The word geomancy derives from the Greek roots geo, referring to the earth, and mantikos, meaning “of a soothsayer” or prophetic.” Geomancy is any system of divination (an attempt to get in touch with the divine) related to manipulation of the earth. A system of geomancy linking astrological symbols with figures formed from holes poked in the earth became popular during the Renaissance. The exact origins of astrological geomancy are unknown. It is similar to the casting of lots referred to in the Latin and Greek classics and may have been practiced by ancient desert nomads who made marks in the sand which they then interpreted to answer questions of personal concern. In this latter sense geomancy is akin to horary astrology.
In fact, the same philosophical principle — cosmic sympathy — underlies both geomantic divination and horary astrology. The idea is that at the time a question becomes imperative to the inquirer, the conditions of the cosmos, whether in macrocosm or microcosm, will reverberate with the inquirer’s mind. Systems of divination are really sets of rules explaining how to decipher the message of the cosmos. Modern diviners often cite Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, to explain the workings of their craft. Regardless of whether or how it works, geomancy is worthwhile to study simply for the beauty of its sixteen archetypal symbols, another Jungian idea. The sixteen geomantic archetypes bear a close relationship to the archetypal symbols of planets and signs used in astrology.
Henry Cornelius Agrippa
Geomancy had its heyday in the Renaissance during Western Europe’s transition from the medieval to the modern world. It’s most famous spokesperson was Henry Cornelius Agrippa, born in 1486, and author of several texts in Latin on occult philosophy. Agrippa’s attitude toward geomancy was ambivalent. Although he wrote the major geomantic text of the period, he commented on his own work and about the “common geomancy” of his predecessors, “I too have written a geomancy quite different from the rest but no less superstitious and fallacious or if you wish I will even say ‘mendacious.'” Nonetheless, Agrippa appears to have practiced and written extensively on the subject.
By the time Agrippa wrote about geomancy, it had undergone an evolution. No longer were the marks on the earth interpreted in their own right; now they were used in combination with a horoscope wheel depicting the twelve astrological houses. There were many ways to do this, and the modern geomancer will need to experiment and decide which one suits his or her style.
Fortunately, all the systems of geomancy have some fundamental steps in common. The first is to ask a question of pressing personal concern. Then, while concentrating on the question, the “querent” (inquirer) must poke sixteen rows of holes or make sixteen rows of marks on the ground. Each row of holes is poked from right to left and the next row begins beneath it. The querent focuses on the “quesited” (the matter inquired about), relinquishes conscious control and keeps poking across a row until it feels right to stop. This is akin to using a divining rod, and the ancient explanation is that the earth spirits will guide the rod to make the appropriate number of marks. Then, if you get a wrong answer, you can blame the earth spirits for being mischievous, as in, “the devil made me do it.”
Modern geomancers tend not to use the earth in their back yards or their children’s sandboxes. Instead, they make marks on paper with a pencil, flip a coin, cast a die or dice, or draw cards from a deck — any system that will generate a series of sixteen random odd and even numbers.
Once you have your sixteen rows of dots, you count the dots in each row and note whether there are an odd or even number of dots. You next group the rows, in sequential order, four at a time to generate the first four geomantic figures, known as the four mothers. The remaining eight geomantic figures used in divination are derived from these four mothers.
Geomantic Figures and their Planets
Before proceeding with the general methods of geomantic divination, let me review the sixteen geomantic figures and their associated planets and signs. The sixteen figures can be grouped into eight complementary pairs which are like negative images or polar opposites of one another. Where one member of a complementary pair has a single dot, its complement will have two dots, and vice versa. Below I will list the figures next to their complements, and beneath them their associated planet and sign according to Agrippa.
