On the Structure and Operations of the Geomantic Figures

When I did my recent site redesign and added all those new pages on prayers, rituals, and whatnot, I also consolidated a few pages into ones that fit neatly together, and got rid of a few entirely that didn’t need to be on here anymore.  There weren’t many of those, to be fair, but the main casualties of that effort were my handful of pages on geomancy.  While it may seem odd that I, of all people, would take down pages on the art I love so much, it was partially because I’m continuing to prepare for my book and wanted to rewrite and incorporate the information of those pages in a better way than what was presented there, and partially because the idea for those pages has long since turned stale; I was going to have an entire online “book” of sorts, but I figure that I’ve written enough about geomancy on my blog that it’s probably easier to just browse through the geomancy category and read.  So, if you end up finding a broken link (which I do my utmost to keep from happening), chances are you’re seeing a relic of an earlier age on this blog that connected to those pages.  After all, even though I’d like to keep my blog in perfect running order, I’m also not gonna scroll through 600-odd posts and comb through each and every link.

One of the things that those lost geomancy pages discussed was the mathematical operations of the figures.  I’ve talked about the mathematics behind the Judge and the Shield Chart before, as well as the Parts of Fortune and Spirit, and I’ve discussed a sort of “rotary function” that rotates the elemental rows up and down through the figures before, but there are three big mathematical operations one can do on the figures themselves that reveal certain relationships between them.  I mention them on my De Geomanteia posts of the figures themselves, though now that the original page that describes them is down, I suppose a new post on what they are is in order, if only to keep the information active, especially since every now and then someone will come asking about them.  This is important, after all, because this information is definitely out there, but it’s also largely a result of my own categorization; I haven’t seen anyone in the Western literature, modern or ancient, online or offline, talk about the mathematical relationships or “operations” between the figures in the way I have, nor have I seen anyone talk about one of the operations entirely, so this post is to clear up those terms and what they signify.

First, let me talk about something tangentially related that will help with some of the operation discussion below.  As many students of geomancy are already aware, a common way to understand the figures is in terms of their motion, which is to say, whether a figure is stable or mobile.  Structurally speaking, stable figures are those that have more points in the Fire and Air rows than in the Water and Earth rows (e.g. Albus), and mobile figures are those that have more points in the Water and Earth rows than in the Fire and Air rows (e.g. Puer).  In the cases where the top two rows have the same number of points as the bottom two rows (e.g. Amissio or Populus), the figures are “assigned” a motion based on their general effects.

  • Stable figures: Populus, Carcer, Albus, Puella, Fortuna Maior, Acquisitio, Tristitia, Caput Draconis
  • Mobile figures: Via, Coniunctio, Rubeus, Puer, Fortuna Minor, Amissio, Laetitia, Cauda Draconis

Stable figures are generally seen as graphically looking like they’re “sitting upright” when viewed from the perspective of the reader, while mobile figures are considered “upside down” or “unbalanced” when read the same way.  In a similar sense, stable figures generally have effects that are slow to arise and long to last, while mobile figures are just the opposite, where they’re quick to happen and quick to dissipate.  Consider mobile Laetitia: a figure of optimism, elevation, hope, and bright-burning joy, but it’s easy to lose and hard to maintain.  This can be contrasted with, for instance, stable Tristitia: a figure of slow-moving depression, getting stuck in a rut, languishing, and losing hope.

The idea of motion, I believe, is a simplification of an older system of directionality, where instead of there being two categories of figures, there are three: entering, exiting, and liminal.  All entering figures are stable, all exiting figures are mobile, and the liminal figures are considered in-between:

  • Entering figures: Albus, Puella, Fortuna Maior, Acquisitio, Tristitia, Caput Draconis
  • Exiting figures: Rubeus, Puer, Fortuna Minor, Amissio, Laetitia, Cauda Draconis
  • Liminal figures: Populus, Via, Carcer, Coniunctio

In this system, entering figures are seen as “bringing things to” the reader or reading, and exiting figures “take things away from” the reader or reading, while liminal figures could go either way or do nothing at all, depending on the situation and context in which they appear.  For instance, consider Acquisitio, the quintessential entering figure, which brings things for the gain of the querent, while exiting Amissio is the opposite figure of loss, taking things away, and all the while liminal Populus is just…there, neither bringing nor taking, gaining nor losing.

The liminal figures also serve another purpose: they are also sometimes called “axial” figures, because by taking the upper or lower halves of two axial figures, you can form any other figure.  For instance, the upper half of Populus combined with the lower half of Via gets you Fortuna Maior, the upper half of Coniunctio with the lower half of Carcer gets you Acquisitio, and so forth.  This way of understanding the figures as being composed of half-figures is the fundamental organization of Arabic-style geomantic dice:

Entering figures, like stable figures, look like they’re “coming towards” the reader, while exiting figures look like they’re “going away” from the reader, much like mobile figures.  The reason why the liminal figures (“liminal” meaning “at the threshold”) are considered in-between is that they look the same from either direction, and are either going both ways at once or going in no direction at all.  Populus and Carcer went from liminal to stable due to their long-lasting effects of stagnation or being locked into something, while Via and Coniunctio went from liminal to mobile for their indications of change, movement, and freedom.

Alright!  With the basic structural talk out of the way, let’s talk about operations.  In essence, I claim that there are three primary operations one can do on a figure to obtain another figure, which may or may not be the same as the original figure.  These are:

  • Inversion: replace the odd points with even points, and even points with odd points.  For instance, inverting Puer gets you Albus.
  • Reversion: flip the figure vertically.  For instance, inverting Puer gets you Puella.
  • Conversion: invert then revert the figure, or revert and invert the figure.  For instance, converting Puer gets you Rubeus (Puer →Albus → Rubeus to go the invert-then-revert route, or Puer → Puella → Rubeus to go the revert-then-invert route).

