On Gender in Hermeticism: Analysis, Ranting, and Questions

Whew.  After giving that whole battery of citations from classical Hermetic literature yesterday, you might be tired, and I wouldn’t blame you.  Still, I should point out that amidst the many different texts that are extant, it was just those 15 that I could only really bring up in the topic of sex and gender within Hermeticism without getting into the more technical or scientific stuff that goes over the nitty-gritty of how biological reproduction actually works (which is getting outside the scope of gender and sex in general).  That’s all that there is, just 15 small excerpts, amounting to but a few pages among many hundreds that talk about everything else.  Suffice it to say that it’s just not a major topic within Hermeticism, but it’s still there even in some small way, and it would behoove us to get a better understanding of what’s there and what it actually says.

One of the biggest issues we have when faced with discussing notions of gender in a spiritual context, especially when it comes to Hermeticism and what the classical Hermetic texts have to say on the topic, is that it’s become common in a lot of New Age and otherwise modern magical and spiritual traditions to overlay binary and largely Western notions of gender with spiritual metaphors, conflating the two to a point where it becomes hard to separate out the symbol from the referent.  All this stuff we see, read, and hear about “male = active/emitting, female = passive/receiving” is extremely dependent on your perspective, and it’s not always there in the currents we talk about.  Trying to use notions of gender to describe spiritual realities is risky, because once you phrase things in terms of gender (which is, for the most part, based on an immaterial parallel to biological sex), you’re limiting yourself in ways that sex and gender themselves are limited that are not always appropriate to what’s being actually discussed.  As a result—especially now that we’re at a point in our cultural worldview where we can more freely and honestly evaluate what gender is, what it means to be or do gender, how gender is conditioned or developed from societal roles, and the like—we end up with a hot mess that we don’t need and never needed to deal with, but here we are all the same.  This is made all the worse when we work from our modern perspectives on gender and need to understand what “gender” even meant to people from a different temporal, cultural, geographical, and philosophical context than what we grew up within, and trying to overlay our ingrained notions with older or different ones is bound to cause so much strife and conflict that it’s honestly best to start from first principles.

So, based on the excerpts we identified last time, what are some of the takeaways we can glean from the excerpts we pointed out as a whole?

  • God is androgyne, here meaning “beyond male or female”, “transcending male and female”, “neither male nor female”, or “both male and female”, depending on your cultural perspective and understanding of this word.
  • The essential human (Anthrōpos) is androgyne in the same way that God is androgyne, since the essential human is made in the image and likeness of God with God as the “father” of the essential human.
  • By extension, all things are inherently androgyne on an immaterial level (i.e. that of the soul).
  • Every instance of “androgyne”, “male”, or “female” comes about in the context of (immaterial) creation or (material) procreation.
  • Differentiated sex only comes about and only makes sense in the context of biological reproduction with material bodies.
  • Sexed bodies were only made (in the sense of the male being sundered from the female) for the purpose of biological reproduction with material bodies.
  • Male and female, as biological sexes, are both “full of fecundity”, but have different functions of fecundity, and it is their union that creates the act of procreation, as the combination of male and female returns both to an androgyne (and thus primordial human, or God-like, state), triggering new creation.

In other words, if we take this all together, then what we (or at least, what I) arrive at is the conclusion that sex is only ever about bodies, which agrees with the modern distinction between “sex” and “gender”, and doesn’t (unless you reach to make it fit) doesn’t apply to things that don’t have bodies.  However, what sets the modern notion of gender apart from the doctrines of the Hermetic excerpts pointed out before is that there is no such notion of “gender” in the Hermetic texts as we understand it nowadays; moreover, there doesn’t need to be, because the soul which inhabits (sexed) bodies is (along with God) androgyne to begin with; there is no such thing as a “male soul” or a “female soul”, or even a “male energy” or “female energy”.  To an extent, this makes sense, since the notion of gender as a thing separate from sex is a relatively modern idea and model of human identity; after all, for most of history, “gender” was something you considered when figuring out what sort of word suffixes to use in linguistics.

Consider again CH I.17—18:

As I said, then, the birth of the seven was as follows. (Earth) was the female. Water did the fertilizing. Fire was the maturing force. Nature took spirit from the ether and brought forth bodies in the shape of the man. From life and light the man became soul and mind; from life came soul, from light came mind, and all things in the cosmos of the senses remained thus until a cycle ended (and) kinds of things began to be.

All living things, which had been androgyne, were sundered into two parts—humans along with them—and part of them became male, part likewise female. But god immediately spoke a holy speech: “Increase in increasing and multiply in multitude, all you creatures and craftworks, and let him (who) is mindful recognize that he is immortal, that desire is the cause of death, and let him recognize all that exists.”

Taking this as a basis, we know that the first seven human beings were androgyne, along with all other animal life, in a sort of primordial/antediluvian Hermetic “Golden Age”.  It was only after “a cycle ended” that differentiation in sex was started.  It’s not really explained why such a “cycle” would have to “end” for this new cycle to start, except that’s what cycles do; Scott points out in his commentary that the language in this is vaguely Stoic, but this doesn’t cleanly line up with Stoic cosmology, and also hearkens to Hesiod’s mythic “ages”.  In this, I’d mark the first start of biological life in the sense that we’d understand it to be at the start of this second age rather than in the ideal first age, since biological life requires biological reproduction, and we don’t see any sort of thing discussed or mentioned in the first age.  We end up with several possibilities here:

  • Maybe the seven androgyne humans were all that there were, and no new humans were made in the first age.
  • Maybe Physis made more androgyne humans than just these after their creation, and they just weren’t discussed.
  • Maybe the seven androgyne humans parthenogenetically made more of themselves.
  • Maybe the seven androgyne humans were already making more through combinations of themselves in ways that couldn’t be described as “sex”.