Populus Via o o o o o o o o o o o o Moon, Cancer Moon, Cancer
Both Populus and Via are neutral or variable symbols related to the Moon. Populus means “people, crowd, group” and suggests that the outcome will depend on other people, that control of the situation will not be in the querent’s hands. Via means “road, path, way” and often refers to the need to find one’s direction or way in the matter. It can also signify a journey. Their connection with the Moon gives both these symbols the connotation of fluctuation or change. The sign Cancer suggests one’s home, security, or foundations are at issue.
Laetitia Caput Draconis (Moon's North Node) o o o o o o o o o o o o Jupiter, Sagittarius North Node, Capricorn
Laetitia is a positive symbol meaning “joy” and is associated with health and happiness. Its complementary symbol is Caput Draconis, the head of the Dragon, linked astrologically with Jupiter and good fortune. Caput Draconis often suggests entering or beginning something new and positive.
Rubeus Puella (cf. glyph of Venus) o o o o o o o o o o o o Mars, Scorpio Venus, Taurus
Rubeus means “red,” the color of Mars and of blood spilled in violence. Rubeus is a negative symbol, the dark side of Scorpio and Mars, associated with danger, lust, addiction, passion, fire, aggression, and destruction. It is generally unfortunate, except where a show of force or eroticism is needed. Many geomancers discard the figure when Rubeus falls in the first house. The complement to Rubeus is the Venus-ruled symbol Puella meaning “girl.” Puella is a variable or mildly adverse symbol suggesting the fickle, indecisive and superficial side of Venus. Puella is connected with physical attractiveness, music and the arts, gaining cooperation, and women and matters related to women which do well under its influence.
Fortuna Minor Fortuna Major o o o o o o o o o o o o Sun, Leo Sun, Leo
Both these symbols are ruled by the Sun and Leo. Both are fortunate, especially Fortuna Major. Fortuna Minor shows only moderate success and often denotes some kind of external protection like insurance coverage. While Fortuna Major usually shows significant good fortune, Fortuna Minor conveys either a preservation of the status quo or a definite but modest gain.
Albus Puer (cf. glyph of Mars) o o o o o o o o o o o o Mercury, Gemini Mars, Aries
Albus means “white” as in the white hair of the wise old prophet. Associated ideas are wisdom, clear thought, news, and communication. Albus is a positive symbol. The complementary figure is Puer, the impetuous youth of Mars and Aries. Puer means “boy” and signifies males and the initiation of activity. Puer can be rash and inconsiderate, but also energetic, enthusiastic and competitive like Mars in Aries.
Amissio Acquisitio o o o o o o o o o o o o Venus, Libra Jupiter, Pisces
Amissio means “loss” and is part of the flip side of Venus. If the question is about acquisition, Amissio argues against success. However, if the goal is loss, as in the loss of weight or getting out of a bad relationship, then Amissio signifies the desired loss can be achieved. The complement of Amissio is Acquisitio or “acquisition.” This Jupiter-based symbol is quite fortunate and shows success, money, gain, and good luck.
Conjunctio Carcer o o o o o o o o o o o o Mercury, Virgo Saturn, Capricorn
Conjunctio means “union, joining” and denotes the coming together of people or things. It is favorable for the reunion of the querent will a lost object or missing person. It can also show a marriage or partnership. The figure of Carcer looks like a small cell enclosed by dots on all sides. Carcer means “prison, bondage” and suggests delays, restrictions, or confinement. Carcer’s connection with Saturn implies that the querent with be confronted by reality and the laws of the external world. Carcer often shows a learning experience. As a Judge, Saturn-ruled Carcer means something will be made real (“real-ized”) or made manifest on the physical plane; the querent will get just what he or she has earned.
Cauda Draconis Tristitia o o o o o o o o o o o o Moon's South Node, Scorpio Saturn, Aquarius
Cauda Draconis, the Moon’s South Node or Dragon’s Tail, is associated with the negative sides of Saturn and Scorpio. It can show misfortune and the need to pay for past debts. Cauda Draconis favors the termination of something. When Cauda falls in the first house, many geomancers destroy the figure. Its complementary symbol Tristitia is also connected with Saturn. Tristitia means “sorrow, sadness” and suggests depression, unhappiness, or grief. The querent may suffer problems or feel negatively about the matters governed by the house where Tristitia lies. Sometimes Tristitia shows the need for professional counseling to deal with emotional stress or pain.
