On the One True Geomancy (or Astrology, Alchemy, Etc.)

Within reason, of course, I enjoy fielding questions from my readers through social media, whether it’s through @s on Twitter or messages on Facebook.  I do my best to answer them as they come, and I generally have an answer, though it might take me a bit to compile it in full.  Sometimes, the answer just can’t be made simple enough for a quick message, and we need to engage in a proper conversation to flesh everything out.  However, on occasion, some of those questions or the discussions we have over them raise something up in my mind that I think needs to be explored more, and this is just one such an occasion.

One of my friends on Facebook—introduced to me by a mutual friend over (what else?) geomancy—had some questions and problems with reading over some of my posts, specifically where I catalog an assortment of geomantic texts’ attributions of elements to the figures.  Basically, in that post, I go over how there’s a lot of talk in books modern and classical about how to reckon the elemental rulerships of each of the figures, and there are a surprising number of variations about how to go about just that.  Modern confusion can arise from John Michael Greer’s use of a dual system of outer and inner elements of the figures, outer elements based on Zodiacal attributions and inner elements based on structural concerns, and I’m sure that I haven’t much improved on that with my own system of primary and secondary elements (though I find it increasingly useful).  My friend was happy to scrap the outer element system of JMG, but after reading my post, things only got more confused and muddled for her.  She vented a bit to me about some of her frustrations in learning geomancy from my blog:

I think I am a bit disheartened.  According to your work even the planetary rulerships vary from Agrippa to the Golden Dawn.  When I found geomancy, I was excited because it was based on numbers and my study of sacred geometry, and it made me hope that this system was at root based upon the same principles.  After reading a lot of your work. I am left with “everyone does it different, good luck!”

You know what?  That’s completely fair, and it’s easy for me to have lost sight of that.  I appreciate her bringing me back down to earth a bit by sharing her feelings with me on this.

As you may have noticed, dear reader, the Digital Ambler is my blog.  Yes, it’s a website where I advertise my services and ebooks and share my research and rituals and make myself available for a variety of consultations and readings, but first and foremost, the Digital Ambler is my blog.  I write about what I want on my blog at the rate I want with the focuses I want in the way I want; it is, after all, my blog.  However, I write my blog for the public to read not just to keep track of my own notes, experiments, projects, ideas, and studies, but also to help others in the occult, Hermetic, and geomantic communities as well.  Over the years, my blog has become something of a resource for many, and I take a bit of pride and satisfaction and fulfillment that I’m able to help at least a few people through my writing.

One of the ways I think I help is that I share my research and notes, and when it comes to geomancy, there’s a lot to research—about a thousand years, to be precise, across Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe.  Even with my limited resources, I have access to texts by John Case, Robert Fludd, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, Christopher Cattan, John Heydon, Bartholommeo della Parma, Gerard of Cremona, and Pietro d’Abano, to say nothing of more modern authors ranging from Franz Hartmann to Stephen Skinner and JMG himself.  As time goes on, I hope to get access to even more obscure materials that exist in undigitized, microfiche, or manuscript form.  And, I expect, as I get access to more such resources, I’ll learn more about how geomancy was practiced by a variety of practitioners across the millennium it’s been in use.

As a researcher, it’s evident and plain to me that geomancy is not a single, fixed subject.  Yes, even from its inception and introduction into Europe, there have been many things fixed and stable about the art: the basic meanings of the figures, the basic use of the Court and Shield Chart, how to use the House Chart, what planets the figures refer to, and so forth.  However, there are a great many things that vary between one author and the next: whether this technique or that is more useful, how many variations on a single technique there might be, how to assign the zodiac signs to the figures, how to assign the elements to the figures, how to do this or that and…well, as can be seen across many of the posts on my blog where I document classical techniques, there’s a fair amount of variation in geomantic practice.  For me to introduce that into my blog is part and parcel of my research: I research to document what was done, no matter how it was done, so I can figure out what was kept back then and why, as well as what I might keep that works and how to make what works work even better.

Why is there so much variation in what was done?  Simply put, it’s because geomancy is not a monolithic tradition: there is no canon, no centralization, no governing authority that says “this is proper geomantic practice” and “that is not proper geomantic practice”.  We in our modern age are used to such centralized authorities certifying what’s in and what’s out or what’s good and what’s bad to the point where we take it for granted, and we expect to see that such centralization would be present in previous eras.  It’s simply not the case.  Sure, there were commonly-available resources and texts, especially after the invention of the printing press and the beginning of mass-produced books, but it still was nothing like the scale of today’s “Art and Practice of Geomancy” or “Geomancy for Beginners” or “Geomancy in Theory and Practice”.  What was available were texts produced on a much smaller scale available to a smaller percentage of wealthier people who could afford books within a much more localized region; besides those, there were actual, living, breathing geomancers who not only practiced, but taught as well.  Though I’m sure some students of geomancy kept in touch with others, each geomancer was likely to be left to their own devices, see what works, and see what doesn’t, then develop and refine their own practice on their own.  Couple a few decades of that with books that may not always be 100% correct or vetted for typos and clarity, and minor variations are bound to result.

The commonalities between different geomancers and texts vastly outweigh the differences between them, to be sure, but many of us who like to investigate the details and ply those for whatever we can might be foiled by encountering so many different ways to assign figures to elements or what have you.  As my friend said, it can often come across that, when I present my notes on how geomancers of the past practiced this art, it might just come across as “everyone does it different, good luck”.  To an extent…yeah, actually.  Everyone did do it different.  Heck, everyone still does it different; I don’t do the same exact geomancy that Stephen Skinner or JMG or Al Cummins or Eric Purdue might do.  We all understand the basics of geomancy, and the commonalities of our practices far outweigh our differences, but there are definitely differences to be had.

To be fair, though, this isn’t just a thing with geomancy.  Astrology has the same variations across its many thousands of years of practice and development based on era, land, language, and author.  Today, you’ll still find arguments about which house system is best, how to allot certain things to certain houses, whether the modern planets have any purpose in horary astrology, and so forth.  You’ll find the same thing in general Hermetic magic (Golden Dawn or Thelema? Lemegeton or Grimoirum Verum? Heptameron or Trithemius?), in ancient Greek religion (Hesiod or Homer? Attic or Doric? Delphi or Dodona?), and really in any ancient tradition.  No tradition is ever truly monolithic unless it was designed that way, and even then, if it’s at all taught and carried on by successive generations of students, there are bound to be variations.  That’s how we ended up with Theravada and Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism from a single teacher, and within each vehicle of Buddhism all the different sects and schools thereof.  That’s how we ended up with Catholic and Orthodox and Protestant Christianities, and all their own sects and denominations.  Spiritual traditions, sciences, and lineages are inherently messy in their development; as I said to my friend, “if it’s confusing, it’s because there are a lot of different voices shouting different things under the same big tent”.

So what do we do about it?  Is it really as simple (and confusing) as “everyone did it different, good luck”?  Well…yes, actually.  In my research-related posts on this blog, I don’t often just document what was done, but I also give my thoughts on what makes the most logical sense or what has the strongest justification, as well as share my own thoughts, experiences, and preferences on the variations on technique.  I do my best to show my own practices and why I do things the way I do and where I get the things I do from, but at the end of the day, it’s a combination of study and experimentation that informs my practice: study the things that are common and fixed in the tradition, experimentation to see which variations work best.  The way I teach geomancy is going to be different from other geomancers past and present because it’s going to be informed by my own practices, experiences, and experiments; consider that I find (much as Robert Fludd himself did) that the techniques to predict letters and numbers are crap. Heck, even among geomancers today, what I consider vital and important to the art (as far as details go, at least), Al Cummins may find ridiculous or nonsense, and vice versa.  That’s fine!  We each have our own opinions informed by our own studies, and that’s great!  It’s not going to be as simple as 2 + 2 = 4 where there’s only one right answer, but it’s going to be “which art movement is better to understand the 19th century occult movements, Pre-Raphaelite or Art Nouveau?”.

If you’re looking for the One True Geomancy (or One True Astrology, or One True Solomonic Grimoire, or One True Alchemy, etc.) with all and only the right techniques, well, you might be disappointed.  There’s really no objective, centralized, certified Manual of Geomantic (or Astrological, Solomonic, Alchemical, etc.) Practice out there, nor will there ever be.  The best you can do is find a single teacher and study what that one teacher teaches, and even then, they might change their views over time, just like you will.  In the meantime, though it might be a rough road to follow, learning what was done and seeing all the variants out there of a given technique is helpful because it informs you of what was done before to give you an idea of what works and what options you have when working your own practices.  In doing so, you have guides that point in useful directions (maybe not always the right directions) to show you where you should focus your practice or steer your practice towards or away from.  Experimentation is a must in this and every kind of occult art, but you can and should listen to your peers and colleagues and teachers to see what was done before so you don’t invent the wheel all over again and again and again.

