It’s not very often I do shout-outs or calls for support on my blog for crowdfunding; I’ve only done it the once before for the Sigil Arcanum Tarot Kickstarter (which, I have to admit, turned out exceedingly well, and for which Taylor Bell has my sincere thanks for bringing it to the world). However, as I said then, there are still times that there’ll be something neat or nifty on Kickstarter that crosses my path or which someone brings to my attention that not only I want to support but which I think the readers of my blog will, too. So, if you’ll indulge me, dear reader, I think there’s something nice to consider for you to back.
Historically, Arab geomancers began their divinatory exercise by first praying and then entering into a trance-like state, while focusing on the question being asked of them. By making random points in the sand and counting them up as odd or even numbers, they would obtain their first set of geomantic figures.
Qirra dice were created to generate these figures at random (see antique Qirra Raml Dice sets in museum collections here and here).The use of the Qirra set will provide the geomancer with all four figures in one throw of the dice, making it a very pragmatic and also beautiful divinatory tool to use.
Brass Qirra dice are the traditional divinatory tools of geomancy (see examples here and here) and elevate the diviners craft to bring it inline with the prestige of this highly efficacious magical practice. Tools like this are only available in museum collections.
The unique pattern of Qirra dice set indents provide the diviner with the first four geomantic figures in one single throw. This is exceptionally useful in face-to-face readings with clients, as it allows the geomancer to quickly assess if the chart or pattern being cohered is fit to be judged, or for checking the cardinal houses for a figure that matches the planetary hour within which the reading is taking place (as per Agrippa) if that is the geomancer’s method for ensuring radix (radicality or whether the chart is fit to be judged as this is one of many geomantic methods to insure accuracy in a reading). Aside from being a divinatory tool, the set can also be steeped in planetary materia magica to align the dice with the spirits and or planets that governs the question being asked prior to a reading, which is a ritual I have adopted in my own practice. Using these classical geomantic tools is to partake in a magical divinatory practice that stretched from the East to the West and was second in popularity only to astrology.
Our goal is to raise funds to produce 250 deluxe, limited-edition sets of traditional Arabic brass Qirra dice. Each set will be hand made and proportioned according to classical Qirra pieces in museum collections.
This is not a mass-produced item. Once the initial run is sold out, no additional sets will be created; making this both a highly collectible item and a professional divinatory tool. Each set will be numbered and come in a custom Geomantia box. Included will be a poem, written as an ode to the spirits of this practice, and a black velvet drawstring bag to protect your dice set. Additionally, each purchase of a dice set will include a link to downloadable PDF reference of traditional house and shield charts, used to incorporate the Geomantic figures generated by the dice sticks.
A while back, I talked about the various ways geomancers across the world have produced the figures for geomantic charts and for divination making use thereof. One of the most common ways seen across lots of the Arabian-style geomantic traditions, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, are the use of qirra, or what I call “geomantic spindle-dice”. These are a pair of spindles, each of which has four cubes on it, each face having two, three, or four dots arranged in a pattern so that, when both are spun and laid out on a surface, reading a pair of cubes “vertically” gives you a geomantic figure. In the following historical example of a set of Persian qirra, we could read the figures Albus, Rubeus, Cauda Draconis, and Rubeus (from right to left). Although we don’t see this used very often in European geomantic practices to generate figures, this is a very common approach used in Arabian ones. To that end, this Kickstarter aims to create sets of such qirra, which are otherwise extremely hard to come by in any Western context.
This project (being created by Johann Faust and Jonna Shaw) has lots of tiers and lots of things to provide:
PDF templates of Shield Charts and House Charts
A beautifully-designed geomancy-themed poster
A set of brass museum-quality geomancy spindle-dice
A brass, hand-etched “Plate of the Seven Planets” containing images of the seven planets, twelve Zodiac signs, and their magical characters
Images from the Kickstarter campaign page, in case you might want an idea of the beauty of what Johann and Jonna are planning (with, of course, far more information and details on the Kickstarter itself):
This is a project that Johann himself reached out to me about, even from its early prototype stages, and this is a project that I myself definitely want to see succeed (and have chipped in to help with as well). The project aims to hit its US$20k goal by mid-December, and if all goes well and there are no hitches with production, everything should be ready and sent out no later than June next year. As of this post, the campaign has already hit $7.3k, so it’s well on track to hitting its goal. Note that only a limited number of these spindle-dice are planned to be made, so if you’re interested in getting yourself such a set, consider contributing to the Kickstarter soon before time and slots run out!
Where were we? We’re in the middle of discussing the obscure Telescope of Zoroaster (ZT), a manual of divination and spirituality originally published in French in 1796 (FZT) at the close of the French Revolution, which was later translated into German in 1797 (GZT) and then again in an abridged form as part of Johann Scheible’s 1846 Das Kloster (vol. 3, part II, chapter VII) (KZT), with Scheible’s work then translated into English in 2013 as released by Ouroboros Press (OZT). Although OZT is how most people nowadays tend to encounter this system, I put out my own English translation of FZT out a bit ago as part of my research, and while that translation was just part of the work I’ve been up to, there’s so much more to review, consider, and discover when it comes to this fascinating form of divination. Last time, we talked about the symbolism of the nine Intelligences and the 99 Numbers. If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!
※ For those following along with their own copy of ZT (get yours here!), the relevant chapters from ZT are the “First Step”, “Third Step”, “Fourth Step”, and “Epilogue”.
