Since one of my most favorite topics in occultism and magic is divination, specifically the divinatory art of geomancy, why not talk about that? I know a lot about it, and not many do, so let’s go with it. If nothing else, you’ll come away slightly more educated, and I’ll come away with something looking like productivity. With that in mind, let’s continue this little series of posts on geomancy, “De Geomanteia” (On Geomancy). This week, let’s talk about this figure:
This is the figure Carcer. In Latin, its name means “Prison”, which is pretty common in many traditions, but also called “constriction” or “bound together”. If you (quite literally) connect the dots, you might come up with a figure that looks like a ring, a cell, or two people facing away from each other.
First, the technical details of this figure. It’s associated with Saturn in retrograde motion and the astrological signs of Capricorn or Pisces, depending on whom you ask; due to its Saturnine qualities, it’s also associated with the sephirah Binah. It has the fire and earth lines active with air and water passive, and so given to the element of Earth. It is an even figure with six points, relating to objective situations rather than internal or subjective events. It is a stable and entering, showing it to be slow-moving and long-lasting where it appears. In the body, it is associated with the knees and bones. Its inverse figure (everything this figure is not on an external level) is Coniunctio, the Conjunction, showing that this figure is not decisive, not transient, and not sociable or in contact with others. Its reverse figure (the same qualities of this figure taken to its opposite, internal extreme) is the same, Carcer itself, showing that this figure is the same from all points of view. Its converse figure (the same qualities of this figure expressed in a similar manner) is Coniunctio, showing that it is cyclical, pausing, and foundational. Carcer is fairly negative as far as geomantic figures go, often indicating delay, restriction, obligation, and isolation from one’s desires. One is often held back or restrained from contact or completing one’s works when this figure appears, even literal imprisonment; however, due to its isolation, it also indicates stability and security. It is favorable when one wants to maintain or enforce a given situation, but generally poor otherwise.
The inner temple, the inside of a large pyramidal structure, empty and barren, the floor covered with sand. The ancient large door, once bright and intricately engraved, has been sealed shut long ago, nobody able to open it; the sand eroded its carvings, the dust covers what color remains. The whole chamber echoes, all softly aglow from the dust. Light pours in through a single aperture high up on the apex of the pyramid, far out of reach for any contact or assistance. The only thing present in the entire chamber is an old man, long ago incarcerated in this prison. He angrily puts around his prison endlessly, forever stuck, forever sealed away, reaching down into the sand with a clenched fist and throwing it at the light in frustration and acrimony, screaming in fury. He has much to say and much to do, having been planning for years, but has no way to enact what he wants; all he can do is think and wait, held back by the walls that enclose him. He has no means to interact or to connect with others; he can think of things only so much, and nothing deep due to the lack of inspiration, religion, and philosophy to draw on. He is both physically, intellectually, and emotionally starved. All he thinks about are plans; scribbles on the walls and in the sand guide him, shifting here, erasing there, reincorporating old ideas there. Without anyone to see him, help him, or value his plans, he can do nothing.
Carcer is a tough figure to deal with, not gonna lie. As a figure of Saturn, Capricorn, Earth, darkness, and stability, Carcer takes all that symbolism and runs with it in the most concrete way geomancy knows how. The name itself, meaning “prison”, is again indicative of its significations: something is trapped, held back, restrained, delayed, or refrained from accomplishing or interacting with others. Then again, this idea of resolute, impermeable structure has its upsides, too.
In the geocentric model of the universe (pretty reliable when it comes to Hermetic philosophy and cosmology in general), where the Earth is at the center of the cosmos, the rest of the planets revolve around the Earth in concentric “shells” or spheres. Above the Earth, we have, in order, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, then the background fixed stars, and beyond that we have, essentially, the Divine Source. Saturn is the last planet, the last distinctly formed thing, separating the manifested world from the manifesting and unmanifest world; going the other way, Saturn is the first planet where form is possible, coming from the Source of manifestation doing its job, and allowing Matter to afterward fill the outlines of Form that Saturn provides. Saturn is about limitations, boundaries, walls, and definition, and so is a natural ruler of prisons, obligations, responsibilities, and being held to something. It represents the guiding forces that show us “up to this point and no further”, indicating where we need to expand and by how much, and often how.
Further, by having set boundaries, one can keep one’s identity and sphere safe from the outside. Prisons may keep what’s inside from getting out, but they also keep what’s outside from getting in. Still, outside influences can determine the shape of those boundaries, often in the form of social obligation and restriction, which the prisoner inside must follow; this is where the astrological signs of Capricorn (indicating social responsibility and obligation to goals) and Populus (being with others and having to fit into a given definition and role) give Carcer some of its astrological symbolism. Either sign works, but in my experience, attributing the social pressures of Populus and the need or obligation to fit in and follow through with others works better with the image of Carcer.
Elementally, Carcer is an Earthy figure, but is probably better described as “dry”, having both the dry elements of fire and earth active without the moist elements of air or water present. Moisture is the quality that allows forces to mingle, flow, and actively interact with each other; Carcer has neither of these. The natural motions, how the different elements tend to move in their pure states, don’t help the image here, either: Fire burns upward, Earth falls downward, both moving away from each other. The elemental structure of Carcer implies a total disconnect and separation from other forces, without any sort of emotional or communicative interaction to bridge the gap between them. One can have all the plans and specifications in the world and all the resources to execute them with, but without a method to bridge the two, one will just be drawing in the sand unable to accomplish anything.
The shape that the figure Carcer makes is a circle, which itself has some valuable information for the geomancer. Circles are lines with no beginning and no end, completely demarcating a whole area from the rest of the world. As such, circles are often used in magic to separate, isolate, seal in, or shut out, and many conjurations or rituals make use of circles for protection of the magician or for isolation of a spirit to be summoned. Circles can also be indicative of repetition and getting trapped in a loop, indicating delay, such as when a spirit tries to escape and gets caught in a loop ’round and ’round the circle. Chain links and wedding rings, both circular, also keep one locked into a given situation for better or for worse. Without any change in situation, Carcer is a stable figure, and without any change in direction or in perspective from the outside, Carcer is also liminal.
When Carcer appears in a geomancy reading, it’s going to indicate restriction and delay, no matter where it appears. As Judge, it indicates that the status quo will be enforced, likely due to obligations or a set regulation that must be followed by multiple parties; elsewhere, it indicates stress or tension without chance for resolution, having to put up with something for the time being and dealing with any obligation or responsibility one’s been tasked with. Being Saturnine, it can often indicate sparseness, poorness, paucity, and having precious little of something. It’s good when things need strictness, isolation, security, or stability, but otherwise, it tends to be a pretty dour figure. Carcer is helpful in magic when one wants to lock something down or keep things fixed in a certain situation, such as keeping one’s job when others are being given pink slips, it’s also good when wanting to induce paucity or greed in others’ lives and spheres, if not outright disconnecting them from sources of help or assistance they might otherwise rely on.