The Two Sons of `Iyān: Bird-Based Origins and Other Ideas for Geomancy

In yesterday’s post, we began looking into this funny little thing that the good Dr. Stephen Skinner mentioned in his 1980 book Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy, which was more recently updated and republished in 2011 as Geomancy in Theory & Practice.  When describing the Arabian origins of the art of geomancy, he mentioned a peculiar chant: “Ye two sons of ‘Iyan hasten with the explanation!”  It’s the identity and nature of the entities these were referring to that’ve puzzled me for going on ten years now, and unfortunately, Skinner never cited this statement anywhere.  After doing a bit of Arabic language hacking, we ended up with a proper spelling of the big name here to be `Iyān with the triliteral root `-Y-N (`ayn yā’ nūn), which ties it into the letter `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Arabic script according to the Phoenician order (potential geomancy connection!), and thus to notions of eyes, sight, and vision (possible divination connection!).  We continued to dig a bit further, and we found several sources that talk about what Skinner did in his own books, though with about as much specificity, which wasn’t much.  However, we did begin to make some headway into understanding some of the first swirlings of geomantic practice and how it developed from earlier proto-geomantic practices in Arabaian and related cultures.  Today, we’ll pick up where we left off and keep investigating what `Iyān might refer to.

Though our discussion yesterday focused on the lines produced for geomantic (or proto-geomantic) divination, there were a few other references that we should investigate.  Going back to Lane for a moment, the entry for `Iyān mentions something about arrows.  Let’s bring that up again:

… اِبْنَا عيَانٍ means Two birds, (Ḳ, TA,) from the flight or alighting-places, or cries, &c., of which, the Arabs augur: (TA:) or two lines which are marked upon the ground (Ṣ, Ḳ) by the عَائِف [or augurer], by means of which one augurs, from the flight, &c., of birds; (Ṣ;) or which are made for the purpose of auguring; (TA;) then the augurer says, اِبْنَى عيَانْ اًسْرِعَا البَيَانْ [O two sons of `Iyán, hasten ye the manifestation]: (Ḳ,* TA: [see 1 in art. خط :]) in the copies of the Ḳ, اِبْنَا is here erroneously put for اِبْنَى : or, as some say ابْنَا عِيانٍ means two well-known divining arrows: (TA:) and when it is known that the gaming arrow of him who plays therewith wins, one says جَرىَ اِبْنَا عِيَانٍ [app. meaning The two sons of ‘Iyán have hastened; i.e. the two arrows so termed; as seems to be indicated by a verse cited in the L (in which it is followed by the words بِالشِّواء المُضَهُّبِ with the roast meat not thoroughly cooked), and also by what here follows]: (Ṣ, L, Ḳ, TA:) these [arrows] being called ابْنَا عِيانٍ because by means of them the people [playing at the game called المَيْسِر] see the winning and the food [i.e. the hastily-cooked flesh of the slaughtered camel]. (L, TA.)

Lane says that abnā `Iyān could refer to “two well-known divining arrows”, i.e. belomancy, which was known and practiced throughout Mesopotamia, Arabia, and the Near East dating back to ancient biblical times.  In this style of divination, the arrows used for divination were required to be fletched with feathers, at least for the sake of distinguishing them.  This also brings up the memory of the pre-Islamic god Hubal worshiped by the Quraysh tribe (the tribe of the Prophet Muḥammad himself) in the Ka`bah in Mecca (when it was still a pagan shrine) who performed acts of divination with arrows for his devotees.  However, what little is known of that method of divination was that Hubal used seven arrows, not two as Lane suggests.  Plus, from what I can find (especially from Robert Hoyland’s 2002 work Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam), there were several methods of belomancy:

  1. Using three arrows (one marked for “God commands it” or just as “do it”, one for “God forbids it” or as “don’t do it”, and one that was either left blank or marked as “not clear”), one would put them in a quiver on the back, and one would be randomly drawn.  The one that was drawn indicates the course to take; if the blank one was drawn, it was put back and another arrow was randomly drawn until an answer was obtained, or it was interpreted as “wait”.
  2. Using the same three arrows, they would be fired off, and the one that flew the furthest (or got closest to its target) indicated the answer.
  3. The arrows (perhaps the same three, or different ones?) were tossed or thrown in a certain way, and then interpreted based on the ways or the directions they fell.
  4. The seven arrows of Hubal:
    1. “Blood price”: When several people fought over who should pay blood-price, they drew lots and whoever drew this one would have to pay it.
    2. “Yes” and “No”: When they had a simple binary question, they drew lots until one of these two came up.
    3. “Water”: If someone wanted to dig for water, they cast lots containing this arrow and wherever it came forth they set to work.  (This seems unclear to me; perhaps onto a map, or into a field?)
    4. “Of you”, “Affiliated”, and “Not of You”: Whenever they wanted to circumcise a boy, make a marriage, bury a body, or make some sort of alliance or contract wit, or if someone had doubts about someone’s genealogy, they used these arrows to determine the specific relationship to someone.  “Of you” indicates that they belonged to the same tribe; “affiliated” that they were not of the same tribe but an ally of it; “not of you” that they were unrelated and unaffiliated.

None of this really comports with what we know about geomantic or proto-geomantic practice, whether from the sources Lane quotes or from Skinner’s research, unless we were to focus on the “Yes”/”No” style of Hubal-directed belomancy (which, well, it is a binary answer at least, which can be seen to tie into geomancy or proto-geomantic divination).  Plus, connections to Hubal and his divination cult seem to be a stretch; after all, Islam came about in Arabia around in the first half of the 600s ce, by which point the cult center of Hubal was effectively destroyed with the harrowing of the Ka`bah.  Even if we admit the likely possibility that there were proto-geomantic practices in Arabia at the time of the Prophet Muḥammad (and who’s to say that the earliest geomantic diviners didn’t use arrows to mark sand instead of using a simple staff?), an argument could be made that we’re looking at the wrong place for such a connection to geomancy.

Perhaps, instead, we should be looking towards the pre-Islamic gods of the sands of the Sahara rather than towards pre-Islamic gods of the Arabian peninsula.  After all, `Iyān doesn’t really seem to appear in the names of Arabian pagan religion, but it might in a Saharan one, perhaps even one with Egyptian, Canaanite, Hellenic, or Roman origins.  This is getting into some really weird and extraordinarily vague and far territory, though, and we don’t have a strong enough reason to get deep into any of it; there’s far too much variability if we widen our scope to all those other cultures, and it could well be a wild goose chase.

If not that, though, it could also be the result of the name of a spirit who wasn’t a god that was propitiated and propagated for calling upon in divination, much as how the Lemegeton duke Bune is now goetically synonymous with wealth magic, and whose name either happened to be close enough to `Iyān to be interpreted as such.  This is one possibility that my colleague and resident North African and Mediterranean traditions expert Arlechina Verdigris suggested, perhaps even a reuse of the name “John” as heard by Arabic ears (think how “John” is spoken by modern Spanish speakers, almost like “yohn” or “zhohn”), but in this context, that explanation seems a to stretch a bit too far, as “John” is usually rendered as يَـحـيٰى  Yaḥyā (especially by Arabic-speaking Muslims) or as يُوحَنَّا  Yūḥanna (especially by Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians), neither of which share much in common with the name `Iyān,  Plus, the name “John” as pronounced as such by English speakers would have been introduced only far too recently compared to the sources we’re looking at from before, considering the old origins of the chant in question.  That `Iyān could be the name of a spirit (jinn? ancestor?) or a pre-Islamic or otherwise pagan god from the Sahara or from Arabia is a possibility, but considering the variability of such names and spirits, and how so many spirit names are isolated to maybe a handful of magicians at most, I don’t know how likely this idea might be; my hunch is that it’s not, but at any rate, it’s not something that’s within my power to research, given my dearth of Arabic knowledge and Arabic materials to consult.

Okay, this line of questioning doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere without further resources that may or may not be available, so let’s backtrack a bit.  There’s one more thing we’ve yet to discuss when it comes to `Iyān and its two sons, and that’s the topic of birds.  According to Lane’s entry on `Iyān, the “two sons” ابْنَا عِيانٍ (abnā `Iyān) refers first to the practice of augury, and specifically the interpretation of omens that result from hearing or watching birds.  Lane goes on to say that the phrase “two sons of `Iyān” refers to the “two lines which are marked upon the ground by the augurer, by means of which one augurs, from the flight, &c., of birds”.  Consider what that actually means here, especially in the light of Lane’s entry for khaṭṭ: the abnā `Iyān, the “two lines or marks” that were made when engaging in geomantic or proto-geomantic divination, were produced by the tracks of birds, specifically “two birds…from the flight/alighting-places/cries of which the Arabs augur”.  That would explain why birds are mentioned alongside geomancy; rather than using augury or ornithomancy (divination by birds) generally, such as in ways that would focus on what the birds were or how they fly or in what direction, these proto-geomancers would focus instead on how birds land upon and walk across the sand.  In this way, proto-geomancers would inspect the tracks left by birds on the ground and tally them up two-by-two until one or two footprints, or sets of tracks, were left.

If that’s what’s really being suggested or reported by Lane here, then that could mean that the practice of making marks in the sand with a staff or wand would be a way to produce such omens on demand for augury-on-the-fly, no birds required.  And when you look at such tracks left in sand…

…it’s actually pretty believable as an origin for the original geomantic method of making figures.  And, tracing the development a bit further: from inspecting the marks left behind from birds, we began to make our own to inspect anytime we wanted; from tallying up two lines of marks, we went to four, and from four to sixteen; by clustering them together, we got the Mothers; by transposing them, we got the Daughters; by adding them together and using the same basic tallying technique, we got the rest of the figures of the chart.  With a bit of mathematical finagling, we can ensure that the Judge is always an even number, which, as we discussed in the previous post, would be significant to ensure a fair judgment to be produced, even if not strictly favorable for the querent and query.  (Image below from Dawat-e-Rohaniat.)

We may well be looking at the ultimate historical origin of geomancy here: a human-innovated practice of replicating bird tracks on sand and using fundamentally Arabian ornithomantic methods to interpret them.  If that’s the case, then geomancy, ultimately, is from birds.  Birds, little divine messengers from the skies coming down to Earth, instructing us in their language, then flying back off returning to Heaven once we don’t need to directly rely on them anymore.  It’s like we can hear echoes of this in the story of how the archangel Gabriel taught the art of geomancy to the prophets, the founders of geomancy—Adam, Daniel, Hermēs Trismegistus, or Enoch, according to the different historiolas we find in geomantic texts.

Birds.

Huh.

As intoxicating as it is to think that I figured out what the ultimate origin of geomancy might be, I have to admit that this is all really interpretive and hypothetical.  There’s not a lot going on here besides chaining some circumstantial evidence, unclear etymologies and definitions, and a good amount of interpretation on my part.  No matter how likely it might be that geomancy was derived from inspecting the tracks of birds on sand (which I think is pretty likely given all the above), we shouldn’t consider it verified fact.  Unfortunately, geomancy is sufficiently old and the evidence sufficiently sparse that the origins may well be lost in the sands of time, so to speak, and while the evidence is pointing towards an Arabian origin instead of a Saharan one, there’s still nothing here that conclusively shows its actual geographic origins in either Arabia or the Sahara; still, though I’ve favored the Saharan origin up until now, I’m starting to be more inclined towards the Arabian origin.  Even so, even if we want to accept this ornithomantic Arabian origin for geomancy, there’s a little more for us to consider to get a deeper insight into what could be going on here, so let’s continue.

What we’re missing now is a more solid connection between `Iyān and birds.  Taking specific birds a little bit further into consideration, I came across this massive list of Arabic names for birds, and I found the name العين al`ayn (I think?) which appears to share the same root as `Iyān, and which refers to Oriolus oriolus, the Eurasian golden oriole.  Lane does in fact discuss it in a related entry to our main topic on page 2269: “a certain bird yellow in the belly, [dingy, dark, ash-color, or dust-color] on the back, of the size of a [species of turtle-dove]”.  The golden oriole largely fits the bill for this.  There’s also the fact that it forms pair-bonds that last between breeding seasons, which would be a symbol of life and creativity, and would tie into the notion of even numbers being positive and odd numbers (a single, lone bird without a mate, or whose mate was lost) being negative.  So if we were looking for a…I guess, a patron/tutelary animal for geomancy, then based on all the above, this would be it:

Perhaps above any other kind of bird, it’d be the golden oriole that would be best-suited for making tracks in the sand for divination, and the lines of its tracks it left behind would be its “sons”.  In watching such a bird to cross tracks, we’d urge it to hurry up to make a sufficient number for our proto-geomancer to interpret it: “ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten with the explanation”.

The only problem with assigning the golden oriole to be an entity marked by `Iyān is that this bird isn’t really common to Arabic-speaking areas; its distribution is largely across almost all of continental Europe south of Scandinavia in the winter, and across central and southern Africa from Cameroon and points south in the summer.  As pretty of a bird and as appropriate though it might be based on the description in Lane,  I’m not wholly pinning this as being what `Iyān is referring to.  However, birds know no borders, and it’s also pretty true that they’d certainly have to pass through the Arabian peninsula and northern Africa during their migrations, and it does have its non-migratory homes in some Arabic-speaking areas that are just on the edge of the expected range of locations for the origin of geomancy, from the northwest edges of the Maghreb in the west to Mesopotamia in the east.  It’s nothing I’ll wage a bet on, but it’s certainly not nothing.

Regardless of whether the golden oriole is specifically tied to `Iyān, there’s definitely some connection between birds and either `Iyān specifically or divination generally.  I mean, that there should be one wouldn’t be terribly surprising, since the word for bird is طير ṭayur, and the classical term for augury or orthithomancy is تطير taṭayyir, which was extended to divination in general, just as we might use “augury” in a wide sense to refer to all divination.  Both of these words come from the same root of Ṭ-Y-R, referring to flying or taking off.  This recalls the notion of divining arrows from above being set loose to fly; as noted, they were required to be fletched with feathers, giving them a bird-like connection and, thus, giving them a distant or alluded-to tie-in to augury by birds.  And, further, fletching would also be needed to make them “fly”, which would tie them symbolically into the Ṭ-Y-R root.  Plus, as noted above, who’s to say that they wouldn’t use fletched arrows instead of a simple staff to make marks in the sand?  Divining arrows are divining arrows, no matter how you use them, after all, and it would give these proto-geomancers a stronger connection to deeper cultural practices of divination.  Perhaps we modern geomancers might consider using fletched arrows for marking sand, if we wanted to use wands at all for ritual divination!