Of these possibilities, only the first possibility (that it was just the seven original androgyne humans existing for an age without any further ones) seems the most likely to me.  After that, we have biological life properly starting, which requires the differentiation of bodies along sexual lines to function properly.  Splitting bodies into two just happened to work best, I suppose; after all, there’s much philosophical ink spilled about how there’s always a median third between any two things.

On this point, a friend from the Hermetic Agora Discord put something into my mind that works really well:

Also, the thing about gender is that it is a social construct.  Take this mushroom for example: “One species of fungi, Schizophyllum commune, really shines when it comes to gender diversity. The white, fan-shaped mushroom has more than 23,000 different sexual identities, a result of widespread differentiation in the genetic locations that govern its sexual behavior.”

It’s just that evolution pared it down to two for most animals to make things easier. But even that is wiggly. There is a species of all female lizards.

We know through the investigation of modern science that biological sex gets really, really weird.  Like, there’s no brooking this debate; we know for a fact that there are more biological sexes than just saying “XY= male and XX = female”, and cases where what we’d consider “male” and “female” for one species is turned on its head or rendered a moot point entirely for other species, where sometimes it’s something from birth and other times through temporal and temporary circumstance afterward.  To believe otherwise is literally to believe wrongly; when belief in what is invisible or imperceptible and which cannot be logically proved one way or another is one thing, but to not believe in the dazzling complexity of biological processes and traits that lead to a dizzying array of different sexes in pretty much every species is the equivalent of not believing in gravity or the Pacific ocean.  I mean, as that one popular anti-transphobia rant (which I believe can be attributed to a New York biology teacher) that circulates the Internet from time to time goes:

First of all, in a sexual species, you can have females be XX and males be X (insects), you can have females be ZW and males be ZZ (birds), you can have females be females because they developed in a warm environment and males be males because they developed in a cool environment (reptiles), you can have females be females because they lost a penis sword fighting contest (some flatworms), you can have males be males because they were born female, but changed sexes because the only male in their group died (parrotfish and clownfish), you can have males look and act like females because they are trying to get close enough to actual females to mate with them (cuttlefish, bluegills, others), or you can be one of thousands of sexes (slime mold, some mushrooms.) Oh, did you mean humans? Oh ok then. You can be male because you were born female, but you have 5-alphareductase deficiency and so you grew a penis at age 12. You can be female because you have an X and a Y chromosome but you are insensitive to androgens, and so you have a female body. You can be female because you have an X and a Y chromosome but your Y is missing the SRY gene, and so you have a female body. You can be male because you have two X chromosomes, but one of your X’s HAS an SRY gene, and so you have a male body. You can be male because you have two X chromosomes- but also a Y. You can be female because you have only one X chromosome at all. And you can be male because you have two X chromosomes, but your heart and brain are male. And vice — effing — versa. Don’t use science to justify your bigotry. The world is way too weird for that shit.

Likewise, this thread from @RebeccaRHelm on Twitter (minor editing for readability):

Friendly neighborhood biologist here. I see a lot of people are talking about biological sexes and gender right now. Lots of folks make biological sex sex seem really simple. Well, since it’s so simple, let’s find the biological roots, shall we? Let’s talk about sex.

If you know a bit about biology you will probably say that biological sex is caused by chromosomes, XX and you’re female, XY and you’re male. This is “chromosomal sex” but is it “biological sex”? Well, turns out there is only ONE GENE on the Y chromosome that really matters to sex. It’s called the SRY gene. During human embryonic development the SRY protein turns on male-associated genes. Having an SRY gene makes you “genetically male”. But is this “biological sex”?

Sometimes that SRY gene pops off the Y chromosome and over to an X chromosome. Surprise! So now you’ve got an X with an SRY and a Y without an SRY. What does this mean? A Y with no SRY means physically you’re female, chromosomally you’re male (XY) and genetically you’re female (no SRY). An X with an SRY means you’re physically male, chromsomally female (XX) and genetically male (SRY).

But biological sex is simple! There must be another answer.  Sex-related genes ultimately turn on hormones in specifics areas on the body, and reception of those hormones by cells throughout the body. Is this the root of “biological sex”? “Hormonal male” means you produce “normal” levels of male-associated hormones. Except some percentage of females will have higher levels of “male” hormones than some percentage of males. Ditto ditto “female” hormones. And if you’re developing, your body may not produce enough hormones for your genetic sex. Leading you to be genetically male or female, chromosomally male or female, hormonally non-binary, and physically non-binary.

Well, except cells have something to say about this.  Maybe cells are the answer to “biological sex”?? Right?? Cells have receptors that “hear” the signal from sex hormones. But sometimes those receptors don’t work. Like a mobile phone that’s on “do not disturb”. Call and cell, they will not answer.

What does this all mean? It means you may be genetically male or female, chromosomally male or female, hormonally male/female/non-binary, with cells that may or may not hear the male/female/non-binary call, and all this leading to a body that can be male/non-binary/female.  Try out some combinations for yourself. Notice how confusing it gets? Can you point to what the absolute cause of biological sex is?

Is it fair to judge people by it? Of course you could try appealing to the numbers. “Most people are either male or female” you say. Except that as a biologist professor I will tell you the reason I don’t have my students look at their own chromosome in class is because people could learn that their chromosomal sex doesn’t match their physical sex, and learning that in the middle of a 10-point assignment is JUST NOT THE TIME.

Biological sex is complicated. Before you discriminate against someone on the basis of “biological sex” & identity, ask yourself: have you seen YOUR chromosomes? Do you know the genes of the people you love? The hormones of the people you work with? The state of their cells? Since the answer will obviously be no, please be kind, respect people’s right to tell you who they are, and remember that you don’t have all the answers. Again: biology is complicated. Kindness and respect don’t have to be.

