so much else.  Yet, here it is, the male-female dichotomy itself staring at us in the face.

Geomancy itself is a system built upon dichotomy.  Dichotomy literally means “a cutting (categorization) into two”, which is the fundamental aspect of binary systems.  Geomancy, as a binary system, has rows that have one point or two points.  In this particular case, I think the use of “active” and “passive” is useful to describe such an arrangement, because it’s referring to the literal existence or non-existence of a given element within a figure.  For instance, if Fire is active, then it can cause a change in another figure’s Fire line (odd to even or even to odd); if Fire is passive, then it preserves and takes on whatever is in another Figure’s fire line (odd stays odd and even stays even).  This is how I interpret odd or even as far as numbers go, and to me, the mere presence or absence of an element has nothing to do with that element being “male” or “female”.  Again, gender/sex is just one kind of polarity, if it even is to be reckoned having two poles at all.

So, what to do about Puer and Puella?  Well, I know that the names of figures aren’t fixed.  Throughout the history of geomancy, many sets of names have been applied to the figures, even within the same language.  Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice gives a huge table of all the names he’s been able to document for the figures across multiple manuscripts, books, and traditions.  For instance, the figure Fortuna Maior (literally meaning “Greater Fortune”) has also been called:

  • Auxulium intus (interior aid)
  • Tutela intrans (entering assistance)
  • Omen maius (greater omen)
  • Honor intus (interior honor)

Still, despite the variation in names, they all have more-or-less the same meaning.  But then we come to figures that don’t have any similarity with their common names, such as Imberbis (beardless) for Puer.  Such names come from a much older, Arabic-inspired tradition that uses similar names for the figures, which tie into the meanings through other symbolic means; “beardless”, for instance, refers to young men who are yet energetic while still not old enough to have the full features of maturity.  Other names for Puer include Flavus (blond, perhaps referring to the bright golden hair color associated with young children?), Belliger (warring), or even Gladius Erigendus (erect sword, which…mmhm.)

What I’m saying here is that the names of the figures have gone through quite a lot of change and variation over the centuries, and what matters is that the names are descriptive of the meanings of the figures in divination and magic.  Puer means a whole lot more than “boy”, of course, as does Puella than merely “girl”, but a whole set of personality, physical, temperamental, and situational traits that go far beyond merely what might be considered masculine or feminine as determined by medieval European society.  So, why not think of other names for these two figures that can decouple them from a reliance on the male-female distinction?

Personally, I like going with Hero and Host, playing off not just the initial sounds of the words, but on the dichotomy of hostility and hospitality, rough and smooth, or as my mutual above phrased it, “gall and grace”.  They tie into my own meditations and visualizations of the figures, too.  On Puer:

The young man dressed in rags and armor, riding his horse, drops his armor’s visor, raises his sword, and plunges into the fight.  All he’s in it for is to fight, and the fight is real, especially if he’s the one to start it (he usually is).  If he’s on the right side in the fight, he’ll lay his enemies bare and clear the field to pave the way for future foundations; if not, he’ll live to fight for a hopeless and regretful day later.  But that doesn’t matter to him, anyway; he lives for the fight, the struggle, the excitement, the passion, the heat, and the war that never ends for him.  His visor limits his vision, cutting out peripheral vision entirely and causing him to focus on what’s right ahead of him; just so does he only care for the current day and the current battle.  He’s young and without experience of victory, or even finesse in battle, his rashness and recklessness giving him all the flailing speed and power he needs, but he’s fighting not just to fight but also for that experience he lacks.  And, after all, he’s fighting because there’s one thing he’s missing: someone to really fight for.  Don’t expect him to be your ally when you call, but expect him to call on you or pull you into the fight.

And on Puella:

…I saw myself walking into a massive pyramidal hall, an ancient temple with smooth golden sandstone walls neatly fit together rising up to a square hole in the ceiling, with a light shining down into it illuminating everything the temple with a rich, warm, delicate light.  The whole of the temple was filled with treasures, rich tapestries, delicate statues and figurines, and piles of paintings; it was a temple in the old style, a warehouse and storeroom for all the holy treasures a temenos or church would’ve accrued over the centuries.  At the end of the temple, meandering through a forest of statues and stacks of gold, kneeling down in prayer was a young maiden, dressed in the finest dress, modest but alluring, sweet but experienced.  I approached her, and she looked up at me with the most genuine, kindest, warmest smile I’ve ever seen; she stepped up, took my hand, and walked me around the temple.  It was bliss, even for me who doesn’t go for women, but she told me about how she had been expecting me, preparing all this for me, watching out for my arrival; she told me that she wanted to make sure I was alright.  I told her that I was, and by then, she had led me to the entry of the temple and gently guided me out with the kindest and warmest of farewells.  I left with a smile on my face, both in my mind and in my physical body.

You can just as easily swap out “young man” for “young woman” in the former, and “young maiden” with “young prince” in the latter.  Neither of those rely on gender or sex.  There might be an argument for the dot patterns of the figures: some say that Puer represents an erect phallus and Puella an open vagina, and I can agree with those!  But dot patterns are fickle things, and they can be interpreted as any number of other things, too: Puer can represent a sword and Puella a mirror (a la the original forms of the glyphs for the shield-and-spear of Mars and the handheld-mirror of Venus), or Puer could represent a person with their arms low in a defensive fighting stance and Puella a person standing with their arms out in embrace and welcome.  If you’re troubled by the notion of Puer representing a woman because of its emphasis on erection, don’t forget that the clitoris also swells with blood when its owner gets aroused—a.k.a., an erection.  As for men worrying about being seen as womanly by being associated as the Host (née Puella), don’t forget that some of the greatest role models we have for nontoxic masculinity in the West include Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross, the perfect neighbor who welcomed all to his neighborhood and a stunning artist who found beauty in all scenes and spread it to all who wanted it.

As for the new terms, I can also hear some saying “well, hero has a feminine version, ‘heroine’, and host has a female version, ‘hostess’, these aren’t gender-neutral terms!”  Sure, I suppose, if you want to use the French, Latin, or Greek roots of the words we have, where the language was inherently gendered along grammatical lines.  But, at least in English, we don’t really have gender on words unless we force gender onto those words; “host” suffices just fine for men or women, as does “hero”.  We don’t need to specify “hostess” or “heroine” unless we want to emphasize that someone is hosting and is also a woman, or that someone exceptionally brave and courageous is also a woman; we can use the unmarked forms of the words as being applicable to any (or no) gender just fine.  After all, we call women “director”, “doctor”, “administrator”, and “aviator”, not “directrix”, “ductrix”, “administratrix”, or “aviatrix”, which are the proper feminine versions of those words.  We can drop the gendered endings because they’re not necessary unless we want to absolutely reinforce the notion that someone’s gender must be specified at any and every given opportunity.

