Geomantic Shields versus Geomantic Tetractyes

A bit ago on Curious Cat, I got asked a particularly delightful and perceptive question about some of the mathematical mechanics behind how we develop the Shield Chart in geomancy.

Generating the Nieces, Witnesses, and Judge make perfect sense, as the convergence of (XORing) two trends/situations/events create another trend/situation/event. But what, philosophically, is happening when the Daughters are generated? What does transposing a square matrix actually mean here?

This person is asking a really cool question that boils down to this: why do we do the Shield Chart the way we do?  It makes sense to add up figures to get new figures, which mathematically and symbolically shows us the interaction between those two figures and “distills” the both of them into a single new figure, but why do we bother with transposing the Mother figures into four Daughter figures?  We’re all taught in the beginning of pretty much any geomantic text how to develop the Shield Chart, but while the most important mathematical and symbolic mechanism for generating new figures is by adding them together, it’s that transposition from Mothers into Daughters that I don’t think I’ve ever touched on symbolically, nor have I seen anyone else touch on them before.  I wanted to answer the question just on Curious Cat when I got it, but there was no way for me to fully flesh out that topic in just 3000 characters, so…well, here we are!

When you think about it, why would the original geomancers have come up with such a complicated method to begin with that we use?  If you have four elements to start with, and a method to reduce two figures into one, then it would seem like the more straightforward and apparent method to use just that would be to apply it to all consecutive pairs of figures: figure one plus figure two, figure two plus figure three, figure three plus figure four, and so forth.  This would, in effect, take four figures down into three, three down into two, and two figures down into one, yielding a sort of geomantic tetractys (just with the row of four at the top going down to one instead of the reverse).  This also makes a lot of sense when you look at it; it gets rid of the whole need for transposition of Daughters at all, and seems to be something that just makes more sense to someone (or to a group of people) who may not be as mathematically inclined.  Yet, despite the simplicity of it, why don’t we see this method being used at all for such a geomantic tetractys in any of the literature?

Well…the thing about a “geomantic tetractys chart” is that I have indeed come across it before, but only once, and that only in a modern French text, that of Robert Ambelain’s 1940 work La Géomancie Magique.  Towards the end of the text, pages 200 to 202, Ambelain describes based on reports just such a tetractys-based approach to geomancy as apparently used by some Tuareg diviners (my translation):

The Tuareg Figure of Darb ar-Raml.  One of our correspondents and friends, an officer of the Moroccan Goumier (the same one who procured the members of «G.E.O.M», their sumptuous finely-cut red copper almadels), transmits to us this curious process of geomantic interrogation, still used by some nomads of the desert.

The geomancer (usually a woman) waits to perform this rite on Friday. After drawing a pentagram over a crescent moon on the sand, the diviner utters an invocation to the Evening Star, then marks a single point in the center of the star.  Then, under the sand, the diviner draws an equilateral triangle, and divides it into sixteen small triangles with four oblique lines and three horizontal lines. ([This shape appears to be a] memory of the feminine-yonic cult of Ishtar or of Astarte).

This done, the diviner marks the sixteen lines of ordinary dots and forms the four Mothers, which they then place in the upper row of the triangle.  Then the diviner copulates each of the Mothers with the next (first and second, second and third, third and fourth), and places these three new figures that he places in the second row.  After this, they copulate these three new figures together, thus forming two new ones, which are placed in the third row.  Finally, they copulate finally these last two figures together, then gets the one that constitutes the Judgment, considered simply as a pure answer (yes or no, good or bad).  By copulating the Judgment with the Mother, the diviner can further detail the answer.

