Elements in the Geomantic Shield Chart

In the last post on technique, I went over a technique that’s mostly been underdeveloped and underused in Western geomancy, the technique of reading the triads in the Shield Chart, which is basically an expansion of the same technique used to read the Witnesses and Judge applied to the Mothers, Daughters, and their resulting Nieces.  This is a way to get more detail out of the Shield Chart and not let those other 12 figures outside the Court go to waste.  However, between the triads and the Via Puncti, those are pretty much the only methods we have in Western geomancy to read the first 12 figures in the Shield Chart, which is kind of a shame.  Then again, given the West’s focus on astrology and bringing astrology into everything, this shouldn’t be surprised; the field of astrological geomancy and the use of the House Chart is well-explored and has numerous techniques developed to read it.

Geomancy would already be dead if it couldn’t be expanded upon or revitalized with new techniques, and there’s nothing stopping us from trying out new ways to read a geomantic chart so long as these things fit with the general theory and framework of geomancy.  Since the House Chart already has plenty of techniques while the Shield Chart has a dearth of them, let’s try working on the Shield Chart techniques.

First things first: what do we call the “houses” of the Shield Chart?  I personally dislike the word “house” for them, even though I know that’s the term used, but it leads to easy confusion with the houses House Chart, especially given that there are multiple ways to assign the figures from the Shield Chart to the houses of the House Chart.  We could use the term “field” to describe the places where we put the Mothers, Daughters, Nieces, and Court.  After all, houses are built upon fields, right?  Thus, the first field is the place of the First Mother, second field to the Second Mother, and so forth to the sixteenth field to the Sentence.  Alternatively, and perhaps more preferably, we could use the other way of calling them “the first figure”, “the second figure”, and so forth to “the sixteenth figure”.  It’s this latter method I’ll be using the former to describe the individual places of the figures in the Shield Chart; besides, fields and shields go hand-in-hand if you know your heraldry.

So, let’s say we want to inspect the figures of the Shield Chart.  We know we can inspect them in triads, where we look at two parent figures and the child figure they add up to, but we don’t have a way of interpreting the fields on their own just yet.  While figuring out the significations of each field in the chart is a complicated task that rings a bit too strongly of the houses in the House Chart, we can start with something simpler by classifying the fields in other ways.  Probably the way that comes to mind first is using the four elements in ways that fit very closely with other geomantic techniques.  We’d go about this pretty straightforwardly: assign the first field to Fire, the second to Air, the third to Water, the fourth to Earth, and repeat the cycle from there.  Thus:

  1. Field I (First Mother): Fire
  2. Field II (Second Mother): Air
  3. Field III (Third Mother): Water
  4. Field IV (Fourth Mother): Earth
  5. Field V (First Daughter): Fire
  6. Field VI (Second Daughter): Air
  7. Field VII (Third Daughter): Water
  8. Field VIII (Fourth Daughter): Earth
  9. Field IX (First Niece): Fire
  10. Field X (Second Niece): Air
  11. Field XI (Third Niece): Water
  12. Field XII (Fourth Niece): Earth
  13. Field XIII (Right Witness): Fire
  14. Field XIV (Left Witness): Air
  15. Field XV (Judge): Water
  16. Field XVI (Sentence): Earth

Or, presented in a more tabular format:

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

This is a method I dimly recall being used in at least some forms of Arabic geomancy (raml), but it’s not hard to see the logic being pretty simple to arrive at.  After all, we assign each of the four rows of each figure to the four elements in the same way, and there are instances of the same logic being used independently by Western geomancers, such as John Case in his 1697 work “The Angelical Guide” (book III, chapter 4).  While this kind of assignment of the elements to the fields of the Shield Chart is pretty straightforward, the real task comes in figuring out what we can do with this kind of thing.

For one, in any given Shield Chart, we can guess that a figure is well-placed in a field that agrees with its own element.  So, for instance, Laetitia (a figure of Fire) present in the fifth field as the First Daughter (a place of Fire) is much stronger than it’d be in the seventh field as the Third Daughter (a place of Water).  In case you’ve forgotten your elements for the figures:

  • Fire: Laetitia, Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Amissio
  • Air: Rubeus, Puer, Coniunctio, Acquisitio
  • Water: Albus, Puella, Via, Populus
  • Earth: Tristitia, Caput Draconis, Carcer, Fortuna Maior

Generally, what kinds of effects could we assume from the combination of elements from the figure and the field it’s found in?  First, we need to remember that an element in the classical sense is composed of two qualities, heat (hot/cold) and moisture (moist/dry):

Hot Cold
Moist Air Water
Dry Fire Earth

So, we know that Fire and Air share the same heat but different moisture, Fire and Earth share the same moisture but different heat, and Fire and Water share nothing at all in common.  Given this, we can venture the following general schema:

  • Elements of figure and field completely agree: (e.g. Fire and Fire) The figure is empowered and strengthened in a way that allows it to express its nature more completely and forcefully.
  • Elements of figure and field agree in heat and disagree in moisture: (e.g. Fire and Air) The figure is complemented and aided in a rounded way to have aid, but is transformed in the process so that goals and intent change over time to compensate.
  • Elements of figure and field agree in moisture and disagree in heat: (e.g. Fire and Earth) The figure is balanced and stabilized leading to stagnation and cessation of action, but with the potential for future growth that must be unlocked or initiated by an outside force.
  • Elements of figure and field completely disagree: (e.g. Fire and Water) The figure is undone and harmed so as to be weak and powerless, being made to act unwillingly and become something it does not want to be.

Of course, this could be refined by taking the actual elements themselves into account instead of just noting whether their qualities differ or agree, and this should definitely be modified by taking the actual figures themselves into account and whether they’re a parent or a child of another figure.  Thus, although a Fire figure in a Fire field will be benefitted in many of the same ways as a Water figure in a Water field, how that figure will be empowered will change by virtue of the element itself as well as what that element is.  Laetitia as the First Mother (Fire figure and Fire field) will be amply empowered by self-assurance and optimism of one’s own being, while Rubeus as the Second Mother (Air figure and Air field) will be empowered by encouraging lots of activity and discussion in ways that aren’t actually destructive but more of inducing healthy change, like rapid exploration.