Will I start using and enforcing the terms Hero and Host on my blog?  For the sake of communication, probably not.  Chances are I’ll just keep them to myself and refer to them that way in my head, using the more popular and common names that have been in solid use for five centuries or more in public for the sake of communication.  Still, when teaching these figures, I think it’d be useful to have an alternate set of names for them as well, which most texts are already liable to do.  Adding another pair of names to help decouple gender from magic isn’t too hard an effort to make, but the results are worth it, I claim.

Distilling Secondary Figures from a Geomantic Chart

Distilling Secondary Figures from a Geomantic Chart

Even after all this time, one of the things I love about the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook is that it’s actually fairly active, at least as far as geomancy groups go, and it maintains its activity over long durations of time.  Between group chart analyses, questions about techniques, and sharing of neat finds online or in books about geomancy, it’s always a source of joy and delight to drop in and see how the conversation is going.  If you’re on Facebook and are interested in geomancy, I highly encourage you to join!

Recently, one of the members posted a question about a particular taskin he found.  Taskins, for those who may have forgotten or never knew the term, are the mnemonic orderings of figures used in Arabic geomancy to organize and categorize different sets of correspondences.  Though often given as nothing more than a simple order with a name of the order attached, they can refer to pretty much any set of correspondences, such as directions, parts of the body, or how to simply number the figures from 1 to 16.  This one member shared a particular taskin, but because there are few Arabic-style geomancers in the group (and fewer still who are willing to discuss the techniques), there wasn’t much to be shared or discussed about the topic to answer his question.  However, we did find something interesting: one English-speaking author has written at least something that’s used in Arabic geomancy, and I decided to investigate further.number the figures from 1 to 16

Nineveh Shadrach is a Western author who specializes in an interesting and intriguing hybrid of Arabic and Middle Eastern magic with European and more broadly Hermetic styles and techniques, and he’s been on my reading list for ages.  The post in the Facebook group steered me to one of his older books, “Secrets of Ancient Magic: Path of the Goddess” (2001, 2004, Ishtar Publishing), co-authored with Frances Harrison.  The book itself appears to be out of print, and though parts of it were used in later publications, the section on geomancy appears to be kept only in this book.  He discusses the basics of geomantic divination as any larger work on magic generally might and takes an approach that veers closer to Arabic-style geomancy than what most European authors have written, but one technique caught my eye, and that really got me thinking about how to apply it in my own practice.

Shadrach’s “Elemental Analysis” technique doesn’t look at the figures in the chart on their own, but rather generates sixteen (!) new figures based on the elemental lines of those in the chart.  Shadrach uses a system of assigning whole elements to the houses in which figures can fall based on the astrological order of elements (Fire, Earth, Air, Water), extending it to the four houses of the Court:

First
Quadrant
Second
Quadrant
Third
Quadrant
Fourth
Quadrant
Fire
Houses
I V IX XIII
Earth
Houses
II VI X XIV
Air
Houses
III VII XI XV
Water
Houses
IV VIII XII XVI

Based on this, one can make a “Fire of Fire” figure by taking the Fire lines of the figures in houses of Fire, i.e. houses I, V, IX, and XIII.  To make the “Air of Fire” figure, one takes the Fire lines of the figures in houses of Air, i.e. houses III, VII, XI, and XV.  In other words, to make a figure “X of Y”, one takes takes the Y-element lines from the X-element houses.   In this sense, one generates a figure such that the elemental lines taken provide the secondary element, and the elemental houses provide the primary element.

The resulting figure can be considered a kind of “elemental distillation” of the chart that hones in on a particular aspect of the situation as filtered through a primary and secondary elemental framework.  For instance, Shadrach gives the example that, in a relationship reading, one would look at the Water figures (i.e. the figures generated from distilling the figures found in houses of Water) generated by this technique, and should the Air of Water figure (Water lines from houses III, VII, XI, and XV) be unfortunate, then it could be said that there might be “communication problems when it comes to emotional expression”.  This figure would then be further inspected to see where in the actual geomantic chart it might be found to further whittle down where such problems might occur.  For instance, should the Air of Water figure be Carcer in such a reading, perhaps indicating isolation and a sense of loneliness in the relationship, and should Carcer be found in house V, it could indicate that there are issues involving intimacy, a lack of sexual communication or agreement, and possible unspoken and undiscussed fears of of sexual impotency causing feelings of inadequacy.

There are a few neat things about this technique, but also a few things I would change.  For one, Shadrach uses the elements in the order of how they appear in the Zodiac: Fire, Earth, Air, Water.  I disprefer this ordering in favor of the usual geomantic order: Fire, Air, Water, Earth.  The latter works better, as well, since I don’t like involving zodiacal schemas and systems where they’re not explicitly called for, and this overall idea of elemental distillation seems more appropriate for the Shield Chart.  For that, I already have a system of assigning elements to the “fields” (not “houses”!) to the Shield Chart:

Mothers Daughters Nieces Court
Fire First First First Right Witness
Air Second Second Second Left Witness
Water Third Third Third Judge
Earth Fourth Fourth Fourth Sentence

Additionally, I don’t like how the phrasing of Shadrach’s technique works in what elements you take from where.  In his system, “X of Y” indicates that you’d take the Y-element lines from the figures in X-element locations, and the Y-element is dominant.  However, this seems backwards to me; the elemental lines take place within the figure found in a given elemental location, so it seems like the the overall “contextual” (or primary) element would be that determined by the location/house/field, and the “modifying” (or secondary) element would be that determined by the line.  So, if Shadrach’s system would define “Air of Water” as being the Water lines taken from the figures in Air locations, I would instead say that it’s the Air lines taken from the figures in Water locations.  This would make more sense to me in lining up with his example about the Air of Water figure representing communication in emotional matters: taking the Air lines from the Water figures would represent the combined powers of Air within the overall context and world of Water.  So, when I would say “X of Y”, I would indicate taking the X-element lines from the Y-element figures: again, the Y-element is primary.