I was interviewed on Witches & Wine!

So, not that long ago, I was approached by the wonderful Chaweon Koo from her YouTube channel Witches & Wine, where she talks about various aspects of the occult, spirituality, and other related topics ranging from New Thought to Korean shamanism with experts and veterans in all sorts of arts. It’s a lovely channel with an entertaining host and buffet of topics and chats, and I highly recommend you check her out, subscribe on YouTube, and like her on Facebook!

Anyway, she and I had a good long chat one evening, and we talked about—you guessed it—geomancy, how to apply it, and what some of the pitfalls are in picking up the art.  It was such a good interview, but it also went on so long, that she decided to break it down into a two-part series.  At last, both are now up on her channel, which I share down below!  Check out the actual YouTube pages for timestamps for specific topics.

Part 1: Geomancy 101 — History and Theory

Part 2: Geomancy 101 — Practical Applications

(Also yikes the camera really does add twenty pounds, I need to find a better angle for myself.  I swear my chin isn’t that fleshy in real life.)

I had a lovely time chatting with Chaweon, and I hope you enjoy our conversations, too!

Also, lately I’ve been going through my temple and spiritual goods, and I’ve been doing a bit of spring cleaning for some of the old tools, supplies, charms, and other knickknacks I have and putting them up on my Etsy page.  If you’re interested in getting one-of-a-kind crafts that will likely never be made again, or if you’re interested in my ebooks or divination services, go take a look at the Digital Ambler on Etsy!

On the Inconvenience of Wholeness

Earlier this winter, I was taking the train to work in the morning, as I usually do.  It was during one of the exceptionally cold days—I honestly don’t think I’ve ever experienced negative degrees Fahrenheit before—and I was ruing sitting against the window, as I usually do (the sitting, not the ruing).  I take the standard Northern approach to winter clothing, applying layer after layer after layer until you end up a spherical mess of unflattering insulation, but even then, it didn’t seem to work as well as I had hoped that morning.  Worse, I had to pee, and I typically try to avoid that on the trains.  Yeah, there are bathrooms on the commuter trains, but trying to wiggle out past the person sitting next to me, wobbling down an unsteady train down to the bathroom in the next car, then having to undo layer after layer of unflattering insulation just to take a leak wasn’t worth it.  I just held it until I got to the office.

The whole experience recalled to mind a method of excreting bodily waste in abnormally or dangerously low temperatures: the use of insulated diapers.  I thought it an amusing technique, both incredibly uncomfortable to sit in my own urine while simultaneously finding the warmth probably very welcome in below-zero temperatures.  Of course, I’m not a diaper fetishist, and the idea is far more uncomfortable to me than it is to others; it’d probably have to be truly, awfully cold outside, and I’d need to be out there for quite a long duration before even giving it a serious thought.  Still, the technique of it is valid, and if I were someone like a Siberian ice-fisher, I’d probably actually consider it.

Now, I don’t often think about diapers; I leave that to some of my other friends and colleagues for their own reasons.  No, I originally heard about the notion of insulated diapers from…well, of all places, a Legend of Zelda fanfic.  Yes, dear reader, your beloved/despised polyphanes is a nerd, and while I haven’t really read fanfic or engaged in much fandom in years, it was definitely a major influence on my formative teen life.  Between Myst, Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, and a handful of other anime and manga, I had quite the list going.  The Legend of Zelda fandom was probably the first one I started getting involved with, and there was this one site…god, it’s been years, and I can’t remember it, and I have no idea if it’s even online anymore.  It was, for the early 2000s, a fantastic fan-maintained resource of Zelda-related content, ranging from game walkthroughs to rumors of finding the Triforce in Ocarina of Time to, of course, fanfiction.  The site author maintained his own (as I judged it at the time) pretty epic storyline, and even I helped contribute with some of my own stuff.  It was a fascinating timesink for me.

The fanfic the site maintainer himself wrote was pretty involving, I have to admit, or at least for my 12-to-14-year-old self.  It had everything I could want: drama, an unexplored dichotomy leftover from the actual mythos of Zelda, exploration, and, of course, angst.  (Yes, I still have a soft spot for Linkin Park and Gackt, and my mom still fondly remembers my overuse of “angst!” cried out as an expression of frustration and…well, angst.)  There was one part in the fanfics the site author wrote that stuck in my mind, and which this cold train morning brought up after making the leap from insulated diapers: in an earlier part of the story, Link is sent on a quest to defeat the Truly Unspeakable Evil in a place far colder than Antartica (hence the insulation), but which was so evil, Link was warned not to give even an ounce or an inch of thought or credence to it, for to even give it that much would let the Truly Unspeakable Evil get a foothold in Link’s mind, which would inevitably lead to his corruption and ultimate doom.  Later on in the series, you can guess what happened; Link, as it turned out, gave a half-second’s thought of considering the merits of what the Truly Unspeakable Evil was proposing to Link as he approached the den of the Truly Unspeakable Evil, and that was just enough to plant the seed of Truly Unspeakable Evil in Link’s head, which eventually began to drive him to depression, to madness, and ultimately, to climb the heights of Death Mountain, watch the sunrise one last time, and fling himself over the edge to end it all so as to give in to the Truly Unspeakable Evil.  He didn’t die, of course; that’d be a poor end to a Zelda fanfic, indeed, and the fanfic author had more in mind to write.  Link was grievously wounded, to be sure, but he survived, and was rescued by his friends and allies and, together, they worked to (painfully, if I recall correctly) excise and exorcise the Truly Unspeakable Evil from Link’s mind and body.  It was a surprisingly sweet, uplifting, empowering story to read for a young teenager.

Now, as a somewhat older person with a little more (but only a little more) experience under my belt in both magic, spiritual works, demonic possession and obsession, and just life in general, I can look back and realize…well, first, how fucked up that story was.  I still think fondly of it, but christ, that was a dark story to read.  All the same, it does actually have strong parallels to some of the worst case scenarios of demonic affliction, and how, in some cases, demons can drive someone mad or burden them with depression, and ultimately, it is possible for a demon to drive someone to suicide.  But…now that I look back on it, there’s something that nags me about the whole thing.  I know that I’m evaluating the merits and virtues of a fanfic I read literally 15 years ago and only dimly recall, so please suspend your sense of absurdity for my sake, but…it almost seems like it was too easy for the Truly Unspeakable Evil to be so cleanly excised from Link.  Yeah, falling off a cliff a hundred meters tall would probably knock quite a bit out of you more than just wind, but…

Problems like depression and mania and anxiety or dementia, or psychological urges to murder, rape, abuse, and the like are, indeed, problems.  They’re human problems, of course, and so many of us suffer from them all the time.  We do our best to keep ourselves in good physical and mental health, and hold in our destructive and malefic urges so we can at least maintain a semblance of non-psychopathic decency.  While there’s a little bit of the Divine in all of us, a little shard of the Good, a little spark of the Nous, we’re still mortal and material creatures, born to die.  Matter, in the Gnostic-influenced Hermetic view, stands apart from God in several ways, and is largely considered evil, or at the very least, incredibly inconvenient.  (I’m reminded of the Douglas Adams quote: “In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”)  Try as we might, there is not one of us who is truly good, because we’re not made to be; while the part of us that is Good can aspire to Goodness, a human being, when considered as a whole, is a mixture of both Good and Evil.  We’re both.  We have both blessings and curses, benefits and hindrances, positives and negatives.

A human being, any one of us, is a whole entity, and you can’t simply excise evil from a human.  You can’t just rip those destructive urges out, nor can you just banish anxiety and be done with it.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that one should have an urge to rape and kill, nor that we should be so “blessed” with depression and suicide; far from it, these are awful things that I wish we could do without, and work towards a day when we don’t have to worry about them and can maintain them so that they don’t pose a problem anymore, if not get rid of them completely.  But we all have our afflictions, our vices, our sins, and you can’t just fling yourself off a cliff to be rid of them, nor can you jam a red-hot sword into your flesh to burn it out.  Those who have these afflictions are still human, and still have an ounce of Good in them, no matter how covered up or small.  We all have our own essential dignity, so to speak.  But that dignity and that little bit of Good we have don’t excuse the shit we pull and the evil we make in the world around us or in the world within us; we can’t simply be forgiven for the awful, harmful things we do to ourselves or others, because forgiveness without remediation is wasted breath and energy.

