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.

On Geomancy and Light

Those who follow me on Twitter know that I’ve been working on a new shrine project of sorts.  Earlier this year, I had the sudden kick-in-the-ass inspiration to start compiling things together, so I started pricing them on my wishlists and getting notes together.  I swore, up and down, that I would pay off my credit card before getting any of it.  But, yanno, just to see how much it would all cost when tallied up, I put it all into my online shopping cart to check out the shipping and taxes, and whoops there went $700 and suddenly I have all these packages showing up at my house however could this have happened let’s get to work, I guess my poor credit card statement.

Long story short, after I made that second post about geomantic holy days earlier this year, I got some sort of spirit all up in me that necessitated, demanded I put this thing together.  I ended up making a Shrine of the Geomancers, honoring the four Progenitors of the art Adam, Enoch, Hermes Trismegistus, and Daniel under the tutelage of Gabriel, with a notable Islamic influence.

I’ll save some of the details and what goes along with this whole shrine later, including a few things that aren’t shown in those above pictures, since it’s such a new thing that even I’m not sure why I have everything on it yet, just that I know I need it.  The last time an inspiring spirit this forceful came upon me was when I ended up writing my Sixteen Orisons of the Geomantic Figures in a single night (and then spent the next month editing and polishing), which you can take a look at in my ebook, Secreti Geomantici (also on Etsy!).  That was pretty fun, too, though exhausting.  I ended up making sixteen prayer-invocations to channel and work with the forces of the figures; that was just a night of power for me, as if I couldn’t shut off whatever fire hydrant of Words was turned on in my head.  The same thing happened with this shrine: I had to get these things and put them together.  Had to.

On top of getting this shrine put together, I’ve had to take a break from writing my geomancy book to take a detour into writing prayers, invocations, and incantations for geomantic practice.  Taking heavy inspiration from Islamic supplications and verses of the Qurʾān, the Book of Daniel, the Psalms, Solomonic and Hermetic literature, and other sources, I’ve been putting together a bunch of prayers—some that I wrote as original works, some I wrote a long time ago, some I’m heavily basing off other sources but tweaked for purpose and diction—for use with this shrine.  Many of the old prayers I wrote a while back, like my Prayer of the Itinerant or my Blessing of Light, fit right in with all these new ones.  It’s like so much of my previous routine, habits, and practices get tied into something so nice, so neat, so…oddly complete in this new shrine practice.  I honestly don’t know where this is all coming from, and it’s surprising me as much as it would anyone else.  If ever I would think that spirits can and do work through us, this would be one of those cases, absolutely.  There are still a lot of prayers I know for a fact I need to write and compile, but even with what I have, I’m pretty thrilled with what I have to work with.  It’s like stumbling on a new grimoire full of detailed instructions—except you don’t know for what, exactly.  It’s also happily convenient that I’m doing all these geomancy readings and follow-up divinations for the New Year, which gives me ample opportunity to try some of these very same prayers.

Now that the shrine is put together and all these prayers are coming together, I need to figure out exactly how to put this all to practice; after all, after dropping so much time and money and energy on this, there’s no way in hell I can just let this thing sit and gather dust (as if the same spirit that had me get all this together in the first place would let me).  I’ll work out routine and times and stuff later, but for now, it’s lovely.  As I noted above, there’s a heavy Islamic influence in this, and why not?  After all, geomancy is ultimately an Islamic occult art and science that arose in the sands of north Africa.  While I’m not going to be doing ṣalāt or proclaiming the five pillars of Islam, I feel it’s still important to honor the traditions and faiths of those that learned, taught, and spread the art of geomancy so far and wide in a language, or at least with symbols and practices, that would be familiar to them.  Which is also why I’m turning to so many supplications and verses of the Qurʾān for prayer inspirations, in addition to the fact that I already know that some such verses are used just for geomancy and divination generally.

One of the things I got for the shrine is a misbaḥah, a set of Islamic prayer beads.  It’s a lot simpler than a rosary, but slightly more complex than a mala; this has 99 beads, with two separators (that apparently aren’t used in counting prayers) to divide up the whole misbaḥah into three sets of 33 beads.  This kind of prayer beads can be used in any number of ways in Islamic devotions, not least the famous Tasbīḥ of Fāṭimah, and a way of kinda-sorta maybe-not-divination-per-se seeking guidance from Allah (istikhāra) can be done using misbaḥah, too, by focusing on the question for guidance and selecting two beads at random on the misbaḥah, and counting down until there are either only one or two beads left.  (The geomantic applications here are obvious.)  There are simpler ways, too, such as just intoning and focusing on one of the attributes or names of Allah, of which there are 99.

(Also, just as an entirely hilarious tangential aside?  This current post is marked as post #9999 in WordPress’ internal system for my blog.  So that’s a kinda fun synchronicity.)

One of the 99 names of Allah in Islam is النُّورُ (an-Nūr), literally “the Light”.  This is often used in the sense of being the Pure Light of the world, or the Prime Light of creation, or the One who Guides by Light.  It’s also especially associated with the Verse of the Light, a beautifully mystic verse taken from Qurʾān 24:35 (my own rendition):

God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth.
The image of his Light is that of a niche.  In it is a lamp.
The lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a brilliant star.
Lit from the oil of a blessed olive tree, neither of the East nor of the West,
whose oil would almost glow on its own even if fire had not touched it.
Light upon Light!
God guides to his Light whom he wills.
God gives images to follow for his people.
God is All-Knowing of all things.

The use of “The Light” as a name of Allah (or, just, yanno, God, because they really are the same and so much of Arabic theology can be expressed beautifully in Hermeticism and vice versa) is meaningful to me, given how important divine light is in my own personal theology and magical practice, especially in my Hermetic work, given how Light can be thought of as a thing that allows the intelligible to be intelligible and the visible to be visible, as both light of Nous (Mind) and light of Logos (Word).  Even my own magical motto, Lautitia Laborum Lucis Laetor “I rejoice in the splendor of the works of the Light”, is based on this same idea, and many of my more meaningful prayers incorporate Light in some way, whether directly or by puns, like in my Prayer of the Itinerant:

Shed your light on my path that I may see where I go.
Lighten the burden on my shoulders that I may go without hesitation.
Enlighten my heart that I may go with fortitude, courage, and wisdom wherever I may be.

Even before having encountered this Islamic sense of the notion, Light has already been and continues to be for me a powerful force unto itself, and a pure one that is directly associated in my mind and cosmological models with the highest divinity and source of all that is.

Then we bring in a bit of numerology.  Normally, I don’t take numerology particularly seriously; sure, gematria and isopsephia are nice tools to have, and I’ve experimented with it in some classical systems before now and again, but it’s largely a curiosity for me to find other connections with.  But take a look at the name an-Nūr more closely; the “an-” (really “al-” but Arabic rules assimilate the sounds) is just an article, so the real word to look at is Nūr, Light.  In Arabic numerology (which follows the same principles as Hebrew and Greek, since they all come from the same written language to begin with), the value of Nūr is 256.

Those who are familiar with binary mathematics and geomancy should be slapping your heads right about now.  256 = 16 × 16, the total number of pairwise combinations of geomantic figures with each other.  But even then, if we were to reduce it further, 2 + 5 + 6 = 13, and 1 + 3 = 4; alternatively, 256 % 9 = 4.  Four is also a huge number for us, there being four elements, four rows in a geomantic figure, four Mothers/Daughters/Nieces/Court figures, and so forth.  I don’t really need to expound on the myriad meanings of the number 4, given its importance in Hermetic, Pythagorean, and other systems of the occult.  Taking it a bit further as a letter-numeral, 4 is represented by the Hebrew Dālet, Arabic Dāl, and Greek Delta.  Its original meaning and form likely indicated “door”; in stoicheia, I principally associate Delta with the zodiacal sign Gemini, but it can also refer to the element of Water and the zodiacal sign of Cancer in other systems.  I also note that the Arabic Dāl is also the letter used to represent the element of Water in the Dā`irah-e-BZDḤ and Dā`irah-e-ABDḤ organizing systems of the figures, the former of which I’ve put to use in my geomantic energy working as being an Arabic-inspired seed syllable for Water.  Four is, also, the number associated with the sephirah Chesed on the Tree of Life, given to the planetary sphere of Jupiter.

