An Overview of Geomantic Literature

Over on the Geomantic Campus mailing list, there’s been a bit of talk about a new (gasp!) book on geomancy, “Astrogem Geomancy” by Les Cross.  The book was just released this summer, and proposes a new cross between crystallomancy, geomancy, and astrology.  It uses the traditional sixteen geomantic figures and the astrological framework we all love, but offers some exciting innovations about interpretive models and the structure of the figures.  Plus, it also links the sixteen figures to sets of semiprecious stones, which makes sense to me, both the figures and the gems coming from the Earth.  I just ordered a copy and, shockingly, I got a thankful reply back from the author almost immediately.  I had an email exchange with him before after my post reviewing Poke Runyon’s discussion of geomancy, and we both came away the better from it.  Not gonna lie, I’m pretty humbled by his email, and I fully intend on taking him up on his offer to sign the book.

I plan to do a review of the book and technique once it falls into my hands, but in preparation for that, let me do a quick overview of the current state of geomancy in print.  This isn’t intended to be a complete list, but highlights the texts I own or am familiar with and my thoughts on what they have to offer.  Back when I was in college, I used my library and academic connections like the dirty whores they are to get the most information relevant to Western geomancy as I could without it falling too far into the African arts of ifa or sikidy; this, plus a good bit of downtime between papers, led me to be as well-read on the subject as I could.  Where possible, I’ve linked to Amazon listings or PDFs of the texts so you might be able to check out some of the literature as well.

For ancient and medieval sources, in no particular order:

  • Henrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, “Three Books and Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy”.  Probably most magicians’ introduction to geomancy, when they get to those parts of his Second and Fourth Books.  Starting with his “On Geomancy” in the Fourth Book, he presents a fairly standard introduction to the art: generating the Mothers, generating the Shield, making the House chart, and presents the meanings of the figures in the various houses.  He also offers multiple assignments of the figures to the elements, including one based on their zodiacal correspondences and one on the elemental structure of the figures themselves, which is highly interesting, though brief.  It’s nothing terribly special, though, and isn’t great on the details and techniques that make geomancy an art.  His other references in his series of books, namely those in the Second Book (chapters 48 and 51), deal more with the magical correspondences of the figures and how they can be turned into sigils or seals for spirits or enchantment
  • Gerard of Cremona, “On Astronomical Geomancy”.  A short work, but unique in its presentation of using geomantic methods to substitute in for horary astrology.  Gerard Cremonensis shows how to develop a horary chart based on the random number generator feature of geomancy and the planetary correspondences with the figures, as well as laying out how to derive the rising sign for an astrological chart.  From this, he shows the rules of basic horary interpretation (horary without degrees, essentially).
  • Pietro d’Abano, “The Method of Judging Questions”.  A short text on geomancy, but this is one of the first that I know of that establishes how awesome using the astrological house chart and methods of perfection can be in geomancy.  It assumes you already know how to cast a geomantic chart and put them into the houses, and goes from there.  Foundational and pretty concise.  Part of JMG’s book Earth Divination, Earth Magic, which is now unfortunately out of print, but cheap versions can still be found.
  • Robert Fludd, “Utriusque Cosmi”.  This is a massive encyclopedic work, only a small portion of which deals with geomancy.  However, the part that does deal with geomancy is complete, well-organized, detailed, and exact.  It has huge lists of how to interpret a given query (e.g. “should the lost or dropped thing, though bad, be retaken?”) and lays out how geomancy was practiced at the height of its technique and history so far.  It’s also unfortunately in Latin and available only on microfilm.  I’ve only been able to get through a few parts of it, but this is definitely a masterpiece of geomantic literature.  Also, Fludd was a small god at using charts and lists to clearly show relationships and correspondences; among his other inventions and works, he might be called the grandfather of infographics.
  • Robert Fludd, “Fasciculus Geomanticus”.  Rather than a simple chapter outlining geomancy as Fludd did in Utriusque Cosmi, this is his encyclopedic work on geomancy alone, cataloging every technique, interpretation, and method he was aware of in his day.  Again, in Latin, but if you have even a simple understanding of the language with a good dictionary, the labor is worth it by far.  His influence is definitely present in modern authors such as JMG, and parts will eventually be translated as a part of my own book.
  • Christopher Cattan, “The Geomancie”.  I was able to get a pretty nice copy of this at Antiquus Astrology, but it seems like they stopped selling their stuff a while ago, and now all that exists are really horrible-to-read scans and PDFs.  Alas.  He devotes the first part of the text to basic astrology and astronomy, but does give nice detail on the elemental natures and correspondences of the planets.  He then goes on to detail what the geomantic figures are, what they mean in the twelve houses, and what it means when a figure is present in both the first house and some other house at the same time.  He offers a helpful chart listing the 128 Court combinations, charts showing a variety of qualities of the figures, and plenty of techniques with an example for each one (though the examples aren’t always clear).  Not a bad book, and one which I consult tolerably often.
  • John Heydon, “Theomagia, or, the Temple of Wisdome”.  No.  No no no no no.  No no.  Do not go near this one.  Heydon was a little late in catching the bus, and compiled this at the tail end of der Untergang des Okkulten; he had to compile damn near everything he had available into more-or-less a complete unit, and I use those terms very loosely.  It centers largely on the occult nature and forces of geomancy, especially how they correspond to astrology and the heavens, but it’s obtuse, unclear, unfathomably dense, and terse when it really shouldn’t be.  Heydon lavishes attention on the occult background of geomancy without actually doing much to show the actual technique, resulting in a lot of occult fluff and not a lot of real content besides spirit work and planetary correspondences, with one or two other details in a massive set of volumes.  Sadly, this being among the most recent of the “ancient” sources, it was one of the things that groups like the Golden Dawn got their hands on, and resulted in a good century or two of geomantic malaise due to the incomprehensibility of geomancy.