In my De Geomanteia posts, I briefly described what the operations do:

  • Inversion: everything a figure is not on an external level
  • Reversion: the same qualities of a figure taken to its opposite, internal extreme
  • Conversion: the same qualities of a figure expressed in a similar manner

And in this post on a proposed new form of Shield Cart company based on these operations, I described these relationships in a slightly more expanded way:

  • Inversion: The two figures fulfill each other’s deficit of power or means, yet mesh together to form one complete and total force that will conquer and achieve everything that alone they could not.
  • Reversion: The two figures are approaching the same matter from different directions and have different results in mind, looking for their own ends, but find a common thing to strive for and will each benefit from the whole.
  • Conversion: The two figures are similar enough to act along the same lines of power and types of action, but express it in completely different ways from the outside.  Internally, the action and thoughts are the same, but externally, they are distinct.  Think bizarro-world reflections of each other.

These trite descriptions are a little unclear and, now that several years have passed, I realize that they’re probably badly phrased, so it’s worth it to review what these relationships are and how they tie into other conceptions of figure relationships.  After all, inversion and reversion both deal with the notion of something being a figure’s opposite, but we often end up with two separate “opposites”, which can be confusing; and, further, if you take the opposite of an opposite, you get something similar but not quite the same (inversion followed by reversion, or vice versa, gets you conversion).

To my mind, inversion is the most outstanding of the operations, not because it’s any more important than the others, but because it’s so radical and fundamental a change from one figure to the other.  To invert a figure, simply swap the points with their opposites: turn the odd points even and the even points odd.  You could say that you’re turning a figure into its negative, I suppose, like flipping the signs, levels of activity, or polarity of each individual element.  Most notably, the process of inversion is the only one that we can perform through simple geomantic addition of one figure with another; to invert a figure, simply add Via to it, and the result will be that figure’s inversion.  Because inversion is simply “just add Via”, this is probably the easiest to understand: inverting a figure results in a new figure that is everything the original figure isn’t.  We turn active elements passive and passive elements active, male into female and female into male, light into dark and dark into light.  What one has, the other lacks; what one forgets, the other remembers.

So much for inversion.  Reversion is as simple as inversion, but there’s no “just add this figure” to result in it; it’s a strictly structural transformation of one figure based on that figure’s rows.  To be specific and clear about it, to revert a figure, you swap the Fire and Earth lines, as well as the Air and Water lines; in effect, you’re turning the figure upside down, so that e.g. Albus becomes Rubeus or Caput Draconis becomes Cauda Draconis.  Note that unlike inversion where the invert of one figure is always going to be another distinct figure, there are some figures where the reversion is the same as the original figure; this is the case only for the liminal figures (Populus, Via, Carcer, Coniunctio), since rotating them around gets you the same figure.  By swapping the points in the lines of the elements that agree with each other in heat (dry Fire with dry Earth, and moist Air with moist Water), you get another type of opposite, but rather than it playing in terms of a strict swap of polarity like from positive to negative, you literally turn everything on its head.

Both inversion and reversion get you an “opposite” figure, but there are different axes or scales by which you can measure what an “opposite” is.  As an example, consider Puer.  If you invert Puer, you get Albus; this is an opposite in the sense that the youthful brash boy with all the energy in the world is the “opposite” of the wise old man without energy.  What Puer has (energy), Albus lacks; what Albus has (experience), Puer lacks.  On the other hand, if you revert Puer, you get Puella; this is another kind of opposite in the sense that the masculine is the opposite of the feminine.  What Puer is (masculine, active, emitting), Puella isn’t (feminine, passive, accepting).  This type of analysis, where inversion talks about “has or has not” and reversion talks about “is or is not” is the general rule by which I understand the figures, and holds up decently well for the odd figures.  It’s when you get to the even figures that this type of distinction between the operations by means of their descriptions collapses or falls apart:

  • For non-liminal even figures, the inversion of a figure is the same as its reversion.  Thus, “is” is the same thing as “has”.  For instance, Acquisitio is the total opposite of Amissio, since they are both reversions and inversions of each other; gain both is not loss and loss does not have gain.
  • For liminal even figures, the reversion of a figure is the same figure as itself.  Thus, “has” makes no sense, because the figure isn’t speaking to anything one “has” or “lacks” to begin with.  For instance, Carcer’s reversion is Carcer; Carcer is imprisonment and obligation, it doesn’t “have” a quality of its own apart from what it already is.  On the other hand, Carcer’s inversion, what Carcer is not, is Coniunctio, which is freedom and self-determination.  Again, Coniunctio describes a state of being rather than any quality one has or lacks.

Between inversion and reversion, we can begin to understand the pattern of how the babalawos of Ifá, the West African development and adaption of geomancy to Yoruba principles and cosmology, organize their sixteen figures, or odu:

Rank Latin Name Yoruba Name Relationship
1 Via Ogbe inversion
2 Populus Oyẹku
3 Coniunctio Iwori inversion
4 Carcer Odi
5 Fortuna Minor Irosun inversion-
reversion
6 Fortuna Maior Iwọnrin
7 Laetitia Ọbara reversion
8 Tristitia Ọkanran
9 Cauda Draconis Ogunda reversion
10 Caput Draconis Ọsa
11 Rubeus Ika reversion
12 Albus Oturupọn
13 Puella Otura reversion
14 Puer Irẹtẹ
15 Amissio Ọsẹ inversion-
reversion
16 Acquisitio Ofun

With the exception of the even liminal figures, which are grouped in inversion pairs at the beginning of the order, it can be seen that the other figures are arranged in reversion pairs, with the even non-liminal figures grouped in what is technically either inversion or reversion, but which are most likely considered to just be reversions of each other.  Note how the non-liminal even figure pairs are placed in the order: they separate the strict-inversion pairs from the strict-reversion pairs, one at the start of the strict-reversion pairs and one at the end.  While it’s difficult to draw specific conclusions from this alone (the corpus of knowledge of odu is truly vast and huge and requires years, if not decades of study), the placement of the figures in this arrangement cannot be but based on the structure of the figures in their inversion/reversion pairs.

