The Golden Dawn was the brainchild of S.L. MacGregor Mathers and two of his Masonically inclined associates, Dr Wynn Westcott and Dr Woodman. The history of the formation of this Order, based on alleged German Rosicrucian manuscripts, is too well known to bear repeating here: suffice it to say that Mathers was the synthesizing genius who amassed an encyclopaedic knowledge of magic, from the manuscripts and printed books of the British Museum Library. He combined this avid scholarship with a Celtic turn of mind, an ascetic life-style, and an enthusiasm for all matters military. Not only was Mathers's breadth and depth of knowledge about magic and the other medieval sciences of divination, invocation and evocation, essential to the founding of the Golden Dawn, but also his ability to synthesize previously disparate views and apparently unconnected ideas, into a monolithic schema, would have done credit to the most intricate of the Renaissance memory systems.
Mathers resorted to the rather quaint distortions of Arab magic that had filtered through to Europe via Spain in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the fragments of classic tradition which had become part of magic, the Jewish Qabalah (for which he had a very special passion), the intricate symbolism of alchemists, and the fantasies of the Rosicrucians, and welded them together into a coherent and living whole which used as its framework the
Tree of Life, or Otz Chiim (Etz 'Hayyim), and the complex pantheon of Egyptian gods. For Mathers, the magical dictum 'as above so below' was as strong an article of faith as his belief in the reality of the earth beneath his feet. As a result of this view of the world, Mathers was able to draw the most complicated parallels between previously diverse systems, using the numerical classification of the thirty-two Paths and Spheres of the Tree of Life which brought together systems based on the Triad, the Heptad, the Dodecad, the twenty-two Tarot Trumps, or letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the sixteen figures of geomancy, twenty-five elements and sub-elements, pantheons both European and Oriental, and the bewildering maze of spirits, Dukes, Earls and other Lords of Hell in the Grimoires.
From John Heydon's Theomagia, Christopher Cattan's Geomancy, and various manuscript geomancies in the British Museum, Bibliothèque d'Arsenal and Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, he drew together a concise document on geomancy. This has had a number of recensions with Israel Regardie's and Aleister Crowley's printed works relying on it for geomantic source material, but it was basically in the form of a 'knowledge lecture' circulated amongst the members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn that Mathers's work served its primary purpose.
One of the early associates of the Golden Dawn was Franz Hartmann whose Principles of Astrological Geomancy (1913) includes a rather Theosophically flavoured astrological introduction, with material from Agrippa, and a large appendix 'containing two thousand and forty-eight answers to questions translated from the German of the sixteenth century', in reality a Judge/ Witness table providing answers to sixteen basic questions.
Israel Regardie, a member of the Stella Matutina, a later offshoot of The Golden Dawn, published a version of this geomancy 'knowledge lecture' in the fourth volume of his
The Golden Dawn. This has been until recently the best modern source of information on geomancy succinctly packed into twenty-four pages, and has been reworked by Regardie into a short booklet.
In 1909 Crowley began publishing his series of bi-yearly magazines called the Equinox, which resembled in its bulk a book rather than a magazine. In the second number, published in that year there was a short sketch called A Handbook of Geomancy which relied for most of its information on the Golden Dawn 'knowledge lecture'given to Crowley at his initiation. In the course of transcribing this material Crowley abridged most of the instructions, and according to his own admission, omitted a number of pertinent points. To quote his introduction to the Handbook:
This MS. is now first printed from the private copies of certain adepts, after careful examination and collation. It is printed for the information of scholars and the instruction of seekers. By the order of the A ■'• A .'. [Crowley's magical Order] certain formulae have been introduced into it, and omissions made, to baffle any one who may seek to prostitute it to idle curiosity or to fraud. Its practical use and the method of avoiding these pitfalls will be shown to approved students by special authority from V.V.V.V.V. [Crowley] or his delegates.
It is strange that Crowley chose this particular 'instruction' to obfuscate, as he published much of the Golden Dawn material of a much more recondite nature elsewhere in the Equinox. Obviously his note was also designed to attract students to his order, the A .'. A .'..
The work was also prefaced by a quote from the Oracles of Zoroaster, a square from the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage, and a sketch by Austin Osman Spare; none of these having much, if anything, to do with geomancy. The quote from Zoroaster is actually a diatribe against divination, for it says:
Direct not thy mind to the vast surfaces of the earth; for the Plant of Truth grows not upon the ground. Nor measure the motions of the Sun, collecting rules, for he is carried by the Eternal Will of the Father, and not for your sake alone. Dismiss from your mind the impetuous course of the Moon, for she moveth always by the power of Necessity. The progression of the Stars was not generated for your sake. The wide aerial flight of birds gives no true knowledge, nor the dissection of the entrails of victims; they are all mere toys, the basis of mercenary fraud . . .