For modern sources, again in no particular order:

  • John Michael Greer, “The Art and Practice of Geomancy”.  This is JMG’s second book on geomancy, which is more like an updated version of the older “Earth Divination, Earth Magic” (which included a copy of Pietro d’Abano’s work above).  I’d call this the modern definitive textbook on geomancy, giving a full review of the basics and details of geomantic divination, from basic pairwise readings to the nuances of multi-significator interpretations.  He also goes through incorporating geomancy with magic, specifically ceremonial operations and astrological timing.  In terms of technique, it’s basically an English translation of most of Robert Fludd’s work on geomancy (see above), leaving the details of specific types of queries up to the reader to figure out.  However, this is definitely a must-read for anyone interested in geomancy nowadays.  You can easily start with this and go pretty much anywhere in a matter of days with geomancy.
  • Franz Hartmann, “Geomancy: A Method for Divination”.  This is a modernized edition of Hartmann’s own reworking of an earlier study on geomancy; indeed, this is pretty much the earliest modern text on geomancy we have, dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Hartmann gives a rough introduction to geomantic technique, terse though helpful descriptions of each figure in each house, and a list of the 128 Court combinations along with example interpretations for 16 queries, which constitutes the bulk of the text.  He finishes with a very, very short treatise on astrology, basically showing what each planet and sign generally meant.  A good starting point, but incomplete when put next to most of the rest of the literature.
  • Stephen Skinner, “Geomancy in Theory and Practice”.  This is Skinner’s most recent work on geomancy, surpassing and incorporating his older “Terrestrial Astrology” (largely a historic treatise on the development of geomancy from its Arabic origins through Europe) and the even older and more new-agey “The Oracle of Geomancy”, which was geared more for absolute beginners and repeats a lot of rote information from previous works, including brief and terse descriptions of the figures in the houses and in relation to each other, including repeating Hartmann’s list of Court combinations.  Both of these older books are out of print, with the newest one just having been released this past year.  Unfortunately, I don’t have Skinner’s most recent book, but I assume it’s a basic upgrade of his past works.  “Terrestrial Astrology” is good, especially if you’re a historical researcher, and it has a truly massive list of manuscripts and sources for the avid scholar to inspect.
  • Nigel Pennick, “The Oracle of Geomancy”.  Not gonna lie, I cannot stand Nigel Pennick.  Granted that I’ve only read three of his books (another on leylines but mistakenly called geomancy, and a third on occult symbols and writing systems), he is not that good of an author, and his presentation of geomancy is erring at best and trippingly confusing at worst.  He throws in anything that looks vaguely geomantic, including references to Incan and Amerindian art, ancient Greek pottery, the I Ching, and Nordic devotional art.  The little geomancy he has in there is either pretty common stuff or details that aren’t attested elsewhere; not really worth a look.
  • Ralph Pestka and Priscilla Schwei, “The Complete Book of Astrological Geomancy”.  Now this book is one I wish wasn’t out of print!  Pestka and Schwei come up with a really interesting innovation here: we have geomancy, and we have horary astrology, so why not add them together?  By overlaying a normal geomantic house chart with the horary chart for the moment the question is asked, we can get a whole ‘nother layer of meaning by pairing the figures not just with the houses but with the planets, too!  They lay out the combination of each planet and figure in each house, and offer a new set of interpretations for the 128 Court combinations, which is refreshing and highly useful, more than Hartmann’s or Cattan’s, in my opinion.  Plus, one of their chart examples is on my birthday, which I found pretty nifty.  If you can get your hands on a copy of this, do it!
  • Thérèse Charmasson, “Recherches sur une technique divinatoire: la géomancie dans l’occident médiéval”.  Now this is an academic tome, right here, and also (if you couldn’t tell) written in French.  Google Translate and having a few Francophone friends helps here, but it’s definitely worth a read for the history bit of it.  However, it’s nothing you probably couldn’t glean from Skinner’s works, but Charmasson’s comparisons and research on the development of the figures and their names in various African, Arabic, Greek, and Latin sources is fascinating.  Not very easy to come by, and not cheap, so don’t hold your breath unless you have a good library hookup.
  • Paul Tannery, “Le Rabolion” (from “Mémoires Scientifiques” vol. 4).  Again, another researchy and scholarly French book, but one I highly suggest looking into.  Tannery was a mathematician and mathematical historian, and dedicates this section of a huge series of works to the development of geomancy.  The first chapter of his section on rabolion (a Byzantine Greek loan from Arabic for geomancy) is dedicated to the development of geomancy in the Sahara and Middle East, then in Europe.  The second and third parts of this section contain Greek and Latin texts of geomancy from the medieval and Byzantine eras, which is fascinating all in itself.  Very hard to come by except in the most established of libraries and collections.
  • J. A. Abayomi Cole, “Astrological Geomancy in Africa”.  This is less a work on geomancy as it is traditional Western occult philosophy with passing nods to how it came to exist and be understood through a very Europeanized African set of eyes.  Very little geomancy, very much a distillation of other works and focuses on occultism and astrology in general.  Not a particularly trustworthy source of information, but fascinating to see a glimpse of how geomancy was viewed in a very particular time period.
  • Richard Webster, “Geomancy for Beginners”.  I wrote a review of this book elsewhere on my blog, which you may be interested to read more about my specific take on it, but long story short, given that this is a Llewellyn book and is explicitly marked “for beginners”, the book is a passable though fluffy introduction to geomancy, though it really is meant for rank beginners who know nothing of the basics of Western occult symbols, but even then, the book isn’t that great in giving a strong basis with them, either.  Its presentation of information and technique is disjointed, and though it can be useful for people who don’t have much of an attention span to learn geomancy, its extra fluff and needless expanses of words unfortunately take up as much time as it does to learn the symbols and techniques of geomancy itself.  The only really innovative or new thing Webster brings is his chapter on “Arthurian divination”, but that alone doesn’t justify the rest of the fluff and cruft, especially since it’s not really geomantic.

