Unlocking the Observatory: Planets and Numbers

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 how ZT considers its own notion of the “Great Cabala” and why it’s not what people think at first glance. 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 “Third Step”, “First Supplement”, and “Third Supplement”.

We’ve covered enough of the preliminary big things in these first few posts that clear up (at least some of) the literary and contextual concerns about ZT.  While there’s certainly plenty more to discuss the overall cosmology and spirituality of ZT, we need to talk technique first to make any sense of it.  We’ll start with the actual method and system of ZT today, beginning with the basic symbol set that we use for our tools.  If you’ll recall from back in the first post of this series, dear reader, I mentioned how I consider a good description of ZT to be “numerological sortilege with an astrological flair”.  This wasn’t an exaggeration: every form of divination that involves sortilege (i.e. some variation on casting lots, obtaining random symbols from some store of such symbols), like Tarot or geomancy, requires some symbol set, and for ZT, the symbols used are the nine planets and the numbers 1 through 99.

And yup, it’s nine planets, at least in a sense.  ZT makes use of a nine-planet model based on the traditional seven from the usual Western esoteric systems we all know and love.  In ZT, there are still the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn (just as we’d expect normally), but the Sun and Moon get treated a little differently: while astronomically there is just one of each luminary, in the Great Cabala of ZT there are two: a material Sun and a spiritual Sun as well as a material Moon and a spiritual Moon.  For this reason, ZT draws a distinction between planets and planetary intelligences, and for the purposes of divination, it’s the planetary intelligences that form part of our symbol set.  (I know, I know, I’m upset that ZT doesn’t make use of the North and South Nodes of the Moon, which would be more traditional for Western astrological practice, but then, ZT is very much dead set against astrology and how Western esotericism does stuff anyway, so whatever.)  It’s important to note that ZT makes use of the term “intelligences”, which those who are familiar with grimoiric or more “high church”-kinds of magic are familiar with for being another term for a spiritual entity.  In some texts, though, “intelligence” is not representative of all kinds of spiritual entities.  In his Three Books of Occult Philosophy, for instance, Cornelius Agrippa draws a distinction between planetary intelligences and planetary spirits, the former being in charge of the direction, throttling, and manifestation of the power of a planet, while the latter is more in charge of the actual flow, presence, and activity of a planet.  In the case of ZT, however, where “intelligence” is a super common term encountered in general, it may be assumed that when ZT talks about “intelligences” it’s talking about celestial or heavenly entities in general.

Also, a small side-point of clarification here about the ZT text in general: the author of ZT likes using the terms “physical” and “moral” to distinguish between different aspects of things.  The former makes sense to us as-is, but the latter doesn’t mean something like “pertaining to matters of correct or acceptable behavior”. Rather, the author of ZT uses “moral” to refer to all things spiritual and ethereal, just as “physical” also refers to all things of matter and corporeality.  Maybe this is just a trend in how people spoke back then, so I might be making a mountain out of a molehill, but I at least find it notable from a translator’s perspective.

So, nine planetary intelligences, alright.  Each of them has one or two names; in all cases, at least one name for the intelligences is based on some sort of Greek-like name (which is the name used throughout ZT).  For seven of these nine intelligences, an alternative name derived from Greco-Latin is also given for some of the intelligences (these latter names being claimed to come from “another work, probably more modern than the one which guides us”, which may well be a literary deceit). As with the ZT text itself, we’ll stick to using the primarily Greek-like names given first (and given below in bold) for our study.

  1. Genhelia (matter-Sun ☉), whose name can be derived from Greek γενηλια genēlia “sun-born”.  Alternate name is “Physia” (variant of Greek φυσις phusis “nature”).
  2. Seleno (matter-Moon ☾), whose name can be derived from Greek σεληνος variant of σεληνη selēnē “moon”.  Alternate name is “Hydrogaeo” (male variant of a combination of Greek words for “Water-Earth”).
  3. Erosia (Venus ♀︎), whose name can be derived from Greek ερωσια erōsia variant of ερως erōs “love”.  No alternate name given.
  4. Panurgio (Mercury ☿), whose name can be derived from Greek πανουργιος panourgios “knave, ruffian”.  Alternate name is “Ruffieno” (“ruffian” or, more literally, “pimp”).
  5. Lethophoro (Saturn ♄), whose name can be derived from Greek ληθηφορος lēthēphoros “Lethe-bringing” or “forgetful-bringing”.  No alternate name given.
  6. Aglaé (Jupiter ♃), whose name can be derived from Greek αγλαια aglaia “splendor, shining”.  Alternate name is “Fulgida” (Latin for “shining, flashing”).
  7. Adamasto (Mars ♂︎), whose name can be derived from Greek αδαμαστος adamastos “unsubdued, unconquerable”.  Alternate name is “Gorgonio” (a play off of the Greek Gorgon and a name used for several Christian martyrs).
  8. Psykomena (spirit-Moon ☽), whose name can be derived from Greek ψυχομηνη psychomēnē “soul-moon”.  Alternate name is “Phosphorina” (variant of Greek φωσφορος phōsphoros “light-bringer”).
  9. Psykelia (spirit-Sun ◎), whose name can be derived from Greek ψυχηλια psychēlia “soul-sun”.  Alternate name is “Celsina” (variant of Latin celsus “tall, high, prominent”).

Before we continue, a note on the symbols used for the planets.  As with usual astrological tradition, the glyphs used to represent the non-luminary planets of Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars are the same as expected in any text.  Genhelia (matter-Sun) is represented by the usual solar glyph of a circle with a dot in the middle, while Psykelia (spirit-Sun) is represented with a circle with another circle inside (which may or may not have a dot in the middle of its inner circle).  Seleno (matter-Moon) and Psykomena (spirit-Moon) are both represented with crescent moon glyphs, but Seleno has the points of its crescent pointed towards the right and Psykomena’s towards the left.

ZT doesn’t just stop at giving the high-level information there, however.  A description of the domain, nature, and activity of each intelligence is also provided:

Genhelia ☉
This Intelligence presides over birth, growth, and the formation of the organs; over health and all good natural affections; and over family ties, from parenthood to the most remote affinity. She is sympathetic, serene, gentle, active, and willingly favorable.

Seleno ☾
This Intelligence presides over all the same things as Genhelia, but is an Intelligence that is filthy, selfish, temperamental, and lazy. He disputes with his rival over all the habits of the body which contract through the concurrence of secondary causes. What Genhelia strives to improve or change through education, Seleno willingly corrupts.

Erosia ♀︎
This Intelligence exclusively governs love, either as a passion of the soul or as a universal mode of reproduction. She knows all the joys and all the sorrows that love involves, all its pleasures and all its pains, and of all its moral and physical excesses. She is a burning Intelligence, but a good, magnetic, and vital one all the same.

Panurgio ☿
This Intelligence presides over the agility of the body, its tricks of skill and strength, and the finesse of the mind and spirit. He governs and protects all kinds of industries, is prodigiously active, and his most commendable qualities are in interpersonal skills and eloquence in language. However, he is selfish, insensitive, cunning, prone to deceit, and humanity is directed through him towards the earning of wealth, illicit or otherwise, than towards success which results from thoughtfulness.

Lethophoro ♄
This is the only essentially evil Intelligence, who presides over all the afflictions of humanity from melancholy to despair and from discomfort to death. He distributes all causes of failure, ruin, disease, and dying; he is weak, unfeeling, jealous, and resentful; he hinders all virtues and serves all the disorganizing passions of the social order.

Aglaé ♃
This Intelligence has essentially the same field as that of Panurgio, but purifies and ennobles everything of which its rival makes ill use. She fertilizes all virtues and all useful or estimable talents, restores what is proper to the arts and sciences, and inspires in humanity a disinterested ambition which directs one towards public esteem and fame than towards opulence. Aglaé is frank, fair, and noble, and she distributes literary success, honors, dignities, and all rewards of true merit.

Adamasto ♂︎
This Intelligence presides over any violence, whether merely intended or actually done. He governs war in general and quarrels in particular, and causes the shedding of blood; however, he is generous, open-minded, and incapable of resentment. Adamasto willingly submits to the influence of Erosia who tempers and tames him, as well as to the influence of Aglaé who constantly shows to Adamasto the danger of disgrace, as well as to the influence of Psykelia who spurs Adamasto on to glory. Adamasto’s faultless work is tireless, and his crimes are of his primary movement, but without any stain of baseness or betrayal. Adamasto is, in short, more tempestuous than dangerous, and is only incidentally destructive.

Psykomena ☽
This Intelligence can be called the “Overseer of the Whirlwind of the Immoral World”, who presides over all errors and follies, and who distributes to all indiscriminately all shortcomings, ridiculous non-issues, and all the innumerable strivings for trivial perfections that result in no real use in the final result of a thing. She inspires false steps, dictates frivolous productions, draws up vain projects, and constantly excites humanity into the chasing of some chimera or other. Though libertine and insensitive, she is without gall, a night without malice, serving as she does without generosity. She is especially influential over very young men, old people, and the female sex in general.

Psykelia ◎
This Intelligence is as transcendent in good as Lethophoro is in evil, and sows happiness on all careers open to humanity. She increases the influence of auspicious Intelligences and corrects the malignity of harmful malicious ones; she prepares all great fortunes and unexpected illustriousness. Opulence, victory, and triumph attach themselves to wherever she looks. She renders sublime all good sentiments; she exalts fidelity, constancy, friendship, love, and courage. She maintains the fire of genius, pulling humans out of their worst steps and purifying them to be able to reach for the highest degree of perfection allowable by human nature.

All in all, the natures of the intelligences are about what one would expect for their respective planets, though with a much dimmer view of the lunar intelligences and of Saturn than I would have expected, and a much more realistic and frank one of Mercury than is often encountered or appreciated.

It is on the basis of these nine planetary intelligences (hereafter just “Intelligences”) that we can then proceed to the Numbers.  In the system of ZT, each of the numbers from 1 to 99 is given a set of significations that build up numerologically from simple principles.  Those principles are themselves the Intelligences, each of which is given to one of the “primitive Numbers”, or the single digits 1 through 9, in the same order as the Intelligences are shown above: 1 to Genhelia, 2 to Seleno, 3 to Erosia, 4 to Panurgio, 5 to Lethophoro, 6 to Aglaé, 7 to Adamasto, 8 to Psykomena, and 9 to Psykelia.  It should be stressed that the Intelligences are not numbers themselves, but receive these numbers as a lord does a vassal; in other words, the Intelligences are on a higher ontological level than the primitive Numbers, and the primitive Numbers act as representatives of the Intelligences.

After the primitive Numbers come the compound Numbers, which are double-digit numbers that are themselves composed of the primitive numbers plus the null digit (0).  Each compound number falls into a group of numbers established by the primitive Number it reduces to: the standard numerological procedure of “adding up all the digits until you get a single digit number” is the process here, such that 45 → 4 + 5 = 9, 66 → 6 + 6 = 12 → 1 + 2 = 3, and so forth (or, more mathematically, take the number modulo 9, i.e. divide the number by 9 and take the remainder, replacing a 0 result with 9).  To keep track of all this, ZT provides a table of numbers which maps the 99 numbers to the planetary intelligences.  What’s neat about this, though is that because there are 99 numbers and we add another 9 to them (the Intelligences), if we plot out each series of 9 on separate rows, we get twelve rows total (because 99 + 9 = 108 and 108 ÷ 9 = 12).  What ZT does with that fact is that it allots each consecutive set of nine symbols to one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac in order, as below:

Aries ♀︎ ♂︎
Taurus 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Gemini 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Cancer 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Leo 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36
Virgo 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45
Libra 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
Scorpio 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63
Sagittarius 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72
Capricorn 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81
Aquarius 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90
Pisces 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99

This table is originally given (and far more beautifully rendered) in ZT as “Plate 2”.  While there are a bunch of other elements on this illustration which we’ll get around to covering, let’s just take a look at the table of numbers itself:

When we take a step back and look at all the Numbers, we can divide up the Numbers into several groups:

  • Primitive Numbers: numbers composed of single digits (9 total)
  • Compound Numbers: numbers composed of two digits (90 total)
    • Simple Compound Numbers: numbers composed of two digits where both digits are different and nonzero (72 total)
    • Double Compound Numbers: numbers composed of the same digit twice, i.e. a primitive number multiplied by 11 (9 total)
    • Tenfold Compound Numbers: numbers composed of one primitive digit and one zero digit, i.e. a primitive number multiplied by 10 (9 total)

As I said earlier, each of these 9 Intelligences and 99 Numbers has their own set of significations and meanings.  That said, we don’t have to memorize meanings for them all, because there’s a trick to it: you only really need to learn the meanings of the Intelligences and the primitive Numbers, and the rest all fall along in a nice, convenient pattern.