In this way, we can get an overall idea of how good or bad a situation is, or how restrained or freely it can become, based on inspecting each of the figures in each of their fields and how the elements of both compare.  If a majority of the figures are in fields that they agree elementally with, then we know that the situation as a whole will be filled with power, freedom, direct activity, and declarations of self.  If a majority of the figures are in fields they disagree with, then much of the situation will be troubled by restraint, red tape, paperwork, coercion, and general weakness.

This technique can be combined with the Via Puncti not only to determine the four root causes of a situation, but also to expand on what exactly is going on with them to cause an issue.  For instance, if in a reading to determine who will win a court case, the Via Puncti Ignis (indicating the root drive or cause) points to Laetitia as the Third Mother, we know that Laetitia is a figure of Fire in a field of Water, indicating that Laetitia here is severely damaged by its placement and cannot act according to how it wants to act.  Thus, we can surmise that the core of the issue is that the court case was started by someone impinging on the rights of happiness and freedom of someone else, and continuing to act freely or joyfully caused problems that led to the court case.

Another way we can use this technique of measuring the elements of fields versus figures can be used in triad interpretation.  Consider the fact that the child figure of any two parents not only shows the result of two parties interacting but also the current state of affairs in a given matter; further, it’s written in endless geomantic texts that the expression of a child figure is modified based on its parents, and vice versa.  If we consider the elements of the Niece figures in their proper fields, we can get another level of interpretation on how that particular triad is evolving.  If the Niece is strengthened in its field, it empowers its parents and makes the whole Triad more favorable or easier to deal with; if the Niece is weakened, it debilitates the triad and makes it harder to deal with.  Thus, consider two examples for the First Triad:

  1. Say we have the figures Fortuna Minor (First Mother), Coniunctio (Second Mother), and Amissio (First Niece).  We know that the elements of the Mothers agree with their fields (Fire figure in Fire field, Air figure in Air field) but that the element of the Niece disagrees with its field (Water figure in Fire field).  In this case, because the Niece is so impeded elementally, it shows that the interaction of its Mothers really isn’t nearly as good as it’d seem; we might say that the querent was doing more-or-less fine, but having to deal with interaction and communicating to people is actually causing them more issues than its worth, causing them to lose their fortune instead of just cutting losses.  Fortuna Minor isn’t a bad figure, and it’s always better to cut your losses, but it can be tricky to deal with, and when handled badly, you not only lose what you can afford but you lose what you want to keep.  Thus, because the Niece here is so debilitated elementally, it holds back the otherwise powerful significations of its Mothers.
  2. Say we have the figures Fortuna Minor (First Mother), Albus (Second Mother), and Cauda Draconis (First Niece).  Fortuna Minor as First Mother is a good placement (Fire figure in Fire field), that Albus as Second Mother isn’t horrible (Water figure in Air field), and that Cauda Draconis as First Niece is also a good placement (Fire figure in Fire field).  Normally, this combination of figures would indicate some sort of calamity or accident befalling the querent leading them to become distant, detached, and removed from activity, but Cauda Draconis is well-suited to being here, turning its normally horrible indication to something easier to deal with.  Thus, we might surmise that the querent was gearing down from fast-paced activity, finally and capably brought things to a reasonable end, and can now rest on their laurels and act as a mentor if they act at all.  Because the Niece is so empowered and ennobled here, it empowers and benefits the normally awkward or painful indications of its Mothers and its Triad generally.

In fact, when we look at the Triads generally, we can mark each triad by the Niece involved in each.  Going by the same right-to-left association of fields with the elements, we can do the same with the four Triads: the First Triad can be given the elemental quality of Fire, the Second Triad to Air, the Third Triad to Water, and the Fourth Triad to Earth; these are the same elemental significations of the fields of the Nieces involved in each Triad.  Thus, we can not only interpret Triads elementally now, but can also see how certain figures would be better off in a particular situation based on how well the element of a figure agrees with its triad as well as its field.

On that note, could we do a similar kind of elemental association of the Court?  The Court, after all, is just another triad, but it’s not one of the four triads that Robert Fludd talks about (or invented?).  Well, if you consider all steps of addition in the Shield Chart to be a Triad, then if we go right-to-left and top-to-bottom, then we have eight triads total:

  1. First Triad: First Mother + Second Mother = First Niece
  2. Second Triad: Third Mother + Fourth Mother = Second Niece
  3. Third Triad: First Daughter + Second Daughter = Third Niece
  4. Fourth Triad: Third Daughter + Fourth Daughter = Fourth Niece
  5. Fifth Triad: First Niece + Second Niece = Right Witness
  6. Sixth Triad: Third Niece + Fourth Niece = Left Witness
  7. Seventh Triad: Right Witness + Left Witness = Judge
  8. Eighth Triad: Judge + First Mother = Sentence

Thus, if the first four triads are assigned to the elements in the usual order, we can do the same for the latter four triads: Fifth Triad to Fire, Sixth Triad to Air, Seventh Triad to Water, and Eighth Triad to Earth.  However, these “extra” or “minor” triads are of considerably less importance in terms of being “triads” than the first four, as the Court should be thought of as a little removed from the details and actors and focused more on overall action and results.  Still, the interpretation of these extra triads-qua-triads could be something for other geomancers to try out and see if they get any more useful information that couldn’t be obtained from the four triads and the Court.

