Over the ten years I’ve been maintaining The Digital Ambler, I’ve written no small amount about geomancy on my blog, whether it’s about the symbols, the techniques we use for it, the magic one can do with it, the spirituality lying latent within it, or the approach of divination that one should take with the art. In fact, I started keeping up with a hand-curated index of my geomancy posts, loosely organized by topic, up underneath the About menu of my website, just for ease of reference (both for myself and others). But, of all the things I’ve written about, one thing seems to have been glossed over: how to make the Shield Chart. It’s probably bizarre to some that this is the one thing I haven’t written about, probably the first fundamental practice of geomancy (and, indeed, all geomantic practices) following how to generate the geomantic figures themselves for divination. It wasn’t always so, though; once upon a time, I had a separate page that went over specifically how to construct the Shield Chart, but I took it down years ago as part of my website redesign since I felt it was such boring, introductory-level material that you could find in every book on geomancy and online pretty much on any website that discussed it. But, it would seem, that information is sorely missed by some, and some people would rather stick to this website than go to others when it comes to geomancy (a notion which I can’t say I’m not pleased about!).
So, with that, let’s talk about the Shield Chart.
As I mentioned in my last post about how to allocate the figures from the Shield Chart to the House Chart, historically speaking, there’s really only one way to put the figures into the House Chart from the Shield Chart: the traditional method, where each of the first twelve figures in the Shield Chart is given to the twelve houses of the House Chart in the usual order of their creation. This is because, traditionally speaking both in European and Arabic geomancy, there was no distinction between the House Chart and the Shield Chart: the two charts are the same chart with the same information with the same figures in the same order, so the only benefit one gets out of the House Chart is to make it easier on the eyes for those used to horoscope charts in astrology as well as to make certain techniques used in geomancy easier to apply at a glance. But, fundamentally, there’s really only one chart in geomancy, and if one is comfortable looking at the Shield Chart, no House Chart need be drawn up separately. More than that, however, and unlike the debacle with different House Chart allotment methods, there’s only one way to draw up the Shield Chart common to all of geomancy regardless of individual practice or school.
Geomancers started calling it the Shield Chart relatively late in geomancy’s history in Europe—I can’t recall any reference to “Shield” versus “House” in any pre-modern text—because the whole thing is sometimes seen to look somewhat like a standard heater shield common in Europe, like how Robert Fludd is fond of doing:
However, not all geomancers depicted it like this; some simply depicted it like a series of recursive rectangles, like how Christopher Cattan does:
Arabic geomancers keep the same overall arrangement, but don’t usually contain the figures in the chart within an overall boundary, rather using a few lines to divide the left side from the right side. With the nature of the Arabic script, they’ll often start off the long vertical line as an offshoot of the word علم `ilm, meaning “science” (as in علم الرمل `ilm ar-raml “science of the sand”, i.e. geomancy). I’ve also seen used for this flourish the letter ص ṣād, the phrase هو العليم الخبير hū al-`alīm al-khabīr “He is the All-Knowing, the Great” or “He is the Greatest of Knowers” with the line connected to the last letter of al-`Alīm, or يا عليم الخبير yā `alīm al-khabīr “o greatest knower!”, with the line connected to `alim likewise. That’s if such a flourish is used at all (most do, some don’t), or if lines like this are used at all to mark off the chart (which is rare to see, at least in printed works).
I suppose a Western approach to the flourish would be to use the Greek word gnōsis, either spelling it uppercase (ΓΝΩΣΙΣ) and using the vertical line of the initial uppercase gamma to start the vertical line, or to spell it lowercase (γνοσις) and use the tail of the final sigma instead. I’m sure other similar words could be used instead, but this is still just an innovative flourish one could do for style’s sake, and one that I’ve never seen in any extant European text on geomancy.
Finally, the way I personally draw out the Shield Chart, I just don’t even bother with any little demarcations. Although less common in printed texts, this more casual manner is common for geomancers the world over who don’t need little boxes to put figures in.
Astute readers will note that the first two charts given above (from Fludd and Cattan) only have fifteen figures in the chart, while the Arabic ones and my own have sixteen. We’ll get to that in a moment, as the difference is just a matter of choice, but suffice it to say here that, despite apparent graphical differences and flourishes, the fundamental form, structure, and arrangement of figures of the Shield Chart is the same across time periods and cultures.