So, in my version of the method, I would make my elementally distilled figures as such:

  • Fire of Fire: Fire lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
  • Air of Fire: Air lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
  • Water of Fire: Water lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
  • Earth of Fire: Earth lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
  • Fire of Air: Fire lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
  • Air of Air: Air lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
  • Water of Air: Water lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
  • Earth of Air: Earth lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
  • Fire of Water: Fire lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
  • Air of Water: Air lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
  • Water of Water: Water lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
  • Earth of Water: Earth lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
  • Fire of Earth: Fire lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence
  • Air of Earth: Air lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence
  • Water of Earth: Water lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence
  • Earth of Earth: Earth lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence

This is all well and good, but what exactly does this get us?  We already have sixteen figures in our geomantic chart, each in its own house that provides the context of each figure, along with how to group the figures into triads, using the Way of the Point, and a variety of other techniques, so why should we come up with more figures for the sake of them?  To get more detail out of the reading, of course!  It always bears remembering that there’s no one single school of geomancy, nor has there ever been, and many techniques were used only by certain people in certain locations or traditions within geomancy.  As it spread across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, geomancy could almost always be recognized as geomancy, but it also adapted itself to the cultures, tribes, and specific strains of knowledge it found itself practiced within.  The use of elemental distillation can be seen as another example of such a technique to extract as much information out of a chart, either on its own or in tandem with other techniques available at the geomancer’s disposal.

Above and beyond just interpreting the figures in the fields (or houses), the technique of elemental distillation can be used to note the specific energetic currents present in a situation, how they’re resolving, and to what end.  Using the elements of field and figure technique, we can see whether the energies in a given aspect of one’s life are able to flow freely and do what they need to for the sake and benefit of the querent, or whether they’re stymied, blocked, and undone based on whether the element of the figure matches the element of the field within which it’s found.  Using this elemental distillation technique, we can get a similar notion of what energies are present in a situation, but from the other side of the equation: we’re seeing what the actual powers and forces at work are, and then seeing how they interact and affect the situation.  So, if we find that the Air of Water figure is fortunate, then we know that the Water energies in the situation are able to to travel, mix, and match more-or-less freely, and if the Water of Air figure is fortunate, then we know that the Air energies in the situation are able to congeal, stick, and be understood in a more profound way than the merely intellectual.

We could take this technique in another direction, though.  I’ve previously established a system of primary and secondary elemental rulers for the figures, such that every geomantic figure is ruled by a main element and a sub-element based on their elemental structure.  In that case, we can consider our elemental distillations to be like the sixteen original figures themselves in an applied sense, with the sixteen original figures being their ideal “fields”.  Consider: if we’re looking at the Air of Water distillation, then we’ve got a figure that is primarily Water and secondarily Air.  The figure that is primarily Water and secondarily Air is the figure Via.  Thus, the Air of Water distillation of a chart indicates how well the situation described by the chart can facilitate the energy of Via, or total change and flow.  Likewise, the Fire of Fire distillation of a chart indicates how well the situation described can facilitate the energy of Laetitia, or joy and uplifting motion.  If we were to find fortunate figures, especially figures that agree in element or the very same figure itself, then we can say that the energies and forces represented by that ideal figure are present and able to effect change in the situation; if unfortunate figures result from distillation, then the forces represented by the corresponding ideal figure are weakened or absent.

One way we could apply this in divination would be to think of a given figure that represents something the querent wants or is aiming for in the situation.  For instance, in a query about promotion, Laetitia would be an excellent figure, because it represents upwards motion and is a figure I find particularly well-suited to promotions and elevations in general and the workplace in particular.  Laetitia, then, is the ideal figure we want to investigate in the chart, and since the corresponding elemental phrasing of Laetitia is “Fire of Fire” (primarily and secondarily fire), we’d look at the Fire of Fire distillation of the chart.  If we find a favorable figure here, we can say that a promotion is likely; if an unfavorable figure, unlikely.  This technique could be used to get subsidiary or unrelated information out of a chart, too, in addition to the main situation the chart is focused on.

To remind us all of the elemental rulerships of the figures, using both primary and secondary elements:

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

I’m sure there are a bunch of other ways to incorporate such an elemental distillation technique of generating secondary figures out of a chart, including using the Via Puncti to determine an element and seeing which of those elemental distillations can further clarify the root causes of a situation, incorporating the distillations into the House Chart as Shadrach suggests, and other techniques.  What’s fascinating about this technique, however, is that we’re using a single chart to make new figures for the sake of interpretation.  Generally, whenever secondary figures are generated in the geomantic corpus (i.e. using the figures of one chart to make new figures that aren’t part of that chart), it’s generally within the context of making up four new figures for a new chart because the old one can’t be read or is too confusing to be read.  Shadrach’s technique is pretty much the only technique I’ve come across that uses the figures to make new figures without using addition—at least in a system that still calls itself “geomancy” by name.

In the variant of geomancy practiced in Madagascar called sikidy, we see something similar.  A sikidy chart contains sixteen figures; though its arranged in an unfamiliar way, it turns out that the first four figures are generated randomly and are read downwards, the next four are just the first four read horizontally, and the other eight are the results of adding two of the other figures together.  In other words, a sikidy chart follows the same exact algorithm as a geomancy chart to get a set of four Mothers, four Daughters, four Nieces, and a Court, just not by those names.  As in geomancy, the field or house of each position in the chart indicates a general realm of life or aspect of the situation, and the figure inside each house indicates how that area of life is effected or affected.  Since sikidy was introduced by means of Arabic trading, we see Arabic and Hermetic influence in how sikidy is read, such that the second field is about property (just as our house II), the third field about local or familial relations (house III), the fourth field about one’s town or village (house IV), and so forth.

