Unlocking the Observatory: Actually Performing Divination

Where were we? We’re in the middle of discussing the obscure Telescope of Zoroaster (ZT), a manual of divination and spirituality originally published in French in 1796 (FZT) at the close of the French Revolution, which was later translated into German in 1797 (GZT) and then again in an abridged form as part of Johann Scheible’s 1846 Das Kloster (vol. 3, part II, chapter VII) (KZT), with Scheible’s work then translated into English in 2013 as released by Ouroboros Press (OZT).  Although OZT is how most people nowadays tend to encounter this system, I put out my own English translation of FZT out a bit ago as part of my research, and while that translation was just part of the work I’ve been up to, there’s so much more to review, consider, and discover when it comes to this fascinating form of divination.  Last time, we talked about the origins of the allocation of the lunar mansions, their angels, and the primitive numbers in ZT in Renaissance German pop-astrology texts. If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

※ For those following along with their own copy of ZT (get yours here!), the relevant chapters from ZT are the “First Supplement”, “Second Supplement”, and “Third Supplement”.

At this point, I think we’ve covered enough ground to actually get to using the stuff we’ve been covering.  Besides talking about ZT and its history at a high level, we’ve gone over all the basic bits and pieces of ZT, and have gone through enough of its symbolism and understanding of itself so as to finally put things together and describe what a ZT reading would actually look like.  We’re definitely not done talking about ZT as a whole yet, much less what it has to say about humanity and spirituality and how those also play out in the Great Mirror, but at least we can start implementing what we’ve learned so far to start getting our hands familiar with the process.

First up: tool check.  Before we perform any divination with ZT, we need to make sure that all our tools are accounted for—which means we need to make sure we have both Principle tiles, both Spirit tiles, all nine Intelligence tiles, and all 99 Number tiles (and, if desired, the Sum tile as well).  Whether one uses the design of the tiles as given in the Urn foldout or not is up to the diviner; recall that, in the Epilogue, the Editors mentioned that the Redactor sent them tile designs “more detailed than those used by experienced Cabalists” so that “a greater number of amateurs might profit from it”, so if one wants to use a simpler design with just the number or simple glyph on it, that’s also totally fine.  If any of them are missing, warped, broken, or otherwise rendered unfit for use, then it should be replaced as soon as possible.  This is one of the reasons why ZT specifies to have extra blank tiles, which can be taken up and used immediately as replacements as well as for dummy tiles in option-whittling mirrors or other kinds of divination that require miscellaneous tiles of some sort or another.

And, as we said before, there’s nothing specifying any sort of cleansing or consecration of the tools.  After all, the tools are just tools with no inherent power or presence in them; it’s the diviner, guided by the Pure Spirit, that actually does the divination itself.

If you recall at the end of the post on the tools, I mentioned that ZT also specifies “three pieces of paper” which are to be used.  In ZT’s own version of Tarot’s “little white book”, ZT says recommends the use of reference guides in the course of one’s divination, presumably to make sure one doesn’t slip up with associating which tile goes with which planet or what house in the Great Mirror goes to which planet’s orbit.  These reference guides should the Table of Numbers and Intelligences from Plate II, the layout of the Great Mirror from Plate III, and the layout of the Great Dial from Plate IV.  In addition to those, although ZT doesn’t explicitly say so, I also think that the Drum and Border of Plate VI (the version of the Great Mirror with all the angels on it) should also be prepared as a fourth reference sheet; the “Second Supplement” goes on at length explaining every aspect of what this diagram should contain (including a good number of details that aren’t even in the engraving used for Plate VI itself).  There is another possible use of Plate VI, however, but I’ll leave that for a future discussion; suffice it here to say that, in the course of divination, it’s meant to be a guide to remembering which angel gets which houses or tiles, and to assist the diviner in remembering what dates of the year belong to which natal star.

I should note, also, that it’s the plates above that get reference guides to be consulted in the course of divination, but not the table of house meanings given in the “Seventh Step” or the table of tile meanings given in the “First Supplement”.  Recall how ZT emphasizes that those lists of meanings, interpretations, significations, and semantic boundaries are only presented as an illustrative guide to demonstrate what such meanings might be for the houses/tiles, not their sum total of menaings.  Rather, the diviner is to focus on the meanings of the tiles according to their composition of and reduction to primitive digits, what their Intelligences are, what the planetary orbits of a house indicate, and so forth, because that’s where the real meat of the system lies.  Again, ZT extrapolates from simple principles, and we’re expected to do the same in the course of divination, too.

We’ve gotten our tools prepared, but what about ourselves?  ZT doesn’t specify much in the way of preparing the diviner: given that this is ostensibly still a work done by a Christian for a Christian audience (no matter how “cabalistically” inclined they might be), there’s nothing in here about prayer, initiation, meditation, purification, or the like (although, to be sure, these things would absolutely be encouraged as being conducive to honest spirituality).  However, in the “Second Supplement”, we do have encouragements to live according to a “moral conduct and physical regimen which are equally conducive to the difficult task at hand”, namely:

  1. Refrain from eating heavy or stimulating food, especially in the evening.
  2. Protect themselves from heatedness of lust, passion, or strong emotion.

These are in addition to two other (arguably more necessary and crucial) traits required in every diviner (as stated at the end of the “First Supplement”):

  1. Faith and confidence in the presence, efficacy, and truth of the Pure Spirit
  2. Diligence and study in all the techniques, symbolism, and knowledge of the Great Cabala (i.e. the divinatory methods and means of ZT)

So long as the diviner can at least manage those latter two, the former two can be taken as best as one is able to—which, besides, is more meant for spiritual communication and communion in general rather than the specific process of divination.

And then it comes to the query, the actual question put to divination for inquiry and investigation.  Both in my blogs, chats, interviews, and ebooks, I’ve gone on about my “three Cs of good queries”, like I did back in my post on ritual astragalomancy:

  • A good divination query is clear.  There is no obscurity, duplicity, or vagueness in the query; you’re being honest about what it is you want to know, and you’re putting it bluntly, frankly, and openly for both yourself, the diviner, and the gods or spirits who answer.
  • A good divination query is concise.  You aren’t droning on for half an hour telling your life story, nor are you taking the garden path when asking your question.  Instead, you’re able to succinctly phrase your question into a single, short sentence.  This goes hand-in-hand with the clarity of the query.
  • A good divination query is concrete.  You know exactly what you’re asking about and you’re asking it clearly and concisely.  You aren’t talking about abstract concepts or hypothetical theoretical potentialities of what ifs, but something that can actually happen with tangible or viewable results.