We’re whole creatures.  We have good and bad within us, and we can’t really separate the bad out and claim it’s not us.  It’s part of us, and in a sense, it is us.  We have to own it.  We have to take responsibility for ourselves, and we have to actively work to make ourselves as Good as possible.  If only it were as simple as just letting the Good be Good, but it’s not; we have to fight, every second of every minute of every day of every month of every year we draw breath, to preserve the Good, protect the Good, enhance the Good, and elevate the Good, while fighting off the Bad, diminishing the Bad, restraining the Bad, and eventually controlling the Bad as best we can until we’re no longer human and no longer have the Bad as part of us.  Until then, the Bad is just as much as part of the whole of us as the Good is.

Being whole is inconvenient.  It’s not easy, and there’s no straightforward solution, no deus ex machina that can save us as the hero in our individual stories.  It’s not a problem to solve, but a predicament we must live with; in this view, then, every moment of every human life is a crisis, where we must constantly take responsibility for ourselves, own our wholeness and all the parts of the whole that constitutes who we are, and actively make the decision to be Good and to enhance the Good.  We have to be better than what we are.  Not only is that a matter of enhancing the Good all the time, but of diminishing the Bad all the while.

I wish it were easier.  But it’s not.  That’s just the nature of the Work, which is actual work.

Ritual and Divination as Reliving Myth

While working on editing my textbook on geomancy, I’m noticing that I recently added as many pages and sections as I’ve gotten rid of.  This is to be expected in the course of editing any work, of course, but it should be noted that I’m not getting rid of anything that would hinder someone from learning the process of divination.  Obscure astrological information that isn’t really used in geomancy, for instance, has little purpose being in a book on geomancy; things of this sort are what I’m trying to pare down and cull, not only to keep the page count from becoming too unwieldy, but also to help make sure the reader isn’t as confused or distracted from learning the actual processes of geomantic divination.  And those last two words in that sentence are important: “geomantic divination”.  This book is focused on the divinatory process and knowledge of geomancy.

I had a section on geomantic magic and the ritual timing of geomancy, but after giving it some thought, I decided to cull those sections out because, strictly speaking, they’re not really needed for geomantic divination; those are subjects best left to another book entirely.  So, of course, while I’m editing my textbook on geomantic divination during the day, during the night I’m working on a second text (which I may only release as a digital ebook or which I may also publish in some tangible form) on geomantic magic and ritual.  These are topics that one doesn’t need to know to do geomancy, but may be of help for those who take a more magical or occult approach to geomancy in general.  One of the topics I was rewriting for such a text was on ritual formats for divination, sorta like what the Golden Dawn uses, but in other ways and approaches.  I ended up coming up with a new divination ritual format, which I’m tentatively titling “The Blessing of Balaam the Prophet”, which I’m actually pretty excited about.  However, I ended up having to augment it with some follow-up ritual, because…well, the story of Balaam didn’t end too well, and there are reasons why he’s given the epithet rasha, “wicked”, in Jewish theology.  The work of Balaam may have been good, but he didn’t turn out so well; to invoke him, one should probably ward against falling into those same pitfalls, with which the ritual follow-up helps.

The backlash from using certain rituals and invoking certain powers can be rough and dangerous at times.  This isn’t necessarily from doing rituals wrong or from making certain spirits angry, but when we call upon certain powers, we borrow their semantic and mythological “essences” into our lives.  This is not just the raw spiritual forces of that power we draw up like water from a well, but it’s the overall current of power, its ebbs and flows from its originating sprint to its ultimate outlet, that we’re immersing ourselves in.  Being able to manage the raw spiritual force of a given power, saint, entity, or god is one thing, but being able to navigate that current to get you from point A to point B is quite often another, and often requires a more contextual view of what the ritual is doing in your life, as well as a contextual view of what the power is you’re calling upon in the traditions, cultures, stories, superstitions, and myths in which it appears.

That word “myth” can be a problem for some people.  Most people in our modern world consider “myth” to mean lies, rumors, fabrications, imaginative or inventive beliefs, or so on, but that’s all entirely a modern view of what a myth is, and one that does a great disservice to the world.  Rather, the word (originally Greek for “speech, thought, story, myth, anything delivered by word of mouth”) is perhaps the better general descriptor of what an archetype is: “myth” refers to the instructional or fundamental stories that explain how things in the world come to be and why things are the way they are.  For instance, Hesiod’s Theogony is a one set of Hellenic myths that explain the cosmogony and theogony of the world, and the Book of Genesis is a Judeo-Christian myth that describes the creation of the world and humanity and the origins of the Israelites.  Myths aren’t just limited to creation stories, either; the Greek myth of Arachne explains why spiders weave webs and where we get the name “arachnid” from, and the story of Apollo and Coronis explains why the raven has black feathers.  Myths are the spiritual documentation of how things come to be the way they are in our world, informed by culture, history, superstition, religion, and the transmission and mutation of all that; myth feeds into spirituality, and spirituality feeds into myth in a mutually-enhancing, recursive cycle.

When we say that “history repeats itself”, we’re often describing something mythological, not in the sense of repeating a lie or rumor, but that certain things fall into the same pattern over and over again from time immemorial.  Those patterns are, in and of themselves, myths; we might give them a fictional or primordial “original occurrence”, but that pattern is itself the myth that we explain the world by, extrapolate events from, and understand a situation’s causes with.  There are always variations in any given instantiations in the pattern—after all, while there’s nothing new under the Sun, you can’t step into the same river twice—but on the whole, the pattern holds.  That’s why it’s a pattern.  That’s why these patterns become myths, and why these myths are codified into religion and spirituality as doctrine and dogma.

More than that, myths (as symbols of and as patterns) are one of the fundamental underpinnings of ritual and divination.  Consider a divination method that relies on some sort of bibliomancy: you can consider divination using a random verse of the Bible, the Homeric Oracle where you throw dice and fall upon a particular verse from a Homeric epic, or even odu Ifá where you divine one of 256 particular odu and investigate the verses and stories of orisha associated with that odu.  When we employ one of these methods, we get a particular selection of a story, a myth, from a religion that inspires and guides us.  Sometimes the verse is pretty clear, and suggests something right off the bat to do, say, pray, or warn against.  Sometimes, we have to investigate the context in which that verse was written and see what it meant in context and how it can relate to a given situation for the bibliomancer.  In either case, however, notice what it is you’re doing: you’re being pointed to a spiritually-guided myth for guidance.  By understanding the myth, you understand the pattern of arising, action, and conclusion in the situation.  What the verse points out is “hey, what you’re facing now falls under this pattern, so pay attention to the actors and events in this myth-pattern, because you’re playing out the same scene, for good or for ill”.

Consider another form of divination: astrology.  Sure, we know that Mars is the planet of force, vigor, power, war, aggression, masculinity, and all that, but have you ever stopped to consider why Mars represents those things in a horoscope?  There are two ways we can arrive at these significations by the symbol of Mars:

  • The scientific method: by noting the arrangements, alignments, and motions of the stars, and what events happen in the lives of people and events of the world that happen at the same times.  By making observations and noticing repeated trends that correspond to each other, we can establish patterns, then extrapolate both into the past when we were unaware of the pattern and into the future when we’re as yet unaware of events to come to test the pattern and obtain more information.  By establishing a pattern, we can make a model of astrological phenomena and what mundane phenomena they correspond to.  This is the method that we know was used by the ancient Babylonian and early astrologers, who noted certain astrological and celestial phenomena, tracked them with events in the matters of the king and of the state, and used those correspondences to make predictions.  By extrapolating into the past, both we and they arrived at certain mythological foundations for why certain patterns hold.
  • The religious method: by associating the planets and stars with particular gods, we ascribe all the symbols of those gods to the planets, and vice versa.  By remembering certain myths that describe the actions and qualities of a single god, we directly ascribe them to the planet; by recalling the interactions of one god with another, we come up with a model that describes what happens when the planets of those two gods come into a certain arrangement with each other.  The myths form the pattern, and the particular arrangements of the planets describe which myth to investigate and which pattern is used for a given situation.  This is both a traditional and a modern approach, especially when we have new planets and asteroids being discovered where all we have to go on to start with is a name of some deity (like Makemake or Sedna).