To put it flatly, we know more about biology and the processes of biological reproduction today than we ever have before.  Not that we know everything and not that the methodology of science and interpretation of scientific results aren’t also subject to cultural biases, of course, but we know quite a bit more than what people did 2000 years ago when the authors of the Hermetic texts were living and writing what they wrote subject to their own models and interpretations of things.  It is true that many (but not all) species of visible animal life, humanity included, do (for the most part) procreate based on there being two sexes—but we also know that this is not the case for all animal life, and the ancients didn’t have the means to accurately quantify or qualify that, and without any observable instance of it clearly being understood, it didn’t form part of their models or mythic languages.  When the Hermetic texts do claim a model or theory of binary sex, they only limit it to biological reproduction, and that based on observation (especially that of human reproduction from a common but not universal case).  At the risk of making a bold claim when it comes to the gods: if Hermēs is the god of knowledge and science, then it’d behoove us to adapt the teachings and doctrines of earlier ages that came before to what we have now based on better knowledge of the matter given the good it stands to do for us with the minimal impact it makes on the meat and bones of the tradition, and I think this is something that could use some good updating for that very reason.  This is all the more important for us given how prevalent mystical notions of “male” and “female” are in so much of modern spirituality (even modern Hermetic ones!), but given how complicated the matter of sex is—and given how the meaning of sex only matters for the purpose of biological reproduction with any other instance of “sex” appearing in the Hermetic texts is used metaphorically based on the common case of most human coitus—we need to understand that notions of sex as they appear in the Hermetica are both outdated as well as intensely limited.

I admit that I’m (by all accounts and understanding of the term) cisgender, and I don’t have the same experience of transgender, agender, genderqueer, or other nonbinary people; for that reason, I won’t speak for them or their experiences, and this limits me to an understanding of these texts from my own point of view.  From my point of view, biological sex just doesn’t matter except for the purposes of having sex and engaging in biological reproduction (rendering my own identity of being cisgender moot), and even then, there’s a lot more happening out there than just “male” or “female”.  To construct whole models of magic, spirituality, religion, and cosmology based on the outdated binary notion of “male” and “female” alone is (at best) limiting at best and (at worst) based on utterly wrong notions of how things actually work.  Besides, as I’m emphasizing here and elsewhere, because biological sex is only about biological processes and (with the one textual exception of the theory of the soul being impacted by elemental factors from SH 24.7) not at all about the soul, there’s nothing “male” and “female” about the soul, about theurgy, about magic unless you take metaphors too far and force them to be.  And, worse, because the metaphor itself is so limited, even the use of the metaphor of biological sex being used to explain spiritual and non-biological processes is (without deliberate and careful elaboration and clarification) misleading to the point of harm and damage (which can, frankly, explain so much about modern occulture).

The issue for us as modern people with more knowledge about how things work in dealing with texts that provide models and theories of how things work is reconciling these benefits of having modern knowledge and understanding with where the ancients were coming from.  I pointed out that excerpt from Lactantius for a reason (FH 13, Divine Institutes 4.8.4—5):

Unless perhaps we conceive of God as Orpheus thought, as both male and female since he could not otherwise generate unless he had the power of both sexes.  Orpheus assumes that God either coupled with himself or could procreate without coupling. But Hermes also was of the same opinion when he called God androgynous <. . .>; “his own father” and “his own mother.”

We have evidence that the ancients involved in these models and metaphors conceived of all creation as an act between male and female, without both of which being present creation could not occur; this is evidence that they literally could not conceive of creation otherwise outside the paradigm of biological procreation, which is a doozy of topic for a whole series of discussions on its own.  We have myths abounding from any number of cultures and religious traditions of cosmogonies being produced from one or more syzygies of male and female‚ some of which fed into the scientific theories of the day to explain procreation and creation generally, and some of those fed into the texts we now have as being the classical Hermetic corpora (like the male-female pairs of gods from the Hermopolitan Ogodad).  But we also have creation myths which don’t rely on such things (like the Heliopolitan myth of Atum masturbating to produce some gods, as well as sneezing and spitting to produce yet others).  These could be interpreted as being extrapolations of male and female dynamics within an androgyne entity (such as the hand of Atum being supposedly the feminine principle within himself), but that model of gendered interpretation doesn’t always work (what’s the female principle of him sneezing and spitting to produce Shu and Tefnut?), when a simpler model that does away with gender entirely can.  In truth, while we do need to understand where the ancients were coming from in order to understand what they were talking about with the proper context, we also have a buffet of perspectives contemporary even to them that we can draw on and synthesize together, and when combined with our modern knowledge about things that simply wasn’t available to them back then, we can go much further in developing more nuanced, helpful, and balanced approaches to spirituality and religion—or at least worldly interactions—than what they had available to them as well.  Some things don’t need to change, to be sure, but other things should when it makes sense to.

But, again, none of what we’ve been talking about as far as biological sex applies to the soul, to heavenly realities or entities, or to cosmology because the Hermetic texts admit and state that they don’t apply.  The notion of people being only male or female, and that at an essential level, is very much a relatively modern Western one; various cultures across the world, even in the premodern West, have had different notions of what androgyny (in the sense of being neither male nor female, both male and female, or something else entirely) could manifest as, and it’s an embarrassing and shameful thing that we’re stuck in a general culture that only views two sexes as being “valid”.  It could even be argued that notions of being a particular gender rely on, assume, play into this stance regarding fixed and well-defined biological sexes, and while many people use the notion of gender to free themselves from a stifling cisgender identity imposed on them, it may still be a stumbling block for others no matter how they look at it (hence agender and other nonbinary genders being made more known and accepted, even if only by the people they apply to themselves).  After all, gender really is a social construct, and while many people tend to accept that phrase on face value, its full import is that it literally has no basis in physical reality except what society constructs one to be.  From a Hermetic standpoint, this is obvious, since the soul is just gonna be the soul, and notions of gender would only apply to a (ramshackle, socially-conditioned) noetic/mental construction of the self more than anything more.