To be absolutely clear on this point, the Shield Chart is the backbone of geomantic divination, the abstract framework within which we apply all geomantic techniques; although material tools help us develop the first four figures we plug into the Shield Chart, the Shield Chart is what allows us to come up with the whole “spread”, as it were, of geomancy by applying particular mathematical operations on the four figures that we first plug in. The Shield Chart contains sixteen positions—I like calling them “fields”—for the figures, broken down into groups of four:
- The four Mothers, the original figures produced by an outside process as the seed for the whole Shield Chart
- The four Daughters, generated by transposition from the Mothers
- The four Nieces, generated by addition from pairs of the Mothers or Daughters
- The four figures of the Court
- The Right and Left Witnesses, generated by addition from pairs of the Nieces
- The Judge, generated by addition from the Witnesses
- The Sentence (sometimes called the Reconciler, Superjudge, the Result of the Result, or the Sixteenth Figure), generated by addition from the Judge and the First Mother
Only the figures of the Court have special names for them (Right Witness, Left Witness, Judge, or Sentence); the other groups of figures are simply named according to their number (e.g. First Mother, Second Daughter, Third Niece, etc.). Some Shield Charts present all sixteen figures, but some (especially European ones) only have fifteen, hiding/excluding the Sentence. Where this figure is placed is up to the geomancer, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The Sentence is as much a figure as the rest of the Shield Chart, and even if it’s not explicitly shown, it should still be counted as part of the Shield Chart.
The structure of the Shield Chart is this: sixteen fields arranged in four rows, with the topmost row having eight fields, the second row having four, the third row having two, and the last row having one. The topmost row, containing eight fields, is separated out into four Mother fields and four Daughter fields (traditionally reckoned from right to left, given the Arabic origins of this art), with the Mothers on the right-hand side of the chart and the Daughters on the left-hand side. The second row is broken down into four Niece fields (again reckoned from right to left); the third row into two fields for the Right Witness and the Left Witness; and the bottom row having one field for the Judge. As noted earlier, the Sentence may or may not be shown; my own preference is to show it off to the right side of the Judge directly underneath the First Mother. Most Arabic geomancers I’ve seen, who show two figures at the bottom of the chart in the same little “divet” marked in half, will put the Judge as the left-hand figure and the Sentence as the right-hand figure, but others will either draw the Sentence off below the Judge somehow somewhere; only a minority of Arabic geomancers, as far as I’ve seen, will leave off the Sentence entirely.
Using a simple rectangular layout (like Cattan) and showing the Sentence off to the side of the Judge in the same row (which is my own practice), the Shield Chart is arranged like this at an abstract level:
Knowing these fields of the Shield Chart and what figures go where, we can now begin the process of filling in the Shield Chart.
First up, the Mothers. These are the only four figures one generates through a random (though inspired) process through some manner of manipulation of tools or numbers. Traditionally, one would draw out a random number of points in sixteen lines and cross them off two-by-two until either one or two points are left in a row, then read the remaining points one didn’t cross off downward in groups of four, but there are many other ways geomancers have used to come up with figures, any of which are good to use for this process (though I strongly urge the stick-and-surface method for beginners to the art, at least until one becomes proficient in the method). Once these four figures are generated, they’re put in order into the four Mother fields in the upper right hand part of the chart from right to left.
So, let’s say we got out our stick and surface, and through the process of generating figures that way, we produced the four figures Populus, Populus, Puella, and Via, in that order. We put those four figures in that order into the four Mother fields in the Shield Chart, from right to left in the uppermost row of the chart:
Note that each of the four Mothers are generated randomly and independently of each other, so it’s quite possible to have one figure appear more than once in the Mothers. This is totally fine and to be expected; it can even happen that all four Mothers are the same figure. Unlike other forms of divination where a particular figure can appear a maximum of once in a chart or spread, geomancy expects (and, in fact, requires) certain figures to appear multiple times in the chart, and many techniques make use of this repeating of figures to derive useful information. This doesn’t just happen with the Mothers but, as we’ll soon see, can happen at many points throughout the chart as a result of the mathematical operations we’re about to apply on the Mothers to generate the other figures in the chart. So, if you’re new to geomancy, don’t let this worry you!
Once the Mothers have been generated and put into the Shield Chart, we can then proceed with the four Daughters. The Daughters are generated from the four Mothers by reading the points of the figures in the Mothers row-wise from right to left across all four Mothers. Thus, the First Daughter is formed from the topmost (Fire) row of each Mother from right to left, such that the Fire row of the First Mother is the Fire Row of the First Daughter, the Fire row of the Second Mother is the Air row of the First Daughter, the Fire row of the Third Mother is the Water row of the First Daughter, and the Fire row of the Fourth Mother is the Earth row of the First Daughter. For the Second Daughter, one uses the Air rows of the Mothers; for the Third Daughter, the Water rows; for the Fourth Daughter, the Earth rows.