In either case, through astrological divination (whether horary, natal, electional, mundane, or whatever), we end up with a pattern based on myth, which forms cycles and recurrences that we live time and again, just as we do with the verses of sacred scriptures pointed out to us through bibliomancy.  If it isn’t directly inspired like clairvoyance, mediumship, or prophecy, then divination pretty much universally relies on patterns established through myth.  Just like how we would go to our grandmother to listen to a story to make us feel better about a choice we have to make (that image itself is a myth that’s lived time and again by so many people alive even today!), we go to divination to give us the right myth to listen to for the events and problems we have in our lives now.  Those myths give us guidance, advice, warnings, and encouragement, not only to accept the things that have happened and will happen but also to guard us and warn us against how things can end up if we don’t heed the advice of the characters in the myth.

And that’s where things get really interesting: not just listening to myths, but applying them.  That is, ultimately, what ritual aspires to do.  Consider all the parts of a full ritual: costume, setting, decorations, timing, environment, actors, scripts, instruments, props…ritual is, in many ways, a kind of theater.  We say that we “perform rituals”, after all, just like we would a play.  What is the purpose of acting a play?  To bring to life the same circumstances, stories, problems, and resolutions that the story of the play enacts, not just for entertainment, but to instill in us the meanings, values, warnings, and lessons of the myth of that play.  This is why Dionysos, Greek god of ecstasy (literally “standing outside yourself”) and of the mysteries, also rules over theater and its masks and costumes: he presides over the form and function of being someone else and letting the myth take over.

To give one perfect example of ritual enacting a myth, consider the Christian Eucharist.  It’s a lot more than people gathering together to listen to the priest talk about ethics and morals and sharing some dry crackers and questionable wine; it’s a literal reenactment of the Last Supper, spiritually empowered to the point where the dry cracker literally becomes the flesh of Christ and the wine his blood, just as he broke bread and poured wine and declared them to be such two millennia ago.  Through apostolic succession, the priests are empowered not just to repeat those words of Christ, but to temporarily (through the reenactment of the ritual play) become Christ.  The Eucharist, then, not only is a reminder of the Last Supper, but is a new instantiation of the timeless and eternal presence and myth of it, just as the Last Supper itself as recorded in the New Testament was the first instance of it.

When we engage in ritual, we’re reenacting a myth, calling to mind the original actors, events, circumstances, and contexts of that myth, and applying it anew in our own lives.  By performing a ritual, we relive the myth in an intimate, present way more than just having history repeat itself again; we temporarily become the characters in the myth.  That’s one of the reasons why we wear, for instance, the Pentacles or Rings of Solomon, why we use particular phrases and clothing, why we have certain tools in our rituals: not only do these things have power and meaning of their own, but they’re backed up by myth, and by replaying the myth, we come to the same conclusions and endings that the myth describes.  When we perform a sacrifice or take the advice of a myth, we’re basically saying “this is the same problem that someone long before me encountered, and they did this particular thing to resolve it, so if I do the same thing, I will resolve the problem as well”.  In a way, not only are we replaying the myth, but we’re also honoring old pacts, which themselves establish a pattern and become myth: “if you give me X, I will give you Y, this is our covenant”.

But there’s a twist here: you don’t always have to replay the same myth in a ritual.  You don’t always have to play the protagonist of the myth; you can just as well play the antagonist, or twist certain things in the ritual around, which then messes with the myth, which can get you different results that would be predicted.  By changing the ritual, you change the myth.  In some cases, the results would be as expected; if you know that Aeneas did three steps to get the help of a particular deity, you can do two of the steps but change the third so as to not only immerse yourself in the myth but tweak the expected result to a different end.  That’s why, in the Blessing of Balaam the Prophet, I don’t just repeat the words that Balaam once said to Balak so long ago and live my life as Balaam, but I also take into account the fall of Balaam and “correctionally twist” the myth I’m enacting so that I don’t fall into the same pit that Balaam did.

Divination and ritual are powerful, not just because they allow us to interact with the powers of the cosmos in a way we can understand and command, but they also allow us to understand the myths that keep the cosmos working, and reenact those myths to attain certain ends that we know can and should (and almost always will) work.  Patterns hold; that’s why they’re patterns.  By living along patterns, we know where we’re heading; by modifying the pattern, we modify our course.  So, the next time you engage in a ritual, consider what myth that ritual is based on, inform yourself of the historical and spiritual context of that myth, and see how that enhances your performance of a ritual; the next time you modify a ritual, see how that modification would have changed the original myth or whether it would make it relate to another myth entirely, and see how that matches up with your result of the modified ritual.

On Geomantic Education

To those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, this will come as no surprise.  I’m finally working on my book on geomancy again.  It’s something that people have been dogging me about for years, and it’s been an on-again-off-again project since 2013.  However, since recently rebuilding my computer and getting all my files back together, I got the bug again to write that book, and good progress is being made again.  At this rate, it’ll be the size of a proper textbook, and my aim is to make it thorough and complete on a level not rivaled since Fludd or az-Zanati.  I’m not going to discount the extremely valuable books put out by John Michael Greer or Stephen Skinner, as I stand on the shoulders of those two living giants with regards to this art, but I aim to put out a text of a different kind.

And yet, despite that this book is (currently) estimated to come out at around 300pp., I can already hear a complaint off in the distance.  My goal is for this book to present a fundamental and thorough exploration of the art of geomancy in such a way that it will start from first principles (what is divination, what are the elements and planets and stars, what are the relationships between these forces and the figures, what are the relationships amongst the figures, how is geomantic “mathematical”, etc.) and go through every major technique I can document in Western geomancy, including variations and specifics of detailed things along the way.  In this sense, I’m following in the same steps as the geomantic authors of yore.  However, there is one major thing that my book does not and will not have that virtually every other book on geomancy has, and while it may frustrate people used to it, I find that it’s something that should never have been written by anyone ever to begin with.

If you haven’t guessed yet, dear reader, it’s lookup tables, those lists of premade answers to particular arrangements of Court figures, figures in the houses, and the like.  It’s these lookup tables (cf. Hartmann, Skinner’s “Oracle of Geomancy”, the Golden Dawn primer on geomancy, etc.) that I believe are a bane to the proper study of geomancy, and I refuse to include them in my work.

Now, I understand why they were written.  For the sake of completion, many authors have endeavored to provide a clear explanation and guide to interpreting each figure in each of the houses; since there are only 16 figures and 12 houses, this is only about 192 small entries.  After all, astrologers have done the same for the planets and parts in the houses for centuries, and they have a lot more to worry about in their texts.  And, for the sake of being reeeaaallly complete, many authors have also included premade interpretations for the different possible combinations of Witnesses and Judge; after all, if the Judge must be an even figure, then that cuts down all pairwise combinations of Witnesses to just 128 different combinations.  Again, not terrible.  For completeness’ sake, and to offer an illustrative guide to the gist of what figures mean for a query, sure, I can see why this was done.

The problem, however, is that many people are not as dedicated to the art when they claim to be its students, and would rather be lazy.  Mass-market publishers, additionally, want things that sell, and will happily cater to the many who would spend a few pence on a text that appeals to them rather than the extraordinary few who would spend more on a text that they need.  I mean, consider how much trash there is out there with the neopagan or pop magic literature; sure, it sells well, and it may very well be a good starting point for those who are serious about their studies.  Hell, even I admit to having a few of Scott Cunningham’s fluffier books somewhere in my library, and it did help me get started back in middle school with learning what magic is and how it works.  That said, if I were to stop there, I’d be putting myself at a great disservice and would never have gotten to where I am today; moreover, if I thought that Cunningham’s style of pop magic spells done on a beach or in the snow was all there was to magic, I’d insult all the magicians and occultists who came before him, not to say the field of magic as a whole.

The problem is that, as time went on in the Renaissance and more and more books were published on geomancy, all they really focused on was the lookup tables.  The techniques were discussed only inasmuch as they enabled you to use the lookup tables; for this, see Franz Hartmann’s book on geomancy as a prime example.  Geomancy became whittled down from this elaborate, profound system of divination that could elegantly answer any subject with extraordinary detail into this…well, the phrase “parlor game” comes to mind, something like Chi-Chi sticks or those little folded paper fortune-teller doodads we all used to make in elementary school.  Even though geomancy was more popular in Europe than Tarot is now, imagine if Tarot were reduced only to using its numbers and suits; it’s effectively playing cards, ignoring different spreads and the qabbalistic symbolism inherent in the art and structure of the Tarot.  That’s what basically became of geomancy towards the end of the Renaissance, and was one of the main contributors to geomancy effectively being lost once the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution came around.  No, geomancy was not completely forgotten, but it was all but regarded as useless and overly complicated for an answer that usually amounted to little more than “evil, except for bloodletting”.

