What do I mean by Geomancy?

[Decommissioning another page and rolling it into a post.]

And God has not assigned to any man two hearts within his breast [Qur’an 33:4],
but He has assigned to each heart two faces, because He has created of everything two, a couple [11:40].
Hence He built bringing together on the even,
for His oddness is none save the oddness of the many.”
—Ibn al-‘Arabi, translated and quoted in The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn Al-‘Arabi’s Cosmology by William Chittick (175)

Geomantic work is freighted with significance for me—practically, as a form of divination; spiritually, as a means of communicating with subtle presences; and mystically, as a means of aligning myself with the holy and the sacred. I regularly make use of several forms of geomancy and there are many, many more forms that out there. Where to start then?

Geomancy is a form of sortilege, one in which a mechanical means is used to generate a series of odds and evens. While ‘odd’ is usually indicated by one (or a single dot or line; esoterically, keep in mind this one is shorthand for three) and ‘even’ by two (or a double dot or line), this notation is incidental to the primary distinction between odd and even.

I have an intellectual interest in just about any system that is geomantic by this definition and there are many, many, many such systems. Some are related to each other through shared historical roots (i.e., they have a genealogical relationship), some are related to each other only by virtue of sharing this common connection to odd and even (i.e., they have a formal relationship). This difference between genealogical and formal relationship isn’t hard and fast, in part because some systems become genealogically related on the basis of work done by individuals who recognize their formal similarities and attempt to synthesize a new system from them both.

That intellectual interest necessarily exceeds my capacity to develop a working familiarity with these disparate systems. When I discuss my geomantic practice, I am talking about a specific form of geomancy linked to a practice that seems to have developed somewhere in the ferment of the Middle East or North Africa more than a thousand years ago. The practice (let’s call it Root1 for convenience and clarity in this discussion) employs sixteen well-defined figures, each composed of four binary elements. Root1 seems to have spread fairly rapidly through the Islamic world and gave birth to a number of independent practices, each more or less formally related to the original practice.

The precise relationship of Root1 to older practices is hard to discern. There do seem to be similarities between it and the I Ching (maybe worth an extended discussion), but the I Ching has a more sophisticated system of even and odds because of its changing lines. While the I Ching out-competed most rival forms of geomancy in China, it was not the sole practice in the region and rival traditions existed which, again, may or may not have been closely related to Root1.

Practices which seem to have clear ties to Root1 include European geomancy, sikidy, khatt al-rhaml, Ifa, Diloggun, and Arabic geomancy. Each of these practices tends to be surrounded by a family of simplified geomantic practices. Some of these practices are clearly simplifications of Root1 work (like the so-called Oracle of Napoleon), while others could very well be independent geomantic expressions that have been more or less integrated into Root1 operations (like obi and its related oracles in West Africa).

That tendency of Root1 to integrate other geomantic practices into its operations takes us away from the history lesson toward its role in my geomantic practices, because what I’m calling Root1 isn’t just a line in the stemma of geomancy’s history, it’s the first name for a spiritual power that seems to animate that history. It plays the odds and the evens, seeing what shakes out. Whatever this intelligence (call it Root1alpha) is, it manifests it tends to jump and wind through history in dynamic fashion, animating complex and rich religious traditions in one place and time, and humbler, discrete divinatory practices in others.

With that said, there are a bunch of caveats that need to follow this statement. I don’t want to personalize Root1alpha too much; it seems intelligent, but after its own fashion. I don’t want to imply that any one manifestation of Root1alpha is identical with another; there is an organic unity between its manifestations not unlike the string of DNA unifies much organic life in the sense of giving it a common code. The tradition is a body and just like you don’t learn surgery by studying genetics, you don’t learn any one tradition of geomancy by working with Root1alpha. Rather, you learn a tradition in order to access Root1alpha.

I don’t work with Root1alpha through a well-defined tradition, though. I approached it through a hybrid expression of European geomancy and allowed it to develop through free interaction with other aspects of my occult work. If you are familiar with the Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in texts like Thousand Plateaus, it would be fair to say that I approached Root1alpha through a molecular practice, developing a deterritorialized zone in which geomantic material could be partially dissolved and reconstituted. To use another analogy, you might say that I’ve been doing the geomantic equivalent of genetic modification.

What I am going to share here derives from that play. It isn’t the play itself, so much as the more stable patterns that have emerged from that play. I am going to assume some basic familiarity with European geomancy, but I am going to realign it according to patterns that are not part of its usual repertoire.

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One thought on “What do I mean by Geomancy?

  1. Pingback: Geomancy on the Tree of Life Diagram – Disrupt & Repair

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