On top of that, although the usual word for “light” in Hebrew is or (אור), the word nur (נור) using the same exact letters as in Arabic, and thus with the same exact numerology, refers to things that flare, flash, fire, or shine; this is an old Semitic triliteral root N-W-R that means light, illumination, and shining.  So that’s also really neat.  This word can also be associated with Hebrew ner (נר) meaning “candle”; “candle” is one of the names and images for the figure Via in some lineages of geomancy according to JMG and Skinner, and Via is sometimes considered to be the oldest or most important and powerful of the geomantic figures, as it contains all of the four elements active and present within itself as a complete whole.

Keeping with Hebrew numerology a bit longer, if we wanted to associate the usual Hebrew word for light numerologically, consider that or (אור) has a value of 207.  256 – 207 = 49, and 49 = 7 × 7, the total number of pairwise combinations of the seven planets as well as just being 7² and important for its own sake; that’s a fun connection, if not a bit contrived.  I also note that 256 is the same value as “spirit of the mother” (רוח אמא, ruach ima), which is important to recognize given that the first four figures we make are called the Mothers and are ungenerated from any other figure in the geomantic process.  It’s also the same value of the words B’nei Tzedeq (בני צדק), or “Sons of the Righteous”; in addition to being a popular name for Jewish synagogues and temples, it’s also a term used by the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls to refer to the good and devout portion of humanity (including/especially themselves), as opposed to the B’nei `Avel (בני עול), the “Sons of Iniquity”.  Besides the Qumran connection, if there were ever a choir of angels to be associated with geomancy or if we ever wanted a good Hebrew euphemism to refer to geomancers, I suppose B’nei Tzedeq would be a good start.  Plus, Tzedeq is also the Hebrew name for the planet Jupiter, hearkening back to the numerological connection with Chesed above.

I also, somewhat regrettably and hilariously, note that 256 is the numerology of the name Viagrahel, the angel of Viagra, for which I will never thank/blame Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick enough.  (I’m as shocked as you are that that, of all things, would come back to bite me in the ass after almost seven goddamn years.  It’s like my life is one big Chekhov’s dildo.)

What about Greek?  There aren’t many words I can find that add up to 256, but there’s one big one I know of: ἀληθής (alēthēs), meaning “[that which is] unconcealed/true” but also with uses that encapsulate: real, unerring, actual, not forgetting, careful, honest.  The root of this word is –lēth-, which refers to forgetfulness (as in the mythological river of the underworld Lethe and also our modern word “lethargic”, referring to idle forgetfulness).  In that case, ἀληθής refers to things that are unconcealed, true, and honest by means of recovery from forgetfulness or by keeping forgetfulness and ignorance at bay, or alternatively, that which cannot escape notice or remain hidden.  All this ties into the actual Greek word (and, for that matter, goddess) for truth, ἀλήθεια (alētheia), too.  Even if I couldn’t find any other Greek numerological equivalent, I think this one is huge enough to make up for any others.

So where do we end up?  We have a particularly beautiful attribute of the divine, “the Light”, used in the worship and reverence of God in Islam, the religious culture in which geomancy historically developed.  To be extraordinarily terse, notions of divine light fill numerous religious and philosophical traditions as being representative of divinity, especially in any Western tradition influenced by Neoplatonism, Abrahamic faiths, or Hermeticism.  This can be further stretched through a bit of numerology, connecting the word for Light to words for fire, illumination, revelation, and truth.  Calling God “the Light” is a lot more than just thinking of that which allows us to see; God is, in a more complete sense of this attribute, the sudden and revealing flash of illumination that allows us to see that which is true and real, bringing it out of darkness, forgetfulness, and ignorance  God is the quiet, true Light behind all Fire, able to spread and open doors of wisdom to us, communicating to us on an intellectual and emotional level through our sense faculties.  This Light is not just a quiet flame in a dimmed lamp that barely illuminates the shelf it sits on, but it is a fierce, conquering, undeniable, unassailable blast into the darkness, a Light that completely destroys and wipes away anything that could or would try to cover it, a Light that breaks into the cracks of any door, window, wall, or mind and fills every niche, crevice, and corner with its presence.   It is the Light of God, or even the Light that is God, that allows the unseen to be seen, the hidden to be revealed, the unknown to be known, and the forgotten to be remembered.  God is not just Light, but the Light of Light, Light within Light, and Light upon Light.

More than that, this sacred Light of the Mind and of the Word can reach us at any place and at any time, but we can approach it too through the devout study of the mysteries of the geomantic figures, specifically in how they add up amongst themselves in their 256 different combinations.  This same illuminating Light is the fundamental impulse from which the first stirrings of knowledge can be made, and provide the seeds themselves from with the four Mothers in geomantic divination are formed, from whom the entire rest of the geomantic process can be derived.  The Light of God is the necessary existent in order for us to see and know things by geomancy.  Understanding the geomantic figures themselves to be representative of the actual combinations of the four elements amongst the elements in 4 × 4 = 16 ways, and the combinations of elements amongst themselves in 16 × 16 = 256 ways, all of the possible things that come to be in the world and all the ways in which they pass into being and pass out of being are also undergirded by the Light of God, being ways in which that same Light emanates from God into the world, condensing through the four elements from Fire to Air to Water to Earth, mixing and matching between all possible states.  All this is fundamentally Light.

I always felt that Light was important for me to focus on in a religious and spiritual sense.  It’s nice to see that all coming together in ways that the ancients themselves would appreciate, and in ways that show me new things in new combinations.  And, perhaps, to reinforce the habit of keeping a lit candle or lamp burning nearby when I do geomancy.

Another Look at the Circle of Petosiris

Again with the same damn text as before, I suppose.  Lately I’ve been polishing up some of my own notes and personal texts that I don’t publicly share, one of which is my personal binder of divination texts I use for the Greek stuff I do, namely grammatomancy, astragalomancy, and some references to the Delphic Maxims that I like.  In the section I have on grammatomancy—much pared down from my De Grammatomanteia ebook, but refined to have more information and correspondences that I personally find useful—I’ve been trying to reorganize some of the information in a better way that reduces my reliance on external resources.  Of course, it’s mostly a “just in case” thing, and some of the stuff I don’t really use…but it doesn’t hurt to have.

One of the things I’ve been wrestling with is how much numerology stuff I want to include.  After all, numerology was considered pretty useful in classical times, and if nothing else, it’s informative and instructive to consider.  I’ve written about it before, specifically onomatomancy, literally “divination by names” (previously I called it “onomancy”, which isn’t wrong but isn’t as correct a term as I should be using).  I wrote three posts about it: one that overlaps numerology with stoicheia, one about using pythmēnes to determine winners, and one that uses particular numerological devices to determine the outcomes of events.  I’ve been debating whether to include summaries of these methods and their charts or rules in my divination binder for my temple, and it’s not a bad idea to, I suppose, though I’m unconvinced I really need to.  Still, it wouldn’t be bad to have, and having the stoicheia-based rules thrown in could be useful, so I’m leaning towards doing it anyway.  That’s what got me looking, once again, at the Circle of Petosiris, a particularly fun numerological tool to determine whether one will recover and live or succumb and die to an illness based on the numerological interactions between a person’s name and the lunar date on which they fall ill.

Get a drink and buckle up, dear reader.  This post got a bit longer than I had anticipated.

For some background on my resources for this, the first reference I found that discussed this particular device was Hugo Magnus’ Superstition in Medicine (1905).  Magnus touches on the topic briefly giving an outline of the topic, but he refers to two other texts: Marcellin Berthelot’s Introduction a l’étude de la chimie des anciens et du moyen age (1889) and a truly wondrous work, Auguste Bouché-Leclerq’s L’astrologie grecque (1899).  Indeed, it’s from Bouché-Leclercq that I ultimately got my images for the Circle of Petosiris, which he’s modified slightly to fix what he believes is an error in the original diagram.  Both of these Circles, however, ultimately come from MS Grec 2419 from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, which is a beast of a 15th century Greek manuscript that contains all sorts of magical, astrological, Solomonic, and other divinatory texts in Greek that I wish someone would translate at some point into English.

