Geomancy (“the science of sand”), is a method of divination that interprets markings on the ground, or how handfuls of dirt land when someone tosses them. The Arabic tradition consists of sketching sixteen random lines of dots in sand.
Geomancy formed part of the required study of the Order of the Golden Dawn in the late 19th century, and also survives in modern occult practice.
In recent times the term has been applied to a wide range of other cultic, fringe, and pseudoscientific activities, including Bau-Biologie. This article deals with geomancy in its traditional meaning.
The poem Experimentarius attributed to Bernardus (Bernard) Silvestris (Silvester), who wrote in the middle of the 12th century, was a verse translation of a work on astrological geomancy.
Either Gerard of Cremona (c. 1114-1187) or Gerard of Sabionetta (Sabloneta), who lived in the thirteenth century, wrote or translated Astronomical Geomancy from Arabic into Latin. An original in Arabic is possible, as the traditional method of structuring a geomantic divination follows the direction of Arabic writing. There has been disagreement among scholars over which of these two men was responsible for this text.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “geomancy” appeared in vernacular English in 1362 (vernacular English at this time was the language of the lowest classes; Latin and French were the common languages of the middle class, gentry, and nobles).
Geomancy’s first mention in print was Langland’s Piers Plowman where it is unfavorably compared to the level of expertise a person needs for astronomy (“gemensye [geomesye] is gynful of speche”). In 1386 Chaucer used the Parson’s Tale to poke fun at geomancy in Canterbury Tales: “What say we of them that believe in divynailes as … geomancie …” Shakespeare also used geomancy for comic relief.
It was explained as divination (in the same sentence with pyromancy and hydromancy) in the best-selling Travels of Sir John Mandeville (1400, ISBN 0140444351), as “geomantie that superstitious arte” in a book of alchemy (1477), and defined in Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Philosophy of Natural Magic: Complete Work on Natural Magic, White & Black Magic (1569, ISBN 1564591603) as a form of divination “which doth divine by certaine conjectures taken of similitudes of the cracking of the Earthe.” European geomancy does owe some of its valuations to medieval astrology (the “houses” for example).
Geomancy is found in Sir Richard Burton’s “Tales from the Thousand and One Nights” in the story of ‘King Wird Khan, his Women and his Wazirs.”
Geomancy in western tradition requires no instruments and no calculations; it is based solely on the human propensity for pattern recognition.
Diviners in medieval Europe used parchment or paper for drawing the dots of geomancy but they followed the traditional direction of notation (right to left) for recording the dots. Western occultism still defines geomantic technique as marking sixteen lines of dashes in sand or soil with a wand or on a sheet of paper. The dashes aren’t counted as they are made (thus constituting a form of spontaneous divination).
The geomancer counts the number of dashes made in each line and draws either a single dot (for an odd number) or two dots (for an even number) next to the lines. The pattern of dots produced by the first to fourth lines are known as a figure, as are the fifth to eighth lines and so on.
Those four figures are entered into two charts, known as the Shield and House charts, and through binary processes form the seed of the figures that fill the whole charts. The charts are subsequently analysed and interpreted by the geomancer to find solutions, options and responses to the problem asked, along with general information about the geomancer (unless the geomancer is performing the divination for another, in which case information is shown about the person the charts were cast for) providing an all-round reading into the questioner’s life.
This form of geomancy is easy to learn and easy to perform. Once practiced by commoners and rulers alike, it was one of the most popular forms of divination throughout the middle ages, and it was actually suggested to the Pope that it be integrated into Catholic teachings.
The four binary elements of each figure allow for 2×2×2×2, or 16 different combinations. As there are 4 root figures in each chart, the total number of possible charts equals 16×16×16×16, or 65536. The charts are also interpreted differently depending on the nature of the question, making it one of the most thorough kinds of divination available, and with only 16 figures to understand is extremely simple.
Because traditional Western geomantic divination was so dependent on astrological technique, it was often referred to as astrological geomancy. Although documents from the 12th century explain the theories and methodologies of this type of geomancy, it was more recently popularized by occultist Franz Hartmann in his book The Principles of Astrological Geomancy.
- The Complete Book of Astrological Geomancy; The Master Divination System of Cornelius Agrippa by Priscilla Schwei and Ralph Pestka; Llewellyn Publications ISBN 0875427049
- Geomancer’s Handbook by John Michael Greer http://www.renaissanceastrology.com/astrologyandmagicbooks.html#geohandbook
- Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy by Henry Cornelius Agrippa. Kessinger Publishing ISBN 1564591700