And this raises what we need to understand and reinterpret now, in light of modern discoveries of biological sex and reproduction, what the Hermetic texts mean when they say that God or the soul is “androgyne”.   I’ve been saying it all along: while it can be understood to mean “having characteristics of being both male and female”, it can also be used to mean “neither male nor female”—which is honestly the better way to discuss God and the soul, because both God and the soul arose before physical procreation arose and are therefore above it entirely.  Male and female only arose for the purposes of biological procreation, and rather than thinking that there existed something essentially male and essentially female as separate essences or energies within the soul (and, thus, God), I claim that it would be better to understand this in a more roundabout way: that God split the original seven androgyne (perhaps better “metagender”? “undifferentiated”? “non-sexed”?) humans and all animal life into smaller more-specialized pieces so that, taking the implication that there was no generation or procreation in the first age according to CH I and thus everything being in unchanging ungenerating stasis, sex first arose with this sundering to benefit humanity and animal life according to its environmental and elemental nature (about which SH 23—26 says much!), which (as my friend from Discord mentioned earlier) happened to be heavily bimodal for some species.  But we also know that it’s not strictly binary, and that the human body (which is a generation of fate, and thus a product of the Logos of creation) doesn’t have to fall on that binary or even that bimodal distribution; as such the revelation of CH I from Poimandrēs to Hermēs uses metaphorical language to explain to Hermēs something comprehensible but which doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of how things come to be (just as it doesn’t with all the other aspects of cosmic material creation, e.g. on a molecular or atomic or quantum level).  In this, I’d rather interpret the Hermetic notion of “androgyny” to be beyond, prior to, and without gender (the very word “gender” connoting generation, i.e. biological reproduction through sex).  This still fits with the texts themselves with minimal to no conflict in terms of doctrine or metaphor, while still admitting the bimodal distribution of apparent biological sex which, being common to most people in one form or another, allows for the use of metaphors structured around it.  So long as we don’t take those metaphors too far, we’re golden, and beyond the point at which they no longer become useful or for those for whom it was never useful, other metaphors can (and should) be made to describe creation and spiritual rebirth (as in how CH IV describes it compared to how CH XIII describes it).

So, what in the Hermetic corpora can support the “male = active/emitting, female = passive/receiving” bit so common to occult theories that pervade our spiritualities and religions?  Of the 15 extant citations from classical Hermetic literature I drew up last time, only one (DH 10.1—2) actually supports that, with another (AH 21) being debatable because of variants in translation that don’t equal the views of each other.  That’s really not a whole lot of ground to stand on, and it only properly describes and relates to the act of procreative sex—and, even more specifically, the moment of sex where semen is released from one to the other.  That’s it; that’s the whole context and basis for it, and it’s an extremely limited one.  If we take instead the notion of the Coptic AH 21 into account rather than the Latin AH 21, it’s not that the male “gives up” something for the female to have, but that they both exchange with each other, and in the process, come out with something greater than the combination of its parts.  This renders the model of “male = active/emitting, female = passive/receiving” meaningless, or posits that it’s really the ejaculation of sperm as its own thing (and not the one from whom it ejaculates) as the “third thing in the middle” rather than there just being two, making this a trinary system instead of a binary one.

That still only makes sense if you limit your notion of “sex” to be that of strictly penetrative, procreative sex between men and women; while I can’t speak to trasngender or nonbinary views and experiences, as a gay man, I can speak to my experience of sex, which isn’t about procreation at all; there’s a lot more going for sex for me than procreation (which isn’t something I want or plan to engage in anyway for a variety of reasons), and there’re no fixed roles during sex between gay men.  I mean, just as there were plenty of views (and social/cultural moralizing) about androgyny and nonbinary genders (as we’d perceive them) classically, there was just as much about sex both procreative and recreative.  Taking that into account as well as my experience, I also have to adapt that rather than just accept that sex is only for procreation, because procreation isn’t a thing I’m doing or aiming for.  Just because my sex isn’t procreative, of course, doesn’t make any less divine than procreative sex between heterosexuals, I can tell you that; it doesn’t operate on the same way, even if (or when) there is an exchange of a sort via semen.  To me, making a notion of “male = active/emitting, female = passive/receiving” based on heterosexual sex (and penetrative sex, at that—there’s more than just that, trust me) between cisgender people alone to be a model for magic and spirituality is incredibly limiting, misses the mark for me, and has little Hermetic ground to stand on when the actual context of that ground is so much more limited than what many New Age people want to make it out to be.  The only thing that would lend this model validity on the level people ascribe to it is if, knowing that the soul is androgyne and has all the powers of creation (both within the All of creation and pertaining to the actual work of creation), it could not be used to its fullest in general except when it is paired with another soul inhabiting the body of the opposite sex in the actual act of procreative sex, and we just don’t see that claim being made.  It only matters for the purposes of procreation, nothing else seemingly impacted by it.  The value people give to this notion of “male = active/emitting, female = passive/receiving” far outweighs its actual weight in Hermetic texts, doctrines, and practices, because that very notion is literally limited to just the act and work of procreation.