With that, let’s look at Bouché-Leclercq’s versions of the two Circles of Petosiris from MS Grec 2419.  Both of these Circles are found in MS Grec 2419, though I could only find them after looking hard; the way the BnF digitized the damn thing screwed up all the folio numbers.  All the same, let’s go with Bouché-Leclercq’s nicely-redone versions of the Circles, because the originals are rather messier and harder to read:

For comparison, take a look at what the Circles look like from the original text.  The two tables on either side of the Circle are, according to Bouché-Leclercq, computations of the days of the lunar month, though I’m not really sure what that means.  In either case, Bouché-Leclercq omits the tables, while Berthelot includes them in his own (faithfully reproduced) image.

 

If you take a closer look at both of these Circles (at least in Bouché-Leclercq’s versions), they have the same basic structure: a circle divided into four quadrants each filled with numbers, with a central middle column divided into an upper half and lower half also filled with numbers.  Thus, each circle contains six zones, and each of them are labeled with a particular outcome based on numbers; going clockwise from the 9 o’ clock position, these are Great Life (upper left), Average Life (upper central), Small Life (upper right), Small Death (lower right), Average Death (lower central), and Great Death (lower left).  Interestingly, the middle sections of the fancier Circle of Petosiris on the right aren’t labeled, but given the similarities and positioning between the Great and Small outcomes on either side, it can be inferred that the middle refers to Average.  In either case, the upper zones reflect outcomes of Life, and the lower zones the outcomes of Death.

Just to make sure the Circles are fully understood, let’s take a closer look at the Greek script in each.  On the left, simple Circle, the central line says Πετοσίρου κύκλος, literally “circle of Petosiros” (spelling intentional on this one).  Around the edge, starting at the 9 o’ clock position and going clockwise, we get the

  1. ἡ μεγάλη ζωή (“the great life”)
  2. μέση ζωή (“middle life”)
  3. ἡ μικρά ζωή (“the small life”)
  4. μικρός θάνατος (“small death”)
  5. μέσος θάνατος (“middle death”)
  6. ὁ μέγας θάνατος (“the great death”)

The fancier Circle has a lot more going on inside it. Above the diagram, there’s the phrase κύκλος Πετοσίρεως, or “circle of Petosiris”.  On the horizontal, we have ὅροι ζωῆς καὶ θανάτου, literally “the borders of life and death”, a pleasant label for such a device, I suppose.  The “lobes” around the edge of the fancier Circle, starting at the 9 o’ clock position and going clockwise, indicate both the course of the Sun around the Earth in a single day as well as the four elements:

  1. ἀρκτικός μεσόγειος (“Arctic [star] over the earth”, i.e. midnight)
  2. πῦρ (“fire”)
  3. ἀνατολή ὑπέργειος (“rising above the earth”, i.e. sunrise)
  4. ἀήρ (“air”)
  5. μεσημβρία μεσόγειος (“midday over the earth”, i.e. noon)
  6. ὕδωρ (“water”)
  7. δύσις ὑπόγειος (“setting under the earth”, i.e. sunset)
  8. γῆ (“earth”)

In other words, if the fancier Circle of Petosiris were to be considered as a compass, north would be to the left, east at the top, south to the right, and west to the bottom.  The use of the elements here is interesting, as it might be thought to allocate certain elemental qualities to certain times of the day.  Continuing on, going around the outermost circle quadrant by quadrant, there are the following four messages:

  1. οὗτοι ταχέως σώζουσιν (“these save from death quickly”)
  2. οὗτοι ἐντός ἑπτά ἡμερῶν σώζουσιν  (“these save from death within seven days”, i.e. slowly)
  3. οὗτοι ἐντός ἑπτά ἡμερῶν ἀναιροῦσιν (“these kill within seven days”, i.e. slowly)
  4. οὗτοι ταχέως ἀναιροῦσιν (“these kill quickly”)

These line up with the text outside the circle and past the lobes, respectively μεγάλη ζωή (“great life”), μικρά ζωή (“small life”), μικρός θάνατος (“small death”), and μέγας θάνατος (“great death”).  It might be inferred, then, that the Average Life and Average Death zones would take effect in a span of three days or less, to use the same week-based timeframe for the Small Life and Small Death, while the Great Life and Great Death zones would take effect within a day.  It’s an odd timing system to use, I suppose, but it does offer a relative sense of scale.

Each quadrant also has a longer message in the innermost circle, though it’s repeated twice within each quadrant, once within each eighth-part of the circle:

  1. ἀρκτικά ὑπέργεια του βοῥῥᾶ (“Arctic [stars] above the earth [in the region] of Boreas [i.e. the north]”)
  2. μεσημβρία ὑπέργειος του βοῥῥᾶ (“midday [stars] above the earth [in the region] of Boreas [i.e. the north]”)
  3. μεσημβρία ὑπόγειος του νότου (“midday [stars] under the earth [in the region] of Notos [i.e. the south]”)
  4. ἀρκτικά ὑπόγεια του νότου (“Arctic [stars] under the earth of the [in the region] of Notos [i.e. the south]”)

These latter messages are probably supposed to represent the four parts of the day—viz. late night between midnight and sunrise, early day between sunrise and noon, late day between noon and sunset, early night between sunset and midnight—but these are given using kind of unusual astronomical phrases that I’m not fully certain I have right.  However, Berthelot doesn’t describe why these additions of times of day, positions of stars, or elements to the fancier Circle of Petosiris might be here, and they don’t seem to actually be used for numerological or onomatomantic divination; Bouché-Leclercq brings this up, and says that their inclusion is a “strange whim” and unknown how it might have been used.  However, based on some of the text (great life, small death, three zones of numbers per hemisphere, etc.), we have an almost identical setup of the basic arrangement of numbers, though Bouché-Leclercq says that the order is mysterious, i.e. it’s unknown why or how the numbers are arranged the way that they are.

The only real difference in how these two Circles of Petosiris are used is by what number one divides by to obtain a remainder; when using the simple Circle, one divides by 29, while with the fancy Circle, one divides by 30.  This matches how the simple Circle only contains numbers from 1 to 29 (αʹ to κθʹ) while the fancier Circle goes from 1 to 30 (αʹ to λʹ).  We know that lunar months have either 29 days (a hollow month) or 30 days (a full month), so it struck me that the simple Circle should be used when one falls ill during a hollow month, and the fancier Circle during a full month; neither Berthelot nor Bouché-Leclercq suggest this, but this makes so much more sense, in that these two Circles can be used alongside each other, just not at the same time!  After all, both of these Circles appear in the same overall text (though perhaps not by the same actual author), so using one for one kind month and the other for the other kind of month makes some sense so that nothing is missed.  Using this idea, the simple Circle can be called the Hollow Circle of Petosiris for use with hollow months of 29 days, and the fancier one the Full Circle of Petosiris for use with full months of 29 days.

In this light, we can compare how the outcomes match between the two Circles:

Quality Outcome Hollow Month
(29 days)
Full Month
(30 days)
Bright Great Life 2, 3, 7, 9, 11 2, 3, 7, 9, 10, 11
Average Life 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20
Small Life 22, 23, 26, 28 22, 23, 26, 28
Dark Small Death 1, 25, 27, 29 1, 25, 27, 30
Average Death 4, 10, 15, 18, 21, 24 4, 15, 18, 21, 24, 29
Great Death 5, 6, 8, 12 5, 6, 8, 12

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the outcomes of the hollow Circle and the full Circle are almost exactly the same!  There are only three differences between how the days are arranged between the two circles:

  • Day 30 (which doesn’t exist in hollow months) is given to Small Death in full months
  • Day 29 is given to Average Death in full months and to Small Death in hollow months
  • Day 10 is given to Great Life in full months and to Average Death in hollow months

This further reinforces the notion that one circle really is meant for hollow months and the other for full months, and that the two Circles really belong to the same overall system, using one or the other based on the specific month of the illness.  In that sense, we can rearrange this table slightly to show how similar both systems really are:

Quality Outcome Hollow Month
(29 Days)
Common Full Month
(30 Days)
Bright Great Life 2, 3, 7, 9, 11 10
Average Life 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20
Small Life 22, 23, 26, 28
Dark Small Death 29 1, 25, 27 30
Average Death 10 4, 15, 18, 21, 24 29
Great Death 5, 6, 8, 12

Note that the regions above the horizon in the full Circle, marked as above the Earth according to the time of day, are labeled in the table above as “Bright”, while the lower regions marked as below the earth are labeled as “Dark”.  This gives an interesting binary quality to each day of the month, which can also help predict how things overall turn out in addition to simple illnesses:

  1. Take the name of the person, find the isopsephic value of the name, divide by the total number of days in the month, and find out whether the remainder is Bright or Dark according to the proper Circle of Petosiris for the type of month.
  2. Find whether the given day of the lunar month on which one initiates a new project, task, or journey is Bright or Dark, according to the proper Circle of Petosiris for the type of month.
  3. If both numbers are Bright, the whole of the project, task, or journey will be fortunate and good.
  4. If both numbers are Dark, the whole of the project, task, or journey will be unfortunate and bad.
  5. If the number of the person is Bright and the number of the day is Dark, the person will be in danger, but they will escape the danger.  More generally, fortune will occur under the appearance of misfortune.
  6. If the number of the person is Dark and the number of the day is Bright, misfortunes will occur under the appearance of fortune, and although things appear to go well, hidden dangers and traps lie about.

