Robert Fludd, physician and mystical philosopher, was born in Kent in 1574. He studied at St John's College, Oxford and then spent five years in Europe, taking his medical degree in 1605. He was a follower of Paracelsus whose advances in medicine were to revolutionize the whole medieval and classical attitude to medicine. Fludd was author of many obscure Latin works on theosophy, philosophy and mathematics. He approached these subjects however in a typical medieval manner, treating them as interrelated parts of one divine science, rather than separate fields of inquiry.
His father had been 'Treasurer of War' to Elizabeth I and he was part of a reasonably important family, having therefore the money to travel widely and to study medicine in France, Spain, Italy and Germany. He poured out such an amazing stream of complex treatises that it was said that he employed an amanuensis regularly so that he could dictate his numerous works at odd moments throughout the day.
Apart from his interest in philosophy and medicine he became a supporter of the Rosicrucian cause and wrote several works supporting this almost mythical brotherhood of sages which had first come to the notice of the scholars in Europe in the early seventeenth century. As he was an influential writer in his own time, much of what has later come to be considered as Rosicrucian was in fact based on Fludd's treatises rather than any directly Rosicrucian material.
He was also important in other fields of endeavour and became a close correspondent of the astronomer Kepler. Fludd's contribution to astronomy was more in the nature of cosmological speculations, but because of the logic of the time, Kepler felt that amongst Fludd's cosmological speculation were principles which he could possibly apply to deducing the physical nature of the universe. It was not unusual in the seventeenth century for thinkers to subscribe to the 'as above so below' theory, and use the conclusions of one science to answer questions in another.
Kepler was so fascinated with Fludd's theories explained in the Utriusque Cosmi that when he wrote his own treatise on the solar system he included an appendix specifically addressed to Fludd. However, where Fludd saw the universe animated by a living soul and ruled by spiritual essences, angelic powers and the whole machinery of planetary intelligences, Kepler took a more modern view and described the system in terms of mathematics. In some ways Fludd and Kepler represent the division between ancient and modern approaches to cosmology: on Fludd's side is the platonic theory of the world soul integrated with the Christian ideas of his period, on the other side Kepler adheres rigorously to those things which he can prove by figures.
Fludd's speculation on Creation and natural history mixed theories of thunderbolts with addresses on anatomy, military manoeuvres, theological theories, religious rationalizations and qabalistic conjectures. For
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Fludd, there was no dividing line between science and religion.
As Fludd saw geometry and its attendant science, mathematics, at the root of the whole cosmos, it is not unusual that he felt that the binary mathematics of geomancy were a reliable means for probing the future.
Fludd describes one of his experiences with geomancy in the section on 'the internal principle of terrestrial astrology or geomancy' in his Historia Macrocosmi, the translation of which is based on the work of C.H. Josten.9
In [1601-2] ... I was compelled to spend the whole winter in the city of Avignon . . . With many other young men of good background, and of sound education (former pupils of the Jesuits) I received board and lodging at the house of a certain captain.
One evening, while we were drinking at table, I discussed philosophical subjects with the others and observed their various opinions on geomantic astrology. Some of them denied its usefulness altogether; others, with whom I sided, stoutly defended the truth of that art. I set out many arguments in which I proved myself fairly well versed in geomancy.
The meal being over, I had no sooner returned to my bedroom, when one of my companions followed me and asked me to try my skill [in geomancy] (which, he said, he had seen was considerable) in the resolution of a problem of some importance which greatly troubled him. Having made many excuses, I was at last prevailed upon by his entreaties. So, instantly I marked down geomantic dots for the question he had proposed. This question was: whether a girl with whom he had vehemently fallen in love returned his love with equal fervour with her entire mind and body, and whether she loved him more than anyone else.