Likewise, if you take this one step higher based on the revelation of CH I, the accounts of Anthrōpos and Physis embracing each other doesn’t really support this view unless you (again) really stretch to read it into it.  Physis is described as being the one who “took hold of her beloved, hugged him all about and embraced him” and “made love with” him—Physis is the active one in that relationship, not Anthrōpos, who is described as more passive in that relationship, except and unless you consider Anthrōpos’s enraptured (notice the passive verb there!) approach towards Physis to be a moment of activity to begin with.  The only thing that makes Anthrōpos the “father” in that relationship is that he contributes “soul and mind” by means of the life-breath to Physis in the way a (conventional) male would contribute semen to a (conventional) female during procreative sex; everything else is Physis’ doing.  And this cuts to the heart of the major issue with seeing “male = active/emitting, female = passive/receiving” because it implies that the act of contributing semen is somehow “active” because of…well, let’s be honest: it’s because of longstanding misogyny, people not understanding the mystery of how the internal (and even external) organs of women work compared to the obviousness of what happens with a man, and patriarchal power structures that favor men over women that have been around for literal millennia and which themselves are refuted by the Hermetic texts (outside of the Korē Kosmou).  All this, because—again—the soul (which is the focus of Hermetic theurgic practice) does not have gender and only bodies do for the purposes of procreation; everything else is humane bullshit.  Taking all this into account, it’s better to say that the spiritual role of procreation by means of sexed biological reproduction is to induce change into the cosmic system among human life so that it does not remain static, and for that, there needs to be differentiation to induce further differentiation.  After all, consider what Hermēs teaches Asklēpios in CH XIV.7:

You need not be on guard against the diversity of things that come to be, fearing to attach something low and inglorious to god. God’s glory is one, that he makes all things, and this making is like the body of god. There is nothing evil or shameful about the maker himself; such conditions are immediate consequences of generation, like corrosion on bronze or dirt on the body. The bronzesmith did not make the corrosion; the parents did not make the dirt; nor did god make evil. But the persistence of generation makes evil bloom like a sore, which is why god has made change, to repurify generation.

Unchanging stasis will accumulate corruption and continue to be corrupted; change, which absolves generation of persistence, purifies creation and generation.  Perhaps this is why God sundered humanity into different sexes after the first age, so that the corruption of stasis from the first age will not take root in ours.  Just as the planets keep moving in their cycles so as to remain in their orbits around the Sun, for if they stood still but a moment they’d start their inevitable fall right to the Sun, so too do we need to keep moving in our orbits with our own cycles of change so that we (and humanity as a whole) does not fall into permanent decline and decrepitude.  Likewise, knowing what we know about the risks of inbreeding, introducing variation and difference into a system can keep it healthy by ensuring that certain traits are constantly shuffled up so that no problematic trait becomes too dominant.  It just so happens that the biology of it all has it easiest to do this with most people having one of two sexes, but depending on how individual bodies arise, their changes and differences from what is otherwise considered common are likely part of a greater plan and design of Logos to make even greater purifications from decline in whatever ways are best for the individual at hand.  That said—at the risk of repeating myself one too many times—this is only ever about the body, and not at all about the soul, and all souls have the same origin (God) and same nature (androgyne/genderless), and it is the soul that is the essential human in us all, not the body that we inhabit.  That’s one of the biggest lessons that Hermeticism teaches: you are not your body, and to confuse yourself with your body is to “drink of death”.  To extend that, to treat non-bodied things as being bodied and as having the qualities of bodies is a categorical mistake.

Are there problems or issues with what I’m claiming?  Certainly.  Here are a few I can come up with that should be resolved at some point, whether by me or by others who are thinking about this as well:

  • For one, while I’m aware that what I wrote above about how gender isn’t a thing according to the Hermetic texts, I’m not saying that gender is invalid nor how one discovers, identifies with, or is a particular gender; I’m only saying that it’s not a thing associated with the soul, and more associated with society and how that impacts our personal view of ourselves from a mental/noetic point of view.  This claim that “gender doesn’t actually exist” may not be something safe or helpful for some people to hear at their individual points in their own paths of life.  If you need the notion of gender to help you, then use it; if you don’t, then don’t.  (Big Buddhist parable of the raft vibes here.)
  • From a more magical or occult perspective, are there times when physical/biological sex matters?  Perhaps!  The material form of material goods, supplies, and tools in magic does matter at points; there are often times when a specific kind of tree, a specific animal, a specific rock is needed for a ritual, and there may well be arguments to be made that, based on the biological and occult differences between male and female in terms of bodies, there may be different specific needs for one or the other in particular rituals or contexts that operate from a materia magica-centric perspective.  After all, if biological sex matters for biological reproduction, and we use biological processes and symbols in magic and that there are occult virtues in everything that don’t necessarily pertain to the soul, then it stands to reason that there may be a case when the presence or absence of certain biological traits related to sex may be beneficial or required for particular occult operations.  Can such things be substituted for or argued around to where they don’t matter?  Probably, and probably just as likely as sex mattering from an occult physical perspective outside of coitus; it depends on the specific nature of the ritual, the spirits it works with, and the cultural and religious context in which the ritual applies.  This is an extremely delicate topic with a lot of different answers all vying for attention at once, so consider each case carefully and listen to what the spirits involved ask and require as well.  To wit: if a spirit (or group of people) insists on a particular sex that you or someone else cannot fulfill, then maybe don’t listen to or work with that spirit (or group of people); that’s also an entirely practical and reasonable approach, because spirits aren’t infallible just because they’re immaterial, and people aren’t infallible no matter who they are or what they’re doing.
  • Does what I claim above apply to non-Hermetic traditions of belief, spirituality, and religion?  I dunno, ask what those other traditions say.  I’m only writing from a Hermetic perspective using Hermetic evidence to clarify Hermetic doctrines; I’m not going to talk about what other traditions do or don’t believe, as that’s not my focus in these posts nor my place to do so.  Other traditions and traditions may need to struggle with this as well, or it may be a moot point entirely where they never had problems along these lines to begin with.  Likewise, the symbol set of any particular tradition or practice would need to account for this (cf. my musings on Puella and Puer among the geomantic figures), and reconsider what it means to be or exemplify characteristics we consider to be gendered or sexed.
  • I realize, after the fact, that many of these same issues I mention here pertaining to sex and gender can also be applied to other aspects of traditional belief, like there being seven traditional planets and the like, that also need updating.  This is just me picking my battles, I suppose, but let’s be honest: the precise number, arrangement, and correspondence of the heavens is a lot less of a pressing concern than when someone asks out of fear and concern whether they can be a Hermeticist at all because they’re trans since they heard something about all things having to be neatly and cleanly male or female, when gay men are still excluded from spiritual communities because of mistaken BS-based notions that their sexual dynamics are either (more politely said) incompatible with existing male-female energetics or (more commonly thought) just wicked and debased, when women are constantly at a disadvantage (both in occult communities and outside of it) because of longstanding cis-het patriarchal issues in most cultures that view their bodies to be lesser than those of men, and so on.  All these problems result from incorrect (lamentable, horrible, despicable, damaging) views on gender and sex that have no place in Hermeticism or amongst humanity at all.
  • Given the Hermetic notion of fate that comes about by means of the Logos being the organizing principle of the cosmos (something almost certainly inherited from Stoicism), it stands to reason that we all have the bodies we have for a reason, regardless of how we feel about it.  This can be a problematic thing for some trans people who feel that they were born “in the wrong body”, as much as it is people born with congenital diseases or conditions.  I don’t have an answer to that besides appealing to God, suggesting only that each person needs to figure out what their fate is and how to live in accordance with it as best as they can; sometimes the body can be worked on and improved upon just as a mechanic might work on their own car as a hobby or out of necessity, sometimes the body they have is meant to do something that another body could not handle, sometimes they have mental quandries that need to be worked out instead of their bodies being worked on.  There’s no one answer to this, no more than I can tell someone what their true will or perfect nature might be.
  • Can the use of biological sex be a useful metaphor for some people?  Undoubtedly; honestly, this is why notions of “male = active/emitting, female = passive/receiving” have stuck around for so long, because most people do get that and how it can apply as a metaphor to describe spiritual or occult processes, and more people than not are cisgender and heterosexual.  The problem is in declaring that it’s a “law” or “principle” merely because the biological symbol this metaphor makes use of is more common than other things that happen and claiming that all things need to fit in that model, which then necessarily forces things that aren’t part of that male/female or heterosexual paradigm into uncomfortable positions merely to make it fit.  A better approach would be to use a different model that’s more inclusive or which resolves such things without having to use sex-based metaphors to begin with, and I don’t readily have a model at hand that can do that without just saying “active/passive” or “emitting/receiving” without using gendered language—which, if nothing else, is a start.  This notion that nothing is ever truly one or the other may well agree with the “law of gender” that the Kybalion and other texts state, but my issue is with using a gender-based metaphor and using gendered language to describe it in the first place, which causes so many problems that there’s really not much of a baby to throw out with the bathwater at all.