In either case, it should be noted that there are slightly more Bright days than there are Dark days; there are always 14 Dark days every month, with 15 Bright days in hollow months and 16 Bright days in full months.  At least there’s a greater chance of success or survival than not, I suppose.

Yet another way that the Circles can be used is to determine which of two parties in a contest, fight, or battle will win.  Take the isopsehic values of each of their names, divide by 30, and find the remainder using the Full Circle of Petosiris to compare their respective results; the value with the better quality will determine the winner.  For instance, in the ever-popular onomatomantic example, Achilles (Αχιλλευς) has the isopsephic value of 1267, which gives a remainder of 7, landing in “Great Life”, while Hector (Εκτωρ) has a value of 1225, which gives a remainder of 25, landing in “Small Death”.  Though not as much is said about this method, several other

  • Bright outcomes automatically become victorious over Dark outcomes.
  • Especially in fatal conflicts, Dark outcomes indicate actual death, whether immediately or after a long-sustained injury or infection.
  • If both parties end up in Dark outcomes, the one with the least bad result will survive the longest but both will lose.
  • If both parties end up in Bright outcomes, the contest may be brought about to an amicable end, with the party with the better outcome having the upper hand.
  • If both parties end up in the same outcome, the contest may be conceived of as equal and coming to a truce or stalemate, or we can resort to other numerological and onomatomantic methods instead (such as the pythmēnes method), though we could also use a simpler rule of just looking at the outcome numbers themselves and comparing directly with them, unless those two numbers are also the same.

In general, it seems like the Circle of Petosiris is actually a multipurpose numerological and onomatomantic tool of divination that can be used to not just determine the outcome of illnesses but of any general event, battle, or project.  What’s interests me and which can be another useful diagnostic tool, however, is the attribution of Brightness or Darkness to particular days.  After all, I already have a lunar calendar (well, really, lunisolar calendar), the Grammatēmerologion, which gives individual days of the lunar months to the letters of the Greek alphabet for prognostication and ritual planning.  If Bright and Dark days can be thought of as naturally tending to fortune or misfortune, respectively, especially for particular people based on their names, then it wouldn’t be hard to conceive of this as further enhancing the Grammatēmerologion system:

Day
Number
Day
Letter
Quality
Hollow Month
(29 days)
Full Month
(30 days)
1 Α Dark
2 Β Bright
3 Γ Bright
4 Δ Dark
5 Ε Dark
6 Ϝ Dark
7 Ζ Bright
8 Η Dark
9 Θ Bright
10 Dark Bright
11 Ι Bright
12 Κ Dark
13 Λ Bright
14 Μ Bright
15 Ν Dark
16 Ξ Bright
17 Ο Bright
18 Π Dark
19 Ϙ Bright
20 Bright
21 Ρ Dark
22 Σ Bright
23 Τ Bright
24 Υ Dark
25 Φ Dark
26 Χ Bright
27 Ψ Dark
28 Ω Bright
29 ϡ Dark
30 Dark

This is kind of weird, though, when you look at it.  Some days that are given to really beneficial or naturally “bright” letters (like Alpha, “the god says that you will do everything well”, or Ēta, “the bright Sun who watches all watches you”) are given to be Dark, and vice versa (like Ōmega, given to Saturn, also has the comparatively awful oracle “you will have a worthless harvest, not a useful one”).  Additionally, the days that are given to obsolete letters (6, 19, and 29) or to unlettered days (10, 20, and 30) don’t really have much of a pattern as to which are Bright or Dark, even though it’s considered in the base Grammatēmerologion system that unlettered days are naturally considered unlucky or ill-favored for ritual or work.  I mean, I’m not really that surprised, considering how the Circle of Petosiris and the Grammatēmerologion system have no connection or shared logic behind them besides both relying on the use of a lunar month, and the fact that the Greek manuscript dates to the 1400s CE, but still.  Perhaps there is a logic behind how the Circle of Petosiris arranges days as Bright or Dark, or amongst the Great/Average/Small Life and Death categories, and I just don’t see it yet. At least I’m in good company of earlier scholars, I suppose.

It’s trying to figure out that order that reminded me of one of the first reasons why I ever learned about the Circle of Petosiris, namely the Sphere of Dēmokritos from PGM XII.351—364, something I mentioned in the original post about this stuff.  It’s a much simpler system, but the underlying method is the same: take the value of the person who has fallen ill, add to it the number of the day of the lunar month, divide by thirty, and take the remainder.

Unlike the more complex Circle of Petosiris with its threefold division of either life or death, the Sphere of Dēmokritos gives only two outcomes: if the result falls in the upper part of the table from PGM XII.351—364, the person will live, and if in the lower section, they will die.

  • Live: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 25, 26, 27
  • Die: 5, 6, 8, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 22, 28, 29, 30

On a whim, if we redefine “live” as Bright and “die” as Dark, I decided to compare how the Sphere of Dēmokritos matches up with our Circle of Petosiris scheme:

Day Letter Hollow
Circle
Full
Circle
Sphere of
Dēmokritos
1 Α Dark Dark Bright
2 Β Bright
3 Γ Bright
4 Δ Dark Dark Bright
5 Ε Dark
6 Ϝ Dark
7 Ζ Bright
8 Η Dark
9 Θ Bright
10 Dark Bright Bright
11 Ι Bright
12 Κ Dark
13 Λ Bright
14 Μ Bright
15 Ν Dark
16 Ξ Bright
17 Ο Bright
18 Π Dark
19 Ϙ Bright
20 Bright
21 Ρ Dark
22 Σ Bright Dark Dark
23 Τ Bright
24 Υ Dark
25 Φ Dark Dark Bright
26 Χ Bright
27 Ψ Dark Dark Bright
28 Ω Bright Dark Dark
29 ϡ Dark
30 Dark Dark

The overlap here is, frankly, astounding; in general, of the thirty days of the Sphere of Dēmokritos, eight are different from either the Hollow or Full Circles of Petosiris (days 1, 4, 10, 22, 25, 27, 28, and 30), and if we just limit ourselves to the Full Circle of Petosiris, the overlap is even greater where only four days are different (days 1, 4, 25, and 27).  For one text that dates back to the fourth century and another that’s dated to the fifteenth, that’s incredible.  The striking similarities between these systems shows that either they were developed independently using a similar method that happened upon similar results, or (perhaps and hopefully) more likely, that the Sphere of Dēmokritos is an earlier form of the Circle of Petosiris, or closely-related to one of the Circle’s forebears, with only a few changes/copyist errors slipping in along the way and the Circle developing a finer gradation of results from a simple “live” or “die” outcome.

In fact, if you think about it, consider how the numbers are arranged in the Sphere of Dēmokritos: an upper and a lower half, with the upper half indicating life and a lower half indicating death, with three groups of numbers in each half: one on the left, one on the right, and one in the middle.  Consider where the overlaps apply even in how these numbers are arranged: in the Great Life section in the upper left of the Circle of Petosiris, you have 2, 3, 7, 9, and 11; in the Sphere of Dēmokritos, the upper left column has 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and 9, with 1 and 4 being known as flipped in brightness and with 11 being found in the middle column of the Sphere.  If you plot not only what the overlaps are but where they occur, you have essentially same system, just represented in a more rectangular format!