So much for how the publishing and spread of lookup tables influenced the general perception of geomancy.  However, there’s another part of the problem with relying on these: lookup tables are inherently limited.  Sure, the small number of combinations of figures in houses or Witnesses and Judge is sufficiently limited to offer a good high-level summary in a single text; it’s not the fact that there are only so many combinations in geomancy, but it’s that these summaries cannot be helpful in all circumstances and for all queries.  These interpretations are very general, but also very isolated from other factors in a geomantic chart.  Yes, Fortuna Maior in house IV is a good thing for one’s personal life, but what if we’re asking a query about having an ex-lover move out of our house, and this figure is aspected by opposition, and it’s in company with a negative figure, and the querent has indicated that health issues may be at play?  Fortuna Maior, although a good figure, is sufficiently negated that it becomes stressful and harmful to the querent.  Yet, what can a lookup table say?  Not much, except that the querent will do well and strong in their personal life and home.  That’s all well and good, but the geomancer still has to link that to every other factor present to actually give a useful answer.  Without indicating how, books that stress the importance of lookup tables without teaching how to synthesize these factors gimp the geomancer.

Lookup tables, in effect, cheapen the art of geomancy; it reduces a synthetic, holistic, detailed divination system to a copy-and-paste, abbreviated, vague system of terse and snippy answers.  Because of this, geomancers who rely primarily on lookup tables aren’t really learning how to actually use geomancy beyond following page numbers like a “choose your path” story book.

That’s why my book will not have these lookup tables.  Tables of correspondence that indicate what figures mean in specific contexts?  Absolutely! Detailed interpretations of each figure as they are and how they relate to other figures to explore their own worlds?  You got ’em!  Case studies of geomantic readings that explore each individual factor and technique used for a particular chart, then synthesized together to form a coherent, cohesive narrative?  But of course!  These are all parts of understanding the principles of geomancy from a ground-up approach, so that lookup tables become useless anyway.  By enabling the geomancer to develop their own interpretations through a deep knowledge of each figure, understanding how the figures interact with each other ideally and in particular charts, and giving them the tools to synthesize different parts of a reading, the geomancer will never need to use lookup tables for answers on “will he obtain his love” or “how will the undertaking end”; at a glance, the geomancer will be able to answer these on their own anyway based on their own skill and intuition.

So, if the fact that my book is gonna be around 300 pages and remind you of college, dear reader, don’t worry.  This is not a book to flip through because you want to be lazy.  This is a book to absorb thoroughly because you want to be excellent.

Search Term Shoot Back, August 2015

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of August 2015.

“how do we summon spirit astaroth to appear physically” — Carefully.  Summoning a spirit, whether to physical manifestation or just to spiritual presence, is no joke, and takes a lot of practice, study, and dedication.  Summoning a spirit to physical manifestation is even less of a joke and something that, as I see it, is nearly never necessary.  It’s all well and good if you can pull it off, but I see it as a kind of bragging right if you can do it; it requires strict fasting, serious self-empowerment, a good relationship with the spirit, intent focus on the ritual, and a huge expense of energy that…honestly, most people can’t afford and have no need to spend.  If you can do it, great!  If not, don’t worry.  So long as you can bring them in enough contact so you can communicate and perceive them, you’re doing what you need to do.  Anything more is cool.

“big cork anal prison” — Nope.

“runes that look like sigils” — I’m not sure what your idea of “sigil” means here.  To me, a sigil is a symbol that refers to some concept, word, name, entity, or intent that has been graphically encoded through a mechanical means, such as through a qamea sigil or a sigil wheel or simple combination of letters.  Seals, on the other hand, are symbols that refer to some concept, word, etc. that are obtained or revealed directly from a spirit, and are not generated through any conscious process.  Many people use the terms interchangeably, though I find the distinction helpful in my work.  So, sigils can take many forms, but runes are more or less fixed with a few variations based on era and geographic origin.  Perhaps you mean the system of bindrunes, a ligature (or, I suppose, letter-combination sigil) of two or more runes?

“crystal ball uses” — Crystal balls have many uses, and some of their more common uses are seen everywhere in our culture.  However, I’d like to go over some of the more arcane uses that only the most dedicated crystal users might consider applying crystal balls for, as it’s not always apparent how to do so.  Paperweight.  Decoration in a fountain.  Regift for a new age friend.  Drain stopper.  Candle snuffer.  Meat tenderizer.  Foot/back massager.  Game piece.  Cosplay costume component.  Laser light scatterer.  Blunt trauma weapon.  Anal bead/ben-wa ball.  Body modification implant.  Dough spreader.

“oil lamps less soot” — I wrote a post on how to use oil lamps for great effect in home and ritual, but a few points probably need restating for clarity.  There are several ways you can use an oil lamp with less soot: trim the wick before using it so that all the worst charred parts of it are removed, keep the wick low enough so that you have a big enough flame without it trying to use too much fuel at once, use a clean and pure wick made of natural cellulose or linen with no chemical additives, use clean and pure oil with few chemical (natural or artificial) additives.  Mineral oil tends to be good, but that’s because it tends to be pretty neutral in most respects, as well; olive oil would produce some soot due to its natural compounds, but the higher grade the oil, the better quality flame you’ll get.

“how should fiery wall of protection oil be applied to home” — Different traditions and practices will tell you different things, and even within a tradition, you may have different ways to apply oil for different oils.  For me, I apply Fiery Wall of Protection oil in a small cross on every threshold or lintel in the house: everywhere there’s a gate, doorway, or windowsill that leads to another room or to the outside, I put the oil towards the top and center of that threshold.  If I’m going all out, I’ll also anoint all doorknobs, latches, air vents, drains, and the like just to cover every possible means of ingress or egress from the house.  Alternatively, you could use a five-spot pattern (a dab on each corner and once in the middle) on every window and door, or anoint four large iron spikes (railroad spikes are perfect) and nail them into the ground at the four corners of your house.  The possibilities are endless!

“working with seals of iupiter in virgo” — Assuming you’re working with the Pentacles of Jupiter from the Key of Solomon (book I, chapter 18), I’d go with the consecration instructions given for each pentacle.  Mind you, Jupiter is weak in Virgo (detriment), as he’s opposite his domicile sign of Pisces, so Jupiter isn’t particularly happy about being there.  However, if the pentacle was well-made at a time good for it (day and hour of Jupiter at a minimum), then I’d think it’d be good to use whenever with little change in effect otherwise.  Thus, I wouldn’t want to make anything particularly under the planet Jupiter while he’s in Virgo, unless I really needed his specific influence where no other planet or means of obtaining something could work; in other words, unless it’s an emergency that only Jupiter and nothing else can fix, I’ll probably look elsewhere for help.  The same goes for any Jupiterian working.  Mind you, Jupiter spends just under a year, give or take a few weeks, in each sign.

“how do you spell your name in angelic script?” — First, note that nearly all forms of “angelic script” tend to be different 1-to-1 ciphers (or “fonts”) of Hebrew script; Celestial Hebrew, Malachim, Passing the River, and Paracelsus’ Magi script all follow this trend.  Thus, although these might be considered alphabets, they follow the same rules and have the same number of letters as Hebrew does.  To that end, you’d want to first learn how to spell your name in Hebrew, then use your preferred angelic script.  The big exception to this is Enochian, which was transmitted to John Dee and, although it claims to be an original proto-Hebrew Adamic language, follows the same rules as English spelling and grammar of his day.  However, Enochiana, although technically angelic, tends to be in a whole different field than the rest of the angelic stuff, and may not correspond semantically to other types of angelic work.