I’m sure there are other problems and questions that can arise from this discussion, but at the end of the day, for those who are still wondering: no, there is nothing in Hermeticism or the classical Hermetic texts that deny, conflict with, or raise issues with being queer, whether along lines of sexuality or gender.  Anyone who tells you that you can’t be gay/transgender/nonbinary and be spiritual is lying to you out of (either intentional or socially-conditioned) bigotry.  Yes, it’s true that we all need to “figure ourselves out and get right with God”, but that applies just as much to the people shrieking it and the people that are unfortunately shrieked at—that’s the whole point of Hermeticism, after all, the whole point of “know thyself”, and it doesn’t need to be shrieked at all in anyone’s face.  Still, that doesn’t mean you need to pigeonhole yourself into some narrow gendered bullshit that society or (bad) occulture mandates you to be in, nor that you need to relegate yourself to bad cis takes from the Victorian era about “how things just are” when they just factually aren’t.  It just means you need to figure out who and what you are, then use that knowledge to reclaim your own divine, pure, essential nature—which goes well beyond the capabilities of any metaphor or nonsense so-called “principle” to describe.

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 Using Apps for Generating Randomness

Not too long ago, someone commented on my blog who’s learning geomancy about what methods can be used for generating the figures.  Personally, after getting my bearings with the traditional stick-and-surface method (which I recommend everyone beginning geomancy to use until they get the “feel” of the system down, as if it were a type of initiatory practice on its own), I either use cards or dice.  Dice divination, especially, is flexible and polyvalent, and I use it for both geomancy, grammatomancy, and other systems of divination as the need strikes me, and not only are they easy to use, they’re also highly portable and compact as a tool.

The issue (well, not “issue” per se) came up in this conversation when the commenter mentioned using an app to generate the Mothers as a whole, or a random number generator to generate numbers with which to reduce into the Mothers.  This particular commenter isn’t alone in using an app for this; I know of other geomancers who use apps to generate Mothers, either as whole figures or as numbers for the rows of the figures.  A feeling of guilt was mentioned, since the commenter hasn’t read accounts of geomancers using apps or seen videos with such apps being used, but I dismissed that feeling because it’s definitely a thing for some geomancers.

Of course, it should be emphasized that it’s only some geomancers who do that, with “some” being the operative word.  It’s not a common thing; most geomancers I know use some sort of tools, with few just using raw numbers pulled from some source or other.  I know it can be a thing for Arabic geomancers to use the Dairah-e-Abdah enumeration of the figures and tell their querents to give them four random numbers from 1 to 16 and using the figures associated with those numbers for the Mothers, but that’s not really a thing in Western geomancy because we don’t really have an equivalent enumeration system for the figures.  Instead, when Western geomancers use automatic Mother generators at all, it’s often with dice-rolling apps or similar random number applications.

Personally, I don’t like using them.  I’m a tangible person, and I prefer tangible tools I can hold, wield, throw, and manipulate with my hands.  For me, I am as physical a person as I am a spiritual one; my body is a tool unto itself, and by using my body to interact with physical things, I can just as easily interact with their spiritual counterparts and ethereal symbol-referents.  Plus, the use of tools helps me get into the right headspace, that light trance state where I can focus purely on the query and act of divination, which I find is essential to getting good results in my readings.  That’s one of the reasons why I can’t exhort new students to use the stick-and-surface method of divination enough, because it helps inculcate the ability to enter that trance state and allows them to tap into it at a moment’s need using any sort of tool or trigger.

