The Inquisition And Peter Of Abano

By the fourteenth century however the Inquisition had begun to busy itself with divination as well as magic and heresy. Nicholas Eymeric (1320-99), a Dominican professor of theology and inquisitor general of Aragon, seems to have been a stout opponent of any heresy, divination, magic or alchemy. Oddly, he describes 'geomancy'19 as making use of a circle and a mirror; while the method of divining by chance markings of dots or scattering sand which is usually called geomancy, is called by Eymeric 'geometrimancy'.

The Inquisition also affected Peter of Abano (1250-1317). He studied medicine in Paris before returning to Padua to practise as a physician. Towards the end of his life, he was actually accused of practising sorcery by the Inquisition and was imprisoned. He was later acquitted but then re-arrested, and died in prison in 1317 whilst again awaiting trial.

A geomancy exists in several printed editions and manuscripts which is usually attributed to Peter of Abano: as Gabriel Naude (1600-53), the French librarian, stated that Peter left treatises on 'physiognomy, geomancy, and chiromancy', there seems to be no need to dispute the accuracy of this ascription. In his Conciliator (Diff. 156) Peter asserted that the future, and that which is absent, could be predicted by means of characters 'as geomancy teaches'. In his other great work, the Lucidator, he describes in some detail the method of geomancy, stating that its figures were produced under the influence of the constellations, and that not infrequently its judgments were verified. However, he regarded geomancy as a very difficult science, one requiring long experience and practice (although many of his contemporaries tried it simply because it looked so easy!). As he had a well-paid practice as a physician, and a place in society to keep up, it is conceivable that the treatise remained in manuscript form till some time after his death, especially as he was in some trouble with the Inquisition.

Of the books of magic attributed to Peter of Abano, the Heptameron is the best known, but Naude states that two other books of his were banned after his death, the Elucidarium Necromanticum and Liber Experimentorum Mirabilium de Annulis Secundum 28 Mansiones Lunae, or 'Book of marvellous experiments with rings according to the 28 Mansions of the moon'. Amongst the less salubrious works from his pen was a work on poisons, commissioned by the then incumbent pope, possibly Honorius IV: ironical in view of Peter's treatment at the hands of the Pope's agents, the Inquisition.

Shortly after Peter's death, geomancy was immortalized in a Provencal didactic poem written in 1332 and running to 3,700 lines. This labour of love rather than art rhymes its way through all the possible combinations of the figures in the Houses of Heaven: one wonders whether the poet sought immortality in art or in didactic verbosity. Nevertheless this exhaustive treatment escaped the flames to provide useful clues about the earlier writers on geomancy.

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