As an example, consider the primitive numbers 3 and 7.  3 is the number of Erosia (Venus), and has the meaning of “object of the heart, fecundity, fertility” (under Erosia’s general signification of “love, the universal magnet”).  7, likewise, is the number of Adamasto (Mars), and has the meaning of “military status, chiefs, sometimes competitors” (under Adamasto’s own general signification of “the strength of soul and body, violence, the element of fire”).  Now, if we take 3 and 7 and combine them into a compound number, we get either 37 or 73.  In both cases, these numbers reduce to 1  (3 + 7 = 10 and 3 + 7 = 10 , but 10 → 1 + 0 = 1), which is the number of Genhelia (matter-Sun).  Because of this, both 37 and 73 have something to do with Genhelia’s general domain.  In the case of 37, the meaning is “burning senses, amorous passion”; in the case of 73, “rapt in love, romantic/novelesque adventures” (with “romantic” used in the older sense of fantastic stories of chivalry and nobility”).  Note how both 37 and 73 retain their basic Venereal and Martian qualities (their single digits), but permuted in different ways within the general contextual scope of matter-Sun (their reductions to a primitive number).

To hammer in the lesson, let’s also consider the numbers 5 and 8.  5 is the number of Lethophoro (Saturn), and has the meaning of “ruin, fatal illness, secret enemy” (under Lethophoros’s general signification of “death, darkness, the element of water”); 8 is the number of Psykomena (spirit-Moon), and has the meaning of “the feminine being, the social whirlwind” (under Psykomena’s general signification of “mistake, vanities, inconstancy, foreign countries”).  The compound numbers 58 and 85 both reduce to 4 (5 + 8 = 13 and 8 + 5 = 13, and 13 → 1 + 3 = 4), putting both these numbers under the domain of Panurgio (Mercury).  58 has the meaning of “deceived wife, sometimes her death”; 85 has the meaning of “treacherous woman, sometimes testament”.  Again, note how the compound numbers retain their basic qualities of Saturn and spirit-Moon (according to their single digits) but play out in different ways according to the context of Mercury (their reduction).

We see these things touched on in the list of advice and considerations given towards the end of ZT:

  1. Let us never tire of reflecting on the attributes assigned to each Intelligence, and what about these attributes are respectively analogous to each other or incompatible with each other.
  2. Let us deeply penetrate into the primitive quality that each simple number has, inasmuch as it is often the representative of its own planet and recalls it everywhere it may be.
  3. Let it be ingrained that whenever a simple number appears joined with another to form a compound number, each of the two digits still preserves something that is primitively proper to them, wherever it may fall in some mirror or in some orbit, even one most foreign to its planet or angel.

In general, if we look at the meanings of the compound Numbers, we see a pattern arising: the basic planetary concept expressed by the tens digit acts upon or makes use of the basic planetary concept of the ones digit (e.g. 85 = spirit-Moon on Saturn = woman making use of ruin, but 58 = Saturn on spirit-Moon = ruin falling upon woman).  We just have to remember that each compound Number is bound by three things: the two separate digits it is composed of and the single digit it reduces to.  Thus, although one could conceivably come up with any number of things that 37 might resolve to being “Venus acting upon/making use of Mars” for weal or for woe, we have to remember that we are bound by the semantic limitations of these things falling in line with the general field of matter-Sun (because 37 reduces to 1).

At least, that’s the general idea for understanding the compound Numbers in general, but that works especially for the “simple compound Numbers” (e.g. 78, 29, 32), where a compound Number has two nonzero digits that are different from each other.  What about the other two kinds of compound numbers?

  • For the double compound numbers (aka “doublets” where both digits are the same, i.e. a primitive number multiplied by 11 like 22, 33, 44, etc.), it’s a similar deal as before: take the single digit, compound it upon itself, and interpret it in the context of the primitive number it reduces to.  For instance, consider 6, the primitive number of Aglaé (Jupiter), which has the meaning of “prudence, wisdom, great magistracy” (under Aglaé’s general signification of “fame, arts and sciences, the element of air”).  If we double the number (or, more accurately, multiply it by 11) to get 66, then this number reduces to 66 → 6 + 6 = 12 → 1 + 2 = 3, the number of Erosia (Venus).  As a result, 66 has the indication of “legal marriage, social concord” (Jupiter acting on Jupiter within the context of Venus).  Likewise, using numbers we’ve already encountered before, if we take the number 7 of Adamasto (Mars) and double it, then we get the number 77 which reduces to 77 → 7 + 7 = 14 → 1 + 4 = 5, the number of Lethophoro (Saturn); 77 has the indication of “severe physical accident, violent death”.  It’s the same process as before.
  • For the tenfold compound numbers (aka “nilled numbers” where the ones digit is 0, i.e. a primitive number multiplied by 10 like 20, 30, 40, etc.), the result is a little different.  In the system of ZT, even though zero is a digit, it is not a primitive Number, and so has no Intelligence associated with it.  In this case, a nilled number will always appear in the same column as the primitive number of its corresponding tens digit (e.g. 70 will always appear in the column of Adamasto/Mars because 70 → 7 + 0 = 7).  Such a compound Number has a general indication of the privation, diminution, or depletion of its primitive Number’s general idea.  Thus, 70 can be read as “weakening of Mars”, and thus has the meaning of “weakness, discouragement, cowardice”; 30 can be read as “weakening of Venus” → “celibacy, chastity, monasteries, insensitivity”; 40 can be read as “weakening of Mercury” → “aborted wealth, empty plans or intrigues”.  This is a slightly different pattern than the rest of the compound numbers.

That’s all there is to it: by understanding what the basic meanings of the digits 1 through 9 are, we can permute them and reduce them to come up with a rather specific set of meanings in a well-defined semantic field.  In this way, ZT has its own sort of “astrological numerology”, and rather than having to memorize a set of indications for every Number from 1 through 99 in addition to the nine Intelligences themselves, one really just needs to learn the nine Intelligences and the nine primitive Numbers and then how they can all fit together.  It’s actually a really neat way to generate meanings—which is why we see warnings throughout the ZT that the tables of indications provided for meanings and significations like this are inherently limited and limiting, given that they’re only a few words long and are only meant to illustrate possible meanings that fit the tens digit/ones digit/reduction digit trifecta of symbols, rather than trying to flesh out all possible meanings.  ZT, after all, “is only a key, not a treatise”.

All the same, to fill out the understanding of how the basic symbols of the numbers come together, here’s the list of indications for each of the Intelligences and the Numbers given in ZT (according to my translation of FZT).  The following list of indications comes from the “First Supplement” in ZT, but note that, due to HTML/blog platform restrictions, I’m not able to put in the Unicode glyph for the list element representing the Intelligence itself; instead, the Intelligence is represented by a negative single-digit number, e.g. “-2” represents the intelligence of Seleno, while 2 is the primitive Number that pertains to Seleno.

Genhelia ☉

  1. Existence. Physical soul. The homeland.
  2. The male being. The people. Birth.
  3. (The male child will live only for a short time.) Short duration.
  4. Noble origin. Ascent of the individual.
  5. (A girl will be born.) Acquaintance with a woman.
  6. Burning senses. Amorous passion.
  7. Great profits. Acquisitions. Tutors. Education.
  8. Natural death. (Sometimes bankruptcy.)
  9. Losses. Trials. Legal practitioners.
  10. Rapt in love. Romantic adventures.
  11. Maternity. The mother. Productive causes.
  12. Great age for a man. Experience. Consideration.

Seleno ☾

  1. Kinship. Common interest. The Earth.
  2. Second causes. Society. Clubs.
  3. Sympathy. Dependencies. Twins.
  4. Breakups. Solutions of interests. Hearths.
  5. Whirlwinds of the Great. Courtiers. Falsehood.
  6. Woman giving in. Seduction. Adultery.
  7. Passive attacks. Debates. Outrage.
  8. Happiness crossed. Aborted success. Widowhood.
  9. The Savior. The Avenger. The Peace.
  10. Advantages by strength or skill.
  11. Woman in love. Hysterical passions.
  12. Powerful help. Protectors.

Erosia ♀︎

  1. Love. The universal magnet.
  2. Object of the heart. Fecundity. Fertility.
  3. Reproduction. Amorous enjoyment. Success.
  4. (A son will be born.) Nascent bond.
  5. Celibacy. Chastity. Monasteries. The insensitive object.
  6. Illustrious gallantries. Fortune through love.
  7. Illicit unions. Theatrical overreactors. Wanderers.
  8. Jealousy. Disasters by love.
  9. Legal marriage. (Sometimes social concord.)
  10. Unlucky passion. Corrosive feelings.
  11. Insidious woman. Perverted young man.
  12. Circle of delights. Fortune of chance.

Panurgio ☿

  1. Wealth. Trade. Travels. The seas.
  2. Discoveries. Intrigues. The opposing party.
  3. Aspirant. Talents to be treasured and cherished.
  4. Happy association. Friendship. Letters.
  5. Good fortune for a clever man. Chickens.
  6. Aborted wealth. Empty plans or null intrigues.
  7. Eloquence. Orators. Ascending.
  8. Deceived wife. (Sometimes her death.)
  9. Great success by talent. Enterprises.
  10. Works for glory. Monuments.
  11. Treacherous woman. (Sometimes testament.)
  12. Sublime talents. Mechanical virtuosos.

Lethophoro ♄

  1. Death. The night.The element water.
  2. Ruin. Fatal illness. Secret enemy.
  3. Bad faith, people thereof. (Sometimes doctors.)
  4. Orphans. Bastards. Those bound to misfortune.
  5. Incestuous passions. Shunned pleasures. Vices.
  6. End of a man. Violent thieves. Lawsuit lost.
  7. End of a loved one. (Sometimes ruin avoided.)
  8. Death of a great person. Public disaster.
  9. Dangerous enemy. Hypocrisy.
  10. Severe physical accident. (Sometimes violent death.)
  11. Hospitals. Women dedicated to the service of the sick.
  12. Perversity. Powerful enemies. Great crimes.

Aglaé ♃

  1. Fame. Arts and sciences. The air.
  2. Prudence. Wisdom. Great magistracy. Embassies.
  3. Skillful chemists. Friends of humanity.
  4. Family of merit. Grand establishments.
  5. Virtuous and constant love. Meeting of lovers.
  6. Social utility. All honest professions.
  7. Death of a sage or a friend. To be condemned.
  8. Desertion of good ways. Dangerous actors.
  9. Illustriousnesses. Titles and orders of merit.
  10. Passion for women. Poetic enthusiasm.
  11. Great virtues of women. Heroines.
  12. Great protectors. Virtuous path.