Another way to think of generating the Daughters is to think of this as a matrix of transposition, rotating the points 90° to read them in a different direction. Instead of seeing the points of the Mothers as four sets of four rows, think of them as being entries in a 4×4 grid. (This makes the most sense if we generated each row of points of the Mothers separately, like with the stick-and-surface method, where we put each new entry in this grid from top to bottom and from right to left, in that order). If we read the columns of this grid, we get the Mothers; if we read the rows, we get the Daughters. This should show that the Daughters aren’t necessarily “new” figures, as they’re composed of the same original points as the Mothers are, just in a different order, and why the Daughters are placed in the same overall row of the Shield Chart (being “roots” of the rest of the chart, as we’ll show in a bit).
Following either way of thinking, the figures we get for the four Daughters based on our earlier Mothers (Populus, Populus, Puella, and Via) are Fortuna Maior, Tristitia, Fortuna Maior, and Fortuna Maior. Fortuna Maior is produced from reading the Fire rows of the four Mother figures from right to left (two, two, one, one), Tristitia from the Air rows (two, two, two, one), Fortuna Maior again from the Water rows (two, two, one, one), and Fortuna Maior again from the Earth rows (two, two, one, one). Once these figures are made, we put them into the four Daughter fields of our Shield Chart:
Now that we have our four Mother figures and our four Daughter figures, we then proceed to making the Nieces of the chart in the next row. As the structure of the Shield Chart suggests, each Niece figure is a combination of the two figures above it, such that the First Niece is a combination of the First and Second Mothers, the Second Niece a combination of the Third and Fourth Mothers, the Third Niece a combination of the First and Second Daughters, and the Fourth Niece a combination of the Third and Fourth Daughters. This process of combination that we use is what we call geomantic addition (some Arabic geomancers say multiplication, but the idea is the same either way).
When I say “addition”, I kinda mean it and kinda don’t: the process of adding two figures together to get a third is, in some ways, the heart of the process of developing figures from a line consisting of a random number of points as we do in the stick-and-surface method of generating figures. When we cross off the points two-by-two until either one or two points are left in the stick-and-surface method of generating figures, what we’re doing is seeing whether the total number of points in that line is odd or even; if it’s even, the resulting row in that figure will have two points, and if it’s odd, the resulting row in that figure will have one point. When we add two figures, the same logic holds: we combine the total number of points between the same respective rows between two figures, and if it’s even (whether two or four), the resulting row of the final figure will have two points, and if it’s odd (i.e. three points), the resulting row of the final figure will have one point. Thus, consider the figures Fortuna Maior and Acquisitio:
- The Fire row of Fortuna Maior and the Fire row of Acquisitio both have two points in each. 2 + 2 = 4, so we “reduce” four by crossing off two (using the stick-and-surface method) to end up with two points in the Fire row of the resulting figure.
- The Air row of Fortuna Maior has two points, while that of Acquisitio has one point. 2 + 1 = 3, so we “reduce” three to one by crossing off two to end up with one point in the Air row of the resulting figure.
- The Water row of Fortuna Maior has one point, while that of Acquisitio has two points. 1 + 2= 3, so we “reduce” three to one by crossing off two to end up with one point in the Water row of the resulting figure.
- The Earth row of Fortuna Maior and the Earth row of Acquisitio both have one point in each. 1 + 1 = 2, which we don’t need to reduce, so the Earth row of the resulting figure has two points.
Thus, if we add Fortuna Maior and Acquisitio together, we get the resulting figure of Coniunctio:
Another way to think of this process is the logical exclusive or (XOR) function. Given two inputs that can either be true (single point in geomantic terms) or false (double point), the resulting function will output true if both values are different, i.e. only one is true and the other is false; in cases where both are true or both are false, the output will be false. In geomantic terms, the resulting row of a figure produced through geomantic addition will have two points if both the corresponding rows of its parent figures are the same (both odd or both even), and will have one point if they differ (one odd and one even, or vice versa).