ZT doesn’t appear to disagree with this: “before establishing a figure, it is necessary to have posed the question well and to have foreseen its interesting ramifications”.  Partially this is to allow for the diviner to consider which kind of figure is best to answer a particular kind of query (Great Mirror, Great Dial, some other sort of smaller figure for option-whittling?), but also because ZT is not interested in flights of fancy, pipe dreams, or otherwise unrealistic and unobtainable castles in the sky.  ZT gives the examples of asking about the recovery of a sick person or whether someone who is able to marry will do so at some point as being things that are totally fine to ask about, but a Jewish person becoming Pope is not due to the sheer improbability of it (even if it cannot, technically speaking, be ruled out as impossible).  To that end, ZT has a sort of spiel prepared for telling potential querents regarding their hopes and desires:

Let us first form a Great Mirror about what interests you, and let us find out if your vision would be allowed within it and by it. This will be a winnowing pan that we will load, from which we will sort out all the grain that your chaff will include. Beyond that, there is nothing to say, for the Great Cabala must not be profaned by the abuse of compulsively conjuring up chimeras and other childish things.

It doesn’t really matter whether the diviner is also the querent; although parts of the ZT instruct the reader about how to deal with people who come to the diviner for guidance, a good chunk of the text suggests that the diviner is divining for themselves.  As such, warnings like the above are for other people’s benefit as much as the diviner themselves; after all, if it is bad form for others to hope for things not to be hoped for, it should likewise be bad form for the diviner to give people such hopes with outlandish predictions that aren’t justified by a sound interpretation of the signs and symbols they interpret.

That said, the spiel above also indicates something important for us as a matter of technique: that the Great Mirror is to be used as the default, standard, and first go-to when it comes to divination with ZT.  It is the primary method and means of investigation and, while it may provide too much information at times, it also allows for the in-depth analysis and investigation (by means of not only the essential interpretation of tiles in houses but also accidental interpretations of tiles in ideal triangles) of any particular topic that might be asked about.  It might not be sufficient to answer all questions with perfect detail on its own, but it is necessary to do so, especially because if something doesn’t pass the sensibility test of the Great Mirror, then there’s no sense in using any smaller mirror to pursue a further investigation.  While some people might not need to start with a Great Mirror (especially if they’re following up on a previous divination), most people would seem to benefit from that in one way or another, so we should strive to use the Great Mirror as a first approach whenever possible.

Okay, so: we have our tools ready, we have ourselves ready, and we have the query ready (whether or not we’re the ones asking it as the diviner or it’s someone else coming to us to ask it).  At this point, we’re good to go.  We clear off some space on a table, get out our Urn full of our tiles, and, one by one, draw out each tile as necessary from the Urn and place it accordingly in the mirror we’re composing.  Once the mirror is composed—and only once it is composed in full—then we can begin the process of interpretation.  ZT cautions us explicitly to not interpret any given tile on its own as it comes out of the Urn:

…it would only be a charlatan who would dare, as the pieces come out of the Urn, to proclaim what they must signify, not even seeming to read fluently as a whole the contents of the mirror as guided by the very image that forms under the hand. If not, then the cabalistic process would merely be a mummery. There is, therefore, no Cabalist who should pride themselves on being an improviser; the wisest is one who, even when an expressive competition of numbers strikes them, doubts their meaning until the whole mirror is scrupulously analyzed and all possible interpretations are verified.

And even then, once the mirror has been composed, we should do our utmost to be as scrupulous with it as we can to make sure our judgment is as sound as possible given the evidence presented to us.  For particularly grave or serious matters, ZT even encourages us to compose several mirrors on the same query to make sure that we’re issuing as sound a judgment as possible:

There are, after all, particular—and particularly finicky—cases that can yet be highly important, and the Cabalist must beware of relying straightaway on the first projection, for it would be barbaric to issue a prediction lightly on certain events, which might perchance inspire strong fears or instill dangerous hopes. Such a Cabalist, on these serious occasions, only dares to make a judgment after having obtained, out of four projections, three completely affirmative results, which yet involves ten or twelve projections before having decided on such a necessary majority. However, when the Pure Spirit deigns, it is rare that, time after time, the interpreter of Fate does not immediately obtain indications of evidence—often even by the state of the Great Mirror alone—that are striking enough to make the proliferation of small procedures useless.

I wouldn’t uncharitably or skeptically say that this is a matter of normalizing random patterns.  I mean, consider how, in modern meteorology or economics forecasting, sensible predictions are made by generating various models using a number of methods and approaches or with minor components that change from instantiation to instantiation, then seeing what’s most likely based on all of those by comparing them, contrasting them, and investigating what seems senseless or bizarre?  If we conclude that even small shifts in our body, soul, spirit, or mind could influence the outcome of a divination, as well as those of the querent (if separate from us) as well as small shifts in what happens in the outside world where the event to be predicted actually happens, why would such an approach not benefit us here, too?  Sure, it’s a lot of work, but for those rare do-or-die moments where being absolutely correct is absolutely critical, taking the time to perform rigorous analysis is probably time worth spent.  Lesser matters, of course, would not necessarily require this sort of investigation.

Now, assume we’re composing a Great Mirror.  Such a mirror is composed as any others are: start with a tile in the middle and work your way out in an outwards counterclockwise spiral.  The only major difference in the composition of a Great Mirror versus any other is how we treat the Principle tiles: in a Great Mirror, these don’t get put into the Mirror itself, but rather to a point above it (if Sisamoro is drawn) or below it (if Senamira is drawn).  If either of these tiles are drawn, we put them into their appropriate spots as indicated by Plate III, but we should also make a note at which point they were drawn, because ZT says that that sort of information is useful for our interpretation.  For that reason, having a pen and notebook ready to record what gets composed for a mirror would be helpful for the diviner (and the querent, too, as having a record of their own to bring to later sessions if needed).

