Sum of their Parts: The Planetary Syntheses of the Geomantic Figures

I don’t make as much of a practice of meditating on the geomantic figures as I sometimes feel I should.  It’s an important practice, I think, that really opens up some truly amazing doors in the understanding of the geomancer to not just get an intellectual feel for these sixteen symbols of elemental presence or absence, of elemental action, reaction, and interaction, but also to get a truly profound, soul-touching understanding of them.  This is crucially important, I claim, for any new geomancer: perhaps even before studying the techniques of geomancy (which are pretty straightforward, really), they should make an effort to truly learn what the figures are, not just what they mean or stand for through rote memorization of correspondence lists or the like.  In doing so, we learn more about the figures and how they play out in the world around us.

Back during January, during some of my usual daily prayers, the thought arose to me that maybe I shouldn’t just be meditating on the figures more often than once a year or so, but also to simply consider newer and other ways to understand them. After all, we have all these mathematical ways of understanding the figures, the various operations that can be applied to a figure to transform it into another, but one of the most important for us is addition: the process of taking two figures and combining them mathematically to form a third.  This is the fundamental technique that allows us to come up with the Nieces from the Mothers or Daughters, the Witnesses from the Nieces, the Judge from the Witnesses, and the Sentence from the Judge and First Mother.  The process of addition can be interpreted in one of three ways:

  • Us + Them = Interaction
  • Start + End = Transition
  • Factor + Context = Conclusion

In all cases, what addition shows us is what happens when you add the symbolism of one figure to the symbolism of another.  For instance, consider the two figures Puer + Laetitia = Acquisitio.  What could this mean?  Well, let’s consider it according to the three models of addition above:

  • (Us + Them = Interaction) Our youthful energy, drive, and brazenness is faced with a happy time and people more than happy to uplift us and support us.  The combination of like minds, with the enthusiasm of Puer on our side combined with the optimism of Laetitia on the other, yields great gain for us all.  However, that gain is only incidental; what matters more is finding people willing to help us as we need to, so that we’re not the only ones striving for something.
  • (Start + End = Transition) A stoked start to matters, full of energy and gumption and not a small amount of willingness to step on toes to get our way, is going to indeed get our way and find everything that we seek.  It’s this very nature of winning, when all we want to do is win, that will get us to a state of true happiness and bliss.  Money isn’t what matters, but it certainly helps us in our overall goals to celebrate the goodness that life has in store for us.
  • (Factor + Context = Conclusion) Put a bull in a china shop, and you can expect things to get broken.  However, put a bull in a lush field full of other happy cows, and you can expect the bull to be in a happy place, indeed, doing what bulls naturally want to do: eat, sleep, and procreate.  When a huge bundle of energy like yourself is put in a situation where it’s own heat and drive is redirected and put to useful ways, all that energy you have goes to natural, proper ends that just works well for everyone in the end, so long as that energy is allowed to do what it naturally needs and wants to do.

With addition, we can expand our notions of 16 geomantic figures to 256 geomantic processes, each of which can be interpreted along the three models above, all of which touch on the same core idea but which can be phrased in different ways appropriate to different models of understanding or different situations in which they appear.  This is where the complexity of geomancy truly lies, I feel, and the only way to really navigate these complexities is through having a profound, intuitive understanding of the figures, which only comes about through study, contemplation, and meditation.

To be fair, not all such study, contemplation, and meditation needs to be done sitting on a mat and pathworking or scrying the figures.  Sometimes we can take a more logical or synthetic approach as opposed to a mystical one which itself can yield a fertile ground for further meditation, and today, I want to take a new twist on that.  We know that addition is an important operation in geomancy that can yield not just new figures but also new understandings of the figures, but we also know that there are 16 figures, which can be reasonably broken down into eight pairs of figures, each pair relating to one of the planets (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Nodes).  If there’s a pair, then there can be addition:

Planet First Figure Second Figure Synthesis Figure
Moon Populus Via Via
Mercury Albus Coniunctio Rubeus
Venus Puella Amissio Tristitia
Sun Fortuna Maior Fortuna Minor Via
Mars Puer Rubeus Carcer
Jupiter Acquisitio Laetitia Puer
Saturn Tristitia Carcer Laetitia
Nodes Caput Draconis Cauda Dracions Carcer

What we have here is a table of what happens, what figures result when you add the two figures belonging to the same planet together.  Thus, consider the two figures of Mercury, Albus and Coniunctio.  If you add them together, you get the figure Rubeus.  What might this mean symbolically, not just for the figures of Mercury but for a geomantic understanding of Mercury itself?  Remember that the addition of figures shows us what the core themes of interaction, transition, and conclusion are between two forces, but in this case, we’re taking the two sides of each planet and seeing what happens when we synthesize them together.