While mulling this over, the wonderful Nick Farrell dug up an interesting article for me, “Some Beliefs and Usages among the Pre-Islamic Arabs, with Notes on their Polytheism, Judaism, Christianity, and the Mythic Period of their History” by Edward Rehatsek (The Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, volume XII, 1876, pp. 163-212).  This article mentions the same thing we’ve seen before in Skinner, Lane, and Abu Dāwūd, but Rehatsek specifically considers it alongside and mixed in with ornithomantic omens.  Consider specifically pp.172ff, emphasis mine:

Many things were believed to be unpropitious by the Arabs, whilst certain birds were also considered to portend evil, and others good.  When an Arab augur, who was called Zâjar (literally meaning ‘a driver away’, because by doing so the direction of the flight of a bird, from which nearly everything appears to depend, is ascertained), began his soothsaying operation, he drew two lines called eyes, as if he could by means of them observe anything he liked; and when he had through these perceived something unpleasant he used to say, “The sons of vision have manifested the explanation.”*  It is natural that birds which were known to settle on the backs of wounded camels and to hurt them should have been considered unlucky; such were the crow, and a kind of woodpecker, but the former was also considered so for another reason—namely, because it implied separation.  When a tribe strikes its tents and departs to new pastures, the crows alight on the spot of the abandoned encampment in search of food, and there is nothing passing in front, or crossing over from the right side to the left, and no beast with a broken horn or any other object more unlucky than a crow, but the omen was increased when it happened to sit on a Bán tree and pulled out its own feathers.  As the Bán tree also implies separation, the omen is taken from this signification, and applicable not only when a crow, but also when a dove, a bird of good luck, is perched on it; but poets like plays on words, and hence the lapwing, whose name is Hudhud, also indicates the direction Huda; whilst the eagle called U’káb, being nearly homophonous with U’kb, “the end”, and the dove Ḥamám with Humma, “it was decreed”, are on these accounts respectively considered to put an end to separation, and to imply that the meeting of friends is decreed.

* Arab. Prov. [Arabum Proverbia] tome i., p. 695, ابنا عيان اظهر البيان In the beginning of the operation they were also in the habit of addressing an invocation to these two lines, or eyes:— ابنا عيان اظهرا البيان “O sons of vision, manifest the explanation?”

We’re starting to tap into some of the symbolism behind even and odd here, and we can see that we were on the right track from before, but this time it’s made a bit more explicit; we might have considered that, perhaps, birds seen in pairs was considered a good omen in general, while a lone bird was considered bad, and that could still be the case especially for birds like the golden oriole that forms long-term pair-bonds, but now we’re tapping into deeper cultural lore about separation and number.  When the result of divination is even, then things are in pairs, considered fortunate because it suggests coming together or staying together (remember that the origin of the Arabic word for “even” ultimately comes from Greek for “yoked together”, as in marriage); when the result is odd, then it implies separation and being left alone (literally “wholly one”).  For a migratory, nomadic people living in a harsh environment, survival often depended on your tribe and not being left alone or being cast out, for which separation could truly mean an ill fate up to and including death by dehydration, starving, heat, or exposure; the same would go for humans from their tribes as it would for animals from their herds.  To consider it another way, if the marks being made in the sand are “eyes”, then in order to see clearly, we need to have two of them, since eyes naturally come in pairs (at least for us humans and many other animals).  If we end up with an odd number, then we’ve lost an eye, and cannot see clearly.

Up until this point, we’ve been largely been assuming `Iyān as the name for a distinct entity and the “two sons of `Iyān” to be lesser entities under it or the productions made by the entity, as if we’re supplicating spirits or asking for aid from them.  However, there’s the distinct and possibly likely chance that we’re on the wrong track entirely.  Given that “poets like plays on words”, Iyān (which Rehatsek translates as “vision” though “inspection” is a better term, but cf. the Greek suffix -manteia to mean both) isn’t really an entity at all, but just a poetic turn of phrase, a personification of the concept of divinatory investigation rather than a deification of it (which might be just a little too animist/polytheistic for observant Muslims).  Thus, rather than thinking of the “sons of `Iyān” to represent entities under a bigger entity like how the phrase “sons of God” refers to angels under the Divine, it might be better to think of “sons of `Iyān” to represent the extensions or productions of divinatory “eyes” through a process of divination so as to perform an “inspection” or investigation of a matter.  This would be like another Arabic turn of phrase seen in poetry, the “two sons of time” relating to the day and night, and how the “daughters of time” could represent the vicissitudes or afflictions that time imposes on us.  So, saying “sons of `Iyān” is basically saying “results of the inspection”, i.e. the outcome of the divination, which we would realistically want to hasten so as to get a proper answer.  In the context in which Skinner et alia are describing this chant used by an assistant towards the diviner, it could be a way to spur the diviner on into a sense of frenzy and frenetic urgency, helping them lose themselves in the striking of the earth to produce a truly divine result, which would afterwards then be tallied up, reduced down, and accounted for.

Yet…well, I want there to be some sort of spiritual entity behind `Iyān and their two sons.  It’s kinda one of the things I was hoping to find, but what evidence that I can find doesn’t really support that premise.  Is the possibility ruled out?  No, and far from it!  As mentioned above, there is a possibility (though a faint one, as I’d reckon it) that `Iyān may be a holdover deity from some pre-Islamic, tribal, or pagan religion or some other jinn, angel, or other spiritual entity, but opening up that research…well, my gut feeling is that there’s probably not a lot to find along those lines, especially considering the scope of that sort of research.  But, at any rate, there’s not enough evidence to support the idea that the chant “Ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten with the explanation” is an invocation of a spirit, but more of a metaphorical exhortation to the diviner.  If `Iyān is considered to be an entity at all, it’d likely fall in the same category as all the minor divinities in Greek religion, divinized concepts of things like health or fruit-bearing trees or the like that might have stories told about them but never actually received cult, worship, or ritual.  That seems to be the most likely result to me, as much as I find it a disappointment.  But, hey, we’ve learned quite a bit along the way all the same, and that’s still a great result for all of us!

…well.  I think we’re at the end of this discussion and line of research, honestly.  To summarize this little garden-path effort of mine:

  • Stephen Skinner, in his 1980 work Terrestrial Astrology, mentioned in passing a practice of some of the earliest geomancers (or proto-geomancers) where they would use the chant “O two sons of ‘Iyan, hasten with the explanation!”, though this comment was not backed up with a source or reference, and left me befuddled for ten years until recently.
  • By looking at rules of Arabic word derivation, we were able to deduce the proper spelling of this word, `Iyān, and link it to the letter `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician script and all scripts that derived from it, including the Arabic script.  This word has the root `-Y-N which links it to notions of the eye, sight, and vision, and thus has connotations of divination, along with a numerological link to the 16 figures of geomancy and any 4×4 combination of the elements.  That the numerological value of `ayn is 70, and that its reduction from 16 → 1 + 6 = 7 is also a nice bonus, tying it to seven planets and all other things with the number seven.
  • `Iyān, as a word, means “inspection”, “a witnessing of events”, “a coming into sight/light”.  This word is a verbal noun of the verb ʿāyana, meaning “to inspect” or “to witness”, but also more broadly as “to investigate” or “to behold”.
  • While investigating the word `Iyān, we were able to find a text that discusses what Skinner did with a bit more depth, as well as comparing it to other sources that describe the same fundamental practice which is likely proto-geomantic rather than geomantic as we’d recognize it.
  • This proto-geomantic practice, with origins that are attested to be either pre-Islamic or early-Islamic, involves making two lines of marks in the sand, then reducing them two-by-two until either one or two points are left.  If two points, an even number, the result is considered favorable and good; if one point, an odd number, the result is considered unlucky and bad.
  • The word `Iyān is commonly mentioned in other texts as relating not to geomancy or proto-geomancy, or at least not just those things, but to augury and ornithomancy as well.  In addition to Arabian augurs interpreting the position, direction, motion, types, and actions of birds, they would also observe the tracks they produced on the sandy ground as meaningful for omens.
  • It was from using the tracks left behind by birds and counting them for an even or odd number of marks that likely formed the ultimate origin for the (proto-)geomantic practice of making marks in the sand to produce the same.
  • The (proto-)geomancers would make marks in the sand while in a frenzy or other kind of trance state so as to obtain the same divinatory virtue through their manmade marks as might be given more purely from the cosmos through the tracks of birds.
  • The (proto-)geomancers would consider the “two sons” to be the two lines of marks they made as “eyes” (`uyūn)  that “witnessed” (yu`āyinūna) the events, circumstances, and actors involved in the query put to divination, and the whole matter would be considered an investigatory “inspection” of the matter (`iyān).
  • Even numbers, by virtue of coming in or being arranged as pairs, culturally connoted being together or holding fast, a sign of good fortune, livability, viability, survivability, meeting, and support, and thus were seen as fortunate, positive, or affirmative answers in proto-geomantic divination.  Conversely, odd numbers, by virtue of standing alone, connoted loss, exile, abandonment, absconding, maiming, and other notions of separation, which ere considered to be unfavorable, negative, or denying answers.
  • Given the symbolism behind even and odd in Arabian (nomadic) culture, later geomantic practices may have innovated a specific use of not just bundling lines into figures, but processing the resulting figures in a certain way as to always end up with an even figure in the end (the Judge) so as to ensure that the total reading may be good in some light, even if not favorable, so as to ensure a fair and valid judgment.
  • `Iyān is likely not being referred to in the chant as a spiritual entity unto itself, but in a personified way as a figure of speech, commanding “the two sons of `Iyān” to be speedy in giving an answer, said to encourage the diviner to engage in the process of frenetic/ecstatic/trance-based divination speedily without delay or delaying.
  • There is a potential connection between (proto)-geomantic divination as `Iyān and the Eurasian golden oriole (al`ayn) based on their shared word roots, as well as the role birds played in providing the initial marks for this divination to be performed with, which could provide a preferred bird by which one can perform land-based proto-geomantic augury, or which provides a kind of tutelary animal for the practice, especially through the use of its feathers, which may be used and appended to the end of a divining staff/stick to form “arrows”, tying it into an older practice of Arabian and Mesopotamian belomancy.  The “arrows”, then, would take the role of the “two sons of `Iyān”, though this might be a reuse or repurposing of the chant for a more general divinatory purpose rather than one relegated to (proto-)geomancy.
  • There is a small possibility that `Iyān may well be the name of a pagan god or another spirit of divination and that the “two sons of `Iyān” are its facilitators or emissaries that bear out the message of divination from `Iyān, but this is more likely a misreading the chant from a animist or polytheist perspective that wasn’t historically used.

This post turned out a fair bit longer (almost four times the average length!) than I expected, so much so that I had to break it up into two already-long posts, so if you managed to get this far, then I thank you for sticking with me.  Honestly, though this little bit of research didn’t end up where I wanted it to (I was kinda hoping for an old, extant, and commonly-cited spirit to appeal to for divination within a geomantic milieu), I’m honestly glad because I’ve been able to piece together plenty of information that actually clarifies an academic problem I’ve been on-and-off dealing with for ten years.  Even if there’s no historical “who” behind `Iyān and their two sons, at least we now know the “what”, and that’s still immensely important and advances the state of geomantic research, at least a tiny bit.  And, hey, we’ve left the door open for further opportunities and exploration, both academic and spiritual, too:

  • If all that was desired was an odd or even result from marking tracks off two-by-two, then why were two sets of tracks inspected at a time instead of just one?  Two sets of tracks would get you two results; does this have a connection with geomantic dice that split up a single figure of four rows into two sub-figures of two rows?
  • Are there any specific birds besides the Eurasian golden oriole that might be especially important in making tracks on the sand which were used for (proto-)geomantic divination?
  • Does the Eurasian golden oriole play a role in any of the spiritualities, superstitions, or symbolisms of Near Eastern, Middle Eastern, or African traditions that we might ply for more information?
  • What New World birds might take the same ecological or spiritual role as the Eurasian golden oriole?
  • How, exactly, were just two lines of marks read by birds, or where did the custom come from of making/marking two lines instead of just one?
  • Are there any other animals that we might associate with geomancy through the name `Iyān or the root `-Y-N, whether birds or otherwise?
  • What other geomantic mysteries might be hidden within `ayn, the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician script which has a root numerological value of 7 (either through reduction from its normal value of 70 or by reducing its ordinal number 16 into 1 + 6 = 7)?  We noted an alphabetical connection with a handful of divine epithets of Allāh, including the famous one Al-`Alīm (“The All-Knowing One”), but what other roots that start with `Ayn might be significant, if any?
  • Unlikely though it is,`Iyān could still be the name of a spirit or non-/pre-Arabian deity.  If so, where does this entity come from, from what culture, what tribe, what area, and what would a more native interpretation of the name be?  What does this entity do, and who are its two sons?
  • Just because there hasn’t been a specific spirit-based use for the original chant “O ye two sons of `Iyān, hasten ye with the explanation!” doesn’t mean that there can’t be one ever.

Once more, my thanks to Dr. Amina Inloes, Nick Farrell, and Arlechina Verdigris for helping me with organizing my thoughts, refining my ideas, providing me with useful materials, and in general being wonderful people in my life.  May God and the gods bless you all.

The Two Sons of `Iyān: Obscure Chants and Proto-Geomantic Divination

The Two Sons of `Iyān: Obscure Chants and Proto-Geomantic Divination

When it comes to the geomantic scholars of the Western world, there’s few who can touch the research of Dr. Stephen Skinner.  Internationally acclaimed for his work and practice involving feng shui as well as his doctorate-level research and publications on various grimoires and magical texts from the west, he’s also an expert in the practice and history of geomancy.  I first encountered him back in college, probably around 2008 or 2009, through his older, now out-of-print book Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy, which has more recently been updated and published under the title Geomancy in Theory & Practice (and, more importantly, with a title that Skinner doesn’t hate, as Terrestrial Astrology was a title he regretted but which his editor insisted on).  This is a simply wonderful text that, although I consider it to be a bit light on the actual practice of geomancy, its true value shines in delving into the evidence, history, lineage, and contextual development of geomancy as a divinatory art in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe from its beginnings around a thousand years ago until today.  (There’s also his older work, The Oracle of Geomancy: Techniques of Earth Divination, which is also long out-of-print and…well, I wasn’t particularly enthused by it, but it’s a solid work of geomancy for its time before other research and experimentation was being done.)

In Terrestrial Astrology as well as Geomancy in Theory & Practice, Skinner opens up the book after the introduction by talking about geomancy and its Arabic origins as `ilm ar-raml, “the science of the sand”, also called khaṭṭ ar-raml, “marking the sand” After clarifying some of the language about it, he describes some of the basic processes used early on in the very nascent stages of geomancy:

For the purpose of divining by khatt al-raml, the diviner, accompanied by an assistant or acolyte, drew with the utmost haste a quantity of lines or ripples in the sand, allowing himself to be carried away, so that he did not know how many lines he had drawn.  Then he slowly wiped out groups of two ripples at a time, whilst his assistant often recited an incantation in Arabic, such as the words: “Ye two sons of ‘Iyan hasten with the explanation!”