Note the analogy of this graph with some geometric ornaments found on the cushions, fabrics and leathers of these regions, and also with tassels or pompoms during pyramids on both sides of the episcopal coat of arms.  All these motifs comprising ten pieces (4-3-2-1), are mere reminders of the mysterious Pythagorean tetractys:

and the Hebrew Tetragrammaton:

Both of these are esoteric reminders of the great Hermetic Secret showing us the four elements (Fire-Air-Water-Earth) that generate the three higher principles (the Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur of the Philosophers) which give rise to the Mercurial Principle and the Sulfuric Principle, i.e. the “Father” and “Mother”, [which then give rise to the] mysterious Philosopher’s Stone, the famous ferment red phosphorescent…*

Further, this same method of the nomads of the desert also has a strange resemblance to the secret emblem of the Knights Templar, who, from these same regions, may have brought it back…

The symbolism of the sons of Hermes are universal…

* The Tuareg-style geomantic chart is bastardized from the Hermetic point of view.  The alchemists will know how to restore the secret order of the four Mothers and thus generate Dry, Hot, and Wet…

The thing is, this is the only such instance of a tetractys-based approach to geomancy that I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know how much we can trust Ambelain or his reporter.  Plus, I’ve noticed quite a lot of stuff in modern French geomantic literature that seems to take some pretty wide divergences from medieval and Renaissance Western geomantic literature generally; besides potentially having a more active body of occultists who engage in geomantic research and development of techniques and study, I also think that it’s because of how French imperialism expanded so strongly across Africa and the Middle East over the past few centuries, and their anthropologists and occultists picked up quite a lot from their old colonial holdings.  That said, there’s generally a lack of any sort of citation, so sifting through the modern French geomantic literature can be confusing when picking out what was from Western practice versus what was from Arabic practice.

Anyway, the fundamental idea here with this “geomantic tetractys chart” is basically what we’re used to, but instead of transposing the Mothers to get the Daughters, we only focus on the four Mothers we get originally, and more than that, we throw in a third “Niece” into the mix, which then gets us two “Witnesses” just for the Mothers, yielding a “Judge” for the Mothers.  Okay, sure, I guess.  But what’s mathematically going with such a geomantic tectracys?  If we take any Shield Chart that we’re already familiar with and use the Four Mothers and the right side of the chart (Mothers, first two Nieces, and Right Witness), and compare the overall results with a geomantic tetractys formed from those same four Mothers, then the geomantic tetractys “judge” is the same as our Right Witness, but the figures above are almost always different than our First and Second Nieces.  What gives?  Let’s do a bit of math.  First, let’s set up our symbols for the geomantic tetractys:

F1 = First Mother
F2 = Second Mother
F3 = Third Mother
F4 = Fourth Mother

C1 = First Child
C2 = Second Child
C3 = Third Child

W1 = First Witness
W2 = Second Witness
J = Judge

Next, let’s define the Children, Witnesses, and Judge according to what figures add up for them:

C1 = F1 + F2
C2 = F2 + F3
C3 = F3 + F4
W1 = C1 + C2
W2 = C2 + C3
J = W1 + W2

While the Children figures in a geomantic tetractys are produced from adding together pairs of Mothers, the Witnesses are produced by adding together the pairs of Children.  But, because the Children are just sums of Mothers, we can reduce the terms by replacing a Child figure with its parent terms:

W1 = C1 + C2
= (F1 + F2) + (F2 + F3)
= F1 + F2 + F2 + F3

W2 = C2 + C3
= (F2 + F3) + (F3 + F4)
= F2 + F3 + F3 + F4

But note how each Witness has two of the same figure inherent in its calculation, with the Second Mother appearing twice in the First Witness and the Third Mother appearing twice in the Second Witness.  Any figure added to itself yields Populus, and so drops out of the equation.