In a sense, it might be a bit odd that I would start the discussion of the actual technique and trade of ZT with the notions that are symbolically used for divination first rather than the tools that employ the symbols and which are themselves physically used for divination. I mean, most discussions about Tarot start with the actual cards themselves; why don’t I start with the tiles that ZT uses? The way ZT teaches its method is that it starts with a brief description of the actual tools themselves, and then progressively builds upon that in an iterative way to ultimately teach the whole divinatory method of ZT. The book is surprisingly well-written in that regard, especially at a time when divinatory literature along these lines (as we modern folk might recognize it) was still in its relative infancy; we have to remember that, by the time of FZT’s publication in 1796, the divinatory use of Tarot cards were only two or three decades old at this point, and the common approach of using non-Tarot poker cards was only a few decades older than that. For such a text as ZT to deal with sortilege in such a clear manner (for some definition of “clear”, I suppose) is actually really admirable and insightful as to good manual writing techniques.
As just mentioned, ZT is what I consider to be a form of sortilege, i.e. the casting of lots, the mantic word for which is “cleromancy”; this is a form of divination where outcomes are determined through the random selection of one or more particular symbol from a set of possible symbols, where the symbol(s) itself and the order in which the symbol(s) have significance. With that sort of definition, if it sounds like a lot of forms of divination we think about as such are sortilege, you’d be correct: everything from astragalomancy to cartomancy, from the Urim and Thummim to the Magic 8-Ball would all be variations on sortilege. Many of these -mancy words, after all, indicate something about the kind of divination one does, but generally tend to focus on the tool or medium by which such divination is done: thus, astragalomancy is “divination with knucklebones”, cartomancy is “divination with cards”, and so forth. Still, the underlying mechanism by which Tarot, runes, geomancy, and even ZT all work is fundamentally the same: generate a random answer from a set of possible answers and interpret accordingly.
With the exception of what one might call “abstract cleromantic methods” like geomancy that focus less on the tools one use and more on the mathematical processes one uses, most forms of sortilege rely on, well, sortes, the Latin word for “lot”, from which we get the words “lottery” and “allotment”. In general, this refers to the little tokens, counters, or tablets that are used by being randomly drawn from some pile, collection, or vessel, and which may be interpreted both according to what was drawn as well as to how it was drawn (e.g. orientation and order). For astragalomancy, it’s the four bones/dice (which represents an abstract “collection”) which are thrown to see which of their sides they show (which represent the answer drawn); for runes, it’s generally a bunch of stone or bone tiles with a rune carved on them drawn from a bag; for Tarot, it’s the individual cards with their respective symbols printed on them that are drawn from the stack. ZT is another kind of sortilege, so we have our own set of tokens to draw from a collection, closer to runes or Tarot. This puts ZT in the same overall divinatory category as cartomancy—ironic, given the vitriol ZT has against “card-shooters” and other such forms of divination:
We have said just enough for the curious, before briefly giving some time to the study of the Great Cabala, to suspect that seeing clearly—and especially seeing far—is not a matter of study over a few weeks, as if it were a question of telling fortunes by hands, points, or cards. One can soon become a doctor-sorcerer through chiromancy,* geomancy, and through so many similar lies—for what else can one call any of these so-called “methods of divination”, which brazenly qualify themselves as science but which none of them have the source of all truth, the Pure Mind, as a patron? Even a child utterly lacking in genius can become a chiromancer, a geomancer, a methodical cartomancer in a short time, as skillful as their master or as the books that indoctrinate them. But it is neither so quick nor so amusing to become an enlightened Cabalist; the latter, moreover, lacks (or willingly pretends to lack) the money of such people, as if, as regards capital, the cabalist alone is rich.
* This usage of “chiromancy”, “geomancy”, &c. gives no more than names to certain childish things, astonishingly proliferated by means of printing, and which alone are addressed here. The true divinatory art disdains to claim its usurped privilege over them.
Oh well! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
At any rate, let’s talk tools: what is it that we need to use for ZT? The book provides an exceptionally clear set of guidelines and prescriptions regarding the nature, size, shape, and material of the tools to be used (which are all given for practical reasons more than anything else), but at a high level, what we use for ZT are a set of 112 (or 113) small tiles in the shape of regular hexagons, six-sided shapes where every side is the same length and every vertex has the same angle (120°). Why do we use these? Because hexagons are the bestagons.
More seriously, I do have a notion of why hexagon tiles are called for as opposed to circular tiles which becomes more important for particularly-advanced spiritual adepts working the ZT system, but for the most part, I don’t think it particularly matters for the actual method of divination itself, given variant forms of recording readings described later, but we’ll get to that later on.
As for what ZT prescribes regarding the nature of such hexagonal tiles, they should be:
Made of wood that is firm and not brittle (though they may be made of any relatively sturdy material like cardboard or cardstock if necessary)
Be sized such that the long diagonal (one corner to its opposite) of each tile is 20.304mm, with each side being 10.152mm
Be sized such that each tile is no thinner than 1.692mm and no thicker than 3.384mm
Be engraved so as to hold a circular inlay, most preferably of white wood or some other surface that is not so slick as to have ink or pain wiped off easily, which is half the thickness of a tile and which is placed in the center of each tile
Each tile should be made identical to all the others in size, color, and (if possible) grain and texture
The reason for the weirdly specific sizes given in millimeters above is a conversion from the text; the text gives measurements in the French ligne “line”, which is 1/12 the French pouce “inch”, specifying that a tile’s long diagonal should be 9 lines long, no thicker than 1.5 lines and no thinner than 0.75 lines. While sticking to these precise measurements is always encouraged, the point here is that the tiles should be convenient to draw and manipulate, so aim for something the size of a medium coin, like a US 25¢ or $1 coin, a Japanese ¥10/¥100/¥500 coin, a 1€ or 2€ coin, a 1£ or 2£ coin, or the like—at least as I would find them with my gigantic man-hands, so those with smaller hands and shorter fingers may find slightly smaller dimensions more convenient and comfortable. As for the inlay (literally “incrustation”), well…my understanding is that some wood can sometimes soak up ink, pigment, or paint really easily, so it helps to write something on a separate piece of wood and then embed that in a larger piece so that there’s no risk of bleed-through. For similar reasons, we don’t want whatever we put on to easily smudge or wipe off, which is why we want something absorbent to hold whatever we write or draw on there, hence why ivory (plastic would be a modern equivalent for its similar surface properties) is explicitly discouraged in the text. Of course, an inlay is not strictly required if one is able to suitably write the design needed on the tiles without bleed-through or staining, even if it is preferred.
