5 European geomancy in the middle ages

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Having traced the southward migration of geomancy through Africa, let us turn to the northward movement, from the world of Islam via the translators of part-Muslim Spain into Europe.

Isidore of Seville ad 560-636 lists geomancy along with other divinatory methods such as necromancy, hydro-mancy, aeromancy and pyromancy, without giving much detail about their modus operandi. It is tempting to deduce that the art had reached Spain by the seventh century, but it is certain that the geomancy mentioned by Isidore was the general type of 'divination by inspection of the element', and not the elaborate type of divinatory art explored in this book. Isidore refers to divination by cracks in the earth, by observation of chance patterns, rather than the complete logical system of geomancy derived from rami. As we shall see later in this chapter, the word 'geomancy' did not take on its present meaning till the translation by Hugh of Santalla of an Arabic treatise on rami.

The next major mention of geomancy in Europe occurs in the twelfth century when it is included in a breakdown and condemnation of the magical arts. Hugh of St Victor (1096-1141) divided magic rather pedantically into five main divisions, each then further sub-divided: 1 Mantike

(a) necromancy

(b) geomancy

(c) hydromancy

(e) pyromancy

2 Mathematica

(a) aruspicina horae - which consists of the observation of hours

(b) aruspicina hara - which consists of the observation of entrails

(c) augury - which consists of the observation of birds [as in Classical timesl

(d) horoscopia - which consists of the observation of nativities

3 Sortilegia or divination by lots

4 Maleficia - defined by St Victor as 'the performance of evil deeds by incantations to demons, or by ligatures or any other accursed kind of remedies with the co-operation and instruction of demons'.

5 Praestigia - in which 'by phantastic illusions concerning the transformation of objects, the human senses are deceived by demoniacal art'.

This early definition of the field of action of magic is very interesting for a number of reasons. First, mantike or divination grouped together the four elemental methods, of which geomancy came first, preceded only by necromancy which perhaps better belonged among the incantatory arts of maleficia.

Mathematica, far from being the abstract science of today, covered the practical interpretive arts which relied upon observation of natural phenomena, from birds and the intestines of sacrificed animals, to the movements of the stars (horoscopia or astrology) which partook of more actual calculation than the three other subdivisions of mathematica. Here one can clearly see the gulf between formal geomancy and augury, which relies upon the chance movement of birds or animals across certain quarters of the sky or land.

The third main category, sortilegia, was also sometimes confused with geomancy, because occasionally a geomantic figure was generated to indicate the page or column of a book, which would just as easily be determined by lot or dice, hence artificially introducing geomancy into sortilegia. This has led to libri delle sorti or lot-books being dubbed 'geomancies', a frequent source of confusion.1

Maleficia and praestigia are those categories which have now come to be seen primarily as magic, the first operating through the actions of demons, the second being illusory and deceptive. Maleficia has always been 'black magic', whilst praestigia has wavered between the contrived illusions of prestidigitators or legerdemain, and the more subtle magic of deceptions which may have been demoniacally inspired, or may have been natural. At various times sundry subjects, now become 'sciences', have been the province of praestigia. Maleficia has always held its own, but has perhaps widened its field of action to elementáis, genies, spirits, and more morally neutral inhibitants of the netherworld than medieval theology ever wished to concede it.

The arrival of the practice of rami in Europe had however to await the period of feverish translating activity which began in Spain. It was in the brilliant universities of Cordoba, Toledo and Seville that the Italians of the twelfth century translated the great Arab works, such as the Canon of Avicenna and Ptolemy's Almagest, which introduced science and Muslim civilization to the Europe of the middle ages. Along with the natural sciences, many of them the relics of Greek civilization which had been translated into Arabic during the period of Haroun al-Raschid (ad 763-809), came the peculiarly Islamic contributions to astrology and the divinatory arts.

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