Is such a state necessary for all diviners?  I suppose not, though it certainly doesn’t hurt.  I know that I like doing it, and I’ve found that my focus is weakened, my interpretations more vague, my ability to tap into a situation less refined, and my understanding of the symbols in a reading gets a little slower without sufficient mental preparation which, for me, is aided by the manipulation of physical tools.  For that reason, I don’t use apps or other tools to generate figures for me, because it doesn’t do anything for me to help with entering that divinatory headspace.  Pressing a button and reading figures off a screen, or clicking something and then reducing a bunch of numbers off a web page into dots just…it lacks that connection that I find helpful.

When I generate figures, it’s me who’s the one doing that generation; these figures are “falling from my own hand”, so to speak.  I have that connection with the figures of the reading that allows me to tap into the reading and swim in its currents, dredging up whatever treasures and traps I can from it.  For a similar reason, when someone wants my help with a chart, I don’t just read the chart details they give me; I actually spend the time generating the entire chart from scratch with all the details I need, not only to make sure that the chart was calculated correctly, but also to help me integrate the chart into my own sphere.  Even if I’m not in a trance state for that act (after all, the divination was already done by someone else), the mere act of drawing out the Mothers and the entire rest of the chart helps bring those details to life.  It’s like reciting a litany of prayers; sure, you could just skip to the end or anywhere in the middle you feel is necessary, but the recitation of the entire process from start to end makes everything more potent once you get there.

Plus, as a software engineer, there’s something I’d like to clue you in on.  Most random number generators you use tend to actually be what are called pseudorandom number generators, algorithmic methods that approximate true randomness within acceptable boundaries but which aren’t truly random.  The reason why pseudorandom generators are used is that, for most purposes, they’re random enough to be useful, and are generally easier to develop and faster to produce output than true random generators.  For me, though, I’d rather a true random number generator, which can be harder to find or manipulate.  For that, I might recommend the excellent site RANDOM.ORG, which produces truly random results sequences for many purposes.

Now, that said, if you find that using an app to generate random (or pseudorandom) Mothers, or numbers for reducing into odd or even rows for the Mothers, works for you, then keep using it!  I would still recommend learning a set of tools for geomancy or whatever preferred divination system it is you use, because there may be times you don’t have access to a phone or a computer.  Geomancy benefits from this especially in that all you really need is a pen and paper or a stick and some dirt; even if I don’t like the method, it still works, and it can truly be taken anywhere without having to carry tools of various and sundry types that can set off security gates or the paranoid eyes of watchful passers-by.  Still, if using an app works for you, don’t fix what ain’t broken.  It’s not my preference to use it, but I can’t rightly knock it if it works.

Efficient Geomancy with Playing Cards

I know I’ve been awfully quiet lately.  There’s been a lot going on this year, and I’m just trying to keep my head above the water.  I’m succeeding, at least, but it’s giving me a lot of time and space to parse and pick through everything that’s been going on in my life, in both a mundane and spiritual sense.  While I may be inactive at blogging lately, I’m still doing research and writing on my own, though much of it isn’t for public eyes.  Still, on a lark this morning and inspired by the ever-handsome ever-brilliant Dr Cummins, I decided to go through and flip through my manuscript on geomancy (which, yes, is still going, albeit slowly, blah blah blah).  In the section on generating geomantic figures, I stumbled across the blurb I have about using playing cards to generate a geomantic figure.  It’s a pretty basic notion: draw four cards, and look at their color (red or black) or their parity (even or odd rank) to create a single geomantic figure; with 16 cards, you can generate a full set of Mothers.  Basic, simple, easy, but oh so boring.

Then a small bit of inspiration struck me:

I claim that you can generate a full geomantic chart with only four cards from a standard playing card deck, rather than just a single geomantic figure, and if you wanted, a single geomantic figure for a single card drawn.  There are only two tricks involved to get this method to work.  The first trick lies in slightly modifying the deck where each card is marked for an up-down direction (or upright-reversed); some cards in most playing card decks are often reversible with no way to determine which way is upright, so you’d need to find a deck where each card is marked for an upright position, or a deck where each card has a distinct pattern that can unambiguously be seen as upright or reversed.

The second trick (well, not really) lies in assigning the four suits of the playing card deck to the four traditional elements, by means of their standard Tarot/tarocchi equivalences:

  • Clubs are associated with Wands and thus with the element of Fire.
  • Spades are associated with Swords, and thus with the element of Air.
  • Hearts are associated with Cups, and thus with the element of Water.
  • Diamonds are associated with Pentacles, and thus with the element of Earth.

And, just to remind you of the two properties of the elements, Heat and Moisture:

Hot Cold
Dry Fire Earth
Moist Air Water

With all that out of the way, to get a full geomantic chart using this more efficient method, draw four cards from your deck and lay them across in a row from right to left.  Read them across in the same direction in the following four methods:

  1. Heat of the suit.  Is the element of the suit hot or cold?  If hot, give the corresponding row in the First Mother single point; if cold, two points.  (In most modern decks of cards, this amounts to seeing whether the suit is black or red.)
  2. Parity of the card.  What is the rank of the card?  If odd, give the corresponding row in the Second Mother a single point; if even, two points.
  3. Moisture of the suit.  Is the element of the suit dry or moist?  If moist, give the corresponding row in the Third Mother a single point; if dry, two points.
  4. Direction of the card.  What is the direction of the card?  If upright, give the corresponding row in the Fourth Mother a single point; if reversed, two points.

