Elemental Transformations and the Geomantic Figures
February 13, 2014 6 Comments
It’s interesting what you can pick up from talking with spirits. The other day, I was enjoying my weekly chat with my ancestors, making the usual offerings and just chewing the fat with them. I don’t just include the ancestors of my blood and kin, though; the ancestors include everyone whose work or lives led to my own, so it’s a pretty wide field. Generally speaking, as a magician, I have two large fields for my ancestors: one for ancestors of my blood and kin, and another for those of my faith and practice. Magicians, priests, pagans, Christians, Jews, Hermeticists, anyone who’s already crossed and yet led to my spiritual life is considered an ancestor, and I have a special place for the ancestors of my Work in my heart. There are other ancestors thrown into the mix of those two groups, of course, but those are the big ones.
When I told them that I was writing a book on geomancy, some in the ghostly crowd perked their ears up and started chatting more with me. Geomancy being one of the most popular forms of divination in Europe historically over the past millennium, this isn’t too surprising, though I was caught a little off-guard by how on-board they were with that. Since I like tapping into the ancestral font of knowledge those who have gone before me provide, I asked them for some advice with geomancy. Besides some techniques I plan to do some more research on, one of the things they mentioned was performing another elemental analysis of the geomantic figures. I got an image of Fortuna Maior transforming into Carcer, then again into Fortuna Minor, then again into Coniunctio, and then again into Fortuna Maior in a cycle. I got the hint, and after a few inspired flashes of insight, I got the gist for a new(?) kind of elemental analysis for the figures. I’ve already delved into one such analysis before, but this is a different kind focusing on the structure of the figures.
As you might have guessed, this post is gonna get into some geomantic theory. Run away now if that’s not your thing or get some wine.
When considering the geomantic figures as mathematical objects, I normally ascribe four operations that can be done on them: addition, inversion, reversion, and conversion. Readers of my De Geomanteia posts may recall this in my descriptions of the figures, but put briefly:
- Addition: adding two figures to get a third (e.g. Puer added to Puella to obtain Coniunctio). The interaction, harmony, and force between a pair of figures or forces in the cosmos.
- Inversion: replacing all the single dots with double dots and vice versa (e.g. Puer inverted becomes Albus). Everything this figure is not on an external level.
- Reversion: rotating a figure upside down (e.g. Puer reverted becomes Puella). The same qualities of this figure taken to its opposite, internal extreme.
- Conversion: inversion with reversion (e.g. Puer converted becomes Rubeus). The same qualities of this figure expressed in a similar, contraparallel manner.
The ancestors showed me yet another method to alter a geomantic figure, which I’m tentatively terming descending. Descending a figure takes the bottommost row of a figure and stacks it on top of the figure, pushing the other rows downward. Thus, Puer descended once becomes Cauda Draconis; this descends again into Caput Draconis, and again into Puella; and again into Puer. In doing this, we get several groups of figures that descend in a particular order: two monadic cycles, one binadic cycle, and three tetradic cycles of descent.
- Populus descends into Populus
- Via descends into Via
- Acquisitio and Amissio descend into each other
- Laetitia descends into Rubeus, which descends into Albus, which descends into Tristitia, which descends into Laetitia
- Fortuna Maior descends into Carcer, which descends into Fortuna Minor, which descends into Coniunctio, which descends into Fortuna Maior
- Caput Draconis descends into Puella, which descends into Puer, which descends into Cauda Draconis, which descends into Caput Draconis
Taken from an elemental viewpoint, this is the process by which the elements of a figure transform into their next most available state. I forget where I read it from (something from Plato, probably), but the elements have two qualities, only one of which is primary. The qualities are broken into two pairs of opposing natures: hot and cold, and wet and dry. For instance, while the element fire is both hot and dry, it is primarily hot and secondarily dry. The list of the elements then becomes:
- Fire: primarily hot, secondarily dry
- Air: primarily wet, secondarily hot
- Water: primarily cold, secondarily wet
- Earth: primarily dry, secondarily cold
Moreover, the elements are capable of changing into each other by replacing one of the qualities with its opposite. Water, for instance, can turn into earth by making its moisture dry, and air can turn into water by cooling its heat; air can likewise turn into fire by drying its moisture, and fire can turn into earth by removing its heat. The transformation of the elements can go in either direction, with the process from fire to earth signifying a process of settling or stability and the process from earth to fire signifying entropy or activity. However, the elements also form a cycle, such that earth can also directly become fire without going through water or air, and likewise fire into earth.
Descending, then, is essentially the “settling” process of the elements applied to the structure of the geomantic figures. The number of dots within a figure is preserved (note how Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia descend into each other and all contain the same seven dots in different arrangements). The reverse process of ascending is the “entropy” process of the elements, where the top line becomes the bottom and the rest of the elemental rows are pushed up. Since the geomantic figures can be seen as abstract combinations of the elements, what the elements can do, so too can the geomantic figures.
Via and Populus are interesting in that they’re the only figures that descend (or ascend) into themselves. Since they have the same activity or passivity in every line of their figures, they can only ever descend into what was already present. I take this to mean that Populus and Via are at extremes of the elements: either there is absolutely nothing or there is absolutely everything, a void or a singularity. Where there is nothing, nothing can be done since there is nothing to be acted upon; where there is totality, nothing can be meaningfully changed since it already includes everything.