There are a few observations we can make right off the bat:

  • In all cases except for the figures of the Moon, the synthesis figure is both a different figure than either the original figures and also belongs to a different planet than the planet that the original figures belonged to (Jupiter in the case of the figures of Saturn, Mars in the case of Jupiter, etc.).
  • Two figures are repeated among the synthesis figures: Carcer (formed from both the figures of the Nodes as well as the figures of Mars) and Via (figures of the Sun and figures of the Moon).  Mathematically, this is because these are the only planets whose two figures are inverses of each other, and Via can only result when you add inverses.  This suggests that only the figures of the Moon and the Sun are truly opposites of each other and reflect two totally distinct sides of each planet; all the other planets share something in common and show different themes without being complete opposites.
  • The synthesis figures are always going to belong to the Moon (Via), Mars (Puer or Rubeus), Jupiter (Laetitia), or Saturn (Carcer or Tristitia).  Mercury, Venus, and the Sun do not appear at all in this mix.  This is an interesting contrast to the Judges that can result from a geomantic chart, where only Mars is unrepresented as a Judge.
  • Saturn has a plurality of synthesis figures with three out of eight, Mars has two, the Moon has two, and Jupiter has one.  This is another interesting contrast to the number of figures belonging to the planets for the possible Judges that can form in a chart: the Moon has two possible Judges, the Sun has two, Mercury has one, Venus has one, Jupiter has one, and Saturn has one, with Mars having none at all.
  • Three of the four pure-elemental figures (Laetitia, Rubeus, and Tristitia) are present among the synthesis figures, but Albus is left out, the figure of pure Water.  Coincidentally, we have the inverse of Albus, Puer, as the synthesis of Jupiter, the figure that has everything but water.  In fact, with the exception of Via, all the planetary synthesis figures lack Water entirely as an element.

What we’re building up to is an understanding of a geomantic understanding of the planets (including the pair of Nodes together as a “planet” in its own right, at least for the sake of the model here) by seeing what happens when we add—synthesize—the two figures of a planet.  As opposed to simply looking at the different way a planet can express its energy, what we’re arriving at is a geomantic symbol of the core nature or tension of that planet, and how that nature relates to other planets as well.

With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into this and see how this plays out for each pair.  While I’m sure there’s more to be said than just a simple paragraph about each synthesis pair, this should be enough to get started for the sake of contemplation and meditation on the figures.  Note that the focus here is on the synthesis figure, irrespective of the order in which the synthesis takes place (e.g. Albus + Coniunctio and Coniunctio + Albus both add up to Rubeus equally).

Moon: Populus + Via = Via

This one is almost too easy, given that this is the only synthesis of planetary figures that yields a figure of the same planet as its components.  However, we should consider why that synthesis figure is Via and not Populus.  Via is the figure of change, and that is fundamentally the nature of the Moon: the Moon is in a constant state of flux, never appearing the same from one night to the next in its raw appearance.  As the fastest of the seven planets, the Moon constantly shifts between signs and lunar mansions on a scale completely beyond all the other planets, which is why the Moon symbolically has her planetary joy in House III.  However, more than that, Via is the one figure that has all four elements present and active; in astrology and astrological magic, the Moon is the planet that gathers up the light of all the other planets and can act as a stand-in for any other planet as necessary.  As the lowest of the planets, the Moon is also the closest planet to Earth, the realm of totally manifested reality, and thus the Moon is closest to the realm of the elements themselves.  In this light, Via is almost boringly obvious as the figure that relates to the essence of the Moon.

Mercury: Albus + Coniunctio = Rubeus

I suppose it’s super fitting, given that Mercury is generally considered a mutable planet harmonious with the element of Air, that the two Mercurial figures of Albus and Coniunctio add to form the figure whose sole active element is Air: Rubeus.  However, Rubeus is generally a hot and dangerous figure, one of deceit, treachery, lies, theft, and confusion—but are these not also things that trickster Mercury is known for?  We praise Mercury as being the planet of communication and commerce, travel and trade, language and science, and all this is true, but if a planet can bestow something, it can just as easily corrupt or deny those things, too: if Mercury grants a strong mind, it can also grant a weak or debilitated mind, or one that’s so strong that it becomes a deadly weapon in its own right (cf. “the pen is mightier than the sword”, and spilled ink can lead to spilled blood).  Further, we should never ignore the mythological aspects here of Hermēs being the slayer of Argos, in some myths by beheading with a golden sword, in others by bludgeoning with a rock, through with a scheme of trickery and plotting involved in such a thing, and ultimately to rescue (steal) Iō from Hēra.  If Albus is the mind at its most refined and noble, then Rubeus is the mind at its most raw and corrupt; it’s perhaps a good thing that Hermēs is the messenger of the gods acting on their behest rather than his own, since if Hermēs were to take his power into his own hands rather than using it on behalf of Zeus and the other gods, as the Homeric Hymn to Hermēs suggests, his greatest inclination is to lie, cheat, steal, deceive, and hoodwink all others endlessly for his own selfish gain.  We should remember that the mind is not just a tool but a power unto itself, and without harnessing that power and refining it through wisdom and morality, that power will serve itself more than anything else in ways that are cruel, crude, despicable, and destructive.