And just as a note, anything on geomancy from the Golden Dawn is mostly rubbish. You’ll see why people stopped using it once you “read” what they had to “teach” on the matter.  Even if they were meant to be fleshed out by oral lessons and mentors, they’re woefully incomplete even as they are, but this is a problem with how geomancy barely survived the Enlightenment, not a reflection on the Golden Dawn and subsequent traditions.

There’re also a number of scholarly texts written about geomancy.  For those with good library or research connections, you might want to check out the following. If you can’t find them, be aware that I’ve uploaded most of these to the Geomantic Campus (and also to the FB group Geomantic Study-Group), so if you haven’t joined, do so already!

  • William Bascom et al., “Two Studies of Ifa Divination. Introduction: The Mode of Divination”
  • Louis Brenner, “Histories of Religion in Africa”
  • R. Davies, “A System of Sand Divination”
  • Rob Eglash, “Bamana Sand Divination: Recursion in Ethnomathematics”
  • C. H. Josten, “Robert Fludd’s Theory of Geomancy and His Experiences at Avignon in the Winter of 1601 to 1602”
  • Felix Klein-Franke, “The Geomancy of Ahmad B. ‘Ali Zunbul: A Study of the Arabic Corpus Hermeticum”
  • Wim van Binsbergen, “The Origin of Islamic Geomancy in Graeco-Roman Astrology”
  • James Sibree, “Divination among the Malagasy, Together with Native Ideas as to Fate and Destiny”
  • Marion Smith, “The Nature of Islamic Geomancy with a Critique of a Structuralist’s Approach”
  • Emilie Savage Smith et al., “Islamic Geomancy and a Thirteenth-Century Divinatory Device”

UPDATE (2017-10-01): Added Fludd’s “Fasciculus Geomanticus” to the books list, and other minor changes.