In fact, we actually have a good number of suggestions for inspecting the Great Mirror, all provided in a nice list from the “Third Supplement”.  To paraphrase and condense somewhat:

  1. On learning the system:
    1. Remember that the process of learning and grasping all the nuances of the Principles, Spirits, Intelligences, Numbers, and houses is a long and slow process, which develops progressively over time.
    2. Constantly contemplate and review the attributes and qualities of the Intelligences, and what among such attributes and qualities of any given Intelligence are compatible or incompatible with another Intelligence.
    3. Constantly contemplate and review the qualities of the primitive Numbers.
    4. Remember that any compound Number, although it has its own overall meaning, still retains some quality or indication of the primitive Numbers that composes it, no matter where it might fall in the Great Mirror.
  2. On applying the system:
    1. Investigate what it might mean when a particular Intelligence dominates a Great Mirror through its tiles, or when a particular Intelligence is notably absent or sparse in a Great Mirror.
    2. Investigate what it might mean when there is an abundance of tiles that belong to two opposing Intelligences in the Great Mirror.
    3. Investigate ideal triangles that all share the same Intelligence or the qualities thereof.
    4. Investigate when a Principle or Spirit (or the Sum tile) appears in a Great Mirror.
    5. Investigate when and where an Intelligence tile appears in a Great Mirror, both in terms of what tiles precede and succeed it, as well as what tiles might form an incidental orbit around such an Intelligence.
    6. Investigate ideal triangles that have two Intelligences, two doublets, two nilled compound Numbers, or two primitive Numbers.

As ZT itself notes regarding all the details a Great Mirror might provide:

Between all the numbers that together compose a mirror, there may be much affinity between them or much opposition, an alliance of friendly Intelligences or a battle between enemies—all of this is significant. There is not a single triangle, whether in a large or small figure, that should not be considered with the utmost care before passing judgment.

Investigating and reading a Great Mirror will take time; ZT makes it clear that it’s an elaborate process with much nuance and detail to sift through.  Because of this, ZT also notes the danger in leaving tiles just out there on a table; they might get knocked around, misplaced, or otherwise mixed up, which could significantly impede (if not abort) the process of reading.  Additionally, ZT notes the possibility of the mere presence of someone else influencing and affecting the diviner, either in how and what they draw from the Urn as well as in how they interpret the reading, and for that reason, ZT suggests that while the drawing of the tiles may be done in the presence of a querent, the interpretation is best done elsewhere.  To this end, ZT recommends the use of some sort of “enhanced reading device” beyond merely using the 112 (or 113) tiles on a flat surface:

  • A special board with tile-shaped recesses cut out of it in the shape of a Great Mirror to securely hold the individual tiles put into the Great Mirror
  • A board with small holes bored into it in the overall pattern of a Great Mirror, into which may be put slips of paper noting each hole’s respective tile or a plug marked similarly
  • A whiteboard or notebook with a hexagonal pattern to note the tiles that come out in a Great Mirror

For most people, that latter approach is probably going to be the most common and reliable; not only does it cut down on the size and number of divinatory tools required, but having a record of divinations done is good for pretty much anyone in any tradition, ZT included.

That being said, ZT is a little weird and unclear on the bit about not doing the reading in the presence of someone else.  After it mentions the contingency methods above, it says (and I’ll provide the original 1796 French here, too, for comparison):

L’un ou l’autre de ces soins étant pris, on est à même de travailler chez soi, ce qui vaut mieux que de le faire en présence de la personne qui a tiré les pieces, attendu que chaque individu par ses atomes sympathiques, ou antipathiques avec le Devin, peut le modifier étrangement, ce à quoi il est de la derniere importance de mettre ordre.

One or the other of these options being taken, one is then able to work at home, which is better than to work in the presence of the person who drew the tiles [lit. “pieces”], since each individual by their presence [lit. “atoms”] sympathetic or antipathetic to the Diviner can modify strangely what is of utmost importance to put in order.

This is an ambiguous statement and somewhat hard to make sense of.  Read literally, it sounds like the one drawing the tiles is not the one interpreting them.  Elsewhere, ZT says that the diviner is the one drawing the tiles and interpreting them, but here, it sounds like there’s a split.  Should there be two diviners involved, one to draw and one to interpret?  Or is it saying that it is the querent who should be drawing the tiles, and the diviner interprets them?  This latter may well be the case as a means for the querent to “get their energy mixed into” the tiles and situation; it’s just that, for most cases, the diviner is the one also asking the query, so they are their own querent.  It’s not wholly clear on this point, and I think that different approaches here are all valid, depending on what one’s stance is.

At any rate, that’s basically it: we have our tools ready, we have ourselves prepared, we have the query stated, we compose the mirror, we investigate the mirror, and then we issue our judgment.  At this point, once the matter is decided from the Great Mirror, if there are any follow-up questions or requests for detailed information that was not or could not be provided from the Great Mirror, then (and only then) would other or smaller mirrors be used to determine the specifics of a particular situation.  Matters of time are the obvious choice here (“oh, I’ll get married? When?”), but matters of place, or the like are also totally acceptable things to investigate.  In a footnote regarding the use of smaller mirrors to determine details from the “First Supplement”, ZT gives a useful anecdote:

In a Great Mirror overloaded with misfortunes, which concerned the unfortunate royal family of France, the Redactor of these cabalistic notions at the end of 1792 came upon an episode of war, a chance of which threatened a certain absent branch made up of three male individuals, a grandfather and a father and a son. The general threat was of bodily injury, and a small triangle made it known that this accident would be suffered by the father. This unfortunate prediction, which the Diviner shared with his friends, unfortunately came true the following year.

In this case, we might see how a Great Mirror would suggest “bodily injury” (something like tile 77), and we might investigate whom in that group.  To that end, we could use the tile 77 with two other random tiles to compose a small triangle, where one tile would represent the son, one for the father, and one for the grandfather.  Using the usual option-whittling approach, we could then determine who would get the 77 tile.  (As a personal note, I’m not familiar enough with the history of the French Revolution or the French Bourbon monarchial family to determine what such an event as described in this footnote of ZT might actually refer to.  If anyone knows, please say so in the comments!)

