On Confusing Geomantic Charts and Geomantic Competency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Geomancy as Actually Being Earthy

I’ll be honest with you.  I don’t actually think geomancy is nearly as earthy as people make it out to be.

Yes, the word “geomancy” comes from Greek γεωμαντεια, literally “earth-seeing”.  Yes, St. Isidore of Seville and Hugh of St. Victor, two philologists and academics of the medieval era, list geomancy as a form of divination alongside other elemental forms of divination (although St. Isidore lived and wrote about geomancy several centuries before we have records of it ever being practiced).  However, I think this is glossing over something very important.  If you look at the history of the word geomancy, the Greek word was a calque (literal word-for-word translation) from the Arabic term for it, `ilm al-raml, which literally means “science of the sand”.  This is in reference to the way the first geomancers practiced their art, by drawing out the figures and dots and lines in sand or loose, fine soil as would have been done by shepherds and holy men in the desert climates of the Sahara.  Thus, sand being the “earth” of the Arabs, I suppose it’s reasonable to translate `ilm alm-raml literally as “earth-seeing”.

The problem with this is that people have taken the word and gone into some pretty crazy directions with it.  For one, the word “geomancy” is haphazardly applied to such varied things as the Chinese art of feng shui (literally “wind and water”, probably more accurately translated as “auspicious designing”) as well as the more modern art of plotting ley lines and places of natural power, which might better be termed “spiritual/occult geography”.  Modern fantasy stories and role-playing games haven’t helped matters any, for that matter, by badly applying any word ending in “-mancy” to a field of magic, such as pyromancy to bending the forces of Fire or geomancy to bending the forces of Earth to cause harm or help with the wave of a wand or utterance of a word of power.  (Alas that I can’t do that…yet.)

Then again, maybe “geomancy” isn’t the best name for this art of divination I practice, either.  In its deepest, oldest, and most tried-and-true sense, geomancy should be just that: earth-seeing, scrying using dirt or rocks or crystal formations in and upon the Earth itself, just as pyromancy is scrying flames or just as hydromancy is scrying the patterns and images that appear in bodies of water.  To use the word “geomancy” implies a strong connection using the natural resources of the Earth that express the element of Earth, and, well…that’s simply not the case with the art called “geomancy”.

To put it simply, geomancy is not based on Earth, but based on the Earth; it’s not about γη the element, but Γη the place we live.  There is, quite literally, a world of difference between the two.

Consider, if you will, a bit of Qabbalah.  The sephirah associated with the Earth is Malkuth, sephirah #10 at the bottom of the Tree of Life.  This sephirah is seen as the distillation and combination, the entire purpose and the entire root of the Tree of Life.  However, while each of the other sephirah are presented as just one color (e.g. red for Geburah, yellow for Tiphareth, green for Netzach), Malkuth is unusual in that it’s presented as four colors all at once: citrine, olive, russet, and black.  This is because Malkuth isn’t a single atomic force, but a combination of the four elements that are Air, Water, Fire, and Earth.  Older European Hermetic depictions of the cosmos as a series of nested spheres often show the Earth as within four spheres of the elements Earth, Water, Air, and Fire all nested within the sphere of the Moon.

Thus, the Earth is the combination of the four elements Fire, Air, Water, and Earth that together make up our world; the Earth is not synonymous with the element Earth.  Similarly, the art called geomancy uses 16 figures that are themselves amalgamations of the four elements, and manipulates them using binary algorithms to figure out what’s going on in the world we live in.  Geomancy doesn’t just deal with the element of Earth, but it deals with those of Fire, Air, and Water equally as much to figure out what’s going on in the world we live in.  Geomancy isn’t about divination with the element of Earth; geomancy is about divination to understand the Earth and what’s going on in this sphere we call “the World”.  Perhaps another, more appropriate word for this art might be κοσμομαντεια, cosmomancy or “cosmos-seeing”.  It’s more inclusive than just using the element of Earth, since we geomancers actually use all four elements in all their combinations, just as the world, or the κοσμος, we live in expresses all the elements in all their combinations.  Alternatively, seeing how we use the four elements in divination, we might also call it στοιχειομαντεια, stoicheiomancy or “element-seeing”, perhaps which can be translated “theoretical alchemical divination”, which isn’t a bad way to summarize the art of geomancy generally.