All these considerations here are given for their practical causes, not any spiritual significations. Likewise, although this is often a concern for many modern divinatory practitioners, there is nothing in ZT regarding consecration, blessing, or purification of the tools used for divination. We need to remember, after all, that the social and historical context of ZT was France at the end of the Revolution: between a longstanding Catholic influence and the newly-surging confluence of atheism and deism that combined to form the Cult of the Supreme Being, there’s not a great chance that the enchantment of tools along these lines would be considered anything more than superstition by some or an insidious debasement of the “Great Cabala” by others. Of course, there’s nothing saying one can’t do such things to their tools, but the overall method, cosmology, and spirituality of ZT (which we’ll cover eventually) kinda renders it a moot point.
Okay, enough about the construction of the tiles; what about what goes on them? As might be expected, each tile gets one symbol written, printed, or painted on one side, with the other side remaining blank. The tiles should be oriented such that they are written on with a corner above and below the design and sides to either side; in other words, there should be a long diagonal oriented north-south. ZT says that there should be 112 (or 113) tiles, and in the last post, we covered 108 different symbols (nine Intelligences and 99 Numbers), so each of those gets its own tile: either we put on a one- or two-digit Number on a tile, or we put on the glyph of a planetary Intelligence on a tile. Easy enough; that’s 108 of the 112 (or 113) tiles. What about the other another 4 (or 5) tiles that we haven’t covered yet?
This is where we start to touch on the cosmology of ZT, because these tiles get into much broader notions than particular indications or significations in a reading. ZT describes two Principles and two Spirits:
Of the two Principles, Sisamoro is infinitely good, while Senamira is infinitely wicked. These names prove that our Cabala comes to us from the Persians: “Sisamoro” is the reverse of “Oromasis” and “Senamira” of “Arimanes”, both so powerful against each other according to the religion of this ancient race. All doubts about the origin and antiquity of our divinatory masterpiece are dispelled by this respectful tradition which transmits to us, under a fine veil, names so authentically indicative of its origin, although so many sects have since applied themselves to the same notions, which we Christians call “God” and “Satan”.
Sisamoro is represented in his lodge by a radiant upwards-pointing equilateral triangle. Senamira is represented in his lodge by a flaming upwards-pointing five-pointed star, accompanied by lightning and hail.
Of the two Spirits, one is favorable, akin to the good genius of the ancients, by whom they supposed that each human was constantly accompanied, or at least watched over. This is the “guardian angel” of the Catholics, the spirit Sallak; this spirit is feminine, and represented by a small upwards-pointing equilateral triangle with three wings.
The other Spirit is harmful, akin to the evil genius of the ancients and also a companion of each human, amusing itself by laying down traps. This is the malevolent Angel, a masculine spirit called Sokak, represented by an upwards-pointing five-pointed star with a tail, sometimes by a simple black pentagon, a figure which (without turning to the quality of the number it recalls) represents the cross-section of a coffin.*
* “Sallak” and “Sokak” are also “Kallas” and “Kakos” read backwards, two words almost correctly borrowed from Greek, the first of which signifies “beautiful”, the second “bad”. Without a doubt, from time immemorial, this reverence that these virtuous beings have for the Divinity did not allow any given Inventor of the Great Cabala to split by one simple genius such an attribute that characterizes par excellence the Almighty, the Creator, the Eternal; Sisamoro (Oromasis) seemed to them a sufficient source of good. This idea is not the least moral or least wise among those of our oriental Author.
What we have here is a notion of Ultimate Goodness and Creation (Sisamoro) and Ultimate Evil and Destruction (Senamira), which function as cosmic principles that affect things on a grand scale—and (emphatically) not necessarily on an individual scale. Rather, when it comes to the individual, that’s where Sallak and Sokak come into play, who are respectively the representatives and emissaries of Sisamoro and Senamira for each individual human being, in much the same way that a planetary Intelligence is represented by its own primitive Number. When it comes to divinatory indications (like we discussed in the last post with the Intelligences and Numbers), Sallak represents good fortune and Sokak ill fortune; that’s eays. Sisamoro and Senamira are…more complicated, shall we say, and we’ll get to that later when we talk about the Great Mirror. And yes, the text of ZT makes it explicit that the names “Sisamoro”, “Senamira”, “Sallak”, and “Sokak” are just reverses of other words, especially Oromasis (Ahura Mazda) and Arimanes (Ahriman, aka Angra Mainyu, sometimes syncretized in the classical world as Arimanius). Like with the overall notion of ZT descending from Zoroaster and the Magi, this is another instance of orientalizing without anything particularly meaningful, a superficial borrowing of another religion’s theological concepts for our much more limited purposes here.