Presumably, had Zoroaster been familiar with geomancy, he would have also decried its use as a technique of divination.
The use of an Abra-Melin square is even more odd, for this particular square is drawn from the tenth chapter of the third book of Abra-Melin, and is a square designed 'to hinder Sorcerors from operating'; presumably a safeguard against the mis-use of geomancy! The sketch by Spare is the so called 'Death Posture' from Spare's work The Book of Pleasure (Self-love): The Psychology of Ecstasy which was published in 1913 after the Equinox article. At the time of the Equinox article Spare was one of Crowley's A .'. A .'. pupils, a fact confirmed by Crowley's manuscript comments on the copy of this work held by the Mitchell Library in Sydney.
The main text of Crowley's Equinox commences with a table of zodiacal Sign, and Element, with the corresponding geomantic figure, its sex, name and meaning, presiding Genius, ruler and planet; quite conventional in itself. The second chapter rapidly outlines the method of generating the geomantic figures from the four Mothers to the Judge, with the exception that Crowley introduces the Golden Dawn inspired prescription to 'place appropriate Pentagram (either with or without a circumscribed circle) invoking. If a circle, draw this first. Sigil of ruler to which nature of question most refers should be placed in the Pentagram.' This stipulation has been repeated by other writers of the Golden Dawn tradition, including Israel Regardie, but there appears to be no precedent for this particular operation before the synthesizing genius of S.L. MacGregor Mathers put together the Golden Dawn, drawing upon Heydon for most of his geomantic information.
Crowley then quickly summarizes the determination of the Part of Fortune and the Reconciler before moving onto his third chapter, where he attributes the first twelve geomantic figures to the twelve Houses of heaven. His method of attribution is traditional Golden Dawn attribution and summarized in Appendix III (pp. 238-9).
Then comes the part of the handbook which Crowley might well have 'designed to baffle anyone who may seek to prostitute it', for it consists of sets of interpretative tables whose main claim to fame is that they are an incomplete summary of an earlier text. The tables of Witnesses and Judge are set out in such a way that you can derive answers to ten different categories of questions which are, 'Life, Money, Rank, Property, Wife, Sex of Child, Sickness, Prison, Journey, Thing Lost'. These ten categories of question, rather oddly assorted in themselves, are actually a bastardized version of the twelve categories of the astrological Houses into which any particular geomantic figure could fall. Additionally one would have hoped that anyone slightly versed in geomancy should have been able to combine the basic meanings of two Witness and one Judge figure and use their own intuition to derive a much more specific answer than the extremely bare 'mod', 'good', 'bad', 'evil', etc. Even this scheme breaks down and occasionally a number appears in the column indicating that the judgment should be determined, 'by the figure in that House of Heaven': as the text was in its original form designed to be a table of Houses, this is a fair indication of the degree of debasement which has occurred to the text. Regardie in The Golden Dawn says of these tables: 'I have found them most untrustworthy, giving answers in utter contradiction to the proper divination worked out by the readings.'
In Chapter V Crowley gives tables of the meanings of the sixteen figures when they fall in each of the twelve Houses. These are basically accurate but extremely abridged.1
The last five pages of Crowley's Handbook of Geomancy cover extremely rapidly the astrological interpretation of the figures, aspects, essential dignities, friendship and enmity of the planets and figures, and other matters: an extremely sketchy treatment culminating in yet another sketch by A.O. Spare. Nevertheless this text on geomancy was one of the few available this century, and has therefore been quite influential, appearing again by itself at a later date in a card-covered edition.
Crowley's interest in geomancy was also reflected in his great work of Qabalistic correspondences Liber 777, and in Magick in Theory and Practice, where he praises geomancy as being 'rigorously mathematical'. He goes on to explain:2
The objection to its use lies in the limited number of the symbols. To represent the Universe by no more than 16 combinations throws too much work upon them. There is also a great restriction arising from the fact that although 15 symbols appear in the final figure, there are, in reality, but 4, the remaining 11 being drawn by an ineluctable process from the 'Mothers' . . . Some Adepts, however, appear to find this system admirable, and obtain great satisfaction from its use. Once more, the personal equation must be allowed full weight.