However, I doubt I’ll be able to shift to using these alternate terms anytime soon, or encourage others to do the same; the word “geomancy” is simply too entrenched into the art over its millennium-long history, and I’m a little fond of how it rolls off the tongue.  Still, I think it’d do the geomantic community well to take another look at the term “geomancy” and remember that it’s not the element of Earth that we focus on, but the world we call the Earth that geomancy relies upon.  Geomancy can be considered “terrestrial astrology”, as Stephen Skinner famously called it; while it does injustice towards the arts of geomancy and astrology alike, it makes sense from an outsider’s point of view.  Astrology is the understanding of the heavens using heavenly bodies and how they affect us; geomancy is the understanding of the World using worldly elements and how they affect us.

Consider this another way, too: when we read the geomantic chart, we start with the Judge and work our way up.  We literally begin at the bottom and look upward.  That’s basically the perspective of everything from the Earth’s point of view; it looks upward from beneath everything, seeing everything from below.  This ties in elegantly with late Renaissance theories of how geomancy “works”; while most geomancers agreed that it was an act of the soul within humans that allowed it to reach out and contact the divine for guidance, it was also played in part by the anima Mundi, or the soul of the world, that gave us the answers.  In contacting the Earth, we learn pretty much everything that happens, has happened, and will happen, and get a pretty down-to-earth (boo) and objective answer.

So, I think I’ll disagree with how the estimable John Michael Greer labeled the art when he titled his first book on geomancy “Earth Divination: Earth Magic”.  Geomancy is far from being divination-by-earth, but should be seen rather as divination-of-the-Earth.  The distinction in nuance here is pretty big, and I think it’d pay off well for us geomancers to reconsider how our art came to be and the forces we’re calling on.  If we’re just calling on the powers and spirits of the element of Earth to help us in geomantic divination and works, then we’re effectively forgetting the other three-quarters of the art that involve the powers and spirits of Fire, Air, and Water.  I think a healthy spiritual approach to this art should remember that fact, and model itself accordingly.

On Third-Party Readings

Most people who contact me or hire me for divination usually ask the same things.  I’m not complaining for their business, and it never gets boring, but usually they ask about the usual stuff: general forecasts, job prospects, relationship advice, and similar things.  On occasion, I’ll get a spicier question dealing with spirits or magical advice, or something truly unusual and heavy that gives me pause to think deeply about how to respond.  In my years of divining for others, I consider myself fortunate and grateful to have so many people to bear with me as a never-ending student of geomancy.

However, of all the types of questions and queries thrown at us, we geomancers tend to have the most difficulty with what we call “third-party readings”.  These are queries where the focus isn’t on the querent themselves, but on someone else that they’re worried about or concerned for.  A common example would be “is my partner cheating on me?”; this isn’t dealing with the sexual activities of the querent, but on someone related to the querent.  Other examples would be:

  • Where should my friend move for a better job?
  • What’s wrong with the health of my child’s pet?
  • Is the boss of my husband intentionally trying to destroy the business they’re in?

I’m not going to judge the validity of these queries, since if a querent is bringing them to the table to be divined upon, I assume they have a reason for doing so.  The problem, however, is that there are two aspects I have to carefully weed through in order to get a good answer, and third-party readings really mess with me on ethical and technical levels as a geomancer.  Let me explain.

First, how do geomancers do third-party readings?  The Shield Chart isn’t of much help for us, since the Shield Chart is of necessity focused on the querent themselves and their role in a situation; the less the querent is involved, the more meaningless the Shield becomes.  Renaissance geomancers got around this by using the House Chart and borrowing a technique from horary astrology known as “rotating the chart”.  Let’s walk through this method:

  1. We first draw up a House Chart based directly on the Shield Chart.  This is termed the radical chart, “radical” coming from Latin radix or “root”.  This chart represents the querent directly, the person who is actually talking to the geomancer.  House I in the radical chart represents the querent, the person actually talking to the geomancer, and the other houses take their usual meanings with respect to the querent.  Thus, house II represents the querent’s finances, house III the querent’s surroundings, and so forth.
  2. In order to get the perspective of a third party, we rotate the chart so that the house that represents the third party’s connection to the querent becomes the new house I.  For instance, if the querent is asking what their husband is up to, we look at house VII (marriage, spouses, partnerships).  We rotate the chart so that, in our new rotated chart, house VII becomes the rotated house I, house VIII the rotated house II, and so forth.
  3. If one rotation isn’t sufficient, we go down the chain of connections and rotate the chart subsequent times.  For instance, to rotate the chart for our neighbor’s mother’s housekeeper’s pet, we first look at the radical chart’s house I for the querent, then rotate the chart to house III (neighbor); then, using that as our new rotated chart, we rotate it again to house X (mother), then again to house VI (housekeeper), then again to house VI (pet).
  4. In the rotated chart, we now have the whole reading presented not from the querent’s point of view (that’s the chart anchored at the radical house I), but from the third party’s point of view (the chart anchored at the rotated house I).  From here, we analyze the rotated House Chart using the usual methods of perfection, aspects, and the like to get our answer.

We can rotate the chart as many times as we need to get the proper perspective on a situation.  Instead of drawing and redrawing rotated charts, plotting each house out house by house and rotation by rotation, there’s a bit of a formula you can use to determine what house of the radical chart you need to rotate to:

Radical house number = (Sum of the house numbers of all the connections – Number of times we rotate + 1) % 12

Note that the % operator here stands for the modulo operation, or taking the remainder after divination.  So, 13 % 12 = 1, because 13 ÷ 12 = 1 with a remainder of 1.  14 % 12 = 2, 19 % 12 = 6, 24 % 12 = 0 (because 12 goes into 24 evenly).  If the remainder is 0, we treat the result as house XII.

So, how we go about using this formula?

  • For a friend: Friends are represented by house XI.  Thus, the radical house number we rotate the chart to is 11 (the sum of the house numbers we’re connecting) – 1 (the number of rotations needed) + 1, which gives us 11, and 11 % 12 = 11, or house XI.
  • For our child’s pet:  Children are represented by house V, and pets by house VI.  So, 5 + 6 = 11, and we need two rotations, so the answer is (11 – 2 + 1) % 12 = 10 % 12 = 10, or house X.
  • For our husband’s boss: Spouses are represented by house VII, and bosses by house X.  So, 7 + 10 = 17, and we need two rotations, so the answer is (17 – 2 + 1) % 12 = 16 % 12 = 4, or house IV.
  • For our neighbor’s mother’s housekeeper’s pet: Neighbors are represented by house III, mothers by house X, housekeepers by house VI, and pets by house VI.  So, 3 + 10 + 6 + 6 = 25, and we need four rotations, so (25 – 4 + 1) % 12 = 22 % 12 = 10, or house X.

You can see how this gets pretty difficult complex pretty quickly, but it has the end result of giving us the situation from the perspective of the third party the querent is asking about.  There are two problems here, however.  For one, the Shield Chart pretty much immediately loses much of its meaning when we rotate the chart, since the Shield Chart is essentially the radical chart, and if we don’t care about the radical chart, then most of the use and importance of the Shield Chart goes out the window.  The second problem, and the more worrying one at that, is that we only have 12 houses, and we can go around and around the chart any number of times to find out how someone in China is doing based on a series of tenuous connections we make between friends of friends of friends of friends of friends, but we keep just rotating around the same chart with the same 12 figures.  This leads to the problem that, the more we rotate the chart, the further we get from getting anything of value from the chart; the more distant the perspective inquired about, the less reliably we’ll get a good, clear, or useful answer from the chart.  As a result, I go by the personal rule that I never rotate the chart past two rotations, if that.

However, these rules of rotation give a lot of geomancers cause to scratch their heads.  Who, exactly, is considered a third party?  If we use the geomancer-centric point of view, any chart we throw is for a third party (i.e. not the geomancer themselves), so shouldn’t we rotate the chart at least once for someone who’s coming to us with a question?  This is kind of a silly question, I find, since it’s defined (not just a convention to follow but a definition or an axiom in the art) that the radical, unrotated house I is given to the querent, i.e. the person who asks the question.  If that person happens to be the geomancer, where the geomancer is reading for themselves, then awesome; if that person happens to be someone who comes to the geomancer for a reading, then house I is given to them, simple as that.  I don’t see what the confusion is here, personally, but it’s led to some debates in the past on the geomantic forums and mailing lists I’ve been on.  It’s also led some people to simply never rotate the chart even in the case of legitimate third-party readings, which is another problem all of its own.