Venus: Puella + Amissio = Tristitia

Now this is an odd one: the figures of Venus add up to the figure of Saturn, Sorrow.  Off the bat, my first thought is that Saturn has its exaltation in Libra, a sign of Venus, but that’s not saying much about why Tristitia would be the synthesis figure for Venus.  There is also the notion that, to me at least, I associate Venus most strongly with the element of Water, and each of the elements has a particular motion associated with it: Air expands and Earth contracts, Fire goes upward and Water goes downward—and Tristitia is a figure of downwards motion, yet that too doesn’t seem to hit on the connection here all that well.  There’s something about the raw, simple power of pure Earth that turns the volatile passion of Amissio into the stabilized harmony of Puella: the feeling of having enough, the knowledge that everything is going to be alright, the blessing of experience and memory, the ability to dull or blunt emotional pain (whether one’s own or that of another).  All of these things are Earthy, sure, but none of these things strike me as Sorrowful.  But there is something here: all these things come about as the result of labor.  The fields and the forest may be abundant and fruitful, sure, but what good is all of that if you do not toil in the fields to ensure a harvest, or wander in the fields risking cuts and bites to pluck berries and mushrooms?  Venus, in all its splendor, is not a planet known for its labor, but there is a deeper, more profound labor going on behind the pretty face, whether done up for a night out or marred by tears from a bad night: there’s a profound emotional labor going on, either in the process of it that causes emotional volatility or as a result of it that produces emotional stability.  Venus, as a primary symbol of femininity, is also a symbol of childbirth, and how arduous and painful can that be, filled with tears and groans and moaning?  Tristitia is a profound figure that makes things alright in the end, but the process of that can be hard and long—but always results in pleasure, once the clouds clear from the skies.

Sun: Fortuna Maior + Fortuna Minor = Via

The other synthesis pair of figures that yield Via, it’s somewhat surprising to find that the figures of the Sun synthesize into a figure of the Moon.  After all, if Via is all about change, what do we make of this since we know the Sun to be a symbol of perfection and eternity itself?  We should still remember that even if the Sun itself is perfect and timeless, how the Sun relates to the Earth is not: the Sun rises and sets and itself marks the most fundamental change in the world, that of the day-night cycle, as well as that of the seasonal cycle as the Sun gradually moves above and below the celestial equator along the ecliptic.  Heck, think of the neopagan concept of the Wheel of the Year that discusses the various solar events of solstices, equinoxes, and zodiacal midpoints and how this tells an agricultural story of the birth, growth, triumph, fall, death, and rebirth of the Sun.  We should also note the reference in PGM XII.201ff (the Royal Ring of Abrasax ritual) to “yours is the processional way of Heaven”, referring most likely to the starry road of the ecliptic—and what is Via if not literally a road?  Rather than Via indicating change itself as it does for the Moon, for the Sun, Via instead indicates the process of change rather than the thing that undergoes change: while the roads we take in life take their toll, the roads themselves remain themselves and do not themselves go anywhere.  So too does the Sun show the road that we take, season in and season out, year in and year out, and even though the Sun will always remain the Sun, we constantly change as we follow the Sun throughout the times of life.

Mars: Puer + Rubeus = Carcer

The first of two synthesis pairs that yield Carcer, this pair of the figures of Mars shows a bold hero facing the endlessly tumultuous battle, the stoic soldier fighting against a raving berserker.  The notion of Carcer here is that of being locked into battle, a constant and neverending struggle of violence from which one cannot escape.  This is the figure that demonstrates the endless drive to break through and break free despite the utter impossibility of doing so (cf. the prisoner unfairly imprisoned who constantly plots and works their way out of prison) as well as the endless anger and frustration of trying to break free from that which binds oneself: we shouldn’t forget that Fire is present in Carcer, too, after all!  On top of this, Carcer is the figure of separation, which is the crucial action of Mars: the fundamental purpose of a blade is to cut, which divides one thing from another (whether a rope bridge spanning a chasm or the blood from its body).  In struggle, Mars separates one person/side/thing from another, yet the person/side/thing that is separated from the other will always be locked into a struggle with it, whether the struggle of imprisonment, of war, or of life and death itself.  While we might consider Puer to be a sword and Rubeus a battleaxe, Carcer would then be a sort of shield, another thing that cuts off one from another without doing much to resolve that separation.

Jupiter: Acquisitio + Laetitia = Puer

Now this is a fun one: the two Jovial figures adding up to a Martial one.  Why should two otherwise beneficial figures that lead to happiness—material and financial on the one hand, emotional and spiritual on the other—lead to something that so easily ruins happiness?  Crucially, there’s always too much of a good thing, and if any planet exemplifies the idea of “too much”, it’s Jupiter.  Jupiter is the planet of expansion, but to expand requires force, and Zeus, as king of Olympos, has all the force in the world to wield, whether for weal or for woe: there is nothing that can withstand the might of Zeus.  More than that, when we have good things, we want more good things, and that want, if not tempered by wisdom, can become a corruption of them, as acid (a Martian thing!) dissolves lesser metals.  Acquisitio’s desire for wealth can become insatiable greed, and Laetitia’s desire for hope and success can become reckless daring.  Jupiter is pure power, and that power is to make things more Jupiter through force, one way or another.  After all, how often do kings and rulers in our own world resort to the application of force, oftentimes brutal, whether against their own people or others, in order to satisfy their needs for resources, space, or the fulfillment of their state’s ambitions?  If the nature of a king is to rule, then the underlying ability that allows that king to rule is the application of force.