Unlike the Intelligence and Number tiles, ZT is clear about what goes on for the Principle and Spirit tiles. While you could use the full description as above, one might also simplify things slightly (especially for those without exceptional artistic skills):
Sisamoro: A large white/unfilled upwards-pointing equilateral triangle, additionally with small rays coming off it if desired
Senamira: A large black/filled-in upwards-pointing five-pointed star, additionally with lightning bolts coming off it if desired
Sallak: A small white/unfilled upwards-pointing equilateral triangle with one wing coming off each side
Sokak: A small black/filled-in upwards-pointing five pointed star with a pointed trail coming off it, or a small black/filled-in upwards-pointing pentagon
Congrats, you now have all the information needed to make the tiles! While you could certainly carve out and inlay a whole set for yourself according to the exact specifications above, you can also get sets of premade wooden hexagonal tiles for relatively cheap from craft stores or game supply stores and just write on them in permanent marker like I did. Like, here’s one such set of tiles I got for myself and wrote on, spending like US$25 for the whole set:
Of course, you could do something much fancier, or turn to The Game Crafter where Calyxa’s Curios has produced a ready-made ZT divination set, which I myself also got and am thrilled about it (especially the quality for such a good price):
And with that, it’s finally time to address the elephant that’s been hanging out in a corner of the room with us. I’ve been saying “112 (or 113)” tiles at a number of points recently: why the variation, and what is this mysterious 113th tile? In all versions of ZT extant (FZT, GZT, KZT/OZT), there is an elaborate foldout called “The Urn” which gives an elaborate example of all the tiles used in ZT:
From left to right, you’ll see the tiles of the Intelligences, followed by the tiles of the Numbers, followed by a few spare/blank tiles, and then those of the two Principles, the two Spirits, and…a small tile with the image of a cherub on it with the word “Sum”. There is a helpful annotation on the foldout that briefly describes the purpose of this tile. OZT translates it as:
Sum. I am. This figure indicates the person or thing in question.
Bizarrely, however, there is no mention of this tile anywhere in ZT—or, at least, that’s if you’re reading GZT, KZT, or OZT. FZT is the only text that preserves the Epilogue, which describes (amongst other things) the full purpose and use of this tile:
The figure Sum represents, either in the passive or in the active, the being in question; this figure rarely appears in a Great Mirror without adding much to the meaning, either in its own particular part of an orbit or the orbit as a whole by which it is surrounded. Sometimes it suffices to announce a vision, if it happens to form a triangle (equilateral, of course) with two other figures or two simple numbers, but this rule is subject to many exceptions. The figure Sum is sometimes affirmative, sometimes negative, sometimes auspicious, sometimes menacing; we often see it shorten the detailed calculation of epochs and the operations described in the section on the temporal regime, but take care to determine either too lightly or too heavily the meaning of this superlatively influential figure. Moreover, the Pure Spirit does not allow the truly Called to go astray; that being said, miracles never happen to keep the inattentive operator or one lacking instruction to fall into error.
According to the Epilogue, after the original text was already headed towards (or was in?) production, the Redactor of ZT sent the Editors an updated and more helpful set of tiles, which the Editors reproduced as the Urn foldout above:
While this work was being printed, the Redactor, apparently desiring that a greater number of amateurs might profit from it, was kind enough to send us models of hexagons more detailed than those used by experienced Cabalists, and which are those as shown after the epistolary dissertation. Given the difficulty of inlaying the surface of the wood, as well as all that we found on the new hexagons added to either the Figure or the Number that each of them expresses, we decided to effect this design as being more suitable for the utensils, with an imprint from the plate similar to the one shown: we thus have united, on each piece, a Figure or a Number, its planetary glyph, and its sign of the Zodiac that each of these pieces comprises, in addition to the name of its Intelligence or Angel.
But the Redactor, by making such an accommodation favorable to our particular interest, asked us in turn to announce that he did so with some regret, as such details are likely to make the Candidate negligent. Rather, one should strive beyond all else, by dint of practice, to become imperturbably familiar with each Figure, each number together with the Planet, the Sign of the Zodiac, and the intelligence or angel which relates to it, as well as the department of these celestial beings and the kind of influence invested in them.
This explains the elaborate design of the tiles given in the foldout present in all versions of ZT: it’s not that each tile must have the spirit name and number/glyph and zodiac sign and whatnot, but having all those are like having Tarot cards with the Hebrew letter, planetary/elemental/zodiacal glyph, keywords, and the like: they’re interpretive aids for the sake of those who need to reference them without pulling out their “little white book”, but not mandatory parts of the cards themselves. Likewise, when it comes to the tiles of ZT, you don’t need to have the spirit name of each tile, what a given Number’s planet and Zodiac sign are, and the like; they may be helpful for those who are still learning, but are not required for the purposes of divination. Thus, if you want to use the more elaborate tiles with all their decorative and correspondence elements, feel free to; otherwise, especially if you’re crafting your own, you can just keep it simple. For me, keeping things aniconic and unnamed was a nicer aesthetic choice, which is why I went with a Seal Script variant of the Chinese character 自 meaning “self” for the Sum tile in my own simple prototype set of tools.