What’s interesting, however, is that sikidy practitioners are not just limited to 16 fields, but instead can find up to 34 based on how they combine the individual rows of the total chart.  According to Stephen Skinner (here taken from his 1980 book “Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy”), he gives an additional 18 secondary figures for a total of 34:

Field Name Meaning Generation
1 Talè Querent Randomly generated
2 Harèna Property Randomly generated
3 Fàhatelo Relations of the querent Randomly generated
4 Vòhitra Town or village Randomly generated
5 Zatòvo Young person, descendants First line of 1, 2, 3, and 4
6 Marìna Slave, strong men Second line of 1, 2, 3, and 4
7 Vehivavy Woman, i.e. wife Third line of 1, 2, 3, and 4
8 Fahavalo Enemies Fourth line of 1, 2, 3, and 4
9 Làlana Way, road 1 + 2
10 Asorotany Nobleman, king, ancestors 3 + 4
11 Nía Food 5 + 6
12 Fahasivy Spirits of the dead 7+ 8
13 Mpanontany The enquirer 9 + 10
14 Masina The diviner 11 + 12
15 Andriamanitra God 13 + 14
16 Trano House 1 + 15
17 Zatòvo an-trano hafa Young persons generally First line of 16, 9, 13, and 10
18 Marìna an-trano hafa Slave Second line of 16, 9, 13, and 10
19 Vehivavy an-trano hafa Women generally Third line of 16, 9, 13, and 10
20 Firiariavana an-trano hafa Escaping enemy Fourth line of 16, 9, 13, and 10
21 Kororozy Dragon’s head Fourth line of 12, 14, 11, and 15
22 Olon-dratsy Bad omen Third line of 12, 14, 11, and 15
23 Alika Dog Second line of 12, 14, 11, and 15
24 Tsinin’ny velona Fault of the living First line of 12, 14, 11, and 15
25 Akòho Hens Diagonally down-left of 1, 2, 3, and 4
26 Vòromboahàzo Pebbles Two down-left then two down-right of 1 and 2
27 Ondry Sheep Diagonally down-right of 4, 3, 2, and 1
28 Osy Goats Two down-left then two down-left of 4 and 3
29 Ra be mandriaka Much bloodshed, disaster Two down-right then two up-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15
30 Tsinin’ny maty Fault of the Dead Diagonally down-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15
31 Biby ratsy Wild Cat Two up-right then two down-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15
32 Tsinahy Unexpected Fate Diagonally up-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15
33 Tsi-efa The Incomplete Diagonally down-left of 16, 9, 13, and 10
34 Mamòha éfa Revival of Past Evils, e.g. disease Diagonally up-left of 16, 9, 13, and 10

These aren’t all possible ways to obtain secondary figures from a sikidy chart, either.  Marcia Ascher in her 1997 paper Malagasy sikidy: a case in ethnomathematics describes the following 15 secondary figures (though, unfortunately, with neither names nor significations), but who also gives a different arrangement of the bottom set of eight figures (our Nieces and Court):

Knowing that fields 1 through 16 are generated in the same way as before, just with a different arrangement of 9 through 16:

Field Generation
17 Diagonally down-right of 9, 13, 10, and 15
18 Diagonally down-right of 10, 15, 11, and 14
19 Diagonally down-right of 11, 14, 12, and 16
20 Diagonally down-left of 16, 12, 14, and 11
21 Diagonally down-left of 14, 11, 15, and 10
22 Diagonally down-left of 15, 10, 13, and 9
23 17 + 20
24 18 + 21
25 19 + 22
26 Two down-left then two down-right of 16 and 12
27 Two down-right then two down-left of 11 and 14
28 Two down-left then two down-right of 15 and 10
29 Two down-right then two down-left of 9 and 13
30 26 + 27
31 28 + 29

To be fair, Ascher is less concerned with the practice of divination and more with how recursive and spacial mathematics factor into traditional practices among Malagasy traditions.  Still, she does also imply that there are other secondary series besides the ones she enumerated, too.  Again, there’s always that “variant lineages within traditions” bit to contend with that makes geomancy a vibrant and varied garden instead of a sterile and monolithic chamber.

What this detour into sikidy shows us is that there are more ways to generate figures besides simply adding two figures together or transposing the Mothers into the Daughters; indeed, sikidy practitioners seem to delight in finding new ways to come up with such figures in regular patterns.  Though we can’t really adopt many of the same exact techniques, it does show us an otherwise unexplored venue (unexplored, at least, by all except Shadrach) in how we can generate other figures from a chart using non-additive means, and that the process has been used elsewhere to continuing success by geomancers in other traditions.  This suggests that, with the proper logic and testing, we can adopt similar techniques in our own Western kind of geomancy, much as the version given above of Shadrach’s elemental distillation.  In fact, “distillation” is a good way to describe the generation of such figures, I claim, as you’re necessarily looking across four (or two, in the cases of some sikidy figures) different figures to come up with one.

Unlike some of the other techniques I’ve proposed on this blog before, this one is exceptionally exciting but also exceptionally hazy; Shadrach’s guidance on divvying things up by their overall element weirds me out and I claim it could use more rigor, and there are other possibilities such as using my ideal figure interpretation as well as incorporating it into the usual interpretations of the fields and houses.  Though it’ll eventually make its way into my geomancy textbook (which, god, yes, is still in editing and it takes forever especially with everything else going on), this is one I want to play around more with to see exactly what it does and how it does it, as well as how well it might play with other techniques such as the Via Puncti or the field element analysis method.

On Geomantic Energy Centers, and the Via Elementorum Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Elemental and Geomantic Epodes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or a Latin BDGH system as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΖΗ

Coniunctio
ΔΗ

Albus


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

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

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

HU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΔΗ

Coniunctio


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

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

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

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

deep breath

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

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

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

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

Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΖΑ
za
ΔΑ
da

ha
Roman BA ZA DA A
Isopsephic Greek
Ēta
ΒΗ
ΔΗ

ΘH
thē
Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΔΑ
da

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

ha
Isopsephic ΒΙ
bi
ΔΥ
du

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

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

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

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

Likewise, for the use of the geomantic epodes:

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

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

On Fireballs and Pharmakeia

So, as I sit here at my desk trying to ignore the urge to smoke more cigarettes and replace it with eating (way too many) Oreos, I’ve been trying to find simple things to occupy my time with.  Working on my book requires focus, and I’m still working up the courage and energy to go work out (which I need to get back on the ball with after three weeks of chaos and travel and religion, but I’ll get back on that this week all the same), so I’m just trying to find low-effort things to keep my mind and hands occupied.  One such thing is gaming, specifically playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, because why not?  It’s a pretty good game, after all, and though I know there’s huge replay value in it, I can never seem to muster up the tenacity to try out different builds on multiple playthroughs, keep characters limited to particular questlines, or whatnot.  It’s always satisfying, after all, especially with a few mods here and there to spice the game up (and, hopefully, refrain from breaking too many quests, which unfortunately keeps happening).