The geomantic symbols bear a resemblance to the glyphs of the planets with which they are linked. Meditating on the geomantic figures and their associated planetary glyphs will lead to a deeper understanding of their archetypal significance.
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Now let’s look at an actual example of geomantic divination. This article was originally written on Saturday, October 6, 1990. At 11:56 A.M. EDT, I asked the question, “Will this article be of interest to the general reader?”
I next took a single die from a pair of dice and cast it sixteen times to generate a set of sixteen rows. Next to each row I entered the total number of dots. Then next to each number I created a line of a geomantic figure, using two “o’s” for even numbers and one “o” for odd numbers. I totaled the number of dots at the bottom for future reference to calculate an “index.” Each set of four rows generates a “mother” figure consisting of a head, neck, body and feet. Here’s what my experiment produced:
16 ROWS NUMBER GEOMANTIC FIGURE OF MARKS * 1 Head: o Mother One: ** 2 Neck: o o ** 2 Body: o o Laetitia (M1) **** 4 Feet: o o * 1 o Mother Two: **** 4 o o **** 4 o o Laetitia (M2) ** 2 o o ****** 6 o o Mother Three: * 1 o ***** 5 o Conjunctio (M3) ****** 6 o o ** 2 o o Mother Four: *** 3 o *** 3 o Conjunctio (M4) ****** 6 o o --------------- Total: 52
Once you generate the four mothers, you next derive four daughters as follows. Each daughter consists of the sequence of dots taken from the same row or level of the four mothers. Thus, the first daughter consists of four rows of dots (the “heads” of the mothers) from the top level of each of the mothers in order from the first (M1) to the fourth (M4). The second daughter is made up of all the second rows or “necks” of the mothers, taken in order from one to four. All the third rows or “bodies” of mothers combine to make the third daughter. Combining all the “feet” of the mothers in order produces the fourth daughter. The process is cumbersome to explain but easy to do. If you line up the four mothers in sequence, the mothers can be read down the page, and the daughters across the page. Here’s an abstract representation:
Mothers Daughters M1 M2 M3 M4 D1 D2 D3 D4 HEADS: a e i m a b c d NECKS: b f j n e f g h BODIES: c g k o i j k l FEET: d h l p m n o p In the above example, the derived daughters are as follows: Mother One: o Daughter One: o o o o Laetitia (M1) o o Fortuna o o o o Minor (D1) o o Mother Two: o Daughter Two: o o o o o o Laetitia (M2) o o Fortuna o o o Major (D2) o Mother Three: o o Daughter Three: o o o o o Conjunctio (M3) o Fortuna o o o Major (D3) o Mother Four: o o Daughter Four: o o o o o Conjunctio (M4) o Populus (D4) o o o o o o
To be sure you understand the method, let me derive Daughter Three in detail by combining the “bodies” of the four mothers:
- The third row of M1 has two dots, so row one of D3 has two dots.
- The third row of M2 has two dots, so row two of D3 has two dots.
- The third row of M3 has one dot, so row three of D3 has one dot.
- The third row of M4 has one dot, so row four of D3 has one dot.
Up to the point of generating the mothers and daughters, most classical geomancers are in agreement. Now come the variations. We have four mothers and four daughters, but there are twelve houses in the horoscope. We need to generate four new figures which are known as “Nephews.” Many geomancers, like Regardie in The Golden Dawn or Schwei and Pestka in The Complete Book of Astrological Geomancy (both available from Llewellyn) use the “common” form of geomancy that was in vogue before Agrippa developed his system. In common geomancy one combines mothers one and two to form nephew one, mothers three and four to make nephew two, daughters one and two to form nephew three, and daughters three and four to make nephew four.