In another system entirely, Stephen Skinner describes some of the relationships of figures in Arabic geomancy in his book “Geomancy in Theory and Practice”, at least as used in some places in northern Africa, where the relationships are described in familial terms and which are all seemingly based on inversion:

  • Man and wife
    • Tristitia and Cauda Draconis
    • Laetitia and Caput Draconis
    • Albus and Puer
    • Puella and Rubeus
    • Coniunctio and Carcer
  • Brothers
    • Fortuna Minor and Fortuna Maior
    • Acquisitio and Amissio
  • No relation
    • Via and Populus

Stephen Skinner doesn’t elaborate on what “man and wife” or “brothers” means for interpreting the figures, but if I were to guess and extrapolate on that small bit of information alone (which shouldn’t be trusted, especially if someone else knowledgeable in these forms of geomancy can correct me or offer better insight):

  • For figures in “man and wife” pairings, the first figure is the “husband” and the second figure is the “wife”.  Though I personally dislike such an arrangement, it could be said that the husband figure of the pair dominates the wife figure, and though they may share certain similarities that allow for them to be married in a more-or-less natural arrangement, the husband figure is more powerful, domineering, overcoming, or conquering than the wife figure.  The central idea here is that of domination and submission under a common theme.
  • For figures in “brothers” pairings, the figures are of equal power to each other, but are more opposed to each other than in harmony with each other, though they form a different kind of complete whole.  Thus, they’re like two brothers that fight with each other (in the sense of one brother against the other) as well as with each other (in the sense of both brothers fighting against a third enemy).  The central idea here is that of oppositions and polarity that form a complete whole.
  • For the two figures that have no relation to each other, Via and Populus, this could be said that they are so completely different that they operate in truly different worlds; they’re not just diametrically opposed to each other to form a whole, nor is one more dominant over or submissive to the other in the same theme, but they’re just so totally and completely different that there is no comparison and, thus, no relationship.

Of course, all that is strictly hypothetical; I have nothing else to go on besides these guesses, and as such, I don’t use these familial relationships in my own understanding of the figures.  However, these are all indicative ways of how to view “opposites”, and is enlightening on its own.  However, note the specific figures in each set of relationships.  With the exception of Coniunctio and Carcer, all the husband-wife pairs are odd figures, so the only possible relationship each figure could have in their pair is inversion.  For the brother pairs, however, these are the even non-liminal figures, where the figures could be seen as either inversions or reversions of each other.  This could well be a hint at a difference between the meanings of inversion and reversion in an African or Arabic system of understanding the figures.

Alright, so that all deals with inversion and reversion, which leaves us with one final operation.  Conversion, as you might have gathered by now, is just the act of performing inversion and reversion on a figure at the same time: you both swap the parity of each row, and rotate the order of the row upside down (or vice versa, it’s the same thing and doesn’t matter).  In a sense, you’re basically taking the opposite of an opposite, but you’re not necessarily going from point A to point B back to point A; that’d just be inverting an inversion or reverting a reversion.  Rather, by applying both operations, you end up in a totally new state that is at once familiar while still being different.  For instance, consider Puella.  Puella’s conversion is Albus, and at first blush, it doesn’t seem like there’s much in similarity between these two figures except, perhaps, their ruling element (Water, in this case).  But bear in mind that both Puella and Albus don’t like to act, emit, or disturb things; Puella is the kind, welcoming hostess who accepts and nurtures, while Albus is the kind, wizened old man who accepts and guides.  Neither of them are chaotic, violent, energetic, or brash like Puer or Rubeus, and while they don’t do things for the same reason or in the same way, they end up doing things that are highly similar, like the same leitmotif played in a different key.

However, this is a little weird for the liminal figures, because a liminal figure’s reversion is the same as itself; this means that a liminal figure’s conversion is the same as its inversion (because the reversion “cancels out”).  Thus, converting Populus gets you Via, and converting Carcer gets you Coniunctio.  While these are clearly opposites of each other, it speaks to the idea that there’s a sort of “yin in the yang, yang in the yin” quality to these figure pairs.  This is best shown by Populus, which is pure potential with all activity latent and waiting to be sprung, and Via, which is pure activity but taken as a whole which doesn’t, on the whole, change.  Likewise, you can consider Carcer to be restriction of boundaries, but freedom to act within those set parameters, and Coniunctio, which is freedom of choice, but being constrained by the choices you make and the paths you take.

It’s also a little weird for the non-liminal even figures, because the reversion of these figures is the same as its inversion, which means that the conversion of an non-liminal even figure gets you that same figure itself.  While the “opposite of an opposite” of odd figures takes you from point A to B to C to D, the nature of the non-liminal even figures takes you from point A to B right back to A.  This reflects the truly is-or-is-not nature of these figures where there’s only so many ways you can view or enact the energies of what they represent: either you win or you lose, either you gain or you lose.  You might not win using the same strategy as you expected to use, but winning is winning; you may not get exactly what you thought you were after, but you’re still getting something you needed.

With these three operations said, I suppose it’s appropriate to have a table illustrating the three results of these operations for each of the sixteen figures:

Figure Inversion Reversion Conversion
Populus Via Populus Via
Via Populus Via Populus
Albus Puer Rubeus Puella
Coniunctio Carcer Coniunctio Carcer
Puella Rubeus Puer Albus
Amissio Acquisitio Acquisitio Amissio
Fortuna Maior Fortuna Minor Fortuna Minor Fortuna Maior
Fortuna Minor Fortuna Maior Fortuna Maior Fortuna Minor
Puer Albus Puella Rubeus
Rubeus Puella Albus Puer
Acquisitio Amissio Amissio Acquisitio
Laetitia Caput Draconis Tristitia Cauda Draconis
Tristitia Cauda Draconis Laetitia Caput Draconis
Carcer Coniunctio Carcer Coniunctio
Caput Draconis Laetitia Cauda Draconis Tristitia
Cauda Draconis Tristitia Caput Draconis Laetitia

Looking at the table above, we can start to pick out certain patterns and “cycles” of operations that group certain figures together:

  • A figure maintains its parity no matter the operation applied to it.  Thus, an odd figure will always result in another odd figure through any of the operations, and an even figure will always yield another even figure.
  • A figure added to its inverse will always yield Via.
  • A figure added to its reverse will always yield one of the liminal figures.
  • A figure added to its converse will always yield another of the liminal figures, which will be the inverse of the sum of the original figure and its reverse.
  • If the figure is odd, then its inversion, reversion, and conversion will all be unique figures, but each figure can become any of the others within a group of four odd figures through another operation.
  • If the figure is even and liminal, then its reversion will be the same as the original figure, while its inversion and conversion will be the same figure and distinct from the original.
  • If the figure is even and not liminal, then its inversion and reversion will be the same figure and distinct from the original, while its conversion will be the same as the original figure.

