Review: Richard Webster, “Geomancy For Beginners”
December 16, 2012 3 Comments
In my ongoing quest to collect pretty much every published work on geomancy, I picked up one of the newest books on geomantic divination, “Geomancy For Beginners” by Richard Webster recently off Amazon. It was first printed in early 2011 and published by Llewellyn Publications, with the offical price of US$14.95. Coming in at 264 pages, it feels a little thick, but that’s due to the book being a standard trade size and the larger-than-normal font with generous spacing. The text is clear to read, though the formatting of the figures and diagrams could be better. Given that this is a Llewellyn book and is explicitly marked “for beginners”, I wasn’t expecting radically new insights into the old art of geomantic divination, but I decided to give it a chance. Being a traditionalist with a streak for heavy texts, I expected a fairly strong new-age flair to the book (it is, after all, published by Llewellyn). Overall, the book is a passable though fluffy introduction to geomancy, though it really is meant for rank beginners who know nothing of the basics of Western occult symbols. It has more going against it than for it, unfortunately.
After starting off with a brief history of geomancy (basically Stephen Skinner’s historical writings on geomancy, the entire subject of his “Terrestrial Astrology”, condensed into a few pages), Webster describes geomancy, what it is and what the book is about (divination using the geomantic figures), and what it isn’t (feng shui and similar arts of “living in harmony with the earth”). He shows the basic method of geomantic divination using the dot-and-sand/paper method, quickly moving to his preferred method of using casting sticks (also called “druid sticks”, four sticks with one dot on one side and two on the other, cast on a cloth to produce a geomantic figure, a fairly modern invention on its own). He glosses over other methods of generating the figures, then launches into a chapter describing what divination is at a high level and how it works, attempting to use historical references but ending up sounding pretty new-agey. Why this chapter wasn’t at the start of the book is confusing, since one should probably figure out the value of divination first before coming to grips with an implementation of geomancy. Webster’s descriptions of the figures is pretty straightforward, though with an emphasis on modern symbols and a few confusing correspondences (e.g. linking the figures to what seems to be random months of the year and body parts, things usually corresponded according to the zodiac sign of the figure).
Through the book, he introduces the basics of geomantic divination through the use of the shield chart and the house chart. He provides, as most common geomancy texts do, a series of lookup charts and lists that describe at a high, general level what each figure means in each position. This is not something I’m a fan of, since people often stop bothering to actually meditate and learn the symbols of something at this point and just resort to using the lookup table in divination. Imagine if someone wrote a book that described at a high level what each of the 78 cards of the Tarot meant in each of the ten positions in the Celtic Cross spread; people would likely use the book as a reference and cease to really think about the cards as windows into a much deeper system. This is, at least to me, why I like John Michael Greer’s books on the subject, because he offers the reader a good grounding in the foundation of the symbols and then provides the rules to interpret them as the situation requires. I’m not saying that lookup tables aren’t useful, but the foundation Webster gives isn’t that great to be able to fluidly and completely interpret the symbols of geomancy beyond what he says they mean in a given spot.
However, Webster’s example charts, few though they may be, are well-written and from a personal standpoint. The author’s examples read almost like journal entries, complete with setting, context, and decent analyses of the charts and for whom they were cast. Although I think his presentation of geomantic technique reduces some of the most important techniques in favor of offering lookup tables, at least he covers the basics, including things like calculating the Part of Fortune and aspects (which, in my own practice, I barely use in favor of things like perfection and elemental analysis). I think his presentation of geomantic technique is a little too simplistic, his use of astrological chart interpretation to use the planets and signs based on the figures found in the houses is redundant, and his overall presentation of divinatory meanings to the figures is fairly fluffy and focuses on the positive at the expense of the more difficult. After his presentation of the basics, Webster offers six more chapters focusing on a different style of geomancy:
- Gerard of Cremona’s astrological geomancy, where one throws a dumbed-down astrological horary chart based on geomantic figures, along with his zodiacal attributions to the geomantic figures. This is more about using geomantic technique to draw up a horary chart without the degrees. This isn’t a method of geomancy I’m particularly fond of, since it’s really just a kind of makeshift astrology, though I do use Gerard of Cremona’s zodiacal attributions in my own work.
- Cornelius Agrippa’s attribution of zodiac signs to the figures and his house allotment technique. There isn’t a lot of information to really be said here, and I’m unsure why this was its own chapter with as many words as Webster uses.
- The Golden Dawn’s use of the planetary spirits (Chashmodai, Sorath, etc.) in ritual divination, house allotment technique, and another set of lookup tables, along with Crowley’s assignment of different query topics to the seven planets. Again, not a lot of information really to be said here, since he already mentioned the Golden Dawn’s use and incorporation of geomancy into their work at the beginning, and the lookup table is taken right from the Golden Dawn’s text on geomancy and is entirely redundant, seeing how Webster provided his own earlier in the book. Also, even though he introduces the planetary spirits and tells the reader to use their sigils in rituals, he doesn’t show them or instruct the reader where or how to find them!
- What Webster styles “Arthurian divination”, a kind of modern druid-ish (emphasis on the ish) system that uses nine geomantic figures arrayed out in a quartered circle. This is probably the only innovative thing in the book, though certainly not geomantic in origin and only seems to use geomantic figures in a style of divination that could just as easily use runes, Tarot cards, or whatever. Though he ascribes the technique to Merlin or Arthurian-derived traditions of magic, this really doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the book except to show how geomantic figures can be employed in non-geomantic occult crafts. The technique itself is not tied to geomancy, but it’s definitely one to learn and keep in the back of one’s mind for use with other sets of symbols.
- What Webster calls “horary geomancy”, which isn’t anything more than a forecast-style of reading for a given timeframe without a specific query. This did not need its own chapter, and is only 2.5 pages of text and one diagram. Though forecasts are useful to know how to do, his placing of this here didn’t make sense to me. The name itself is confusing, since it implied to me something more along the lines of Pestka’s and Schwei’s method of incorporating a horary astrological chart with a geomantic chart for the same time.
- Napoleon’s “Book of Fate”, or more accurately, a brief description of what the Book of Fate was and how it enabled geomancy to become a parlor game. No technique is presented here, just a bit of historical trivia on geomancy and a list of the questions the Book of Fate had a lookup table for (but not the figures or answers for the questions). I don’t see why this was included or even brought up past the historical references at the start of the book; at least the foregoing chapters had something new to learn. The Book of Fate was interesting in that it uses geomantic figures with five lines instead of four, giving the system 32 symbols instead of the standard 16, though doesn’t expand the system enough to really make use of them in a proper geomantic-style reading, selecting only one figure.
As I said in the beginning, the book passes for being a standard modern introduction to geomancy. It’s best suited for people who really have no knowledge of the basics of Western occult symbols, and even then, the book isn’t that great in giving a strong basis with them, either. Its presentation of information and technique is disjointed, and though it can be useful for people who don’t have much of an attention span to learn geomancy, its extra fluff and needless expanses of words unfortunately take up as much time as it does to learn the symbols and techniques of geomancy itself. The only really innovative or new thing Webster brings is his chapter on Arthurian divination, but that alone doesn’t justify the rest of the fluff and cruft, especially since it’s not really geomantic. Though Webster laments the descent of geomancy into divinatory anonymity, his book doesn’t offer much to bring it out of those depths, and doesn’t really inspire the reader to learn more or meditate on this art more than figure out how to correspond the meanings of figures given in different lookup tables. Though it’s a decent buy for someone who just wants something to learn as an honest-to-goodness beginner to divination, I’d much rather suggest a good book on astrology and a more complete book on geomancy for someone to seriously study this divinatory art.