Adamasto ♂︎

  1. The strength of soul and body. Any violence. The element fire.
  2. Military status. Chiefs. (Sometimes competitors.)
  3. Great courage. Obstinacy. War.
  4. Family in discord. Tasks. Civil unrest.
  5. Careful and firm conduct in love. (Success.)
  6. Ascending through feelings. Beloved superiors.
  7. Loss of a parent or associate. To be gone.
  8. Father. Benefactor. Blessings. Favor.
  9. Weakness. Discouragement. Cowardice.
  10. High ranks. Military honors. Generalship.
  11. Pairs. (Sometimes feminine discord.)
  12. Strength and power. States. Armies. Public wealth.

Psykomena ☽

  1. Mistake. Vanities. Inconstancy. Foreign countries.
  2. The feminine being. The social whirlwind.
  3. Nonsensical passions. Punishable enthusiasm.
  4. Public criticism. Gossip.
  5. Quarrels between lovers. Absence.
  6. Maladministration. Shame. Correction.
  7. Loss of the most cherished being.
  8. Family authority. Prohibition. Poverty.
  9. Disturbed brain. (Sometimes an effeminate man.)
  10. Short life for a female being. (Sometimes murderers.)
  11. Great lady. Sovereign woman. Influential woman.
  12. Remarkable extravagance. Crazy and mad people.

Psykelia ◎

  1. Perfection. Heavenly soul. The light.
  2. Nobility. Elevation. All kinds of success.
  3. Household protected by fortune. Fortunate lineage.
  4. Authority over the nation. Public respect.
  5. Conjugal love. Happiness and virtue.
  6. Legacies. Success on critical occasions.
  7. Death of an enemy. Triumph. Lawsuit won.
  8. Loves favored by public opinion. Religion.
  9. Family strength. Federations.
  10. Extreme old age for a woman. Prejudices.
  11. Abdication. Retreat from the whirlwind. (Sometimes degradation.)
  12. The height of prosperity. Sovereignty. Papacy.

If this all seems like a lot, it’s because it is—but at least we know what’s generally going on.  Rather than having to memorize each of the 108 indications given above as being something fixed and immutable, we just need to recognize the pattern and learn from these indications as being more like illustrative examples.

To wrap up this discussion, there are just two big questions on this topic left that we should consider.  First: if you recall that Table of Numbers from before (given in Plate II), there’s not just the Intelligences and Numbers on the table, but also the signs of the Zodiac.  What role do they play in establishing or fleshing out meanings of the Intelligences or Numbers?  Bluntly speaking, I can’t see that they do; if we read the numbers across the table, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot that ties in the significations to any given Zodiac sign, and ZT never brings these up at all when discussing their meanings.  While it’s not outside the realm of possibility that one could involve the Zodiac signs as an extra consideration or another semantic boundary to establishing the meaning of a given Number or Intelligence, and while the relatively free approach to generating meanings might well be permitted by ZT, I don’t think ZT actually does this.  In short, based on my understanding of ZT, I don’t think the Zodiac signs matter (or should matter) at all for the purpose of establishing, generating, or understanding their meanings.  The signs of the Zodiac, rather, have a different function which we’ll get to later on in describing periods of life of humans and illustrating some temporal concepts, but don’t have a strong symbolic presence in the system of ZT.  While one could feasibly work in the meanings of the signs of the Zodiac somehow into the overall meanings of the Intelligences or Numbers, I don’t think ZT actually implies that this should be done, rather sticking to a purely numerological approach to develop meanings.

The second (and more historically interesting) question: where is ZT getting its system of numerology from?  That is a great question, frankly, and one which I struggled with for quite some time.  There are many systems of numerology that involve the planets in one form or another, but it’s not as common to find one that doubles the Sun and Moon, and less common still to find any set of numerological meanings like what ZT uses.  Either ZT is literally making its own system of numerology up (in the sense of giving certain numbers to certain planets), or it’s taking inspiration from some other obscure source.  I have my suspicions about where it’s coming from, but it requires more context to justify and explain, and we’re not quite there yet; we’ll cover that in a future post.  On the other hand, if you, dear reader, are familiar at all with similar systems, do say so down in the comments; you might be helping everyone trace the development of the system of ZT here in the process (and helping to make up for my own limited research), or at least spurring people on to research more leads to that end!

New ebook for sale: The Telescope of Zoroaster!

On the one hand, I should probably apologize to all my followers on Twitter for being subjected to a constant barrage of tweet threads about this topic for several weeks now.  On the other hand, I can also blame someone else for starting me on this bizarre research project.  Either way, those who know anything about my history regarding fixations and obsessions when it comes to niche occult topics would probably guess I’d get around to writing more formally about it at some point.

So, back in early March, Nicholas Chapel a.k.a. McCryptoFace on Discord (from the excellent Hermeticulture blog) asked in the Hermetic House of Life Discord server a fairly innocuous question in the divination channel:

Has anyone ever heard of Zoroaster‘s Telescope as a divinatory method? We used to do it every year for the year ahead back when I was in my temple. I’d never heard of it before or since, but it was always pretty cool to do.

He and one of the other mods on the server (cuchlann from the G Conley: Magic Arts blog) were talking about various cartomantic card spreads, one of which was a Fibonacci-like spiral spread.  The spiraling reminded him of a similar pattern laid out with the tiles of this weird divination system, and he wanted to know if anyone else was familiar with it, since he himself wasn’t sure of the details of it.

As it so happens, I have a book on the system—rather, the book on it, I suppose.  Back in summer 2013, the fine occult book publisher Ouroboros Press put out Zoroaster’s Telescope: The Key to the great divinatory Kabbala of the Magi, translated by the inestimable Dr. Jenn Zahrt (yes, the same one of Revelore Press).  Sometime that year, I had seen some link to the book, probably on Facebook, and given how this was still relatively early on in my magical career, I thought that it would be a neat addition to my own collection and could be a useful thing for me to pick up.  I mean, Zoroaster?  Something related to the Chaldaean Oracles?  Astrological sortilege?  It seemed pretty cool!  So, in addition to getting a few of Ouroboros Press’s limited-run prints (namely their lunar mansions print and their Emerald Tablet print), I also got a copy of their Zoroaster’s Telescope book, and the book arrived later that winter.

And then it promptly sat unused for the next nine years.

It’s not like I didn’t try to read it or anything; I did give it a few honest skims, but I admit, it was a daunting system.  The method itself called for some 112 hexagonal tiles, each with a different number + planet + zodiacal symbol + angel name on them, each of which could appear in these elaborate beehive patterns it called “mirrors”, and, uh…well, the text didn’t seem to be all that well-specified.  I told myself that I’d eventually get around to reading it and studying it properly, and one day I’d get a set of wooden tiles and make them myself according to the patterns in the book.  Nine years later, the book has seen more action moving from shelf to shelf and residence to residence than actually being studied or consulted.  However, with this weird question from Nick seemingly out of the blue, I decided to take this as a sign that maybe this is the time to actually dedicate some time to learning the system.  Maybe I just wasn’t ready or learned enough before to make heads or tails of the system or something, and it’s not like I wasn’t swimming in occult research or work anyway, so I pulled the (admittedly tiny) book down off my shelf and started reading it anew

Almost immediately, I was hooked.  I started putting together spreadsheets to track correspondence tables and lists of interpretations, started jotting down notes on the system, and started puzzling out how this divinatory system was put together.  The more I studied the Ouroboros Press book (which was becoming something of a pain, because it’s actually really small for my hands and also too small for my bookholders to actually carry), the more questions I ended up having.  There was plenty about the system that made sense, but for every thing I could puzzle out there was another that I couldn’t—and the Ouroboros Press book seemed to be, I dunno, incomplete or inscrutable at times.  This led me down a long spiral of research and digging through several hundred years’ worth of really obscure occult, divinatory, and astrological texts that…well, I’ll get to that in a bit (though I’m sure you can see where this is going).

See, the 2013 Ouroboros Press book is not an original work; as I said earlier, it was Zahrt who translated it, not who wrote it.  What this book is is an English translation of the German text present in Johann Scheible’s Das Kloster (1846), volume 3, part II, chapter VII. Scheible was a German antiquarian and compiler of folklore, issuing a monumental 12-volume series from 1845 through 1849 containing various magical texts, superstitions, fairy tales, and other stories or records. Although the entire series is a treasury of folklore and esoterica, volume 3 in particular is an especially useful resource for occultists and magicians, containing such texts as the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, On Ceremonial Magic by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, the Romanus-Büchlein, a German version of the Arbatel: De Magia Veterum, and others. Nestled among these well-known texts is Zoroasters Telescop, oder Schlüssel zur großen divinatorischen Kabbala der Magier, which is what the Ouroboros Press book translated into English for the first time.  However, as the Ouroboros Press book itself notes, Zoroaster’s Telescope did not originate with Scheible, who was, after all, a compiler and not an author himself.  Rather, the system dates back to an earlier 1796 French version, Telescope de Zoroastre, ou Clef de la Grand Cabale Divinatoire des Mages.  Now, admittedly, I wasn’t about to compare the Das Kloster German book with the 1796 French one myself—my language skills are nowhere near good enough for that in either language, and the Das Kloster book is itself written in eye-gouging Fraktur—so I’m going to trust (as I have every reason to) that Zahrt’s translation of Scheible is spot on and as high quality as we should expect from her.  However, even at a glance, I could tell that there was a lot in the French version that just…wasn’t in the German version: the omission of an entire lengthy introductory epistle as well as concluding epilogue, the omission of footnotes, and the rest of what remained just generally seemed abridged or abbreviated.

Seeing this snagged my attention towards this research even more (if such a thing could be possible), and…well, three weeks later, I had my own English translation of the 1796 French version of Zoroaster’s Telescope, which I have now made available through my Etsy store or my Ko-fi store for only US$10!

The Telescope of Zoroaster (inventive title, I know) is a 92 page (US Letter-sized) PDF text in English that contains, following a brief preface of my own, the first (as far as I can tell) English translation of the fascinating 1796 French text that presents both a manual to a deceptively-simple system of divination that brings along with it a grand vision of theurgy, according to how it was originally published before any other translation or abridgement occurred (or, at least, the earliest extant such text).  Admittedly, I am an amateur at translating French, and even that’s a rather generous way to put it; I’ve been powering through with a combination of online translation resources plus harassing my Francophone artist friend Berenike (who also has an amazing Etsy shop of their own which y’all should check out selling Greco-Egyptian icons and art), but I like to think that I’ve put together a fairly reasonable and intelligible translation of the work, which is itself more of a challenge than even I was expecting—not just that I’m bad at French, but the text itself was pretty difficult to work with.

Now, here’s the thing.  While I was putting together this PDF, I was torn about including anything more than the translation itself (and my own preface to explain and introduce what the rest of the text was that follows with a handful of other sources).  There is so much about this system that is just outright delightfully bizarre, and as I mentioned above, for every question I was able to answer by the text there was another that was raised.  While turning to the French original has been an amazing experience that has done wonders for my ability to grok this divinatory system (as well as placing it in a broader spiritual practice that turns it into something so much more than just a divinatory system, which the Das Kloster version of the text, and by extension the Ouroboros Press version, seems to elide out), there are still so many other questions that I simply have not been able to answer to my own satisfaction, and so I am left with either conjectures on my part or halfway-incomplete answers—and I don’t like the thought of putting those into a more-or-less permanent format as an ebook as I have with some of the other things I’ve done before.  Besides, I mean, it’s not like my blog has been particularly active as of late (I’ve been enjoying a quiet time to myself besides the fun on the HHoL Discord), and this is a system that is both obscure and daunting so many people—so why not take the opportunity to actually walk through the text of Zoroaster’s Telescope (my own, no less!), the system it describes, and everything else about it that I’ve learned during the course of my research about it?