The odd figures are perhaps most interesting to analyze in their operation groups.  Note that the four figures that result from the operations of a single odd figure (identity, inversion, reversion, and conversion) all, at some point, transform into each other in a neverending cycle, and never transform in any way into an odd figure of the other cycle.  More than that, we can break down the eight odd figures into two groups which have these operational cycles, or “squadrons”, one consisting of Puer-Albus-Puella-Rubeus and the other of Laetitia-Caput Draconis-Cauda Draconis-Tristitia:

Note that the Puer squadron has only figures of Air (Puer and Rubeus) and Water (Puella and Albus), while the Laetitia squadron has only Fire (Laetitia and Cauda Draconis) and Earth (Tristitia and Caput Draconis), and that the converse of one odd figure yields another odd figure of the same element.  Coincidentally, it was this element-preserving property of conversion that led me to the Laetitia-Fire/Rubeus-Air correspondence, matching with the elemental system of JMG and breaking with older literature in these two figures.  More numerologically, also note how each squadron has two figures with seven points and two figures with five points; this was marked as somewhat important in how I allotted the figures to planetary arrangements before, but it could also be viewed under an elemental light here, too.  If each squadron has two figures of the pure elements (Albus and Rubeus in the Puer squadron, Laetitia and Tristitia in the Laetitia squadron), then the converse of each would be the harmonic opposite of the pure element according to their subelemental ruler::

  • Laetitia (pure Fire) converts to/harmonizes with Cauda Draconis (primarily Fire, secondarily Earth)
  • Rubeus (pure Air) converts to/harmonizes with Puer (primarily Air, secondarily Fire)
  • Albus (pure Water) converts to/harmonizes with Puella (primarily Water, secondarily Fire)
  • Tristitia (pure Earth) converts to/harmonizes with Caput Draconis (primarily Earth, secondarily Air)

On the other hand, now consider the even figures.  Unlike the odd figures, where the same “squadron scheme” applies for two groups, there are actually two such schemes for even figures, each scheme having one pair of figures.  For the liminal even figures, a figure’s inverse is the same as its converse, and its reverse is the original figure.  On the other hand, for the even entering/exiting even figures, a figure’s inverse is the same as it’s reverse, and its converse is the original figure:

Due to how the squadrons “collapse” from groups of four into groups of two for the even figures, the same elemental analysis of harmonization can’t be done for the even figures as we did above for the odd figures.  However, it’s also important to note that each element has four figures assigned to it, two of which are odd (as noted above) and two of which are even:

  • Fire: Fortuna Minor (primarily Fire, secondarily Air), Amissio (primarily Fire, secondarily Water)
  • Air: Coniunctio (primarily Air, secondarily Water), Acquisitio (primarily Air, secondarily Earth)
  • Water: Via (primarily Water, secondarily Air), Populus (primarily Water, secondarily Earth)
  • Earth: Carcer (primarily Earth, secondarily Fire), Fortuna Maior (primarily Earth, secondarily Water)

By looking at the inverse relationships of the even figures (which is also converse for liminal figures and reverse for non-liminal figures), we can also inspect their elemental relationships:

  • Carcer (primarily Earth, secondarily Fire) inverts to Coniunctio (primarily Air, secondarily Water).  Both the primary and secondary elements of each figure are the opposite of the other, making these two figures a perfect dichotomy in every way.
  • Via (primarily Water, secondarily Air) inverts to Populus (primarily Water, secondarily Earth).  Though both these figures share the same primary element, the secondary elements oppose each other.  In a sense, this is a more bland kind of opposition that Carcer and Coniunctio show.
  • Acquisitio (primarily Air, secondarily Earth) inverts to Amissio (primarily Fire, secondarily Water).  Unlike Carcer and Coniunctio, and despite that these figures are reversions-inversions of each other, their elemental natures complement each other in both their primary and secondary rulers by heat, as Air and Fire (primary rulers) are both hot elements, and Earth and Water (secondary rulers) are both cold elements.
  • Fortuna Maior (primarily Earth, secondarily Water) inverts to Fortuna Minor (primarily Fire, secondarily Air).  Similar to Acquisitio and Amissio, these two figures are reversions-inversions of each other, but their elemental natures complement each other in moisture, as Earth and Fire (primary rulers) are both dry elements, and Water and Air (secondary elements) are both moist elements).

Note that Carcer and Coniunctio along with Via and Populus (the liminal figures) show a more rigid opposition between them based on their inversion pairs than do Acquisitio and Amissio along with Fortuna Maior and Fortuna Minor (the non-liminal even figures).  Liminality, in this case, shows a forceful dichotomy in inversion, while actually possessing motion suggests completion of each other in some small way.  In this post I wrote on how the natures of the elements complement or “agree” each other based on the element of figure and field in the Shield Chart, these could be understood to say something like the following:

  • Disagree (Carcer and Coniunctio, Via and Populus): Undoing and harm to the point of weakness and powerlessness, force and constriction from one into the other unwillingly.  This is more pronounced with Carcer and Coniunctio than it is Via and Populus, since Via and Populus still agree in the more important primary element, in which case this is more a complete undoing for strength rather than weakness, an expression of transformation into an unknown opposite rather than a forced march into a known but undesired state.
  • Agree in heat (Acquisitio and Amissio): Completion and aid to both, but transformation in the process for complete change in goals and intent.
  • Agree in moisture (Fortuna Maior and Fortuna Minor): Balance and stabilization that lead to stagnation and cessation of action, but with potential that must be unlocked or initiated.

