Book Review: The Art and Practice of Geomancy (John Michael Greer)
April 26, 2009 by Nina Gryphon
Geomancy is a divinatory practice heavily influenced by astrology, and I wanted to shine a spotlight on a topic with which few astrologers are familiar. Like astrology, geomancy came to Europe from the Arab world, where it was called khatt al-raml, “cutting the sand.” Geomancy uses the random generation of marks or dots to create a four-line figure, one line for each of the four elements. The divinatory meaning of the figure depends on the number and arrangement of the dots. The most common way to perform a geomantic reading is to generate fifteen such figures, the first twelve of which are assigned to houses, just as in an astrological chart. The remaining three figures summarize the situation asked about.
The Art and Practice of Geomancy is perhaps the most comprehensive book on the subject available today. With a basic understanding of astrological principles, one can use geomancy with ease, though I am of the opinion that astrology proper provides a richer, more nuanced symbolism than the somewhat abbreviated version used in geomancy. The author provides numerous ways to interpret the geomantic chart to extract the maximum information possible, so whatever information a geomantic reading provides, the reader can make the most of it using this book. There is also some information on geomantic magic and invoking spirits, which is not necessary to the practice of geomancy, but presented as a way of enhancing the divinatory experience. Personally, I would not go to those lengths to get an answer, but the reader’s mileage may well vary.
Contents & Structure
The Art and Practice of Geomancy consists of three parts: I) The Art of Geomancy, II) Geomantic Divination, and III) Geomantic Meditation and Magic.
Part I introduces the reader to the various way of practicing geomancy, giving real-life examples of the way the art had been used in the past. There is a good section on the history of geomancy, which discusses a possible link between the geomantic systems of equatorial Africa and their later adaptation by the Arabs. One conjectures that the astrological symbolism had been superimposed on geomancy by the Arabs once they had picked up astrology from the Greeks.
Chapters Two and Three contain information about the geomantic figures, followed by a list of the sixteen geomantic figures, with a detailed list of associations for each. For instance, the figure Acquisitio (Gain) contains information about its other names, a pictorial representation, keyword, quality (stable or mobile), planet, astrological sign, astrological house relationships (where Acquisitio is strengthened and where weakened), its outer and inner elements, its associated parts of the anatomy, body type, character type, colors, commentary, and divinatory meaning. This richness of meaning provides a useful divinatory alphabet for most questions.
Part II starts with the step-by-step instructions for conducting a geomantic reading. Because of the emphasis on magic in this book, one of the possible methods involves invoking planetary spirits relating to the topic of one’s question. Chapter Five shows the method of interpreting the fifteen figures, but the real fun for astrologers begins in Chapter Six, where the first twelve geomantic figures generated in a reading are arranged in a square astrological chart, one per house, and we are off to the races. The general themes of the houses are described in detail, though the astrologically-minded reader can get additional information in Deb Houlding’s Houses: Temples of the Sky. I don’t agree with every single house attribution in The Art and Practice of Geomancy, but the author’s method is generally traditionalist in nature, and I was delighted to see that that Greer does not assign either transformation or sex to the eighth house.
Chapter Six also contains some geomancy-specific techniques, which involve relating houses in the chart to one another for additional layers of divinatory meaning. Chapter Seven discusses advanced interpretive methods, such as geomantic readings used daily, weekly, monthly, or annually; life readings; finding locations and directions; timing; the geomantic/planetary hours (including a handy method of calculating the planetary hours in the day); determining names, and dealing with deceptive questions.
Part III, Geomantic Meditation and Magic, contains information not found in most astrological texts, so one gets the sense that this book is a rather different kettle of fish. Chapter Eight contains instructions for geomantic meditation and scrying, which of course are ancient practices that can be applied to methods other than geomancy. The author does give the reader the warning to test the spirits, which is sensible. Chapter Nine gets into magic proper, and provides instructions for creating geomantic talismans and gamahes. Chapter Ten gets into the ritual elements of geomantic magic, giving names of the planetary gods, intelligences, and spirits, and methods for invocation of one’s guardian genius.
The book closes with an appendix of the Orphic hymns, a classical collection of invocations of the Greek gods translated in the 18th century by Thomas Taylor. Included are also conjurations of the planetary intelligences.
The Art and Practice of Geomancy is a unique book on the topic that will undoubtedly become a classic in the field. It takes a common-sense approach to a long-forgotten subject, and covers all of the bases very thoroughly. The astrologer might find geomancy an easy adjunct to the astrological practice, as there is considerable overlap between the two systems. For beginning astrology students, Greer’s book can provide an excellent introduction to astrological basics from a traditional perspective, presented in a simple but substantive manner.
The Art and Practice of Geomancy: Divination, Magic, and Earth Wisdom of the Renaissance
By John Michael Greer
Weiser Books, 2009, 252 pages, paperback.
$18.95, available on amazon.com