Crowley claims to have used geomancy extensively, but never felt wholly at ease with it, finding interpretation very difficult, which is not to be wondered at if he used his own tables! He conceded that the tables given in his Handbook 'are exceedingly vague on the one hand, and insufficiently comprehensive on the other', but justified his inability to get on with geomancy in terms of the low order of the geomantic intelligences involved, who were far from sympathetic to his work.
If Crowley lacked success in his practice of geomancy, then one of his pupils, Thomas Windram (or Frater Semper
Paratus), did not. To quote Crowley's Confessions:3 this brother possessed the most remarkable magical faculties, within a certain limited scope. It was natural for him to bring into action those forces which impinge directly upon the material world. For instance, his ability to perform divination by means of geomancy (which presumes the action of intelligences of a gross type) has no parallel in my experience . . .
By profession Frater Semper Paratus was a chartered accountant. He would be called in to audit the finances of some firm. He would find himself confronted by an overwhelming mass of documents. 'It means three weeks' work', he would say to himself, 'to discover the location of the error. . .' Instead of exploring the mass of material at random, he would set up a series of geomantic figures and, after less than an hour's work, would take up the volume geomantically indicated and put his finger at once upon the origin of the confusion-.
Formerly one might not have associated the 'geomantic intelligences' with accountancy, their nature being more associated with the earth, consequently it comes as no surprise that:
On another occasion, he bethought himself that, living as he did in Johannesburg, surrounded by gold and diamonds, he might as well use geomancy to discover a deposit for his own benefit. Indifferent as to whether he found gold or diamonds, he thought to include both by framing his question to cover 'mineral wealth'. He was directed [by the geomantic intelligences] to ride out from the city by a given compass bearing. He did so. He found no indication of what he sought. He had given up hope and determined to return when he saw a range of low hills before him. He decided to push on and see if anything was visible from their summit. No, the plain stretched away without promise, a marshy flat with pools of stagnant water dotted about it. At this moment of complete disappointment, he noticed that his pony was thirsty. He therefore rode down to the nearest pool to let him drink. The animal refused the water, so he dismounted to find out the reason. The taste told him at once that he had discovered an immensely rich deposit of alkali. His geomancy had not misled him; he had found mineral wealth. He proceeded to exploit his discovery.
However, as is often the case with such magically acquired information, his practical exploitation of this find was, according to Crowley, baulked by Brunner, Mond and Company, who presumably were also interested in these deposits. A similar experiment undertaken with a combination of geomantic intelligence and pendulum, coupled with a map, to determine the location of gold deposits, resulted ironically enough in a perfect fix being obtained on a point on the map which subsequently turned out to be the vaults of a rather large bank!
While English adepts applied geomancy to magical ends, their French counterparts were reaping the harvest of their anthropologists' labours in Madagascar, in what was then French West Africa, and Northern Africa. Because of this, the French literature on geomancy has long been aware of the history of the subject, stretching as it does from the Arab culture of North Africa, south to sub-Saharan regions and Madagascar. It is interesting that ex-colonial settlement patterns still have an influence on cultural orientation, although studies of ifa and fa in English do not seem to have ever been correlated with European geomancy except as a footnote or passing remark by writers such as Burton, who was not blinkered by a particular 'discipline'.
Some two years after Caslant produced his study of geomancy,4 drawn from the work of Christopher Cattan, we find a hefty two-volume tome published by Dom Néroman, an 'ingénieur civil des mines' called Grande Encyclopédie Illustrée Des Sciences Occultes. Oddly enough this volume is one of the few 'occult' books which are actually shelved in the British Library's open reference section, and although it is very much a reflection of its period, and of French occultism generally, the Library has seen fit to have this as almost sole reference work over and above many similar English compilations. Nevertheless the work contains a large chapter on geomancy whose main claim to an original contribution is a systematization of the generation of the figures of geomancy which was later taken up and carried to its logical conclusion by Robert
Jaulin in his work La Géomancie: Analyse-Formelle in 1966, the best so far on the logical relationships between the figures. Apart from this, Néroman contributes some interesting circular drawings of the sixteen geomantic figures opposing each other in various relationships such as must have been part of a Lullian disc. He includes a large table which links up the geomantic figures with more than the usual planets and elements, by including metals, colours, months of the year, days, lengths of time and typical occupations associated with each figure.
part two • Practice
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The pathology of the poet says that the undevout astronomer is mad the pathology of the very plain man says that the genius is mad and between these extremes, which stand for ten thousand analogous excesses, the sovereign reason takes the part of a moderator and does what it can. I do not think that there is a pathology of the occult dedications, but about their extravagances no one can question, and it is not less difficult than thankless to act as a moderator regarding them.