Having drawn up the [geomantic] chart, I assured him that I could describe the nature and appearance of his beloved and, having duly described to him the stature and shape of the girl's body, I indicated also a particular and rather noticeable mark, a kind of wart on her left eye-lid, which he agreed was there. I said also that the girl loved vineyards, and this detail, too, was confirmed by him with pleasure. He said that her mother had for that very reason built her house among the vineyards. Finally I gave the following answer to the question: that his beloved was unfaithful and by no means steady in her love of him, and that she loved somebody else more than him. Whereupon he said that he had always very much suspected that this was the case and that he was [now] seeing it with open eyes.
He left my room in haste and then related to his companions with some admiration the truth and virtue of my art. Yet some of them, who knew the girl well, denied altogether that she had any such mark on her eye-lid as I had described, until they talked to her the following day and saw the correctness of that detail which I had foretold by the art of geomancy, and which even they had never previously noticed.
This interesting episode however could have led to serious trouble for Fludd as the papal town of Avignon contained a number of clergy who considered such practices unlawful and harmful, if not exactly demoniac. Fludd continues:
Thus I became better known than I desired, so much so that rumours of this matter reached the ears of the Jesuits. Two of them went secretly to the Palace and, impelled by envy, reported to the Vice-Legate [Carlo Conti di Poli] that there was a certain foreigner, an Englishman, who had made predictions of future events by the science of geomancy, which science was not approved of by the Catholic Church. The following morning this was related to me by a captain of the Palace, named John.
John put Fludd's fears to rest for he had heard the Vice-Legate's reply:
Truly this is not so serious an offence as you are trying to make out. Is there indeed a single Cardinal in Italy who does not possess an interpretation of his nativity after the astrological or the geomantic method?
A few days later di Poli invited Fludd to have a meal with him, and discuss geomancy. Just to be on the safe side, and to have a witness, in case his words should later be twisted in a court, Fludd took his old friend, Monsieur Malceau, the well-known papal apothecary. After the usual formalities the Vice-Legate broached the reason for his invitation and asked Fludd for his real opinion of geomancy. The Vice-Legate also wanted to know how a scientific method of divination could be based on an apparently random and accidental jotting. By this time Fludd saw that there was no trap concealed in the conversation, and that his questioner really wanted to know the inner mechanics and rationale of geomancy. Accordingly, Fludd replied:
the principle and origin of those dots made by the human hand was inward and very essential, since the movement [of the hand] emanated from the soul. I added that the errors of geomancy are not caused by the soul but by the unrefined nature of the body distorting the intention of the soul. For that reason it is a general rule in this art that the soul [of the geomancer] must be in a peaceful condition, and a condition in which the body is obedient to the soul; also that there must be no disturbance of body or soul, nor any bias concerning the question; that the [geomancer's] soul must be like a just and impartial judge . . . Likewise it is necessary for the practitioner to think intensely of the question that had been proposed so that he might not be seduced by any extraneous thoughts.
According to Fludd, geomancy was a 'science of the intellectual soul in which intellectual rays emanated from the mind to mundane affairs and then returned to their centre with tidings of the future', a typically Fluddian rationalization attempting to make the occult sciences intellectually respectable. A state of almost prophetic rapture is, according to Fludd, needed as a prerequisite of divining by geomancy. It is interesting to note that it is on record that despite Fludd's rationalization of the reasons for geomancy's success, he preferred to use awheel with sixteen projections which was spun, rather like a roulette wheel or a Lullian wheel to obtain the necessary geomantic figures. As with any art though, it is necessary to master completely all its details before any of its short-cuts can successfully be used.
POPULARIZERS AND THE DECLINE OF GEOMANCY Richard Sanders (or Saunders), a fellow countryman of
Fludd, was primarily a popularizer in the field of physiognomy and chiromancy, but found time to insert casual references to geomancy in his Physiognomie and Chiromancie which was published in London in 1653. In it he included such odd pieces of information as 'how to discover the physiognomy of anyone, or know the dreams of princes', both supposedly by geomancy!10
Sanders dedicated his book to Elias Ashmole, the antiquarian and member of the Royal Society who combined these pursuits with a passionate love of magic and astrology. As mentioned earlier Ashmole was given Richard Napier's papers, along with Simon Forman's, and less directly John Dee's, most of which finished up in the Bodleian library. It was in fact Ashmole who was largely responsible for rescuing the magical diaries of Dr John Dee, from the flames, and from oblivion. Sanders referred to his dedicatee as 'a real mercurial encyclopaedian'.