The marks they made were joined by other marks (khutut) in order to complete a figure (shakl).  When these figures became stylized, a board was used, which was covered with sand or even flour, and the finger was drawn over it at random; the shapes formed in this way were then examined.  If in the end two lines were left (i.e, there was an even number of lines drawn) then this foretold success.  If however only one line remained (an odd number of lines drawn) then disappointment was certain. Here can be seen the germ of the later and more complex practice, where each line is reduced to odd (only one left) or even (two remaining). In this, the simple form of khatt al-raml, only one set of marks were made, leading straight to a lucky/unlucky prediction.

It’s that reference to “Ye two sons of ‘Iyan” that’s always mystified me.  I could never figure out what or who “‘Iyan” is or was, much less their “two sons”, and Skinner says no more about it in his works, nor is any reference provided for this statement.  Worse, when I emailed the good doctor, he unfortunately said that it’s been so long since this was written (Terrestrial Astrology was published almost 40 years ago!) that he was unable to recall where it might have come from.  Such mysterious figures, perhaps mythological, maybe angelic or even demonic, hailed in a diviner’s chant to induce a trance or stronger, more truthful connection to the art in order to obtain knowledge?  This struck me as being something that should be investigated, but unfortunately, Skinner’s text, identical in both Terrestrial Astrology as well as Geomancy in Theory & Practice, is the only reference to ‘Iyan or their two sons I’ve ever found.  It could be that this was entirely a highly localized or individual practice that Skinner was reporting on, or an extremely esoteric one that was limited and bound up in particular occult practices.

Lately, I’ve been taking another look at this, and I’ve been doing some thinking about it.  What follows is basically extrapolating from very scant knowledge and information here, coupled with a bare-bones knowledge of Arabic grammar and word derivational systems, but I suppose, if we take a look at the name ‘Iyan a bit closer, we might be able to get something.  What follows could well be a wild goose chase which might put me on par with Athanasius Kircher’s attempt to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs (surprise, it didn’t go well).  But, well, what might we find if we look?  Let’s see where we end up.

First, it’s important to note that when Skinner brings up Arabic words or glosses, he’s not always faithful in his transliteration from Arabic to Roman script.  Although the tables at the end of the book have the names of the figures in Arabic written in both Arabic script and in good transliteration, and a number of Arabic names in the endnotes are transliterated with diacritics for long vowels and the like, it’s in the text itself that long vowels aren’t indicated, there’s no standardization of how ‘alif and `ayn are transliterated, and other such problems that make it hard to understand what the original Arabic might have been based on the names given to us.  So, with ‘Iyan, we have several problems:

  • Is the mark before the I supposed to represent an ‘alif or an `ayn?
  • Which vowels are long or short?

It’s impossible to tell what these might be since we have no other information, and I’m no expert in Arabic.  But…well, consider that names typically have meaning of some sort, and the way Arabic works—and Semitic languages generally—is on a delightfully productive system of what’s called “roots” and “patterns”.  There’s this notion of a consonantal root in Semitic languages, usually of three letters but sometimes two and sometimes four, and the root has a general concept associated with it, much like the semantic radical of a Chinese character.  By filling in the consonantal root with particular vowels and appending prefixes, suffixes, and other infixes, a variety of words that give variations on the underlying can be obtained from a single root.  Consider the triliteral (three letter) consonantal root K-T-B, which refers to writing generally:

  • kitab (book)
  • kutub (books)
  • kataba (he wrote)
  • katabat (she wrote)
  • katabtu (I wrote)
  • kutiba (it [m] was written)
  • yaktubna (they [f] write)
  • yatakātabūn (they write to each other)
  • kātib (writer [m])
  • kuttāb (writers)
  • katabat (clerks)
  • maktab (office)
  • makātib (offices)
  • maktabat (library)
  • istaktaba (to cause someone to write something)

The number of derivations goes on and on.  Note how all the words in that list share the root K-T-B, sometimes with one of the consonants doubled (as in kuttāb), sometimes with extra consonants added (as in maktabat).  All these words have something semantically related to the act of writing or something written, which is grounded in the K-T-B root.  Likewise, not just nouns or verbs or adjectives can be derived from roots, but names can, as well.  Consider that the name Muḥammad is derived from the root Ḥ-M-D, generally relating to notions of “praise” or “thanks”; thus, Muḥammad literally means “praiseworthy”, and is related to the commonly-heard phrase “Alḥamdulillāh”, meaning “praise be to God” or “thank God”; this phrase is referred to as ḥamdala, and the recitation of it (like one might for reciting the prayer bead devotion Tasbīḥ Fāṭimah) is taḥmīd.  Again, same triliteral root, but endless words that can be derived from it, all tying to the same thing.

So…what if we were to interpret ‘Iyan as a word that was derived from a consonantal root?  Given how short it is, it’s not like we have a lot of options to choose from.  If we take out the two vowels, I and A, we end up with three consonants, with the first one being unclear between two choices:

  • ‘-Y-N (‘alif  yā’ nūn)
  • `-Y-N (`ayn yā’ nūn)

As it turns out, the first option (starting with ‘alif) isn’t attested as a triliteral root in Arabic, nor in any Semitic language, but the second one (starting with `ayn) is in every one of them. `-Y-N is a root used in Ugaritic, Arabic, Hebrew, Akkadian, Amharic, Syriac, and Aramaic, and is most notable for being the letter `Ayn or `Ayin itself in all the writing systems that derive from the original Phoenician script, and thus is also the origin of the Roman letter O and Greek omikron.  Originally, the Phoenician letter `ayn had the form of a simple circle, much as the Roman letter O is, though its form shifted in the various Semitic languages that used it.  The shape of the letter, and the name and meaning of the letter itself, connote an eye, which ultimately derives from the Egyptian hieroglyph 𓁹 (Gardiner D4), perhaps most famously used for the spelling of the god Osiris.  You can see the evolution of the letter below from its Egyptian origin to its Phoenician (also Greek and Latin) form, its traditional Square Hebrew form, and in its Arabic forms (with all its position variants shown below, with position variant images taken from Arabic Reading Course).

I also note that `ayn is the sixteenth letter of the Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac scripts, as well as the sixteenth letter of the traditional Arabic (abjadi) order.  Which…come on, now.  Of all possible letters that we’d end up with, we’d end up with the sixteenth one?  Sixteen, the number of geomantic figures? And on top of that, it also has the numerical value of 70, and if we were to reduce 16, then we get 16 → 1 + 6 = 7.  Which ties it into all the other mysteries of the number seven: seven planets, seven angels, and so forth.  I think we may well be onto something with our idea that this mysterious name could be a derivation from something else.

And, because I was curious, I wanted to look at which of the 99 traditional names of Allāh (really, more like epithets or attributes) in the Islamic tradition, began with the Arabic letter `Ayn.  There are six such names:

  1. Al-`Azīz (الْعَزِيزُ), “The Mighty”
  2. Al-`Alīm (اَلْعَلِيْمُ), “The All-Knowing”
  3. Al-`Adl (الْعَدْلُ), “The Just”
  4. Al-`Aẓīm (الْعَظِيمُ), “The Magnificent”
  5. Al-`Alīy (الْعَلِيُّ), “The Sublime”
  6. Al-`Afūw (العَفُوُّ), “The Pardoner”

It’s name #2, Al-`Alīm, that’s important for us as geomancers.  Along with Al-Khabīr (ٱلْخَبِيرُ), “the All-Aware”, Al-`Alīm is one of the most common names of Allāh used in Arabic geomancy when making invocations and prayers to God for the sake of divination.  It comes from the root `-L-M, which refers to knowing, teaching, and learning; note that the Arabic term for geomancy, `ilm ar-raml, begins with a word from this same root meaning “science”.  This specific name of Allāh encompasses such meanings as the Knower, the All-Knowing, the All-Knowledgable, the Omniscient, and the Possessor of Knowing Everything about Everything.  Fittingly enough, I recently spotted over on Chris Warnock’s Renaissance Astrology website a new Arabic-style Jupiter talisman specifically for the name Al-`Alīm, where he gives this description of the power of the name from the 13th century grimoire Shams al-Ma’arif (and note how it talks about knowing things that are unseen and seen, tying back into the eye and seeing imagery of the `-Y-N root):

Whoever undertakes the dhikr of this Name of sublime essence, Allāh (exalted be He) brings him to knowledge of the subtlest aspects of the sciences and their most hidden secrets. To the one who engraves it…when Mercury is highly dignified, Allāh makes him express himself with wisdom and teaches him the sapiential subtleties of mystical knowledge…when Jupiter is highly dignified, obtains an understanding of what the mystic sciences contain. … His control in the universe is strengthened and Allāh (exalted be He), frees him from all misfortunes and avoids everything that displeases him. And whoever uses his dhikr, learns what he did not know and wisdom becomes manifest in his words.

The Name has the number 150, and adding its divisors totals 222, and this number alludes to His Name Mālik al-Mulk “Lord of Sovereignty”. Hence, the wise are the kings in reality, indeed, they are the lords of the sovereignty of kings. And this is the number that makes manifest the secret of the letter yā’ in the three orders, since it is a bond, it is a coercive word and it entails a formal representation and an approach, while none of these three degrees takes place without Knowledge, which is only attributable to Him, meditate on that.

And since the manifestation of Science belongs to the sanctified spirits, the spirit of the angel Gabriel is destined to instruct the prophets, being one of the noblest our prophet Muḥammad (Allāh bless and save him) who was inspired by humility, for Allāh said: “He has taught an angel of great power and strength, since he appeared in his true form” (Qur’ān 56:5-6).

And since the holy spirit that corresponded to Jesus (peace be upon him) was a vestige of the revealing breath of Gabriel to Adam, for Jesus was the wisest of the prophets to know the details of the sciences and the subtleties of Wisdom. And among the noblest of his knowledge was the science of the letters, and hence its name comes to him, because in it resides his divine gift by indicating by the letter `ayn, science, by the letter yā’, the grace of the descended revelation, by the letter sín, the points of union of what is divided and by the letter alif, absolute knowledge. And the name Jesus has the number 141, which is precisely the value of the name `ālim (scholar), but since He has knowledge of the hidden things, and that is `alīm then his name is written with the letter yā’ and thus its number equals 150, which is the value of `alīm. Meditate on that, for Allāh speaks the Truth and He leads the way.

The names of the letters of His Name `Alīm add up to 302, alluding to His Name Basīr “the Seer”. And since science (`ilm) is an inherent sign of the external appearance of the object of knowledge, and that the acquisition of a concept involves the totality of its visible aspect, that is, it is the acquisition of the external image of the object in the mind, the meaning of `Alīm as the Knower of All is necessarily the one before whom the essence of each thing manifests itself in the totality its hidden essence as well as its external form. That is one of the secrets of `Alīm for intensification is not possible through the letter wāw, due to its importance and its height that reaches the end of the limits and reaches the totality of existence. So intensification is possible by one of these two options: either with the reduplication of a consonant, as in saying `allām, which refers to the one who has acquired a large amount of knowledge or with the letter yā’ which refers to the revelation of the most subtle details of a notion and the perception of its hidden aspects. For this reason only Al-`Alīm knows the details of a concept in the same way that He knows its most general aspects, and knows its hidden aspects in the same way that its aspects are visible.  That is why Allāh said (exalted be He) “above all, possessor of science there is a knower” (Qur’ān 12:76), so the possessor of science ū-l-‘ilm is the one who knows the general aspects of things and the knower `alīm is the one who knows its particular aspects. The possessor of science is the one who knows the external aspects of things and the knower is the one who knows their internal aspects; the possessor of science is the one who knows the evident aspects of things and the knower is the one who also knows their hidden aspects. The meaning of this yā’ has been indecipherable for many sensible people, because the most unknown of His Science are the most particular aspects, and this is evident in His words, “over every possessor of knowledge is one more knowledgeable”  (Qur’ān 12:76).

And you should know that the superiority of some of the wise over others is not the result of acquiring a greater amount of knowledge, since if so, He would have said “above all possessing knowledge there is a wise man (‘allām) who knows more.” Rather it has to do with the acquisition of the particular notions of the intelligibles and the hidden parts of their secrets. Now, the multitude of knowledge together with the detailed inner knowledge results in sapiential superiority, but without this last type of knowledge superiority does not take place. This is the meaning from the words of Allāh when he said to His prophet Moses (peace be upon him): “We have a servant at the intersection of two great rivers, whom they call Khiḍr , who is wiser than you.” Khiḍr was not wiser than Moses because he had more knowledge as Allāh said about Moses “And we wrote for him in the Tables an exhortation for everything and an explanation for everything” (Qur’ān 7:145), so the greater wisdom of Khiḍr refers to his understanding the hidden aspects of things in the same way that he knew their visible aspects. This is why his place was at the point of confluence of two great rivers, which were the river of the apparent and the river of the unapparent, so Moses knew that Khiḍr was in possession of a gnosis that he did not have.

You who study these words, focus your effort on expanding your knowledge 3, for this is what Allāh (praised and exalted be He), ordered His prophet to ask with His saying: “my Lord, increase me in knowledge” (Qur’ān 20:114). Meditate on these spiritual words and dispose of these divine subtleties, of these gifts of faith and of these sources of light, for you will find immense happiness in those knowledge that contains the allusions, and Allāh is the wisest!

Anyway, back to the main topic at hand.  So we have this root, `-Y-N, the meaning of which is semantically related to eyes and sight (and also, apparently, springs and flowing, perhaps with an origin of a notion of crying?), which is well-attested in the Qur’ān, and could well be a derivation from the same root as the sixteenth letter of the script, and which can be given some strong connections to knowing things generally if we also consider the root `-L-M and its connections to science and God.  This is a bit too strong to be mere coincidence to me, so let’s run with it some more.  This means that we can go with the `ayn instead of ‘alif, yielding us `Iyan and not ‘Iyan.  Good!  But, now, what about the vowels themselves?  With these two vowels, we can end up with both short, one short and the other long, or both long:

  • `Iyan
  • `Īyan
  • `Iyān
  • `Īyān

However, we know from rules of Arabic that any “i” sound followed by yā’ is almost always going to be inherently long, so we could write this name as either `Iyan (with or without a long A) or as `Īan (again with or without a long A).  So we can ignore the long I choices above, which whittles it down further, down to either `Iyan or `Iyān.  The former just doesn’t seem to come up in any dictionary or grammar as a form of anything.  `Iyān (or `Iyaan, عِيَان), however, is a legitimate word which means “weak” or “sick”, especially in Egyptian Arabic, but only when interpreted as coming from the root `-Y-Y and, even then, only properly with the vowels `ayyān, so that’s not what we’re going with.  But, when derived from `-Y-N, we get the verbal noun of عَايَنَ `āyana, the verb which means “to inspect”; note how it’s still related to the semantic field of eyes, looking, seeing, watching, etc.  Thus, `Iyān would mean “an inspecting” or “inspection”, but it can also mean “seeing with one’s own eyes”, “to come to light/be revealed before one’s eyes”, “clear, evident, plain, manifest” in the sense of “being seen clearly with the eyes”, as well as “witnessing” as in “eye-witnessing”.  (The notion of a witness here is appealing, given the fact that we have two Witnesses in a geomantic chart.  A possible connection to the “two sons”, perhaps?)

