Book Review: The Art and Practice of Geomancy (John Michael Greer)

April 26, 2009 by  

fortuneteller Book Review: The Art and Practice of Geomancy (John Michael Greer)

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.

Briefly…

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.

Observations

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

Comments

4 Responses to “Book Review: The Art and Practice of Geomancy (John Michael Greer)”

  1. Antonio on May 4th, 2009 5:25 am

    Not on the book, but on geomancy, itself:

    Traditional horary provides much more detail in its answers than geomancy. The benefit of geomancy is that it is portable — requiring only a stick, the soil or sand at one’s feet, and knowledge of the method and interpretation in one’s head. The major drawback is that the geomancer, himself, is the connecting link between heaven and earth, and so unless he is more or less “transparent”, he is apt to distort the influences of heaven in marking them in earth.

    Geomancy, in olden days, was not seen purely as a divinatory system. It was part of a more integrated system recognizing that the three Arts — Astrology, Magic, and Alchemy — are really three aspects of One Art. The principles underlying geomancy are a way to connect all three. It is not simply a collection of 16 dot-figures. Those dot-figures may be connected up and formed into shapes, i.e., visible representations of number and mathematical principles. Those shapes are the foundation of the doctrine of signatures in astrology, talismans and seals in magic, and the symbols of alchemy. This is why traditional depictions of the skirt of the Charioteer in Trump 7 of the Tarot show geomantic figures prominently.

    “Nature is written in symbols and signs.”
    - John Greenleaf Whittier

    A universal beauty showed its face;
    The invisible deep-fraught significances,
    Here sheltered behind form’s insensible screen,
    Uncovered to him their deathless harmony
    And the key to the wonder-book of common things.
    In their uniting law stood up revealed
    The multiple measures of the uplifting force,
    The lines of the World-Measurer’s technique,
    The enchantments that uphold the cosmic web
    And the magic underlying simple shapes.
    - Sri Aurobindo Ghose

    “The shape of things is the shape of things to come.”
    - Veronikos

    “All the effects of Nature are only the mathematical consequences of a small number of immutable laws.”
    - Pierre Simon de Laplace

    “Geometry is knowledge of the eternally existent.”
    - Plato

    “Number is the within of all things.”
    - Pythagoras

    Therein is the true value of geomancy and its principles.

    $.02 (chi-ching) :)

  2. Nina Gryphon on May 4th, 2009 6:25 pm

    Great insights; thanks, Antonio.

    I agree with your description of the geomancer as the link between heaven and earth (and one might say that the astrologer is in the same position). In astrology, as in geomancy, the practitioner errs when he is not “transparent” as you say.

    This is why William Lilly said: “The more holy thou art; and more neer to God, the purer Judgment thou shalt give.”

    Best wishes,
    Nina

  3. Antonio on May 5th, 2009 6:40 am

    >> one might say that the astrologer is in the same position . . .

    Aye, true enough. My point there was that the astrologer is only one step removed from heaven; the geomancer is two steps removed. The astrologer simply has to NOTE or CALCULATE (based on objective things like observation and math) where Mars and the other planets are in the heavens. And then interpret it. The geomancer, on the other hand, must use his points to first DIVINE (based on subjective movements like making dots) where Mars and the other planets are, before the task of interpretation comes. He can do that successfully only to the extent that the inner planets of his microcosm accurately reflect the outer planets in the microcosm, i.e., to the extent that he is “transparent”. I don’t mean to say that the geomancer must come up with astronomically accurate placements if his reading is to be of value. I guess a better way to put it is: geomancy is really a consultation of the inner planets, not the outer ones.

    PARACELSUS: The inners stars of man are, in their properties, kind, and nature, by their course and position, like his outer stars, and different only in form and in material. For what is outside is also inside; and what is not outside man is not inside. The outer and the inner are ONE thing, ONE constellation, ONE influence, ONE concordance, ONE duration . . . ONE fruit.

    Transparency is a technical term from the Qabalah — a state of consciousness associated with Mercury, Messenger of the Gods. The best messenger is the one who does not distort the message, but faithfully repeats or reflects it. It ends up being a fairly rare thing, in my observation.

    The interior correlation, incidently, is why we can calculate the length of life from the placement of the planets in the nativity. We are measuring life force. As the strength of Mars in the heavens at birth, so the strength of the life force of the inner Mars. Total up the life force of the inner planets and express them in years, and you have the length of life.

    Up to $.04 now.

  4. Nina Gryphon on May 5th, 2009 7:03 am

    Antonio, I agree. You do get a couple cents back for using the word “aye” in a sentence, so your balance is still $0.02.

    I think your distinction between geomancy and astrology is driving at the essential difference between a consultation of the stars and the casting of lots by whatever means. The casting of lots is indeed two steps removed from the heavens, and perhaps this is the reason that the revealed religions really frown on this type of divination. Of course the planets reflect the way the lots fall, but as you say, with astrology there is one less layer of earthly mists through which the information must pass before it reaches us, as it were.

    I appreciate your explanation of “transparency,” and its connection to Mercury. This makes a lot of sense to me, because divination as such is Mercurial. I am sure that there are very few people who do not “distort the message,” which again brings me back to the Lilly quote in my previous comment. How many people can truly live up to that standard?

    Yes on your point re the length of life, or really any natal determination.

    Best wishes,
    Nina

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