Unfortunately, although ZT gives small examples of “certain wholly-mechanical processes” involving option-whittling methods and similar approaches to determining matters of details, it doesn’t actually give an notion of what a reading would look like as a whole.  If the Great Mirror is so important, then shouldn’t we have some sort of guide or illustrative example to help us out?  Of course not: ZT is “only a key, not a treatise”, so that would just be too much to ask for.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any case studies out there for us to look at, either, and we’ll take a look at just such a case study next time.


Generating Geomantic Figures

After my fantastic and entertaining chat with Gordon on his Rune Soup podcast, and in tandem with the good Dr Al’s course on the fundamentals and history of the art, there’s been a huge influx of interest in geomancy, to which I say “about goddamned time”.  As my readers (both long-term and newly-come) know, I’m somewhat of a proponent of geomancy, and I enjoy writing about it; it’s flattering and humbling that my blog is referred to as a “treasure trove” of information on the art, and I consistently see that my posts and pages on geomancy are increasingly popular.  It’s also encouraging enough to get me to work more on my book, which…if I actually get off my ass and work on it like I need to and should have been doing for some time now, will probably get put to consumable paper sometime late next year.

One of the most common questions I find people asking when they first get introduced to the art of geomancy is “how do people generate the geomantic figures?”  Unlike other forms of divination, geomancy isn’t tied down to one specific means or method.  Tarot and all forms of cartomancy use cards, astrology uses the planets and stars, scrying uses some sort of medium to, well, scry; we often classify methods of divination based on the set of tools it uses, and give it an appropriately-constructed Greek term ending in -mancy.  Geomancy is different, though; truly any number of methods can be used to produce a geomantic figure, because geomancy is more about the algorithms and techniques used in interpretation rather than the tools it uses to produce a reading.  Once you get into the feel and understanding of geomancy, you can almost quite literally pull a chart out of thin air using any tools (or none at all!) at your disposal.  Still, partially because of the ability to be so free-wheeling, newcomers to geomancy are often caught up in the tool-centric way of thinking of divination, and can become (I find) overly concerned with the “best” or “most popular” method.

To that end, let me list some of the ways it’s possible to come up with a geomantic figure.  I don’t intend for this to be an exhaustive list, but more of a generalized classification of different kinds of ways you can produce a geomantic figure (or more than one in a single go):