It’s at this point that I’m getting really hooked now, because now I want to know what the logic is behind why the numbers of the lunar month are arranged the way they are on the Circle of Petosiris.  After a bit, it seems like one of the few (maybe the only?) text that discusses this topic is Otto Neugebauer and George Saliba’s 1989 paper On Greek Numerology (Centaurus, vol. 31, pp. 189—206).  Neugebauer and Saliba document a number of instances of the Circle of Petosiris that are extant in a variety of texts, including the Sphere of Dēmokritos, and even claim that the list of lucky and unlucky days of the Egyptian calendar given in PGM VII.272—283 is a highly corrupted version of this same system.  Neugebauer and Saliba go over about a dozen manuscripts, but they don’t go into depth on how significantly different the Circles of Petosiris of each might differ.  My idea of using one such Circle for hollow months and another for full months makes sense (though I could just as easily use the Hollow Circle for both and just add on day 30 where we’d expect in the Full Circle and make no other changes), but who’s to say whether such a combined approach might ever have been used, especially if there were so many other variations available?  That Bouché-Leclerq inter alia share two such Circles, one based on the number 29 and another based on the number 30, might just be a coincidence of fate and philology.

What’s interesting from Neugebauer and Salida’s paper is something that I glossed over as unimportant at the beginning of this post.  Recall those tables by the Hollow Circle of Petosiris from MS Grec 2419?  Bouché-Leclercq says that those are “computations of the days of the lunar month”.  Neugebauer and Saliba, based on a hint from some of Paul Tannery’s chapter on fragments of similar numerological devices in from Notices et extraits des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque nationale et autres bibliothèques (1886, vol. 31, part 2, pp.231—260), figured out that the large numbers are the numerological equivalents of the actual names of the dates of the lunar month plus an extra word or phrase.  For instance, in the first row of the left table, there’s the number ͵αφπθ = 1589.  Neugebauer and Salida reckon this to be the equivalent of the words ΠΡΩΤΗ (1288) and ΣΕΛΗΝΗ (301), which together add to be 1589.  Indeed, they find that the numerical values of each row are equivalent to the spelled-out name of the date plus the word for Moon in Greek, as the text itself indicates: “reckon also the name of the Moon if it falls from conjunction to full-moon”.  Likewise, the values in the right table all have the number 138 added as a constant, which is explained as “the number of the waning-moon”, literally the word “hollow” (ΚΟΙΛΗ).   Thus, the top row of the right table, day 16, we would expect then to be “sixteen hollow” or ΕΞ ΚΑΙ ΔΕΚΑΤΗ and ΚΟΙΛΗ: 5 + 60 + 20 + 1 + 10 + 4 + 5 + 20 + 1 + 300 + 5 = 431, then 431 + 138 = 569.  Indeed, we find the number φμθʹ, which is 569.

If we were to develop a complete reproduction of this kind of table, then we’d end up with the following.  Where there is more than one set of values for a given day, this shows that there were different ways to write out the name of the day based on the given source of the specific Circle method, e.g. day 16 could be written as ΔΕΚΑΤΗ ΕΚΤΗ or it could be written as ΕΞ ΚΑΙ ΔΕΚΑΤΗ.  I know some of these aren’t necessarily what’s used in modern Greek, but they are attested in the literature Neugebauer and Saliba reference as well as other classical sources.

Day Name Modifier Sum
Word Value Word Value
1 ΠΡΩΤΗ 1288 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 1589
2 ΔΕΥΤΕΡΗ 822 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 1123
3 ΤΡΙΤΗ 718 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 1019
4 ΤΕΤΑΡΤΗ 1014 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 1315
5 ΠΕΜΠΤΗ 513 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 814
6 ΕΚΤΗ 333 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 634
7 ΕΒΔΟΜΗ 129 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 430
8 ΟΓΔΟΗ 155 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 456
9 ΕΝΑΤΗ 364 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 665
ΕΝΝΑΤΗ 414 715
10 ΔΕΚΑΤΗ 338 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 639
11 ΕΝΔΕΚΑΤΗ 393 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 694
12 ΔΩΔΕΚΑΤΗ 1142 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 1443
13 ΔΕΚΑΤΗ ΤΡΙΤΗ 1056 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 1357
14 ΔΕΚΑΤΗ ΤΕΤΑΡΤΗ 1352 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 1653
15 ΔΕΚΑΤΗ ΠΕΜΠΤΗ 851 ΣΕΛΗΝΗ 301 1152
ΠΕΝΤΕ ΚΑΙ ΔΕΚΑΤΗ 809 1110
16 ΔΕΚΑΤΗ ΕΚΤΗ 671 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 809
ΕΞ ΚΑΙ ΔΕΚΑΤΗ 434 572
17 ΔΕΚΑΤΗ ΕΒΔΟΜΗ 447 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 585
ΕΠΤΑ ΚΑΙ ΔΕΚΑΤΗ 755 893
18 ΔΕΚΑΤΗ ΟΓΔΟΗ 453 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 591
ΟΚΤΩ ΚΑΙ ΔΕΚΑΤΗ 1539 1677
19 ΔΕΚΑΤΗ ΕΝΑΤΗ 702 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 840
ΕΝΝΕΑ ΚΑΙ ΔΕΚΑΤΗ 480 618
20 ΕΙΚΟΣΤΗ 613 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 751
21 ΕΙΚΟΣΤΗ ΠΡΩΤΗ 1901 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 2039
22 ΕΙΚΟΣΤΗ ΔΕΥΤΕΡΗ 1435 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 1573
23 ΕΙΚΟΣΤΗ ΤΡΙΤΗ 1331 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 1469
24 ΕΙΚΟΣΤΗ ΤΕΤΑΡΤΗ 1627 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 1765
25 ΕΙΚΟΣΤΗ ΠΕΜΠΤΗ 1126 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 1264
26 ΕΙΚΟΣΤΗ ΕΚΤΗ 946 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 1084
27 ΕΙΚΟΣΤΗ ΕΒΔΟΜΗ 742 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 880
28 ΕΙΚΟΣΤΗ ΟΓΔΟΗ 768 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 906
29 ΕΙΚΟΣΤΗ ΕΝΑΤΗ 977 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 1115
30 ΤΡΙΑΚΟΣΤΗ 1009 ΚΟΙΛΗ 138 1147

The reason why these tables are given in MS Grec 2419 and other texts is due to a particular way of using the Circle of Petosiris that I wasn’t taking into account earlier.  The method I thought would be used—perhaps biased by my first encounter with this sort of technique from the Sphere of Dēmokritos from PGM XII.351—364—would be to take the value of the person’s name and the actual number of the lunar date, sum them together, divide by the number of days in the lunar month, and use the remainder.  Rather, it seems that instead of using the raw number (perhaps as a later development, or as an alternative technique?) one would use the value of the actual name of the lunar date instead, and in most cases (there’s at least one manuscript that doesn’t do this) modified by whether the date was during the waxing or waning moon.  The benefit to using the numbers in the table above, whether of the name itself or the name plus a modifier, has the benefit of making more erratic the results of dividing and taking the remainder in a discontinuous, semi-unpredictable way (1589, 1123, 1019, 1315, …), as compared to the sequential order of the actual numbers of the days of the lunar month (1, 2, 3, 4, …).

That means we have several methods to use now for the Circle of Petosiris, although several of them can be ignored because they confuse adding pure numbers with names of numbers.  In any case, we’d take the same approach: come up with a sum, divide by the number of days in the lunar month, and find the remainder among the zones of the proper Circle of Petosiris:

  1. Add the value of the name of the person to the number of the lunar day.
  2. Add the value of the name of the person to the number of the lunar day plus the number of the day of the week.
  3. Add the value of the name of the person to the number of the lunar day plus the value of the name of the day of the week.
  4. Add the value of the name of the person to the value of the name of the lunar day.
  5. Add the value of the name of the person to the value of the name of the lunar day plus the number of the day of the week.
  6. Add the value of the name of the person to the value of the name of the lunar day plus the value of the name of the day of the week.
  7. Add the value of the name of the person to the value of the name of the lunar day plus a modifier.
  8. Add the value of the name of the person to the value of the name of the lunar day plus a modifier and the number of the day of the week.
  9. Add the value of the name of the person to the value of the name of the lunar day plus a modifier and the value of the name of the day of the week.

