I was on a podcast over at My Alchemical Bromance!

Personally speaking, my preferred medium is the written word.  I get to clarify and refine my thoughts into an actually acceptable format, it’s easy to peruse if you have time or skim through if you don’t, and searching through it is trivial with most modern search functions (though I have my issues with the WordPress search from time to time).  It’d be a weird day indeed if I were to start making videos or podcasts of my own as a Thing, but I’m certainly not opposed to other people doing it, especially when they’ve got good practice at making it work well for them and entertaining to boot!  I like leaving this sort of thing to the good people who’ve mastered it.

Not that long ago, I was invited to chat with the good Rev. Erik L. Arneson over on his podcast of My Alchemical Bromance,  Rev. Arneson, who also manages the website, blog, and reading services of Arnemancy which focuses on a variety of Hermetic topics old and new, invited me onto the show to chat about the Greek Magical Papyri, geomancy (which I think is becoming almost my cliche thing? eh, it’s definitely my thing, to be sure), ceremonial magic, and a variety of other topics as we share a drink.  He had a fancy beer, while I drank my already-half-emptied 1.5L bottle of Barefoot Sweet Red blend, leftover from offerings done earlier in the week, which he mirthfully mocked me for (and rightfully so).

What?  Y’all knew I don’t bother with taste if I don’t need to.

You can listen to the episode directly on their website at this page, or you can listen to the 1hr37min debaculous chat here:

Once you’re done (and I do hope you enjoyed it—it was super fun chatting with the good reverend), be sure to like them on Facebook, follow them on whatever RSS feeder you prefer, and subscribe to their podcast!

I was on a podcast!

Yanno how fleeting and excellent college hookups are?  That’s basically what it was like this week with the wonderfully crazy Gordon White over at Rune Soup.

First off, I am incensed and appalled at the man because, in my quest to learn more about the Arbatel and similar works, I finally signed up to take his lectures on the history, development, and use of grimoires (which come bundled with the rest of his premium membership stuff, like forums, etc.).  For one, there’s apparently an old, early proto-grimoire called the Kyranides which is a handbook of various magical things you can do with herbs, stones, animals, and whatnot…all categorized by the Greek alphabet.  I had never even heard of this before, despite that it apparently was the most dangerous book to own for a solid 500 years or so in Europe; this gives my Mathesis stuff a whole new realm of data to work and play with, and I’m utterly fuming I hadn’t come across it yet.  Second, like, dude.  It’s Gordon.  He’s good, that should come as no surprise, but I didn’t expect this all to be that good.  This is quite literally a “shut up and take my money” kind of moment for me.

ANYWAY

So he and I were BSing (as we are wont to do) on Twitter, and he asked me to talk on his podcast.  So I did, and the results can be found over at his blog.  An excellent time to be had by all, wherein we talk about geomancy, PGM, weird family stuff, and how awful people are generally; do give it a listen.

A Critique of a Summary of Geomancy

Fellow ambler freemanpresson commented recently on a recent post on geomancy, asking if I had listened in on a recent show of Poke Runyon (a.k.a. Frater Thabion) about geomancy.  I had seen it before, but I didn’t have the time to listen in when it came out in April, and promptly forgot about it.  I listened to it once he reminded me, and although I found it interesting, I have more than a few bones to pick with how Poke Runyon describes geomancy and its history.  Granted, I don’t know much about Poke Runyon or his work, but these are a few of the things I’d argue (in order of his talking points in the show).  The following are my thoughts on what he’s saying, so if it appears unstructured, it’s meant to be read alongside listening to the show.