  1. Stick and surface.  This is the oldest method, going back to the very origins of the art in the Sahara, where the geomancer takes some stylus and applies it to an inscribable medium.  You can use a staff and a patch of soil on the ground, a wand on a box of sand, a stylus on a wax (or modern electronic) tablet, a pen on paper, or some other similar mechanic.  To use this method, simply make four lines of dots, traditionally from right to left.  Don’t count the dots; let them fall naturally, so that a random number of dots are in each line.  Some people get into a trance state, chant a quick prayer, or simply focus on the query while they make the dots, if only to distract the mind enough to avoid counting the dots and influencing what comes out.  Once you have four lines, count the dots in each line; traditionally, the geomancer would cross off the dots two-by-two (again, right-to-left) until either one or two dots were left over at the end.  These final leftover dots are then “separated” out from the line to form a single figure.  To make all four figures, simply increase the number of lines from four to sixteen, and group the rows of leftover dots into consecutive, non-overlapping groups of four rows.
  2. Coins.  This is a simple, minimalist method: flip a coin four times.  Heads means one point of the resulting figure, and tails means two (or you can swap these around, if you so prefer, but I prefer heads = one point).  Flipping a coin four times gets you four rows to make a complete figure.  Alternatively, you could flip four coins at once, perhaps of different denominations: for example, you could flip a penny for the Fire line, a nickle for the Air line, a dime for the Water line, and a quarter for the Earth line; a single throw of all four coins at once gets you a complete geomantic figure.  I consider any method that uses a “flip” to produce a binary answer to fall under this method; thus, the druid sticks used by geomancers like John Michael Greer and Dr Al Cummins would technically be considered a type of geomancy-specific “coin”, as would pieces of coconut shell where the convex side on top is “up” and the concave side on top is “down”.
  3. Divining chain.  This is a slightly modified version of the coin-based method, where four coins or disks are linked together in a chain.  Rather than throwing the coins individually, the chain itself is flung, tossed, or thrown in such a way that each coin falls on a different side.  The only example I can find of this in Western-style divination is the (possibly spurious) Chain of Saint Michael, where four saint medallions are chained, one to another, and connected to a sword charm, but a corollary to this can be found in the Yoruba divination methods of Ifá, using something called the ekuele (or ekpele, or epwele, depending on whether you’re Cuban or Nigerian and how you feel like spelling it).  There, you have four pieces of cut shell that can fall mouth-up or husk-up, or four pieces of metal that fall on one of two sides; notably, the ekuele has eight coins on it so that the diviner-priest can throw two figures at a time, but that’s because of the specific method of Ifá divination, which is only a distant cousin to geomancy and shouldn’t actually be mixed with our techniques.
  4. Dice.  Again, a pretty straightforward method: roll a single die four times, or four different dice one time.  If a given die is an odd number, use a single point; if an even number, use two points.  Some people use four different-colored cubical dice (e.g. red for Fire, yellow for Air, blue for Water, green for Earth), but I prefer to use tabletop RPG dice that come in different shapes.  For this, I use the associations of the Platonic solids to the classical elements: the tetrahedron (d4) for Fire, octahedron (d8) for Air, icosahedron (d20) for Water, and cube (d6) for Earth.  Like Poke Runyon aka Fr. Therion, you could use four knucklebones for the same purpose, as each knucklebone has four sides (traditionally counted as having values 1, 3, 4, and 6).  Dice are easy, the tools fit in a tiny bag which can itself fit into a pocket, and nobody is any the wiser if you just pull some dice out and start throwing them on a street corner.
  5. Geomantic spindle dice.  These are more commonly used in Arabic and Eastern styles of geomancy, but can still be used for Western types just as easily.  This tool uses two sets of four dice, each set arrayed horizontally on a spindle, and each usable face of a single die (which, because of the spindle going through two sides, leaves four usable sides) has half a geomantic figure on it: two dots in a vertical line, four dots in a square, three dots in an upwards triangle, and three dots in a downwards triangle.  The geomancer gives each spindle a flick of the wrist to spin them, then sets them down, one spindle before the other; the topmost sides of each die, read in vertical pairs of dice, yields a geomantic figure.
  6. Counting tokens.  This is a similar method to using dice, but a more general application of it.  Consider a bag of pebbles, beans, or other small mostly-similar objects.  Pull out a random handful, and count how many you end up with.  If the number is odd, give the corresponding row in the geomantic figure a single point; if even, two points.  This is a pretty wide and varied set of methods; you could even, as Nigel Pennick proposes, pull up four potatoes from a field and count whether each potato has an odd or even number of eyes on it.  The idea here is to use something to, again, get you a random number that you can reduce into an odd or even answer, and isn’t really different from using dice, except instead of being presented with a number, you have to count a selection of objects obtained from a collection.  In a sense, both the dice and counting token methods can be generalized as using any random-number generator; you could use something like random.org to get you four (or sixteen) random numbers, to which you simply apply the odd-even reduction; such a generator can be found using this link.
  7. Quartered drawing.  Not really a technique or toolset on its own, but a variation on things that use coins, identical dice, or other counting tokens.  In this, you prepare a surface that’s cut into four quarters, such as a square with four quadrants or a quartered circle.  Each quarter is given to one of the four elements, and thus, to one of the four rows of a geomantic figure.  Into each quarter, you’d randomly flip one of four coins or drop a random number of beans, and read the pattern that’s produced as a single figure.  This can be useful if you’re short on similar-but-not-identical tools (like only having four pennies instead of four different types of coin, or four identical dice instead of different-colored/shaped dice).
  8. Selection of numbers.  One method of geomantic generation I know is used in Arabic-style geomancy is to ask the querent for a number from 1 to 16 (or, alternatively, 0 to 15).  Arabic-style geomancy places a huge emphasis on taskīn, or specific orders of the figures which are correlated with different attributions; one such taskīn, the Daira-e-Abdah, simply arranges the geomantic figures numerically, using their representation as binary numbers.  From the Ilm-e-Ramal group on Facebook, here’s a presentation of this taskīn with each figure given a number from 1 through 16:
    Personally, I use a different binary order for the figures (reading the Earth line as having binary value 1, Water as binary value 2, Air as binary value 4, and Fire as binary value 8), where Populus = 0 (or 16), Tristitia = 1, Albus = 2, and so forth, but the idea is the same.  To use this method, simply get four random numbers from 1 to 16 or (0 to 15), and find the corresponding figure in the binary order of the figures.  You could ask for larger numbers, of course; if a number is greater than 16 (or 15), divide the number by 16 and take the remainder.  You could use dice to produce these numbers, or just ask the querent (hopefully ignorant of the binary order used!) for a number.  In fact, you’re not bound by binary ordering of the figures; any ordering you like (planetary, elemental, zodiacal, etc.) can be used, so long as you keep it consistent and can associate the figures with a number from 1 to 16 (or 0 to 15).
  9. Playing cards.  A standard deck of 52 playing cards can be used for geomantic divination, too, and can give that sort of “gypsy aesthetic” some people like.  More than just playing 52-Pickup and seeing whether any four given cards fall face-up or face-down to treat cards as coins, you can draw four cards and look at different qualities of the cards to get a different figure.  For instance, are the cards red or black, odd or even, pip or face?  With four cards, you can make a single figure; with 16, you can make four Mothers.  Better than that, you can use all the different qualities of any given card of a deck to generate a single figure, making the process much more efficient; I’ve written about that recently at this post, which you should totally read if you’re interested.  What’s nice about this method is that you can also use Tarot cards for the same purpose, and some innovators might come up with geomancy-specific spreads of Tarot that can combine the meanings of the Tarot cards that fall with the geomantic figures they simultaneously form, producing a hybrid system that could theoretically be super involved and detailed.
  10. Geomantic tokens.  Some geomancers have tools that directly incorporate the figures, so instead of constructing a figure a line at a time like with coins or beans, a whole figure is just produced on its own.  Consider a collection of 16 tokens, like a bag of 16 semiprecious stones (like what the Astrogem Geomancy people use), or a set of 16 wooden discs, where each token has a distinct figure inscribed on each.  Reach into the bag, pull out a figure; easy as that.  If you use a bag of 16 tokens and are drawing multiple figures at once, like four Mothers, you’ll need to draw with replacement, where you put the drawn token back into the bag and give it a good shake before drawing the next.  Alternatively, if you wanted to draw without replacement, you’ll need a collection of 64 tokens where each figure is given four tokens each, such as a deck of cards where a single figure is printed onto four cards.

As for me?  When I was first starting out, I used the pen-and-paper method (or stick-and-surface method, to be more general).  This was mostly to do a sort of “kinetic meditation” to get me into the mode and feel of geomancy, going back to its origins as close as I could without being a Bedouin wise-man in the wastes of the Sahara.  After that, I made a 64-card deck of geomancy cards, with each figure having four cards.  I’d shuffle the deck, cut it into fourths from right to left, and flip the top card of each stack to form the Mothers.  For doing readings for other people in person, like at a bookstore or psychic faire, I’ll still use this; even if geomancy isn’t familiar to people, “reading cards” is, so it helps them feel more comfortable giving them a medium they’re already familiar with.  Plus, I also can get the querent’s active involvement in the divination process by having them be the ones to cut the deck after I’ve shuffled; I’ll still flip the top card, but I find having them cut the deck gives them a meaningful inclusion into the process.  Generally, though, I use tabletop RPG dice for the Platonic solids.  I roll the dice and see whether each die is odd or even for a single figure, so four throws of dice get me four Mothers.  Nowadays, I only use the stick-and-surface method if I have truly nothing else at hand, because I find the process to be slow and messy, but it still works, and I can still rely on my own familiarity with it so that it doesn’t trip me up when I have to use it.

What would I suggest for newcomers to the art?  Like me, I’d recommend new geomancers to start with the stick-and-surface method, if only to develop an intimacy with the underlying, traditional method that produced all the others.  In a sense, doing this first is like a kind of initiation, practicing the same fundamental technique as have geomancers for a thousand years, and itself can be a powerful portal into the currents of the art.  Once you have that down-pat and have gotten into the feel of the art, though, I find that the method is pretty much up to the desires and whims of the geomancer.  Anything that returns a binary answer can be used for geomancy, but for convenience, some people might prefer instead a “whole figure” type of draw.  Once you settle on a set of tools, for those who are of a more magical or ritual bent, you may want to consider consecrating or blessing them, or entrusting them to the connection and care of a divining or talking spirit, according to whatever methods you find appropriate, but this isn’t strictly necessary for the art, either.