Saturn: Tristitia + Carcer = Laetitia

Just as it’s somewhat surprising to find that the figures of the Sun yield a figure of the Moon, it’s also weird to see the figures of Saturn synthesizing into a figure of Jupiter, doubly so since Laetitia is the reverse of Tristitia.  Structurally speaking, this synthesis is a lot like what’s going on with the Mercurial figures (an axial figure plus a pure elemental figure), and in that light, seeing how we took a heavily mythological twist to that analysis, perhaps it’s fitting to bring up that Kronos was once a benevolent, almost Jovial king during the Golden Age when humanity “lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them…”.  It is true that Saturn is the planet is melancholy, depression, toil, labor, old age, decrepitude, and the like, but that’s just its effects from our side: consider that once you strip away everything else that is unessential baggage (a la one’s Saturn return), that which remains is the pure essence of the thing, and this itself is freedom and a kind of joy unto itself, a revealing of truth from the deception of incarnation.  Plus, Saturn is the highest of the planets in the heavens, and Laetitia is the figure of upwards motion, indicating Saturn’s top position above all, closest to Divinity and showing the way to true joy where old age and death no longer have any power or presence.  The way to such a destination is fraught with endless problems and terrible toil, just as the course of the afterlife in Egyptian thought through the Duat, but so long as you hold true to the course and can survive everything thrown at you, your ultimate destination is a place of eternal joy, not of emotion but beyond all emotion.

Nodes: Caput Draconis + Cauda Draconis = Carcer

The second of two synthesis pairs that yield Carcer, the two figures of the lunar nodes here don’t show the struggle and separation side of Carcer, but rather show the other aspect of this figure as a cycle.  Consider the ouroboros, the symbol of eternity of the snake swallowing its tail, an apt symbol for the combination of the Head and Tail of the Dragon: the cycle of beginning and ending is an eternal one, for when one thing ends, another must begin, and where one thing begins, another must have ended.  This is the eternal cycle of creation and destruction, the cycle of life and death itself, the cycle of saṃsāra into which we are constantly born time and time again whether as reincarnation or as rebirth.  The only way to break out of the prison of the world is to break the world itself; the only way to escape creation is to cease being created and to cease participating in creation entirely.  After all, in many religions and cosmologies, the world has a fundamental start point and a fundamental end point, but these are often outside time itself.  In this, Carcer represents not just the cyclical creation/destruction of the cosmos, but also the walls that separate that which is inside creation from that which outside it entirely; this is the dragon in the ninth heaven, above the fixed stars themselves within creation but still below the domain of God outside creation.

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.

On Gender in Magic, or, What to Rename Puer and Puella

Twitter is always full of fun people.  Yeah, the platform is garbage and full of Nazis, white supremacists, TERFs, and a variety of alt-right douchebags, but it’s also been the platform I’ve been on for the longest sustained period of time going back to…god, mid-2010, I guess.  In that time, despite its changes for the worse and the increases of awful people, I’ve also made many good friends on the platform, ranging from furries and fanfiction authors to astrologers and occultists and any number of people in between.  Lately, I’ve been enjoying the company of a good number of (somehow all bewilderingly attractive) astrologers and diviners, which gives me endless entertainment and education (and gawking over how insultingly good they look in their photos).

Not that long ago, one of my mutuals started up a conversation among this very group that struck a chord with me:

This, yes, absolutely, forever.

Even from an early date in my occult studies, stuff about gender has always not set exactly well with me, e.g. the whole bullshit Law of Gender from the Kybalion, yet another reason why I hate and detest the damn text.  I mean, while I am gay, I’m also comfortable in my cisgender identity as a man, but I have quite a few other friends and colleagues who aren’t but who are transgender, genderfluid, nonbinary, agender, or otherwise.  That so much in traditional magical literature relies on a system of gender that doesn’t work for so many of us is…troubling, honestly.  It’s nothing insurmountable for me, and I would hope that it’s likewise not a total obstruction for others, but that it poses a problem for many of us can’t be denied.  Like, for me, who has no sexual or romantic attraction to women, the notion of an element being “feminine” would logically suggest that it should be cut off from me as something inherently foreign, which is certainly not the case.