  • Geomancy can involve but does not require planets, planetary spirits, and the like.  They were later astrological add-ins to an already complete system that was practiced in the Sahara, and is still practiced in the forms of ifa and sikidy further south in Africa.  Although the house-based chart format of geomancy is popular, it was an astrological add-in as well, and the shield chart is still the most traditional and stable form of geomantic layout.
  • The system is called “geomancy” as a calque from an earlier Arabic phrase `ilm al-raml, or “science of the sand”, and then called “rabolion” in Byzantine Greek before it got its modern name.  Geomancy, as a desert art, was originally practiced by making sixteen lines of points in the sand, and is still done by some traditionalists in sand or soil, whether on the ground or in a special box made for the purpose.
  • Geomancy is not prehistoric or paleolithic.  The earliest writings we have from it are from the early 1000s A.D. from the Sahara and Middle East, and although some research has indicated the use of similar dot-forms to relate to planets or other phenomena, there is no indication that these were at all related to or an ancestor of geomancy (The astrological origin of Islamic geomancy, Wim van Binsbergen, 2004).
  • Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy does have a significant section on geomancy, but I wouldn’t call it the primary text of modern geomancy.  Geomancy was well-known and well-established in Europe and the Middle East for centuries, and only started to fall out of the limelight due to what I contend to be two primary reasons: the Industrial Age with its focus on hard science, and the rise of Tarot, New Thought, and other occult systems of knowledge.  Various texts have survived, some in manuscript and some printed, that have helped geomancy survive, Agrippa only being a minor text among them.  Agrippa being a famous author handed down to us in the ceremonial and Hermetic traditions, however, did help geomancy stay alive in those traditions.
  • Honestly, I wish Poke Runyon chose a more updated selection of geomancy texts to choose from.  I haven’t gone over Israel Regardie’s A Practical Guide to Geomantic Divination, but I do own a copy of Stephen Skinner’s long-out-of-print The Oracle of Geomancy.  Both of these books came out in the 1970s, and a good deal more has come out on geomancy since then, including John Michael Greer’s book The Art and Practice of Geomancy and Stephen Skinner’s updates to his first book on geomancy, Terrestrial Astrology and Geomancy in Theory and Practice.  Donald Tyson’s commentary on the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy is a good start and fairly thorough, though, but isn’t great on history if I recall rightly.
  • I don’t have an issue with Poke Runyon or the OTA having their own tradition of geomancy, and that sounds pretty awesome to me, really; heaven knows the art could use an influx of new methods and innovation!  But attributing Biblical or paleolithic origins to the art isn’t much better than attributing it to Hermes Trismegistus, Idris, Gabriel, Daniel, Mohammed, or other prophets or angels.  They may give geomancy a kind of spiritual authority, but it’s hardly a factual history.
  • Everything from the figures’ traditional names in the earliest Arabic writings reflecting a nomadic society to the right-to-left orientation of the figures indicates a Bedouin, Arabic, or otherwise nomadic Semitic origin.
  • Hermetic philosophy isn’t that old; although some people put Hermes Trismegistus as a contemporary of Moses, we don’t start seeing distinctly Hermetic ideas until after the rise of Platonism and Neoplatonism in the Roman Empire.  This still well predates any mention of geomancy in the historical record by a good five to nine hundred years at the earliest.
  • I don’t know much about Parzival, but that geomancy appears in literature throughout Europe doesn’t surprise me.  I know of two places it makes a cameo: in Dante’s Purgatory (canto XIX), and in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Parson’s Tale).  It also appears in the Arabic of One Thousand and One Nights to find treasure, and Shakespeare used it for comic relief in some of his works.  Geomancy being second in popularity and authority only to astrology back in the day, I’ll bet it appears in a lot more literary works than these as well.
  • Granted that ifa and sikidy, African derivatives of geomancy, are very old, Oruban and Madagascan cultures indicate in their own historical records and stories that they got the art from what we would conclude to be Middle Eastern travelers, lending further support to the idea that it had a Saharan or Arabian Bedouin origin.
  • Although the I Ching and geomancy are superficially similar systems, they aren’t related.  For one, the I Ching is based into trigrams (three lines) or hexagrams (six lines), while geomancy has always been equivalently tetragrams (four lines).  For two, the I Ching is historically ancient, having written documentation stretching back to 500 B.C. in manuscript and as far back as the second millenium B.C. in composition, while geomancy has no such historical documentation.  For three, although there does exist a variety of I Ching symbols that have four lines with its origins around 2 BC, they also have three values for each line, in contrast to the two values for the classical trigrams and hexagrams of the I Ching and figures of geomancy: a solid line, a line broken once, and a line broken twice.