The Spiritual Origin of Geomancy

It occurs to me that I talk a fair bit about geomancy, and on occasion have briefly described the factual history of the art.  Geomancy, as it is understood by scholars and historians, has no pinpointed origin as yet; the best we can guess at is that the art was developed roughly around 900 CE likely in the northeast Saharan region of Africa.  It was likely innovated by migrant tribes, perhaps merchants from further east or by Tuaregs or other Bedouin-esque peoples, as a form of divination that connected with simple mathematics.  It got caught up in Arabic trade routes that synced up with the expansion of Islam, and spread pretty much all over from there: west to Morocco, southwest to Nigera where it became ifá, south to Madagascar where it became sikidy, and east to Palestine and Arabia where it became raml, and even further to India where it became ramalashastra.  When medieval Europe began its academic discovery and recovery that we call the Renaissance, around 1100 CE, it began to import academic, spiritual, alchemical, and divinatory texts from the Arabic world from two directions: from western Morocco into Spain where this new art was called “geomancia”, and from eastern Palestine and Turkey into Greece where it was called “rabolion”.  From these two fonts came a new river of geomantic knowledge that spread quickly throughout the rest of Europe within the span of a hundred years or so.  From there, it quickly became one of the foremost spiritual arts of Europe and maintained its place for another six hundred years, only beginning to fade and go underground with the coming of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution.  As older texts began to be rediscovered yet again, many parts of the Western mystery tradition became reintegrated into modern practice, geomancy with them, and here we are today.

While it’s nice for an academic, it’s hollow as a spiritual story to tell.  Happily, many of the older geomantic works, especially in the Arabic tradition but with no small number of European texts joining in, give us a spiritual origin story for geomancy, usually originating with Adam, Enoch, Idris, Daniel, or Hermes Trismegistus and usually from the angel Gabriel.  So, on this day, the fourth day of the tenth lunar month that is the yearly Hermaia, as an offering to Hermes celebrating his joy and work in our world, I figure I’d share my retelling of the spiritual origin of geomancy.  What follows isn’t exactly original, but it’s not exactly a rehash, either.  Have a seat and pour yourself and Hermes a drink, dear reader, and let me tell you a tale.

May the Muses smile on me and help me share this story well.

A_man__a_tree_and_the_desert_by_e_antoine

As was his custom, he was sitting outside under his favorite tree during the height of the Sun’s path through the skies.  Not part of the local priesthood but taught some two week’s sojourn north along the Nile, the man with the thin neck and long nose wore his usual habit of loose-fitting white robes to keep himself cool during the summer heat.  His tree was on the barren outskirts of an old city, a sacred one dedicated to the Eight who made and rule the world, the scribe-god Thoth foremost among them, but although the man was well-acquainted with the local festivals and religion, he was more focused on divinity itself rather than that of any particular temple.

Alas, the day when the man would see the one who calls himself Shepherd of Men would be still far off, but the man hoped every day that that day would be this one.  On that day, he would begin to be called Thrice-Great by countless students.  For now, he just bears the name Hermes as some foreign god does, as yet unaware of his own divine nature but more attuned to the ebb and flow of power and life in the world than most.

It was under his favorite tree that the man would look at the distant roads and marketplaces, too far off to hear but kept in eyesight by the harsh light of the Sun.  The tree was hardy, able to survive in rough winds as well as in parched earth, and had the benefit of offering good shade to the man especially when the Sun’s heat would be otherwise unbearable.  Almost nobody came out this way to bother him, far off as the tree was without a nearby road, which gave the man good time and space to think.  When he could, the man would meditate, contemplating whatever mystery snagged his intellect on any given day, but being human, he would sometimes suffer hunger or thirst or lust.  Not seeing these as bad things but not wanting to indulge in them, the man would keep himself distracted by reciting prayers, analyzing interesting rocks, gazing at the stars, and conversing with the rare passer-by when one happened to wander out this way for grazing or travel to the next market.  Anything he could learn, he figured, would help him eventually; even if he couldn’t yet directly know God, he could always know more about the creations and creatures around him.

It was on one such day that the man was slightly more perturbed than he usually was by worldly concerns.  He had family, and although he cared for them as much as a solitary philosopher could, he wasn’t always in the best contact with them.  One of his sons had a propensity for spiritual development as much as he did, but his other children were better suited to buying and selling.  One such son of his traveled far and wide, well out of the Black Land, and it was a rare day indeed that the man ever got word from him.  Whether it was a fear of having an empty nest or having grass-is-greener syndrome from seeing a successful youth exploring the world, the man was more distracted than usual in the shade and couldn’t fully focus on his usual contemplation.  Thought leaped to thought as he went from his son to his children to his own fatherhood to his own father to his own home.  It didn’t help that he felt like he should only be a part of this world without being of the world, but his worries kept overriding that spiritual calling.

Resorting to habit, the man looked around him and noticed the wind calmer than it should be for this time of year, the land quieter than it had been this week, the Sun brighter than he thought it could ever be.  Nothing around him to take his mind off his son, the man resorted to the earth underneath him and grasped a handful of the loose, sandy dirt under his knees and held it.  He felt the grit, the dryness, the coolness, the crumbliness of the dirt, feeling this handful of soil as if his palm was all he had of sense.  Curious, he tossed it away from him into the air, noting how the particles of dirt traveled through the air in near-perfect arcs, the gleam and glimmer of pulverized crystal and silica shining bright once it crossed the threshold of shade into the realm of light, the smell of dry barely-fertile dirt filling the air.  He began to cough and his eyes began to water as some of the dirt suddenly flew back into his face from a strong wind that came out of nowhere.  That wind caught him off-guard, and the pain in his dusty lungs snapped him back to the present and the place where he sat.

Once he could see clearly again, he wiped off the cough-spittle from his mouth and looked around him.  The dirt he threw covered the ground, smoothed out by the wind, leaving him with a blank space before him that nearly begged to have something, anything, upon it.  Feeling somewhat out of himself from the cough, like he had just awoken from a nap, he leaned forward and dipped his fingers into the flat earth before him.  A dot here, a mark there, a trailing line from letting his arm rest before pulling it back.  He recalled some of his education as a child in being taught simple numbers and parts of numbers, and from that memory, treated some of the marks he made as mathematical forms.  He heard that, once, some teacher visiting from the far north across the Sea, the only non-Egyptian who had ever been taught by the priesthood of home, was saying something like numbers were life and all was number, but this man never really understood that kind of thing.  Numbers were numbers and couldn’t eat or fight or mate, just like the lines and marks he was making before him on the dirt.

Another wind came up, this time from the opposite direction.  Again surprised, the man looked around himself; the sky was unchanged, the Sun barely moved, no storms on the horizon.  There should’ve been no cause for this wind, considering the time of year; this meteorological puzzle would have eaten at his mind more, but he glanced down and saw that the land before him was smoothed out by the wind again, as if the marks he had made were never made at all.  Frowning, he began to consider the benefit of just going home and returning to housekeeping if going outside was going to be so uncooperative.  Another spasm shot through his lungs from the dust he inhaled, making him cough again.