The same could likewise be done by comparing the value of the name of the person against the number of the lunar date or the value of the name of the date, after dividing and taking the remainder of each by the number of days in the lunar month, and seeing where each remainder falls to compare them.

This is all well and good, and Neugebauer and Saliba have done some pretty intense work to correlate and investigate all the variations in these weird sums and modifiers found where there are such tables with Circles of Petosiris.  However, in an incredibly disappointing conclusion, they finish their paper by saying that “obviously one should now explain how these numbers were classified into strong, medium, and weak ones…our attempts in this direction did not lead to any convincing result.”  As the mathematician and historian Joel Kalvesmaki says on this specific point, they “solved many important problems but left many more outstanding”.  What we’re likely relying on is a fundamentally old tradition of lucky and unlucky numbers within the context of lunar dates, and it doesn’t seem to be clear to anyone why the Circle of Petosiris or the Sphere of Dēmokritos or other such techniques arrange the numbers the way they do.  Neugebauer and Saliba suggest that “since these numbers represent lunar dates, it is plausible to search for astrological motivations”, although Kalvesmaki makes a good point that such a kind of system of days can have any number of mutually-nonexclusive origins: making observations from experience and experiment, informative myths, zodiacal considerations, and the like.

It seems that, unfortunately, I’m at a dead end with this sort of investigation.  Unless I get access to a wide number of manuscripts dating back some two millennia and somehow pick up classical and medieval Greek, I doubt I can get much further along this line of thinking.  I suppose the only thing left is to experimentation.  One easy way would be to use the comparison method: take the value of my name and compare it to any of the combinations above: the number of the lunar day as reckoned from the Noumēnia in my Grammatēmerologion with or without the number of the day of the week added, or the value of the name of the day according to the table with or without the modifier value with or without the value of the name of the number of the day of the week.  I suppose it wouldn’t be hard to write a simple program to do just that, then keep a running log of how good or bad a given day is.  It’s not as satisfying as discovering some long-lost ancient logic or system, but picking out patterns can be just as sweet once you sift through the salt.

Greek Onomancy: Linking Isopsephy with Stoicheia

For someone who doesn’t much care for numerological and onomantic techniques, I sure have caught some kind of bug on this.  Then again, I suppose it’s helpful to brush up on these methods of exegesis and esoteric analysis of individual words.  I have it on my to-do list to analyze the Ephesian Grammata and other barbarous words within a mathetic framework, and besides pure meditation and contemplation, it helps to have some other guiding principles that can tease out deeper meaning.  Seeing how many of our forebears in philosophy, the occult, and religion used many of these techniques and in many different variations for their worldviews, I suppose there’s something to it.  Still, I can’t help but feel like I’m grasping at something hilariously dumb here, but I could use any tool I can get.

The last two posts have discussed a few methods of Greek numerological divination based on names, isopsephy, pythmenes, and modular division (taking the remainder after division).  With these methods, we know how to determine who will win in a fight, how a conflict may be resolved, and whether one will recover from illness and, if so, how soon.  These methods can be expanded in any number of ways, but I want to take this in a slightly different direction.  For me, although the isopsephy of the letters are important, the stoicheia is even more so (at least at my early stage of study).  It’d be awesome to find a way to tie isopsephy and stoicheia together, and I think I’ve found such a way.  Similar methods exist in the extant literature of Greek numerology from the early first few centuries AD, but I’m combining this with the rest of grammatomancy and a few of my other tricks to expand the system a bit further.

The process is similar to the other onomantic methods we’ve seen before, except instead of using 9 or 30 as our divisor, we use 24, since there are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet:

  1. Find the isopsephic value of a word.
  2. Divide each by 24 and take the remainder.
  3. If the remainder is 0, then we use 24.
  4. The letter corresponding in the Greek alphabet with the value is our letter.

Thus, consider my name, polyphanes (πολυφανης) has an isopsephic value of 1339.  1339 % 24 = 19, and the nineteenth letter of the Greek alphabet is Tau (Τ), associated with Pisces, lending my own name Piscean traits.  If we also include the Greek alphabet oracle into this, we know that Tau is associated with the oracle “You will have a parting from the companions now around you”; this can be an overall message to my life, something I should heed in all matters that can direct me as a fundamental bit of advice.  These two factors combined suggest that I’ll have a bit of a problem holding onto friends for a long period of time, possibly due to constant wandering, possibly due to constant mystery and mysticality surrounding me.

However, we can expand this as well by recalling that there are three groups of stoicheic forces represented by the Greek alphabet: five elements, seven planets, and twelve zodiac signs.  Although taking the remainder by dividing by 24 yields an overall view, an all-encompassing force to which a word or name belongs, we can take the remainder by dividing by 5, 7, and 12 to obtain a specific view for what element, planet, and zodiac sign specifically relates to that word under the overall context of the stoicheion obtained by dividing by 24.  Thus, again, using my own name of polyphanes with its isopsephic value of 1339:

  • Element: 1339 % 5 = 4.  The fourth element is Fire (Χ).
  • Planet: 1339 % 7 = 2.  The second planet is Mercury (Ε).
  • Zodiac: 1339 % 12 = 7.  The seventh zodiac sign is Libra (Μ).

Oddly enough, these are all some of the most important things I value in my work.  What about my actual given name, which is in Greek Σαμουηλ?  The isopsephic value of this word is 749, which yields:

  • Stoicheic: 749 % 24 = 5.  The fifth letter is Epsilon (Ε), whose stoicheia is the planet Mercury and whose oracle is “You desire to see the offspring of righteous marriages”.  Mercury certainly is a dominating force in my life (could you guess?), and one of the recurring messages I keep getting is to stop peering around and start acting on what I can and should be acting upon.
  • Element: 749 % 5 = 4.  The fourth element is Fire (X).  Although I’m more earthy than fiery in my birth chart, I still tend to run hot and dry.
  • Planet: 749 % 7 = 7.  The seventh planet is Saturn (Ω).  A planet that’s oddly and powerfully dignified in my birth chart, and with which I have a fascination and reliance upon after Mercury.
  • Zodiac: 749 % 12 = 5.  The fifth zodiac sign is Leo (Κ).  I have nothing in this sign in my birth chart, and it’s not particularly important, but then, this is all just me throwing things off the top of my head.  Leo is a sign of rulership and renown, and I do tend to end up with that despite my best attempts to avoid it.

Thus, by taking the remainder of a given isopsephic value by dividing by some sacred number, we end up with an association of a given word to an overall stoicheic force as well as specific forces that constitute its parts.  We can analyze a word through these stoicheic connections, determining overall esoteric or expressive meanings to each.

However, we can also use these stoicheic associations to make sacred words that “encode” the forces of a given word.  Combinatorically, it’s no different than just taking the isopsehic value itself; any word that has the same isopsephic value will have the same stoicheic associations.  So, let’s say we have our four letters based on a given isopsephic value of a word: stoicheic, elemental, planetary, and zodiacal.  The stoicheic force is both the end and beginning of the word, since it encapsulates and contains that entire word; we have this letter at the start and end of the word.  The other letters fill in the space between the “bookend” stoicheic letters.  Thus, for πολυφανης, we know that our four letters are Τ, Χ, Ε, and Μ.  If we use our rules for pronouncing generated Greek words from before, we might end up with the word Taukhemyt (Ταυχεμυτ, based on ΤΧΕΜΤ) to represent my name as a mantra or obscuration/occultation that focuses the entire forces of the word together, or that might act as a type of spiritual alias for the name based on its stoicheic forces much as the name of the natal genius functions for one in astrology.  For my given name Σαμουηλ, the corresponding letters are Ε, Χ, Ω, and Κ, and the corresponding word might be Ekhōke (Εχωκε).