Admittedly, this post took a lot longer to write than I anticipated, largely because although the mathematics behind the operations is pretty easy to understand, the actual meaning behind them is harder to nail down, and is largely a result of introspection and reflection on the figures involved in these operations.  For my own part, I don’t claim that my views are the be-all-end-all of these mathematical or structural relationships between the figures, and I would find this a topic positively begging for more research and meditation by the geomantic community as a whole, not just to flesh out more of the meanings and the relationships of the figures themselves, but also how they might be applied in divination as part of divinatory technique rather than just symbolism, like how I suggested using them for a mathematical/structural form of Shield Chart company.

So, what about you?  Do you think anything of these operation-based relationships of the figures?  Are there any insights you’d be willing to share regarding these operations and relationships?  Is there anything you can thread together from the observations I’ve made above that makes things flow better or fit together more nicely?  Feel free to share in the comments!

On Confusing Geomantic Charts and Geomantic Competency

I started studying geomancy in college, and I was blessed to go to a university with a huge library and good connections.  I’ll always fondly remember hauling my ass to the Old Stacks on grounds, and walking up the claustrophobic submarine-esque stairwell to get to the parapsychology and occult aisles, and finding tomes of occult knowledge from a variety of traditions across the world, including geomancy (which was often mixed up with feng shui manuals written in Classical Chinese and Korean as well as African divination that was only tangentially related).  Of these books, I have to credit Stephen Skinner and his out-of-print book Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy with really getting me started in my research.  His up-to-date version of the book Geomancy in Theory and Practice is something every geomancer should have in their library; it’s a wealth of knowledge on the historical development and context of geomancy, as well as some of the major names in geomantic history dating back to its earliest mythological Arabic roots.

However, as I’ve come to learn and practice geomancy over the years, I’ve realized that Skinner’s book on geomancy has its major shortcomings.  The book is far better a history on geomancy than it is a guide to practicing it, and what little there is on actual practice is focused on a very late Golden Dawn-style of geomancy.  This isn’t bad per se, but it doesn’t draw on all the research Skinner has done in Arabic and European geomancy, especially all the new texts that have come to light since the publication of Terrestrial Astrology in 1980.  It’s one technique in particular that Skinner describes that I take major issue with, and it’s based on a fundamental issue with geomantic practice that I find to really hinder geomantic practice.  Skinner says that the Sentence, also known as the 16th figure or the Reconciler or superjudge, should only be used as a last resort if the Judge and the rest of the chart is unclear:

Who could ask for greater clarity?  If the answer were ambiguous, don’t forget that you could always resort to that back-stop, the Reconciler (figure XVI), which is formed by ‘adding’ together figures I and XV, that is, the first Mother and the Judge.  However, don’t form a Reconciler if you have already got a satisfactory answer, as this is rude persistence in the face of a perfectly adequate reply by the oracle!

The idea behind this is that the Sentence is “extra” and not needed by a geomancer except when the chart is confusing, and shouldn’t be part of the normal reading process.  As I’ve come to practice the art, I find the Sentence is always something to examine and is crucial to forming a complete answer.  In Arabic traditions, the Sentence is called “the result of the result”; if the Judge is the result of the query and how the situation resolves itself, then the Sentence is the effect of the resolution on the querent and how things go from there.  In other words, I treat the Sentence as a long-term post-mortem retrospective view on the situation and see how the querent will be effected by everything that happens, and it completes the chart by giving us a final sixteenth figure to round everything out from beginning to the end and afterwards.

The notion of using the Sentence to clarify the Judge does the role of the Sentence a severe injustice, since it belittles this noble figure way too much.  While the Judge does, of course, take precedence in giving an answer to the query, the Sentence is vital in seeing how things continue even after the situation comes to a close and gives us a final view on how the querent will be personally affected by the situation.  This differs from the rest of the chart, which describes what happens or how things happen.  To say that the Sentence is to be used as a “back-stop” doesn’t accurately describe the role of this figure, and to say that it should only be used in the case of a confusing chart is to insult it when it’s far more useful than that in every chart.

It gets worse, though.  Behind this technique of using the Sentence as a last-resort clarification to the Judge in the case of a confusing chart is the underlying notion that a geomantic chart can be too confusing to interpret with the usual methods and one must use “extra” figures in order to make sense of the thing.  I cannot overstate my disagreement with this notion, so let me make my point clear:

In a well-constructed geomantic reading, the symbols are always correct.  It is up to the geomancer to make sense of the symbols and soundly interpret the chart.  The chart in a geomantic reading is not wrong on its own, but the interpretation of the geomancer will be correct or incorrect depending on their own competency.  If a chart in a geomantic reading cannot be interpreted, the fault lies with the geomancer and not the chart.

When I say “well-constructed”, I don’t mean a chart that is drawn up correctly (though that is a necessary condition of a reading that is constructed properly).  I also mean that the reading is performed in a proper mindset: a clear, detached mind that isn’t afflicted by taxing concerns or worries.  The reading should also be performed when the geomancer isn’t physically afflicted with illness that would cause distraction, and other distractions to the geomantic process should also be minimized: the reading should be done when the weather isn’t violent or otherwise bad, in a place that is not moving (i.e. don’t do a reading in a moving vehicle), in a place that is relatively calm and peaceful, without obstruction from outside influences including spiritual adversaries or an unethical reader that stacks the deck or manipulates the generation of the Mothers or a person working maleficia against you to mess with your divinatory skill, and so forth.  This also includes heeding the usual warnings of Rubeus or Cauda Draconis appearing as the First Mother, though how one takes that warning is dependent on tradition.  These are all crucial things to be aware of, and while mental clarity and stability can neutralize many of these concerns ranging from a raging storm to raging emotions, they should all be heeded to construct a reading in the best possible way.

Assuming you’ve heeded the weather and your own well-being, the chart is going to have all the information you need to answer the query.  However, while the chart gives you the figures to interpret, it’s still going to be the geomancer alone who develops the interpretation.  This is where geomancy turns from a mathematically-rigorous technical practice into a spiritually-refined oracular art, and this is where things like intuition, emotional understanding, and perspective come into play.  If what the geomancer says is wrong, then it’s not the chart’s fault that the reading went wrong; the blame for an incorrect interpretation lies solely with the geomancer.  It’s up to the geomancer to give a proper interpretation of the figures; and that requires the geomancer to be competent in their knowledge of the figures and the techniques of geomancy.  You do not need to relegate certain figures to be last-resort interpretive methods, nor do you need to add the Sentence to the four Mothers to get another set of Mothers to draw up a new chart that can potentially be clearer than the first; you don’t need any other figures besides the first set you got.