“Hey there.”

The man jumped.  Opening his eyes, wiping tears from his face with a dusty hand, he looked around and saw someone standing a few yards off from him under the light of the Sun.  The man saw a placid face atop loose robes of white and blue, nearly blending into the sky and sand behind him.  Unsure if it was a trick of the tears in his eyes and the light of the Sun, Hermes blinked several times before letting his eyes fix on the stranger.  No sound of approach, no previous call to him, unusually-colored clothes, coming from the direct direction as the noontime Sun?  This was something stranger than Hermes was used to for an average day under his tree.

Seeing confusion flicker across Hermes’ face, the stranger gave an apologetic smile and slowly took a few steps towards the shade. “Sorry for giving you a scare.  I was going to my father’s house, and was curious to see what someone was doing under this lonely tree.”

Hermes, taking comfort in the stranger’s voice that had an odd lilting quality to it, smiled back and waved away the apology.  “No worries.  I think a lot here.  You just gave me a bit of a startle, no worries.”

The stranger looked around and smirked. “I take it you don’t get much company out this way.  Mind if I join you?  The Sun is bright today.”

“Of course, of course!  I don’t deny anyone the pleasure of shade here.  Come, have a seat.”  Hermes waved the stranger over, emitting one last, small cough before the stranger could begin another conversation.

“Thank you.” The stranger entered the shade and sat down gracefully a few paces from Hermes.  Hermes didn’t notice that the stranger’s footsteps weren’t marking the ground, but was still looking around, still half-wondering where that last wind came from.  As the stranger sat down, Hermes opened his mouth to begin his usual niceties to greet passers-by when he caught the stranger’s eyes looking directly into his own.  Hermes stopped short of making any kind of utterance; the piercing quality of the stranger’s eyes seemed like pure fire, and his skin seemed to glow from something more than the Sun’s heat.

The stranger took this opportunity of awe and silence from Hermes and leaned forward curiously.  “Before I surprised you, I noticed you were drawing in the sand.  I take it you’ve studied letters?”  Hermes nodded, confusion mixing with his awe.  The stranger smiled enthusiastically.  “Good!  It always gladdens me to find another soul schooled in that art.  Mind if I ask what you were writing?”

Hermes snapped to his senses and shook himself out of his awestruck confusion.  “Ah, er, nothing, really.  Not letters, more like numbers.  I was clearing my mind and letting my hands do their own thing.”  Hermes grinned with some embarrassment, wiggling his fingers as if to show they thought on their own.

The stranger let out a casual scoff.  “Come now.  Surely one studied such as yourself should know that all forms are valuable.  After all, sometimes the most true meaning can come from pure accident.”  Hermes nodded with a shrug, not sure what the stranger was getting at but feeling something nagging at his mind in that general, vague sentiment. “If it’s not too presumptuous of me, I noticed an interesting thing from afar.  Would you show me some of the marks you made?”  The stranger tilted his head coyly, but Hermes didn’t catch what the stranger was getting at.

“Er…okay.  It wasn’t much, just a few dots in a row like this.”  Hermes leaned forward and made four small dots in the sand, one atop each other in a stack.  “I recognize this as a particular way to write a particular number, but little else.  Like I said, I was just idly clearing my mind.”

The stranger looked down and chewed his lip thoughtfully before glancing up.  “True, but numbers are true, too.  Simple though it might look, I know of this symbol as an omen.  Look at it this way; if you link the dots here”—Gabriel made a light cut down the row of dots in the dirt—”you get a straight, long line, like a road.  Roads are powerful, long though they may be, and the longer, the better.  Don’t you agree?”  Hermes let the stranger’s words sink in a bit, looking down at the dots and looking up again.  “Absolutely,” Hermes replied, “and it’s true that the more one travels, the more one changes.  It’s a lonely path, but then, what journey isn’t truly taken alone?”

The stranger gave a broad smile, teeth glimmering like pearls even in the shade of the tree.  “You speak wisdom beyond your years, sir.  What’s your name?”

Hermes sat up and extended his hand toward the stranger in friendship.  “I’m Hermes.  I live in the town over there,” giving a nod towards the marketplace too far to be heard.  “And you, my friend?”

The stranger clasped Hermes’ hand and nodded.  “An honor, Hermes.  I am called Gabriel.”

Hermes cocked his head and gave Gabriel a puzzled look. “A strong name, Gabriel, and a rare one.  You’re from Canaan, aren’t you?  I haven’t met someone with one of those names before, though I’ve heard of similar names before.”

Gabriel shrugged and looked down evasively.  “It’s not exactly my homeland, but yes, my tribe is settled there.”  Gabriel looked up beyond the eaves of the tree towards the north, then back to Hermes.  “But the road I walk is long, which is why this symbol you cast”—he motioned to the dots on the ground—”caught my eye.  Would you want to know more of the truth of this symbol?”  Always eager for more knowledge and more to contemplate, Hermes nodded and tilted his hand towards Gabriel, beckoning him to continue.  And continue Gabriel did for quite some time, expounding to Hermes this symbol that Gabriel called the Road, and how to find this symbol as a result of multiple marks being made and crossed off two by two.

At the end of Gabriel’s discourse on the letter, Hermes noted a queer thing.  They must have been talking for at least an hour, and Hermes was unusually tired and mentally overstimulated from learning about this character, but the Sun was still in the same position it was before Gabriel had arrived, as if it was suspended and watching Gabriel teach as Hermes himself did.  Gabriel, noticing that Hermes was exhausted from the lesson, smiled and stood up, ignoring the dust that clung to his robes.  “I see that I’ve talked your ear off, and probably ruined your day with my chatter.  I should probably get on with my day, Hermes, and let you do the same, but I’m glad you’ve let me share this with you.”  Hermes shook his head with a grateful smile.  “No, I’m glad you’ve shared this with me!  I appreciate it, and honored by it.  If you’ve stayed too long, then I apologize for keeping you too long.”