Ultimately, the tools you use for geomancy are entirely up to you, because it’s the techniques and algorithms we use that are what truly makes the art of geomancy.  The only thing I really recommend is that the geomancer takes an active role in divinely manipulating the tools used to produce the figures.

How about you, dear reader?  What methods do you use for geomantic generation?  Have you heard of any that aren’t on the list above, or aren’t included in any of the above classifications?  What are you most comfortable with?  What methods do you dislike, either on a practical or theoretical level?  What would you recommend?

De Geomanteia: Geomantically Calculating Time (so slowly for those who wait)

Since one of my most favorite topics in occultism and magic is divination, specifically the divinatory art of geomancy, why not talk about that?  I know a lot about it, and not many do, so let’s go with it.  If nothing else, you’ll come away slightly more educated, and I’ll come away with something looking like productivity.  With that in mind, let’s continue this little series of posts on geomancy, “De Geomanteia” (On Geomancy).  This week, just to keep things exciting, let’s talk about technique instead of figures.  Specifically, let’s talk about geomantic methods of calculating time and when a queried event will happen.

Just like last time, this is gonna be another doozy of a post, so you might want to grab something to sip and something to munch.  Ready?  Good!

All arts of divination exist to do one thing: answer questions.  In theory, they can answer any kind of question, and any method divination can answer any other question that any other method of divination can.  However, a comparison of divination methods with computer programming languages can be helpful: any programming language that is Turing-complete can program anything that any other Turing-complete programming language can (long story short).  However, as any programmer will know, there are huge differences between any given pair of languages: C, LISP, FORTRAN, ML, Ada, Brainfuck, Malebolge, and even lambda calculus are all Turing-complete languages, and any one can theoretically program the same thing, but the methods they represent the program, its data, and its output can differ radically.  Just so do divination methods differ: while any method of divination can answer the same question, the method of doing so and the type of answer received may differ.  Geomancy, as a divination system, can answer anything that horary astrology, Tarot, runes, or the like can answer; however, the methods it uses will not be the same, and the method of asking can be different in order to get a comparatively-the-same answer.

Built on binary mathematics, geomancy is well-suited to answering binary queries, especially those of the “will event X happen given condition set Y?” variety.  Instead of asking “when will event X happen?”, geomancy is often better suited to asking “will event X happen by date Y?” or “will event X happen within timeframe Z?”, which are both binary questions that give a yes-or-no answer.  In that case, one just has to rephrase a “when” query into a “will” query with an appropriate time condition, and look at the normal methods of perfection and determining a yes-or-no answer.  This can be done multiple times to whittle down and refine the timeframe inspected: if we know something won’t happen until time period A but will happen by time period B, we can set a midpoint between A and B and see whether it’ll happen before or after then.  This is by far my most preferred method of answering time questions, and the one I find to be the most reliable and direct.  However, this can only really work when the querent is willing to guess at the timeframe or time boundary, which they may not always be willing or able to do.

When the querent insists on asking a geomancer a “when” query, all hope is not lost; there have been many methods of finding out how soon or how far off an event will happen or has happened using geomancy.  One old method of calculating time is by assigning general timeframes to the figures.  When one is asked a “when” query, check out the significator of the quesited.  The figure there determines the rough span of time it’ll take for it to occur:

  • Hours: Coniunctio
  • Days: Amissio
  • Weeks: Cauda Draconis
  • Months: Puella, Fortuna Minor, Populus, Via, Puer, Rubeus
  • Years: Fortuna Maior, Acquisitio, Tristitia, Carcer, Laetitia, Albus, Caput Draconis

Probably the most common method of calculating time is to assign a set of numbers to the figures, much as any other correspondence or association they’d have.  Assuming one has a specific unit of time in mind (e.g. hours, days, weeks, months, years), look at the figure in the house of the quesited for a “when” chart.  If the figure and chart is favorable to the querent (a favorable Judge, aspects figures make to the significators, the chart perfects or denies according to the querent’s wishes, etc.), use the more favorable number; if unfavorable, use the more unfavorable number.  For instance, if the querent wants something to happen quickly, but the quesited’s significator is unfavorable to the querent and the situation, use the larger number.

Figure Greater Number Lesser Number
Populus 7 5
Via 5 2
Albus 12 5
Coniunctio 10 4
Puella 82 6
Amissio 6 6
Fortuna Maior 66 56
Fortuna Minor 41 1
Puer 120 79
Rubeus 19 9
Acquisitio 79 13
Laetitia 25 11
Tristitia 58 30
Carcer 43 30
Caput Draconis 11 3
Cauda Draconis 8 2

A note on perfection here: the last post on technique stated that perfection is not a factor in favorability, which is true, but only in terms of “yes/no” or “will/won’t happen” types of queries.  “When” queries are distinct from that, when perfection itself doesn’t answer the query (“when” can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”), but is instead treated as another favorable or unfavorable influence in the chart, according to the querent’s wishes.  For instance, if the querent doesn’t want something to happen, but the chart perfects (implying that it will), then this is considered an unfavorable influence, even if the figures themselves are favorable, and especially if the figures themselves are unfavorable.

A similar method to the above comes from the English occultist Robert Fludd, who uses three sets of numbers to determine lifespans or other similarly long timeframes.  In this case, it goes more by planet, with Caput Draconis taking on the values for Venus or Jupiter and Cauda Draconis taking on the values for Mars and Saturn.  When looking at someone’s life chart, or for the longevity of something for a certain unit of time (normally years, but can be used for days, weeks, etc.), look at the house representing the thing asked about (the first house for someone’s lifespan, or another house for another kind of long-term timeframe):

  • If the house of the significator is cardinal (houses one, four, seven, or ten) and doesn’t pass elsewhere, or if the significator passes to a cardinal house, use the maximum number.
  • If the house of the significator is succedent (houses two, five, eight, or eleven) and doesn’t pass elsewhere, or if the significator passes to a succedent house, use the medium number.
  • If the house of the significator is cadent (houses three, six, nine, or twelve) and doesn’t pass elsewhere, or if the significator passes to a cadent house, use the minimum number.