But, to return to the Sum tile for a moment longer, it’s frustrating to me that the Sum tile is present in all versions of ZT, but is only described in FZT, with none of the other versions preserving the Epilogue as a clearly-necessary part of the ZT text that explains its use. This leads to an interesting problem: given the smaller spread of FZT and the wider spread of GZT/KZT/OZT, do we use it or not? The core text of ZT doesn’t say anything about it, after all, although the Epilogue does and, more importantly, every single version of ZT includes it with the rest of the tiles. I would personally say that we should use it, even if it was an omission at first by the original Redactor but later included almost as a correction. However, if one were to stick to the GZT/KZT/OZT versions of the text that don’t describe the use of the Sum tile except in that brief statement on the Urn foldout, either out of caution to not use what isn’t specified clearly or as a means to go with the Redactor’s “original vision”, I’d think that’d be understandable, as well. I’ll leave it to the diviner in question as a matter for them to decide.
Taking another look at that Urn foldout, you might notice a slight difference in how the Sisamoro and Senamira tiles are depicted. On the Urn, the Sisamoro tile has an extra Latin letter O on it, while the Senamira tile has an A on it. These are not described in the text of ZT itself; I personally think that they’re referencing the “proper” reverse names of the principles, Oromasis and Arimanes, respectively. I don’t think this all that significant beyond an indulgence on the part of the illustrator more than anything, perhaps as an extra interpretive aid; note how all the other tiles have some name on them, including the Spirit tiles, suspended on a banner of some sort, but the Principle tiles have no such name on them explicitly. Rather than besmirching or condensing the otherwise elaborately-drawn Principle sigils on them, it may be that the illustrator tacked on a mnemonic cue to help those still learning to remember which is which.
The foldout I keep referencing above is called “the Urn”, which ZT itself also uses as the general name for the vessel that contains all the tiles. Recall that sortilege in the sense of Tarot or runes requires the random drawing of tokens from some collection, like a pouch for all of one’s runes or a stack of cards for Tarot. In the case of ZT, the text says that the tiles are put together and drawn from “the Urn”, which it notes could be “an urn, bag, box, purse, or even a simple handkerchief”. What one draws the tiles from doesn’t really matter, so long as it’s some sort of container that is conveniently-sized to mix up, reach into, and pull individual tiles out of without being able to see what they are until they are drawn. For us modern folk, one of those large cheap felt bags that come with a lot of divination kits or rock/crystal sets would totally work fine.
Alright, one last note for today: although ZT focuses on the tiles as being the primary tools of divination, it doesn’t just specify the tiles. ZT also mentions the use of three (or four) pieces of paper, each of which has something written upon it. Rather than making anything too big out of this, all these papers are are basically for reference; for instance, Plate II (the Table of Numbers from the last post) is one such piece of paper. ZT fully expects people to require a “little white book” to reference in the course of divination, and the ZT text provides everything one might need to come up with their own for quick-and-easy lookup for the major points of the divination system. These pieces of paper are a super minor “nice to have” thing rather than a “must have”, so it’s not a big deal whether or not you actually have one or not.
Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release. When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me. This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works. Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context. My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views. If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!
Today’s selection will be on the topics of supplies, tools, and objects.
On Supplies and Objects
Although the primary heart of spiritual work with the kingdoms of the cosmos is inherently intangible and immaterial, material goods and substances form an important part of many spiritual paths,whether acting as focuses and stimulants for the body or for symbols for the mind to dwell on to obtain higher meaning. The use of ritual tools, magical items, consumable food and drink, and other supplies has a long history across the world, whether oﬀering alcohol to spirits, use of drums and sacred instruments to induce trances, or creating charms and amulets for loved ones to keep them safe. Although there are eﬀectively as many spiritual types of items as there are mundane items, a few large categories are described below that are important to the magus.
Tools. In the course of magical and spiritual ritual, specialized objects that undergo specific consecration for select purposes are used; these are the magician’s tools. Tools may take the form of simple day-to-day objects, such as pens or kitchen knives, but often are elaborated, decorated, and made special through their form, such as by detailed engraving or anointing with oil. Magical tool soften undergo speciﬁc rituals of consecration or blessing, where the tools are not only cleansed and dedicated to ritual, but also often for a speciﬁc practice or limited use within ritual. For instance,some ritual practitioners have four types of bladed instruments: a ritual sword to represent the element of Air and the powers of the mental faculties, a utility knife dedicated for cutting material things or sacriﬁces, a spiritual knife to draw circles or engrave special characters, and a war sword used to represent the planet of Mars for oﬀensive and defensive works against spirits and animals alike. Diﬀerent traditions use diﬀerent sets of tools, both for their material purposes as well as symbolic meaning, such as the attributions of the elements of Fire and Air to the wand and the sword. However, common sets of ritual tools often include a wand or a staﬀ, a knife, a chalice, a pentacle, a scrying medium such as a crystal ball or mirror, a brazier or censer, an engraving tool,and so forth. Divination tools and supplies, such as a deck of divination cards or dice, also fall into this category.
Clothing. Ritual clothing is similarly important in spiritual work, acting as another type of magical object. Special clothing, kept and used strictly for magical work, helps the magician in both stepping into the proper mindset for ritual work as well as preserving and enhancing the spiritual power of the ritual and the magician. Clothing should be used at the least for enhancing the atmosphere and decoration of the ritual, but may also be generically used for all rituals. Full sets of clothing, such as robes that completely cover the body, may be used across rituals equally well, or minor trinkets such as rings, belts, or boots that may be worn with diﬀerent outﬁts can be equally suitable. Ritual clothing may change between traditions or even between rituals in the same tradition, and may be used for multiple purposes at once. These purposes often include protection,preserving purity, aligning oneself to the spirits or to a particular force, and similar purposes.