This sort of linking between the isopsephy of a word and a given letter of the Greek alphabet, along with its corresponding stoicheia, isn’t too far a stretch of isopsephic and numerological techniques.  Similar techniques have been used in methods of onomancy that derive an astrological birth chart from someone’s name by modular divination by 7 and 12 combined with other numbers, and there are echoes of this in some geomantic techniques I’ve used and seen other use as well.  The written works of Joel Kalvesmaki in the modern day are an incredibly useful resource on how Greek numerology was applied, as well as number symbolism was used and interpreted in the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire period, and I plan on experimenting with some of these techniques in the future besides straightforward isopsephic comparison.  Who knows?  Maybe my own views on what I’ve perceived as nonsense will change.  It’s happened before with orgone tech, after all.

Greek Onomancy: Determining a Winner with Pythmenes

After the last post on onomancy, I realized that there’s more to Greek letter and number divination involving names than simply determining whether a sick person will live or die.  Plus, there are far more ways to count the letters in a Greek word than straightforward isopsephia, and this time I’ll go over a slightly different method that can be used in a more straightforward fashion than looking things up in a complicated table or circular chart.  This is called the method of pythmenes, or “roots”, and is based more on the numbers 1 through 9 than anything else.  The source text for this is from Hippolytus’ Refutation of All Heresies (book IV, chapter 14), which is a fantastic resource of how everyone did things back in the day that were offensive to early Christian sensibilities, including a good chunk of occult knowledge.

For the system of pythmenes, instead of assigning each letter of the Greek alphabet a number 1 through 9 by ones, 10 through 90 by tens, and 100 through 900 by hundreds, we only assign a single digit value to each letter ignoring magnitude.  Thus, Alpha (1), Iota (10), and Rho (100) all have a pythmenic value of 1, even though their isopsephic values differ.  Here’s a full chart comparing the isopsephic and pythmenic values of the Greek alphabet:

Letter Isopsephy Pythmenes
Α 1 1
Β 2 2
Γ 3 3
Δ 4 4
Ε 5 5
Ζ 7 7
Η 8 8
Θ 9 9
Ι 10 1
Κ 20 2
Λ 30 3
Μ 40 4
Ν 50 5
Ξ 60 6
Ο 70 7
Π 80 8
Ρ 100 1
Σ 200 2
Τ 300 3
Υ 400 4
Φ 500 5
Χ 600 6
Ψ 700 7
Ω 800 8

Or, shown a simpler way based on the pythmenic value:

Pythmenes Letters
1 Α, Ι, Ρ
2 Β, Κ, Σ
3 Γ, Λ, Τ
4 Δ, Μ, Υ
5 Ε, Ν, Φ
6 Ξ, Χ
7 Ζ, Ο, Ψ
8 Η, Π, Ω
9 Θ

Alright, so we have our numbers for our letters.  And yes, note that 6 only has two letters assigned to it and 9 only has one; 6 would also be assigned the letter digamma, and 9 would be assigned qoppa and sampi, but these are all obsolete letters and thus unused in pythmenes.  So, how do we use these values?  Generally, the rule to form a pythmenic value of a name is similar to that of calculating an isopsephic value.  However, there’s a little more complexity involved:

  1. Find the pythmenic value of every letter in the name.
  2. If any letters are duplicated, count the duplicated letter only once.
  3. Add up the pythmenic values of all the remaining letters.
  4. Divide the pythmenic sum by nine and take the remainder.  This is the pythmenic value of the name.
  5. If the remainder is 0, then the pythmenic value of the name is 9.

Now, say you want to compare two people who are, say, in a fight, and you want to know who wins.  Take the pythmenic value of each name and compare them:

  • If one pythmenic value is odd and the other even, the larger number wins.
  • If the pythmenic values are both odd or both even but are different numbers, the smaller number wins.

So, what happens when both numbers are the same?  This is where things get a little hairy, and it all depends, but both can be considered equal in power, yet a winner must result.  Generally speaking, if both pythmenic values are the same and are both odd, then the “lesser” one wins; if both values are the same and are both even, the “greater” one wins.  “Lesser” and “greater” are terms I’m applying to the notion of the challenger (“lesser”) and the challenged (“greater”); the challenger is one who must prove their strength or supremacy, while the challenged is the one who has already proved it.  However, “lesser” and “greater” can also imply other criteria such as age, wealth, standing, or other factors depending on the contest or struggle at hand.  Going by old (and admittedly sexist) number symbolism, odd numbers are perceived as masculine and therefore aggressive (“challenging”), while even numbers are perceived as feminine and therefore passive (“challenged”); thus, if both numbers are the same, they fall in line with whichever side agrees with the value.

So, consider two people fighting each other, and let’s pick the names Hector (Εκτωρ) and Patroclus (Πατροκλος) from Homer’s Iliad to determine who wins the fight.  Hector’s name has the pythmenic value of 5 + 2 + 3 + 8 + 1 = 19 % 9 = 1.  Patroclus has a pythmenic value of 8 + 1 + 3 + 1 + 7 + 2 + 3 + ∅ + 2 (the second Ο is a duplicate, so we don’t count it, thus ∅) = 27 % 9 = 0 → 9 (nine divides evenly into 27, so although the remainder is 0, this is pythmenically equivalent to 9).  Both of these numbers are odd but are not equal to each other; thus, Hector, who has the smaller pythmenic value, wins, and indeed, Hector kills Patroclus in their fight.  However, we know that Achilles (Αχιλλευς) also fights Hector after this; the pythmenic value of Achilles is 1 + 6 + 1 + 3 + ∅ + 5 + 4 + 2 = 22 % 9 = 4.  The pythmenic value of Hector’s name is odd, while that of Achilles is even, and since Achilles’ number is larger, Achilles wins and kills Hector.

Instead of determining the winner of two parties in a fight, this same method can be used to find out whether one will live or die in an illness.  We can see the disease as a struggle between patient and illness, and we can use the pythmenic values of the person’s name as well as of the day letter as we did before with the Sphere of Democritus and the Circle of Petosiris.  In the case of both numbers having the same pythmenic value, we can consider the patient to be the “greater” and the illness the “lesser” or that which challenges the patient.  Of course, sometimes the rules also took into account days of the week or other numbers, which could shed a little more light into the situation.

So, let’s say it’s 200 AD, and my name is actually polyphanes (Πολυφανης), and it’s a few days before the full moon, say the 12th of the lunar month.  I suddenly get a fever and I decide to go to bed, and a healer-magician comes by and runs some tests.  The pythmenic value of my name is 8 + 7 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 1 + 5 + 8 + 2 = 43 % 9 = 7.  The pythmenic value of the day number is 12 % 9 = 3.  Bad news for me; both values are odd but not equal, and the day the disease took hold has the smaller value, so the disease wins and I lose, i.e. die.

What if we take into account the day of the week?  Marking Sunday as day 1 and Saturday as day 7, let’s say that the 12th day of the lunar month happened to fall on a Tuesday, which would have the value of 3.  If we add 3 to the day number 12, we get 3 +12 = 15, and 15 % 9 = 6.  The news isn’t so bad after all; now the date on which I fell ill is an even number, and my name has an odd number which is greater, so I’ll win out in the end after all.

A variant of this technique can be applied to the notion of rematches.  If the conflict between the two sides is the first time they’ve fought, then you use the whole names of both.  If, however, this is their second match, drop the first letter of each name before calculating their pythmenic values; if the third match, drop the first two letters; etc.  This process can be continued as long as there exists at least one letter in one of the names, at which point we might expect that to be the final match between the two parties.

And just to leave you with a bit of fun to toy around with, I should mention that there are plenty of variations to this rule, as there are with many Greek numerological traditions.  Some of them follow:

  • Don’t discount repeated letters.  (It’s possible that an earlier form of pythmenes didn’t discount them, but I prefer doing it.)
  • Discount a letter that is repeated twice and only twice.
  • Discount letters that repeat a pythmenic value, e.g. Ω and Η.
  • Divide the end result by 7 instead of 9 to obtain a remainder.
  • Separate the letters out into three groups (vowels, semivowels, and consonants) and apply the pythmenic winner method above to each group of letters in the two names.  Best of three “rounds” wins overall.