This notion of a chart being too confusing to read is, as I understand it, an excuse for an incompetent geomancer who lacks the finesse to put together the pieces of the geomantic puzzle before them into a coherent interpretation.  Sometimes charts will be hard to read, and this is to be expected when we have only 16 figures to represent all of the myriad myriad things in the cosmos; however, I can solidly say that there has never been a chart constructed properly that was wrong in my own practice.  I’ve had a number of readings go awry with incorrect interpretations abound, but hindsight is 20/20 and I can always point out what went wrong after the fact and see how I could have interpreted the chart better.  It might take me five minutes to develop an interpretation for a chart or it might take me five hours, but there is no such thing as a chart that is too confusing to read.

As a result, I find this notion of having techniques to resolve a confusing chart to come from a very bad understanding of geomancy, since it pushes the blame of not being able to read a chart from the geomancer to geomancy itself.  This is not the case, and never has been!  If you’re not competent enough to properly read a chart, then become competent with more practice and trial-and-error.  It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to go well every single time.  That’s why we practice and build up our knowledge of the figures and techniques of geomancy, and while geomancy is an art that can take a week to pick up and start practicing with good results, it can take years and years to actually become competent at it.

Consider this from the point of view of an alchemist.  In their art, they deal with the subtle forces and changes in material components to drive spiritual changes in the world, and it’s an excruciatingly fine art and science to practice.  Some alchemical processes can take months to complete and must be performed time and time again, and not all these attempts come to success.  If an alchemist’s experiment comes to failure, it’s not alchemy that was at fault, but the alchemist; they didn’t perform their calculations or their processes correctly, or they used the wrong set of materials, or they did things at the wrong time or in the wrong state.  To say that it’s alchemy itself that doesn’t work is, quite simply, wrong, and no alchemist would say such a thing of their art.  For us to say that about geomancy is misguided at best and hypocritical at worst.  Don’t do it.

If the chart is confusing, it’s because you’re the one confused.  While it’s lamentable, it’s not irreparable; there are plenty of things you can do to resolve a “confusing” chart that don’t involve these problematic techniques.  Take a step back, take a deep breath, and try looking at the chart from another perspective.  Think more deeply about the query put to the chart, and see if there’s something you missed in an assumption you made or if there’s something you aren’t aware of when the query was asked.  See if you missed something in your understanding of the techniques or the symbols in geomancy, if you misapplied a particular technique, or if you’re using the wrong set of meanings for a particular symbol.  Consider your own state of being and that of the land and area around you to see if there are negative influences surrounding the reading.  If you need to, take a nap and sleep on the chart for a bit (literally or otherwise) and come back to it later.  If, even after looking at the chart from every angle, you still can’t come to a satisfactory answer, wait at least a day and draw up a new chart for the same query, but save the old one for reference to compare results later.

Over time, competency will come, but it’s up to you to work on it.  There are no shortcuts and there are no substitutes for this.  Trying to make your life easier by geomantically begging the question with “clarification” techniques does neither you nor geomancy any favors.  Research the techniques; meditate on the meanings; practice the process.  That’s the real way to resolve confusing charts.

Practical Arbatel: Names and Seals of the Olympic Spirits

So now that I’m getting seriously interested in the Arbatel, I suppose it’s time to start reviewing what I know and what, exactly, it is that I’ll be doing and conjuring.  Most of the Arbatel is focused on being, basically, a good magician, which for all intents and purposes is to be a good Christian.  The basic virtues of piety, faith, love and honor of God, helping out your fellow man, and the like are what’s really expounded in the text, with most of the aphorisms of the Arbatel written on these subjects and how to effect them in one’s life.  That said, the Arbatel contains an introduction on the conjuration of seven Olympic Spirits, each associated with one of the seven planets and each possessing a certain number of spiritual legions of their own, as well as particular secrets that they can reveal to a magician who lives properly and is worthy of those secrets.  So, yes, there will be conjuration involved in this project (yay!), but it’ll be of a different kind than I’m used to (ooh!).

As the text reads in the Third Septenary (III.16), the names of the seven Olympic Spirits are given in the Latin alphabet as Aratron, Bethor, Phaleg, Och, Hagith, and Phul.  While I’d normally be okay with using these names as they are, my penchant for using literally anything other than the Latin alphabet whenever possible has led me to attempt a Greek transliteration of these names.  After all, when using Greek, I can tweak my spelling of things and get a better understanding of the isopsephy and stoicheia behind the names, perhaps leading to something a little more appropriate than what might be naïvely spelled.  Add to it, by beginning to incorporate more Greek into my conjuration work, I can perhaps make inroads into developing a system of mathetic conjuration that would augment and build up the rest of mathesis.  Besides, with these Olympic Spirits being Olympic and with many references to the text suggesting a pseudo-Greek origin to the system, it might befit us to use Greek anyway instead of Roman or Hebrew.

Happily, such a Greek transliteration of the Arbatel names is already given by Stephen Skinner in his Complete Magician’s Tables (M.42 through M.50, particularly M.43).  There, he gives the names of the seven Olympic Spirits, as well as their isopsephic values, as Αραιθρον (341 = 11 × 31), Βεθορ (186 = 6 × 31), Φαλεκγ (558 = 18 × 31), Ευχ (465 = 15 × 31), Ηαγιθ (31 = 1 × 31), Οφιιλ (620 = 20 × 31), and Φυλ (930 = 30 × 31).  These spellings are a little odd for me, however, as is the isopsephy involved.  For this, Skinner explains:

Immediately a pattern becomes obvious, confirming the accuracy of the orthography.  All the names are based on 31 or αλ ‘AL’ in Greek, and are therefore a carefully constructed formula, not just random mediaeval names, as most people previously assumed.  Even the grand total of all the values comes to 3131.  The Greek names of the Olympic Spirits also form a key to Crowley’s Liber AL vel Legis, although one of which Crowley was perhaps not aware, a key that I do not believe has been published by anyone else to date.  I intend to postpone the explanation of that material to a later time.  Suffice it to say that they are a significant key to Liber AL vel Legis.

