Geomancy is the word which I use to refer to a method of divination. It was a method that seems to have originated from Arabic lands, where it goes by the name khat al raml and many others. From this name it was translated into Greek as Geomancy meaning “earth divination” It reached it’s heyday in Europe during the middle ages and the renaissance, and like many other occult arts, dwindled with the flowering of the Age of Reason. During it’s hey day, it was widely practiced and a number of authors wrote treatises about it, even more so then most other methods of divination. It was mainly very easy to use, unlike astrology which required complex calculations and instruments to view the sky, or other methods of sortilege, like card reading, which means you needed to have cards on hand (which not everyone did). At it’s simplest all you needed was some kind of blank field that you could use to make dots which could be used to count and create the figures that build a geomantic reading.
There are sixteen figures used in geomancy. During the middle ages and Renaissance in Europe, these figures were identified with astrological forces, with each classical planet being given two figures, and two more figures attributed to the North and South nodes of the Moon. Each of the figures are composed for 4 lines, which will have either one or two marks. One mark is an indication of active energy in that line and the presence of that force. Two marks are the indication of passive energy of that line, and the absence of inactivity of that force. From top to bottom the lines are named Head, neck, body, feet. They are also identified with the four classical elements from top to bottom of Fire, air, water, earth. These lines and their elemental values, combined with the planetary symbolism, help to give depth to a reading, but also in understanding the symbolism of each sign and it’s interaction with the world and with other signs.
The two methods of using the figures were in generating charts. The oldest and most traditional method is known as a shield chart, which requires one to generate 4 figures, however you wish to do that. These four figures are identified as “mothers” and from them the rest of the figures of the chart are created, about 11 or 12 figures, depending upon the inclusion or exclusion of a final figure. From the mothers one generates 4 daughters and from the mothers and daughters are generated the Nieces, which are then used to generate two witnesses, which are combined to form the Judge. The Judge is considered the answer to the question, sometimes with an additional figure formed by combining the judge and first mother to form the Reconciler, which makes a total of 16 figures used in the chart. Additional methods of shield chart interpretation help to give more precise and particular answers through the relationship of the judge to other elements in the chart.
From the shield chart, a second chart can be generated, known as the house chart. This chart is based upon the 12 house system of astrology, where each sign is placed into a house. The most basic ordering is taking the 1st mother which is given to the first house, 2nd mother to the second house, 3rd mother to the third house etc… There are other methods of assigning figures, depending upon whose treatise you read, or your own insight from gaining proficiency and skill with it. From the house chart it is also possible to answer questions, which can further influence the indications given in the shield chart and also given more depth and precision to a reading.
I came into geomancy a few years ago when I discovered a newly published book by John Michael Greer. It talked about Earth magic and divination, and as I was very much feeling the earth magic vibe, I was very intrigued by the book title. That introduced me to this method and I quickly took to practicing it and using it as often as I could, in order to become proficient with casting charts and understanding the signs. I also was very taken to how simple the signs were, which can be easily used in making talismans for magic, calling upon the forces symbolized by the geomantic signs.
There does seem to be a rebirth for geomancy occurring right now. While this practice did disappear in the West (although it did survive in some interesting ways and get small revivals during other blossoming of interest in the occult) there are a good number of sources available. Quite a few books have been written, as well as academic research into it as a item of historical interest. It also seems that in Arabic countries, the practice of geomancy has never fulled disappeared. It also bears some resemblance to I Ching, but also methods if Ifa divination. Whether they are related, or only bear passing resemblance is not fully decided or clear yet to researchers. There are some geomancy groups in existence right now, which can be found in Yahoo and also on facebook, where people can share techniques, and get assistance with their interpretations of charts they have cast. Another great resource and modern intrepid explorer is Polyphanes over at Digital Ambler. His work with geomancy is quite fantastic and he does contemplate it in order to advance this once forgotten divinatory art.