Another popularizer like Sanders was the self-avowed, and not a little pompous, John Heydon who between 1662 and 1664 brought out three tomes entitled Theomagia, or the Temple of Wisdom, based primarily upon geomancy and the production of talismans or 'telesmes'. Not only is the book a hotch-potch of previous works, but it was only a small part of Heydon's voluminous output designed to promote alchemy, geomancy and a dubious brand of Rosicrucianism. Frances Yates, describes him as:11 'that strange character, John Heydon, who abandoned all precedent by loudly claiming that he was a Rosicrucian, published a series of works in which the Rosicrucian tendency to fanciful utopianism reached unprecedented heights.'
Heydon not only had an impact on his own time, but also (probably because of his reputed Rosicrucian connections) impressed MacGregor Mathers who used Theomagia as his prime source when drawing up the papers on geomancy for the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the late nineteenth century. As a result the various spirits which Heydon spoke about, like Kedemel, Sorath and Barzabel, were woven into those instructions on geomancy which later became the fountainhead of information for most of the magical groups of the twentieth century, despite the fact that these spirits have no part to play in traditional geomancy and were borrowed by Heydon from other magical disciplines outlined in Agrippa.
The same popularization occurred in continental Europe, where in 1657, and again in 1663, a work called La chiromance, la physionomie et la gdomance . . . by de Peruchio, explained in some detail the art of astrological geomancy, together with 'astrological chiromancy' and physiognomy which had increasingly become its sister sciences since the days of Codes. The medieval grouping of geomancy, pyromancy, hydromancy and aeromancy had given way to the above trilogy mainly because of the dearth of information on these elusive and partly fanciful arts. Peruchio supplements his geomancy with dice divination and the 'Wheel of Pythagoras', a circular numerological arrangement falsely attributed to the Greek philosopher, but common in works of divination of the period.
Henry de Pisis, whose work on geomancy was first printed in 1638, appears reprinted in the Fasciculus Geomanticus (Verona, 1687) with the important treatise by Fludd already mentioned. De Pisis divides geomancy into three books: theory, practice, and examples of questions taken from previous authors.
Instead of generating the geomantic figures by marking sixteen rows of dots at random, de Pisis uses a disc with the sixteen geomantic figures marked on it as a wheel to be spun four times to determine the four initial figures, reminiscent of Ramon Lull. This is a much faster way of generating the Mother figures, but far estranged from the sand-cutting of its forebear, rami. De Pisis relies heavily on authorities like the Arabic writers Geber and Aomar, medieval Latins like Gerard of Cremona and Peter de Abano, popularizers like Codes, and recent contemporaries like Fludd.
Very late in 1704 the Fasciculus Geomanticus, followed by an additional Tabulae Geomanticae, was reprinted in Frankfurt: a handbook and compendium not since rivalled for clarity and completeness. Indeed the hour was very late for geomancy itself, since it was the eighteenth century with its growing rationalism which delivered the coup de grâce to geomancy. It was just a short step from the Jesuit father Francois Ménétrier, who considered in his Philosophie des images énigmatiques in 1694 that all the operations of geomancy were diabolical, to the so-called age of reason when geomancies were relegated to the status of drawing-room diversions or bibliophile's curios. No original studies appeared in this century, and despite a flourishing trade in anonymous geomancies in German, they were, without exception, purely devised to delight, or while away the hours. These 'Punctierkunsts' or lPunctier-Buchs' were the first of a long line of thin anonymous or pseudonymous volumes often published with misleading imprints and unreliable dates. This tendency to popularize geomancy is part of the roots from which the English astrological revival of the early nineteenth century sprang.
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