Hermes began to climb to his feet to see Gabriel off, but Gabriel dismissively waved Hermes back down.  “Don’t bother, don’t bother.  If you like, I can visit again tomorrow and tell you more.  There were other symbols I saw you drawing; those have meaning, too, much like the Road does.  Would it bother you too much to visit you again?”  Hermes, sensing an unusual opportunity that seemed unusual on an already unusual day, felt that this was one to seize.  “Of course!  You know where to find me, my friend.  I’ll see you again.”  Gabriel nodded and gave a slight bow, then walked off into the desert away from the Sun.

The man looked towards Gabriel as he left, glancing at the symbol for the Road before glancing back up.  Hermes let out a yelp; Gabriel was nowhere to be found, despite the land around being fairly clear and there being no footprints to mark Gabriel’s coming or going.  Now he was certain; this stranger named Gabriel was no ordinary man, just as this day was no ordinary day, and this symbol was no ordinary symbol.  Hermes leaned back on the tree, running his dusty fingers through his hair in perplexion, spending  several hours more in quiet contemplation of this figure, turning over Gabriel’s lesson over and over again in his head, digesting all that the stranger had taught him.  As the Sun lowered to the western lands, Hermes left his mental exploration and decided to call it a day, feeling renewed and grown in this new knowledge.  Hermes got up and headed to his home in the city, leaving his marks in the dirt.

The Sun set, the stars rose, the stars set, and the Sun rose once more.

After the Sun began its ascent to the heavens, as was his custom, Hermes went back to his tree, seeing his marks on the ground from the day before the same as he left it.  He sat back down as he normally would, and let his mind wander before settling on higher thoughts.  As the morning slowly turned to afternoon, Hermes, his eyes closed in meditation, began to drift into a light sleep, when a breezy rustling through the leaves above him roused him from his nap.  He looked around and found, yet again, the ground before him blank from the wind.  The moment Hermes noticed his marks on the ground erased, Hermes looked up to find Gabriel approaching once more from the south.

Hermes gave the strange not-quite-a-stranger a wave, and Gabriel responded in kind, raising his hand in a friendly salute as he approached the tree.  “Well, you’re actually here!  And if you’re here to learn, then I’m here to teach, if you’re ready for it.” “Of course, my friend,” Hermes said with a grin, waving Gabriel over, “I’d like to see what these other symbols you mentioned were.”  Gabriel took his seat once more by Hermes, and repeated the same process as the day before.  Again, Gabriel asked Hermes to draw a symbol, and again, Gabriel expounded the meaning of the symbol to Hermes; again, the Sun stood  still in the heights of heaven, and again, Hermes became worn out from learning all that Gabriel taught; again, Gabriel offered to teach Hermes more, and again, Hermes agreed to meet with Gabriel to learn more; again, Hermes noted the unusual vanishing of Gabriel, and again, Hermes went home looking forward to the next lesson.

For fourteen more days, Hermes and Gabriel continued in the same way, learning all the other figures.  On the sixteenth day, Gabriel told Hermes that these were all the figures that Gabriel could teach: the Road, the People, the Union, the Prison, the Greater Fortune, the Lesser Fortune, the Dragon’s Head, the Dragon’s Tail, the Girl, the Boy, Red, White, Joy, Sorrow, Loss, Gain.  Gabriel told Hermes how the first four figures could be combined from their tops and their bottoms to form the other twelve, and how each figure reflects a different story on its own.  His lesson complete, Gabriel shrugged, saying that this was all that he could offer Hermes in the ways of symbols and their lore, but that this was also just the beginning of their true meaning and purpose.  Hermes, entranced by these symbols and stories, asked Gabriel to return to teach the rest, and Gabriel accepted.

For the next sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes how each figure reflects the four elements that compose all of creation as well as how they relate to the stars both wandering and fixed that determine how all things wax, wane, and transform.

For another sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes the secrets of combining these figures two by two and transforming them by inverting and reverting and converting them into other figures, and how all these methods change and add to the meanings of individual figures.

For yet another sixteen days, Gabriel taught Hermes how to use the meanings of the figures, the elemental and planetary and stellar correspondences, the combinations, and the transformations in answering all sorts of questions, imparting to Hermes the art of divination to reveal all mysteries of this world and all things upon it.

At the end of these 64 days, Hermes found himself exhausted, utterly and completely exhausted, from having so much taught to him in so short a time, but he felt a new wellspring of knowledge beginning to flow inside himself.  Gabriel knew he was wearing Hermes thin, and after his final lesson where he revealed the deepest secrets of this art, Gabriel took from his robes a flask, uncorked it, and took a swig from it.  The teacher passed the flask to Hermes, who gladly took it with both hands; Hermes was unaccustomed to drinking or eating during the day, but Hermes found himself more than parched and in need of something to quench his thirst.  Hermes drank from the flask from the same spout Gabriel did, and found it filled with the clearest, coolest water.  It refreshed Hermes, sure, but once he took the spout from his lips and breathed in, he felt filled with a truly newfound power.  All these days of learning, all of Gabriel’s lessons seemed to immediately snap together like well-built masonry, forming within himself a beautiful temple of the finest knowledge.  Figures shone like priceless jewels, transformations linked the figures like silver filigree across altars, truths and wisdom rose up like the smoke of rarest olibanum—

“I thought you might need a drink after this last lesson,” Gabriel said with a warm smile.  “It’s no easy thing to learn all this, but you’ve done admirably, and I am proud to be able to share with you what I have.”

Hermes snapped out of his reverie and, realizing he was stuck holding the flask in the air as he stared off into space, hastily gave it back to Gabriel, blushing at both his own clumsiness and at the praise Gabriel gave him.  Gabriel took the flask from Hermes’ hands and put it back in his robe with a chuckle before continuing.  “You’re smarter than you look.  You know I’m no ordinary man, and this no ordinary art.”  Hermes, calming down from his embarrassment, nodded; “I know.  With your name, I know not only who you are but what you are and where you come from, and it’s certainly not Canaan.”