Talismans. Not all magical objects are those used in ritual. Indeed, many objects may undergo consecration or blessing to bestow beneﬁts or cause changes without any active use. These items are talismans, items that have been magically empowered to cause change. All tools and ritual clothing may be considered talismans, but not all talismans are tools. Talismans are often used to benefit those who possess them in some way, such as protection from spirits or illnesses, enhancing one’s business, or to attract friendship and love from others. Some talismans are dedicated and consecrated by a particular spirit, such as saint medallions, to bestow the attention and blessing of a speciﬁc entity upon its bearer. Some talismans are simply set up in the home and left there, such as talismans for protection or safety in the home. However, not all talismans need to be beneﬁcial;talismans to work harm may also be created, left behind as weapons on an enemy’s property or similarly snuck into their belongings to cause maleﬁc inﬂuences. Many methods exist to create a talisman, from devout and concentrated prayer over an object to elaborate ritual and sacriﬁce.
Edible Goods. Particular foods, drinks, and other edible substances may be used in ritual to great eﬀect, either for oneself or for the beneﬁt of a spirit. Many traditions make food and drink offerings, especially those of fresh fruit, harvested grains, clean water, fresh or sacriﬁced meat, wine or alcohol, and the like; some traditions have the priest or ritual oﬃciant give the food offering entirely without consuming any of it, while others instruct the oﬃciants to partake of the food after the ritual or during it. Blessing food to contribute beneﬁts, or cursing it to harm those who eat it, is a common practice and easily done, either for oneself or for others, even to preserve the integrity of it over long distances or time frames without other preservation. Foods and drinks with a mind-altering eﬀect, known as entheogenic drugs, have been used to enhance or open the mind up to the revelation of gods and the spirit worlds, but should be used with caution. It is important to never use toxic substances without close supervision or control, especially those known to be fatal if ingested. Poisoning others, likewise, is condemnable and generally punishable by governments.
Other Supplies. Beyond food, drink, tools, talismans, and clothing, many other goods often come into play for a magician. Particular incenses, oils, candles, and altar cloths which may be used for anointing or consecration, or for use in diﬀerent conjurations or communions with spirits, often forms a crucial part of ritual setup, especially given the elemental association of burning incense with pure spirit. Candles, oﬀering light to the world, are burned frequently and used in great quantities to illuminate the world and the worker with the Light from the Divine as well as to honor, exalt, and oﬀer worship to other spirits. Herbs, resins, powders, and dirts from any number of plants, mines, rivers, or other natural features may also be called for, as may some animal parts such as feathers, fur, or blood. Statues, sacred artwork, or other decoration may be desired for work or altar setup, especially when called for by a particular tradition or to call upon a speciﬁc spirit.Collecting ancient or authentic artifacts from a particular tradition, era, or culture can connect one with the practices and people who lived in the roots of one’s own tradition. Other implements,such as railroad spikes, horse bits, broken glass, or wooden boxes may also be required for specific rituals. In essence, any object may be used for spiritual or magical purposes, often in creative or novel ways merely by some ideal or purpose-based link that connects an object to a magical ritual.
Tool and Talisman Care. Consecrated objects, being made holy and powerful, deserve careful attention and care to maintain their power and blessed natures. They should not be handled by other people unless it is permissible to do so or if a ritual calls for it, and should not be handled or toyed with by the magician unless actively in use, and unless the magician is in a state of purity to properly handle them. Tools, though they should be regularly used, should also be regularly cleaned, polished, anointed, and similarly maintained. Incense, ashes, dusts, powders,and other debris should be cleaned up and disposed of respectfully, or be reused with care. Any consecrated object, if it requires it, should be duly and carefully consecrated or undergo a type of periodic reconsecration or recharging. Talismans, statues, and images of spirits or gods should be honored and kept clean or anointed, and should be kept in places of respect or holiness such as altars or temples. Metal objects should be gently polished regularly to prevent rust, tarnish, breaking, or similar degradation. Edible and drinkable substances should be kept separate from other supplies, and should be stored and ingested with respect and contemplation. Consecrated objects and supplies of all kinds are a kind of treasure that deserves respect and honor, being made something more than mere matter; disrespecting these objects is to disrespect the spirits and power that made them holy, which can cause problems or punishment by those same spirits.
After my fantastic and entertaining chat with Gordon on his Rune Soup podcast, and in tandem with the good Dr Al’s course on the fundamentals and history of the art, there’s been a huge influx of interest in geomancy, to which I say “about goddamned time”. As my readers (both long-term and newly-come) know, I’m somewhat of a proponent of geomancy, and I enjoy writing about it; it’s flattering and humbling that my blog is referred to as a “treasure trove” of information on the art, and I consistently see that my posts and pages on geomancy are increasingly popular. It’s also encouraging enough to get me to work more on my book, which…if I actually get off my ass and work on it like I need to and should have been doing for some time now, will probably get put to consumable paper sometime late next year.
One of the most common questions I find people asking when they first get introduced to the art of geomancy is “how do people generate the geomantic figures?” Unlike other forms of divination, geomancy isn’t tied down to one specific means or method. Tarot and all forms of cartomancy use cards, astrology uses the planets and stars, scrying uses some sort of medium to, well, scry; we often classify methods of divination based on the set of tools it uses, and give it an appropriately-constructed Greek term ending in -mancy. Geomancy is different, though; truly any number of methods can be used to produce a geomantic figure, because geomancy is more about the algorithms and techniques used in interpretation rather than the tools it uses to produce a reading. Once you get into the feel and understanding of geomancy, you can almost quite literally pull a chart out of thin air using any tools (or none at all!) at your disposal. Still, partially because of the ability to be so free-wheeling, newcomers to geomancy are often caught up in the tool-centric way of thinking of divination, and can become (I find) overly concerned with the “best” or “most popular” method.
