Geomancy and Quintessence

I didn’t think I’d ever have to write a post on this particular topic, as I thought it was so obvious as to go without explanation.  However, as usual, the good people of the Internet have proved me wrong, and I’ve noticed a trend in my search hits that have prompted this post.  Uncharacteristically, it’ll be a short post, since there’s really not much to explain, but here goes:

The system of geomancy is incompatible with the notion of a fifth element, also called the quintessence or the force of Spirit.

That’s all.

It’s evident from the get-go that geomancy uses and relies on the four classical elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth.  The structure of the geomantic figures themselves lend themselves well to this: a geomantic figure has four rows of either one or two dots, each row associated with a particular element, with one dot signifying that element as active or present and two dots signifying that it’s passive or absent.  The binary structure of geomancy, in addition, relies upon the exponentials of two, so 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.  This allows for four elements, not five, as five has no place in this system.  Going further, if you want to bring astrology into this, astrology likewise relies on four, not five, elements, just as it relies on twelve, not thirteen, signs of the Zodiac.  (No, Ophiuchus is not a zodiac sign.  Get over it.)

I’ve seen a trend of Tarot decks that have five suits instead of the traditional four, with the fifth suit dedicated to the force of Spirit.  I’ve also seen people try to incorporate a fifth element into systems that have no room or need for one, and geomancy is one such system.  It does not belong, especially as Spirit is not an element by nearly all forms of Hermetic reckoning, Golden Dawn material and derivatives notwithstanding.

I will certainly agree that Spirit is a force, absolutely, in the same sense that the elements and planets are forces, but I will not go further than that.  Spirit is something that is either or underlying all the other forces, a kind of ideal form of a force, or it is something that is lower than a planetary force and higher than an elemental force, something that separates the Spheres of the Elements from the Spheres of the Planets and Stars.  Yes, one can work with the force of the quintessence directly, although it is a different type of working than an elemental or planetary one, and its effects are realized through other forces that are already present; I’ve found that workings involving pure quintessential force magnify the other forces pertinent to a talisman, conjuration, or the like, but is nothing on its own in isolation from others.  This is a mystery that leads to very divine workings, yes, but in terms of manifestation magic or most Hermetic workings, Spirit isn’t a thing.  It’s not mentioned in Solomonic writings or the PGM or any number of other texts, including astrological and geomantic ones, because it’s not a thing like the other forces.

Okay, ending my curmudgeonly rant for the day.  Carry on.

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

9 Responses to Geomancy and Quintessence

  1. So, hooray for Aristotle for being the quintessential (OMGs, did I go there?) intellectual and organizer, unless he disagrees with the divine Plato, or worse yet, with Pythagoras.

    Hot damn, we’re both (Hermetic) Neoplatonists.

    SO many people are wrongly convinced that their intuition is the highest force in the Cosmos (YES, I am looking at YOU, Madame Blavatsky).

    Clearly (another pun), there is an Astral Light, the closest emanation of the Anima Mundi, which, when we connect to it and use it is the Spiritus Mundi, but all of those belong to the intelligible world, not the sensible world of the FOUR elements. (See Bardon for details).

    You rock, Sam-wise.

    Note: anyone who had trouble parsing this needs to read Plato’s _Timaeus_.

  2. Well said! Speaking of the Tarot, most systems I’ve seen that try to assign elemental values to the entire deck (not just the Minors) give some fuzzy correspondence of the Majors to Spirit; this is honestly better than adding a fifth suit of Minors, in my opinion.

  3. Eric says:

    I’ve always thought of the Fifth element as a made up idea for when all of the other Four elements work in perfect harmony with each other. Since the four existed first, Air may have been meant to symbolize the purely intangible part of the mix but later mages lost sight of this and invented quintessence.

    Regardless, I’ve taken Aikido and while the traditional version has a lot of mystical talk (mumbo-jumbo to some) its idea of Ki can be explained as momentum, center of gravity, intent, and coordination in perfect sympathy to chuck an attacker like a ballet trained weight lifter throwing a hay bale. Quintessence literally may not exist even in a magical context. But that doesn’t necessarily stop it from being real. Fäiries have the same issues.