In Terms of Another

A computer is a mechanical and/or electronic device.  It takes in electricity and input from a device like a keyboard or a mouse or a touchscreen, and uses electricity to perform logical operations on input.  The output is redirected and is used as further input or is used to display information on a device like a monitor or printer.  There are lots of models to show how computers work, from the mathematical (why input becomes particular output), physical (how supplied electricity is transformed into motion, light, or sound), and logical (how input and stored data is manipulated in an abstraction of a machine).  It does not, however, make sense to describe how computers work in terms of biology with cells, protein folding, evolution, and so forth.  The two are completely separate systems of knowledge and use different abstractions, terminologies, definitions, and assumptions.  Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to describe the involuntary actions and processes of a human body in terms of formal types, data representation, or logical operators.

Languages rely on complex rules of word formation, ordering, and meaning, collectively termed grammar and semantics.  An English sentence, such as the one you’re currently reading, is made intelligible through the rules of English grammar and the meanings of English words according to an agreed-upon dictionary.  It doesn’t make sense for an English sentence to be analyzed according to the grammar or lexicon of another language, like French or Chinese, because the rules and definitions don’t apply.  Comparisons can be drawn, and translations can be performed, but you can’t simply drop an English sentence into a Chinese input terminal and expect to get any processing done.  Further, you can’t analyze or make sense of an English sentence if you’re trying to describe it in terms of multivariate calculus.  The two are just radically different systems of knowledge with different purposes, uses, languages, and so forth.  They’re both useful and necessary, sure, but not in the same way, and can’t be used in place of each other.

So, given this, it annoys me when people try to make me explain, justify, or validate magic or the occult in terms of the laws of physics or other physical sciences.  It’s like trying to explain a computer in terms of biology, or English in terms of calculus.  You’re asking me to explain something spiritual and inherently non-physical in terms of the non-spiritual and physical?  I can’t do anything with that.  I don’t have the tools, the rules, the definitions, the terms, the background for what I need.  I can use philosophy to illustrate some of these things, sure, and religion to make sense of other things, but that’s like the English sentence/Chinese grammar situation above.

Am I saying that magic is completely detached from the physical world?  No. Am I saying that magic has no effect in the physical world, nor any measurable metrics?  No.  Magic does affect and can effect the physical world, but doing so can’t be described in an entirely physical model, because magic doesn’t directly affect the physical world like how observable physical processes do.  Magic assumes the backdrop of a chain of manifestation, it assumes things that aren’t physical and can’t (always?) be detected physically.  If you’re asking me to explain something spiritual and non-physical, and only allowing me physical explanations to do so, you’re setting me up for failure.  If you want to discuss spiritual matters, then let’s use spiritual methods, languages, and definitions; we can draw parallels or comparisons between the spiritual and nonspiritual, physical and nonphysical, and that’s awesome.  But I can’t explain something in terms of what it’s not and what it can’t be.  If you want to talk to me about spirituality, let’s talk in spiritual terms, or at least allow for the possibility of spirituality.

I understand that atheism is a growing worldview and mindset of modern people, and there’s a good reason why: it makes sense.  It makes do with the tools and observations we have at our disposal and starts from there to make sense of the world.  If there’s no evidence for something, it doesn’t make sense to believe it if there’s a simpler explanation out there that, even if it’s theoretical, if it’s plausible, it can be accepted (Occam’s razor).  However, just because there’s no evidence in the Universe for a particular thing doesn’t mean that it’s evidence against that particular thing, either; just because there’s no meaning supplied by the cosmos doesn’t mean that meaning is completely denied, either.  Plus, modern science is not the be-all-and-end-all of all knowledge: we are constantly discovering new things all the time, and we are constantly revamping or reconstructing our current models of understanding to make sense of more stuff.  Further, we try to use a consistent system of logic to prove that something is true, “consistent” meaning that a well-structured proof with true hypotheses will yield a true conclusion.  It is impossible that a consistent system of logic can prove all provable things; in other words, I know something that’s true and you can’t show that it’s true (Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem).  In order to prove that something-unprovably-true, you need to use another system of logic, another kind of science.