Time and again we come across scientific evidence and studies that show that there aren’t even always two physical sexes per species, or that the roles and responsibilities of each physical sex shift and change between species or even between stages of life in a species, or which change based on the environment around and hormones within the members of that species.  If occult philosophy is rooted in natural philosophy, i.e. if studying the occult is grounded in studying the world around us, then shouldn’t we actually respect what we find in the world around us rather than imposing a really simplistic view that doesn’t even work for us as a species or a civilization?  To be fair, I do understand and agree that most humans are cisgender and heterosexual, and most animal species reproduce sexually in a way that we can identify as being carried out by something resembling heterosexuality in humans.  That, however, does not mean that it is any more natural than variations seen in gender, sex, or sexual behavior, because those are as natural as the more common set.  Being uncommon does not mean being abnormal.

There’s also the argument that oh, even as a gay man, I should be in touch with my “feminine side”.  Tell me, what is a “feminine side”?  What are the essential qualities that make something feminine?  I know many women who don’t have such qualities, and many men who do.  I know that much of what one culture describes as “feminine” is considered masculine by another culture, or vice versa.  I know that much of what nontoxic masculinity is could easily be described as expected feminine behavior, and vice versa.  To me (and I speak only for myself in this), gender is a role that one plays based on cultural norms, with nothing essential about it; there can be no “masculine side” and “feminine side” because both of those are meaningless terms that just play out in a given context or arena of culture, society, and communication.  To be sure, these things have power and meaning as far as such things do, but there’s nothing essential, fundamental, or elemental about them that needs to be carried into a fair amount (maybe all?) Western magical practices.

I know that it’s certainly traditional to refer to the elements of Fire and Air (and all their corresponding tools, symbols, planets, zodiac signs, and other correspondences) as masculine or male and to Water and Earth (and all their correspondences) as feminine or female, but we can do so much better.  For one, knowing that each element is a combination of heat and moisture, a system going all the way back to Aristotle:

Dry Wet
Hot Fire Air
Cold Earth Water

What quality immediately jumps out at us that links the “masculine” and “feminine” elements?  It’s heat!  The “masculine” elements Fire and Air are both hot, and the “feminine” elements Water and Earth are both cold, so why not just call them hot and cold, or warm and cool, instead?

This and so many other alternatives to “masculine” and “feminine” were proposed in the conversation on Twitter, some of which I like and others I don’t as much care for, including:

  • solar and lunar
  • diurnal and nocturnal
  • odd and even
  • independent and communal
  • fast and slow
  • electric and magnetic
  • celestial and terrestrial
  • light and dark

(Personally, when not using the celestial and terrestrial dichotomy from my Mathēsis stuff, I absolutely adore the electric and magnetic dichotomy, because electricity and magnetism are really the same underlying force that operate in two different ways.)

There is also, of course, the almost-as-traditional “active” and “passive”, but this is dispreferable in another way, because “passive” has some unfortunate connotations that also doesn’t exactly work.  For instance, if I throw a large amount of water onto a fire, well, fire is supposed to be an active element, right?  So it should act upon the water, but what happens is that the water puts out the fire: the “passive” element acts upon the “active” one.  Not exactly helpful in that light.  Plus, the connotations of “active” and “passive” play into the traditional male-female roles during sex, where the “active” man is on top penetrating the “passive” woman on bottom.  Okay, boring.

You could reframe this “active” and “passive” issue using, for instance, “convex” and “concave”.  Consider the Chinese characters for these words: 凸 and 凹, respectively (as might be evident).  Like…you can see it too, right?  It’s not just my mind in the gutter?  If we equate “convex” with “active” and “concave” with “passive”, well…let me tell you that anyone who’s receiving in sex and is just remaining passive is doing sex wrong and should be ashamed of themselves.  You can take it and still run the show.  Being “passive” does not equate with being inert, boring, or ineffectual; being “receptive” or “concave” does not equate with being submissive, unassuming, or calm.

Personally?  I’m all for getting rid of the notions of gender in our elements, tools, zodiac signs, and other correspondences.  You can include them if you like, but I don’t care to have a system or cosmos that’s inherently structured and built upon them, especially when everything has an undivided, indivisible, undifferentiated Source.  You can have polarities and dichotomies and spectrums without having gender, and gender is not the be-all end-all of polarities.  We don’t have to reduce all dichotomies to a socially-bound, Western categorization of how certain people with certain physical differences should behave.  We can be so much better than this. We can do so much better than this.  We don’t have to be locked into a procrustean bed of gender-locked magic and cosmology when we can literally see and interact with cosmic forces that do not follow laws of gender and, indeed, break the very systems that gender tries to support and maintain.

Then I take a deep breath, and I go outside, and I…look at geomancy, and I’m reminded of the figures Puer and Puella.  And I frown, because we have this very gender/sex issue embedded in two of our figures, going back to the founding of geomancy itself.

I’ve gone on at length about these figures before, describing how their elemental structure suggests and effects their divinatory and occult significations, and so much else.  Yet, here it is, the male-female dichotomy itself staring at us in the face.