Gabriel chuckled.  “Bingo.  I know you and have known you, Hermes, and I am glad you finally know me, too.”  He looked down at the patch of dirt where he taught his art to Hermes, then looked back at Hermes with a contented smile.  “I learned this art from my Father, and it was entrusted to me to help me in my job as His messenger.  And now I entrust this art to you, Hermes, as your brother.”  Hermes looked deeply at Gabriel, not only seeing that fire in Gabriel’s eyes but joining it with his own, and nodded his assent.  “And as I have received this art from you, Gabriel”, Hermes responded, “I am your brother.”  Gabriel smiled and, looking once more towards the northern sky and then down at their patch of dirt, stood up and brushed the dust and dirt off from his robes.  “You’ve learned much, but you cannot master what you cannot name,” Gabriel said as he wiped his hands clean.  “We have no word for this art where I’m from.  What will you call it?”

Hermes stared at Gabriel thoughtfully, then looked down at the patch of ground in front of him that contained all his marks.  He drew out all sixteen figures together, contemplating each point and line as he did.  He gazed at the dirt for a long time, and as the Sun began to touch the horizon, he finally he looked up at Gabriel, his teacher’s profile illuminated in the ruddy gold glow of the evening Sun.  “This is an art to know all that happens in and upon the world.  This is an art born from the Earth, not just with earth or water but all the elements of this world.  I call it ‘geomancy’, to see with the Earth.”  Gabriel grinned as the wind began to pick up, blowing his robes behind his back majestically towards the sky.  “Then I have taught you geomancy, Hermes, and you are the first geomancer of this world.  May this art serve you well, and may you serve the world well by it.”

Hermes nodded and smiled, wiping the patch of earth before him clean before the wind could do it for him this time.  “I hope that I may, brother.”  Gabriel nodded in reply and extended his hand to Hermes, which Hermes took in his own.  The teacher lifted his student up and, after measuring him with his eyes, embraced Hermes in the love only brothers have.  After a time, Gabriel let go of Hermes and turned away, heading for the last time towards the north with the Sun setting on his left and the Moon rising on his right.  Hermes kept his eyes fixed on Gabriel’s back as he walked off, but another gust of wind blew Gabriel’s robes up like wings as it blew more dust into Hermes’ eyes; by the time Hermes could clear his eyes, there was nobody around, with neither the figures of geomancy nor the footsteps of angels to mark what happened.

Sitting back down by his tree, Hermes mulled over his time with Gabriel, all of the things he learned, and all of the things he might yet learn.  A quiet breeze blew, kicking up a bit of dust around Hermes but without irritating his lungs again.  Staring at the ground marked with the sixteen geomantic figures, he rubbed his fingers together, noticing the fine grit of dust and sand caught between the grooves of his digits.  In the last sliver of light of the Sun, Hermes got up and walked home, taking more time than he normally would to carefully settle down in all his newfound knowledge and skill.  Finishing his journey well after nightfall, he paused outside the threshold of his house and looked around, seeing an empty patch of fallow ground to the side of his house.  In the light of the Moon, now high in the sky, Hermes cast his first chart to see how his traveling merchant son was doing.  Hermes smiled; he would never again be worried by being out of touch.

Days, weeks, months, years passed.  Hermes practiced his art of geomancy, but went back to his tree every day and, once his mind calmed down from the mania of having a new method of understanding the world, went back to his habit of meditating and contemplating divine mysteries.  However, the man no longer doodled mindlessly in the sand, but used geomancy to explore that which he had trouble understanding.  One day, he finally became great, greater, greatest among men, beholding the Shepherd of Men and understanding the source and purpose of all things.  Finally, he began to teach; he no longer worried for his children, leaving them to their own devices, except for his son Tat whom he taught as a successor to his wisdom.  As Hermes Trismegistus traveled, he taught arts and skills of all kinds, reserving some for particular students and others for other students, but he kept geomancy a secret, not finding one apt enough in his travels yet to learn it from him.

Inspired by whispers of white and blue in his heart to teach geomancy to one who would do both him and his art well, Hermes Trismegistus traveled to the east, and gave the entirety of the art of geomancy to the one named Tumtum.  Tumtum learned it and traveled west, giving it to the one named az-Zanati.  Az-Zanati learned it and gave it to the Arabs.  The Arabs learned it and gave it to the Europeans.

The ancients learned it and gave it to us.

And now I, having learned it, give it to you.

ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΤΡΙΣΜΕΓΙΣΤΕ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΓΕΩΜΑΝΤΙΚΕ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΑΙΓΥΠΤΙΑΚΕ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ ΑΓΓΕΛΕ ΑΓΓΕΛΩΝ
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΧΑΙΡΕ ΧΑΙΡΕ ΧΑΙΡΕ ΕΡΜΗ

On the Geomantic Triads

Western geomancy, as a whole, can often be described as astrological.  This isn’t to say that geomancy comes from astrology or vice versa (although some authors might disagree, like Cornelius Agrippa), but that many of the techniques described by Western geomantic texts are heavily influenced by astrological techniques: the use of the 12 houses, perfection, planetary and zodiacal affinities, the Parts of Spirit and Fortune, and the like.  The use of astrologesque techniques in geomancy have sometimes led geomancy to be called “astrology’s little sister” (since it can easily look like a shortened or abbreviated form of astrology) or “poor man’s astrology” (since it didn’t take nearly as much education or expertise to learn geomancy).  For people who want to get away from astrology, it can sometimes be irksome that there appears to be so much of it in what should be the divination system that counters it (reading the stars versus divining the earth, if we want to take things literally).

That said, geomancy is still its own tradition and has its own strengths and techniques that are quite isolated from anything astrological.  This is fortunate for people who want to bring geomancy back to its roots in Western geomancy, or for people who want to get the astrology out of geomancy.  It’s unfortunate, however, in that virtually all Western geomantic texts, all the focus is on astrological techniques with maybe a bit of lip service paid to the techniques that we might find in the Shield Chart.  The Shield Chart, I might remind you, looks like this:

Geomantic Tableau Layout

I assume you, dear reader, already understand the gist of how to make a geomancy chart, so the above diagram shouldn’t be too surprising.  We have the four Mothers in the upper right, the four Daughters in the upper left, the Nieces formed from pairs of the Mothers or Daughters, the Witnesses formed from pairs of the Nieces, and the Judge formed from the Witnesses.  The Sentence, which isn’t pictured in the above image, would be formed from the Judge and First Mother.  This is how geomantic charts are formed in European geomancy as they are in Arabic geomancy and in many forms of Indian and African geomancy; the form really doesn’t change.  Once you get the four Mother figures, you already have the other 12 figures implicit within them; the Shield Chart is just the full expansion of those figures to make all sixteen figures explicit.