W1= F1 + (F2 + F2) + F3
= F1 + Populus + F3
= F1 + F3

W2 = F2 + (F3 + F3) + F4
= F2 + Populus + F4
= F2 + F4

While in a Shield Chart, the First Niece is the sum of the First and Second Mothers, but in our tetractean First Witness, the First Witness is the sum of the First and Third Mothers.  Likewise, the tetractean Second Witness is the sum of the Second and Fourth Mothers.  Knowing this, we can proceed onto expanding the tetractean Judge, which, as expected, is just the sum of the four Mothers:

J = W1 + W2
= (F1 + F3) + (F2 + F4)
= F1 + F2 + F3 + F4

So, in effect, the tetractean Judge will always be the same as the Right Witness of the Shield Chart, and the First Child and Third Child the same as the First Niece and Second Niece.  It’s the presence of the Second Child, however, that makes the First and Second Witnesses of the geomantic tectratys different, which then causes a mismatch between what we’d otherwise expect in the tetractean Witnesses.  Still, the overall idea is the same: we’re distilling four figures down into one.

But this doesn’t explain why we ended up with the Shield Chart method of doing that instead of a tetractys-based method; after all, the Tetractys is a well-known symbol across many cultures for thousands of years now, so why didn’t we end up with the a geomantic tetractys method?  I think I touched on this idea a bit earlier in my post about the potential bird-based origins of geomancy when we discussed the Arabian nature of even numbers being more positive than odd numbers:

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.

And a little more again, once we got more of the bird symbolism in the mix:

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.

While I can’t point to this as saying “this is why”, I think this gives a good base for my conjecture here: we use the Shield Chart method that involves distilling the Mothers into the Right Witness, transposing the Mothers into the Daughters and distilling those figures into the Left Witness, and then distilling those two figures into the Judge because this method guarantees that the Judge will always be an even figure.  Just distilling the Mothers into a single figure can yield either an odd or an even figure, but if we use the Daughters as well as the Mothers, we always end up with an even figure.  Why do we care about this?  Because even numbers, in the original Arabian system, were considered more fortunate, comparable, approachable, and beneficial for all involved rather than odd numbers; indeed, the very word “impartial” to this day means “even”.  I’ve noted before that even figures tend to relate to objective things while odd figures relate to subjective things:

Because the Judge must be even, this narrows down the number of figures that can occur in this position from sixteen down to eight: Populus, Via, Carcer, Coniunctio, Fortuna Maior, Fortuna Minor, Aquisitio, and Amissio. It is for this reason that I call these figures “objective”, and the odd figures (Puer, Puella, Laetitia, Tristitia, Albus, Rubeus, Cauda Draconis, and Caput Draconis) “subjective”; this is a distinction I don’t think exists extant in the literature outside my own writings (which also includes contributions to the articles on geomancy on Wikipedia). I call the even figures “objective” because they are the only ones that can be Judges; just as in real life, where the judge presiding over a court case must objectively take into account evidence to issue a judgment and sentence, the Judge in a geomantic chart must likewise reflect the nature of the situation and answer the query in an impartial (a Latin word literally meaning “not biased” or “not odd”), fair, balanced, and objective way. It’s not that these figures are Judges because they inherently possess an astrological or magical quality called objectivity, but I call them objective because they’re mathematically able to be Judges.

I’ll let you read that post further, dear reader, as it gets more into the mathematics behind the evenness of the Judge and what it means for a figure to be odd or even and how that relates to its meaning and interpretation.  But, suffice it here to say that I think we use the Daughters as well as the Mothers so that mathematically we always deal in terms of evenness, for an even judgment, an even heart, an even mind, an even road.

So that explains (at least potentially) the mathematical reason behind why we have to have the Daughters.  But what about the other part of the original Curious Cat question?  What is philosophically or symbolically happening when we generate the Daughters from the Mothers?  It’s literally just the same points from the Mothers that we look at horizontally instead of vertically.  Don’t believe me?  Consider: say that you’re using the original stick-and-surface method of generating Mother figures, and you take up all those leftover points and put them into a 4×4 grid, starting in the upper right corner and going first vertically downwards and from right to left:

Row
13
Row
9
Row
5
Row
1
Row
14
Row
10
Row
6
Row
2
Row
15
Row
11
Row
7
Row
3
Row
16
Row
12
Row
8
Row
4