Furthermore, the multiples of 31 are in themselves significant.  Apart from the factors 15, 20, and 30, the remaining factors form a significant Middle Pillar formula:

1 + 6 + 11 = 18, can be interpreted as Kether + Tiphareth + Daath = ih (10 + 8) or Arrow (in Greek).  The path so traced out is indeed the Path of the Arrow.  The key numbers for these spirits are therefore:

  • Hagith = 1
  • Bethor = 6
  • Araithron = 11
  • Phaleg = 18
  • Och = 15
  • Ophiel = 20
  • Phul = 30

In all honesty, mixing Golden Dawn and Thelemic works into a text 300 years their senior is a dicey proposition, and I don’t think that there’s much to link the two, even if it had been in the Golden Dawn’s scope to do so.  Add to it, I haven’t seen these spellings or this reasoning anywhere else, and the spelling and pronunciation in Latin or in German (since we can claim that the Arbatel is definitely a German work of occult literature) are quite different from the pronunciation given in Skinner’s transliterated Greek, and his use of “Araithron” instead of “Aratron” is unusual, since the Arbatel clearly only gives Aratron.  Add to it, Skinner’s claim about the sum of 1 + 6 + 11 = 18 associated with arrows makes no sense to me; “arrow” in Greek is τοξευμα (common antique word), οιστος, βελος (preferred modern word), ιος, ατρακτος, πτερον, or γλθφιδες, the isopsephy of any which is anything but 18.  Likewise, the Hebrew word for “arrow” is חץ, which still doesn’t add up to 18.

Given that Skinner’s transliterations weird me out and that his reasoning is sketchy, even though they do have that oddly nice consistency with the number 31, I think it might be better to take another look and develop a new set of Greek names for the Olympic Spirits.  Of course, transliterating what are essentially barbarous names between Greek and Roman isn’t always easy, so we often have multiple alternatives available to us.  For transliteration, I’ll only use the names given in the Arbatel itself; other books, such as the Secret Grimoire of Turiel and the Complete Book of Magic Science seem to be much later inventions, and the Arbatel would appear to be the first published text with the names and seals of the Olympic Spirits.

  • Aratron: The “-on” ending here strikes me as being omicron-nu, since most second declension neuter nouns in Greek have this same ending.  Thus, a straightforward transliteration would be Αρατρον (622).  If we were to use a theta instead of tau in the name to get Arathron, courtesy of Skinner’s suggestion, we’d have Αραθρον (331), but this seems to be a stretch, since I find no reason why we should use a theta if it wasn’t indicated in the source text, although it is likely as a more German pronunciation of the name (a slightly harder “t” than tau in German would provide).  Thus, we’ll use Αρατρον.
  • Bethor: The “-or” ending in this name strikes me as being omega-rho, since only a very few words in Greek end in omicron-rho.  The real question then becomes whether we use epsilon or eta, giving us either Βεθωρ (916) or Βηθωρ (919).  For me, Βεθωρ seems more likely; 9 + 1 + 6 = 16, and 1 + 6 = 7.
  • Phaleg: The ending here should be a simple gamma, not kappa-gamma as Skinner suggests, since that was a comparatively modern innovation to represent a hard “g” sound.  Thus, we’d end up with either Φαλεγ (539) or Φαληγ (542), based on whether we use epsilon or eta, and of these, Φαλεγ seems the more likely spelling.
  • Och: Depending on how we transliterate “o” as either omicron or omega, we could get Οχ (670) or Ωχ (1400), or even Ωοχ (1470) as Skinner proposes as an alternative to his Ευχ (465), although Skinner mistakenly gives the isopsephy of Ωοχ as 930 and not 1470.  Of these four names, Ωχ appears to be the cleanest and most likely.
  • Hagith: Greek doesn’t represent aspiration, so we really should be transliterating “Agith”.  This is fairly straightforward to transliterate, Αγιθ (23), with no other options available to us unless we really change things up, like replacing iota with eta for Αγηθ (21).  Thus, Αγιθ it is.
  • Ophiel: This is the most Judeo-Christian “angelic” appearing of the names, and Judeo-Christian angelic and otherwise theophoric names ending in “-el” in Roman are typically written as “-ηλ” in Greek.  However, the initial “o” could be either omicron or omega, giving us either Οφιηλ (618) or Ωφιηλ (1348).  Alternatively, if we use epsilon instead of eta, we could get Οφιελ (615) or Ωφιελ (1345).  Of these, I find Οφιηλ to be the most likely; .
  • Phul: There are only two options here, depending on what kind of “u” we want, either the French “u” represented only by upsilon, or the long “u” represented by omicron-upsilon, giving us either Φυλ (930) or Φουλ (1000).  However, Φυλ appears to be the more straightforward and reasonable of these.

Thus, for our Greek names, we’ll use Αρατρον (622), Βεθωρ (916), Φαλεγ (539), Ωχ (1400), Αγιθ (23), Οφιηλ (618), and Φυλ (930).  Altogether, the sum of the names isopsephy yields 5048.  While these names don’t have the consistency of a repeated number as Skinner’s names do, I also find these far more likely spellings to use of the Olympic Spirits.

Now that we have our names settled, it remains to figure out the seals, and happily, there’s pretty much nothing to figure out.  The seals given in the Arbatel are clear and consistent, and there are excellent modern renditions given by Asterion on his art blog.  I plan on using his seals, which are essentially the same as those given in the grimoire itself, but a little more squared up and cleaned up.  Normally, in conjurations, I make a Trithemian-style lamen bearing the seal of the spirit in a central hexagram with six pentagrams around it, the name of the spirit around that, and thirteen names of God around that.  However, I didn’t want to use the Trithemian design for these conjurations, since I wouldn’t be using the Trithemian ritual and also because the lamen format is fairly overkill for the Arbatel-type of conjuration, which is essentially minimalistic.  I took into account other lamens that other magicians have made for the Arbatel, such as Fr. Acher’s lamens for his Arbatel operations, but decided against anything too fancy.  Instead of using a psalm, series of names of God, or parts of the prayer from the Arbatel, I decided upon the Greek phrase:

Την ημερα και την ωρα του XΧΧ καλω σε ω Δαιμων Ολυμπικε !
In the day and in the hour of XXX I call upon you, o Olympic Spirit!