Rather than the technique of common geomancy, I prefer the method of Agrippa which combines a mother and a daughter to produce a nephew. In “On Geomancy” in the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, Agrippa states:
As the former Matres [mothers] do make four Angles of a house, the first maketh the first Angle, the second the second Angle [10th house], the third maketh the third Angle [7th house], and the fourth the fourth Angle [4th house]; so the four Filiae [daughters] arising from the Matres do constitute the four Succedent houses; the first maketh the second house, the second the eleventh, the third the eighth, and the fourth maketh the fifth house; the rest of the houses, which are Cadents are to be calculated according to the rule of their triplicity; that is to say, by making the ninth out of the first and fifth, and the sixth out of the tenth and second, and of the seventh and eleventh the third, and of the fourth and eighth the twelfth (“On Geomancy” from the 4th book of Occult Philosophy by Agrippa, translated by James Freake).
Agrippa’s method of adding figures is as follows. Each nephew is formed by combining adjacent rows of particular mothers and daughters, the points of which are added at each of the four levels to give an odd or an even sum. Even totals generate two dots at the corresponding level of the nephew, and odd totals generate one dot. In Agrippa’s system:
Nephew 1 = Mother 1 + Daughter 4 Nephew 2 = Mother 2 + Daughter 1 Nephew 3 = Mother 3 + Daughter 2 Nephew 4 = Mother 4 + Daughter 3
Agrippa derived these formulae from the idea the each nephew is the sum of the mother and daughter that are in trine aspect around the horoscope wheel. As in the quote above, Agrippa placed the mothers in the angular houses, going clockwise from the first house. He then placed the daughters clockwise around the wheel in the succedent houses, starting with the second house. Houses in trine are 1-5-9, 2-6-10, 3-7-11, and 4-8-12. Here is a table showing Agrippa’s distribution of geomantic figures in the horoscope:
Angular Houses: Succedent Houses: Cadent Houses: 1st - M1 2nd - D1 9th - N1 = M1 + D4 10th - M2 11th - D2 6th - N2 = M2 + D1 7th - M3 8th - D3 3rd - N3 = M3 + D2 4th - M4 5th - D4 12th - N4 = M4 + D3
Now let’s calculate the nephews, Agrippa style:
MOTHERS: DAUGHTERS: NEPHEWS: M1 o + D4 o o = N1 o o o o o o o Laetitia o o o o o o o o o o o o M2 o + D1 o = N2 o o o o o o Rubeus o o o o o o o o o o o o M3 o o + D2 o o = N3 o o o o o o Acquisitio o o o o o o o o M4 o o + D3 o o = N4 o o o o o o Acquisitio o o o o o o o o
We can now proceed to a preliminary answer to the original question, Will this article be of interest to the reader? In astrology each house of the horoscope governs certain areas of life. Essays are ruled by the third house (manuscripts) and the ninth house (publications). N1 (Laetitia) goes in the 9th house and N3 (Acquisitio) goes in the third. These two geomantic figures are both connected with Jupiter (publications, good fortune) and suggest a positive answer to the question. M3 (Conjunctio) is placed in the 7th house of the general public.
Conjunctio means a joining or union and is associated with Mercury (communications). In the 7th house, Conjunctio suggests a favorable union between the author and his readers. The house placements of the geomantic figures suggest the article will be well-received — a favorable answer to the question.
Agrippa next suggested calculating an “Index” that “giveth you a competent judgment of the thing quesited.” To find the Index, you take the total number of holes that were poked in the ground and divide by 12 (for the 12 houses of the horoscope). In this case there were a total of 52 dots at the start. Thus, 52 divided by 12 equals 4 with a remainder of 4. What is important here is the remainder after dividing by twelve. The Index is the geomantic figure found in the house of the horoscope corresponding to the remainder.