To that end, let me list some of the ways it’s possible to come up with a geomantic figure. I don’t intend for this to be an exhaustive list, but more of a generalized classification of different kinds of ways you can produce a geomantic figure (or more than one in a single go):
Stick and surface. This is the oldest method, going back to the very origins of the art in the Sahara, where the geomancer takes some stylus and applies it to an inscribable medium. You can use a staff and a patch of soil on the ground, a wand on a box of sand, a stylus on a wax (or modern electronic) tablet, a pen on paper, or some other similar mechanic. To use this method, simply make four lines of dots, traditionally from right to left. Don’t count the dots; let them fall naturally, so that a random number of dots are in each line. Some people get into a trance state, chant a quick prayer, or simply focus on the query while they make the dots, if only to distract the mind enough to avoid counting the dots and influencing what comes out. Once you have four lines, count the dots in each line; traditionally, the geomancer would cross off the dots two-by-two (again, right-to-left) until either one or two dots were left over at the end. These final leftover dots are then “separated” out from the line to form a single figure. To make all four figures, simply increase the number of lines from four to sixteen, and group the rows of leftover dots into consecutive, non-overlapping groups of four rows.
Coins. This is a simple, minimalist method: flip a coin four times. Heads means one point of the resulting figure, and tails means two (or you can swap these around, if you so prefer, but I prefer heads = one point). Flipping a coin four times gets you four rows to make a complete figure. Alternatively, you could flip four coins at once, perhaps of different denominations: for example, you could flip a penny for the Fire line, a nickle for the Air line, a dime for the Water line, and a quarter for the Earth line; a single throw of all four coins at once gets you a complete geomantic figure. I consider any method that uses a “flip” to produce a binary answer to fall under this method; thus, the druid sticks used by geomancers like John Michael Greer and Dr Al Cummins would technically be considered a type of geomancy-specific “coin”, as would pieces of coconut shell where the convex side on top is “up” and the concave side on top is “down”.
Divining chain. This is a slightly modified version of the coin-based method, where four coins or disks are linked together in a chain. Rather than throwing the coins individually, the chain itself is flung, tossed, or thrown in such a way that each coin falls on a different side. The only example I can find of this in Western-style divination is the (possibly spurious) Chain of Saint Michael, where four saint medallions are chained, one to another, and connected to a sword charm, but a corollary to this can be found in the Yoruba divination methods of Ifá, using something called the ekuele (or ekpele, or epwele, depending on whether you’re Cuban or Nigerian and how you feel like spelling it). There, you have four pieces of cut shell that can fall mouth-up or husk-up, or four pieces of metal that fall on one of two sides; notably, the ekuele has eight coins on it so that the diviner-priest can throw two figures at a time, but that’s because of the specific method of Ifá divination, which is only a distant cousin to geomancy and shouldn’t actually be mixed with our techniques.
Dice. Again, a pretty straightforward method: roll a single die four times, or four different dice one time. If a given die is an odd number, use a single point; if an even number, use two points. Some people use four different-colored cubical dice (e.g. red for Fire, yellow for Air, blue for Water, green for Earth), but I prefer to use tabletop RPG dice that come in different shapes. For this, I use the associations of the Platonic solids to the classical elements: the tetrahedron (d4) for Fire, octahedron (d8) for Air, icosahedron (d20) for Water, and cube (d6) for Earth. Like Poke Runyon aka Fr. Therion, you could use four knucklebones for the same purpose, as each knucklebone has four sides (traditionally counted as having values 1, 3, 4, and 6). Dice are easy, the tools fit in a tiny bag which can itself fit into a pocket, and nobody is any the wiser if you just pull some dice out and start throwing them on a street corner.
Geomantic spindle dice. These are more commonly used in Arabic and Eastern styles of geomancy, but can still be used for Western types just as easily. This tool uses two sets of four dice, each set arrayed horizontally on a spindle, and each usable face of a single die (which, because of the spindle going through two sides, leaves four usable sides) has half a geomantic figure on it: two dots in a vertical line, four dots in a square, three dots in an upwards triangle, and three dots in a downwards triangle. The geomancer gives each spindle a flick of the wrist to spin them, then sets them down, one spindle before the other; the topmost sides of each die, read in vertical pairs of dice, yields a geomantic figure.
Counting tokens. This is a similar method to using dice, but a more general application of it. Consider a bag of pebbles, beans, or other small mostly-similar objects. Pull out a random handful, and count how many you end up with. If the number is odd, give the corresponding row in the geomantic figure a single point; if even, two points. This is a pretty wide and varied set of methods; you could even, as Nigel Pennick proposes, pull up four potatoes from a field and count whether each potato has an odd or even number of eyes on it. The idea here is to use something to, again, get you a random number that you can reduce into an odd or even answer, and isn’t really different from using dice, except instead of being presented with a number, you have to count a selection of objects obtained from a collection. In a sense, both the dice and counting token methods can be generalized as using any random-number generator; you could use something like random.org to get you four (or sixteen) random numbers, to which you simply apply the odd-even reduction; such a generator can be found using this link.
Quartered drawing. Not really a technique or toolset on its own, but a variation on things that use coins, identical dice, or other counting tokens. In this, you prepare a surface that’s cut into four quarters, such as a square with four quadrants or a quartered circle. Each quarter is given to one of the four elements, and thus, to one of the four rows of a geomantic figure. Into each quarter, you’d randomly flip one of four coins or drop a random number of beans, and read the pattern that’s produced as a single figure. This can be useful if you’re short on similar-but-not-identical tools (like only having four pennies instead of four different types of coin, or four identical dice instead of different-colored/shaped dice).