Of course, me being me, I always end up playing a mage-assassin, incinerating everything quietly and from afar.  I was never much fond of close-up fighting classes no matter the game, so of course I would lean towards the more mage-based classes.  Big surprise, I know.  Of course, if only magic worked in our world like it does in so many fantasy games!  To shoot fire and lighting and ice from one’s hands, to control wind and earth and water with a word, to heal and harm for weal or woe with a thought and a gesture miraculously, wondrously, and instantly would be satisfying, indeed.  Alas, fantasy is fantasy, and reality is reality, for the most part; there are still plenty of miraculous things one can do with thoughts, gestures, and words, and a good bit of my own practice is heavily informed by fantasy, as are a number of my friends’ and colleagues’.  Sometimes, the fantastical has very straightforward implementations in reality, with much the same ends and effects, though, perhaps, with fewer explosions.

In Skyrim, for those who are familiar with the game, I lean heavily towards the Destruction skill tree, which empowers the player-adventurer to wield a variety of elemental-based spells for causing mass…well, destruction.  Being Skyrim, one of the most effective elements to wield is that of fire, given the high number of highly-flammable undead, furry creatures, and elemental tree spirits, as well as because ice tends to be resisted more commonly than not, and lightning…eh, it’s cute.  Anyway, fire is awesome!  I think we can all agree on that, right?  Of course it is.  And, of course, the use of fireballs is incredibly well-known across so many fantasy games and settings, and the general practice for using them is something like this:

  1. Adventurer-mage spots a hopeless victim, or is otherwise accosted by a foolish victim.
  2. Adventurer-mage casts fireball on the victim.
  3. The fireball may or may not explode on contact with the victim to cause damage to nearby collateral damage.
  4. The fireball may or may not catch the victim(s) on actual fire.  However, the fireball will cause significant damage to the victim’s (or victims’) health, and if strong enough, will outright kill the victim(s).

Given how many fantasy games work, unless you’re playing a rather free-form one or a tabletop game that isn’t bound by game engines, such fireballs don’t often incinerate the victim(s) to literal piles of dust, and if they’re of the exploding kind, they don’t often actually explode the victim as if they were touched by a grenade or bomb.  In Skyrim, using the non-explosive Firebolt spell, what this usually looks like is:

 

Okay, straightforward enough to understand, and due to the limitations of video game engines, pretty simple: make ball of fire, shoot it at a target, it damages their health, and if their health drops below the minimum threshold, they die.  All fantasy, of course.  What bothers me most (at least within the context of Skyrim) is how, at higher levels or on weak-enough enemies, all the enemies do when being attacked with such a fireball is that they drop dead with a few fancy effects.  No incineration, no screams of prolonged pain, no gear-turned-to-ashes, no burn marks, no explosions, just “whoop-poof” and body-drop.  For being such a fantastical mainstay, such fireballs are…underwhelming.  Surely, a real fireball spell would cause more collateral damage, both to any nearby items or environmental factors!

So, that got my head-gears turning.  What exactly is going on here when the adventurer-mage is casting a fireball spell on such a victim?  The naïve answer is that the adventurer-mage is literally manifesting a ball of sufficiently-materialized fire energy, which is then directed forward away from the caster and towards a victim in a more-or-less ballistic fashion, which then explodes and releases its fire energy upon contact with any solid-enough object that it collides with that significantly interferes with its inertia.  In other words, we’re basically making a magical Molotov cocktail from etheric scratch with more-or-less physical behavior; after all, if it were just pure energy, we might expect it to not be as…well, flamey or explosive or bright, as well as having it pass through solid objects like how thought or astral bodies might.  I suppose fireballs might better be considered more of a Conjuration school technique than a Destruction one, but then, the Elder Scrolls view of magical schools has always been flexible, and calling it a Conjuration spell would only make sense after…what, five seconds of thought?  Clearly too much to put in for a casual not-actually-magical gamer, I would think.

Another viewpoint on this would be less creating a manifestation of a flammable grenade and more about tweaking the actual physical activity on a molecular level; instead of conjuration, this would by pyrokinesis.  In other words, by means of spiritual action, we’d be influencing the vibration of molecules and atoms such that they would increase dramatically within a localized area.  This wouldn’t really have the same ballistic effect the conjured-Molotov-cocktail approach would, as it’d be taking effect at a distance immediately, but it would have a similar effect: a sudden and dramatic increase in the molecular vibrations would increase the heat at that location, whether air or metal or fabric or any other substance, so long as it’s not an empty vacuum.  At high enough activities, even air would combust, and if sustained long enough, then a sufficiently hot “mass” of energy that could be sustained magically can be directed to travel through the air, combusting more air along the way, which then could catch other things on fire, which would indeed get us our fireball.  This wouldn’t be as extensible to other elements (how would you cast an ice spell, or a water spell?), but as far as fireballs go, this approach is just as viable as the earlier one, and just as fantastical.

Still, if we were to be conjuring Molotov cocktails between our hands or turning into living microwaves, we’d expect the whole burning-to-death process to actually follow suit, wouldn’t we?  In other words, in order to do any damage, we’d expect that things should actually catch fire first, then be on fire long enough to scald, scorch, burn, incinerate, and calcine so as to actually cause harm to living targets and general destruction to inanimate targets.  Instead, what we’re seeing is that once the fireball comes in contact with a target, that target immediately takes a hit to their health, if not immediately dies, so something else is going on here besides an overblown catch-on-fire spell.  This is what caught my attention after a few…dozen dozen enemies being killed, I guess, in a moment of reflection after having to unload a few hundred potatoes and apples unto my loyal follower in the middle of an ancient tomb filled with fresh produce and lit candles.  I do so love video game logic, after all, and Skyrim is…well, special.

Anyway.

So, if casting fireballs at people isn’t actually just setting them on fire, what’s actually going on from a magical perspective?  We’re obviously condensing a sufficiently harmful amount of energy attuned to Fire, which is then released in a directed way at a target to cause them harm, which may not actually be set on fire or exploded, yet still suffers as a result.  What’s going on?  This is where things get interesting to me as an actual mage, and which can perhaps lead into a less-than-fantastical implementation of casting fireballs as a kind of offensive magic in our world where magic works.

Consider the human body from a spiritual perspective.  The health of the human body is a fine balance between subtle forces, which historically in the Western world have been associated with the four elements and, in the body, the four humours: Fire manifests through choler (yellow bile), Air as blood, Water as phlegm, and Earth as melancholy (black bile).  It is only when these four humours are balanced—none in excess and none in deficiency—that the body enjoys health.  If there’s too much or too little of any one or more, you start getting health problems.  The balance of the humours could be affected by any number of things: the food and drink we consume, the music we listen to, the airs and climate that surround us, the physical and mental activities we engage in, and of course the spiritual influences on us from beyond our worldly realm and which do not necessarily have roots in the physical, manifest world we interact with.  This is why certain types of energy work can encourage health when done properly or damage health when done improperly, and why certain energetic practices are recommended for magicians to regulate the spiritual forces we interact with so that our bodies and health aren’t impacted in a negative way.