To that end, over the coming weeks and into June, I’ll be putting up a series of blogposts about Zoroaster’s Telescope, where I’ll be fleshing out whatever I can about the system (and hopefully garner some feedback and pointers from others more expert than I am in 1600s/1700s continental European occultism and literature) based on my translation.  I would encourage those who can and who are interested to get a copy of my ebook to better follow along and to pick up on whatever stuff I don’t mention, but I’ll try to cover all the main points in my posts as well.  Seriously, this is a really neat topic that I’m thrilled to get into, so we’ll start on that soon, and I hope you’ll stick around and enjoy the ride with me!  Maybe this will help more people figure out what this system is, or at least get more attention drawn to this unfortunately (although maybe intentionally?) neglected system of spiritual perfection through knowledge.

Also, my apologies to my Twitter and Discord friends who had to put up with me not just going on endlessly and repeatedly about Zoroaster’s Telescope in general, but also for the delay in getting out the translation as well as this series of posts.  I had to wait on a particularly obscure modern French book to come in the mail, which took a while to arrive, in order to finish one last bit of analysis before the whole thing went public, and I didn’t want to start the series only for it to be interrupted pending such a thing halfway through.  Most of this was finished up at the start of April (not even a month had passed since that original question on Discord!), but I just wanted to make sure all was said and done before I considered myself finished, too. Still, it’s all there now, so now we can get started with the actual fun!

Anyway, in the meantime, why not get yourself a copy of my translation and get a head start on what we’ll be talking about?  Head over to my Etsy store or my Ko-fi store and get yourself a copy of The Telescope of Zoroaster (or my other ebooks) today!

The Two Sons of `Iyān: Bird-Based Origins and Other Ideas for Geomancy

In yesterday’s post, we began looking into this funny little thing that the good Dr. Stephen Skinner mentioned in his 1980 book Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy, which was more recently updated and republished in 2011 as Geomancy in Theory & Practice.  When describing the Arabian origins of the art of geomancy, he mentioned a peculiar chant: “Ye two sons of ‘Iyan hasten with the explanation!”  It’s the identity and nature of the entities these were referring to that’ve puzzled me for going on ten years now, and unfortunately, Skinner never cited this statement anywhere.  After doing a bit of Arabic language hacking, we ended up with a proper spelling of the big name here to be `Iyān with the triliteral root `-Y-N (`ayn yā’ nūn), which ties it into the letter `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Arabic script according to the Phoenician order (potential geomancy connection!), and thus to notions of eyes, sight, and vision (possible divination connection!).  We continued to dig a bit further, and we found several sources that talk about what Skinner did in his own books, though with about as much specificity, which wasn’t much.  However, we did begin to make some headway into understanding some of the first swirlings of geomantic practice and how it developed from earlier proto-geomantic practices in Arabaian and related cultures.  Today, we’ll pick up where we left off and keep investigating what `Iyān might refer to.

Though our discussion yesterday focused on the lines produced for geomantic (or proto-geomantic) divination, there were a few other references that we should investigate.  Going back to Lane for a moment, the entry for `Iyān mentions something about arrows.  Let’s bring that up again:

… اِبْنَا عيَانٍ means Two birds, (Ḳ, TA,) from the flight or alighting-places, or cries, &c., of which, the Arabs augur: (TA:) or two lines which are marked upon the ground (Ṣ, Ḳ) by the عَائِف [or augurer], by means of which one augurs, from the flight, &c., of birds; (Ṣ;) or which are made for the purpose of auguring; (TA;) then the augurer says, اِبْنَى عيَانْ اًسْرِعَا البَيَانْ [O two sons of `Iyán, hasten ye the manifestation]: (Ḳ,* TA: [see 1 in art. خط :]) in the copies of the Ḳ, اِبْنَا is here erroneously put for اِبْنَى : or, as some say ابْنَا عِيانٍ means two well-known divining arrows: (TA:) and when it is known that the gaming arrow of him who plays therewith wins, one says جَرىَ اِبْنَا عِيَانٍ [app. meaning The two sons of ‘Iyán have hastened; i.e. the two arrows so termed; as seems to be indicated by a verse cited in the L (in which it is followed by the words بِالشِّواء المُضَهُّبِ with the roast meat not thoroughly cooked), and also by what here follows]: (Ṣ, L, Ḳ, TA:) these [arrows] being called ابْنَا عِيانٍ because by means of them the people [playing at the game called المَيْسِر] see the winning and the food [i.e. the hastily-cooked flesh of the slaughtered camel]. (L, TA.)

Lane says that abnā `Iyān could refer to “two well-known divining arrows”, i.e. belomancy, which was known and practiced throughout Mesopotamia, Arabia, and the Near East dating back to ancient biblical times.  In this style of divination, the arrows used for divination were required to be fletched with feathers, at least for the sake of distinguishing them.  This also brings up the memory of the pre-Islamic god Hubal worshiped by the Quraysh tribe (the tribe of the Prophet Muḥammad himself) in the Ka`bah in Mecca (when it was still a pagan shrine) who performed acts of divination with arrows for his devotees.  However, what little is known of that method of divination was that Hubal used seven arrows, not two as Lane suggests.  Plus, from what I can find (especially from Robert Hoyland’s 2002 work Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam), there were several methods of belomancy:

  1. Using three arrows (one marked for “God commands it” or just as “do it”, one for “God forbids it” or as “don’t do it”, and one that was either left blank or marked as “not clear”), one would put them in a quiver on the back, and one would be randomly drawn.  The one that was drawn indicates the course to take; if the blank one was drawn, it was put back and another arrow was randomly drawn until an answer was obtained, or it was interpreted as “wait”.
  2. Using the same three arrows, they would be fired off, and the one that flew the furthest (or got closest to its target) indicated the answer.
  3. The arrows (perhaps the same three, or different ones?) were tossed or thrown in a certain way, and then interpreted based on the ways or the directions they fell.
  4. The seven arrows of Hubal:
    1. “Blood price”: When several people fought over who should pay blood-price, they drew lots and whoever drew this one would have to pay it.
    2. “Yes” and “No”: When they had a simple binary question, they drew lots until one of these two came up.
    3. “Water”: If someone wanted to dig for water, they cast lots containing this arrow and wherever it came forth they set to work.  (This seems unclear to me; perhaps onto a map, or into a field?)
    4. “Of you”, “Affiliated”, and “Not of You”: Whenever they wanted to circumcise a boy, make a marriage, bury a body, or make some sort of alliance or contract wit, or if someone had doubts about someone’s genealogy, they used these arrows to determine the specific relationship to someone.  “Of you” indicates that they belonged to the same tribe; “affiliated” that they were not of the same tribe but an ally of it; “not of you” that they were unrelated and unaffiliated.

None of this really comports with what we know about geomantic or proto-geomantic practice, whether from the sources Lane quotes or from Skinner’s research, unless we were to focus on the “Yes”/”No” style of Hubal-directed belomancy (which, well, it is a binary answer at least, which can be seen to tie into geomancy or proto-geomantic divination).  Plus, connections to Hubal and his divination cult seem to be a stretch; after all, Islam came about in Arabia around in the first half of the 600s ce, by which point the cult center of Hubal was effectively destroyed with the harrowing of the Ka`bah.  Even if we admit the likely possibility that there were proto-geomantic practices in Arabia at the time of the Prophet Muḥammad (and who’s to say that the earliest geomantic diviners didn’t use arrows to mark sand instead of using a simple staff?), an argument could be made that we’re looking at the wrong place for such a connection to geomancy.

Perhaps, instead, we should be looking towards the pre-Islamic gods of the sands of the Sahara rather than towards pre-Islamic gods of the Arabian peninsula.  After all, `Iyān doesn’t really seem to appear in the names of Arabian pagan religion, but it might in a Saharan one, perhaps even one with Egyptian, Canaanite, Hellenic, or Roman origins.  This is getting into some really weird and extraordinarily vague and far territory, though, and we don’t have a strong enough reason to get deep into any of it; there’s far too much variability if we widen our scope to all those other cultures, and it could well be a wild goose chase.

If not that, though, it could also be the result of the name of a spirit who wasn’t a god that was propitiated and propagated for calling upon in divination, much as how the Lemegeton duke Bune is now goetically synonymous with wealth magic, and whose name either happened to be close enough to `Iyān to be interpreted as such.  This is one possibility that my colleague and resident North African and Mediterranean traditions expert Arlechina Verdigris suggested, perhaps even a reuse of the name “John” as heard by Arabic ears (think how “John” is spoken by modern Spanish speakers, almost like “yohn” or “zhohn”), but in this context, that explanation seems a to stretch a bit too far, as “John” is usually rendered as يَـحـيٰى  Yaḥyā (especially by Arabic-speaking Muslims) or as يُوحَنَّا  Yūḥanna (especially by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians), neither of which share much in common with the name `Iyān,  Plus, the name “John” as pronounced as such by English speakers would have been introduced only far too recently compared to the sources we’re looking at from before, considering the old origins of the chant in question.  That `Iyān could be the name of a spirit (jinn? ancestor?) or a pre-Islamic or otherwise pagan god from the Sahara or from Arabia is a possibility, but considering the variability of such names and spirits, and how so many spirit names are isolated to maybe a handful of magicians at most, I don’t know how likely this idea might be; my hunch is that it’s not, but at any rate, it’s not something that’s within my power to research, given my dearth of Arabic knowledge and Arabic materials to consult.

Okay, this line of questioning doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere without further resources that may or may not be available, so let’s backtrack a bit.  There’s one more thing we’ve yet to discuss when it comes to `Iyān and its two sons, and that’s the topic of birds.  According to Lane’s entry on `Iyān, the “two sons” ابْنَا عِيانٍ (abnā `Iyān) refers first to the practice of augury, and specifically the interpretation of omens that result from hearing or watching birds.  Lane goes on to say that the phrase “two sons of `Iyān” refers to the “two lines which are marked upon the ground by the augurer, by means of which one augurs, from the flight, &c., of birds”.  Consider what that actually means here, especially in the light of Lane’s entry for khaṭṭ: the abnā `Iyān, the “two lines or marks” that were made when engaging in geomantic or proto-geomantic divination, were produced by the tracks of birds, specifically “two birds…from the flight/alighting-places/cries of which the Arabs augur”.  That would explain why birds are mentioned alongside geomancy; rather than using augury or ornithomancy (divination by birds) generally, such as in ways that would focus on what the birds were or how they fly or in what direction, these proto-geomancers would focus instead on how birds land upon and walk across the sand.  In this way, proto-geomancers would inspect the tracks left by birds on the ground and tally them up two-by-two until one or two footprints, or sets of tracks, were left.

If that’s what’s really being suggested or reported by Lane here, then that could mean that the practice of making marks in the sand with a staff or wand would be a way to produce such omens on demand for augury-on-the-fly, no birds required.  And when you look at such tracks left in sand…

…it’s actually pretty believable as an origin for the original geomantic method of making figures.  And, tracing the development a bit further: from inspecting the marks left behind from birds, we began to make our own to inspect anytime we wanted; from tallying up two lines of marks, we went to four, and from four to sixteen; by clustering them together, we got the Mothers; by transposing them, we got the Daughters; by adding them together and using the same basic tallying technique, we got the rest of the figures of the chart.  With a bit of mathematical finagling, we can ensure that the Judge is always an even number, which, as we discussed in the previous post, would be significant to ensure a fair judgment to be produced, even if not strictly favorable for the querent and query.  (Image below from Dawat-e-Rohaniat.)

We may well be looking at the ultimate historical origin of geomancy here: a human-innovated practice of replicating bird tracks on sand and using fundamentally Arabian ornithomantic methods to interpret them.  If that’s the case, then geomancy, ultimately, is from birds.  Birds, little divine messengers from the skies coming down to Earth, instructing us in their language, then flying back off returning to Heaven once we don’t need to directly rely on them anymore.  It’s like we can hear echoes of this in the story of how the archangel Gabriel taught the art of geomancy to the prophets, the founders of geomancy—Adam, Daniel, Hermēs Trismegistus, or Enoch, according to the different historiolas we find in geomantic texts.