Selection of numbers. One method of geomantic generation I know is used in Arabic-style geomancy is to ask the querent for a number from 1 to 16 (or, alternatively, 0 to 15). Arabic-style geomancy places a huge emphasis on taskīn, or specific orders of the figures which are correlated with different attributions; one such taskīn, the Daira-e-Abdah, simply arranges the geomantic figures numerically, using their representation as binary numbers. From the Ilm-e-Ramal group on Facebook, here’s a presentation of this taskīn with each figure given a number from 1 through 16: Personally, I use a different binary order for the figures (reading the Earth line as having binary value 1, Water as binary value 2, Air as binary value 4, and Fire as binary value 8), where Populus = 0 (or 16), Tristitia = 1, Albus = 2, and so forth, but the idea is the same. To use this method, simply get four random numbers from 1 to 16 or (0 to 15), and find the corresponding figure in the binary order of the figures. You could ask for larger numbers, of course; if a number is greater than 16 (or 15), divide the number by 16 and take the remainder. You could use dice to produce these numbers, or just ask the querent (hopefully ignorant of the binary order used!) for a number. In fact, you’re not bound by binary ordering of the figures; any ordering you like (planetary, elemental, zodiacal, etc.) can be used, so long as you keep it consistent and can associate the figures with a number from 1 to 16 (or 0 to 15).
Playing cards. A standard deck of 52 playing cards can be used for geomantic divination, too, and can give that sort of “gypsy aesthetic” some people like. More than just playing 52-Pickup and seeing whether any four given cards fall face-up or face-down to treat cards as coins, you can draw four cards and look at different qualities of the cards to get a different figure. For instance, are the cards red or black, odd or even, pip or face? With four cards, you can make a single figure; with 16, you can make four Mothers. Better than that, you can use all the different qualities of any given card of a deck to generate a single figure, making the process much more efficient; I’ve written about that recently at this post, which you should totally read if you’re interested. What’s nice about this method is that you can also use Tarot cards for the same purpose, and some innovators might come up with geomancy-specific spreads of Tarot that can combine the meanings of the Tarot cards that fall with the geomantic figures they simultaneously form, producing a hybrid system that could theoretically be super involved and detailed.
Geomantic tokens. Some geomancers have tools that directly incorporate the figures, so instead of constructing a figure a line at a time like with coins or beans, a whole figure is just produced on its own. Consider a collection of 16 tokens, like a bag of 16 semiprecious stones (like what the Astrogem Geomancy people use), or a set of 16 wooden discs, where each token has a distinct figure inscribed on each. Reach into the bag, pull out a figure; easy as that. If you use a bag of 16 tokens and are drawing multiple figures at once, like four Mothers, you’ll need to draw with replacement, where you put the drawn token back into the bag and give it a good shake before drawing the next. Alternatively, if you wanted to draw without replacement, you’ll need a collection of 64 tokens where each figure is given four tokens each, such as a deck of cards where a single figure is printed onto four cards.
As for me? When I was first starting out, I used the pen-and-paper method (or stick-and-surface method, to be more general). This was mostly to do a sort of “kinetic meditation” to get me into the mode and feel of geomancy, going back to its origins as close as I could without being a Bedouin wise-man in the wastes of the Sahara. After that, I made a 64-card deck of geomancy cards, with each figure having four cards. I’d shuffle the deck, cut it into fourths from right to left, and flip the top card of each stack to form the Mothers. For doing readings for other people in person, like at a bookstore or psychic faire, I’ll still use this; even if geomancy isn’t familiar to people, “reading cards” is, so it helps them feel more comfortable giving them a medium they’re already familiar with. Plus, I also can get the querent’s active involvement in the divination process by having them be the ones to cut the deck after I’ve shuffled; I’ll still flip the top card, but I find having them cut the deck gives them a meaningful inclusion into the process. Generally, though, I use tabletop RPG dice for the Platonic solids. I roll the dice and see whether each die is odd or even for a single figure, so four throws of dice get me four Mothers. Nowadays, I only use the stick-and-surface method if I have truly nothing else at hand, because I find the process to be slow and messy, but it still works, and I can still rely on my own familiarity with it so that it doesn’t trip me up when I have to use it.
What would I suggest for newcomers to the art? Like me, I’d recommend new geomancers to start with the stick-and-surface method, if only to develop an intimacy with the underlying, traditional method that produced all the others. In a sense, doing this first is like a kind of initiation, practicing the same fundamental technique as have geomancers for a thousand years, and itself can be a powerful portal into the currents of the art. Once you have that down-pat and have gotten into the feel of the art, though, I find that the method is pretty much up to the desires and whims of the geomancer. Anything that returns a binary answer can be used for geomancy, but for convenience, some people might prefer instead a “whole figure” type of draw. Once you settle on a set of tools, for those who are of a more magical or ritual bent, you may want to consider consecrating or blessing them, or entrusting them to the connection and care of a divining or talking spirit, according to whatever methods you find appropriate, but this isn’t strictly necessary for the art, either.
Ultimately, the tools you use for geomancy are entirely up to you, because it’s the techniques and algorithms we use that are what truly makes the art of geomancy. The only thing I really recommend is that the geomancer takes an active role in divinely manipulating the tools used to produce the figures.
How about you, dear reader? What methods do you use for geomantic generation? Have you heard of any that aren’t on the list above, or aren’t included in any of the above classifications? What are you most comfortable with? What methods do you dislike, either on a practical or theoretical level? What would you recommend?
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