Fludd occasionally gave two numbers for a given value, and no method to choose between them, so one might do well to average them or use them both as equally good estimates.

Figure Maximum
Populus 108 or 101  76½ 25
Via 36 25 8
 68 30 8
82 45 8
Fortuna Maior
Fortuna Minor
120 69 9
 60 40½ 15
 75 or 59 55 or 45½ about 12
57 43 30
Caput Draconis see the hours of
Venus and Jupiter
see the hours of
Venus and Jupiter
see the hours of
Venus and Jupiter
Cauda Draconis see the hours of
Mars and Saturn
see the hours of
Mars and Saturn
see the hours of
Mars and Saturn

The use of figuring out whether a figure passes to a cardinal, succedent, or cadent house is also applicable to the other two methods above by splitting the individual timeframes into thirds.  If the figure passes to a cardinal house or is naturally found in a cardinal house without passing, it’s in the first third of the timeframe; if succedent, the second third; if cadent, the last third.  Alternatively, it could represent something happening extraordinarily fast if cardinal, middling or on schedule if succedent, or slow or delayed if cadent.

The issue with the above numerical methods is that I can’t find any basis for assigning the figures the numbers they have.  They’re certainly not found in the old texts, and I can only start to find them in the late Renaissance period onward; though the planets in astrology have some numerical attributions similar to this, I haven’t had much experience working with them.  Fludd and other geomancers may have found them out through sheer experimentation and noting down things in their experiments and readings, but I can’t find any rhyme or reason why the figures have these numerical associations and not others (like, say, numbers based on their binary structure).  Moreover, the numbers they have are limited to denote extremely large periods of time. and though that can be tweaked slightly to allow more flexibility (more on that later), they’re still drastically limited.  To that end, I don’t like using these numerical methods of finding out when questions, and though I’ve heard of other geomancers getting decent results with them, I haven’t had much luck getting them to work in my own practice.

Instead, when doing “when” queries, I prefer to use the tried-and-true astrological associations of the figures to figure out times of events.  Like the method above, the querent should select a different “unit” of time, such as a zodiac sign, weekday, or planetary hour.  By asking “in what zodiac sign/weekday/moon sign/planetary hour will event X happen?” the geomancer would inspect the house of the quesited and give an answer based on the astrological associations of that figure.  Since there are two figures for every planet, each with a direct/retrograde or increasing/decreasing association, we can fine-tune the planetary hour association with each figure’s planet by assigning it to a diurnal hour or nocturnal hour of the day.  Keep in mind that there are two major zodiacal attribution systems to the geomantic figures, one given by Cornelius Agrippa and one given by Gerard of Cremona.  I prefer the latter, but so long as you stick to one system, you’re good to go.

Figure Planetary Hour Weekday Zodiac Sign
Zodiac Sign
(Gerard of Cremona)
Populus Moon
Monday Cancer Capricorn
Via Moon
Monday Cancer Leo
Albus Mercury
Wednesday Gemini Cancer
Coniunctio Mercury
Wednesday Virgo Virgo
Puella Venus
Friday Libra Libra
Amissio Venus
Friday Taurus Scorpio
Fortuna Maior Sun
Sunday Leo Aquarius
Fortuna Minor Sun
Sunday Leo Taurus
Puer Mars
Tuesday Aries Gemini
Rubeus Mars
Tuesday Scorpio Gemini
Acquisitio Jupiter
Thursday Sagittarius Aries
Laetitia Jupiter
Thursday Pisces Taurus
Tristitia Saturn
Saturday Aquarius Scorpio
Carcer Saturn
Saturday Capricorn Pisces
Caput Draconis North Lunar Node
(Venus and Jupiter)
Friday or
Virgo Virgo
Cauda Draconis South Lunar Node
(Mars and Saturn)
Tuesday or
Sagittarius Sagittarius

Speaking of planetary hours, there exists a derivative of them specifically for geomantic figures, the geomantic hours.  As far as I can tell, this was a fairly late innovation in geomancy, and the only Renaissance literature I can find this in is John Heydon’s “Theomagia”, though it’s been said that it can be found in at least one other geomantic work of the time.  Generally, one assigns each planetary hour to a figure that planet is associated with, with the Dragon’s Head and Tail being thrown in here and there, but either it uses a very obscure method to assign which figures to which hours that I can’t discern, or it actually is as haphazard as it looks.  It’s helpful as a geomancy-specific refinement, though I prefer the simpler and more regular planetary hours that work just as well for me.

Hour Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1  Fortuna
Via Rubeus  Albus Laetitia Puella Tristitia
2  Amissio  Carcer  Fortuna
 Populus  Puer  Coniunctio  Acquisitio
3  Albus  Laetitia  Puella  Tristitia  Fortuna
 Via  Rubeus
4  Populus  Puer  Albus  Laetitia  Amissio  Carcer  Fortuna
5  Carcer  Fortuna
 Via  Puer  Albus  Laetitia  Puella
6  Acquisitio  Amissio  Cauda
 Populus  Puer  Coniunctio
7  Rubeus  Albus  Acquisitio Puella  Tristitia  Fortuna
8  Fortuna
 Populus  Puer  Coniunctio  Acquisitio  Amissio  Carcer
9  Puella  Tristitia  Fortuna
 Via  Rubeus  Albus  Laetitia
10  Coniunctio  Acquisitio  Amissio  Carcer  Fortuna
 Populus  Puer
11  Via  Rubeus  Coniunctio  Acquisitio  Puella  Tristitia  Cauda
12  Tristitia  Fortuna
 Populus  Rubeus  Coniunctio  Acquisitio  Amissio
13  Laetitia  Puella  Tristitia  Fortuna
Via Rubeus Albus
14  Puer  Albus  Laetitia  Amissio  Carcer  Fortuna
15  Fortuna
 Via  Rubeus  Albus  Laetitia  Puella  Tristitia
16  Amissio  Cauda
 Populus  Puer  Coniunctio  Acquisitio
17  Albus  Laetitia  Puella  Tristitia  Fortuna
 Via  Rubeus
18  Populus  Puer  Albus  Acquisitio  Amissio  Carcer  Caput
19  Carcer  Fortuna
 Via  Rubeus  Albus  Laetitia  Puella
20  Acquisitio  Amissio  Carcer  Fortuna
 Populus  Puer  Coniunctio
21  Rubeus  Coniunctio  Acquisitio  Puella  Tristitia  Fortuna
22  Fortuna
 Populus  Cauda
 Coniunctio  Acquisitio  Amissio  Carcer
23  Puella  Carcer  Fortuna
 Via  Rubeus  Albus  Laetitia
24  Coniunctio  Caput
 Amissio  Carcer  Fortuna
 Populus  Puer