  • Two systems alone sharing a binary system of mathematics or development does not mean those systems are related.  Africa has a long history of using binary mathematics in writing, notation, and engineering, which again leads credence to an African/Saharan/Arabian origin (Bamana Sand Divination: Recursion in Ethnomathematics, Ron Eglash, American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 99, No. 1 (Mar., 1997), pp. 112-122).  Besides, binary systems of thought are helpful and can get one pretty far, but pose problems of their own that can’t be solved except by translating things into a trinary or n-ary system, or by reducing things to the One Thing, which is kinda hard to do if you’re not already Divine.
  • The placement of figures from the shield chart into the house chart depends on what specific method you’re using.  Poke Runyon suggests putting the first four figures (the Mother figures), into the cardinal houses of the house chart, then the next four (Daughters) into the succedent, and the next four (Nieces) into the cadent.  This, I believe, has its origins in the Golden Dawn methods, while traditional European methods (maybe Islamic/Arabian, I haven’t seen them use houses like how European geomancy uses houses) simply put the figures into the houses in the order of their generation: the first four figures into the first four houses, the next four into the next four, and so on.  This is a bit like quibbling over what house system to use in astrology (Placidus, Regiomantus, Koch, equal, etc.), so while not a bone to pick, I would just like to say that there are other ways of making the house chart.  Personally, I follow the sequential, traditional method.
  • The Judge figure is always there, not if the geomancer didn’t like the other figures.  It’s the figure after the Judge (called the sixteenth figure, the result of the result, the Reconciler, the Sentence, and so on) that isn’t always used depending on the geomancer.  Personally, I always use the Sentence, and insist that the Judge always be looked at no matter the query.
  • I know of one method that uses geomancy to make horoscopes (On Astrological Geomancy, Gerard of Cremona), but this is a very derivative method of geomancy that doesn’t make use of the traditional geomantic procedure.  It’s a neat system all the same, though.  Otherwise, I haven’t heard of people substituting geomancy entirely for astrology in any time period; although geomancy was considered “astrology’s little sister”, they’ve always been distinct, at least to the sources I can find.
  • Although divination with dice, especially that knucklebones, is definitely ancient, I strongly doubt that they were related to geomancy for reasons stated above.  Ifa uses shells or nuts to make their figures in a similar way, but this was probably an innovation on their part and not something passed down from paleolithic antiquity.
  • Urim and Thummim?  Er…really?  And fluorite crystals?  I’m really confused at this apparently random inclusion.  I get the connection of Urim and Thummim to cleromancy and divination (because that’s pretty clearly what they were used for), but their connection with geomancy is tenuous even given the best of times, especially given the lapse of time between the Temple Period of Israel and the documented use and development of geomancy.
  • Just because a single animal could produce a set of four hucklebones with four sides each (4d4, essentially) possible to be marked with simple dots and figures, I don’t see why this would indicate a connection with geomancy, especially considering the time frames Poke Runyon is talking about (ancient prehistory and medieval-modern occultism).  16 is the fourth power of two, and so is likely to come up in any system that involves the numbers 2, 4, or 8 (or any combination thereof, because math is awesome).
  • Using dice to do geomancy is well-attested, though, despite what I’m saying above.  Modern geomancers with connections to tabletop RPG players might use a d4, d6, d8, and d20 (related to the Platonic solids of fire, earth, air, and water, respectively).  I’ve seen racks of old dice that have four points in a square, three points in an upwards-pointing triangle, three points in a downwards-pointing triangle, and two points aligned vertically; two of these dice rolled and placed atop each other form a single geomantic figure.  Geomancy, being a binary system, is very adaptable to anything that can give a binary answer (heads/tails, even/odd, white/black, etc.).
  • One issue I find with Poke Runyon’s method of geomancy is that it restricts the number of possible charts drastically.  In traditional methods of making a geomantic chart, it is possible to have more than one figure appear amongst the Mothers; it’s even possible, though it’s a 1/32768 chance, to have all four Mothers be the same figure.  In his method, if I understand it right, you only have the possibility of one figure appearing once, and even then it’s restricted based on what figures are engraved together on the same die.  Although there are a total of 32768 possible geomantic charts (one of sixteen figures, one of sixteen figures, one of sixteen figures, one of sixteen figures), his method yields something like 256 (one of four possible figures, another of four different possible figures, another of four different possible figures, another of four different possible figures).  This is a major handicap.  Compare either of these to Tarot, where in a simple ten-card spread and ignoring reversed cards you may have  6.12344584 × 10103 possible spreads. Geomancy in its full style is sufficient enough to be adaptable to many situations, but not in Poke Runyon’s style, if I understand his method right.