Birds.

Huh.

As intoxicating as it is to think that I figured out what the ultimate origin of geomancy might be, I have to admit that this is all really interpretive and hypothetical.  There’s not a lot going on here besides chaining some circumstantial evidence, unclear etymologies and definitions, and a good amount of interpretation on my part.  No matter how likely it might be that geomancy was derived from inspecting the tracks of birds on sand (which I think is pretty likely given all the above), we shouldn’t consider it verified fact.  Unfortunately, geomancy is sufficiently old and the evidence sufficiently sparse that the origins may well be lost in the sands of time, so to speak, and while the evidence is pointing towards an Arabian origin instead of a Saharan one, there’s still nothing here that conclusively shows its actual geographic origins in either Arabia or the Sahara; still, though I’ve favored the Saharan origin up until now, I’m starting to be more inclined towards the Arabian origin.  Even so, even if we want to accept this ornithomantic Arabian origin for geomancy, there’s a little more for us to consider to get a deeper insight into what could be going on here, so let’s continue.

What we’re missing now is a more solid connection between `Iyān and birds.  Taking specific birds a little bit further into consideration, I came across this massive list of Arabic names for birds, and I found the name العين al`ayn (I think?) which appears to share the same root as `Iyān, and which refers to Oriolus oriolus, the Eurasian golden oriole.  Lane does in fact discuss it in a related entry to our main topic on page 2269: “a certain bird yellow in the belly, [dingy, dark, ash-color, or dust-color] on the back, of the size of a [species of turtle-dove]”.  The golden oriole largely fits the bill for this.  There’s also the fact that it forms pair-bonds that last between breeding seasons, which would be a symbol of life and creativity, and would tie into the notion of even numbers being positive and odd numbers (a single, lone bird without a mate, or whose mate was lost) being negative.  So if we were looking for a…I guess, a patron/tutelary animal for geomancy, then based on all the above, this would be it:

Perhaps above any other kind of bird, it’d be the golden oriole that would be best-suited for making tracks in the sand for divination, and the lines of its tracks it left behind would be its “sons”.  In watching such a bird to cross tracks, we’d urge it to hurry up to make a sufficient number for our proto-geomancer to interpret it: “ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten with the explanation”.

The only problem with assigning the golden oriole to be an entity marked by `Iyān is that this bird isn’t really common to Arabic-speaking areas; its distribution is largely across almost all of continental Europe south of Scandinavia in the winter, and across central and southern Africa from Cameroon and points south in the summer.  As pretty of a bird and as appropriate though it might be based on the description in Lane,  I’m not wholly pinning this as being what `Iyān is referring to.  However, birds know no borders, and it’s also pretty true that they’d certainly have to pass through the Arabian peninsula and northern Africa during their migrations, and it does have its non-migratory homes in some Arabic-speaking areas that are just on the edge of the expected range of locations for the origin of geomancy, from the northwest edges of the Maghreb in the west to Mesopotamia in the east.  It’s nothing I’ll wage a bet on, but it’s certainly not nothing.

Regardless of whether the golden oriole is specifically tied to `Iyān, there’s definitely some connection between birds and either `Iyān specifically or divination generally.  I mean, that there should be one wouldn’t be terribly surprising, since the word for bird is طير ṭayur, and the classical term for augury or orthithomancy is تطير taṭayyir, which was extended to divination in general, just as we might use “augury” in a wide sense to refer to all divination.  Both of these words come from the same root of Ṭ-Y-R, referring to flying or taking off.  This recalls the notion of divining arrows from above being set loose to fly; as noted, they were required to be fletched with feathers, giving them a bird-like connection and, thus, giving them a distant or alluded-to tie-in to augury by birds.  And, further, fletching would also be needed to make them “fly”, which would tie them symbolically into the Ṭ-Y-R root.  Plus, as noted above, who’s to say that they wouldn’t use fletched arrows instead of a simple staff to make marks in the sand?  Divining arrows are divining arrows, no matter how you use them, after all, and it would give these proto-geomancers a stronger connection to deeper cultural practices of divination.  Perhaps we modern geomancers might consider using fletched arrows for marking sand, if we wanted to use wands at all for ritual divination!

While mulling this over, the wonderful Nick Farrell dug up an interesting article for me, “Some Beliefs and Usages among the Pre-Islamic Arabs, with Notes on their Polytheism, Judaism, Christianity, and the Mythic Period of their History” by Edward Rehatsek (The Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, volume XII, 1876, pp. 163-212).  This article mentions the same thing we’ve seen before in Skinner, Lane, and Abu Dāwūd, but Rehatsek specifically considers it alongside and mixed in with ornithomantic omens.  Consider specifically pp.172ff, emphasis mine:

Many things were believed to be unpropitious by the Arabs, whilst certain birds were also considered to portend evil, and others good.  When an Arab augur, who was called Zâjar (literally meaning ‘a driver away’, because by doing so the direction of the flight of a bird, from which nearly everything appears to depend, is ascertained), began his soothsaying operation, he drew two lines called eyes, as if he could by means of them observe anything he liked; and when he had through these perceived something unpleasant he used to say, “The sons of vision have manifested the explanation.”*  It is natural that birds which were known to settle on the backs of wounded camels and to hurt them should have been considered unlucky; such were the crow, and a kind of woodpecker, but the former was also considered so for another reason—namely, because it implied separation.  When a tribe strikes its tents and departs to new pastures, the crows alight on the spot of the abandoned encampment in search of food, and there is nothing passing in front, or crossing over from the right side to the left, and no beast with a broken horn or any other object more unlucky than a crow, but the omen was increased when it happened to sit on a Bán tree and pulled out its own feathers.  As the Bán tree also implies separation, the omen is taken from this signification, and applicable not only when a crow, but also when a dove, a bird of good luck, is perched on it; but poets like plays on words, and hence the lapwing, whose name is Hudhud, also indicates the direction Huda; whilst the eagle called U’káb, being nearly homophonous with U’kb, “the end”, and the dove Ḥamám with Humma, “it was decreed”, are on these accounts respectively considered to put an end to separation, and to imply that the meeting of friends is decreed.

* Arab. Prov. [Arabum Proverbia] tome i., p. 695, ابنا عيان اظهر البيان In the beginning of the operation they were also in the habit of addressing an invocation to these two lines, or eyes:— ابنا عيان اظهرا البيان “O sons of vision, manifest the explanation?”

We’re starting to tap into some of the symbolism behind even and odd here, and we can see that we were on the right track from before, but this time it’s made a bit more explicit; we might have considered that, perhaps, birds seen in pairs was considered a good omen in general, while a lone bird was considered bad, and that could still be the case especially for birds like the golden oriole that forms long-term pair-bonds, but now we’re tapping into deeper cultural lore about separation and number.  When the result of divination is even, then things are in pairs, considered fortunate because it suggests coming together or staying together (remember that the origin of the Arabic word for “even” ultimately comes from Greek for “yoked together”, as in marriage); when the result is odd, then it implies separation and being left alone (literally “wholly one”).  For a migratory, nomadic people living in a harsh environment, survival often depended on your tribe and not being left alone or being cast out, for which separation could truly mean an ill fate up to and including death by dehydration, starving, heat, or exposure; the same would go for humans from their tribes as it would for animals from their herds.  To consider it another way, if the marks being made in the sand are “eyes”, then in order to see clearly, we need to have two of them, since eyes naturally come in pairs (at least for us humans and many other animals).  If we end up with an odd number, then we’ve lost an eye, and cannot see clearly.

Up until this point, we’ve been largely been assuming `Iyān as the name for a distinct entity and the “two sons of `Iyān” to be lesser entities under it or the productions made by the entity, as if we’re supplicating spirits or asking for aid from them.  However, there’s the distinct and possibly likely chance that we’re on the wrong track entirely.  Given that “poets like plays on words”, Iyān (which Rehatsek translates as “vision” though “inspection” is a better term, but cf. the Greek suffix -manteia to mean both) isn’t really an entity at all, but just a poetic turn of phrase, a personification of the concept of divinatory investigation rather than a deification of it (which might be just a little too animist/polytheistic for observant Muslims).  Thus, rather than thinking of the “sons of `Iyān” to represent entities under a bigger entity like how the phrase “sons of God” refers to angels under the Divine, it might be better to think of “sons of `Iyān” to represent the extensions or productions of divinatory “eyes” through a process of divination so as to perform an “inspection” or investigation of a matter.  This would be like another Arabic turn of phrase seen in poetry, the “two sons of time” relating to the day and night, and how the “daughters of time” could represent the vicissitudes or afflictions that time imposes on us.  So, saying “sons of `Iyān” is basically saying “results of the inspection”, i.e. the outcome of the divination, which we would realistically want to hasten so as to get a proper answer.  In the context in which Skinner et alia are describing this chant used by an assistant towards the diviner, it could be a way to spur the diviner on into a sense of frenzy and frenetic urgency, helping them lose themselves in the striking of the earth to produce a truly divine result, which would afterwards then be tallied up, reduced down, and accounted for.

Yet…well, I want there to be some sort of spiritual entity behind `Iyān and their two sons.  It’s kinda one of the things I was hoping to find, but what evidence that I can find doesn’t really support that premise.  Is the possibility ruled out?  No, and far from it!  As mentioned above, there is a possibility (though a faint one, as I’d reckon it) that `Iyān may be a holdover deity from some pre-Islamic, tribal, or pagan religion or some other jinn, angel, or other spiritual entity, but opening up that research…well, my gut feeling is that there’s probably not a lot to find along those lines, especially considering the scope of that sort of research.  But, at any rate, there’s not enough evidence to support the idea that the chant “Ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten with the explanation” is an invocation of a spirit, but more of a metaphorical exhortation to the diviner.  If `Iyān is considered to be an entity at all, it’d likely fall in the same category as all the minor divinities in Greek religion, divinized concepts of things like health or fruit-bearing trees or the like that might have stories told about them but never actually received cult, worship, or ritual.  That seems to be the most likely result to me, as much as I find it a disappointment.  But, hey, we’ve learned quite a bit along the way all the same, and that’s still a great result for all of us!

