Interrogating Geomancy

Originally published in Peacock Goat Review Vol. 1 No. 2

Geomancy is one of the oldest and most straightforward forms of divination known in the Western magical tradition. For the uninitiated it is a divination system of 16 figures composed of four different rows of either one or two dots. Four figures are generated using some method of randomization, the most popular among modern occultists being either polyhedral dice or my personal favorite, druid sticks. The rest of the figures in the Geomantic reading are then generated using simple mathematical operations, those being rearranging for the first four generated figures and addition followed by parity analyzation for the rest. If you’re interested in learning Geomancy, there are plenty of good books one can pick up on the subject which should be available at any local well stocked occult store. I won’t spend much more time on that as the subject has been covered ad nauseum. However, one topic which I haven’t really seen covered in much detail is the underlying occult philosophy and world view which is suggested by the way that Geomancy is performed. As you will see, I believe if we take the time to really tear Geomancy apart, it will suggest to us more about what might be going on behind the scenes than is immediately apparent from simply using the system itself.

Firstly, for the moment let’s consider the positions in the reading. Each figure in a Geomantic reading has a corresponding aspect of the question at hand which it attempts to describe. If you consider that the first four figures are the only figures in the reading that are not generated strictly mathematically, it’s fair to say these four figures are the most important figures in the reading in terms of divinatory significance. In fact, historically if certain particularly negative figures (namely the figures Rubius and Cauda Draconis) came up as the first figure in a reading, it was immediately halted. So let us take a moment to consider what aspects these figures pertain to. These are (in order) Life, Riches, Brothers, Father. Right out of the gate a pattern has begun to emerge. These four aspects of one’s life all have a particular patriarchal bend. Now initially one might start down the path of considering that Geomancy is at its core misogynistic, however the real answer is much more mundane; it is simply pragmatic. Geomancy is a system which is designed to work. As such, it must work within the system as it exists in the world we live. Like it or not, the world we live in is very much still a very patriarchal society. Despite all the steps that have been taken in society to somewhat mitigate this fact, at the end of the day, your quality of life, your riches, your brothers and your father are still the most significant aspects of determining how your life will play itself out. Given those, it’s pretty easy to begin to suss out what the other aspects of your life might look like. This point aspect does give us a bit of a clue about the worldview that Geomancy emerges from.

Geomantic figures are actually combinations of much simpler figures. The first two rows of a given figure form an element and the second two form another element. These being the four classical alchemical elements; fire, earth, air and water. The first element is the base element of the figure while the second two are the modifying element. When you add these together you get a compound figure. These are the same compound figures that are created by the court cards in the tarot. For example if the top element is air and the bottom element is water, then the figure in question is elementally equivalent to the Queen of Swords.

Note: The figures are also given an astrological interpretation by some occultists, and while this method may well work for someone who understands astrology, it really isn’t useful when interrogating the individual components of a Geomantic figure since the astrological attributions don’t fit 1 to 1 given there are 16 figures but only 12 zodiacal signs which causes an elemental imbalance in the reading, favoring some elements over others.

Each element in a Geomantic figure in turn is formed of two components: the active and passive forces. These are the same active and passive forces of the yin and yang in the I Ching, or the Jachin and Boaz of the Kabbalah. The will and the creatrix (or creative force). By combining different mixes of the two you get different elements. The single-dot line represents the active force and the double-dot line represents the creatrix. However, when you begin interpreting the elements using this understanding, a new pattern starts to emerge which initially seems to run contrary to traditional held occult understandings. Two active lines creates the figure for air. Traditionally double-active would be seen as the element of fire. Double-passive is traditionally water. These being because the Sun was viewed as the double-active force and the moon as double-passive, which controls the tides. So what does this mean? Does this mean the elemental understanding is wrong?

To really understand why this attribution might be the case, we first have to consider the land from which Geomancy emerges. The earliest record we have of Geomancy being used is of Arabic diviners using it in the Middle East. The system was known to have been already very old by this point and it doesn’t have anything particularly Muslim about it, so it’s safe to say we can start looking for a much older origin for the practice. Once we do that, we come to a system that may well be as old as writing itself.

In ancient Mesopotamian mythology, the cosmos was created through the intermixing of the two primordial waters; the Engur, or ocean, and the Abzu, or freshwater. These gave birth to the first two gods, An and Ki. An is the sky god and the father of all of the other gods. Ki is the earth goddess and the mother of all of the other gods. An’s element was air, being a component of the sky. Ki’s element was earth, being a component of the ground. This viewing as the pure active as air and the pure passive as earth perfectly matches the ancient Mesopotamian view of the cosmos.

Going further, the cardinal points, North, South, East and West as well as the four elements were seen in Mesopotamian mythology as being embodied by chimeric figures known as Lamassu and Shedu. Lammasu being the male form and Shedu being female. These were hybrid figures mixing a man, a bull, a lion and an eagle. The four animals being the four cardinal zodiac: Leo, Scorpio (in its eagle form), Taurus and Aquarius. These figures were seen as guardians and protective deities which encompass all life within them. Even further, two were seen as male and two female, which corresponds to the active/passive attribution. The Shedu of Air and Fire are male, while the Lammasu earth and water are female. This is a perfect map for the Geomatic elemental figures which have air and fire both with the first line being a single dot, meaning active, while earth and water have two.

Even further, in the Babylonian creation epic the Enuma Elish, we see another aspect of Geomancy play out; the two halves of the dragon. The dragon’s head and the dragon’s tail are two of the Geomantic figures and which represent polar opposites. The tail represents the end of something and the head the beginning. After a great fight, Marduk, who in this story plays the role of the champion of the gods, slays the primordial dragon Tiamat who is acting as an avatar of the Abzu and cuts her in half. With her tail, he makes the sky, and hear head makes the earth. The sky was seen as heaven, the dwelling place of the gods and the place where the airy part of the soul goes after death do dwell with the atmosphere god Enlil.

So what does this mean for understanding the underlying philosophy of Geomancy and who are the spirits one is consulting when using Geomantic divination? It suggests, though by no means confirms, that Geomancy emerges from a distinctly ancient Mesopotamian worldview and makes use of the cosmology and elements which come from the ancient Mesopotamian magical system. Given the Geomantic figures all ultimately emerge from combinations of underlying elemental motifs and the elements are represented in Mesopotamian mythology by the Lammasu and Shedu figures. So it could be said that when you consult Geomancy, you’re consulting the Lammasu and the Shedu. Most likely, the first two Geomantic figures in the reading being the Lammasu and the second two being Shedu given that the later two are concerning men in your life. All the other parts of the reading flowing from those first few aspects of your life and representing different combinations of the four basic elements guarded by the four cardinal figures.

Image source: Wikipedia