Heck, one can even use simple energy work to remedy simple physical problems.  I recall one winter night when I was getting a tattoo with a magical friend of mine, and I had to run down the block and across the road to the nearby shopping center for some cash from the ATM.  Being young, courageous, stupid, and enjoying of winter, I decided to do so without my jacket or coat.  Admittedly, I did enjoy the brisk dash outside in roughly freezing temperatures, but it’s only once back inside the warmth of the tattoo shop that I had to deal with warming myself back up.  To encourage my body to get on with it, I had the idea to use my personal geomantic mudra of Fire (Laetitia, which is geomantically pure Fire), conjuring up some Fire-based energy within me and circulating it through my body.  Even though I had never done such a thing before, it worked; the cold more-or-less instantly dissipated as I began to circulate it, and I was back to comfortable levels in no time.  It even caught my friend off-guard, who picked up on the energetic shift I put on myself and noticed the change in temperature from across the room.  Instant results and immediate external confirmation—what more could I ask for as a magician trying something new out?

Energy work, well, works.  Thing is, you have to be careful with it; as the Renaissance magician-pharmacist Paracelsus once said, “Alle Dinge sind Gift, und nichts ist ohne Gift, allein die Dosis macht dass ein Ding kein Gift ist”, or “all things are poison, and nothing is without poison, the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison”.  The only thing that really transforms any given drug into medicine or poison is how much you use; I was able to work enough Fire energy into my system as I needed, and no more, to fix my problem of there being too much cold.  If I had overdone it, I could easily have introduced health problems into my system, such as rashes, flushing, ulcers, headaches, fevers, heartburn, heart problems, and the like.  Heck, if I were otherwise normal and focused too much Fire energy into a part of the body that didn’t need it, I could cause localized problems, or it could dissolve into the rest of my body raising my overall Fire levels, which again could cause systemic issues.  Sola dosis facit venenum; the dosage alone makes the poison.

Though it’s not usually discussed, any beneficial, health-encouraging practice can be twisted to be harmful and malicious; just as one can use reiki to resolve blockages, one can also use it to introduce them, and just as one can modify the body’s humours to encourage health, one can also modify them to wreck it.  In a sense, you can energetically heal someone by using energetic medicine, or you can energetically harm them by using energetic poison.  This is essentially bringing modern spiritual medicine back in line with the ancient traditions of pharmakeía. Although this word literally refers to the administration of drugs, it’s far more famously used in the Bible to refer to magic and sorcery.  It’s not an either-or thing here; it was quite common back in the day, as it is in ours, to administer magic through the use of ingested or applied substances.  Consider how we might use certain herbs and plant parts in magical drinks, adding a few drops of this oil or that powder in someone’s meal to influence them, or rubbing this salve or that ointment on our skin for protection, flying, or simply fixing a health problem.  I mean, consider: without an understanding of modern pharmacology, how could it not be seen as magic to take some sort of occult virtue of a plant, boil it in some oil, then using the oil on my head to cure a headache when eating the plant or using the oil alone would otherwise have no effect?

To influence and modify the state of the body through spiritual means, then, could be considered pharmakeia, and since spiritual factors influence physical forms without necessarily requiring physical means, purely-spiritual pharmakeia would be an option just as much as physically-administered pharmakeia.  This means that energy work and other energy-based forms of magic would fall under pharmakeia for both healing and harming, and this is where we can tie pharmakeia into fireballs.  Recall my little Fire experiment from above; one might consider that applying Fire energy to resolve a physical problem, so what would stop me (besides my scruples) to apply Fire energy to cause physical problems?  After all, poisoning someone with Fire energy is essentially what’s going on in Skyrim and other such fantasy games when outright Molotov cocktail-like behavior isn’t seen: you’re overloading the victim with too much Fire energy, which causes them to suffer and die, sometimes dramatically so.  That’s what a real implementation of a fireball would do: energetically poison a victim with an overload of too much Fire energy/ether/etc.  Likewise, an Ice attack could be conceived of as not only depleting a victim’s Fire energy but also encouraging too much Water and Earth energies, fixing both to induce an overabundance of cold with no Fire to ameliorate or defend against it.

In this sense, such an approach seems a lot less fantastical and way more effective to be taken.  I mean, none of this is particularly surprising; I know I’ve done similar things in the past, and it’s just another way to encourage someone to act or adopt a new set of behaviors and patterns of health.  But, when viewed in a fantastical light as “casting fireballs or ice spikes”, this sort of phrasing of how magical acts afflict the delicate balance of the body’s health makes a lot more sense.  I dimly recall some Hermetic author or other having written an article online about a ceremonial magic implementation of basically casting fireball, but I wasn’t able to find it on my own, since I had read it years ago and it was already old by the time I got to it.  Happily, my friend John Umbras of Cross the Dark helped me out and reminded me that it was called the “Chaos Bolt” ritual.  Though it doesn’t exist on its original source of ChaosMatrix anymore, it’s since been replicated across the internet in a variety of files and PDFs.  One such PDF on Combat Magick, including the Chaos Bolt ritual, is available here, courtesy of the chaos magic and left hand path blog Arauto do Chaos.  Even though it’s not exactly being constructed as a Fire-based ritual, the Fire elements (heh) are absolutely there, and it’s not hard to see how, much less how to make it even more fiery.  I recommend reading it to get a glimpse of what such an implementation of energetic attacking could be like, and then interpret it as taking effect through energetic poisoning of a victim’s body instead of just fucking with their circumstances or life generally.  Beyond that, I’m sure you can figure out how to design and direct such elemental offensive spells on your own, dear reader.  After all, we don’t call them “elemental weapons” for nothing.

Who would have thought that getting bored during a video game could be so productive for analyzing new ways to view old magic tricks?

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!

More Thoughts on Shield Chart Company

Last time, I posted my collected thoughts on the rule of company in interpreting geomantic charts.  The rule, as taught nowadays, seems to have originated with the French geomancer Christopher Cattan, but after a bit of discussion with a student, seems to have pointed more towards something like the rule of triads like what Robert Fludd used in his interpretation of the Shield Chart rather than an extra way to get more significators out of the House Chart in case the significators themselves don’t perfect, like what John Michael Greer proposes in his Art and Practice of Geomancy.  I offered my thoughts there on how we might apply those same rules of company (company simple, company demi-simple, company compound, and company capitular) to the parents in a given triad, but I think we could offer more variations based on what we know of the figures, as well.