The same technical issues that prevent a complicated rotation from giving useful information to the querent through the chart points to an important consideration: the more distant the target of divination you want to get information on, the less useful or clear it will be.  In other words, querents of all kinds are encouraged to keep their readings focused on themselves, what will happen to them, and what they can do in a particular situation.  Said another way, of course, unless you have a damn good reason to be nosy in someone’s life who lives or has a tight connection to you, you have no reason to investigate the matter because you’re not them, you can’t change how they act, and you can’t change what will happen to them.  Focus on yourself and your own well-being and come what may to others!  If the third party in question has a real need to see what’s going on in their lives, they can come to me for a reading, not you.  If you want to find out how issues only indirectly related to you will affect you, that’s legitimate, but you may want to keep your nose out of other people’s business unless it’s something that will really impact your life.

So, technical issues aside, I also find ethical problems arise in doing third-party readings.  As a diviner, I place huge importance on reader-client confidentiality rivaling that of legal or medical professions; privacy between the one who asks the query and the one who reads it is sacrosanct for me, and I do not reveal what goes on in a reading to others.  It’s confidential information, full stop.  As a result, on the occasion when someone has a query but doesn’t approach me directly, instead going through a friend to ask the query for them, I find that this bumps uncomfortably into confidentiality issues, because the person who is asking me the query isn’t actually the person the answer is for, so I don’t like having to answer to them instead of the person the chart is drawn up for.  If at all possible, unless the person has no means to contact me directly, I don’t use a go-between when doing readings.

On Geomantic Figures, Zodiac Signs, and Lunar Mansions

Geomantic figures mean a lot of things; after all, we only have these 16 symbols to represent the entire rest of the universe, or, as a Taoist might call it, the “ten-thousand things”.  This is no easy task, and trying to figure out exactly how to read a particular geomantic figure in a reading is where real skill and intuition come into play.  It’s no easy thing to determine whether we should interpret Puer as just that, a young boy, or a weapon of some kind, or an angry person, or head trauma or headaches, or other things depending on where we find it in a chart, what’s around it, what figures generated it, and so forth.

Enter the use of correspondence tables.  Every Western magician loves these things, which simply link a set of things with another set of things.  Think of Liber 777 or Stephen Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables or Agrippa’s tables of Scales; those are classic examples of correspondence tables, but they don’t always have to be so expansive or universal.  One-off correspondences, like the figures to the planets or the figures to the elements, are pretty common and usually all we need.

One such correspondence that many geomancers find useful is that which links the geomantic figures to the signs of the Zodiac.  However, there are two such systems I know of, which confuses a lot of geomancers who are unsure of which to pick or when they work with another geomancer who uses another system.

  • The planetary method (or Agrippan method) assigns the zodiac signs to the figures based on the planet and mobility of the figure.  Thus, the lunar figures (Via and Populus) are given to the lunar sign (Cancer), and the solar figures (Fortuna Major and Fortuna Minor) are given to the solar sign (Leo).  For the other planet/figures, the mobile figure is given to the nocturnal/feminine sign and the stable figure to the diurnal/masculine sign; thus, Puella (stable Venus) is given to Libra (diurnal Venus) and Amissio (mobile Venus) is given to Taurus (nocturnal Venus).  This system doesn’t work as well for Mars (both of whose figures are mobile) and Saturn (both of whose figures are stable), but we can say that Puer is more stable that Rubeus and Amissio more stable than Carcer.  Caput Draconis and Cauda Draconis are analyzed more in terms of their elements and both considered astrologically (not geomantically) mobile, and given to the mutable signs of their proper elements.
  • The method of Gerard of Cremona is found in his work “On Astronomical Geomancy”, which is more of a way to draw up a horary astrological chart without respect for the actual heavens themselves in case one cannot observe them or get to an ephemeris at the moment.  He lists his own way to correspond the figures to the signs, but there’s no immediately apparent way to figure out the association.

Thus, the geomantic figures are associated with the signs of the Zodiac in the following ways according to their methods:

Planetary Gerard of Cremona
Populus Cancer Capricorn
Via Leo
Albus Gemini Cancer
Coniunctio Virgo Virgo
Puella Libra Libra
Amissio Taurus Scorpio
Fortuna Maior Leo Aquarius
Fortuna Minor Taurus
Puer Aries Gemini
Rubeus Scorpio
Acquisitio Sagittarius Aries
Laetitia Pisces Taurus
Tristitia Aquarius Scorpio
Carcer Capricorn Pisces
Caput Draconis Virgo Virgo
Cauda Draconis Virgo Sagittarius

As you can see, dear reader, there’s not much overlap between these two lists, so it can be assumed that any overlap is coincidental.