…well.  I think we’re at the end of this discussion and line of research, honestly.  To summarize this little garden-path effort of mine:

  • Stephen Skinner, in his 1980 work Terrestrial Astrology, mentioned in passing a practice of some of the earliest geomancers (or proto-geomancers) where they would use the chant “O two sons of ‘Iyan, hasten with the explanation!”, though this comment was not backed up with a source or reference, and left me befuddled for ten years until recently.
  • By looking at rules of Arabic word derivation, we were able to deduce the proper spelling of this word, `Iyān, and link it to the letter `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician script and all scripts that derived from it, including the Arabic script.  This word has the root `-Y-N which links it to notions of the eye, sight, and vision, and thus has connotations of divination, along with a numerological link to the 16 figures of geomancy and any 4×4 combination of the elements.  That the numerological value of `ayn is 70, and that its reduction from 16 → 1 + 6 = 7 is also a nice bonus, tying it to seven planets and all other things with the number seven.
  • `Iyān, as a word, means “inspection”, “a witnessing of events”, “a coming into sight/light”.  This word is a verbal noun of the verb ʿāyana, meaning “to inspect” or “to witness”, but also more broadly as “to investigate” or “to behold”.
  • While investigating the word `Iyān, we were able to find a text that discusses what Skinner did with a bit more depth, as well as comparing it to other sources that describe the same fundamental practice which is likely proto-geomantic rather than geomantic as we’d recognize it.
  • This proto-geomantic practice, with origins that are attested to be either pre-Islamic or early-Islamic, involves making two lines of marks in the sand, then reducing them two-by-two until either one or two points are left.  If two points, an even number, the result is considered favorable and good; if one point, an odd number, the result is considered unlucky and bad.
  • The word `Iyān is commonly mentioned in other texts as relating not to geomancy or proto-geomancy, or at least not just those things, but to augury and ornithomancy as well.  In addition to Arabian augurs interpreting the position, direction, motion, types, and actions of birds, they would also observe the tracks they produced on the sandy ground as meaningful for omens.
  • It was from using the tracks left behind by birds and counting them for an even or odd number of marks that likely formed the ultimate origin for the (proto-)geomantic practice of making marks in the sand to produce the same.
  • The (proto-)geomancers would make marks in the sand while in a frenzy or other kind of trance state so as to obtain the same divinatory virtue through their manmade marks as might be given more purely from the cosmos through the tracks of birds.
  • The (proto-)geomancers would consider the “two sons” to be the two lines of marks they made as “eyes” (`uyūn)  that “witnessed” (yu`āyinūna) the events, circumstances, and actors involved in the query put to divination, and the whole matter would be considered an investigatory “inspection” of the matter (`iyān).
  • Even numbers, by virtue of coming in or being arranged as pairs, culturally connoted being together or holding fast, a sign of good fortune, livability, viability, survivability, meeting, and support, and thus were seen as fortunate, positive, or affirmative answers in proto-geomantic divination.  Conversely, odd numbers, by virtue of standing alone, connoted loss, exile, abandonment, absconding, maiming, and other notions of separation, which ere considered to be unfavorable, negative, or denying answers.
  • Given the symbolism behind even and odd in Arabian (nomadic) culture, later geomantic practices may have innovated a specific use of not just bundling lines into figures, but processing the resulting figures in a certain way as to always end up with an even figure in the end (the Judge) so as to ensure that the total reading may be good in some light, even if not favorable, so as to ensure a fair and valid judgment.
  • `Iyān is likely not being referred to in the chant as a spiritual entity unto itself, but in a personified way as a figure of speech, commanding “the two sons of `Iyān” to be speedy in giving an answer, said to encourage the diviner to engage in the process of frenetic/ecstatic/trance-based divination speedily without delay or delaying.
  • There is a potential connection between (proto)-geomantic divination as `Iyān and the Eurasian golden oriole (al`ayn) based on their shared word roots, as well as the role birds played in providing the initial marks for this divination to be performed with, which could provide a preferred bird by which one can perform land-based proto-geomantic augury, or which provides a kind of tutelary animal for the practice, especially through the use of its feathers, which may be used and appended to the end of a divining staff/stick to form “arrows”, tying it into an older practice of Arabian and Mesopotamian belomancy.  The “arrows”, then, would take the role of the “two sons of `Iyān”, though this might be a reuse or repurposing of the chant for a more general divinatory purpose rather than one relegated to (proto-)geomancy.
  • There is a small possibility that `Iyān may well be the name of a pagan god or another spirit of divination and that the “two sons of `Iyān” are its facilitators or emissaries that bear out the message of divination from `Iyān, but this is more likely a misreading the chant from a animist or polytheist perspective that wasn’t historically used.

This post turned out a fair bit longer (almost four times the average length!) than I expected, so much so that I had to break it up into two already-long posts, so if you managed to get this far, then I thank you for sticking with me.  Honestly, though this little bit of research didn’t end up where I wanted it to (I was kinda hoping for an old, extant, and commonly-cited spirit to appeal to for divination within a geomantic milieu), I’m honestly glad because I’ve been able to piece together plenty of information that actually clarifies an academic problem I’ve been on-and-off dealing with for ten years.  Even if there’s no historical “who” behind `Iyān and their two sons, at least we now know the “what”, and that’s still immensely important and advances the state of geomantic research, at least a tiny bit.  And, hey, we’ve left the door open for further opportunities and exploration, both academic and spiritual, too:

  • If all that was desired was an odd or even result from marking tracks off two-by-two, then why were two sets of tracks inspected at a time instead of just one?  Two sets of tracks would get you two results; does this have a connection with geomantic dice that split up a single figure of four rows into two sub-figures of two rows?
  • Are there any specific birds besides the Eurasian golden oriole that might be especially important in making tracks on the sand which were used for (proto-)geomantic divination?
  • Does the Eurasian golden oriole play a role in any of the spiritualities, superstitions, or symbolisms of Near Eastern, Middle Eastern, or African traditions that we might ply for more information?
  • What New World birds might take the same ecological or spiritual role as the Eurasian golden oriole?
  • How, exactly, were just two lines of marks read by birds, or where did the custom come from of making/marking two lines instead of just one?
  • Are there any other animals that we might associate with geomancy through the name `Iyān or the root `-Y-N, whether birds or otherwise?
  • What other geomantic mysteries might be hidden within `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician script which has a root numerological value of 7 (either through reduction from its normal value of 70 or by reducing its ordinal number 16 into 1 + 6 = 7)?  We noted an alphabetical connection with a handful of divine epithets of Allāh, including the famous one Al-`Alīm (“The All-Knowing One”), but what other roots that start with `Ayn might be significant, if any?
  • Unlikely though it is,`Iyān could still be the name of a spirit or non-/pre-Arabian deity.  If so, where does this entity come from, from what culture, what tribe, what area, and what would a more native interpretation of the name be?  What does this entity do, and who are its two sons?
  • Just because there hasn’t been a specific spirit-based use for the original chant “O ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten ye with the explanation!” doesn’t mean that there can’t be one ever.

Once more, my thanks to Dr. Amina Inloes, Nick Farrell, and Arlechina Verdigris for helping me with organizing my thoughts, refining my ideas, providing me with useful materials, and in general being wonderful people in my life.  May God and the gods bless you all.

The Two Sons of `Iyān: Obscure Chants and Proto-Geomantic Divination

The Two Sons of `Iyān: Obscure Chants and Proto-Geomantic Divination

When it comes to the geomantic scholars of the Western world, there’s few who can touch the research of Dr. Stephen Skinner.  Internationally acclaimed for his work and practice involving feng shui as well as his doctorate-level research and publications on various grimoires and magical texts from the west, he’s also an expert in the practice and history of geomancy.  I first encountered him back in college, probably around 2008 or 2009, through his older, now out-of-print book Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy, which has more recently been updated and published under the title Geomancy in Theory & Practice (and, more importantly, with a title that Skinner doesn’t hate, as Terrestrial Astrology was a title he regretted but which his editor insisted on).  This is a simply wonderful text that, although I consider it to be a bit light on the actual practice of geomancy, its true value shines in delving into the evidence, history, lineage, and contextual development of geomancy as a divinatory art in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe from its beginnings around a thousand years ago until today.  (There’s also his older work, The Oracle of Geomancy: Techniques of Earth Divination, which is also long out-of-print and…well, I wasn’t particularly enthused by it, but it’s a solid work of geomancy for its time before other research and experimentation was being done.)

In Terrestrial Astrology as well as Geomancy in Theory & Practice, Skinner opens up the book after the introduction by talking about geomancy and its Arabic origins as `ilm ar-raml, “the science of the sand”, also called khaṭṭ ar-raml, “marking the sand” After clarifying some of the language about it, he describes some of the basic processes used early on in the very nascent stages of geomancy:

For the purpose of divining by khatt al-raml, the diviner, accompanied by an assistant or acolyte, drew with the utmost haste a quantity of lines or ripples in the sand, allowing himself to be carried away, so that he did not know how many lines he had drawn.  Then he slowly wiped out groups of two ripples at a time, whilst his assistant often recited an incantation in Arabic, such as the words: “Ye two sons of ‘Iyan hasten with the explanation!”

The marks they made were joined by other marks (khutut) in order to complete a figure (shakl).  When these figures became stylized, a board was used, which was covered with sand or even flour, and the finger was drawn over it at random; the shapes formed in this way were then examined.  If in the end two lines were left (i.e, there was an even number of lines drawn) then this foretold success.  If however only one line remained (an odd number of lines drawn) then disappointment was certain. Here can be seen the germ of the later and more complex practice, where each line is reduced to odd (only one left) or even (two remaining). In this, the simple form of khatt al-raml, only one set of marks were made, leading straight to a lucky/unlucky prediction.

It’s that reference to “Ye two sons of ‘Iyan” that’s always mystified me.  I could never figure out what or who “‘Iyan” is or was, much less their “two sons”, and Skinner says no more about it in his works, nor is any reference provided for this statement.  Worse, when I emailed the good doctor, he unfortunately said that it’s been so long since this was written (Terrestrial Astrology was published almost 40 years ago!) that he was unable to recall where it might have come from.  Such mysterious figures, perhaps mythological, maybe angelic or even demonic, hailed in a diviner’s chant to induce a trance or stronger, more truthful connection to the art in order to obtain knowledge?  This struck me as being something that should be investigated, but unfortunately, Skinner’s text, identical in both Terrestrial Astrology as well as Geomancy in Theory & Practice, is the only reference to ‘Iyan or their two sons I’ve ever found.  It could be that this was entirely a highly localized or individual practice that Skinner was reporting on, or an extremely esoteric one that was limited and bound up in particular occult practices.

Lately, I’ve been taking another look at this, and I’ve been doing some thinking about it.  What follows is basically extrapolating from very scant knowledge and information here, coupled with a bare-bones knowledge of Arabic grammar and word derivational systems, but I suppose, if we take a look at the name ‘Iyan a bit closer, we might be able to get something.  What follows could well be a wild goose chase which might put me on par with Athanasius Kircher’s attempt to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs (surprise, it didn’t go well).  But, well, what might we find if we look?  Let’s see where we end up.

First, it’s important to note that when Skinner brings up Arabic words or glosses, he’s not always faithful in his transliteration from Arabic to Roman script.  Although the tables at the end of the book have the names of the figures in Arabic written in both Arabic script and in good transliteration, and a number of Arabic names in the endnotes are transliterated with diacritics for long vowels and the like, it’s in the text itself that long vowels aren’t indicated, there’s no standardization of how ‘alif and `ayn are transliterated, and other such problems that make it hard to understand what the original Arabic might have been based on the names given to us.  So, with ‘Iyan, we have several problems:

  • Is the mark before the I supposed to represent an ‘alif or an `ayn?
  • Which vowels are long or short?

It’s impossible to tell what these might be since we have no other information, and I’m no expert in Arabic.  But…well, consider that names typically have meaning of some sort, and the way Arabic works—and Semitic languages generally—is on a delightfully productive system of what’s called “roots” and “patterns”.  There’s this notion of a consonantal root in Semitic languages, usually of three letters but sometimes two and sometimes four, and the root has a general concept associated with it, much like the semantic radical of a Chinese character.  By filling in the consonantal root with particular vowels and appending prefixes, suffixes, and other infixes, a variety of words that give variations on the underlying can be obtained from a single root.  Consider the triliteral (three letter) consonantal root K-T-B, which refers to writing generally:

  • kitab (book)
  • kutub (books)
  • kataba (he wrote)
  • katabat (she wrote)
  • katabtu (I wrote)
  • kutiba (it [m] was written)
  • yaktubna (they [f] write)
  • yatakātabūn (they write to each other)
  • kātib (writer [m])
  • kuttāb (writers)
  • katabat (clerks)
  • maktab (office)
  • makātib (offices)
  • maktabat (library)
  • istaktaba (to cause someone to write something)

The number of derivations goes on and on.  Note how all the words in that list share the root K-T-B, sometimes with one of the consonants doubled (as in kuttāb), sometimes with extra consonants added (as in maktabat).  All these words have something semantically related to the act of writing or something written, which is grounded in the K-T-B root.  Likewise, not just nouns or verbs or adjectives can be derived from roots, but names can, as well.  Consider that the name Muḥammad is derived from the root Ḥ-M-D, generally relating to notions of “praise” or “thanks”; thus, Muḥammad literally means “praiseworthy”, and is related to the commonly-heard phrase “Alḥamdulillāh”, meaning “praise be to God” or “thank God”; this phrase is referred to as ḥamdala, and the recitation of it (like one might for reciting the prayer bead devotion Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah) is taḥmīd.  Again, same triliteral root, but endless words that can be derived from it, all tying to the same thing.

