Geomancy Step-by-Step

 "Geomancy" is derived from the Latin "geomantia," which in turn is derived from the Greek for "divination by earth." The Arabic name for geomancy, "'ilm al-raml," means "the science of the sand." In its original form, the geomantic figure was created by making lines of random numbers of dots in the sand, hence the name. Medieval European writers agreed that it was also acceptable to draw the dots on a piece of parchment or paper. In keeping with the Arabic origin of geomancy, most writers recommend making the dots from right to left, the direction in which Arabic is written. From the dots or points, the geomancer draws a series of figures which are arranged into the geomantic tableau. There are sixteen possible figures consisting of single or pairs of points. Each figure has a name, associations with the elements, planets, etc., and good or bad qualities. Interpretation depends on the meanings of the figures in particular locations in the tableau, and owes a great deal to the practice of medieval astrology. Unlike astrology, however, geomancy requires no instruments or complex calculations.

Casting the Points

The first step is usually called "casting" or "sowing" the points. In this step, the geomancer draws sixteen lines of points, from right to left, while concentrating on the question he or she wants answered. Some treatises advise the geomancer to pray before casting the points. No effort should be made to count the points as they are made, although the geomancer is usually advised to make at least twelve. The casting of the points is the critical process in geomancy; if the geomancer does not cast the points correctly, the tableau will be invalid. The sixteen lines of points are grouped in fours, and the points are then counted off two by two, from the right to the left, and connected in pairs, so that each line of points ends either with a pair or with a single point. These single or odd and paired or even points will be grouped to create the first four figures of the geomantic tableau:

The Geomantic Tableau

The Mothers

These first four figures of the geomantic tableau are called the "mothers" or matres and are drawn horizontally from right to left:

The Daughters

The next four figures, called the "daughters" or filiae, are created by adding the points of the mothers sideways from right to left. For example, here the first row of points across the mothers is two-one-one-two, the second row is one-two-one-one, the third row is two-two-two-two, and the last row is one-one-one-two. These four figures are drawn next to the mothers, continuing horizontally from right to left:

The Nieces

The next four figures, sometimes called the "nieces" or neptes are created by adding together the points in pairs of two figures above. If there are an even number of points, two points are put down; if there is an odd number of points, one point is put down. For example, the first "niece" is created by adding the points of the first and second "mothers." Again, the geomancer proceeds from right to left:

The Witnesses and the Judge

Finally, the tableau is completed by adding points in the same way to create three more figures. The first two are called the "witnesses" or testes and the last is the "judge" or iudex (If the judge is a figure that does not have an even number of points, a mistake has been made in the addition, "and then must you turn again to make correction".)

A sixteenth figure called the "super judge" is sometimes drawn by "adding" the points of the first and fifteenth figures.

Interpretation

The Geomantic Figures

There are sixteen possible figures in the geomantic tableau. Each figure has a name and a set of attributes or qualities. The figures and their names are:

The Geomantic Houses

The geomantic houses are borrowed from medieval astrological practice. There are twelve houses, and geomantic tableaux are sometimes laid out in the same square form as the medieval horoscope (see the geomantic figure in Of Geomancy for an example). In addition, the geomantic tableau has two extra "houses" for the "witnesses" and a final "house" for the "judge." The houses are numbered from right to left as follows:

As in astrological practice, each house governs an area of life. These are:

HouseLatinEnglish
1VitaLife
2LucrumRiches
3FratresBrothers
4GenitorFather
5NatiSons
6ValetudoHealth
7UxorWife
8MorsDeath
9ItinerisJourneys
10RegnumKings
11BenefactaGood Fortune
12CarcerPrison

An understanding of the houses is fundamental to interpreting the geomantic tableau. Any possible question can be assigned to one of the houses. For example, questions about marriage are assigned to the 7th house; a question about whether a ship will return safely from a voyage belongs to the 9th house; a question about whether a sick person will recover belongs to the 6th house. (Like astrological texts, medieval and Renaissance geomantic texts give the reader an excellent idea about the day-to-day concerns of people living in those times.) Most geomantic treatises include long lists of the types of questions appropropriate to each house, and some compress this information into tabular form. For example, in Martin of Spain's De geomancia, questions assigned to the 10th house, the house of kings, include:

Whether a man shall get honor or kingdom. Whether a king shall be honored in his kingdom. Whether a king shall be deposed from his kingdom. Whether he that is deposed shall enter again. Whether a foreign king shall subdue a king.

Methods of Interpretation

The simplest method of interpreting the geomantic tableau is to determine which house governs the subject of the question, consider the qualities and properties of the figure in that house, and judge the question accordingly. However, most geomantic treatises advise the geomancer to consider a number of other factors before giving judgement. These include, among others:

• the nature of the figure in the first house, which signifies the querant
• locus: is the figure in a favorable or unfavorable house?
• aspectus: are the figures in favorable or unfavorable aspect to one another? (The geomantic aspects, similar to the aspects of astrology, are association, trine, square, sextile, opposition, translation, occupation, conjunction, mutation, and prohibition.)
• motus: how to the figures pass from one house to another?
• paternitas: which figures generated the figure in question?
• the nature of the witnesses, the judge, and the super-judge
• various numerical procedures, e.g., is the total number of points in the tableau odd or even?
• the via puncti or way of the point

The astrological method (which is briefly described in Turner's Of Geomancy) involves drawing up a horoscope in which the positions of the planets and signs in the houses are determined by the geomantic tableau rather than by calculations based on astronomical tables or the use of an astrolabe.

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 Elizabeth Z. Bennett ezb@princeton.edu Copyright Elizabeth Bennett 1998 Last revised: June 1, 2012