The problem, however, in using the Shield Chart is that most people just…don’t.  As I mentioned before, probably the most important part of a geomantic reading can be found only by use of the Shield Chart, which is the four figures of the Court: Right Witness, Left Witness, Judge, and Sentence.  Of these, the Judge is the most important figure which is the answer.  I’m not kidding or being obtuse here; the Judge really does answer the query, but in a very high-level, broad, context-setting way.  The entire rest of the chart was developed for a reason, and that’s to give the details to fill in the gaps and clarify the blurriness that the Judge leaves behind.  However, many geomancers (I flinch to say “most” even though that’s probably the case) tend to skip the Court and the Judge and go right to the House Chart, which reorganizes the Mothers, Daughters, and Nieces into the 12 houses of an astrological horoscope.  To be fair, this is an excellent way to do geomantic readings, but it’s far from the only way.  After all, there are more ways to read the Shield Chart than for the Court alone.

One such method of reading the Shield Chart is one I first learned from John Michael Greer in his Art and Practice of Geomancy.  He calls this technique “reading the triplicities”, based on the name that Robert Fludd gave it, but I prefer the term “triads” to prevent confusion with astrological triplicities.  Essentially, we inspect four groups of three figures, each group of figures termed a triad:

  1. First Triad: First Mother + Second Mother = First Niece
  2. Second Triad: Third Mother + Fourth Mother = Second Niece
  3. Third Triad: First Daughter + Second Daughter = Third Niece
  4. Fourth Triad: Third Daughter + Fourth Daughter = Fourth Niece

The astute student will recognize that the triads are nothing more than pairs of figures that add up to a third, much in the same way that the Witnesses add up to the Judge.  John Michael Greer describes how each triad may be read to get a solid overview of a particular situation described by a geomantic chart:

  1. First Triad: the querent’s current self, circumstances, and nature.
  2. Second Triad: the current situation inquired about.
  3. Third Triad: places and surroundings of the querent, including the people and activities involved there.
  4. Fourth Triad: people involved with the querent’s life, including their friends, colleagues, coworkers, and the interplay of the relationships among them.

The manner of reading a triad is done in much the same way the Court is read:

  • Interactive reading: Right parent + Left parent = Child.  How things interact based on the querent’s side of things (right) when faced with the quesited’s side of things (left), or how things known (right) interact with things unknown (left).
  • Temporal reading: Right parent → Child  → Left parent.  How things proceed from the past leading up to the present (right), the present situation (child), and the future leading on from the present situation (left).

However, the only other source I can find regarding the triads (or, to use the older term, triplicities) comes from Robert Fludd in his Fasciculus Geomanticus.  He describes what these things are in book III, chapter 4:

De Triplicitatibus ſeu de dijudicatione quæſtionis per Triplicitates, hoc eſt, per tres figuras ſimul ſine ſpecificatione alicujus figura.

Prima Triplicitas ſignificat petitorem, & totam locorum circumſtantiam, ſcilicet complexionem quantitatem, cogitationem, mores, ſubſtantiam, virtutes, quae Triplicitatis illius figura denotat, prout demonſtratur in exemplo ſequenti, ubi homo est magniloquus, multarum divitiarum & complexionis frigidæ ac ſiccæ.

Secunda Triplicitas ſignificat omne illud, quod prima, excepto eo ſolo, quod prima denotat principium rerum, & ſecunda fortunas earum.

Tertia Triplicitas ſignificat qualitatem loci, ubi homines frequentant, videlicet an ſit magnus vel parvus, pulcher vel deformis, & ſic in cæteris, ſecundum figuras, quæ ibi reperiuntur: Significat etiam damnum loci, item, qualis ſit homo, an bonus vel malus, audax vel timidus.

Quarta Triplicitas significat fortunam & staturis amicorum, & principaliores curiæ, ac homines officiarios.

In English, according to my rough translation:

On the Triplicities, or on the decision of the question by the Triplicities, which is by three figures at the same time without the particular mention of another figure.

The first Triplicity signifies the querent and all of the circumstances of [their] place, as one may know the complexion, magnitude, thoughts, mores, substance, virtues which of this Triplicity the figure denotes, just as is demonstrated in the following example, where a man is boastful, greatly rich, and of a cold and dry complexion.

The second Triplicity signifies all that the first does, with the sole exception that the first denotes the principle of the thing, and the second its fortune.

The third Triplicity signifies the quality of the place where people frequent, as one may see whether one be great or small, beautiful or deformed, and so forth, according to the figures that are found there. It also signifies damage of the place, likewise what sort of person it may be, whether good or evil, brave or timid.

The fourth Triplicity signifies the fortune and stature of friends, and principals of the court, and officers.

This is certainly a different take on the triads than what John Michael Greer has in his book, and I wonder where JMG got his information on the triads from, because Fludd seems to have a different way of interpreting them.  That said, you can kinda see how JMG got to his interpretation from Fludd’s.  Annoyingly, however, despite the nearly 650 pages of information in Fludd’s masterwork of geomancy, all I can find on the triads is simply this one page of information.  Like I said, the bulk of Western geomantic lore focuses on the use of the House Chart, and Fludd is no exception.

Still, at least the triads give us something to work with so that we have some way of interpreting the Mothers, Daughters, and Nieces in the chart besides the Via Puncti (which is a very good way to interpret other aspects of the Shield Chart).  Between the condition of the querent (First Triad), condition of the quesited (Second Triad), the place of the query (Third Triad), and the people involved in the query (Fourth Triad), we have about as much information as we’d get from the House Chart but presented in a different way.  This will help us base further techniques of interpreting the Shield Chart later, as I have a few ideas I want to flesh out in the meantime in how we might expand on the Shield Chart itself apart from the House Chart.