If we read the leftover points allocated in this way in vertical columns, from top to bottom and from right to left, we get the four Mother figures.  If, instead, we read the leftover points allocated in this table in horizontal roads, from right to left and top to bottom, we get the four Daughter figures:

First
Daughter
Row
13
Row
9
Row
5
Row
1
Second
Daughter
Row
14
Row
10
Row
6
Row
2
Third
Daughter
Row
15
Row
11
Row
7
Row
3
Fourth
Daughter
Row
16
Row
12
Row
8
Row
4
Fourth
Mother
Third
Mother
Second
Mother
First
Mother

This is what I and the Curious Cat poster mean by “transposing”; we change (transpose) how we read the square matrix of points from primarily vertical to primarily horizontal.  This is simply a mathematical formalization of the usual phrasing of the method we use to get the Daughters from the Mothers: take the Fire lines of each of the four Mothers (rows 1, 5, 9, 13) and rearrange them vertically to get the first Daughter, the Air lines of the four Mothers (rows 2, 6, 10, 14) to get the second Daughter, and so forth.

When you consider what transposition does, all we’re doing is looking at the same exact points from a new perspective; instead of reading the 4×4 matrix above from the bottom, we’re reading it from the side.  If the points we get from generating the four Mothers are the “raw data”, the actual symbolic point-based representation of our situation, then by reading them “from the side” as the Daughters means we’re looking at the situation from literally a point of view that is not our own.  In other words, if the Mothers represent our view of the situation we’re facing, the Daughters represent the view of everyone else who isn’t us or affiliated with us.  We can see this in the meaning of the Witnesses, which are themselves the distillations of their corresponding Mothers or Daughters; the Right Witness (the distillation of the four Mothers) represents the querent’s side of things, and the Left Witness (the distillation of the four Daughters) represents the quesited’s side of things.  To use a courtroom analogy, the Right Witness represents the defense of the person being tried, and the Left Witness is the prosecution.  It’s the Judge that hears out both sides and favors one side, the other, both, or neither depending on the arguments and evidence that the defense and prosecution present.

Moreover, it’s this method of using two Witnesses that necessarily produce an even Judge that won out as the dominant form of geomancy (or was the original one even in the oldest of times) over a tetractean form of geomantic chart because the geomantic tetractys method doesn’t produce a complete answer (given what we said above); all it does is it illustrates the complexity of the querent’s situation but only as far as the querent themselves is concerned and what they’re aware of or what they can see.  The tetractys method does not touch on how the rest of the world might perceive their situation, how the querent fits into the broader world, or how their situation could be seen from an outside point of view.  We can’t just coddle our querents, after all, and make them the center of the world when they’re just one part of it; yes, the querent is an integral and major point of any situation of their own, to be sure, but geomancy talks about the world as a whole, in which the querent only plays one part.  The shield chart method resolves this by not only ensuring an even Judge figure that allows us to more clearly see the answer in a situation unclouded by emotion or subjectivity, but also by factoring in how other people necessarily perceive and interact with the same situation the querent is, which the querent themselves might not be able to see from their own point of view.

Geomancy is, fundamentally, a spiritual science of mathematics that analyzes the raw data that the cosmos gives us through the points obtained in divination.  Understanding the symbolic meaning of the figures is just one part of the science of geomancy; it’s the mathematics behind adding figures together to distill them and transposing four Mothers into four Daughters that gives us more symbols—and, thus, more information—to work with.  In this light, the mathematics itself becomes a technique for us to understand what a geomantic chart is telling us.

Also, just a small note: last month, April 2019, was the most-viewed month of the Digital Ambler in its history of over nine years, with 21630 views and 6667 visitors.  Thank you, everyone, for all the hits, attention, and love for the Digital Ambler!  I couldn’t do it without you, and you guys make blogging and writing so much fun for me and for everyone.  Thank you!