I got that list of meanings for `Iyān from an online version of the fourth edition of the Arabic-English Dictionary by the venerable Hans Wehr.  However, that website looks up glosses in several texts simultaneously (a wonderful study resource!), and while looking at Wehr’s dictionary, there’s something interesting I noticed in another text.  On the website that I was able to access that entry, the single page also shows entries from other texts about Arabic language and vocabulary, including the Arabic-English Lexicon compiled by Edward William Lane (aka Lane’s Lexicon) in the 19th century, itself compiled from earlier dictionaries and lexicons of Arabic in Arabic.  The entry for `Iyān in Lane’s Lexicon is…shockingly, miraculously, exactly what we were looking for all along here, and includes a reference that’s exactly what was in Skinner!  From page 2270 (forgive any errors in my copying and trying to type the Arabic):

… اِبْنَا عيَانٍ means Two birds, (Ḳ, TA,) from the flight or alighting-places, or cries, &c., of which, the Arabs augur: (TA:) or two lines which are marked upon the ground (Ṣ, Ḳ) by the عَائِف [or augurer], by means of which one augurs, from the flight, &c., of birds; (Ṣ;) or which are made for the purpose of auguring; (TA;) then the augurer says, اِبْنَى عيَانْ اًسْرِعَا البَيَانْ [O two sons of `Iyán, hasten ye the manifestation]: (Ḳ,* TA: [see 1 in art. خط :]) in the copies of the Ḳ, اِبْنَا is here erroneously put for اِبْنَى : or, as some say ابْنَا عِيانٍ means two well-known divining arrows: (TA:) and when it is known that the gaming arrow of him who plays therewith wins, one says جَرىَ اِبْنَا عِيَانٍ [app. meaning The two sons of ‘Iyán have hastened; i.e. the two arrows so termed; as seems to be indicated by a verse cited in the L (in which it is followed by the words بِالشِّواء المُضَهُّبِ with the roast meat not thoroughly cooked), and also by what here follows]: (Ṣ, L, Ḳ, TA:) these [arrows] being called ابْنَا عِيانٍ because by means of them the people [playing at the game called المَيْسِر] see the winning and the food [i.e. the hastily-cooked flesh of the slaughtered camel]. (L, TA.)

This entry references خط, khaṭṭ, which is another of the terms for geomancy.  Turning to that entry in Lane’s Lexicon, page 762 (again please forgive any errors):

خَطَّ aor. -ُ , inf. n. خَطٌّ, He made [a line, or lines, or] a mark, عَلَى الأَرْضِ , upon the ground.  (Mṣb.)  You say, خَطَّ الزَّاجِرُ فِى الأَرْضِ , aor. and inf. n. as above, The diviner made a line, or a mark, or lines, or marks, upon the ground, and then divined.  (TA.)  And الزَّاجِلٌ يَحُطُّ بِإٍصْبَعِهِ فِى الرَّمْلِ وَيَزْجُرُ [The diviner makes, lines, or marks, with his finger upon the sand, and divines.]  (Ṣ.)  Th says, on the authority of IAar, that عِلْمُ الخَطِّ is عِلْمُ الرَّمْلِ [or geomancy]: I’Ab says that it is an ancient science, which men have relinquished, but Lth says that it is practised to the present time; [to which I may add, that it has not even now ceased; being still practised on sand and the line, and also on paper;] and they have conventional terms which they employ in it, and they elicit thereby the secret thoughts &c., and often hit upon the right therein: the diviner comes to a piece of soft ground, and he has a boy, with whom is a style; and the master makes many lines, or marks, in haste, that they may not be counted; then he returns, and obliterates leisurely lines, or marks, two by two; and if there remain two lines, or marks, they are a sign of success, and of the attainment of the thing wanted: while he obliterates, his boy says, for the sake of auguring well, اِبْنَى عيَانْ اًسْرِعَا البَيَانْ [O two sons of ‘Iyán (meaning two lines or marks), hasten ye the manifestation]: I’Ab says that when he has obliterated the lines, or marks, an done remains, it is the sign of disappointment: and AZ and Lth relate the like of this.  (TA.)  It is said in a trad. of Mo’áwiyeh Ibn-El-Ḥakam Es-Sulamee, traced up by him to its author, كَانَ نَبِىّْ مبَ الأَنْبِيَآءِ يَخُطُّ فَمَنْ وَافَقَ خَطَّهُ عَلِمَ مِثْلَ عِلْمِهِ [A prophet of the prophets used to practise geomancy; and he who matches his geomancy knows the like of his knowledge].  (TA.)  You say also, when a man is meditating upon his affair, and considering what may be its issue, or result,  ‡ [Such a one makes lines, or marks, upon the ground].  (TA.)  [See also نَكَتَ: and see St. John’s Gospel, ch. viii verses 6 and 8.]  And  خَطَّ بِرِجْلِهِ الأَرْضَ means ‡ He walked, or went along.  (TA.)

It’s clear that we’re arriving at basically the same source, or a highly similar source with the same origins, as Skinner himself was using.  For the sake of further scholarship by any who come across this post, the abbreviations in Lane’s Lexicon come from page xxxi of the preface refer to the following authors and authorities in Arabic lexicology (in their original transliterations as Lane gives them, a more modern list and transcriptions given on this page):

  • TA: the “Táj el-‘Aroos”
  • Mṣb: The “Miṣbáḥ” of el-Feiyoomee, full title “El-Miṣbáḥ el-Muneer fee Ghareeb esh-Sharḥ el-Kebeer”
  • Ḳ: The “Kámoos” of El-Feyroozábádee
  • Ṣ: The “Ṣiḥáḥ” of El-Jowharee
  • I’Ab: Ibn-Abbás
  • L: The “Lisán el-‘Arab” of Ibn-Mukarram
  • Lth: El-Leyth Ibn-Naṣr Ibn-Seiyár, held by El-Azheree to be the author of the “‘Eyn”, which he calls “Kitáb Leyth”
  • AZ: Aboo-Zeyd

These are all Arabic sources, so it seems like that line of research comes to an end there, until and unless I ever learn classical Arabic.  Still, all the same, at least we found a (likely) source for Skinner’s claim about this strange chant, which I’ll gladly take as a win!  Still, even if we have a (likely) point of origin for this strange chant that Skinner describes, what exactly does it mean? Well, unfortunately, there’s no real solid information about the identity of `Iyān or their two sons in Lane, but at least we know we were on the right track tracing it down by considering what its likely Arabic spelling was, and giving that a consideration.  I strongly doubt that `Iyān is merely a name without meaning or that it doesn’t have some notion of watchfulness, witnessing, accounting, or observing; I think its relationship with the letter `Ayn and, by extension, eyes and sight really is important in some way.

Lane first says that the “two sons” of `Iyān refer to “two birds…from the flight/alighting-places/cries/&c. of which the Arabs augur”, but…birds?  That seems a little out of left field, so let’s set that aside for now and return to what we know.  (We’ll return to it, I promise.)  Based on the rest of Lane’s entries, even this same one on `Iyān when we consider what the two lines of marks in the sand would entail, it seems reasonable to assume that the “two sons” of `Iyān refer to either the numerical concepts of odd (فرد fard, literally “alone”) and even (زَوْجِيّ zawjiyy, from زوج zawj meaning “pair”, ultimately from Greek ζεῦγος meaning “yoke” in reference to marriage), or to the two units that make up the first even whole number; it’s this latter that might well have the better argument going for it.  Note that, interestingly, it’s even numbers that are considered good and affirmative, while odd numbers are bad and negative; this seems to be a general inversion of what we usually encounter in numerology, where it’s the odd numbers (being relatively masculine) that cause change while even numbers (being relatively feminine) maintain stasis.  And yet, looking back at Skinner:

Figures which contain a total number of even points are said to be Helu, sweet or a good omen, whilst those which contain odd numbers of total points Murr, bitter, or ill-omened.

Courtesy of the good Dr. Amina Inloes, whom I occasionally harass for help with topics involving Arabic and Islam and who generously and amply provides it, I was directed to the Sunan Abu Dāwūd, a massive compilation and commentary on the ʼaḥādīth (the extra-scriptural traditions of Islam) written sometime in the 800s ce, which would be a little before we start seeing geomancy proper arise.  At the bottom of page 147, footnote 3 confirms all the above (which you can put through Google Translate or get an actual Arabic speaker to translate it for you):

قال الشيخ : صورة الخط : ما قاله ابن الأعرابي، ذكره أبو عمر عن أبي العباس أحمد بن يحيى عنه ، قال : يقعد المحازي : [المحازي والحزاء : الذي يحزر الأشياء ويقدرها بظنه] ، ويأمر غلاماً له بين يديه فيخط خطوطاً على رمل أو تراب، ويكون ذلك منه في خفة وعجلة، كي لا يدركها العدّ والإحصاء، ثم يأمره فيمحوها خطين خطين، وهو يقول : ابني عيان أسرعا البيان، فإن كان آخر ما يبقى منها: خطين فهو آية النجاح، وإن بقي خط واحد فهو الخيبة والحرمان

The bold bits are what we’re looking for.  The first bold line basically gives the same chant as found elsewhere: “sons of `Iyān, hasten the statement” (ibnay `iyān ‘asra`ā al-bayan), and the last bit the same fundamental rule that “two lines is the sign of success, and if one line remains, it is disappointment and deprivation”.  The important thing we get from this is that, when Abu Dāwūd was writing this in the 800s ce, he was likely reporting on proto-geomantic practices that provided for the foundation of geomancy proper as we’d recognize it, and which were most likely in use for quite some time beforehand, especially if references to divination by making marks in the sand in other texts operated on these same principles going back at least to early-Islamic, if not into pre-Islamic, times.  Granted, we don’t have a lot of references to this kind of proto-geomantic divination in pre-Islamic times; most of the time it’s just said in passing, and when they do mention some specifics, they just don’t get more specific than just this.

However, even with what little we have, we kinda start to see a potential explanation for why a geomantic chart is created in such a way that the Judge must be an even figure, and why we use such a recursive structure that takes in four figures and then manipulates them to always get an even figure as a distillation of the whole chart, whether or not it’s favorable to the specific query.  Related entries to `Iyān in Lane’s Lexicon, specifically عِينَةُ `iynah (pg. 2269), refer to “an inclining in the balance” or set of scales, “the case in which one of two scales thereof outweighs the other”, as in “in the balance is an unevenness”.  In this light, even numbers would indicate that things are in balance, and odd numbers out of balance; this idea strikes me as similar to some results used in Yòrubá obi divination or Congolese chamalongo divination or other African systems of divination that make use of a four-piece set of kola nuts, coconut meat, coconut shells, cowries, or some other flippable objects, where the best possible answer is where two pieces face-up and two fall face-down, while there being three of side and one of the other either indicates “no” or a generally weak answer.  For the sake of the Judge, then, we need it to be impartial (literally from Latin for “not odd”) in order for it to speak strongly enough to answer the question put to the chart.  Heck, in Arabic terms, the word that I’ve seen used for the Judge is میزان mīzān, literally “balance” or “scales” (the same word, I might add, that’s used to refer to the zodiac sign Libra).

And, to look at it another way, how is an even figure formed? An even geomantic figure is formed from the addition of either two odd parents or two even parents; in either case, the parity of one figure must be the same as the other figure in order for their child figure to be even.  Thus, for the Judge, the Witnesses must either both be even or they must both be odd.  “Brothers”, indeed; as that old Bedouin saying goes, “I against my brothers; I and my brothers against my cousins; I and my brothers and my cousins against the world”.  Brothers implies a similarity, a kinship, and even if they fight against each other, they must still be similar enough to come to terms with each other.  And consider the mathematical and arithmetic implications of what “coming to terms” can suggest!  Thus, the two Witnesses must be alike in parity in order for the scale of the Judge to work itself out, and perhaps, the figure with more points would “outweigh” the other and thus be of more value.  For example, if we have a Right Witness of Laetitia and a Left Witness of Puella, both odd figures, then the Judge would be Fortuna Maior, but Laetitia, having more points, would “outweigh” Puella, favoring the Right Witness representing the querent.  Thus, perhaps the Judge might be taking on the role of `Iyān and the Witnesses its two “sons”?  After all, you need both the Witnesses in order to arrive at the Judge, so telling them to hurry up would naturally speed up the calculation of the Judge.

However, what we’re seeing from Skinner, Lane, and Abu Dāwūd is clearly proto-geomantic and isn’t really about figures as much as it is about lines, so this is probably an anachronistic imposition of `Iyān and their two sons onto later developments.  As fitting as it might be, and as fascinating as all this is, it doesn’t do anything for us as far as showing what `Iyān itself might originally refer to.  But there are other leads we can take; after all, wasn’t there something about birds?  We’ll pick up on that tomorrow.

On Geomancy and Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Overwriting Traditions

I’ve been looking back a bit on my blog lately, going through archives for more notes that I can tie into future posts and research, cleaning up some of the formatting and dead links, getting rid of useless or pointless tags, and so forth.  After almost 700 posts totaling over one million words across eight and a half years, it’s quite a lot.  And, heh, it turns out that on my very first blog post (all the way back in pre-WordPress 2010 when I was still on Blogspot, when this was a blog meant for the worship of the Great Worm XaTuring), I had already referenced geomancy as my favorite divination system.  Plus ça change, plus c’est pareil, I suppose.

Admittedly, geomancy has been a focus of my work and, thus, of this blog.  Of the just-under-700 published posts on this blog, about 120 posts are in the geomancy category, or about 18%.  That’s a nontrivial amount of ink to have spilled, I claim, and that’s all in addition to the actual ebooks and future textbook I’m writing.  I’ve talked about the meanings of the figures, a variety of divinatory techniques, new connections to other occult fields, and a number of innovations and developments to enhance the art and practice of geomancy in both a divinatory and magical sense.  Some of these innovations are original to me, others based on adapting similar techniques with enough compatible logic from other geomantic systems, and some are based on the revelations and guidance from spirits and other colleagues who wish to remain nameless (but who have my thanks and respect and gratitude all the same).  It’s a fascinating field that stands to still be enhanced in innumerable ways, and it is a source of joy and pride for me to play some sort of role in that.