If there is no remainder, that is, if the remainder is zero, the Index is the figure in the twelfth house. In our example, the remainder is 4 and the figure in the fourth house is M4 (Conjunctio). Again, this Mercury based figure suggests a mental union with the reader as the final outcome.
The system of common geomancy that predated Agrippa used a different method to gauge the final outcome of a question. The text by Schwei and Pestka is an excellent source for delineations using the method of common geomancy. The first two nephews are added to make a first “Witness” (W1) and the final two nephews are added to form a second “Witness” (W2). The sum of these two witnesses produces a “Judge.” Let’s calculate them now:
N1 o N2 o o W1 o o o + o = o Fortuna o o o o o o Minor o o o o o o N3 o o N4 o o W2 o o o + o = o o Populus o o o o o o o o o o Finally, Witness 1 + Witness 2 = The Judge: W1 o W2 o o Judge o o + o o = o Fortuna o o o o o o Minor o o o o o o
As the Judge or final outcome figure, Fortuna Minor is mildly fortunate. According to common geomancy, this article will be moderately well-received but it will not be a smashing success.
Because of the way the Judges are formed, only eight of the sixteen geomantic figures can become Judges. I will not review the mathematics in detail, but when you combine figures to form a Judge, the final figure must have an either two or four even numbered rows, or two or four odd numbered rows. This fact limits the Judges to Populus and Via, Amissio and Acquisitio, Carcer and Conjunctio, and Fortuna Major and Fortuna Minor. Because they are related to the Moon, Populus and Via are variable as Judges.
Invariably favorable Judges are Acquisitio and Fortuna Major. Fortuna Minor is mildly favorable, and Conjunctio is variable as a Judge. Amissio can be a favorable Judge, especially if loss of some kind is a positive outcome. Carcer is a variable Judge which favors Saturnian matters like contracts, obligations, realization, attainment, just rewards, and responsibility.
Yet another twist can be added to geomantic divination. Each of the sixteen geomantic figures corresponds to an astrological sign and to a planet or node of the Moon. The planetary assignments are invariant across systems, but there are at least six different ways to assign astrological signs to the figures.
Once Agrippa placed his figures in the houses, he assigned the first house to the astrological sign associated with the first mother in the first house. In our example, mother one is Laetitia which Agrippa associates with Jupiter and Sagittarius. Agrippa then followed the zodiac sequence to locate all twelve signs around the wheel. Sagittarius is in the first house, Capricorn in the second, Aquarius in the third, Pisces in the fourth, Aries in the fifth, Taurus in the sixth, and so on around the wheel. Having linked each house with a different zodiac sign, Agrippa next entered the planet associated with each geomantic symbol in the same house as its symbol. In this system it is possible for the same planet to occupy several houses. Agrippa then interpreted the chart using a combination of astrology and geomancy. Because no degrees in the signs are specified, Agrippa used mundane aspects, that is, planets are considered to bear the same aspect with one another as the houses they occupy. For example, planets in houses one and seven are in opposition, and planets in houses three and seven are in trine.
Most modern authors do not follow Agrippa’s method of placing planets. Instead, the current trend is to use an ephemeris to locate the planets in the signs they actually occupy at the time the question was asked. Thus, modern geomancy is more a hybrid between classical geomancy and horary astrology.
Because there are at least six ways to assign the signs to houses in the geomantic chart, there is obvious room for disagreement among geomancers. I have presented Agrippa’s system in this article. Both Regardie and Schwei & Pestka use a different assignment of planets to geomantic figures and a different method of placing the figures in the houses.
So there you have it, the basic elements of astrological geomancy. The next step, if you’re interested, is to start asking questions and testing the technique for yourself. There are many variants of geomantic technique and you will need to experiment until you find one that fits you. In the process you may discover some refinements and come up with a geomancy that is uniquely your own. Regardless of which system you settle on, practicing geomancy is great fun and produces some insightful and thought-provoking results.