  • It’s pretty clear in Biblical and historical records that the Urim and Thummim were not shewstones, but were used for cleromancy, even in the books of Exodus and Samuel; one possible etymology of their names effectively renders them to mean “guilty” or “innocent”, using them to show the truth of a certain legal or religious matter.  I’m unclear where he got the shewstone idea from.  I don’t know about the legitimacy of their shapes being octahedrons, so I can’t say anything on that, but I feel like that something like that would be reflected in Biblical or Talmudic texts.  Again, the link between geomancy and these divination stones is highly suspect to me.  Plus, fluorite crystals do give their names to the phenomenon of fluorescence, but they only glow under UV light, which was not really documented until the 1500s A.D.; their etymology comes from the Latin verb “to flow”, referring to their use in smelting and metalworks.
  • Geomancy does not give “nasty, brutal, and short” answers unless you’re reading an old text that has a list of answers for a given figure/figure combination or figure/house combination (like everything the Golden Dawn was using), and I’ve been able to tease out whole stories on all kinds of topics with it.  It’s down to earth and snarky, sure, because it still has its origins in the earth, but it’s by no means limited to strictly important yes/no queries.  However, it does function best with yes/no queries, filling in lots of details along the way with any number of techniques to determine the speed of resolution, favorability, interference, origins of concern, hidden resources and factors, intents and spiritually destined factors, and the like.
  • I do like his idea of ceremonial divination, calling upon the genius/spirit of a query (as sorted according to the planet it’s ruled by) and using a particular ceremonial setup for divination; John Michael Greer suggests something similar as one valid and potent means of divination, too, in his works.  However, that’s hardly how most people function, especially most people involved with magic and divination today (freeform, neopagan, chaotes, etc.).  I hardly use a ceremonial framework; I might stick to using days and hours of Mercury or Saturn for divination and call on Tiriel, the intelligence (not spirit!) of Mercury, for help, but that’s about it.  With or without the timing or spiritual aid of Tiriel, though, I’ve gotten pretty consistent and accurate answers for years now.  Read up on the methods available and pick what method appeals to you most.
  • Carcer ruled by Mercury?  Puella ruled by the Moon?  What on earth has he been reading from?  I’ve seen Carcer attributed to Saturn or the Moon, but Puella only ever by Venus; I know of two distinct methods of attributing the figures to the planets, but whatever one Poke Runyon is using is definitely not among them.
  • The resolution of the query found in the house opposite the significator?  The seventh house is in opposition to the second?  Now I’m really confused, guys.  I’ll grant the first as a quirk of his particular method of geomantic divination, but the second is just plain wrong unless he’s using a ten-house chart (which isn’t attested anywhere).
  • I fully agree when he says that queries should always be “brief, simple, direct, and practical”.  This is how any divination should be posed, no matter the method or diviner.  A good third of the time I spend with clients myself, I spend on refining the query so that it makes sense with a definite answer.  The more detail in the query, the more detailed the answer; the vaguer the query, the vaguer the answer.
  • “In those days, astrological malefics were much, much more malefic than they are today, as any astrologer will tell you.”  Uh…no.  Unless he’s referring to the perceptions of them, no.  Saturn sucks.  Mars sucks.  The Tail of the Dragon sucks.  Generally.  They’re favorable for some queries, yes, but more often than not they’re inimical to what humans like.  That hasn’t really changed in the few hundred years since this has been going on; that’s like saying our brains have dramatically increased or decreased in functionality in the past few decades or so.  No.  “Modern interpretations” require a modern restructuring and reevaluation of the entire system; you’d risk muddling the system with meaninglessness.  Saying Carcer represents delays and restriction is fine, because it does; saying it’s going to help you out in matters in which you need speed and freedom is a lie. 
  • Although Poke Runyon says otherwise, the Judge was always used and always referred to as the answer of the query.  I’ve never heard this being done in any other way in any source; it wasn’t a conditional thing to be used in case the rest of the chart was confused or unfavorable.
  • When Poke Runyon says “traditional geomancy”, I think he’s referring more to the generation of the Mothers (a stick and sand, a pen and paper, etc.).  The generation of the Mothers can be done in any way that involves a binary process or that gives figures in their entirety; I myself use a deck of geomancy cards I made with 64 cards, four cards per figure, and Poke Runyon mentions Paul Huson’s method of popsicle sticks and another method of Regardie’s.  I’ve even read of people counting the eyes on sixteen potatoes plucked from a field, which is about as earthy as you can get.
  • Granted the saying “different strokes for different folks”, I can claim my own experience with traditional geomancy as being highly in favor of its accuracy.  Since I’ve never used Poke Runyon’s method of ceremonial geomancy, I can’t say much about its accuracy, but I’ve noted above a few things awry with either it or my interpretation/his explanation of it.
  • Oh lord, incorporating the dreidle (those Chanukah tops) into all this?  It’s a children’s gambling game made to make the Jewish equivalent of a Biblically-mandated V-Day more fun while the parents are praying and getting sloshed.  That’s distinctly not related to the Urim and Thummim, and certainly not to geomancy.