“ancient human giant cocks” — As I like to say, there’s nothing new under the sun; I claim that humanity has been pretty much the same today since the dawn of civilization or the dawn of language, if not the dawn of humanity itself some 60,000 years ago.  Sure, we have newer things to play with, complicated systems we’ve engineered, and a variety of abstract philosophies to lose ourselves in, but we’re still fundamentally the same.  This goes for penis size, too; I can’t seem to find any information on historical penis size, but I assume they’re more or less the same size today as they were for ancient humans.  If anything, penis sizes are probably, on average, larger today than they were in earlier eras; several cultures of the past considered smaller penises to be ideal, as they’d cause less vaginal/anal stretching and, thus, less tearing in sensitive tissue, which would lead to fewer rates of infection; similarly, huge cocks were something reserved for the gods, and even then, only in a sense of comical debauchery or intimidation (cf. guardposts with an ithyphallic Pan).  As we’ve gotten better about hygienic practices, internal tearing due to getting on a huge dick hasn’t been as much a concern, so there’s a little more bias now towards going for guys with bigger cocks, and if that’s genetic, then there’s a slight evolutionary trend for more well-endowed guys.

“how to conjure smaller angels” — Use a smaller triangle.

“what do occultists think of the kybalion” — Different occultists will give you different opinions.  Some occultists love it for its own virtue, some love it because it’s a “gateway text” that gets people into heavier and more interesting forms of occultism.  I personally detest the thing and would rather see all copies of it used for toilet paper.  It’s not Hermetic, despite what it claims, as its points and “axioms” are distinctly modern, and instead have its origins in the 19th century New Thought movement.  All of its major points and cosmological theories are either derived from modern New Thought stuff, or are only tangentially and convolutedly connected to actual Hermetic teachings.  I honestly find it to be a waste of paper and ink, and as its usually one of the first texts newbies encounter in the occult (for one unfortunate reason or another), it can lead to some really messed up ideas that ill-prepare them for serious education in Hermeticism.

“how to bless my pentacle in santeria” — Oh, honey.  You are doing everything so wrong.  You don’t; further, you don’t even, do you?  Because I can’t.

The Spiritual Origin of Geomancy

It occurs to me that I talk a fair bit about geomancy, and on occasion have briefly described the factual history of the art.  Geomancy, as it is understood by scholars and historians, has no pinpointed origin as yet; the best we can guess at is that the art was developed roughly around 900 CE likely in the northeast Saharan region of Africa.  It was likely innovated by migrant tribes, perhaps merchants from further east or by Tuaregs or other Bedouin-esque peoples, as a form of divination that connected with simple mathematics.  It got caught up in Arabic trade routes that synced up with the expansion of Islam, and spread pretty much all over from there: west to Morocco, southwest to Nigera where it became ifá, south to Madagascar where it became sikidy, and east to Palestine and Arabia where it became raml, and even further to India where it became ramalashastra.  When medieval Europe began its academic discovery and recovery that we call the Renaissance, around 1100 CE, it began to import academic, spiritual, alchemical, and divinatory texts from the Arabic world from two directions: from western Morocco into Spain where this new art was called “geomancia”, and from eastern Palestine and Turkey into Greece where it was called “rabolion”.  From these two fonts came a new river of geomantic knowledge that spread quickly throughout the rest of Europe within the span of a hundred years or so.  From there, it quickly became one of the foremost spiritual arts of Europe and maintained its place for another six hundred years, only beginning to fade and go underground with the coming of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution.  As older texts began to be rediscovered yet again, many parts of the Western mystery tradition became reintegrated into modern practice, geomancy with them, and here we are today.

While it’s nice for an academic, it’s hollow as a spiritual story to tell.  Happily, many of the older geomantic works, especially in the Arabic tradition but with no small number of European texts joining in, give us a spiritual origin story for geomancy, usually originating with Adam, Enoch, Idris, Daniel, or Hermes Trismegistus and usually from the angel Gabriel.  So, on this day, the fourth day of the tenth lunar month that is the yearly Hermaia, as an offering to Hermes celebrating his joy and work in our world, I figure I’d share my retelling of the spiritual origin of geomancy.  What follows isn’t exactly original, but it’s not exactly a rehash, either.  Have a seat and pour yourself and Hermes a drink, dear reader, and let me tell you a tale.

May the Muses smile on me and help me share this story well.

A_man__a_tree_and_the_desert_by_e_antoine

As was his custom, he was sitting outside under his favorite tree during the height of the Sun’s path through the skies.  Not part of the local priesthood but taught some two week’s sojourn north along the Nile, the man with the thin neck and long nose wore his usual habit of loose-fitting white robes to keep himself cool during the summer heat.  His tree was on the barren outskirts of an old city, a sacred one dedicated to the Eight who made and rule the world, the scribe-god Thoth foremost among them, but although the man was well-acquainted with the local festivals and religion, he was more focused on divinity itself rather than that of any particular temple.

Alas, the day when the man would see the one who calls himself Shepherd of Men would be still far off, but the man hoped every day that that day would be this one.  On that day, he would begin to be called Thrice-Great by countless students.  For now, he just bears the name Hermes as some foreign god does, as yet unaware of his own divine nature but more attuned to the ebb and flow of power and life in the world than most.

It was under his favorite tree that the man would look at the distant roads and marketplaces, too far off to hear but kept in eyesight by the harsh light of the Sun.  The tree was hardy, able to survive in rough winds as well as in parched earth, and had the benefit of offering good shade to the man especially when the Sun’s heat would be otherwise unbearable.  Almost nobody came out this way to bother him, far off as the tree was without a nearby road, which gave the man good time and space to think.  When he could, the man would meditate, contemplating whatever mystery snagged his intellect on any given day, but being human, he would sometimes suffer hunger or thirst or lust.  Not seeing these as bad things but not wanting to indulge in them, the man would keep himself distracted by reciting prayers, analyzing interesting rocks, gazing at the stars, and conversing with the rare passer-by when one happened to wander out this way for grazing or travel to the next market.  Anything he could learn, he figured, would help him eventually; even if he couldn’t yet directly know God, he could always know more about the creations and creatures around him.

It was on one such day that the man was slightly more perturbed than he usually was by worldly concerns.  He had family, and although he cared for them as much as a solitary philosopher could, he wasn’t always in the best contact with them.  One of his sons had a propensity for spiritual development as much as he did, but his other children were better suited to buying and selling.  One such son of his traveled far and wide, well out of the Black Land, and it was a rare day indeed that the man ever got word from him.  Whether it was a fear of having an empty nest or having grass-is-greener syndrome from seeing a successful youth exploring the world, the man was more distracted than usual in the shade and couldn’t fully focus on his usual contemplation.  Thought leaped to thought as he went from his son to his children to his own fatherhood to his own father to his own home.  It didn’t help that he felt like he should only be a part of this world without being of the world, but his worries kept overriding that spiritual calling.

Resorting to habit, the man looked around him and noticed the wind calmer than it should be for this time of year, the land quieter than it had been this week, the Sun brighter than he thought it could ever be.  Nothing around him to take his mind off his son, the man resorted to the earth underneath him and grasped a handful of the loose, sandy dirt under his knees and held it.  He felt the grit, the dryness, the coolness, the crumbliness of the dirt, feeling this handful of soil as if his palm was all he had of sense.  Curious, he tossed it away from him into the air, noting how the particles of dirt traveled through the air in near-perfect arcs, the gleam and glimmer of pulverized crystal and silica shining bright once it crossed the threshold of shade into the realm of light, the smell of dry barely-fertile dirt filling the air.  He began to cough and his eyes began to water as some of the dirt suddenly flew back into his face from a strong wind that came out of nowhere.  That wind caught him off-guard, and the pain in his dusty lungs snapped him back to the present and the place where he sat.

Once he could see clearly again, he wiped off the cough-spittle from his mouth and looked around him.  The dirt he threw covered the ground, smoothed out by the wind, leaving him with a blank space before him that nearly begged to have something, anything, upon it.  Feeling somewhat out of himself from the cough, like he had just awoken from a nap, he leaned forward and dipped his fingers into the flat earth before him.  A dot here, a mark there, a trailing line from letting his arm rest before pulling it back.  He recalled some of his education as a child in being taught simple numbers and parts of numbers, and from that memory, treated some of the marks he made as mathematical forms.  He heard that, once, some teacher visiting from the far north across the Sea, the only non-Egyptian who had ever been taught by the priesthood of home, was saying something like numbers were life and all was number, but this man never really understood that kind of thing.  Numbers were numbers and couldn’t eat or fight or mate, just like the lines and marks he was making before him on the dirt.