In my early days, I ran tests comparing the same set of charts but differing in how I assigned the zodiac signs to the figures, and found out that although the planetary method is neat and clean and logical, it was Gerard of Cremona’s method that worked better and had more power in it.  This was good to know, and I’ve been using Gerard of Cremona’s method ever since, but it was also kinda frustrating since I couldn’t see any rhyme or reason behind it.

The other day, I was puzzled by how Gerard of Cremona got his zodiacal correspondences for the geomantic figures, so I started plotting out how the Zodiac signs might relate to the figures.  I tried pretty much everything I could think of: looking at the planetary domicile, exaltation, and triplicity didn’t get me anywhere, and trying to compare the signs with their associated houses (Aries with house I, Taurus with house II, etc.) and using the planetary joys of each house didn’t work, either.  Comparing the individual figures with their geomantic element and mobility/stability with the element and quality of the sign (cardinal, fixed, mutable) didn’t get me anywhere.  I was stuck, and started thinking along different lines: either Gerard of Cremona was using another source of information, or he made it up himself.  If it were that latter, I’d be frustrated since I’d have to backtrack and either backwards-engineer it or leave it at experience and UPG that happens to work, and I don’t like doing that.

Gerard of Cremona wrote in the late medieval period, roughly around the 12th century, which is close to when geomancy was introduced into Europe through Spain.  Geomancy was, before Europe, an Arabian art, and I remembered that there is at least one method of associating the geomantic figures with an important part of Arabian magic and astrology: the lunar mansions, also called the Mansions of the Moon.  I recall this system from the Picatrix as well as Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (book II, chapter 33), and also that it was more important in early European Renaissance magic than it was later on.  On a hunch, I decided to start investigating the geomantic correspondences to the lunar mansions.

Unfortunately, there’s pretty much nothing in my disposal on the lunar mansions in the geomantic literature I know of, but there was something I recall reading.  Some of you might be aware of a Arabic geomantic calculating machine, an image of which circulates around the geomantic blogosphere every so often.  Back in college, I found an analysis of this machine by Emilie Savage-Smith and Marion B. Smith in their 1980 publication “Islamic Geomancy and a Thirteenth-Century Divinatory Device”, and I recall that a section of the text dealt with that large dial in the middle of the machine.  Turns out, that dial links the geomantic figures with the lunar mansions!

However, I honestly couldn’t make heads-or-tails of that dial, and neither could Savage-Smith nor Smith; it dealt with “rising” and “setting” mansions that were out of season but arranged in a way that wasn’t temporal but geometrical according to the figures themselves.  Add to it, the set of lunar mansions associated with the figures here was incomplete and didn’t match what Gerard of Cremona had at all.  However, a footnote in their work gave me another lead, this time to an early European geomantic work associated with Hugo Sanctallensis, the manuscript of which is still extant.  A similar manuscript from around the same time period, Paris Bibliothèque Nationale MS Lat. 7354, was reproduced in Paul Tannery’s chapter on geomancy “Le Rabolion” in his Mémoires Scientifiques (vol. 4).  In that text, Tannery gives the relevant section of the manuscript that, lo and behold, associates the 16 geomantic figures with 21 of the lunar mansions:

Lunar Mansion Geomantic figure
1 Alnath Acquisitio
2 Albotain
3 Azoraya Fortuna Maior
4 Aldebaran Laetitia
5 Almices Puella
6 Athaya Rubeus
7 Aldirah
8 Annathra Albus
9 Atarf
10 Algebha Via
11 Azobra
12 Acarfa
13 Alhaire Caput Draconis
14 Azimech Coniunctio
15 Argafra Puer
16 Azubene
17 Alichil Amissio
18 Alcalb
19 Exaula Tristitia
20 Nahaym Populus
21 Elbeda Cauda Draconis
22 Caadaldeba
23 Caadebolach
24 Caadacohot
25 Caadalhacbia Fortuna Minor
26 Amiquedam
27 Algarf Almuehar
28 Arrexhe  Carcer

(NB: I used the standard Latin names for the figures and Agrippa’s names for the lunar mansions, as opposed to the names given in the manuscript.  Corresponding the mansion names in the manuscript to those of Agrippa, and thus their associated geomantic figures, is tentative in some cases, but the order is the same.)