Greek Onomancy: The Sphere of Democritus and the Circle of Petosiris

I don’t consider all systems of divination to be equal.  More specifically, I don’t consider all that is considered to be divination to be actual divination.  Geomancy, Tarot, augury, extispicy, horary astrology, and the like are divination systems to me: the interpretation of omens from physically random, spiritually determined sources by means of inspiration and technique.  This is distinguished from prophecy or clairvoyance, which is sheer revelation of messages or sights from the gods, and it’s likewise distinguished from purely mechanical methods of prediction, such as economic and weather forecasts derived from mathematical formulae alone.  All these things, however, share something in common: revelations about the future.  As a diviner, I find this an extraordinarily useful field of magic and occultism, and one of the things I insist those who are interested in magical practices to investigate first.

However, I don’t rank numerology among useful methods of divination or prediction.  I never have, and I doubt I’ll ever ascribe it the same level of predictive power or flexibility as, say, geomancy, and I put numerological methods of divination in the same category as phrenology, palm reading, and other forms of physiognomy.  Something about the use of fixed factors in divination irks me, especially when it comes to matters of names, number, and the body.  Then again, I consider my natal horoscope in astrology to provide useful information, and I do consider haruspicy to be worthwhile; I suppose some fixed factors can be used in divination, if applied judiciously enough.  Moreover, even if I don’t consider such methods to be the most reliable or trustworthy, I’d appear to be in the minority with that view, considering how much of the old literature dating back to Hellenistic times is devoted to these topics.

One of the most well-known and well-used forms of numerological divination involved the isopsephia, or Greek gematria, of a person’s name in determining their health or lack thereof.  Divination was heavily used as a prognostic tool in medicine up even through the Renaissance and early modern times, sometimes through pre-modern medical means like uromancy, sometimes through astrology, and sometimes through numerology.  One such method of numerological divination using names, sometimes called “onomancy”, involves determining whether a patient will live or die from their illness based on their name and the date on which they fell ill.  Although my resources are scant, mostly coming from some Gutenberg texts and the PGM, let me describe two (or three) ways Greek name divination was used with isopsephy to determine how a given matter would turn out.

A few notes first:

  • When we say “the day on which the person fell ill”, we mean the lunar date starting with the Noumenia.  Thus, if someone fell ill three days after the Noumenia, then the day number of the lunar month would be 4.  If someone fell ill on the last day of the month, i.e. the New Moon, then you’d need to check whether that month had 29 or 30 days.  We note the day that someone fell ill based on when they took to rest; for us modern people, that might be the first morning we just couldn’t get out of bed to go to work or class if we were feeling okay the night before, or the very day we suddenly fell nauseated and went home to rest from the office or school.
  • Obviously, given the advance of modern medicine, people don’t tend to get sick as severely or as fatally as they used to (but who knows, that’ll probably change given the end of useful antibiotics and the rise of superbacteria looming over us).  While it’s possible someone could always die from an illness (gotta love human mortality!), consider the more dire warnings given by these divination methods to be something indicating a chronic, debilitating, or acute disease, while the more mild warnings something comparably mild to endure.
  • In mathematical notation, the percent sign (%) used as an operator indicates the “modulo” operation.  While the division mark (÷) indicates division, the modulo mark indicates the remainder.  So, 28 ÷ 9 = 3.333… or 3 with 1 as a remainder, while 28 % 9 = 1.

The first is the Sphere of Democritus, a prognostic technique from PGM XII.351.  This technique determines whether a sick person will live or die based on their name and the calendar date that they fell sick.  First, calculate the isopsephic value of the person’s name and add to it the day of the lunar month on which they fell sick, took to bed, or called out of work.  Once this sum has been found, divide this sum by 30 and take the remainder.  The text gives a rectangular chart divided into two parts; if the remainder is in the upper part, the person will live, but if in the lower part, the person will die.

fig3-hi

  • They will live if the remainder is 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 25, 26, or 27.
  • They will die if the remainder is 5, 6, 8, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 22, 28, 29, or 30.

So, let’s say it’s 200 AD, and my name is actually polyphanes (Πολυφανης), and it’s a few days before the full moon, say the 12th of the lunar month.  I suddenly get a fever and I decide to go to bed, and a healer-magician comes by and runs some tests.  The isopsephy of my name is 1339, and added to the day number 12, this yields 1351.  1351 % 30 = 1, and we find 1 in the upper portion of the Sphere.  Good news!  I’ll be fine.

The next method is the Circle of Petosiris, which was popular enough back in the day to take several forms.  I found two such methods which are essentially the same to each other and to the Sphere of Democritus, but the level of detail is different.  The idea, however, is the same, at least for the first Circle of Petosiris: take the isopsephic value of the person’s name and add it to the day number of the lunar month on which they fell ill.  However, instead of taking the sum and dividing by 30, here we divide by 29 and find the remainder.  Instead of just determining whether someone will live or die, we get more detail:

fig1-hi

 

  • Great life: 2, 3, 7, 9, 11,
  • Average life: 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20
  • Short life: 22, 23, 26, 28,
  • Short death: 1, 25, 27, 29
  • Average death: 4, 10, 15, 18, 21, 24
  • Great death: 5, 6, 8, 12

Let’s say that, once more, I’m sick and instead of calling over the healer-magician from before, I call over a different magician who uses the Circle of Petosiris instead of the Sphere of Democritus. Again, the isopsephy of my name is 1339, and added to the day number 12, this yields 1351.  1351 % 29 = 17, and we find 17 in the “average life” section of the Circle.  Good news!  I’ll live reasonably well once I recover without too much a threat of relapse.

The second Circle of Petosiris is more complicated, however, and involves a slightly different method than the first Circle of Petosiris and the Sphere of Democritus.  Generally speaking, however, the technique used for the first Circle can also be used for the Second, dividing by 30 instead of 29, but with a slightly different arrangement of numbers:

fig2-hi

 

  • Great life (speedy recovery): 11, 10, 9, 7, 3, 2
  • Small life (recovery within seven days): 22, 23, 26, 28
  • Small death (destroyed within seven days): 27, 25, 30, 1
  • Great death (speedy death): 12, 8, 5, 6
  • Brightness (vertical line above horizon): 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20
  • Darkness (vertical line below horizon): 4, 15, 18, 21, 24, 29

Another method can be used in this Circle such that one takes the isopsephic remainder of the person’s name divided by 30 and compared against the day number of the lunar month on which they fell ill.  These are then both compared against each other.  If both numbers are in Brightness, the combination promises a good figure; if both in Darkness, an unfortunate one.  If the day number of the lunar month is Bright and the number of the person Dark, then misfortune will occur under the pretense of fortune; if the number of the person is Bright and the day number of the month is Dark, the person will do well eventually though they’ll be in danger.  This method is extended more generally such that if one number or the other or both are above the horizon or below, we can get similar answers, though the Bright and Dark numbers themselves appear to be middling between “great life/death” and “small life/death”.

Once more, I’m sick and instead of calling over the healer-magician from before, I call over a different healer who’s much fancier in his techniques and who uses the this second Circle of Petosiris instead of the other methods. Again, the isopsephy of my name is 1339, and added to the day number 12, this yields 1351.  1351 % 30 = 1, and we find 1 in the “small death” section, where I might die within seven days due to the illness.  However, if we compare the numbers of my name and the number of the lunar date, then we compare 1339 % 30 = 19 against 12; 19 is Bright (above the horizon) and 12 is Dark (below the horizon).  All told, this will be reasonably chancey for me, but I should be able to live and get through this with enough help, though I’ll be in danger of dying all the same.

The “lobes” around the edge of the Circle are, starting at the 9 o’ clock position and going clockwise, indicate both the course of the Sun around the Earth in a single day as well as the four elements:

  1. Midnight (Arctic stars over the earth)
  2. Fire
  3. Sunrise (Rising above the earth)
  4. Air
  5. Noon (Midday over the earth)
  6. Water
  7. Sunset (Setting under the earth)
  8. Earth

The octants on the inner circle say much the same thing, though these are really quadrants, since each pair of octants has the same text.  Much as with the outer lobes, these use astronomical phenomena to describe times of day, though some of them don’t make sense (the Arctic stars only ever stay in the north).  Starting at the upper left quadrant and going clockwise:

  1. Nighttime (Arctic stars over the northern earth)
  2. Daytime (Midday over the northern earth)
  3. Nighttime (Midday under the southern earth)
  4. Daytime (Arctic stars under the southern earth)