    Thanks, BTW, for the blog. Geomancy is becoming an area of serious study for me and you have ideas and material I can’t find in any book.

    • polyphanes says:

      Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Spirit or quintessence doesn’t exist, but as I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, it’s not in the same class as either elements or planets. It’s somewhere in the fuzzy area in-between, like a meta-element or undefinable substance as it were, but it’s certainly a thing. The connection between Air and Spirit is undeniable, of course, but Spirit is often identified with Aether, which is connected heavily to Fire, so it’s not a one-to-one thing, either.

      The explanation between ki and quintessence is a very good one to make! It’s not completely translatable, although the kanji for ki is almost exactly the one that should be used as a “literal” translation of the word for Spirit. The life-giving steam coming off of rice (i.e. nourishment for the body) without which things cannot live is quite apt, although aikido’s understanding of ki doesn’t tie in neatly to the theory of classical elements.

      And thank you for the compliment! Geomancy is, as you might be able to guess, a hobby of mine, and I’m intent on leaving the art in a better condition than I found it. Besides, it’s such a good and useful form of divination that it really has no business not being used.

  4. runeworker says:

    quintessence does exist in geomancy. It is the spiritus mundi, the medium that connects the materia mundi with the anima mundi. At least from how I understood JMG’s book, one of the methods of understanding how geomancy works is that you’re divining the flows of the elements in the spiritus mundi, as expressed by the geomantic figures. and if you’re invoking spirits to give you answers through geomancy, you calling upon the intelligent aspect of quintessence, ie Spirits, to give you guidance.

    But there is no need to add a whole thing of quintessence to it. Or try to develop 5 lines somehow.

    and oh gods a 5th suite in the tarot? Ummm isn’t the Major Arcana the representation of Spirit?

    • polyphanes says:

      Eh, that’s one way of reading JMG’s book (and he based that section on Robert Fludd’s understanding of the cosmos, which is by no means a universal view), but that’s more of the theory behind divination generally rather than a technical component of geomancy.

      Coincidentally, there is a five-line version of geomancy, if you look up the Oracle of Napoleon or “Napoleon’s Book of Fate”. It’s an early modern form of geomancy that doesn’t seem to have gotten past French parlor games, and it’s more than a little confusing, and I haven’t delved much into it. Besides, for all the good it does, I doubt it even goes so far as to associate the elements with the lines, much less the quintessence to the fifth line.

      And, as I understand it, no, the quintessence is not represented in the Tarot. The Major Arcana could, I suppose, in a really modern sense, be seen to represent the quintessence, but only in a very high-level overarching way, the same way that alchemy obtains the quintessence through a myriad of processes and manipulation of the other elements. Each of the Major Arcana has its own associated force, including the elements, but being based on Jewish cosmology, there are only three elements in Qabbalah: fire, air, and water. Earth is seen to be a derivative of the other three elements combined together, while Spirit is absent altogether; neither element has an associated Hebrew letter, and thus no path on the Tree of Life. The use of four elements (suits) alongside an implication of three (Hebrew correspondences) is a weird juxtaposition of Hellenic and Jewish cosmologies.

      • Eric says:

        There’s an app based on Napoleon’s Book of Fate. I got it out of curiosity and found it to be pretty much as you’d expect: an 18th century version of the Magic 8 Ball. The creators tried to monetize it by downgrading previously free features to make in app purchases it’s even less useful.

        On the subject there were exactly two genuine geomancy divination apps. The first, “Geomancer” was actually pretty impressive in that it integrated most popularly known geomancy techniques. You could even set your system preference: Golden Dawn or “Medieval”. You could “squill” or have the figures chosen randomly. But the generally system art was dull an I think I’m one of only two who bought it. The company behind it dried up and blew away and the app is no longer available. The other app is still around but it’s the opposite: visually pleasing but superficial.

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