Another method of finding out when something will happen within a day’s time is to use the zodiacal attributions of the figures and look at the figure in the first house, the house of the ascendant.  One can use this method to determine the sign on the ascendant  of when the event will actually come to pass.  Again, be sure to pick one system of zodiac attributions and stick to it.

To recap, there are a number of ways to determine when something can happen using geomancy.  Say a querent wants to know when she and her fiancée will marry (a query for the seventh house).  Lots of methods abound:

  1. Rephrase the “when” query into a binary query.  The querent might ask instead “Will I and my fiancée be married within the next year?” or “Will I and my fiancée be married by the end of 2016?”.  Follow the rules of perfection, favorability, and the like as normal to get a yes-or-no answer; repeat until satisfied, refining the timeframe or time boundary as desired.  If we use the latter question, and the chart perfects between the first and seventh houses, we can say that the two of them will be married by the end of 2016.
  2. Use the lesser or greater number of the figure with a unit of time, depending on how favorable the chart is to the querent.  The chart perfects (a favorable sign) with a favorable court and the figure Laetitia appears in the seventh house.  Since she’d like to marry her partner sooner rather than later, look at the lesser number of the figure; in this case, assuming the querent phrased the query in terms of months, we might say that they’ll be married in 11 months’ time.
  3. Use the maximum, medium, or minimum number of the figure with a unit of time, depending on whether the figure is found in or passes to a certain kind of house.  Use the maximum number if the significator passes to a cardinal house or is naturally in a cardinal house without passing, the medium number if succedent, and the minimum number if cadent.  The figure in the seventh house, Laetitia, passes to the ninth house, which is cadent.  Assuming the querent phrased the query in terms of months, we might say that they’ll be married in about 12 months’ time.
  4. Use the astrological correspondences of the figure to determine the planetary events going on (Sun sign, Moon sign, ascendant, planetary/geomantic hour, etc.).  We might have to draw several charts to figure this out, perhaps in conjunction with the binary query conversion method above.  The figure in the seventh house, Laetitia, is associated with Pisces or Taurus, either late winter or mid-spring (I’d go with the late-spring, since I prefer Gerard of Cremona’s attributions, but your mileage may vary).  The first house contains the figure Via, which is associated with either Cancer or Leo (I’d go with Leo), so we can say that the sign on the ascendant will be one of those, leading to an answer of about midday (when Leo would be rising, implying Taurus would be near the midheaven, middayish).

However, there’s one caveat I need to let you know, dear reader: before every “when” query, do a preliminary query asking whether or not the event or situation asked about will happen at all.  It doesn’t make sense to do a reading for a “when” query if the thing asked about won’t actually happen, and most of the above methods of answering “when” queries don’t take that into account!  All the work you do to get the most exact timing possible might be for naught if you neglect to figure out whether or not something is feasible, possible, or liable to happen.  A lot of querents and clients ask about when something is going to happen, taking that it’ll happen for granted; geomancers and diviners of all kinds would do well to examine all assumptions lying in such queries first before answering the query itself.  So, should a querent ask whether or not they’ll marry their partner in a year’s time, first do a reading to figure out whether they’ll get married at all; answer the “when” query if and only if the chart affirms the “will” query.

There’s one last trick about determining time can be used for all charts, regardless of the type of query asked.  This first comes from Pietro d’Abano’s work on geomancy, and involves the “sum of the chart”, the total number of points found in the sixteen figures of the shield chart (four Mothers, four Daughters, four Nieces, four Court figures).  If you take the number of points from the sixteen standard geomantic figures, you end up with a total of 96 points; by comparing the number of points found in a shield chart to this standard number, we can determine whether or not something will happen faster or slower than expected, than it usually does, or as it’s planned to occur.

  • If the sum is less than 96, the situation will resolve faster than expected: things will complete ahead of schedule or will already be done when asked, etc.
  • If the sum is more than 96, the situation will resolve slower than expected: things will be delayed, pushed back, forgotten about, or never done at all, etc.
  • If the sum is exactly 96, then things will happen on schedule, as expected, in due time, etc.
  • The magnitude of the difference determines the magnitude of the speed or slowness.

For instance, if the sum of a chart resolves to 95, which is only a little less than 96, we can say that things will be proceed about as fast as they would normally, if not a little faster.  If it’s closer to 118, we might say that things will go extremely slow, and things might need doing, redoing, or reminding to do them in order to get anywhere at all.  One time, a querent had asked me whether or not her family would find her lost cat; I got strong indications that they would, with the sum of the chart being in the mid-80s (about the minimum a chart sum can get).  Unbeknownst to her, her family had already found their cat, but hadn’t had the time to tell her just yet.  In this case, the low chart sum and strong answer indicated that the matter had already been resolved!

In addition to using this technique on its own, it can also be used to fine-tune the results given from the methods above that rely on numerical attributions of the figures.  In this case, divide the sum of the chart by 96 to get a ratio, and multiply it by the number obtained from one of the methods above.  Say a person does a query and wants to know how many weeks it’ll be before they start dating someone they really like, and we get Acquisitio in the seventh house (house of relationships and romance).  The chart is overall favorable to the querent, so we look at the smaller number of Acquisitio (say the person’s been single for a while and really wants a relationship badly).  Acquisitio’s lesser number is 13.  The sum of the chart is 104; 104 divided by 96 is 1.083, and 1.083 multipled by 13 is 14.083.  So, we can say that they’ll start dating in a little over 14 weeks from the reading.