Geomancy itself is a system built upon dichotomy.  Dichotomy literally means “a cutting (categorization) into two”, which is the fundamental aspect of binary systems.  Geomancy, as a binary system, has rows that have one point or two points.  In this particular case, I think the use of “active” and “passive” is useful to describe such an arrangement, because it’s referring to the literal existence or non-existence of a given element within a figure.  For instance, if Fire is active, then it can cause a change in another figure’s Fire line (odd to even or even to odd); if Fire is passive, then it preserves and takes on whatever is in another Figure’s fire line (odd stays odd and even stays even).  This is how I interpret odd or even as far as numbers go, and to me, the mere presence or absence of an element has nothing to do with that element being “male” or “female”.  Again, gender/sex is just one kind of polarity, if it even is to be reckoned having two poles at all.

So, what to do about Puer and Puella?  Well, I know that the names of figures aren’t fixed.  Throughout the history of geomancy, many sets of names have been applied to the figures, even within the same language.  Stephen Skinner in his Geomancy in Theory and Practice gives a huge table of all the names he’s been able to document for the figures across multiple manuscripts, books, and traditions.  For instance, the figure Fortuna Maior (literally meaning “Greater Fortune”) has also been called:

  • Auxulium intus (interior aid)
  • Tutela intrans (entering assistance)
  • Omen maius (greater omen)
  • Honor intus (interior honor)

Still, despite the variation in names, they all have more-or-less the same meaning.  But then we come to figures that don’t have any similarity with their common names, such as Imberbis (beardless) for Puer.  Such names come from a much older, Arabic-inspired tradition that uses similar names for the figures, which tie into the meanings through other symbolic means; “beardless”, for instance, refers to young men who are yet energetic while still not old enough to have the full features of maturity.  Other names for Puer include Flavus (blond, perhaps referring to the bright golden hair color associated with young children?), Belliger (warring), or even Gladius Erigendus (erect sword, which…mmhm.)

What I’m saying here is that the names of the figures have gone through quite a lot of change and variation over the centuries, and what matters is that the names are descriptive of the meanings of the figures in divination and magic.  Puer means a whole lot more than “boy”, of course, as does Puella than merely “girl”, but a whole set of personality, physical, temperamental, and situational traits that go far beyond merely what might be considered masculine or feminine as determined by medieval European society.  So, why not think of other names for these two figures that can decouple them from a reliance on the male-female distinction?

Personally, I like going with Hero and Host, playing off not just the initial sounds of the words, but on the dichotomy of hostility and hospitality, rough and smooth, or as my mutual above phrased it, “gall and grace”.  They tie into my own meditations and visualizations of the figures, too.  On Puer:

The young man dressed in rags and armor, riding his horse, drops his armor’s visor, raises his sword, and plunges into the fight.  All he’s in it for is to fight, and the fight is real, especially if he’s the one to start it (he usually is).  If he’s on the right side in the fight, he’ll lay his enemies bare and clear the field to pave the way for future foundations; if not, he’ll live to fight for a hopeless and regretful day later.  But that doesn’t matter to him, anyway; he lives for the fight, the struggle, the excitement, the passion, the heat, and the war that never ends for him.  His visor limits his vision, cutting out peripheral vision entirely and causing him to focus on what’s right ahead of him; just so does he only care for the current day and the current battle.  He’s young and without experience of victory, or even finesse in battle, his rashness and recklessness giving him all the flailing speed and power he needs, but he’s fighting not just to fight but also for that experience he lacks.  And, after all, he’s fighting because there’s one thing he’s missing: someone to really fight for.  Don’t expect him to be your ally when you call, but expect him to call on you or pull you into the fight.

And on Puella:

…I saw myself walking into a massive pyramidal hall, an ancient temple with smooth golden sandstone walls neatly fit together rising up to a square hole in the ceiling, with a light shining down into it illuminating everything the temple with a rich, warm, delicate light.  The whole of the temple was filled with treasures, rich tapestries, delicate statues and figurines, and piles of paintings; it was a temple in the old style, a warehouse and storeroom for all the holy treasures a temenos or church would’ve accrued over the centuries.  At the end of the temple, meandering through a forest of statues and stacks of gold, kneeling down in prayer was a young maiden, dressed in the finest dress, modest but alluring, sweet but experienced.  I approached her, and she looked up at me with the most genuine, kindest, warmest smile I’ve ever seen; she stepped up, took my hand, and walked me around the temple.  It was bliss, even for me who doesn’t go for women, but she told me about how she had been expecting me, preparing all this for me, watching out for my arrival; she told me that she wanted to make sure I was alright.  I told her that I was, and by then, she had led me to the entry of the temple and gently guided me out with the kindest and warmest of farewells.  I left with a smile on my face, both in my mind and in my physical body.