Also, there’s something I want to warn you, dear reader.  Now that we know what the “houses” of the Shield Chart are associated with (such as the First Mother with the condition of the querent), it might be thought that we can draw associations between the Shield Chart houses with the House Chart houses, such that Shield Chart houses 7, 8, and 12 (Fourth Triad) relate to the seventh, eighth, and twelfth houses of the House Chart.  While this might be a useful meditation exercise, be aware that there are multiple ways of assigning the figures from the Shield Chart to the House Chart.  I tend to stick with the straightforward traditional way (First Mother to first house, Second Mother to second house, etc.), but there are at least two other ways I’ve seen it done: the “esoteric” way (assign the Mothers to the cardinal houses clockwise starting in house I, Daughters to succedent houses starting in house II, and Nieces to cadent houses starting in house III) and the Golden Dawn way (same as esoteric but starting in house X/XI/XII).  So, maybe this line of inquiry and meditation might not be the most useful thing to rely upon, especially since the whole point of this is to keep the astrological geomancy techniques separate from the geomantic geomancy techniques.

A Brief Note on Reading Geomantic Charts

So, recently, I’ve been teaching geomancy in one-on-one classes with a friend.  (No, I don’t plan to do this very often, and if I do, I won’t be taking on more than one student at a time.  I’m still pretty new to this.)  He’s already very bright and skilled with other forms of divination, and his aptitude for logic and theory lend itself very well to the study of my favorite divinatory art.  He brings up lots of questions that give me pause to think them over, answering based on the theories of geomancy developed in the literature as well as in my own practice, and there’s plenty to talk about between his and my use of the art.  However, I’ve noticed something in the course of our discussions, and the discussions I’ve had with others, that I think should be said very explicitly.

In Western (or European) geomancy, we often divide the geomantic reading into two charts: the Shield Chart (the “constructive” chart with 16 “houses” for the Mothers, Daughters, Nieces, and Court) and the House Chart (the astrological chart with 12 houses).  Much of Western geomancy is devoted to the interpretation of the geomantic figures in the astrological House Chart, and somewhat less to the interpretation of the figures in the Shield Chart, usually focusing on the combinations of Witnesses and Judges.  Heck, even in my own posts on this blog, I’ve talked more about perfection and how to use the 12 houses of a geomantic House Chart to answer queries.  To be fair, the process of understanding the Court figures isn’t that hard, and it’s easy to extrapolate any number of ways to interpret them once you understand the gist of that.  It makes sense that more would be written about the more complicated and involved methods of interpretation, but this should not be misinterpreted that the Court figures are less important than the House Chart methods.

So, without further ado, let me make my point very clear:

The Court figures (Witnesses, Judge, and Sentence) form the answer to the query.  The Court says what will happen.  Everything else in the chart, in both the Shield Chart and the House Chart, describe the details of how things happen.  Thus, the Court always come first and provide the heart of the answer to any and all geomantic queries, and of the Court, the Judge figure is the most important.  Everything else should be interpreted in light of the Judge figure.

I find it incredibly confusing that someone would disregard the Judge and the rest of the Court, skipping ahead to the House Chart before even considering what the Court figures mean.  I consider it bad form to ask a query, construct the Shield Chart, then immediately look at the House Chart to find perfection or what-have-you to get a “yes” or “no” answer.  The Court, and the Judge especially, always provide the answer to the query, and more than that, the context within which the entire rest of the chart must fit.  All the other information one can obtain out of a geomantic chart—speed of resolution, perfection, quality of being, actors and actions, and everything else—is ultimately meaningless without a context to make sense of them.  The Court gives you that context and describes what will happen regarding the query put to geomancy.  Everything else just gives details and is, essentially, unnecessary for interpretation.

After all, the Shield Chart and House Chart aren’t really different charts.  The House Chart is just a reorganization of the Mothers, Daughters, and Nieces in the Shield Chart into a more cyclical presentation rather than a procedural or additive presentation that the Shield Chart encourages.  Of the latter, we have the triad system (First Mother + Second Mother = First Niece, etc.), which is composed of four triads of figures; these same twelve figures are those used in the House Chart.  However, it bears remembering that these same twelve figures, whether laid out procedurally in the Shield Chart or cyclically in the House Chart, boil down to the Witnesses, Judge, and Sentence.  Thus, the Court figures encapsulate everything that has gone before, and really provide both the overall answer and the heart of the matter within itself.

Quick example.  Consider a query where someone wants to know whether they’ll be able to find a lost object.  The Judge is Amissio, and the House Chart perfects.  If you just look at the House Chart, then yes, you would say that the querent would find their lost object and all will be well (despite the fact that perfection and favorability are two different things that cannot be answered with one technique).  However, Amissio is the Judge, which indicates loss.  Beginning geomancers would be befuddled at this, thinking that the Judge is saying one thing and the House Chart says another, and would consider the chart too confusing to interpret.  However, remember that the Judge is the ultimate answer here and provides context for everything else.  Thus, ultimately, the querent will not have all they hope for, but depending on the rest of the details, we could extrapolate several interpretations of this combination of Judge and Houses:

  • The original item will not be recovered, but a replacement can be obtained.
  • The item will be recovered, but damaged to the point of worthlessness.
  • The item will be recovered, but at an overall loss of time, money, or resources to the querent.
  • The item was never lost, but the item will be of no use or otherwise accessible to the querent.

Note how, in these interpretations, the central idea of “loss” is present in all of them, none of them good for the querent’s original query.  However, there’s still some manner of recovery or possession that fit into the Judge’s context of loss which doesn’t ultimately change the answer to the query.  Yes, it may take some creativity and intuition to figure out how to put together seemingly-conflicting contexts and details, but that’s part of the art and skill of a geomancer that must be practiced and honed in order to properly use geomantic divination.

So, remember kids: always, alwaysalways look at the Court first in a geomantic chart.  Those figures there will tell you what’s going on and what will happen.  Everything else just fills in the details, but it’s the Court that set up the answer.