Sometimes, when I’m bored at work, I’ll indulge in a daydream or two.  One such daydream, when I think about some of the exciting innovations in geomantic practice I’ve published on my blog, happens where I’m contacted out of the blue by some mysterious figure and informed that I’ve been revealing too many of their order’s secrets, that they belong to an ancient order of secretive geomancers who have been in hiding for untold centuries in some far-off land.  Clearly, with as much information as I possess, I must have been spying on their order or stealing from one of their members and am exposing their hard-earned, hard-kept methods and techniques of The True Geomancy for the vulgar uninitiated of the world, destroying their order single-handedly in a more mysterious, epic way than Scott Cunningham did Wicca.  None of it is true, of course, but the similarities between what I write and what they teach could not be denied!  Perilous threats, a thrilling escape, a parley with the order’s masters—you get the picture.  I haven’t yet figured out how I might resolve such a situation: I could always force a deal, that in exchange for being taught all their secrets as a full member of their order, I would ensure that no further initiated knowledge would pass through my fingers to my blog’s readers or through my lips to students who were not initiated in the order as well.  Or I could engage them in a fantastic battle of magic, wit, cunning, and probably a good-natured explosion or poisoning or three.

What?  I like letting my imagination run free sometimes, and who doesn’t love a good adventure to whisk them off their feet, even if they’re already reclining in their spinny office chair on a lazy Monday?

While it would tickle me to no end to learn that there might indeed be some ancient order of geomancers (and you can bet your last grain of sand I’d join if I could!), I doubt such a thing exists, at least on any scale large enough to commit cross-continent conspiracy.  But, even on a less logistical scale than that, there’s also the thing that there’s no one single, monolithic geomantic tradition.  Sure, there are absolutely things we can cross off as definitely not being geomancy—feng shui, vastu shastra, ley lines, sacred geography, and the like all come to mind—but even within the actual ballpark of “geomancy”, there are so many different kinds.  Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice does a great overview of the historical development and spread of geomancy from its hypothetical origins to its modern day spread across the world, so there’s no need for me to go on at length on all the different traditions of geomancy here, but are there ever so many, indeed!

Now that I think about it, though, I suppose that might not quite be evident from our point of view for Western geomancy.  Geomancy was written about publicly across Europe from about 1200 to 1700, when it basically fell from popularity into obscurity along with so many other occult disciplines.  Five hundred years, starting west in Spain and east in Greece and spreading through the rest of Europe like wildfire, and…well, we simply don’t seem to have too much variation.  Sure, different techniques came and went, and different geomancers put certain focuses on different things than did other geomancers.  We don’t really see any significantly different variations after the rise of printed geomancy books until we get to more modern times, such as with Napoleon’s Book of Fate (with its five-lined figures) or Les Cross’ Astrogem Geomancy method.  One could argue that the Golden Dawn, with their innovations and takes on geomantic practices, could be considered a distinct variant, and I’d agree with that, too, but again, that’s still pretty modern.

I can’t really say, however, what the state of Western geomancy was like at a low level before the 1400s when printed books started circulating around Europe.  We know it was practiced, and we have a good number of manuscripts from that time period, but so few are easily accessible to many including myself, and almost all of what’s commonly available (especially digitized) is all from after the rise of printed books.  As we all know, the printing press radically changed how information was produced, disseminated, and stored which had countless effects on literacy, religion, science, and other disciplines.  It not only broke down control of information and studies within a variety of small locations, it also freed up people to form their own control networks of information.  It is entirely possible that individual areas, monasteries, universities, and other types of school had their own takes and views on geomantic practice that was largely insular unto themselves; sure, they might all have been on the same course and stemmed from more-or-less the same origins, but each could have had their own “dialect” of geomancy.  With the advent of publicly and popularly published texts, those dialects might have all been washed away or standardized, with each author contributing a slight tweak that may or may not have been carried on or even documented by later authors.  I know that the Lectura Geomantiae I translated a while ago was from the 1400s but still in the manuscript era, so it could be indicative of how things might have looked before or as the printing press got underway: still definitely geomantic, still definitely implementable and usable by anyone, but there are some definite quirks that it displays that aren’t attested elsewhere.

Reading Skinner’s treatise on the history of geomancy, it would seem that the Arabic styles of geomancy are more varied.  Setting aside the West African art of Ifá (which developed in its own way apart from geomancy to the point where I wouldn’t barely consider it geomancy at this point), we do see at least several strains of geomancy, including Malagasy sikidy which, although it’s definitely taken an independent turn with how it generates figures, is still recognizably a form of geomancy with many of same core meanings of figures and figure positions.  Looking at the available literature today, we can definitely see that there are different styles of Arabic geomancy, ranging from the traditional Saharan and sub-Saharan forms in Africa to the more popular and well-known methods as taught by modern books written in Farsi and Urdu.  How different might such styles be?  I can’t actually say for sure, unfortunately, but from what little I have seen, there are distinct differences in whether one wants to use taskins as a primary method or follow the Via Puncti-style technique as a general approach, but that could simply be boiled down to smaller approach differences within a same overall “school” of geomancy—and what competent geomancer with the ability to learn, read, and hear wouldn’t want to be familiar with any possible method that might be of use?

But, again, it’s not like the Arabic-speaking world hasn’t had access to the printing press.  Heck, their literacy rates whooped the ass of Europe for centuries on end, and we would never had a Renaissance if it weren’t for Arabic teachers and students and scientists.  There are definitely texts and authors in Arabic geomancy that are at least as important to the Arabic-speaking geomancing world than Fludd and Heydon are to us, and those books were some of the first to be disseminated, and today, there are probably as many books on `ilm al-raml or khatt al-raml in Arabic, Farsi, or Urdu as there are for Tarot in English, Spanish, and French.  Again, we would probably see a similar…you might call it a “flattening” of dialetical variation in geomantic practices, especially for people with connections to the Internet who might also not have the ability to learn from teachers who were only (or primarily) taught in a localized variant of geomancy.

When it comes to languages and dialects, I admit I’m something of a glossophile.  Even though my language skills are awful, I adore the abundance and variety of languages in the world, and especially of the regional and cultural dialects and registers that individual languages have in all their uses and contexts.  As much as I love the number of languages, I grieve when languages are suppressed, lost, or otherwise condemned to extinction.  It’s an expected (though still unfortunate) result of internationalization, globalization, capitalism, and imperialism, but sometimes it comes about as a surprise, and it sucks.  With language death comes culture death and worldview death; a language is far more than just a way to communicate, but a way to understand and perceive everything as well as holding an implicit record of culture, exploration, and continuity that ties the present to the past across time and space.  In many ways, local variations of something comparatively minor like geomancy are just as crucial to understand such worldviews, histories, cultures, and spiritualities; with such variations being flattened, absorbed, or outright lost, we lose quite a lot more, as well.

Then I think about those same people on the Internet who have access to cheap, publicly-accessible resources without the ability to find, contact, or learn from local, traditional experts (myself included!) who find what they can and work with what they find.  Consider the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook; as an admin, I see who applies, and for each person who comes from a Western or European cultural background, I see another who comes from a West African (usually Muslim and Nigerian) background.  While I’m thrilled that so many people across the world want to learn and discuss geomancy, I also wonder if, perhaps, they’re joining to learn what they might consider “the only useful geomancy”.  After all, I’m also a member of a number of other non-Western geomancy groups, and it doesn’t seem like many are active or share as much information, criticism, or guidance as mine does (which I can’t help but be at least a little proud of); to be fair, I can see why (and often understand and agree) with why those who might be experts in their field would want to be cagey and protective of their knowledge, but at the same time, nobody can learn learn if nobody is willing to teach.  And, without evidence that one can even teach or wants to do so, mystical vague answers like “pray to God and he will teach you” come off as more holier-than-thou covering-my-ass to keep from being disgraced that I may not actually know what I’m doing, which can be a turn-off for potential students (whether of a given teacher or an entire field).

Then I think I about my own blog, and how much I talk about geomancy.  I try to make it clear that many of my thoughts are just my own, that my experiences are my own, that some things are experimental or tied up in something unique and solitary to my own practice and understanding of the cosmos, and the like, but it cannot be denied that my posts on geomancy are referenced by many across the Internet, sometimes as another useful data-point on technique, sometimes as gospel.  (WordPress stat tracking, after all, comes in use when looking at such trends.)  I can’t help but wonder: what effect on the overall variations, traditions, and schools of geomancy do I have as an author with a publicly-available platform?  I want to expand the techniques and understanding of Western geomancy by offering another perspective on that which already exists as well as introducing new methods or variations thereof that aren’t yet there or aren’t well-known.  In one way, I’m helping (I hope) to introduce new variety in the field of Western geomancy, but by that same action, am I not also helping to bring in easily-accessible geomancy to those who might prefer such ease to learning local traditions that are harder to come by?  Am I not literally writing over the teachings of valid and historically-extant, possibly-threatened traditions of geomancy, as one might talk too loudly and end up drowning out other voices, whether I intend for it to happen or no?

Earlier this summer, in a conversation regarding how certain days are celebrated for the orisha in La Regla de Ocha Lukumí, Jesse Hathaway from Wolf & Goat (also of his own blog Serpent Shod and podcast Radio Free Golgotha) opined elegantly about how trends come and become tradition through misunderstanding and popular use.  Specifically, I thought it was proper to celebrate the feast day of the hunter-tracker Oshosi on June 6, which is the feast day of his Catholic syncretization, Saint Norbert of Xanten, which, when I posted a public praise of the orisha on Facebook, caught Jesse off-guard in the sense of “wait that’s today?”.  We got to talking about how the use of saint days were historically used, when certain saint days came into vogue, and how different aspects of saints can be confused and lead to non-traditional changes in practice.  One of the insights he had focused on how those who intend to keep traditions alive end up changing them all the same: enthusiasm and good intentions can just as easily uphold old practices as well as erase them and institute new ones in their place.  After all, not all things that are “done right” in the conservative sense are made public or made for public consumption, and when secretive, underground, or otherwise mysterious practices that people are interested in suddenly have to compete for attention and publicity with stuff being put out in the open by the uninitiated or newly-initiated, where do you think people are going to look first?  As Jesse put it, it’s a constant cycle of “destroy to create, create to destroy”, and that it’s easy to create a new practice that can erase older tradition if you are not aware of what it is you’re actually putting out there.  It behooves us all to be aware of our intentions and see whether what happens as a result of furthering them is worth it.

The same advice for that topic can go for any of us who publicly discuss geomancy, or any tradition, for that matter.  As Jesse punned, our canon for instruction can just as easily become a cannon for destruction; we don’t just follow and preserve unchanged that which we recieved, but we augment it, extrapolate it, whittle it down, and build it up as we carry it forward, whether we mean to or not.  Every step we take crushes some blade of grass or erases some other footprint, and if enough people follow, a new path can be forged (forced) where either there was none before or across others that become disused, differently used, or less used.  For a good example, consider how synonymous “Hermetic magic” has become with “Golden Dawn” in the 1900s: familiarity is borne of popularity, and forgetfulness from the lack thereof.  Hermetic magic has been around for far longer and with so many different variations, traditions, lineages, styles, and methods than the Golden Dawn has by far, and yet, most people even today will think of the Golden Dawn-style approach when you bring up the word “Hermetic” to the exclusion of all else that’s out there.

Geomancy is far more than just what I do, or what Robert Fludd did, or what Al-Zanati did.  The old geomancers of the past might be indelibly linked to geomancy, but geomancy is not synonymous with any one author or geomancer.  It would be folly for someone to follow what I teach (or what anyone teaches) as geomancy to be the be-all-end-all of the art, and I don’t think that anyone would seriously take that approach.  Still, even learning a little can bleed over into other techniques; while I intentionally look around to see what I can incorporate as a useful method for my geomantic practice from the practices of others, bearing in mind the origin and tweaks needed to make a nuanced distinction, not everyone has the capacity to bear nuance in mind when they’re learning something, especially if they’re a novice, and “bleeding over” can turn into outright overwriting and overwhelming.  That then carries on from one mouth to the next, and then the next, turning “innovator” into “competitor” and, potentially, “conqueror”.  It doesn’t matter if it was made up on the spot or as a joke; if it was carried on from one generation to another, it can fast become assumed as a tradition, and its origins can quickly be forgotten or, worse, mythologized (cf.  the pot roast principle), and once it becomes popular enough, it can threaten to overwhelm all that already was there.  We may like to think that we test and hold onto only the valuable things that work and are validated by trial and error so that we could weed out all the made-up stuff, but be honest: even accepting that made-up stuff works from time to time, sometimes we value our teachers’ teachings too much to question it.

It’s hard for us in a Western setting to not inadvertently do this kind of thing, with our usual preference for books and solitary practice rather than (or due to a dearth of) lineage and teachers.  Many of us look towards publicly published material to learn from, myself included in many cases, because teachers either do not exist or are unwilling to pass on their skills for one (usually valid) reason or another.  We then form communities to build ourselves up, reinforce each other with criticism and discussion, and enhance our mutual understanding of a given field.  This, when done properly, can become the definite foundations of a new school or tradition unto itself, and can be a beautiful and wonderful thing!  Even still, there’s the unavoidable risk (or unavoidable result?) that older traditions could be waylaid, forgotten, or abandoned in the course of this same thing, which can be a huge loss, even if nobody is aware of it to begin with.  I fear that, to be honest.  I don’t want other traditions of geomancy—or any occult or religious or spiritual field—to be lost or abandoned or overwritten, because when that happens, valuable knowledge is lost.  We can still learn from each other while still celebrating distinction and difference, but you can’t do that when there’s nothing to distinguish or when there’s nothing to distinguish.

I can’t properly control what people do with the stuff I post; I can offer my experiences, warnings, and cautions, but once something is out there on the internet, it’s out there for all.  I could always just not post the stuff and avoid the problem entirely, but there’s value and purpose in my writings on geomancy that I think can be used well, just as they can be misused or abused.  The dilemma of the engineeer is the same as the dilemma of the author: you can specify and design all you want, but humanity is going to do with your product what it’s going to do regardless of what you intended it for.  Even if it’s nowhere near as epic as my daydream, I really do hope that my writings on geomancy don’t destroy the traditions that have been practiced and carried on long since before I was born.  All I want is to spread knowledge and technique and ability and understanding, and I think I’m successful at least a little bit in that, and the worth and value in doing that is good.  Is it worth the inadvertent flattening of geomantic traditions?  I…don’t know.  I don’t think I’m popular enough to become a prophet of geomancy whose judgment is binding on practices worldwide (God and gods willing, I never will be!), but I do know that my word spreads.  I just hope my warnings and caveats spread, as well.