With geomantic addition understood, we can make the rest of the Shield Chart. As noted above, a Niece is produced by adding together the two figures immediately above it:
Continuing our example from earlier, we add together the following figures to make their corresponding Nieces:
- First Mother + Second Mother = First Niece → Populus + Populus = Populus
- Third Mother + Fourth Mother = Second Niece → Puella + Via = Rubeus
- First Daughter + Second Daughter = Third Niece → Fortuna Maior + Tristitia = Albus
- Third Daughter + Fourth Daughter = Fourth Niece → Fortuna Maior + Fortuna Maior = Populus
With the Nieces done, we continue that process of addition to come up with the first three figures of the Court. Again, the structure of the Shield Chart should be informative here: each of these three figures (the Right Witness, the Left Witness, and the Judge) are produced by adding the two figures directly above it, such that the Right Witness is formed by adding together the first two Nieces, the Left Witness by adding together the second two Nieces, and the Judge by adding together the two Witnesses.
Thus, continuing our example from earlier:
- First Niece + Second Niece = Right Witness → Populus + Rubeus = Rubeus
- Third Niece + Fourth Niece = Left Witness → Albus + Populus = Albus
- Right Witness + Left Witness = Judge → Rubeus + Albus = Coniunctio
Many European geomancers tend to stop here, as there doesn’t appear to be any more positions on the Shield Chart to fill—but they forget the sixteenth figure of the Sentence. Like the Nieces, Witnesses, and Judge, this figure is also formed from addition, but this time, by adding together the Judge with the First Mother:
Although some geomancers don’t show this figure, I strongly urge every geomancer to show it in every Shield Chart, as its importance is huge (and absolutely necessary for some techniques) yet grossly undervalued, especially in modern Western texts influenced by the Golden Dawn. My preference is to place the Sentence off to the side of the Judge underneath the First Mother, as below. Here, we have Coniunctio + Populus = Coniunctio, giving us Coniunctio as the Sentence to this Shield Chart:
And with that, our Shield Chart with all its sixteen fields is complete.
At this point, although we could jump straight into interpreting the chart or start looking at the House Chart, it’s always wise to first check the validity of the chart. Given that each of the four Mother figures are generated randomly and independently of each other, that means that there are only 16 × 16 × 16 × 16 = 65536 valid charts. While this sounds like a daunting number, we should note that if every one of the 16 figures were placed independently of all the others in the Shield Chart (e.g. selection with replacement), there would technically be over 18 quintillion possible charts; if we were to select every figure randomly without replacement, we’d still have over 20 trillion charts. We’re constrained by the mathematical process of geomancy to be limited to this proper selection of only 65536 charts, so if we have a chart that’s not in that set, then what we have is a mathematical error in calculating the Daughters, Nieces, or Court figures somewhere that we need to rectify. Mathematically invalid charts are not worth investigating; it’d be like drawing up a horoscope with a planet dyslexically put in the sixth house instead of the ninth, or getting the degree and minute parts of a planetary position mixed up; it’s just a simple error that just needs to be fixed, not interpreted as some mystical omen of terrible import. Read this post here to learn more about mathematically validating the chart, but there are three basic criteria we use to judge whether a given chart is a valid one:
- The Judge must have an even number of points.
- The sixteen figures in the Shield Chart must have at least one figure that is present at least twice in the chart.
- Particular pairs of the figures in the Shield Chart must all add up to the same figure:
- First Niece + Judge
- Second Mother + Sentence
- Second Niece + Left Witness
If any of those three conditions do not hold, the chart is invalid and needs to be inspected and corrected for errors.
I should note at this point that, although the right-to-left format of the Shield Chart is overwhelmingly the most common choice, there are a (very) few European geomancers out there (tragically, Franz Hartmann among them) who use a left-to-right method, both in generating figures using the stick-and-surface method as well as in constructing the Shield Chart. This isn’t necessarily wrong, per se, but the convention and tradition is to do everything from right to left because of the right-to-left nature of the original Arabic practices and of the right-to-left nature of the Arabic (and other Semitic) languages. If you use the left-to-right method, you’ll likely need to clarify that before sharing your charts with others; if you come across a book that uses the left-to-right method, you’ll want to bear that in mind and flip the meanings of the Right and Left Witnesses as well as remember the new order of how things get added together and where things get put. It’ll be apparent that something is wrong, because trying to read a left-to-right chart using a right-to-left approach will usually screw something up in the relationship between what would appear to be the Mothers and Daughters because the apparent transposition won’t look right.
Once we have a Shield Chart and have checked that it’s a mathematically valid one, then we can proceed with interpretation of the chart: the Ways of the Point, triads, the Sum of the Chart, and so on and so forth. But I’ve already touched on those topics elsewhere, so you know where to take a look from here. Beyond that, I hope this resolves any questions about the Shield Chart, and can give those who are just starting in this art a good understanding of the foundation of geomantic divination, upon which all other techniques and interpretative methods are built!