First, let’s talk about company capitular.  This rule has bugged me in the past, where we say that two figures are in company if they share the same Fire line (so Albus and Populus would be in company, but not Albus and Puer).  Why don’t we care about the other lines?  When it comes to company capitular, much like the case with the Via Puncti being limited in the literature to just the Fire line, we can also expand this rule a bit to focus on the similarity of the figures based on which of their lines are in agreement.  Using the above framework, I would normally say that c.  However, if we were to go to a more elemental way of looking at the figures, we can then rename and refine “company capitular” into “elemental company” and offer a new set of analytical rules:

  • Elemental company can be made multiple ways at once, and can be seen as a separate system beyond the methods of company simple, demi-simple, and compound.
  • A shared active line indicates an overwhelming desire or power in the method indicated by the elemental line.
  • A shared passive line indicates a complete apathy or powerlessness in the method indicated by the elemental line.
  • Company by Fire (same Fire line) shows that both parents want the same thing out of the situation.
  • Company by Air (same Air line) shows that both parents are thinking and saying the same things about the situation.
  • Company by Water (same Water line) shows that both parents feel the same way about the situation.
  • Company by Earth (same Earth line) shows that both parents have the same material means and physical basis to attain the outcome.

So, let’s say we have a First Triad (describing the nature and condition of the querent) where we have Coniunctio and Rubeus as the parents; the resulting child is Albus.  Thus, we can see that the parents of this triad are in passive company by Fire and Earth, in active company by Air, and not in company by Water.  While we know that the overall condition of the querent is placid and calm and not very active (Albus), we can also say that this is because they’re only constantly thinking about something intently (active company by Air) without having much to act (passive company by Fire) nor having much to act upon (passive company by Earth).  Through the querent’s reflection and mulling things over, they lose their intense and active feelings on the matter and let it go (not in company by Water).

That said, I suppose that this particular example isn’t particularly helpful, as it’s more a description of how the figures are interacting based on their elemental composition rather than an interaction between people or whether there’s support involved for the querent or other people involved in a given matter.  We know that we have passive company by Fire and Earth and active company by Air, so if we were interpreting this as a normal rule of company, we could say that there’s lots of concerted talk with others and lots of talking to people, but not much else going on, and that talk isn’t helpful when it comes to communicating feelings or helping sympathize or empathize with others, leading to solitude and loneliness on the parts of individual people.

Maybe elemental company isn’t the best approach.  However, there’s another way we could expand on the rule of company when implemented in the triads, and that’s based on the rule of company compound, where two figures are in company if they’re reverses of each other (e.g. Albus and Rubeus, or Caput Draconis and Cauda Draconis).  With company compound, the parent and their allies are approaching the same matter from different directions and have different results in mind, looking for their own ends, but find a common thing to strive for and will help each other out where they themselves lack the power they get from the other.  The thing is, however, that the reversion of a figure is essentially a mathematical transformation of a figure, not elemental or otherwise occult, and there are other mathematical transformations we could use instead to obtain other forms of company.

Although I haven’t discussed it explicitly on my blog much, I have briefly gone over the mathematical transformations of the figures in an earlier post, and I’ve also explicitly stated what the given transformation is of each figure in the relevant posts in my De Geomanteia series.  For our purposes here, there are three types of mathematical transformations of the figures:

  • Inversion: replacing all the single dots with double dots and vice versa (e.g. Puer inverted becomes Albus).  Everything a figure is not, but on an external level.
  • Reversion: rotating a figure upside down (e.g. Puer reverted becomes Puella).  The same qualities of a figure taken to its opposite, internal extreme.
  • Conversion: inversion with reversion (e.g. Puer converted becomes Rubeus).  The same qualities of a figure expressed in a similar, contraparallel manner.

So, if we were to make separate rules of company for these transformations, we might end up with four types of company, were we to keep company simple around as well.  Company compound would be renamed company reverse, and we’d add in “company inverse” and “company converse” into the mix as well, for a total of four “mathematical company” methods:

  • Company simple: both parents are the same figure (e.g. Albus and Albus).  The significator and their allies are completely in line with each other, from approach to energy, and are identical in all regards.  Complete harmony and support.
  • Company inverse: the parents are inverses of each other (e.g. Albus and Puer).  The significator and their allies fulfill each other’s deficit of power or means, yet mesh together to form one complete and total force that will conquer and achieve everything that alone they could not.
  • Company reverse: the parents are reverses of each other (e.g. Albus and Rubeus).  The significator and their allies are approaching the same matter from different directions and have different results in mind, looking for their own ends, but find a common thing to strive for and will each benefit from the whole.
  • Company converse: the parents are converses of each other (e.g. Albus and Puella).  The significator and their allies are similar enough to act along the same lines of power and types of action, but express it in completely different ways from the outside.  Internally, the action and thoughts are the same, but externally, they are distinct.  Think bizarro-world reflections of each other.

Interestingly, because these are mathematical operations performed on the figures, if we know what the operation is, we nearly always already know what the child will be if we know the parents and type of company they’re in.  For instance, we know that when two figures are added to each other, if those figures are inversions, the result will always be Via (e.g. Populus and Via, Albus and Puer, Laetitia and Caput Draconis).  Likewise, if two figures are in company simple, we’re adding the same figure to itself, so the result will always be Populus.  However, the other types of company give us a bit more interesting stuff to chew on:

  • Company reverse
    • Cannot be formed if parents are both Via, both Populus, both Coniunctio, or both Carcer.  These figures are reversions of themselves, the so-called “axial” figures.  In these cases, we have company simple.
    • Cannot be formed if parents are Fortuna Major and Fortuna Minor (or vice versa), or Acquisitio and Amissio.  These figures are inversions of themselves, and so we have company inverse.
    • Child will be Carcer if parents are Laetitia and Tristitia, or Caput Draconis or Cauda Draconis.
    • Child will be Coniunctio if parents are Albus and Rubeus, or Puer and Puella.
  • Company converse
    • Cannot be formed if parents are Populus and Via, or Carcer and Coniunctio.  The axial figures have a converse that is their inverse, and so we have company inverse.
    • Cannot be formed if parents are both Fortuna Maior, both Fortuna Minor, both Acquisitio, or both Amissio.  These figures are converses of themselves, and so we have company simple.
    • Child will be Carcer if parents are Laetitia and Cauda Draconis, or Tristitia and Caput Draconis.
    • Child will be Coniunctio if parents are both Albus and Puella, or Rubeus and Puer.