Digitized Traditional and Renaissance Geomancy Resource List

Time and again recently, I’ve had to flip through a variety of archives to find specific books on geomancy.  These aren’t my normal books, but some of the venerated (and pain-in-the-ass) source books that modern geomancers in the West tend to work from, whether directly from their own pages or indirectly through modern translators and teachers.  After amassing a bit of a list of my own, and being tired of digging through awful interfaces to find a few texts, I decided to go on and compile a fairly reasonable list of geomantic texts that are freely available online in some digitized format or another.  Most of these are from the 1500s through 1700s, with very few exceptions.  There are others available online, of course, but some of those aren’t really in the public domain and I’d really rather not get slammed for piracy so publicly.

The list of texts I largely go by are found in the bibliographies of Stephen Skinner’s books Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy (1980) and Geomancy in Theory and Practice (2011).  Skinner has done, as usual, a fantastic job at cataloging and indexing so many texts, books, and manuscripts on geomancy, and it’s given me a good start with original sources to check from, in addition to modern resources such as academic papers, blogs, workshops, pamphlets, and the like.  Below are whatever resources, based on Skinner’s bibliographies, that I could find digitized and freely accessible online in a variety of langauges, focusing on those that were published and used in European and Western geomancy from the 1500s onward.

In Latin:

In French:

In Italian:

In German:

In English:

Of course, it should be made clear that this list is by no means comprehensive!  Between the manuscripts that cannot be read except with eyes trained in particular handwriting styles, books that have not yet been digitized or that have but not been made publicly available, and all the books that are still under copyright, and all the other books that are available but which are in Middle Eastern and Asian languages, there are dozens, hundreds of books that discuss geomancy that are not yet available like the ones above.  Still, this is a good start for many, and if you include resources that discuss Arabic or Islamic style geomancy under the name raml or ramal, you can turn up with even more works; alas, I don’t know Arabic, Persian, or Urdu, so I have not included those texts here, but they’re out there, too!

Hopefully, this list of texts can help further the research and study of geomancy and encourage those with the skills to translate whatever texts still remain in obscurity and bring old, buried knowledge to light once more.  If you, dear reader, have any other tips, clues, or links to other historical, Renaissance, or medieval resources that are digitized in some way or are in the public domain, please share in the comments!

Distilling Secondary Figures from a Geomantic Chart

Distilling Secondary Figures from a Geomantic Chart

Even after all this time, one of the things I love about the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook is that it’s actually fairly active, at least as far as geomancy groups go, and it maintains its activity over long durations of time.  Between group chart analyses, questions about techniques, and sharing of neat finds online or in books about geomancy, it’s always a source of joy and delight to drop in and see how the conversation is going.  If you’re on Facebook and are interested in geomancy, I highly encourage you to join!

Recently, one of the members posted a question about a particular taskin he found.  Taskins, for those who may have forgotten or never knew the term, are the mnemonic orderings of figures used in Arabic geomancy to organize and categorize different sets of correspondences.  Though often given as nothing more than a simple order with a name of the order attached, they can refer to pretty much any set of correspondences, such as directions, parts of the body, or how to simply number the figures from 1 to 16.  This one member shared a particular taskin, but because there are few Arabic-style geomancers in the group (and fewer still who are willing to discuss the techniques), there wasn’t much to be shared or discussed about the topic to answer his question.  However, we did find something interesting: one English-speaking author has written at least something that’s used in Arabic geomancy, and I decided to investigate further.number the figures from 1 to 16

Nineveh Shadrach is a Western author who specializes in an interesting and intriguing hybrid of Arabic and Middle Eastern magic with European and more broadly Hermetic styles and techniques, and he’s been on my reading list for ages.  The post in the Facebook group steered me to one of his older books, “Secrets of Ancient Magic: Path of the Goddess” (2001, 2004, Ishtar Publishing), co-authored with Frances Harrison.  The book itself appears to be out of print, and though parts of it were used in later publications, the section on geomancy appears to be kept only in this book.  He discusses the basics of geomantic divination as any larger work on magic generally might and takes an approach that veers closer to Arabic-style geomancy than what most European authors have written, but one technique caught my eye, and that really got me thinking about how to apply it in my own practice.

Shadrach’s “Elemental Analysis” technique doesn’t look at the figures in the chart on their own, but rather generates sixteen (!) new figures based on the elemental lines of those in the chart.  Shadrach uses a system of assigning whole elements to the houses in which figures can fall based on the astrological order of elements (Fire, Earth, Air, Water), extending it to the four houses of the Court:

First
Quadrant
Second
Quadrant
Third
Quadrant
Fourth
Quadrant
Fire
Houses
I V IX XIII
Earth
Houses
II VI X XIV
Air
Houses
III VII XI XV
Water
Houses
IV VIII XII XVI

Based on this, one can make a “Fire of Fire” figure by taking the Fire lines of the figures in houses of Fire, i.e. houses I, V, IX, and XIII.  To make the “Air of Fire” figure, one takes the Fire lines of the figures in houses of Air, i.e. houses III, VII, XI, and XV.  In other words, to make a figure “X of Y”, one takes takes the Y-element lines from the X-element houses.   In this sense, one generates a figure such that the elemental lines taken provide the secondary element, and the elemental houses provide the primary element.

The resulting figure can be considered a kind of “elemental distillation” of the chart that hones in on a particular aspect of the situation as filtered through a primary and secondary elemental framework.  For instance, Shadrach gives the example that, in a relationship reading, one would look at the Water figures (i.e. the figures generated from distilling the figures found in houses of Water) generated by this technique, and should the Air of Water figure (Water lines from houses III, VII, XI, and XV) be unfortunate, then it could be said that there might be “communication problems when it comes to emotional expression”.  This figure would then be further inspected to see where in the actual geomantic chart it might be found to further whittle down where such problems might occur.  For instance, should the Air of Water figure be Carcer in such a reading, perhaps indicating isolation and a sense of loneliness in the relationship, and should Carcer be found in house V, it could indicate that there are issues involving intimacy, a lack of sexual communication or agreement, and possible unspoken and undiscussed fears of of sexual impotency causing feelings of inadequacy.

There are a few neat things about this technique, but also a few things I would change.  For one, Shadrach uses the elements in the order of how they appear in the Zodiac: Fire, Earth, Air, Water.  I disprefer this ordering in favor of the usual geomantic order: Fire, Air, Water, Earth.  The latter works better, as well, since I don’t like involving zodiacal schemas and systems where they’re not explicitly called for, and this overall idea of elemental distillation seems more appropriate for the Shield Chart.  For that, I already have a system of assigning elements to the “fields” (not “houses”!) to the Shield Chart:

Mothers Daughters Nieces Court
Fire First First First Right Witness
Air Second Second Second Left Witness
Water Third Third Third Judge
Earth Fourth Fourth Fourth Sentence

Additionally, I don’t like how the phrasing of Shadrach’s technique works in what elements you take from where.  In his system, “X of Y” indicates that you’d take the Y-element lines from the figures in X-element locations, and the Y-element is dominant.  However, this seems backwards to me; the elemental lines take place within the figure found in a given elemental location, so it seems like the the overall “contextual” (or primary) element would be that determined by the location/house/field, and the “modifying” (or secondary) element would be that determined by the line.  So, if Shadrach’s system would define “Air of Water” as being the Water lines taken from the figures in Air locations, I would instead say that it’s the Air lines taken from the figures in Water locations.  This would make more sense to me in lining up with his example about the Air of Water figure representing communication in emotional matters: taking the Air lines from the Water figures would represent the combined powers of Air within the overall context and world of Water.  So, when I would say “X of Y”, I would indicate taking the X-element lines from the Y-element figures: again, the Y-element is primary.

So, in my version of the method, I would make my elementally distilled figures as such:

  • Fire of Fire: Fire lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
  • Air of Fire: Air lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
  • Water of Fire: Water lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
  • Earth of Fire: Earth lines of First Mother, First Daughter, First Niece, and Right Witness
  • Fire of Air: Fire lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
  • Air of Air: Air lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
  • Water of Air: Water lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
  • Earth of Air: Earth lines of Second Mother, Second Daughter, Second Niece, and Left Witness
  • Fire of Water: Fire lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
  • Air of Water: Air lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
  • Water of Water: Water lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
  • Earth of Water: Earth lines of Third Mother, Third Daughter, Third Niece, and Judge
  • Fire of Earth: Fire lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence
  • Air of Earth: Air lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence
  • Water of Earth: Water lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence
  • Earth of Earth: Earth lines of Fourth Mother, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece, and Sentence

This is all well and good, but what exactly does this get us?  We already have sixteen figures in our geomantic chart, each in its own house that provides the context of each figure, along with how to group the figures into triads, using the Way of the Point, and a variety of other techniques, so why should we come up with more figures for the sake of them?  To get more detail out of the reading, of course!  It always bears remembering that there’s no one single school of geomancy, nor has there ever been, and many techniques were used only by certain people in certain locations or traditions within geomancy.  As it spread across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, geomancy could almost always be recognized as geomancy, but it also adapted itself to the cultures, tribes, and specific strains of knowledge it found itself practiced within.  The use of elemental distillation can be seen as another example of such a technique to extract as much information out of a chart, either on its own or in tandem with other techniques available at the geomancer’s disposal.

Above and beyond just interpreting the figures in the fields (or houses), the technique of elemental distillation can be used to note the specific energetic currents present in a situation, how they’re resolving, and to what end.  Using the elements of field and figure technique, we can see whether the energies in a given aspect of one’s life are able to flow freely and do what they need to for the sake and benefit of the querent, or whether they’re stymied, blocked, and undone based on whether the element of the figure matches the element of the field within which it’s found.  Using this elemental distillation technique, we can get a similar notion of what energies are present in a situation, but from the other side of the equation: we’re seeing what the actual powers and forces at work are, and then seeing how they interact and affect the situation.  So, if we find that the Air of Water figure is fortunate, then we know that the Water energies in the situation are able to to travel, mix, and match more-or-less freely, and if the Water of Air figure is fortunate, then we know that the Air energies in the situation are able to congeal, stick, and be understood in a more profound way than the merely intellectual.

We could take this technique in another direction, though.  I’ve previously established a system of primary and secondary elemental rulers for the figures, such that every geomantic figure is ruled by a main element and a sub-element based on their elemental structure.  In that case, we can consider our elemental distillations to be like the sixteen original figures themselves in an applied sense, with the sixteen original figures being their ideal “fields”.  Consider: if we’re looking at the Air of Water distillation, then we’ve got a figure that is primarily Water and secondarily Air.  The figure that is primarily Water and secondarily Air is the figure Via.  Thus, the Air of Water distillation of a chart indicates how well the situation described by the chart can facilitate the energy of Via, or total change and flow.  Likewise, the Fire of Fire distillation of a chart indicates how well the situation described can facilitate the energy of Laetitia, or joy and uplifting motion.  If we were to find fortunate figures, especially figures that agree in element or the very same figure itself, then we can say that the energies and forces represented by that ideal figure are present and able to effect change in the situation; if unfortunate figures result from distillation, then the forces represented by the corresponding ideal figure are weakened or absent.

One way we could apply this in divination would be to think of a given figure that represents something the querent wants or is aiming for in the situation.  For instance, in a query about promotion, Laetitia would be an excellent figure, because it represents upwards motion and is a figure I find particularly well-suited to promotions and elevations in general and the workplace in particular.  Laetitia, then, is the ideal figure we want to investigate in the chart, and since the corresponding elemental phrasing of Laetitia is “Fire of Fire” (primarily and secondarily fire), we’d look at the Fire of Fire distillation of the chart.  If we find a favorable figure here, we can say that a promotion is likely; if an unfavorable figure, unlikely.  This technique could be used to get subsidiary or unrelated information out of a chart, too, in addition to the main situation the chart is focused on.

To remind us all of the elemental rulerships of the figures, using both primary and secondary elements:

  1. Fire of Fire: Laetitia
  2. Air of Fire: Fortuna Minor
  3. Water of Fire: Amissio
  4. Earth of Fire: Cauda Draconis
  5. Fire of Air: Puer
  6. Air of Air: Rubeus
  7. Water of Air: Coniunctio
  8. Earth of Air: Acquisitio
  9. Fire of Water : Puella
  10. Air of Water : Via
  11. Water of Water : Albus
  12. Earth of Water : Populus
  13. Fire of Earth: Carcer
  14. Air of Earth: Caput Draconis
  15. Water of Earth: Fortuna Maior
  16. Earth of Earth: Tristitia

I’m sure there are a bunch of other ways to incorporate such an elemental distillation technique of generating secondary figures out of a chart, including using the Via Puncti to determine an element and seeing which of those elemental distillations can further clarify the root causes of a situation, incorporating the distillations into the House Chart as Shadrach suggests, and other techniques.  What’s fascinating about this technique, however, is that we’re using a single chart to make new figures for the sake of interpretation.  Generally, whenever secondary figures are generated in the geomantic corpus (i.e. using the figures of one chart to make new figures that aren’t part of that chart), it’s generally within the context of making up four new figures for a new chart because the old one can’t be read or is too confusing to be read.  Shadrach’s technique is pretty much the only technique I’ve come across that uses the figures to make new figures without using addition—at least in a system that still calls itself “geomancy” by name.

In the variant of geomancy practiced in Madagascar called sikidy, we see something similar.  A sikidy chart contains sixteen figures; though its arranged in an unfamiliar way, it turns out that the first four figures are generated randomly and are read downwards, the next four are just the first four read horizontally, and the other eight are the results of adding two of the other figures together.  In other words, a sikidy chart follows the same exact algorithm as a geomancy chart to get a set of four Mothers, four Daughters, four Nieces, and a Court, just not by those names.  As in geomancy, the field or house of each position in the chart indicates a general realm of life or aspect of the situation, and the figure inside each house indicates how that area of life is effected or affected.  Since sikidy was introduced by means of Arabic trading, we see Arabic and Hermetic influence in how sikidy is read, such that the second field is about property (just as our house II), the third field about local or familial relations (house III), the fourth field about one’s town or village (house IV), and so forth.