You can just as easily swap out “young man” for “young woman” in the former, and “young maiden” with “young prince” in the latter.  Neither of those rely on gender or sex.  There might be an argument for the dot patterns of the figures: some say that Puer represents an erect phallus and Puella an open vagina, and I can agree with those!  But dot patterns are fickle things, and they can be interpreted as any number of other things, too: Puer can represent a sword and Puella a mirror (a la the original forms of the glyphs for the shield-and-spear of Mars and the handheld-mirror of Venus), or Puer could represent a person with their arms low in a defensive fighting stance and Puella a person standing with their arms out in embrace and welcome.  If you’re troubled by the notion of Puer representing a woman because of its emphasis on erection, don’t forget that the clitoris also swells with blood when its owner gets aroused—a.k.a., an erection.  As for men worrying about being seen as womanly by being associated as the Host (née Puella), don’t forget that some of the greatest role models we have for nontoxic masculinity in the West include Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross, the perfect neighbor who welcomed all to his neighborhood and a stunning artist who found beauty in all scenes and spread it to all who wanted it.

As for the new terms, I can also hear some saying “well, hero has a feminine version, ‘heroine’, and host has a female version, ‘hostess’, these aren’t gender-neutral terms!”  Sure, I suppose, if you want to use the French, Latin, or Greek roots of the words we have, where the language was inherently gendered along grammatical lines.  But, at least in English, we don’t really have gender on words unless we force gender onto those words; “host” suffices just fine for men or women, as does “hero”.  We don’t need to specify “hostess” or “heroine” unless we want to emphasize that someone is hosting and is also a woman, or that someone exceptionally brave and courageous is also a woman; we can use the unmarked forms of the words as being applicable to any (or no) gender just fine.  After all, we call women “director”, “doctor”, “administrator”, and “aviator”, not “directrix”, “ductrix”, “administratrix”, or “aviatrix”, which are the proper feminine versions of those words.  We can drop the gendered endings because they’re not necessary unless we want to absolutely reinforce the notion that someone’s gender must be specified at any and every given opportunity.

Will I start using and enforcing the terms Hero and Host on my blog?  For the sake of communication, probably not.  Chances are I’ll just keep them to myself and refer to them that way in my head, using the more popular and common names that have been in solid use for five centuries or more in public for the sake of communication.  Still, when teaching these figures, I think it’d be useful to have an alternate set of names for them as well, which most texts are already liable to do.  Adding another pair of names to help decouple gender from magic isn’t too hard an effort to make, but the results are worth it, I claim.

Towards a Greek Kabbalah: Symbolism of the Greek Letters

From before, a letter has four parts: a name, a glyph, a sound, and a meaning.  The first three were discussed last time, along with a basic set of meditations to get us familiar with the first three of these parts.  We didn’t discuss the final part of the letters, however, which is the meaning of the letters.  Unlike the name, glyph, and sound for a letter, of which there tends to be only one of each, there are many layers of meaning for each letter: numerical, astrological, divine, oracular, Phoenician, Greek, and more.  This is what makes the divination system of grammatomancy so powerful, in that a whole world of knowledge can be unlocked with a single letter.  So, even though the meaning of a letter is the fourth part, there are many parts to the meaning of a letter.

What are some of those meanings?  Honestly, if I had to indicate all the meanings of the letters, this blog post would become a whole blog in and of itself, so I’ll simply list a few sets of meanings along with links or links to books for further reading, though my ebook on grammatomancy lists many of them:

  1. Numerical:  my page on isopsephy and gematria, Kieran Barry’s The Greek Qabalah
  2. Astrological: my page on stoicheia, Agrippa’s table of letters (book I, chapter 74, though I reverse how he arranges the planets to the Greek vowels)
  3. Oracular: Apollonius Sophistes’ Greek Alphabet Oracle
  4. Divine: a post linking the Greek gods to the letters for purposes of a lunar grammatomantic ritual calendar

Honestly, with all that down, we already have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, but there’s another way to give meanings to the Greek letters: their original Phoenician names, and Greek words related to the letters.  Even the Greeks were aware, to an extent, of the Phoenician origin of their alphabet, which doesn’t diminish its importance in the least for our purposes.  After all, the Phoenician script was the origin of many of the world’s writing systems (especially if you buy the argument, as I do, that it formed the origin of the Brahmic script in India, which connects it even to the Far Eastern Korean).  The diagram below shows Phoenician in the center column, Hebrew to the right of Phoenician and Arabic to the right of that, and Greek to the left of Phoenician and Latin to the left of that.  Letters of different scripts in the same color boxes show the origin of the letter, while arrows show derivations of other letters.

Origins of Letters from Phoenician

 

Phoenician script has 22 letters, the same 22 as modern Hebrew; there’s a 1-to-1 mapping between those two scripts.  The Ionian Greek script, however, got rid of three of the letters (digamma/waw, qoppa, san/sampi), added four (phi, khi, psi, omega), and moved the position of the derived form of Waw (which became Upsilon) further back in the alphabet.  Each of the Phoenician letters had their own name, many of which provided the names for their corresponding Greek letters.  These names referred to, in many cases, earlier Egyptian hieroglyphs or related words that provided a basis for what the letter looked like.  Many of these names were maintained in Greek, often in derived forms, such as Alpha from ʾĀlp, Bēta from Bet, Gamma from Gimel, and so forth.  For the Greek letters that have Phoenician origins, either in name of the letter or its form, their Phoenician meanings might include the following:

Letter Phoenician Meaning
Α ʾĀlp Ox
Β Bet House
Γ Gimel Throwing stick weapon, camel
Δ Dāleth Door
Ε He Window
Ζ Zayin Weapon, sword
Η Ḥeth Wall, courtyard, thread
Θ Ṭēth Wheel, good
Ι Yōdh Hand, finger
Κ Kaph Hand, palm of a hand
Λ Lāmedh Goad
Μ Mēm Water
Ν Nun Fish, serpent, whale
Ξ Simketh or Sāmekh Fish, tent peg, prop support
Ο ʿAyin Eye
Π Mouth
Ρ Rēš Head
Σ Form from Šin
Name from Simketh
Tooth
Τ Tāw Mark, cross
Υ Wāw Hook
Φ Form from Qōph Back of the head, sewing needle, eye of a needle, monkey
Χ
Ψ
Ω Form from Omicron

Of course, by the time the Ionian Greek script was adopted and spread throughout Greece, many of the letter forms were so far removed from their Phoenician counterparts (if any existed) that many of these meanings became meaningless or detached from the letters.  However, the Greeks themselves often found new symbolism for the names, often from a variety of sources.

  • Words or names that started with the letter itself
  • Images or concepts that bear a resemblance to the shape of the letter
  • Words that bear a strong resemblance or things that have a connection to the name of the letter
  • Assigning a letter to parts of the body, starting with Alpha at the head and going down to Mu at the feet, then starting again from Nu at the feet and going back up to Ōmega at the head (cf. the Body of Sophia)
Letter Meaning
Initial letter Graphical Importance Body
Α  Man, air, Apollo  Beginning, invention, source, God  Head
Β  King, help  Duality  Neck
Γ  Earth, birth  Shoulders and hands
Δ  God, ten  Breast
Ε  Build  Justice, Apollo  Diaphragm
Ζ  Life, Zeus  Back
Η  Hera  Belly
Θ  God, death, Mars  The world/universe  Thighs
Ι  Jesus, jot, single  Line, perfection, Rod of Moses  Knees
Κ  Lord, Caesar  Lower legs
Λ  Lion  Ratio, progression  Ankles
Μ  Mary, myriad  Middle  Feet
Ν  Feet
Ξ  Ankles
Ο  Circle, heaven  Lower legs
Π  Father, fire, five, Mars  Knees
Ρ  Thighs
Σ  Savior  Belly
Τ  Cross, crucifix  Back
Υ  Son  Moral choice, dilemma  Diaphragm
Φ  Voice, sound  Breast
Χ  Time, Christ  World soul, cross  Shoulders and hands
Ψ  Psyche, soul  Holy Spirit  Neck
Ω  Ocean, Orion  End  Head

You’ll note that I’ve started to include Abrahamic and Christian references; this is intentional, and not simply me copying entries blind from Kieran Barry’s “The Greek Qabalah”.  After all, as a Hermeticist, I’m not opposed to including Christian or Jewish references here (despite my trying to distance myself from Jewish kabbalah); rather, including them reaches back and allows for more access to much of Renaissance and Medieval development of Hermeticism as well as its classical and pagan origins.

So, where does all this leave us?  Between the graphical shapes and names of the letters, along with their oracular meanings, divine connections, numerical and isopsephic connections, and astrological or planetary or elemental connections, we have whole worlds of meaning for each of the letters.  These can all be incorporated into the meditations on the letters by visualizing or contemplating on them while intoning or repeating the letters.  The images and symbolism of the letters, coupled with their pronunciation, will further open up more doors in exploring the worlds and meanings of the letters and how they affect the world through their presence and, by their presence, the will and presence of the gods and God.

In fact, speaking of doors, let me share a method of scrying I like to use for deeply exploring a particular symbol.  Once the meanings and symbolism of the letters in all their complexity and layers have been learned and reviewed, and after meditating briefly to calm and clear the mind but before leaving the meditative state, I visualize a doorway with a particular symbol inscribed on it.  In our case, that symbol would be one of the letters of the Greek alphabet.  Knock on the door, mentally intoning the letter itself, and open it up.  Everything inside is a representation and symbol connected to that original symbol; explore the world, perhaps calling on the genius or spirit of the symbol to guide you or to send you a guide, or calling on your own HGA or personal tutelary spirit to guide you through it.  Explore the world as deeply as you care to, and when you’ve decided you’ve had enough, take the same route back through the world, passing by all the things you passed by before, and exit the same way you came.  Close the door, clear the mind again, and exit the meditative state.  I’ve used this skill to great efficacy before, notably on my meditations on the geomantic figures and the elemental archangelic kings, and it can be adapted to any number of symbols.  Using this method with the Greek letters can increase one’s deeper knowledge of them by exploring the deeper symbolism and worlds behind the letters which wouldn’t be apparent from simply reading up on their symbolism, and can indicate other symbols not listed above as well as connections to other letters that might not be apparent.  Further, the technique can be augmented by having it take place in one’s astral temple, or astrally projecting into the world itself.