It even gets me more riled up when people say “let’s establish empirical reality here” and try to dismiss my point of view out of hand.  First, “empirical” means “known through experience or experimentation”.  In my experience, magic works, nonphysical entities exist in some nonphysical form and can be interacted with in nonphysical (and sometimes physical!) ways, and there are worlds and phenomena that exist and can be interacted with nonphysically.  In my repeated experiments, under a particular setting and environment, I can call up angels or demons and chat with them or achieve some goal or desired end.  This is my experience, this is my reality that I work with.  If you want to disregard my reality, fine, but don’t try to argue with me about it.  My experience is not your own, and your experience is not my own.  If you want to try to convince me that something doesn’t work, try doing the same experiments I have and obtaining the same experiences I have, and then get back to me.  Trying to use “objective reality” to dismiss my experiences doesn’t really work: (a) everything has to be perceived in some way or another, leading to a subjective experience of reality (b) “objective numbers” obtained by tools made by mankind also have to be interpreted, and are obtained by machines that return numbers geared for a specific physical phenomena that doesn’t capture all known or experienced knowledge, but only a highly-specific subset of desired (subjective) knowledge (c) the models of “objective reality” don’t reliably account for the experiences that I and countless other people have.

Don’t try to ask me about my worldview if you’re just going to dismiss it.  It’s apparent from how you refer to me and my hobbies, that don’t influence or affect you, how you feel about them.  Feel what you want, please!  But if you don’t know about occultism, if you don’t want to know about occultism, and if you’re dead set against the possibility of occultism, don’t try to have me waste my breath or keystrokes to explain myself.  If you’re just going to call me crazy, save all of us the time and do so, and let me ignore you in peace.  If you don’t want to listen to me, ignore me!  I’m not going to be offended.  Magic isn’t for everyone.  Neither is any given religion, neither is art, neither is philosophy, neither is any given sport, neither is any given field of science.  But they all have worth, they all have meaning, and they’ve all been around for thousands of years for a reason.  Don’t try to discredit any one of them just because it doesn’t make sense in another one.

I don’t believe and work with this stuff for the hell of it.  What I do isn’t random and it isn’t haphazard.  What I do is researched, contemplated, discussed, planned, worked out, described, and analyzed.  The results I get are compared to my expectations, previous results I’ve obtained, and the results of others.  If I were crazy, I sure as hell wouldn’t be putting in as much effort or documentation into what I do.  If I had multiple personality disorder, I must be unique in being able to control when I talk to a particular alt-Polyphanes under certain circumstances.  If I were just deceiving myself, it’s gotta be a pretty damn big deception on a NWO-conspiracy-scale to be documented and discussed for as long as there’s been writing, and longer.  What I do isn’t physical and isn’t geared towards the physical or mathematical.  I wouldn’t use algebra to generate a change in consciousness; I wouldn’t use a computer to explain to me how to be happy.  Why ask me to explain spiritual things with physical processes?  It doesn’t work. I use physical and material processes to affect the world in terms of energy and matter; I use spiritual and mental processes to affect the world in terms of thought and spirit.  The two don’t mix.

It largely comes down to an issue of worldview and values.  If you believe that the ultimate expression and mode of reality is material reality, and that only material reality is the only thing of value and worth, awesome.  That’s not my philosophy, and I don’t expect my own philosophy to be yours.  My philosophy is that material reality is only one part of a grander part of reality, with each part being interactive and interactable.  If that’s not your philosophy, awesome.  But don’t try to say, explicitly or implicitly, that your worldview or philosophy is better than mine, because you don’t have the grounds to do that.  Logic doesn’t work in terms of things of worth or value, and I would hate to see someone supposedly so rational and logical to be so illogical in their approach and discussions when they continue to claim to be even more logical and rational than I am.  Hell, even more than logic, what I want is open-mindedness.  You don’t have to accept that what I do is sensible, you don’t have to accept the background or frameworks I’m working with, but please accept that it’s not baseless, not without cause, and not without effect.  Ascribe whatever physical explanation you want to it, be it psychological or pathological or whatever, but know that in doing so you’re trying to compare, not just apples and oranges, but apples and anvils.

In the words of the archdruid John Michael Greer:

The apotheosis of this sort of thinking is Arthur C. Clarke’s famous Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I mean no disrespect whatsoever to Clarke, who was among the best of SF authors; it’s hardly blameworthy that he shared misunderstandings of magic that were all but universal in his culture. The point remains that since magic does not do what technology does, and vice versa, the Third Law should properly be renamed Clarke’s Fallacy; no matter how advanced a technology may be, it does the kind of thing technologies do—that is to say, it manipulates matter and energy directly, which again is what magic does not do. I’d like to propose, in fact, an alternative rule, which I’ve modestly titled Greer’s Law: “Anyone who is unable to distinguish between magic and any technology, however advanced, doesn’t know much about magic.”

There.  My obligatory occultist’s rant on being accosted by hardline atheists.  I’m allowed to rant on my own blog, after all.  If you want to talk to me about the possibility of magic in a spiritual setting, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame, and I’d be up for that.  But let’s keep stuff within the same discipline and language, alright?  Thanks.