Another wind came up, this time from the opposite direction.  Again surprised, the man looked around himself; the sky was unchanged, the Sun barely moved, no storms on the horizon.  There should’ve been no cause for this wind, considering the time of year; this meteorological puzzle would have eaten at his mind more, but he glanced down and saw that the land before him was smoothed out by the wind again, as if the marks he had made were never made at all.  Frowning, he began to consider the benefit of just going home and returning to housekeeping if going outside was going to be so uncooperative.  Another spasm shot through his lungs from the dust he inhaled, making him cough again.

“Hey there.”

The man jumped.  Opening his eyes, wiping tears from his face with a dusty hand, he looked around and saw someone standing a few yards off from him under the light of the Sun.  The man saw a placid face atop loose robes of white and blue, nearly blending into the sky and sand behind him.  Unsure if it was a trick of the tears in his eyes and the light of the Sun, Hermes blinked several times before letting his eyes fix on the stranger.  No sound of approach, no previous call to him, unusually-colored clothes, coming from the direct direction as the noontime Sun?  This was something stranger than Hermes was used to for an average day under his tree.

Seeing confusion flicker across Hermes’ face, the stranger gave an apologetic smile and slowly took a few steps towards the shade. “Sorry for giving you a scare.  I was going to my father’s house, and was curious to see what someone was doing under this lonely tree.”

Hermes, taking comfort in the stranger’s voice that had an odd lilting quality to it, smiled back and waved away the apology.  “No worries.  I think a lot here.  You just gave me a bit of a startle, no worries.”

The stranger looked around and smirked. “I take it you don’t get much company out this way.  Mind if I join you?  The Sun is bright today.”

“Of course, of course!  I don’t deny anyone the pleasure of shade here.  Come, have a seat.”  Hermes waved the stranger over, emitting one last, small cough before the stranger could begin another conversation.

“Thank you.” The stranger entered the shade and sat down gracefully a few paces from Hermes.  Hermes didn’t notice that the stranger’s footsteps weren’t marking the ground, but was still looking around, still half-wondering where that last wind came from.  As the stranger sat down, Hermes opened his mouth to begin his usual niceties to greet passers-by when he caught the stranger’s eyes looking directly into his own.  Hermes stopped short of making any kind of utterance; the piercing quality of the stranger’s eyes seemed like pure fire, and his skin seemed to glow from something more than the Sun’s heat.

The stranger took this opportunity of awe and silence from Hermes and leaned forward curiously.  “Before I surprised you, I noticed you were drawing in the sand.  I take it you’ve studied letters?”  Hermes nodded, confusion mixing with his awe.  The stranger smiled enthusiastically.  “Good!  It always gladdens me to find another soul schooled in that art.  Mind if I ask what you were writing?”

Hermes snapped to his senses and shook himself out of his awestruck confusion.  “Ah, er, nothing, really.  Not letters, more like numbers.  I was clearing my mind and letting my hands do their own thing.”  Hermes grinned with some embarrassment, wiggling his fingers as if to show they thought on their own.

The stranger let out a casual scoff.  “Come now.  Surely one studied such as yourself should know that all forms are valuable.  After all, sometimes the most true meaning can come from pure accident.”  Hermes nodded with a shrug, not sure what the stranger was getting at but feeling something nagging at his mind in that general, vague sentiment. “If it’s not too presumptuous of me, I noticed an interesting thing from afar.  Would you show me some of the marks you made?”  The stranger tilted his head coyly, but Hermes didn’t catch what the stranger was getting at.

“Er…okay.  It wasn’t much, just a few dots in a row like this.”  Hermes leaned forward and made four small dots in the sand, one atop each other in a stack.  “I recognize this as a particular way to write a particular number, but little else.  Like I said, I was just idly clearing my mind.”

The stranger looked down and chewed his lip thoughtfully before glancing up.  “True, but numbers are true, too.  Simple though it might look, I know of this symbol as an omen.  Look at it this way; if you link the dots here”—Gabriel made a light cut down the row of dots in the dirt—”you get a straight, long line, like a road.  Roads are powerful, long though they may be, and the longer, the better.  Don’t you agree?”  Hermes let the stranger’s words sink in a bit, looking down at the dots and looking up again.  “Absolutely,” Hermes replied, “and it’s true that the more one travels, the more one changes.  It’s a lonely path, but then, what journey isn’t truly taken alone?”

The stranger gave a broad smile, teeth glimmering like pearls even in the shade of the tree.  “You speak wisdom beyond your years, sir.  What’s your name?”

Hermes sat up and extended his hand toward the stranger in friendship.  “I’m Hermes.  I live in the town over there,” giving a nod towards the marketplace too far to be heard.  “And you, my friend?”

The stranger clasped Hermes’ hand and nodded.  “An honor, Hermes.  I am called Gabriel.”

Hermes cocked his head and gave Gabriel a puzzled look. “A strong name, Gabriel, and a rare one.  You’re from Canaan, aren’t you?  I haven’t met someone with one of those names before, though I’ve heard of similar names before.”

Gabriel shrugged and looked down evasively.  “It’s not exactly my homeland, but yes, my tribe is settled there.”  Gabriel looked up beyond the eaves of the tree towards the north, then back to Hermes.  “But the road I walk is long, which is why this symbol you cast”—he motioned to the dots on the ground—”caught my eye.  Would you want to know more of the truth of this symbol?”  Always eager for more knowledge and more to contemplate, Hermes nodded and tilted his hand towards Gabriel, beckoning him to continue.  And continue Gabriel did for quite some time, expounding to Hermes this symbol that Gabriel called the Road, and how to find this symbol as a result of multiple marks being made and crossed off two by two.

At the end of Gabriel’s discourse on the letter, Hermes noted a queer thing.  They must have been talking for at least an hour, and Hermes was unusually tired and mentally overstimulated from learning about this character, but the Sun was still in the same position it was before Gabriel had arrived, as if it was suspended and watching Gabriel teach as Hermes himself did.  Gabriel, noticing that Hermes was exhausted from the lesson, smiled and stood up, ignoring the dust that clung to his robes.  “I see that I’ve talked your ear off, and probably ruined your day with my chatter.  I should probably get on with my day, Hermes, and let you do the same, but I’m glad you’ve let me share this with you.”  Hermes shook his head with a grateful smile.  “No, I’m glad you’ve shared this with me!  I appreciate it, and honored by it.  If you’ve stayed too long, then I apologize for keeping you too long.”

Hermes began to climb to his feet to see Gabriel off, but Gabriel dismissively waved Hermes back down.  “Don’t bother, don’t bother.  If you like, I can visit again tomorrow and tell you more.  There were other symbols I saw you drawing; those have meaning, too, much like the Road does.  Would it bother you too much to visit you again?”  Hermes, sensing an unusual opportunity that seemed unusual on an already unusual day, felt that this was one to seize.  “Of course!  You know where to find me, my friend.  I’ll see you again.”  Gabriel nodded and gave a slight bow, then walked off into the desert away from the Sun.

The man looked towards Gabriel as he left, glancing at the symbol for the Road before glancing back up.  Hermes let out a yelp; Gabriel was nowhere to be found, despite the land around being fairly clear and there being no footprints to mark Gabriel’s coming or going.  Now he was certain; this stranger named Gabriel was no ordinary man, just as this day was no ordinary day, and this symbol was no ordinary symbol.  Hermes leaned back on the tree, running his dusty fingers through his hair in perplexion, spending  several hours more in quiet contemplation of this figure, turning over Gabriel’s lesson over and over again in his head, digesting all that the stranger had taught him.  As the Sun lowered to the western lands, Hermes left his mental exploration and decided to call it a day, feeling renewed and grown in this new knowledge.  Hermes got up and headed to his home in the city, leaving his marks in the dirt.

The Sun set, the stars rose, the stars set, and the Sun rose once more.

After the Sun began its ascent to the heavens, as was his custom, Hermes went back to his tree, seeing his marks on the ground from the day before the same as he left it.  He sat back down as he normally would, and let his mind wander before settling on higher thoughts.  As the morning slowly turned to afternoon, Hermes, his eyes closed in meditation, began to drift into a light sleep, when a breezy rustling through the leaves above him roused him from his nap.  He looked around and found, yet again, the ground before him blank from the wind.  The moment Hermes noticed his marks on the ground erased, Hermes looked up to find Gabriel approaching once more from the south.