So…what if we were to interpret ‘Iyan as a word that was derived from a consonantal root?  Given how short it is, it’s not like we have a lot of options to choose from.  If we take out the two vowels, I and A, we end up with three consonants, with the first one being unclear between two choices:

  • ‘-Y-N (‘alif  yā’ nūn)
  • `-Y-N (`ayn yā’ nūn)

As it turns out, the first option (starting with ‘alif) isn’t attested as a triliteral root in Arabic, nor in any Semitic language, but the second one (starting with `ayn) is in every one of them. `-Y-N is a root used in Ugaritic, Arabic, Hebrew, Akkadian, Amharic, Syriac, and Aramaic, and is most notable for being the letter `Ayn or `Ayin itself in all the writing systems that derive from the original Phoenician script, and thus is also the origin of the Roman letter O and Greek omikron.  Originally, the Phoenician letter `ayn had the form of a simple circle, much as the Roman letter O is, though its form shifted in the various Semitic languages that used it.  The shape of the letter, and the name and meaning of the letter itself, connote an eye, which ultimately derives from the Egyptian hieroglyph 𓁹 (Gardiner D4), perhaps most famously used for the spelling of the god Osiris.  You can see the evolution of the letter below from its Egyptian origin to its Phoenician (also Greek and Latin) form, its traditional Square Hebrew form, and in its Arabic forms (with all its position variants shown below, with position variant images taken from Arabic Reading Course).

I also note that `ayn is the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac scripts, as well as the sixteenth letter of the traditional Arabic (abjadi) order.  Which…come on, now.  Of all possible letters that we’d end up with, we’d end up with the sixteenth one?  Sixteen, the number of geomantic figures? And on top of that, it also has the numerical value of 70, and if we were to reduce 16, then we get 16 → 1 + 6 = 7.  Which ties it into all the other mysteries of the number seven: seven planets, seven angels, and so forth.  I think we may well be onto something with our idea that this mysterious name could be a derivation from something else.

And, because I was curious, I wanted to look at which of the 99 traditional names of Allāh (really, more like epithets or attributes) in the Islamic tradition, began with the Arabic letter `Ayn.  There are six such names:

  1. Al-`Azīz (الْعَزِيزُ), “The Mighty”
  2. Al-`Alīm (اَلْعَلِيْمُ), “The All-Knowing”
  3. Al-`Adl (الْعَدْلُ), “The Just”
  4. Al-`Aẓīm (الْعَظِيمُ), “The Magnificent”
  5. Al-`Alīy (الْعَلِيُّ), “The Sublime”
  6. Al-`Afūw (العَفُوُّ), “The Pardoner”

It’s name #2, Al-`Alīm, that’s important for us as geomancers.  Along with Al-Khabīr (ٱلْخَبِيرُ), “the All-Aware”, Al-`Alīm is one of the most common names of Allāh used in Arabic geomancy when making invocations and prayers to God for the sake of divination.  It comes from the root `-L-M, which refers to knowing, teaching, and learning; note that the Arabic term for geomancy, `ilm ar-raml, begins with a word from this same root meaning “science”.  This specific name of Allāh encompasses such meanings as the Knower, the All-Knowing, the All-Knowledgable, the Omniscient, and the Possessor of Knowing Everything about Everything.  Fittingly enough, I recently spotted over on Chris Warnock’s Renaissance Astrology website a new Arabic-style Jupiter talisman specifically for the name Al-`Alīm, where he gives this description of the power of the name from the 13th century grimoire Shams al-Ma’arif (and note how it talks about knowing things that are unseen and seen, tying back into the eye and seeing imagery of the `-Y-N root):

Whoever undertakes the dhikr of this Name of sublime essence, Allāh (exalted be He) brings him to knowledge of the subtlest aspects of the sciences and their most hidden secrets. To the one who engraves it…when Mercury is highly dignified, Allāh makes him express himself with wisdom and teaches him the sapiential subtleties of mystical knowledge…when Jupiter is highly dignified, obtains an understanding of what the mystic sciences contain. … His control in the universe is strengthened and Allāh (exalted be He), frees him from all misfortunes and avoids everything that displeases him. And whoever uses his dhikr, learns what he did not know and wisdom becomes manifest in his words.

The Name has the number 150, and adding its divisors totals 222, and this number alludes to His Name Mālik al-Mulk “Lord of Sovereignty”. Hence, the wise are the kings in reality, indeed, they are the lords of the sovereignty of kings. And this is the number that makes manifest the secret of the letter yā’ in the three orders, since it is a bond, it is a coercive word and it entails a formal representation and an approach, while none of these three degrees takes place without Knowledge, which is only attributable to Him, meditate on that.

And since the manifestation of Science belongs to the sanctified spirits, the spirit of the angel Gabriel is destined to instruct the prophets, being one of the noblest our prophet Muḥammad (Allāh bless and save him) who was inspired by humility, for Allāh said: “He has taught an angel of great power and strength, since he appeared in his true form” (Qur’ān 56:5-6).

And since the holy spirit that corresponded to Jesus (peace be upon him) was a vestige of the revealing breath of Gabriel to Adam, for Jesus was the wisest of the prophets to know the details of the sciences and the subtleties of Wisdom. And among the noblest of his knowledge was the science of the letters, and hence its name comes to him, because in it resides his divine gift by indicating by the letter `ayn, science, by the letter yā’, the grace of the descended revelation, by the letter sín, the points of union of what is divided and by the letter alif, absolute knowledge. And the name Jesus has the number 141, which is precisely the value of the name `ālim (scholar), but since He has knowledge of the hidden things, and that is `alīm then his name is written with the letter yā’ and thus its number equals 150, which is the value of `alīm. Meditate on that, for Allāh speaks the Truth and He leads the way.

The names of the letters of His Name `Alīm add up to 302, alluding to His Name Basīr “the Seer”. And since science (`ilm) is an inherent sign of the external appearance of the object of knowledge, and that the acquisition of a concept involves the totality of its visible aspect, that is, it is the acquisition of the external image of the object in the mind, the meaning of `Alīm as the Knower of All is necessarily the one before whom the essence of each thing manifests itself in the totality its hidden essence as well as its external form. That is one of the secrets of `Alīm for intensification is not possible through the letter wāw, due to its importance and its height that reaches the end of the limits and reaches the totality of existence. So intensification is possible by one of these two options: either with the reduplication of a consonant, as in saying `allām, which refers to the one who has acquired a large amount of knowledge or with the letter yā’ which refers to the revelation of the most subtle details of a notion and the perception of its hidden aspects. For this reason only Al-`Alīm knows the details of a concept in the same way that He knows its most general aspects, and knows its hidden aspects in the same way that its aspects are visible.  That is why Allāh said (exalted be He) “above all, possessor of science there is a knower” (Qur’ān 12:76), so the possessor of science ū-l-‘ilm is the one who knows the general aspects of things and the knower `alīm is the one who knows its particular aspects. The possessor of science is the one who knows the external aspects of things and the knower is the one who knows their internal aspects; the possessor of science is the one who knows the evident aspects of things and the knower is the one who also knows their hidden aspects. The meaning of this yā’ has been indecipherable for many sensible people, because the most unknown of His Science are the most particular aspects, and this is evident in His words, “over every possessor of knowledge is one more knowledgeable”  (Qur’ān 12:76).

And you should know that the superiority of some of the wise over others is not the result of acquiring a greater amount of knowledge, since if so, He would have said “above all possessing knowledge there is a wise man (‘allām) who knows more.” Rather it has to do with the acquisition of the particular notions of the intelligibles and the hidden parts of their secrets. Now, the multitude of knowledge together with the detailed inner knowledge results in sapiential superiority, but without this last type of knowledge superiority does not take place. This is the meaning from the words of Allāh when he said to His prophet Moses (peace be upon him): “We have a servant at the intersection of two great rivers, whom they call Khiḍr , who is wiser than you.” Khiḍr was not wiser than Moses because he had more knowledge as Allāh said about Moses “And we wrote for him in the Tables an exhortation for everything and an explanation for everything” (Qur’ān 7:145), so the greater wisdom of Khiḍr refers to his understanding the hidden aspects of things in the same way that he knew their visible aspects. This is why his place was at the point of confluence of two great rivers, which were the river of the apparent and the river of the unapparent, so Moses knew that Khiḍr was in possession of a gnosis that he did not have.

You who study these words, focus your effort on expanding your knowledge 3, for this is what Allāh (praised and exalted be He), ordered His prophet to ask with His saying: “my Lord, increase me in knowledge” (Qur’ān 20:114). Meditate on these spiritual words and dispose of these divine subtleties, of these gifts of faith and of these sources of light, for you will find immense happiness in those knowledge that contains the allusions, and Allāh is the wisest!

Anyway, back to the main topic at hand.  So we have this root, `-Y-N, the meaning of which is semantically related to eyes and sight (and also, apparently, springs and flowing, perhaps with an origin of a notion of crying?), which is well-attested in the Qur’ān, and could well be a derivation from the same root as the sixteenth letter of the script, and which can be given some strong connections to knowing things generally if we also consider the root `-L-M and its connections to science and God.  This is a bit too strong to be mere coincidence to me, so let’s run with it some more.  This means that we can go with the `ayn instead of ‘alif, yielding us `Iyan and not ‘Iyan.  Good!  But, now, what about the vowels themselves?  With these two vowels, we can end up with both short, one short and the other long, or both long:

  • `Iyan
  • `Īyan
  • `Iyān
  • `Īyān

However, we know from rules of Arabic that any “i” sound followed by yā’ is almost always going to be inherently long, so we could write this name as either `Iyan (with or without a long A) or as `Īan (again with or without a long A).  So we can ignore the long I choices above, which whittles it down further, down to either `Iyan or `Iyān.  The former just doesn’t seem to come up in any dictionary or grammar as a form of anything.  `Iyān (or `Iyaan, عِيَان), however, is a legitimate word which means “weak” or “sick”, especially in Egyptian Arabic, but only when interpreted as coming from the root `-Y-Y and, even then, only properly with the vowels `ayyān, so that’s not what we’re going with.  But, when derived from `-Y-N, we get the verbal noun of عَايَنَ `āyana, the verb which means “to inspect”; note how it’s still related to the semantic field of eyes, looking, seeing, watching, etc.  Thus, `Iyān would mean “an inspecting” or “inspection”, but it can also mean “seeing with one’s own eyes”, “to come to light/be revealed before one’s eyes”, “clear, evident, plain, manifest” in the sense of “being seen clearly with the eyes”, as well as “witnessing” as in “eye-witnessing”.  (The notion of a witness here is appealing, given the fact that we have two Witnesses in a geomantic chart.  A possible connection to the “two sons”, perhaps?)

