This book is about divination by earth: it is a book of the art of geo-mancy. The New English Dictionary defines geomancy as 'divination by means of lines, figures or dots on the earth or on paper, or by particles of earth cast on the ground'. The word is derived from two Greek words, yaia or yfj (gaia or ge) meaning the earth, and fiavreia (manteia) meaning divination.
The techniques of geomancy are many and varied. They include inspecting the configurations made by scattered pebbles, the manipulation of handfuls of palm nuts or seeds (themselves born of the earth), or the making of marks haphazardly in the ground with a stick. Divination by marking the earth or casting things on the ground also developed into the interpretation of lines or dots made more or less haphazardly on paper with a pen or pencil.
Divinatory geomancy has its roots in Arabic sand divination, which appears also in various guises as African divinatory systems on the West Coast (ifa and fa) and Madagascar (sikidy). The first chapter considers their history in outline, while the subsequent chapters consider the varying techniques of interpretation in each area in detail.
Geomancy has come to be one of the three or four great European methods of divination, like the tarot or astrology. It is also the most easily apprehended of the four elemental modes of divination: pyromancy (divination by fire), hydromancy (by water), aeromancy (by air) and geomancy (by earth).
Geomancy could be defined as the art of obtaining insight into the present or future by observing the combinations of patterns made in the earth or on paper by a diviner allowing his intuition, or 'the spirits of the earth', to control the movement of his wand or pencil. To become familiar with the basic practice of geomancy let us try a very simple geomantic divination, using paper and pencil.
First formulate a question and write it at the top of the paper. Place the paper at arm's length. Then, with eyes half closed and thinking only of the question, make four lines of random dots, making as many dots as you feel inclined in each line. Repeat this procedure four times, so that you generate four lines of dots.
Next, mark off the dots you have made in each line, a pair at a time. Take each line in turn and you will be left with either:
o if there is an odd number of dots o o if there is an even number of dots.
Starting with the first line, transcribe the one or two dots remaining. Below this, mark the one or two remaining dots of the second line. Do the same with the third and fourth lines. You have now created a geomantic figure.
Somewhere in the sixteen possible combinations in the table below will be the geomantic figure you have generated. Look it up and read off the answer to your question.
The geomantic figures and their basic meanings
Fortuna Major — great Fortuna Minor — lesser o o fortune o fortune
Acquisitio — acquisition o o o o o
Career — prison o o o o o o introduction 3
Conjunctio — conjunction Albus — white o o o o o o o
Caput Draconis — head of Cauda Draconis — tail of o o o the
Dragon o o the
This simple operation may be extended by producing four such figures which are referred to as Mother figures. From these, by a form of addition, are produced a further dozen figures. The final or Judge figure derived from them by mechanical means, gives the answer. In Part Two this practical technique is explained in detail, together with its astrological associations. Here it is sufficient to grasp the basic technique so that the historical chapters that follow make sense.
The performance of casting the figures may well remind the reader of the yarrow stalk system of establishing the hexagram for I Ching divination. The mechanics are less complicated, but the system is the same. The binary mathematics which govern both the 26 hexagrams of the I Ching and the 24 figures of geomancy are the basis of the physical work of both divinatory systems. In this century when computers now make many of man's economic, political and commercial forecasts, it is easy to forget that these machines work on the same principle of binary mathematics as the infinitely more ancient machines of the I Ching and geomancy.
It is interesting to note that Leibniz (1646-1716) who is the father of modern binary mathematics and the algebra of classes, drew much of his inspiration from the Jesuit translations of the I Ching which were just beginning to reach Europe in his lifetime, and was quite probably familiar with Flacourt's work on sikidy, the geomancy of Madagascar, which was published in Paris in 1661.
It might seem as if geomancy provides a very simple set of meanings with which to discover the answer to any question, but these are just the beginning, useful for getting quick answers to simple questions. The modus operandi described above is a very simplified version of geomantic practice, but adequate to introduce geomancy and its figures.
Having outlined divinatory geomancy in its original form, it is worthwhile to consider briefly the more recent applications of the word to telluric geomancy. When the Chinese science of divining the presence of the subtle currents in the earth and their effect on man was first investigated by Europeans, the Chinese term feng-shui was translated 'geomancy'. Certainly feng-shui was concerned with the earth, but the appropriation of a word which applied to a divinatory technique to describe this practice was rather confusing. Around 1870 writers on the strange art of feng-shui began to call it 'geomancy' for want of a better name, falsely connecting it with the system of divination which is completely different from its Chinese sibling. 'Topomancy' or even 'geoscopy' might have been a much better translation of feng-shui, the art of discovering 'dragon veins', the subtle telluric currents of ch 'i which the Chinese supposed affected the propitious-ness of any particular site for building or burying. Stephan Feuchtwang, who has written the most comprehensive work to date of feng-shui in English, says (p. 224): 'I draw attention to the fact that Chinese geomancy would be defined more accurately as topomancy. It is not divination by means of an earth or sand tray, which is the most common type of divination to be described as geomancy.' However, as we have now been stuck with the name for just over a century, 'geomancy' has come to describe both dot-divination and feng-shui.
Once feng-shui began to be known more popularly in the West, the hardworked term 'geomancy' was applied to yet another study. Exponents of the ley-line theory, noticing superficial similarities between ley-lines and dragon lines, christened their own work 'geomancy'. There is however a world of difference between Alfred Watkin's old 'straight tracks' connecting sites in England apparently on the same ley-line, and the sinuous coilings of the dragon veins of feng-shui. Nevertheless 'geomancy' acquired yet another meaning.
Finally there is a mention in Agrippa of divination by earth movements: 'The first, therefore, is Geomancy, which foreshows future things by the motions of the earth, as also the noise, the swelling, the trembling, the chops, the pits, and exhalation, and other impressions thereof, the art of which Almadel, the Arabian, sets forth.'1 Polydore Virgil ascribes this type of geomancy to the Persian Magi.2 Livy also wrote at length about the meaning of earthquakes and their effect on the destiny of Rome, referring their cause to the goddesses Ceres and Libera, and the god Liber. This fourth use of the word, despite the observations of Diodorus Siculus or 'Almadel the Arabian', partakes more of seismography than geomancy.
'Geomancy' has come therefore to have several meanings. We have (i) a system derived from Arabic sand divination, which developed into African systems of divination by earth, nuts and beads, and into medieval divination by binary mathematics north of the Arab world; (ii) an independent Chinese method for determining the location of dragon veins in the earth; and (iii) ley-line theories coupled with the interpretation of the siting of Megalithic monuments; not to mention (iv) seismography. In this book we will treat only of the various systems of divinatory geomancy.
The geographical dispersion of belief in both divinatory and telluric geomancy is shown in Figure 1 to clarify the different origins, provenance and extent of these two subjects.3 This map will also serve to elucidate the next chapter.
PART ONE • History
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