Acquisitio and Amissio, similarly, are unusual in that they only descend into each other, without another two figures filling in the cycle. Acquisitio is a combination of air and earth; Amissio is a combination of fire and water. These elemental pairs are opposites, so by preserving their structural relationships, the descent of one figure composed from opposite elements is another figure composed from opposite elements. No other figure in geomancy are like these two because of this. Further, while the combination of air and earth produces gain, the combination of fire and air produces loss; moisture/dryness is a separate beast from heat/cold, so while one relies on the material bases of things (Acquisitio) which relies on the energetic and spiritual, the other relies on the energetic means of things (Amissio) which consumes the material and physical. In order to gain things, one must expend effort or resources for it; in order to lose something, one must get meaning and direction for it.
The real show of descent comes into play with the other twelve figures of geomancy. The simplest case is that with figures that contain a single active element: Laetitia, Rubeus, Albus, and Tristitia. Laetitia is pure fire, and is a figure of joy, elation, optimism, and planning, all due to its hot and dry nature. It has nothing else to go for it, though, so when that energy becomes less goal-oriented (fire) and settles down into a more material state (air), Laetitia becomes Rubeus, which is a figure of violence, chaos, confusion, and destruction. That same energy is there, but it’s pure and untempered by anything else, so without direction the energy from Laetitia becomes scattered and dispersed. Over time, the dispersion of energy in Rubeus settles further into Albus, with it starting to collect back into itself in a more contemplative, reflective manner. The energy becomes less capable of causing change and is now more capable of being changed, becoming passive (not in elemental terms, here) instead of active. Further, once the detached reflection of Albus settles further into Tristitia, the energy becomes locked down and completely crystallized into matter, unable to do anything on its own and only capable of being acted upon as a basis for other work. Tristitia is a figure of fixidity and rigidness, without ability to move or act; it is only when the material of Tristitia is consumed and rejuvenated can it become active again, burning the dry fuel of Tristitia into Laetitia once more.
The next tetrad of figures in descent is Fortuna Maior, Carcer, Fortuna Minor, and Coniunctio. Here, Fortuna Maior is a figure of slow and independent development, like a river carving out a canyon by its own nature and movement. However, over time that energy becomes less and less, with all its potential used up; this devolves the nurturing force of Fortuna Maior into Carcer, which is no longer nourishing but only vacant. Nothing can be done with this energy as it is, since it has lost all means of interacting with the world around itself; it is only when an outside force picks it up can it be sustained or made use of again, as indicated by the descent of Carcer into Fortuna Minor. This mingling of forces leads to further mingling, focusing less on action and more on interaction, leading from Fortuna Minor to Coniunctio. Communicationa and interaction becomes the theme, at least for a short while, until the interaction of forces settles further into self-action, separation of ways into one’s own path, which leads once again to the force of Fortuna Maior.
The last tetrad of figures in descent is Caput Draconis, Puella, Puer, and Cauda Draconis. Caput Draconis is the figure of beginnings, with everything but fire being present; unlike its inverse of optimistic Laetitia which is all plan and no potential, Caput Draconis has all the material and interactive potential but nowhere and no impetus to use it; it is a pure seed. The force of Caput Draconis, once it settles into Puella, becomes patient and harmonizing, aware of one’s physical means and of the need of others to make use of it. In this phase, there is still little means to use something, but at least the desire for use is present. Puella awaits the arrival and energy of Puer, which is the force that uses what Puella has to offer while having little of its own to use. Puer is active and direct, countering Puella’s passivity and indirectness, and seeks to find and join with. However, once Puer attains this and uses up everything obtained, this all settles down into an ending with Cauda Draconis; either the hero accomplishes his journey successfully or falls short and fails having exhausted his means prematurely. Cauda Draconis is everything but earth, all energy and interaction but no means or substance, and quickly falls apart. However, the residue from the collapse of Cauda Draconis plants the germ for the next iteration, starting with Caput Draconis again.
Bear in mind that each figure is a representation of the four elements that compose everything in our world; it’s not a stretch to consider the geomantic elements like alchemical formulae or states of the cosmos, and if we consider the figures to represent closed systems (as opposed to open systems that the operation of addition affords us), then we can analyze how a situation can evolve based on a single figure. This enables us to make better use of single-figure readings: if we draw Coniunctio as a single answering figure for a query about a relationship, we can certainly say that things are going well and will continue to do so, but the relationship will also allow for self-discovery by means of the relationship and eventual self-growth (Fortuna Maior), with periods of being alone to process it or with difficulty (Carcer), and recovery with the help of the partner to come back to more connection (Fortuna Minor). Likewise, if we add two figures in a house chart to understand the interaction between them, we can use the descent of the figures to see how that interaction will progress over time independent of the other factors in the chart.
Similar explanations of the tetrads of the figures can be given for the ascent transformation, as well, but I leave that as an exercise for the interested geomancy-minded reader. Consider what we’re doing when we descend a figure: we take the elements within that figure, and turn the secondary quality into its opposite and make it the primary quality. So, fire, which is primarily hot and secondarily dry, turns into air by our taking the secondary quality (dry) and turning it into its opposite (wet) and making it primary; the element that is primarily wet and secondarily hot is air. The ascent of the figure is the opposite case: we take the primary quality of the elements, turn that into its opposite, and make it secondary. Thus, fire (primarily hot and secondarily dry) becomes earth by taking its primarily quality (hot), turning it into its opposite (cold) and making it secondary; the element that is primarily dry and secondarily cold is earth. I would say that it’s more natural for an element to descend than ascend, since it’s easier to change an element’s secondarily quality than it is to change its primary quality, so while the descent of the elements indicates a natural evolution without interference, the ascent of the elements can indicate a forced evolution from within the situation itself. A situation might go either way, depending on the actions of those involved in the situation, but until outside forces are brought in to break the transformation by ascent or descent through addition, things are going to keep cycling in a particular pattern metaphorically and realistically.
Not a bad idea from sharing some rum with dead folk.