I got that list of meanings for `Iyān from an online version of the fourth edition of the Arabic-English Dictionary by the venerable Hans Wehr.  However, that website looks up glosses in several texts simultaneously (a wonderful study resource!), and while looking at Wehr’s dictionary, there’s something interesting I noticed in another text.  On the website that I was able to access that entry, the single page also shows entries from other texts about Arabic language and vocabulary, including the Arabic-English Lexicon compiled by Edward William Lane (aka Lane’s Lexicon) in the 19th century, itself compiled from earlier dictionaries and lexicons of Arabic in Arabic.  The entry for `Iyān in Lane’s Lexicon is…shockingly, miraculously, exactly what we were looking for all along here, and includes a reference that’s exactly what was in Skinner!  From page 2270 (forgive any errors in my copying and trying to type the Arabic):

… اِبْنَا عيَانٍ means Two birds, (Ḳ, TA,) from the flight or alighting-places, or cries, &c., of which, the Arabs augur: (TA:) or two lines which are marked upon the ground (Ṣ, Ḳ) by the عَائِف [or augurer], by means of which one augurs, from the flight, &c., of birds; (Ṣ;) or which are made for the purpose of auguring; (TA;) then the augurer says, اِبْنَى عيَانْ اًسْرِعَا البَيَانْ [O two sons of `Iyán, hasten ye the manifestation]: (Ḳ,* TA: [see 1 in art. خط :]) in the copies of the Ḳ, اِبْنَا is here erroneously put for اِبْنَى : or, as some say ابْنَا عِيانٍ means two well-known divining arrows: (TA:) and when it is known that the gaming arrow of him who plays therewith wins, one says جَرىَ اِبْنَا عِيَانٍ [app. meaning The two sons of ‘Iyán have hastened; i.e. the two arrows so termed; as seems to be indicated by a verse cited in the L (in which it is followed by the words بِالشِّواء المُضَهُّبِ with the roast meat not thoroughly cooked), and also by what here follows]: (Ṣ, L, Ḳ, TA:) these [arrows] being called ابْنَا عِيانٍ because by means of them the people [playing at the game called المَيْسِر] see the winning and the food [i.e. the hastily-cooked flesh of the slaughtered camel]. (L, TA.)

This entry references خط, khaṭṭ, which is another of the terms for geomancy.  Turning to that entry in Lane’s Lexicon, page 762 (again please forgive any errors):

خَطَّ aor. -ُ , inf. n. خَطٌّ, He made [a line, or lines, or] a mark, عَلَى الأَرْضِ , upon the ground.  (Mṣb.)  You say, خَطَّ الزَّاجِرُ فِى الأَرْضِ , aor. and inf. n. as above, The diviner made a line, or a mark, or lines, or marks, upon the ground, and then divined.  (TA.)  And الزَّاجِلٌ يَحُطُّ بِإٍصْبَعِهِ فِى الرَّمْلِ وَيَزْجُرُ [The diviner makes, lines, or marks, with his finger upon the sand, and divines.]  (Ṣ.)  Th says, on the authority of IAar, that عِلْمُ الخَطِّ is عِلْمُ الرَّمْلِ [or geomancy]: I’Ab says that it is an ancient science, which men have relinquished, but Lth says that it is practised to the present time; [to which I may add, that it has not even now ceased; being still practised on sand and the line, and also on paper;] and they have conventional terms which they employ in it, and they elicit thereby the secret thoughts &c., and often hit upon the right therein: the diviner comes to a piece of soft ground, and he has a boy, with whom is a style; and the master makes many lines, or marks, in haste, that they may not be counted; then he returns, and obliterates leisurely lines, or marks, two by two; and if there remain two lines, or marks, they are a sign of success, and of the attainment of the thing wanted: while he obliterates, his boy says, for the sake of auguring well, اِبْنَى عيَانْ اًسْرِعَا البَيَانْ [O two sons of ‘Iyán (meaning two lines or marks), hasten ye the manifestation]: I’Ab says that when he has obliterated the lines, or marks, an done remains, it is the sign of disappointment: and AZ and Lth relate the like of this.  (TA.)  It is said in a trad. of Mo’áwiyeh Ibn-El-Ḥakam Es-Sulamee, traced up by him to its author, كَانَ نَبِىّْ مبَ الأَنْبِيَآءِ يَخُطُّ فَمَنْ وَافَقَ خَطَّهُ عَلِمَ مِثْلَ عِلْمِهِ [A prophet of the prophets used to practise geomancy; and he who matches his geomancy knows the like of his knowledge].  (TA.)  You say also, when a man is meditating upon his affair, and considering what may be its issue, or result,  ‡ [Such a one makes lines, or marks, upon the ground].  (TA.)  [See also نَكَتَ: and see St. John’s Gospel, ch. viii verses 6 and 8.]  And  خَطَّ بِرِجْلِهِ الأَرْضَ means ‡ He walked, or went along.  (TA.)

It’s clear that we’re arriving at basically the same source, or a highly similar source with the same origins, as Skinner himself was using.  For the sake of further scholarship by any who come across this post, the abbreviations in Lane’s Lexicon come from page xxxi of the preface refer to the following authors and authorities in Arabic lexicology (in their original transliterations as Lane gives them, a more modern list and transcriptions given on this page):

  • TA: the “Táj el-‘Aroos”
  • Mṣb: The “Miṣbáḥ” of el-Feiyoomee, full title “El-Miṣbáḥ el-Muneer fee Ghareeb esh-Sharḥ el-Kebeer”
  • Ḳ: The “Kámoos” of El-Feyroozábádee
  • Ṣ: The “Ṣiḥáḥ” of El-Jowharee
  • I’Ab: Ibn-Abbás
  • L: The “Lisán el-‘Arab” of Ibn-Mukarram
  • Lth: El-Leyth Ibn-Naṣr Ibn-Seiyár, held by El-Azheree to be the author of the “‘Eyn”, which he calls “Kitáb Leyth”
  • AZ: Aboo-Zeyd

These are all Arabic sources, so it seems like that line of research comes to an end there, until and unless I ever learn classical Arabic.  Still, all the same, at least we found a (likely) source for Skinner’s claim about this strange chant, which I’ll gladly take as a win!  Still, even if we have a (likely) point of origin for this strange chant that Skinner describes, what exactly does it mean? Well, unfortunately, there’s no real solid information about the identity of `Iyān or their two sons in Lane, but at least we know we were on the right track tracing it down by considering what its likely Arabic spelling was, and giving that a consideration.  I strongly doubt that `Iyān is merely a name without meaning or that it doesn’t have some notion of watchfulness, witnessing, accounting, or observing; I think its relationship with the letter `Ayn and, by extension, eyes and sight really is important in some way.

Lane first says that the “two sons” of `Iyān refer to “two birds…from the flight/alighting-places/cries/&c. of which the Arabs augur”, but…birds?  That seems a little out of left field, so let’s set that aside for now and return to what we know.  (We’ll return to it, I promise.)  Based on the rest of Lane’s entries, even this same one on `Iyān when we consider what the two lines of marks in the sand would entail, it seems reasonable to assume that the “two sons” of `Iyān refer to either the numerical concepts of odd (فرد fard, literally “alone”) and even (زَوْجِيّ zawjiyy, from زوج zawj meaning “pair”, ultimately from Greek ζεῦγος meaning “yoke” in reference to marriage), or to the two units that make up the first even whole number; it’s this latter that might well have the better argument going for it.  Note that, interestingly, it’s even numbers that are considered good and affirmative, while odd numbers are bad and negative; this seems to be a general inversion of what we usually encounter in numerology, where it’s the odd numbers (being relatively masculine) that cause change while even numbers (being relatively feminine) maintain stasis.  And yet, looking back at Skinner:

Figures which contain a total number of even points are said to be Helu, sweet or a good omen, whilst those which contain odd numbers of total points Murr, bitter, or ill-omened.

Courtesy of the good Dr. Amina Inloes, whom I occasionally harass for help with topics involving Arabic and Islam and who generously and amply provides it, I was directed to the Sunan Abu Dāwūd, a massive compilation and commentary on the ʼaḥādīth (the extra-scriptural traditions of Islam) written sometime in the 800s ce, which would be a little before we start seeing geomancy proper arise.  At the bottom of page 147, footnote 3 confirms all the above (which you can put through Google Translate or get an actual Arabic speaker to translate it for you):

قال الشيخ : صورة الخط : ما قاله ابن الأعرابي، ذكره أبو عمر عن أبي العباس أحمد بن يحيى عنه ، قال : يقعد المحازي : [المحازي والحزاء : الذي يحزر الأشياء ويقدرها بظنه] ، ويأمر غلاماً له بين يديه فيخط خطوطاً على رمل أو تراب، ويكون ذلك منه في خفة وعجلة، كي لا يدركها العدّ والإحصاء، ثم يأمره فيمحوها خطين خطين، وهو يقول : ابني عيان أسرعا البيان، فإن كان آخر ما يبقى منها: خطين فهو آية النجاح، وإن بقي خط واحد فهو الخيبة والحرمان

The bold bits are what we’re looking for.  The first bold line basically gives the same chant as found elsewhere: “sons of `Iyān, hasten the statement” (ibnay `iyān ‘asra`ā al-bayan), and the last bit the same fundamental rule that “two lines is the sign of success, and if one line remains, it is disappointment and deprivation”.  The important thing we get from this is that, when Abu Dāwūd was writing this in the 800s ce, he was likely reporting on proto-geomantic practices that provided for the foundation of geomancy proper as we’d recognize it, and which were most likely in use for quite some time beforehand, especially if references to divination by making marks in the sand in other texts operated on these same principles going back at least to early-Islamic, if not into pre-Islamic, times.  Granted, we don’t have a lot of references to this kind of proto-geomantic divination in pre-Islamic times; most of the time it’s just said in passing, and when they do mention some specifics, they just don’t get more specific than just this.

However, even with what little we have, we kinda start to see a potential explanation for why a geomantic chart is created in such a way that the Judge must be an even figure, and why we use such a recursive structure that takes in four figures and then manipulates them to always get an even figure as a distillation of the whole chart, whether or not it’s favorable to the specific query.  Related entries to `Iyān in Lane’s Lexicon, specifically عِينَةُ `iynah (pg. 2269), refer to “an inclining in the balance” or set of scales, “the case in which one of two scales thereof outweighs the other”, as in “in the balance is an unevenness”.  In this light, even numbers would indicate that things are in balance, and odd numbers out of balance; this idea strikes me as similar to some results used in Yòrubá obi divination or Congolese chamalongo divination or other African systems of divination that make use of a four-piece set of kola nuts, coconut meat, coconut shells, cowries, or some other flippable objects, where the best possible answer is where two pieces face-up and two fall face-down, while there being three of side and one of the other either indicates “no” or a generally weak answer.  For the sake of the Judge, then, we need it to be impartial (literally from Latin for “not odd”) in order for it to speak strongly enough to answer the question put to the chart.  Heck, in Arabic terms, the word that I’ve seen used for the Judge is میزان mīzān, literally “balance” or “scales” (the same word, I might add, that’s used to refer to the zodiac sign Libra).

And, to look at it another way, how is an even figure formed? An even geomantic figure is formed from the addition of either two odd parents or two even parents; in either case, the parity of one figure must be the same as the other figure in order for their child figure to be even.  Thus, for the Judge, the Witnesses must either both be even or they must both be odd.  “Brothers”, indeed; as that old Bedouin saying goes, “I against my brothers; I and my brothers against my cousins; I and my brothers and my cousins against the world”.  Brothers implies a similarity, a kinship, and even if they fight against each other, they must still be similar enough to come to terms with each other.  And consider the mathematical and arithmetic implications of what “coming to terms” can suggest!  Thus, the two Witnesses must be alike in parity in order for the scale of the Judge to work itself out, and perhaps, the figure with more points would “outweigh” the other and thus be of more value.  For example, if we have a Right Witness of Laetitia and a Left Witness of Puella, both odd figures, then the Judge would be Fortuna Maior, but Laetitia, having more points, would “outweigh” Puella, favoring the Right Witness representing the querent.  Thus, perhaps the Judge might be taking on the role of `Iyān and the Witnesses its two “sons”?  After all, you need both the Witnesses in order to arrive at the Judge, so telling them to hurry up would naturally speed up the calculation of the Judge.

However, what we’re seeing from Skinner, Lane, and Abu Dāwūd is clearly proto-geomantic and isn’t really about figures as much as it is about lines, so this is probably an anachronistic imposition of `Iyān and their two sons onto later developments.  As fitting as it might be, and as fascinating as all this is, it doesn’t do anything for us as far as showing what `Iyān itself might originally refer to.  But there are other leads we can take; after all, wasn’t there something about birds?  We’ll pick up on that tomorrow.