In France from the end of the sixteenth to the end of the seventeenth century studies of geomancy multiplied, and many editions of the better known texts were published. The best known were those of the Italian Christopher Cattan (1558), the French translation of Cornelius Agrippa, and the indigenous works of De la Taille (1574) and De la Tayssonniere (1574).6 Of these, only The Geomancie of Maister Christopher Cattan was translated out of French 'into our English tongue' by Francis Sperry in 1591, immediately becoming a best-seller which necessitated its reprinting in 1608. Its popularity is also attested by the number of contemporary manuscript copies held in the British Library7 which owe their origins to this work. The book is dedicated by Sparry to 'Lord Nicat, Lord of Bosnay, and of Chesney, one of the Kinges Counsaile, and Maister of the Requests of the Housholde'. Cattan himself was the soldier and servant of Lord Thais.
Cattan proposes in his preface to write in the future a Physiognomie and a Chiromancie, reinforcing the association between these three arts, which had grown since the time of Codes: this he failed to do however. Following tradition, Cattan says 'the Iudians [Indians], Chaldeans, Hebrews, Arabians, Greekes, Egiptians and Latines' have written on geomancy. He selected three of these works as important, (a) the manuscript beginning 'Estimaverunt Indi . . . written by the Indians'; (b) the manuscript beginning 'Ha veenestre . . . written by the Hebrewes'; (c) the Latin work of Bartholomew de Pine [Parma]. An interesting choice of reference sources.
Cattan's work is divided into three books, being, (i) A treatise of the art; (ii) On the twelve Houses of Heaven; and (iii) Judgment with examples. The author is careful at the outset to explain that geomancy is not wrought 'by diabolicke invocation, but a part of Natural Magicke, and daughter of Astrology . . . and S. Thomas of Aquine [Aquinas] himself, a Doctor of the church of no small estimation, saith in his Quolibet, that it [geomancy] may bee admitted, because it doth participate with Astrologie, and is called her daughter'.
In his first chapter, Cattan defines geomancy:
Geomancie is a Science and art which consisteth of points, prickes, and lines, made in steade of the foure Elements, and of the starres and Planets of Heaven, called the Science of the Earth, because in times past it was made on it as we will hereafter declare. And thus everie pricke signifieth a Starre, and everie line an Element, and everie figure the faure quarters of the world, that is to say, the East, West, South, and North. Wherefore it is easie to know that Geomancie is none other thing but Astrologie, and a third meane, that is to say, participating of two, which is Alquemy [Alchemy].
Geomancy is called Gy a Greek word, which signifieth earth: and Mancie, which is to say knowledge. Or defining it more properly, it is derived of Gyos and Magos, which signifieth knowledge of earthly things, by the power of ye superior bodies, of the foure Elements, the seaven planets, and of the twelve signes of heaven. And this Arte may be made upon the Earth, or in white Paper, or uppon any other thing, whereon it may commodiouslie bee done, so that the prickes and lines may be knowne.
In chapter 3, Cattan explains what equipment is needed and recommends pen, ink and paper, explaining that the use of 'beanes or other grains' to produce a geomantic figure is in 'the manner of the curtizances of Bolognia'. It is interesting that Cattan has come across a modus operandi similar to the palm nut and bean manipulation of African geomancy, perhaps found in the Summa of Bartholomew of Parma which was composed in Bologna.
After a fairly traditional explanation of the generation of the figures, Cattan supplies extensive tables for use by the intending geomancer. Cattan's book being widely distributed would have been known to Simon Forman (1552-1611), the Elizabethan contemporary of John Dee who practised geomancy for clients, and as a diagnostic tool. Richard Napier, rector of Great Linford in
Buckinghamshire, was Forman's pupil and colleague in these arts.
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