Hermes gave the strange not-quite-a-stranger a wave, and Gabriel responded in kind, raising his hand in a friendly salute as he approached the tree.  “Well, you’re actually here!  And if you’re here to learn, then I’m here to teach, if you’re ready for it.” “Of course, my friend,” Hermes said with a grin, waving Gabriel over, “I’d like to see what these other symbols you mentioned were.”  Gabriel took his seat once more by Hermes, and repeated the same process as the day before.  Again, Gabriel asked Hermes to draw a symbol, and again, Gabriel expounded the meaning of the symbol to Hermes; again, the Sun stood  still in the heights of heaven, and again, Hermes became worn out from learning all that Gabriel taught; again, Gabriel offered to teach Hermes more, and again, Hermes agreed to meet with Gabriel to learn more; again, Hermes noted the unusual vanishing of Gabriel, and again, Hermes went home looking forward to the next lesson.

For fourteen more days, Hermes and Gabriel continued in the same way, learning all the other figures.  On the sixteenth day, Gabriel told Hermes that these were all the figures that Gabriel could teach: the Road, the People, the Union, the Prison, the Greater Fortune, the Lesser Fortune, the Dragon’s Head, the Dragon’s Tail, the Girl, the Boy, Red, White, Joy, Sorrow, Loss, Gain.  Gabriel told Hermes how the first four figures could be combined from their tops and their bottoms to form the other twelve, and how each figure reflects a different story on its own.  His lesson complete, Gabriel shrugged, saying that this was all that he could offer Hermes in the ways of symbols and their lore, but that this was also just the beginning of their true meaning and purpose.  Hermes, entranced by these symbols and stories, asked Gabriel to return to teach the rest, and Gabriel accepted.

For the next sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes how each figure reflects the four elements that compose all of creation as well as how they relate to the stars both wandering and fixed that determine how all things wax, wane, and transform.

For another sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes the secrets of combining these figures two by two and transforming them by inverting and reverting and converting them into other figures, and how all these methods change and add to the meanings of individual figures.

For yet another sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes how to use the meanings of the figures, the elemental and planetary and stellar correspondences, the combinations, and the transformations in answering all sorts of questions, imparting to Hermes the art of divination to reveal all mysteries of this world and all things upon it.

At the end of these 64 days, Hermes found himself exhausted, utterly and completely exhausted, from having so much taught to him in so short a time, but he felt a new wellspring of knowledge beginning to flow inside himself.  Gabriel knew he was wearing Hermes thin, and after his final lesson where he revealed the deepest secrets of this art, Gabriel took from his robes a flask, uncorked it, and took a swig from it.  The teacher passed the flask to Hermes, who gladly took it with both hands; Hermes was unaccustomed to drinking or eating during the day, but Hermes found himself more than parched and in need of something to quench his thirst.  Hermes drank from the flask from the same spout Gabriel did, and found it filled with the clearest, coolest water.  It refreshed Hermes, sure, but once he took the spout from his lips and breathed in, he felt filled with a truly newfound power.  All these days of learning, all of Gabriel’s lessons seemed to immediately snap together like well-built masonry, forming within himself a beautiful temple of the finest knowledge.  Figures shone like priceless jewels, transformations linked the figures like silver filigree across altars, truths and wisdom rose up like the smoke of rarest olibanum—

“I thought you might need a drink after this last lesson,” Gabriel said with a warm smile.  “It’s no easy thing to learn all this, but you’ve done admirably, and I am proud to be able to share with you what I have.”

Hermes snapped out of his reverie and, realizing he was stuck holding the flask in the air as he stared off into space, hastily gave it back to Gabriel, blushing at both his own clumsiness and at the praise Gabriel gave him.  Gabriel took the flask from Hermes’ hands and put it back in his robe with a chuckle before continuing.  “You’re smarter than you look.  You know I’m no ordinary man, and this no ordinary art.”  Hermes, calming down from his embarrassment, nodded; “I know.  With your name, I know not only who you are but what you are and where you come from, and it’s certainly not Canaan.”

Gabriel chuckled.  “Bingo.  I know you and have known you, Hermes, and I am glad you finally know me, too.”  He looked down at the patch of dirt where he taught his art to Hermes, then looked back at Hermes with a contented smile.  “I learned this art from my Father, and it was entrusted to me to help me in my job as His messenger.  And now I entrust this art to you, Hermes, as your brother.”  Hermes looked deeply at Gabriel, not only seeing that fire in Gabriel’s eyes but joining it with his own, and nodded his assent.  “And as I have received this art from you, Gabriel”, Hermes responded, “I am your brother.”  Gabriel smiled and, looking once more towards the northern sky and then down at their patch of dirt, stood up and brushed the dust and dirt off from his robes.  “You’ve learned much, but you cannot master what you cannot name,” Gabriel said as he wiped his hands clean.  “We have no word for this art where I’m from.  What will you call it?”

Hermes stared at Gabriel thoughtfully, then looked down at the patch of ground in front of him that contained all his marks.  He drew out all sixteen figures together, contemplating each point and line as he did.  He gazed at the dirt for a long time, and as the Sun began to touch the horizon, he finally he looked up at Gabriel, his teacher’s profile illuminated in the ruddy gold glow of the evening Sun.  “This is an art to know all that happens in and upon the world.  This is an art born from the Earth, not just with earth or water but all the elements of this world.  I call it ‘geomancy’, to see with the Earth.”  Gabriel grinned as the wind began to pick up, blowing his robes behind his back majestically towards the sky.  “Then I have taught you geomancy, Hermes, and you are the first geomancer of this world.  May this art serve you well, and may you serve the world well by it.”

Hermes nodded and smiled, wiping the patch of earth before him clean before the wind could do it for him this time.  “I hope that I may, brother.”  Gabriel nodded in reply and extended his hand to Hermes, which Hermes took in his own.  The teacher lifted his student up and, after measuring him with his eyes, embraced Hermes in the love only brothers have.  After a time, Gabriel let go of Hermes and turned away, heading for the last time towards the north with the Sun setting on his left and the Moon rising on his right.  Hermes kept his eyes fixed on Gabriel’s back as he walked off, but another gust of wind blew Gabriel’s robes up like wings as it blew more dust into Hermes’ eyes; by the time Hermes could clear his eyes, there was nobody around, with neither the figures of geomancy nor the footsteps of angels to mark what happened.

Sitting back down by his tree, Hermes mulled over his time with Gabriel, all of the things he learned, and all of the things he might yet learn.  A quiet breeze blew, kicking up a bit of dust around Hermes but without irritating his lungs again.  Staring at the ground marked with the sixteen geomantic figures, he rubbed his fingers together, noticing the fine grit of dust and sand caught between the grooves of his digits.  In the last sliver of light of the Sun, Hermes got up and walked home, taking more time than he normally would to carefully settle down in all his newfound knowledge and skill.  Finishing his journey well after nightfall, he paused outside the threshold of his house and looked around, seeing an empty patch of fallow ground to the side of his house.  In the light of the Moon, now high in the sky, Hermes cast his first chart to see how his traveling merchant son was doing.  Hermes smiled; he would never again be worried by being out of touch.

Days, weeks, months, years passed.  Hermes practiced his art of geomancy, but went back to his tree every day and, once his mind calmed down from the mania of having a new method of understanding the world, went back to his habit of meditating and contemplating divine mysteries.  However, the man no longer doodled mindlessly in the sand, but used geomancy to explore that which he had trouble understanding.  One day, he finally became great, greater, greatest among men, beholding the Shepherd of Men and understanding the source and purpose of all things.  Finally, he began to teach; he no longer worried for his children, leaving them to their own devices, except for his son Tat whom he taught as a successor to his wisdom.  As Hermes Trismegistus traveled, he taught arts and skills of all kinds, reserving some for particular students and others for other students, but he kept geomancy a secret, not finding one apt enough in his travels yet to learn it from him.

Inspired by whispers of white and blue in his heart to teach geomancy to one who would do both him and his art well, Hermes Trismegistus traveled to the east, and gave the entirety of the art of geomancy to the one named Tumtum.  Tumtum learned it and traveled west, giving it to the one named az-Zanati.  Az-Zanati learned it and gave it to the Arabs.  The Arabs learned it and gave it to the Europeans.

The ancients learned it and gave it to us.

And now I, having learned it, give it to you.

ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΤΡΙΣΜΕΓΙΣΤΕ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΓΕΩΜΑΝΤΙΚΕ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΑΙΓΥΠΤΙΑΚΕ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΑΓΓΕΛΕ ΑΓΓΕΛΩΝ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΧΑΙΡΕ ΧΑΙΡΕ ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