Note that, in all cases where we use these company rules for parents in a triad, we always have a child that will be an axial figure: always Populus if company simple, always Via if company inverse, and either Carcer or Coniunctio if company reverse or company converse.  Thus, if we see any child figure in the Shield Chart as an axial figure, we know immediately that its parents will be in company.  Further, based on this child figure, we could see at a glance whether a triad is referring to a single person developing over time with the help or assistance of others (if Via or Carcer), or whether the triad is referring to multiple people interacting and dealing amongst themselves (if Populus or Coniunctio); additionally, we can see whether there is progress and change involved (if Via or Coniunctio) or whether things stagnate and become fixed (if Populus or Carcer).  However, this is a very naïve way of reading a triad, and may not always hold up depending on the specific triad being interpreted as well as the query and intuition of the diviner.

As an example, let’s consider a First Triad where the First Mother is Albus.  Again, we’re considering what the condition and overall state of the querent is, so let’s see what the four possibilities of company would be and their resulting triads:

  • Company simple (Second Mother Albus, First Niece Populus):  Not much to speak of, really.  As in all cases where the child is Populus, what has been is what will be.  However, the querent is likely not alone and has at least one other friend who shares their same state of mind and condition, and are coming together in harmony and unison to help each other out or facilitate their actions together.
  • Company inverse (Second Mother Puer, First Niece Via):  On its own, we could say that the state of the querent will be turned completely on its head, with all this passive contemplation turning into daring, heedless action.  If the chart or intuition of the diviner suggests that the querent is with someone else, this is someone who’s constantly playing devil’s advocate and goading the querent onto radical change, and together they complete and fulfill each other in many ways.
  • Company reverse (Second Mother Rubeus, First Niece Coniunctio):  Fun times, except ew.  This is a weird combination of people, and I’d hardly call them “allies” in any sense; they’re both arguing with each other to the point of talking past each other, yet in their harsh and loud words, they eventually come to a concordance and progress together.  Strange bedfellows, indeed.
  • Company converse (Second Mother Puella, First Niece Carcer): This is probably the most pleasing of all companies possible, as it provides the querent with someone sufficiently different yet operating on the same principles to reinforce the condition and state of the querent.  In this case, this would be good to solidify the nature of the querent and give them some stability, but with the risk of codependency and a potential for getting locked into their current state without trying to actively change things.

All these rules of company so far discussed are based on something structural about the figures, either the elemental structure in the first set (originally based on an expansion of company capitular) or the mathematical structure in the second set (expanding off company compound).  What about company demi-simple?  In that rule, both figures in company are ruled by the same planet, and indicates that the significator and their allies are different, but share enough characteristics for them to complement each other and understand each other enough to accomplish the same thing.  If we use a more occult basis for establishing company, I can think of two more ways to find these out, forming a set of four “magical company” rules:

  • Company simple: both parents are the same figure (e.g. Albus and Albus).  The significator and their allies are completely in line with each other, from approach to energy, and are identical in all regards.  Complete harmony and support.
  • Company zodiacal: both figures are ruled by the same zodiacal sign (e.g. Caput Draconis and Coniunctio).  The significator and their allies are put together by fate and must contend with the same matter together, though not perhaps in the same way.  The zodiacal rulership of the figures can be found in this post.  Not all signs have two figures, so company zodiacal can only be formed when both figures are ruled by the signs Taurus, Gemini, Virgo, and Scorpio, the only signs using Gerard of Cremona’s method that have two figures assigned to them.  Otherwise, using Agrippa’s method, company zodiacal can only be formed when both figures are ruled by the signs Cancer, Leo, and Virgo.
  • Company planetary: both figures are ruled by the same planet (e.g. Albus and Coniunctio).  This would have been company demi-simple in the original rules of company given by Cattan, but here, we can say that the inner drive of the significator and their allies are the same, though their external expression is different but aimed at the same overall goal.
  • Company elementary:  both figures are ruled by the same element (e.g. Albus and Populus).  The outer expression and actions of the figures are similar and get along well enough for the time being, although their inner drives and ultimate goals differ.  The elemental rulership of the figures can be found in this post.

These methods of company do not rely on anything structural in the figures (with the exception of company simple), but rely on the higher meanings of element, planet, and sign attributed to the figures to see how close the figures are to each other and whether they can form enough of a relationship to work together.  Additionally, unlike the other sets of company rules, I think it’s best that two figures can be in company multiple ways at the same time (like Carcer and Tristitia, which would be in company both planetary and elemental) rather than having one form of company “overwrite” the others.  Still, if an overwriting rule were put in place, I think it would go company simple (sameness), then company zodiacal (fated), company planetary (inner drive the same), and company elementary (outer expression the same).  It is a little frustrating that so few figures can enter into company zodiacal with each other, however, but I think that might also be for the best.

So, to recap, we have four sets of rules of company:

  1. Canonical company (given by Cattan): company simple, company demi-simple, company compound, company capitular
  2. Elemental company (based on the elemental structure of the figures): company by Fire, company by Air, company by Water, company by Earth
  3. Mathematical company (based on the mathematical relationships of the figures): company simple, company inverse, company reverse, company converse
  4. Magical company (based on the occult associations of the figures): company simple, company zodiacal, company planetary, company elementary

Of these, I think elemental company can be thrown out as a viable technique, as it doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know, but instead is another way to look at the simple addition of figures, which isn’t a great way of telling whether someone has allies or external support, and strongly differs from the other methods entirely.  Mathematical company and magical company, however, bear much more possibility because they explore actual relationships among the figures, one by means of their structure and one by means of their correspondences.  When applied to the parents in a triad, I think we can definitely use these in addition to or instead of Cattan’s canonical company rules to understand whether a person in a reading has allies and, if so, of what type and means.

All this hasn’t really touched on the role of the child in a triad, however, when it comes to rules of company.  That said, these rules are all about pairs of figures, and with the exception of the Sentence, all figures are parents and can enter into company with at least one other figure.  I think it might be best to leave it at Cattan’s barely-explained way of seeing which parent the child agrees with most, whether it be by ruling planet or element or whatever, and judge a triad much as we might judge the Court with the added clarity of seeing who helps who attain what in a given triad.