So now we have a system of 21 of the 28 lunar mansions populated by the geomantic figures.  It’d be nice to have a complete system, but I’m not sure one survives in the literature, and one isn’t given by Tannery.  All the same, however, we have our way to figure out Gerard of Cremona’s method of assigning the zodiac signs to the geomantic figures.  Each sign of the Zodiac is 30° of the ecliptic, but each mansion of the Moon is 12°51’26”, so there’s a bit of overlap between one zodiac sign and several lunar mansions.  As a rule, for every “season” of three zodiac figures (Aries to Gemini, Cancer to Virgo, Libra to Sagittarius, Capricorn to Pisces), we have seven lunar mansions divided evenly among them.  If we compare how each sign of the Zodiac and their corresponding geomantic figure(s) match up with the lunar mansions and their figures from Tannery, we get a pretty neat match:

Zodiac Signs and Figures Lunar Mansion and Figures
1 Aries Acqusitio 1 Alnath Acquisitio
2 Albotain
3 Azoraya Fortuna Maior
2 Taurus Fortuna Minor
4 Aldebaran Laetitia
5 Almices Puella
3 Gemini Puer
6 Athaya Rubeus
7 Aldirah
4 Cancer Albus 8 Annathra Albus
9 Atarf
10 Algebha Via
5 Leo Via
11 Azobra
12 Acarfa
6 Virgo Caput Draconis
13 Alhaire Caput Draconis
14 Azimech Coniunctio
7 Libra Puella 15 Argafra Puer
16 Azubene
17 Alichil Amissio
8 Scorpio Amissio
18 Alcalb
19 Exaula Tristitia
9 Sagittarius Cauda Draconis
20 Nahaym Populus
21 Elbeda Cauda Draconis
10 Capricorn Populus 22 Caadaldeba
23 Caadebolach
24 Caadacohot
11 Aquarius Fortuna Maior
25 Caadalhacbia Fortuna Minor
26 Amiquedam
12 Pisces Carcer
27 Algarf Almuehar
28 Arrexhe Carcer

If you compare the figures for the zodiac signs, in the majority of cases you see the same figures at least once in a lunar mansion that overlaps that particular sign.  There are a few exceptions to this rule, however:

  • Fortuna Maior and Fortuna Minor are reversed between Gerard of Cremona’s zodiacal system and Tannery’s mansion system, as are Puer and Puella.  I’m pretty sure this is a scribal error, but where exactly it might have occurred (with Gerard of Cremona or before him, in a corrupt copy of Gerard of Cremona, or in Tannery’s manuscript) is hard to tell.
  • Populus, being given to mansion XX present in Sagittarius, is assigned to Capricorn.  If we strictly follow the system above, we get two geomantic figures for Sagittarius and none for Capricorn.  To ensure a complete zodiacal assignment, we bump Populus down a few notches and assign it to Capricorn.

And there you have it!  Now we understand the basis for understanding Gerard of Cremona’s supposedly random system of corresponding the signs of the Zodiac to the geomantic figures, and it turns out that it was based on the lunar mansions and their correspondences to the geomantic figures.  This solves a long-standing problem for me, but it also raises a new one: since we (probably) don’t have an extant complete system of corresponding the lunar mansions to the geomantic figures, how do we fill in the blanks?  In this system, we’re missing geomantic figures for mansions VII, XI, XII, XVIII, XXII, XXIII, and XIV (or, if you prefer, Aldirah, Azobra, Acarfa, Alcalb, Caadaldeba, Caadebolach, Caadacohot, and Caadalhacbia).  All of the geomantic figures are already present, and we know that some figures can cover more than one mansion, so it might be possible that some of the figures should be expanded to cover more than the mansion they already have, e.g. Rubeus covering mansion VI (Athaya), which it already does, in addition to VII (Aldirah), which is currently unassigned.

This is probably a problem best left for another day, but perhaps some more research into the lunar mansions and some experimentation would be useful.  If an Arabic source listing the geomantic figures in a similar way to the lunar mansions could be found, that’d be excellent, but I’m not holding my breath for that kind of discovery anytime soon.