John De Morys And Nicholas Oresme

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Jean de Murs (often Latinized Iohannes de Muris or Anglicized as John de Morys) was a prominent Parisian astronomer and arithmetician of the first half of the fourteenth century. One of John's several claims to fame is the construction of a fifteen foot radius Kardaja for astronomical observation. By way of comparison, Tycho Brahe employed one of only six foot and nine inch radius, although Dr John Dee (two centuries later) was reputed to have had a sextant of some forty feet radius. John de Morys combined the study of astronomy with that of its terrestrial sibling, geomancy. Amongst manuscripts possibly attributable to John is one in which the sixteen geomantic figures are related in detail to the planets and signs.20 John goes on to give the usual Christian mythical history of geomancy, stating that the art had its origins at the time of Noah. The relation of the geomantic figures to the twelve Houses of Heaven is considered, but much of the work is taken up with the interpretation of specific House/figure combinations, closely relating the concepts of astrology to geomancy. Amongst the traditionally geomantic material are details on related astrological topics such as the 'Egyptian' or inauspicious days upon which it is not wise to cast geomantic figures, or in fact do much else!

Despite such works, the fourteenth century sported numerous sceptics such as Nicolas Oresme, philosopher and mathematician, who in his Des Divinations spoke disparagingly of geomancy as 'nothing but the distinction between odd and even'. He calls it 'the game of philosophers' but concedes suggestively that certain problems in arithmetic can be worked out by using it. As he finds no reference to geomancy in classical writers, he rightly concludes that it is a medieval invention, although he doesn't spot its Arab origins. On the whole he spoke out against geomancy and similar divinatory practices.

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