Thus, if I were to call upon Aratron, I’d use Κρονου, “of Kronos (Saturn)” in the XXX spot; if Bethor, Διος; if Phaleg, Αρεως; and so forth.  Alternatively, I prefer to use the planetary titan names that I’ve mentioned before when first pondering a Greek kabbalah, so instead of Κρονου I’d use Φαινω, “of Phainon”, etc.  A note on this, however: the planet Venus was considered to be two stars, Eosphoros (Dawn-bringer, Venus when it rises before the Sun in the Morning) and Hesperos (Evening Star, Venus when it sets after the Sun in the evening); either of these names could be used, when the proper phase of Venus applies, or you could use the general name Phosphoros (Light-bringer, a general name of Venus).

And, yes, as someone pointed out on Facebook, the use of the word “δαιμων” may raise some eyebrows here.  The text itself, which is a German work originally written in Latin in the 1500s, used the Latin word “pneumatica” to refer to the spirits, and doesn’t use the word “daemon”.  However, lest people think I’m confusing the Olympic Spirits with the types of spirits found in the Lemegeton Goetia, the word δαιμων refers to any natural power, force, fate, or entity, not unlike what’s connoted by θεος.  It was only with the development of Christianity that the word δαιμων began to pick up distinctly negative connotations, leading to our modern word “demon”.  The Renaissance use of the word πνευμα plus the connotations of the Christian Πνευμα το Αγιον, then, picked up what δαιμων left behind, going from a meaning of breath-like life energy to a force of nature as a discrete nonphysical entity.  Now, when I developed this phrase, I found the word δαιμων to be a perfectly acceptable word to use here, especially considering what the Olympic Spirits are proposed to be, but if they themselves wish to use the word πνευμα, I have nothing against changing the phrasing here.

With all that in mind, I made the following set of lamens for my use in my upcoming Arbatel work.  Assuming the Olympic Spirits themselves don’t mind them, I don’t see why I shouldn’t use them, though it’s unclear how best I could use them, either as something to wear as I would in other rituals, or as something to place the scrying medium above, but that’s for another post.

The Liber Runarum and Modern Runic Divination

As you might know, dear reader, last time I posted I released a translation of a 15th century work on using medieval runes in magic, specifically a kind of Renaissance planetary/angelic system where one inscribes particular names of angels or desires using a magical variant of medieval runes with a particular kind of elemental cipher.  It’s certainly an interesting system, and one I hope to use in the near future when I invoke these particular spirits.  Plus, for people like me who were never really into runes but are into magic, it helps to bridge the gap that I often find between people who are into runes or into the planets but not both.  After all, astrology is largely a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern thing as done in the Western Tradition, while runelore is further north from separate origins and legends.

That said, something Ocean Delano asked brought up a very good point: exactly how might this runic system of magic be a good introduction for people like me, who otherwise don’t work with runes, to the elder futhark?  After all, using the elder futhark, among the oldest of Nordic alphabets, is pretty common in a lot of Nordic reconstructionist or neopagan traditions.  However, the text I was translating from was only from the 15th century, while the elder futhark was used from the 2nd through the 8th centuries.  It’s really hard for me to speak at length about this, since runes aren’t my speciality, but overall, I’ll admit that there basically is no connection between the Liber Runarum and modern rune magic.

While many rune-users are right in claiming an ancient tradition that uses runes in magic and divination, it’s far from clear how our Nordid predecessors may actually have used runes in this manner.  Modern systems of divination go back only as far as the 17th century, with Johannes Bureus working with the runes in a framework based on visions (unverified personal gnosis) and qabbalah (a distinctly non-Nordic occult framework).  This may have influenced later Hermetic or magical uses of the runes, such as the Armanen runes, especially once we backed them up with verses from the Poetic Edda, but this too was a fairly late work which only preserved early Nordic myths in at least a somewhat Christianized form.  Even then, modern rune divination as we know it didn’t start off until the 1980s, when Ralph Blum published a well-known book on runic divination.  Though I’m not saying Blum “started” runic divination as we know it, it certainly set a lot of precedents that many runereaders and runeworkers still follow today (as far as I’m aware).

On the other hand, the Liber Runarum uses a variant of medieval runes, which were still in use in Scandinavian countries through the 16th century, and even afterward into the 20th century in some small communities.  This method of using the runes is completely different from what we’re used to seeing as “runes”, and there is no one-to-one correspondence with the elder futhark or the methods used by them.  Although some of the rune names may be similar (though corrupted, and I’ve made a note of this in my translation), there are simply more Liber Runarum runes than there are elder futhark, younger futhorc, or medieval runes (e.g. X or Z).  The method of ascribing the runes to the zodiac and to the planets is very Western astrology-based, and even the alphabetic ordering of the Liber Runarum runes follows the Latin letter order and not the standard futhark order.  In other words, the Liber Runarum uses a magical variant of medieval runes otherwise in (declining) use in parts of Europe at the time of its writing, and simply uses it as a magical written language to encipher and ensorcell written talismans, rather than for their perhaps-traditional usage that we’re used to seeing.

Even the method that the Liber Runarum uses to ascribe the runes to the planets and the zodiac seems to be independent of other qabbalistic works.  According to Stephen Skinner’s “Complete Magician’s Tables”, there is a correspondence between the futhark and the paths of the Tree of Life, but he lists the futhark merely in its alphabetic order and corresponds them in order to the Tree (so fehu, the first rune, is given to the first path #11, Kether-Chokmah, ur is given to #12 Kether-Binah, etc.).  Plus, there are simply more runes than there are paths, and he ends up going overboard and ascribes even the Anglo-Saxon futhorc to the sephirah and other non-existent paths on the Kircher Tree.

So, the Liber Runarum seems to really be its own system of written magic, independent of other runic works that we may or may not be familiar with.  Just wanted to clear things up that way.