What’s interesting, however, is that sikidy practitioners are not just limited to 16 fields, but instead can find up to 34 based on how they combine the individual rows of the total chart.  According to Stephen Skinner (here taken from his 1980 book “Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy”), he gives an additional 18 secondary figures for a total of 34:

Field Name Meaning Generation
1 Talè Querent Randomly generated
2 Harèna Property Randomly generated
3 Fàhatelo Relations of the querent Randomly generated
4 Vòhitra Town or village Randomly generated
5 Zatòvo Young person, descendants First line of 1, 2, 3, and 4
6 Marìna Slave, strong men Second line of 1, 2, 3, and 4
7 Vehivavy Woman, i.e. wife Third line of 1, 2, 3, and 4
8 Fahavalo Enemies Fourth line of 1, 2, 3, and 4
9 Làlana Way, road 1 + 2
10 Asorotany Nobleman, king, ancestors 3 + 4
11 Nía Food 5 + 6
12 Fahasivy Spirits of the dead 7+ 8
13 Mpanontany The enquirer 9 + 10
14 Masina The diviner 11 + 12
15 Andriamanitra God 13 + 14
16 Trano House 1 + 15
17 Zatòvo an-trano hafa Young persons generally First line of 16, 9, 13, and 10
18 Marìna an-trano hafa Slave Second line of 16, 9, 13, and 10
19 Vehivavy an-trano hafa Women generally Third line of 16, 9, 13, and 10
20 Firiariavana an-trano hafa Escaping enemy Fourth line of 16, 9, 13, and 10
21 Kororozy Dragon’s head Fourth line of 12, 14, 11, and 15
22 Olon-dratsy Bad omen Third line of 12, 14, 11, and 15
23 Alika Dog Second line of 12, 14, 11, and 15
24 Tsinin’ny velona Fault of the living First line of 12, 14, 11, and 15
25 Akòho Hens Diagonally down-left of 1, 2, 3, and 4
26 Vòromboahàzo Pebbles Two down-left then two down-right of 1 and 2
27 Ondry Sheep Diagonally down-right of 4, 3, 2, and 1
28 Osy Goats Two down-left then two down-left of 4 and 3
29 Ra be mandriaka Much bloodshed, disaster Two down-right then two up-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15
30 Tsinin’ny maty Fault of the Dead Diagonally down-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15
31 Biby ratsy Wild Cat Two up-right then two down-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15
32 Tsinahy Unexpected Fate Diagonally up-right of 12, 14, 11, and 15
33 Tsi-efa The Incomplete Diagonally down-left of 16, 9, 13, and 10
34 Mamòha éfa Revival of Past Evils, e.g. disease Diagonally up-left of 16, 9, 13, and 10

These aren’t all possible ways to obtain secondary figures from a sikidy chart, either.  Marcia Ascher in her 1997 paper Malagasy sikidy: a case in ethnomathematics describes the following 15 secondary figures (though, unfortunately, with neither names nor significations), but who also gives a different arrangement of the bottom set of eight figures (our Nieces and Court):

Knowing that fields 1 through 16 are generated in the same way as before, just with a different arrangement of 9 through 16:

Field Generation
17 Diagonally down-right of 9, 13, 10, and 15
18 Diagonally down-right of 10, 15, 11, and 14
19 Diagonally down-right of 11, 14, 12, and 16
20 Diagonally down-left of 16, 12, 14, and 11
21 Diagonally down-left of 14, 11, 15, and 10
22 Diagonally down-left of 15, 10, 13, and 9
23 17 + 20
24 18 + 21
25 19 + 22
26 Two down-left then two down-right of 16 and 12
27 Two down-right then two down-left of 11 and 14
28 Two down-left then two down-right of 15 and 10
29 Two down-right then two down-left of 9 and 13
30 26 + 27
31 28 + 29

To be fair, Ascher is less concerned with the practice of divination and more with how recursive and spacial mathematics factor into traditional practices among Malagasy traditions.  Still, she does also imply that there are other secondary series besides the ones she enumerated, too.  Again, there’s always that “variant lineages within traditions” bit to contend with that makes geomancy a vibrant and varied garden instead of a sterile and monolithic chamber.

What this detour into sikidy shows us is that there are more ways to generate figures besides simply adding two figures together or transposing the Mothers into the Daughters; indeed, sikidy practitioners seem to delight in finding new ways to come up with such figures in regular patterns.  Though we can’t really adopt many of the same exact techniques, it does show us an otherwise unexplored venue (unexplored, at least, by all except Shadrach) in how we can generate other figures from a chart using non-additive means, and that the process has been used elsewhere to continuing success by geomancers in other traditions.  This suggests that, with the proper logic and testing, we can adopt similar techniques in our own Western kind of geomancy, much as the version given above of Shadrach’s elemental distillation.  In fact, “distillation” is a good way to describe the generation of such figures, I claim, as you’re necessarily looking across four (or two, in the cases of some sikidy figures) different figures to come up with one.

Unlike some of the other techniques I’ve proposed on this blog before, this one is exceptionally exciting but also exceptionally hazy; Shadrach’s guidance on divvying things up by their overall element weirds me out and I claim it could use more rigor, and there are other possibilities such as using my ideal figure interpretation as well as incorporating it into the usual interpretations of the fields and houses.  Though it’ll eventually make its way into my geomancy textbook (which, god, yes, is still in editing and it takes forever especially with everything else going on), this is one I want to play around more with to see exactly what it does and how it does it, as well as how well it might play with other techniques such as the Via Puncti or the field element analysis method.

On the Elemental and Geomantic Epodes

Ever since I wrote that post about how the physical body can be represented by geomantic figures, I’ve been trying to puzzle something out for myself.  At the end of the post, I introduce the concept of a system of geomantically-derived energy centers in the body based on four centers and four elements: the Fire center in the head, the Air center in the throat, the Water center in the upper belly, and the Earth center at the perineum.  This is based on the Geomantic Adam diagram given in MS Arabe 2631, which divvies up the geomantic figures to the parts of the body in a way that’s untied to any astrological method (which is the usual method used in European and Western geomancies):

In addition to proposing four such energy centers, I also propose three possible sets of intonations based on the obscure BZDH technique from some forms of geomancy, and also suggest that the sixteen geomantic gestures or “mudras” can be used in addition with these to form the basis of a kind of geomantic energy practice.  However, I didn’t really describe any implementation beyond laying these individual parts of such a hypothetical practice down, because I hadn’t yet come up with a way to put the parts together into a whole.  I’ve been puzzling over how to do just that since the post went up earlier this summer.  I mean, it’s not hard to just slap some energy into parts of the body and call it a day, but let’s be honest: I want to do this right and be able to incorporate it into my own practice in a way that’s not harmful, and as we all know by now, it’s just as easy to use energy to make a body awful as much as it can be made awesome.

Now, I was originally going to just write a post about a more-or-less solid energy practice that uses four energy centers in the body, one for each of the four elements.  I’m still going to write that post, because I already started it, but I realized that there’s a significant chunk of it that needs to be clarified in its own post, because there’s a number of options one might choose for it with different bits of logic and arguments for and against each choice.  This section kept growing and growing, and it eventually dwarfed the actual point of the post itself, so I decided to get this bit out of the way first, especially since I’ve already introduced the topic when I brought up the notion of a geomantic energy practice to begin with.

For me in my magical practice, the spoken word is important, especially when it comes to things that are intoned, such as barbarous words or particular chants.  For instance, the seven Greek vowels are absolutely vital to my work, because each vowel is associated with one of the seven planets.  In fact, each of the letters of the Greek alphabet has its own spiritual associations to the planets, signs of the Zodiac, and elements.  It’s the elemental letters that are the focus here now: if I wanted to intone a special word to attune myself to the power of an element just like how I’d intone a vowel to attune myself to the power of a planet, what would I use?  I can’t really intone a consonant, so I invented special “power words” for the four elements by taking the corresponding consonant for the element, intoning ΙΑΩ, and ending with the consonant again, as below:

  • Fire: ΧΙΑΩΧ (KHIAŌKH)
  • Air: ΦΙΑΩΦ (PHIAŌPH)
  • Water: ΞΙΑΩΞ (KSIAŌKS)
  • Earth: ΘΙΑΩΘ (THIAŌTH)

This method works, but to be honest, I’ve never really liked it.  It’s always felt kind of imbalanced and inelegant, especially compared to some of the more refined barbarous words of power or the simplicity and clearness of the vowels for the planets.  When I first started thinking of what I could intone for a geomantic energy practice, my routine use of these words first came up, but I quickly remembered that there are other options available to me besides just this.  All I need to find is some appropriate, elegant system of four words for intoning for the sake of attuning to the four elements.

Also, what am I calling this particular type of power word, anyway?  These are small, usually single-syllabled things to intone or chant to attune with a particular force.  I suppose that these are barbarous names of a sort, but the fact that they’re so easily constructed doesn’t seem quite appropriate to call them “barbarous”.  The closest thing I can think of are bīja, which is a Sanskrit term meaning “seed”, but referring to single syllable mantras that can be intoned and thought of as encapsulating or emanating particular elements or powers.  Think of the syllables oṃ, dhīḥ, hūṃ, or other single-syllable such mantras found in tantric Buddhism or Hinduism.  These are powerful syllables and contain some aspect of the cosmos or dharma in their own right, and many deities, bodhisattvas, buddhas, and other entities or powers have their own bījas.  That’s a good concept and term for this, but I can’t think of any Western or non-Sanskrit term to call them, like how we might have “chant” or “orison” for the word mantra, “gesture” for mudra, or “energy center” for chakra.  Since I like having Greek-based terms, here are a few I would think are appropriate:

  • Odologue, which could come either from ᾠδόλογος ōidólogos meaning “song-word” or, alternatively, ὁδόλογος hodólogos meaning “road-word”, and either Greek word could be used here.  Odology, after all, can refer to “the study of the singing voice” or “the study of roads and paths”, and considering the purpose and use of these bīja-like words,
  • Rhizophone, from Greek ῥιζόφωνη rhizóphōnē, literally meaning “root sound”.  This is about as close a calque to bīja as I could think, helpfully suggested by Kalagni of Blue Flame Magick (who has a new website now, go update your RSS readers and links!).
  • Epode, which is simply the Greek word ἐπῳδή epōidé, meaning “song sung to something”, and more figuratively an enchantment, charm, or spell.  Unlike odologue or rhizophone, epode is actually a known word, both in Greek and in English, and though it can be used more broadly for spells or charms in general, the notion of something being sung here is important, which is basically intonation.  Though I like the above two words, let’s be honest: epode here is probably the best to go with.
    • There are other words used in Greek to refer to magic spells or charms, like kḗlēma or thélktron or other words, so we can reserve “epode” for what are basically mantras.
    • “Epode” could be used to give a useful Greek translation of “mantra” generally, as opposed to just bīja syllables, which are themselves considered single-syllable mantras.  For this, “root epode” or “small epode” could be used to clarify single-syllable epodes.
    • Likewise, “epode” wouldn’t necessarily be of the same type of word as “names”, ὀνόματα onómata, referring to the barbarous words of power that may simply be spoken, shouted, or intoned depending on the situation.  Plus, the barbarous names themselves aren’t usually constructed, patterned after anything, or even understood as having distinct or intelligible meanings.

So, what we’re doing here is coming up with elemental epodes, simple words that can be intoned or sung to attune or call down the forces of the elements, just how the intonation of the seven Greek vowels can do the same for the planets.  In fact, those vowels, when sung in a magical way, would become epodes in their own right.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.  One straightforward option is to just use the Arabic or Greek words for the four elements themselves as things to intone:

  • Arabic:
    • Fire: nar (نار, pronounced “nahr”)
    • Air: hawa’ (هواء, pronounced “HAH-wa” with a sharp stop in the throat)
    • Water: ma’ (ماء, pronounced “ma” with a sharp stop in the throat)
    • Earth: turab (تراب, pronounced “tuh-RAHB”)
  • Greek:
    • Fire: pũr (πῦρ, pronounced “pür” like with the German ü or French u, or as “peer”)
    • Air: aḗr (ἀήρ, pronounced “ah-AYR”, smoothly without a stop in the sound)
    • Water: húdōr (ὕδωρ, pronounced “HEE-dohr” or “HÜ-dohr”, again with that German/French sound)
    • Earth: gē̃ (γῆ, pronounced “gay”)

However, I’m not a fan of doing this.  For one, the words themselves aren’t necessarily important if the resonance and link between what’s uttered/intoned and what’s being connected with is strong.  Here, all I really have to go is the semantic meaning of the words.  Plus, I don’t like how some of them are two syllables and others only one, and they all feel inelegant in some of the same ways as my *ΙΑΩ* words from above.  So, while the words for the elements could be used, it’s not one I’d like to use.

And no, I won’t use Latin or English for such things, either.  I don’t hold either to be a very magical language like how I’d hold Greek or Hebrew or Arabic, largely due to the lack of meaningful isopsephy/gematria or stoicheia of the letters for the Roman script common to both Latin and English.  I also didn’t list Hebrew here because, for the sake of my energy work, I largely focus on Greek stuff (for the Mathēsis side of things) or Arabic (for the geomantic side), and Hebrew doesn’t fit into either category.

However, there is another option for coming up with an intonation that is rooted in geomantic practice: the BZDH (or BZDA) technique.  This is a little-known technique in Western geomancy that seems to have had more use in Arabic geomancy.  As I said in the earlier post about the geomantic figures and the human body:

From my translation of the 15th century work Lectura Geomantiae:

By the Greek word “b z d a” we can find the house of the figures, which is to say in which house the figures are strongest, wherefore when the first point starting from the upper part of the beginning figure is odd, the second house is strong; when the second point is odd, the seventh house is strong; when the third point is odd, the fourth house is strong; when the fourth and last point is odd, the eighth house is strong. Thus we will find by this number the proper houses of the figures; by “b” we understand 2, by “z” 7, by “d” 4, by “a” 8, as in this example: “b z d a”.

This may not make a lot of sense on its own, but compare what Felix Klein-Franke says in his article “The Geomancy of Aḥmad b. `Alī Zunbul: A Study of the Arabic Corpus Hermeticum” (AMBIX, March 1973, vol. XX):

The best taskīn is that of az-Zanātī; it bears the key-word bzdḥ: according to the principle of Gematria, the transposition of letters of a word into numbers, in place of bzdḥ there result the numbers 2748. Thus the Mansions of the taskīn are indicated; each spot denotes one of the four elements; in the 2nd Mansion there is only the element Fire (Laetitia, ḥayyān), in the 7th Mansion only Air (Rubeus, ḥumra), in the 4th Mansion only Water (Albus, bayāḍ), and in the 8th Mansion only Earth (Cauda Draconis, rakīza ẖāriǧa).