Alternatively, instead of using four cards drawn at once and reading “across” the cards, you could also read each card as a single figure, forming the Fire, Air, Water, and Earth lines by the Heat, Parity, Moisture, and Direction of any single card.  As a kind of mnemonic for the order, remember it like this: Heat is hot (Fire), Parity is math and needs thinking (Air), Moisture is wet (Water), and Direction is how you move on earth (Earth).  Since the four Mothers are assigned to these four elements in this same order, the mnemonic can work for both methods.  Using the reading-across technique may work better for a full set of Mothers, while the reading-individually technique is better for single-figure or two-figure divination.

The only problem with using a standard deck of playing cards is that the Parity method causes an issue, since each suit in a standard deck of playing cards has 13 ranks, so we’re biased slightly towards having more odd than even rows in our geomantic figures.  For some people this isn’t an issue, but if you’re concerned about true randomness with equal chances for each individual figure (which you should be!), we’ll need a way to work around this.  While we can trivially fix this by removing an odd number of ranks from each suit of the entire deck (e.g. just the Ace or all the face cards), we have a more elegant remedy by slightly tweaking how we interpret the parity of a card, which gives exactly equal chances for the parity of any given card to be odd or even.  Let’s call this the Jack Eyes rule:

  1. If the card is a pip card (ranks 1 through 10, Ace through Ten), the parity is as expected.
  2. If the card is a Queen or King (ranks 12 or 13), the parity is as expected.
  3. If the card is a Jack (rank 11), count how many eyes it has.  In standard 52-card decks, the Jack of Spades and Jack of Hearts are drawn in profile and have only one eye, while the Jack of Clubs and Jack of Diamonds are drawn in oblique face and have two.  If your deck doesn’t have these drawing rules, remember this association anyway.

Alright, time for an example.  In this deck of otherwise-standard playing cards, I’ve marked each card such that you can tell direction by looking at the numbers in the corners: the upper left digit is marked for upright, so if a card is drawn and the lower right digit is marked, the card is reversed.  Knowing that, say I draw the following four cards:

Reading right to left, we have the upright Queen of Hearts, upright Ten of Hearts, upright Eight of Hearts, and upright Five of Hearts.  (I’m not sure how I ended up with so many uprights or hearts after shuffling for a minute straight, but that’s randomness for you.)  Reading across the four cards to get the four Mother figures:

  1. Heat: All four cards are Hearts, and therefore associated with Water, and thus Cold, so even-even-even-even.  The first Mother is Populus.
  2. Parity: The parity of the four cards is 12 (Queen), 10, 8, and 5, so even-even-even-odd.  The second Mother is Tristitia.
  3. Moisture: All four cards are Hearts, and therefore associated with Water, and thus Moist, so odd-odd-odd-odd.  The third Mother is Populus.
  4. Direction: All four cards are upright, so odd-odd-odd-odd.  The fourth Mother is Via.

Now, instead of reading across the four cards for the four Mothers, let’s try using the other technique, where each card is a figure unto itself.  Consider this draw of four cards:

Reading right to left, we have the upright Queen of Clubs, the reversed Jack of Hearts, the upright Jack of Clubs, and the reversed 10 of Clubs:

  1. First Mother: The first card is a Club, and therefore Fiery, and thus Hot, so the Fire line is odd.  It is a Queen, and therefore has a rank of 12, and thus even, so the Air line is even.  It is a Club, and therefore Fiery, and thus Dry, so the Water line is even.  It is upright, so the Earth line is odd.  Odd-even-even-odd gives us the geomantic figure Carcer.
  2. Second Mother: The second card is a Heart, and therefore Watery, and thus Cold, so the Fire line is even.  It is a jack which normally has a rank of 11, but because of the Jack Eyes rule given above, we count how many eyes it has; here, it has one eye, so the Air line is odd.  It is a Heart, and therefore Watery, and thus Moist, so the Water line is odd.  It is reversed, so the Earth line is even.  Even-odd-odd-even gives us the geomantic figure Coniunctio.
  3. Third Mother: The third card is a Club, and therefore Fiery, and thus Hot, so the Fire line is odd. It is a jack which normally has a rank of 11, but because of the Jack Eyes rule given above, we count how many eyes it has; here, it has two eyes, so the Air line is even.  It is a Club, and therefore Fiery, and thus Dry, so the Water line is even.  It is upright, so the Earth line is odd.  Odd-even-even-odd gives us the geomantic figure Carcer.
  4. Fourth Mother: The fourth card is a Club, and therefore Fiery, and thus Hot, so the Fire line is odd.  It is a Ten, and thus even, so the Air line is even.  It is a Club, and therefore Fiery, and thus Dry, so the Water line is even.  It is reversed, so the Earth line is even.  Odd-even-even-even gives us the geomantic figure Laetitia.

Instead of using playing cards, you could also just use (most) Tarot cards, which actually might make the whole thing simpler for two of the methods: each card is usually (but in some older decks, not always) known as being upright or reversed based on the image it portrays, and there are an even number of ranks per suit, getting rid of the Jack Eyes rule (though you may want to fix it so that the Page and Queen, ranks 11 and 13, are “set” to even given their feminine qualities, and the Knight and King, ranks 12 and 14, are “set” to odd given their masculine qualities).

There are lots of ways, tools, and methods you can use to generate geomantic figures, and you can probably find multiple ways to use even the same tool as well.  This is just another way, more efficient than drawing 16 separate cards but requires a bit more subtlety, to do the same thing.  I’m sure there are more, and I’ve heard tell of some traditions of geomancy that use deliberately obfuscating methods that rely on similar underlying observations.

Do you use playing cards for geomancy, or for divination generally?  If for geomancy, are there any other ways besides the ones here you use to generate a geomantic figure, either on its own or as part of four Mothers?  What are some of your tips and tricks for playing card divination?