Stephen Skinner clarifies this even further in his works on geomancy.  From his 1980 book “Terrestrial Astrology: Divination by Geomancy”:

Further specialized configurations or taskins are outlined together with mnemonics for remembering their order. Gematria, or the art of interpreting words in terms of the total of’ the numerical equivalents of each of their letters, is introduced at this point. Using the mnemonic of a particular taskin such as Bzdh, Zunbul explains that the letters represent the four Elements, in descending order of grossness. Each letter also represents a number in Arabic, thus:

b – 2 – Fire
z – 7 – Air
d – 4 – Water
h – 8 – Earth

This mnemonic therefore indicates House number 2 for Fire, House number 7 (Air), House number 4 (Water), and House number 8 (Earth). For each of the Houses indicated in this taskin, we see that the second is most compatible with Fire, the seventh with Air, and so on. Therefore, if the geomantic figure Laetitia (or in Arabic Hayyan), which is solely Fire, occurs in the second House, this would be. an extremely favourable omen. Likewise, the occurrence of Rubeus (or Humra), which is solely Air, in the seventh House would also be extremely auspicious. Further chapters are devoted to even more complicated combinations of the basic figures, and to labyrinthine rules for everything from marriage to medicine. Diagnosis by raml even became a lay rival of the latter, and tables were educed of the relationship between specific parts of the body and the geomantic figures.

In other words, based on these letters, we could intone a particular sound that starts with the letter “b” for Fire, “z” for Air, “d” for Earth, and “ḥ” (think of the guttural “ch” of German, but further back in the throat).

So, in this technique, we have four consonants that correspond to four elements.  We could use this BZDH technique to use these four consonants, each associated with one of the four elements according to an obscure technique in Arabic and early Western geomancy, to create a simple, clear syllable for each element when paired with a simple long vowel:

  • Arabic method:
    • Fire:  (با)
    • Air:  (زا)
    • Water:  (دا)
    • Earth: ḥā (حا)
  • Greek method:
    • Fire:  (ΒΗ)
    • Air:  (ΖΗ)
    • Water:  (ΔΗ)
    • Earth:  (Ἡ)
  • Latin method:
    • Fire: ba
    • Air: za
    • Water: da
    • Earth: a

Note that I’m largely using the “ah” sound a lot for these.  For one, in Greek, this is the vowel Alpha, which is associated with the Moon, which is one of the planets closest to the sphere of the Earth and which is one of the planets most aligned with the element of Earth.  Additionally, this would be represented in Arabic with the letter ‘Alif, which has the form of a straight vertical line, much like the geomantic figure Via (or Tarīq using its Arabic name), which is also a figure associated with the Moon and which is important as it contains all four elements; in this case, the “ah” sound would be most aligned to that of the powers of geomancy as a whole, I would claim.  Note, also, how the Latin transcription of ḥ (to represent the element Earth) turned into “a”; if you wanted to think of geomancy as primarily being an oracle of Earth (which is a claim I take some issue with), then the “ah” sound would indeed be closest for phonologically working with the elements from a geomantic perspective and from our worldly, manifest basis.  Yet, we’re using Ēta for the Greek method given above; for one, this is because there’s no distinct vowel for “long a”, but “long e” is a close-enough approximation.  Using ΒΑ, ΖΑ, ΔΑ, and Ἁ for them would work as well, but using Ēta is also acceptable in this case.

Now, remember that these four consonants are used because they have their origins in being specifically labeled as elemental in the original geomantic technique from whence they come due to their numerological (gematria or isopsephic) significance. The mnemonic BZDḤ was used based on the numerological values of those letters in Arabic: bāʾ for 2, zāy for 7, dāl for 4, and ḥāʾ for 8.  Interestingly, these same consonants were used in the European version of the technique as BZDA (with A replacing Ḥāʾ, though it makes more sense to consider it H) even though it’s not technically the letters that were important, but their numerical equivalents.  If we were to simply go by their numerological (or numeric order) basis, then we should use ΒΔΗΘ for Greek or BDGH for Latin.  I suppose that one could use these letters instead for the BZDH technique-based intonation syllables, but I feel like using the original BZDH (or BZDḤ) is truer to the elements themselves, though the true Greek system could also work given their stoicheic meanings: Bēta associated with the Fire sign Aries, Delta associated with the Air sign Gemini, Ēta (used consonantally as an aspiration/aitch letter) representing the planet Venus which can be associated with the element of Water, and Thēta associated with the element of Earth itself.  So, one could also use a Greek ΒΔΗΘ system like this (using Ēta below, but again, Alpha would also work):

  • Fire:  (ΒΗ)
  • Air: (ΔΗ)
  • Water: (Ἡ)
  • Earth: thē (ΘH)

Or a Latin BDGH system as:

  • Fire: ba
  • Air: da
  • Water: ga
  • Earth: ha

Again, I’m not a fan of using Latin generally, but I can see an argument for using a BDGH system here because it’s not really words, isopsephy, or stoicheia here that are necessarily important.  However, if we were to use Greek isopsephy for determining which letters to use to represent the four elements for a Greek ΒΔΗΘ system, why not use the Greek stoicheia for them, instead?  It breaks with why we were using numbers to begin with, but we already know the letters Khi, Phi, Ksi, and Thēta work quite well for the four elements themselves, so if we were taking a purely elemental approach, it seems more proper to just use the elemental letters instead of the numerologically-appropriate letters and their natural vowels (specifically their long versions to keep with the theme of using long vowels for the epodes):

  • Fire: khei (ΧΕI)
  • Air: phei (ΦΕI)
  • Water: ksei (ΞΕI)
  • Earth: thē (ΘH)

There are definitely arguments for the use of the stoicheically-appropriate letters (ΧΦΞΘ) over the others, or the isopsephically-appropriate ones (ΒΔΗΘ), or the transliterated Arabic ones (ΒΖΔΗ).  In a more Mathēsis-pure approach, I’d probably go with the stoicheic letters, but in this particular case, I’d recommend most the transliterated Arabic ones, because that set of letters ties this energy practice closest to the original geomantic technique.  I suppose experimentation would show which is best, but I’m most comfortable sticking with the BZDH technique.

However, even using the BZDH technique as a foundation for this, an interestingly extensible system of syllables can also be devised where the BZDH technique of using different consonants is mixed with using Greek vowels that were similar enough in element to those four consonants.  For this mashup, I used my Mathēsis understanding of the planets and their positions on the mathētic Tetractys or the planetary arrangement for the geomantic figures to get vowels for the elements, and settled on using Iōta (Sun) for Fire, Upsilon (Jupiter) for Air, Ēta (Venus) for Water, and Alpha (Moon) for Earth.  Though Mars would be more appropriate for Fire and Saturn for Earth, their corresponding vowels are Omicron and Ōmega, which may not be distinct enough for this purpose, as I feel like it should be, so I made a sufficiently-acceptable substitution to use the Sun for Fire instead of Mars, and the Moon for Earth instead of Saturn.

What’s nice about combining the BZDH technique with the planetary vowels is that we can mix and match both systems and, using our system of primary and secondary elements of the figures, get a distinct epode not only for the four elements but also for each of the sixteen geomantic figures, which can be extraordinarily useful in its own right for other magical and meditative purposes.  (And here I thought that little innovation of mine was no more than “a few sprinkles on the icing of the cake of Western geomancy” when it’s come in use time and time again!)  So, let’s see about making such a full system for all sixteen figures using the three competing Greek systems (Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ, Isopsephic ΒΔΗΘ, Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ):

Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ System
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΒΙ
BI
Laetitia
ΖΙ
ZI
Puer
ΔΙ
DI
Puella

HI
Carcer
Air ΒΥ
BU
Fortuna Minor
ΖΥ
ZU
Rubeus
ΔΥ
DU
Via

HU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΖΗ

Coniunctio
ΔΗ

Albus


Fortuna Maior
Earth ΒΑ
BA
Cauda Draconis
ΖΑ
ZA
Acquisitio
ΔΑ
DA
Populus

HA
Tristitia
Isopsephic ΒΔΗΘ System
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΒΙ
BI
Laetitia
ΔΙ
DI
Puer

HI
Puella
ΘΙ
THI
Carcer
Air ΒΥ
BU
Fortuna Minor
ΔΥ
DU
Rubeus

HU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΒΗ

Amissio
ΔΗ

Coniunctio


Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΒΑ
BA
Cauda Draconis
ΔΑ
DA
Acquisitio

HA
Populus
ΘΑ
THA
Tristitia
Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ System using Vague Elemental Vowels
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΧΙ
KHI
Laetitia
ΦΙ
PHI
Puer
ΞΙ
KSI
Puella
ΘΙ
THI
Carcer
Air ΧΥ
KHU
Fortuna Minor
ΦΥ
PHU
Rubeus
ΞΥ
KSU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΧΗ
KHĒ
Amissio
ΦΗ
PHĒ
Coniunctio
ΞΗ
KSĒ
Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΧΑ
KHA
Cauda Draconis
ΦΑ
PHA
Acquisitio
ΞΑ
KSA
Populus
ΘΑ
THA
Tristitia

Note that in the ΧΦΞΘ system below, instead of using Iōta for Fire and Alpha for Earth (as given in the “vague elemental vowels” table immediately above), I went with Omicron for Fire and Ōmega for Earth because, well, if we’re going to go all the way and stick solely to using stoicheically-appropriate consonants, it makes sense to follow through and stick to using the most precisely, stoicheically-appropriate vowels. However, it breaks with the other systems here, so while this is perhaps the most suited to a pure Mathēsis or purely-Western approach, it doesn’t fit with any of the others and it makes a total break with any BZDH system we have.  Additionally, the similarity between Omicron and Ōmega here can cause some confusion and difficulty for those who aren’t precise with their pronunciations, even if the system is precisely correct as far as stoicheia goes.

Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ System using Exact Elemental Vowels
Primary Element
Fire Air Water Earth
Secondary
Element
Fire ΧΟ
KHO
Laetitia
ΦΟ
PHO
Puer
ΞΟ
KSO
Puella
ΘΟ
THO
Carcer
Air ΧΥ
KHU
Fortuna Minor
ΦΥ
PHU
Rubeus
ΞΥ
KSU
Via
ΘΥ
THU
Caput Draconis
Water ΧΗ
KHĒ
Amissio
ΦΗ
PHĒ
Coniunctio
ΞΗ
KSĒ
Albus
ΘΗ
THĒ
Fortuna Maior
Earth ΧΩ
KHŌ
Cauda Draconis
ΦΩ
PHŌ
Acquisitio
ΞΩ
KSŌ
Populus
ΘΩ
THŌ
Tristitia

deep breath

Okay.  So, that’s all a lot of tables and lists and examples and options to pick from, all of which are nice and all, but where does that leave us?

What we wanted to come up with was a set of four simple intonable syllables—our “epodes”—to work with the four classical elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, much as how we have the seven Greek vowels to work with the seven traditional planets.  While a straightforward option would be to simply intone the words for the elements themselves, we can use an obscure geomantic technique that gives us four consonants to reflect the four elements, which we can then intone by adding a vowel to it.  However, we can make variants of this system based on how far we want to take the logic of why we have those four consonants to begin with, even going so far as to come up with a set of sixteen epodes for each of the geomantic figures.  These geomantic epodes work within the same overall system because the geomantic figures are compositions of the four elements, and the figures Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia are the geomantic figures that represent single elements unmixed with any other, which is a fact I’ve been able to use before for coming up with gestures for the four elements using the same logic.

Now, because of all the possibilities of what script to use (Arabic, Greek, Roman), what consonants to use (BZDH or the script-appropriate variants based on numerical order within that script’s alphabet), and what vowels to use (the “ah” sound, Ēta for Greek variants, or using stoicheically-appropriate vowels based on the planetary affinities towards the elements), we end up with quite a few different options for our elemental epodes:

Fire Air Water Earth
Words Arabic نار
nar
هواء
hawa’
ماء
ma’
تراب
turab
Greek πῦρ
pũr
ἀήρ
aḗr
ὕδωρ
húdōr
γῆ
gē̃
Latin ignis aer aqua terra
ΙΑΩ Names ΧΙΑΩΧ
khiaōkh
ΦΙΑΩΦ
phiaōph
ΞΙΑΩΞ
ksiaōks
ΘΙΑΩΘ
thiaōth
Transliterated Arabic با
زا
دا
حا
ḥā
Greek
Ēta
ΒΗ
ΖΗ
ΔΗ

Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΖΑ
za
ΔΑ
da

ha
Roman BA ZA DA A
Isopsephic Greek
Ēta
ΒΗ
ΔΗ

ΘH
thē
Greek
Alpha
ΒΑ
ba
ΔΑ
da

ha
ΘΑ
tha
Roman BA DA GA HA
Hybrid Transliterated ΒΙ
bi
ΖΥ
zu
ΔΗ

ha
Isopsephic ΒΙ
bi
ΔΥ
du

ΘΑ
tha
Mathēsis Natural
Vowels
ΧΕΙ
khei
ΦΕΙ
phei
ΞΕΙ
ksei
ΘΗ
thē
Vague
Vowels
ΧΙ
khi
ΦΥ
phu
ΞΗ
ksē
ΘΑ
tha
Exact
Vowels
ΧΟ
kho
ΦΥ
phu
ΞΗ
ksē
ΘΩ
thō

See now why I had to break all this out into its own separate post?

Originally, I was using the ΙΑΩ-based epodes, but I never really liked them, especially compared to all the other elegant options we have now based on the BZDH technique or its variants.  Of course, we have quite a few options now, and there are plenty of arguments for and against each one.  Here’s what I recommend based on your specific approach:

  • If you’re using a strict Arabic or classically “pure” geomantic system apart from planetary or other concerns and want to stick to the root of geomancy as much as possible, despite any other advantages out there from the other systems, use the Transliterated BZDH system, most preferably the Arabic system (bā/zā/dā/ḥā) or the Greek-Alpha system (ΒΑ/ΖΑ/ΔΑ/Ἁ), depending on how good your pronunciation skills at pharyngeal consonants are.
  • If you’re using a purely Greek system that wants to use the advantages of the stoicheia of the Greek alphabet as much as possible, use the Mathēsis system with exact vowels (ΧΟ/ΦΥ/ΞΗ/ΘΩ).
  • If you’re a general Western geomancer with no particular leanings towards or against any particular niche, use the Hybrid system with transliterated consonants (ΒΙ/ΖΥ/ΔΗ/Ἁ).  This would be considered the middle approach between the two extremes of “original root source” and “Mathēsis-only stoicheia please”, and is probably appropriate for the largest number of people given its ease of use and pronunciation.

Likewise, for the use of the geomantic epodes:

  • If you want a more general use, go with the Transliterated ΒΖΔΗ System.
  • If you want a specialized mathētic use, go with the Stoicheic ΧΦΞΘ System with exact vowels.

Of course, given all the options above, there’s plenty of room for experimentation, and I’m sure one could extend the logic of the BZDH system (whether through transliteration, isopsephy, or stoicheia) even further and combining it with other vowel systems to come up with more options, or there would be still other ways to come up with elemental epodes (and maybe even geomantic epodes, as well) that aren’t based on the BZDH or ΧΦΞΘ systems!  As with so much else with geomantic magic, there’s so much to experiment and toy with, because it’s such a fertile and unexplored field of occult practice, so if you want to experiment with these or if you have other systems you use, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!