AskDefine | Define geomancy

Dictionary Definition

geomancy n : divination by means of signs connected with the earth (as points taken at random or the arrangement of particles thrown down at random or from the configuration of a region and its relation to another)

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


geo- (Earth), + mancy (prophecy), Late geomanteia.


  1. A method of divination which interprets markings on the ground or how handfuls of dirt land when tossed.



  • 1660 Urquhart tr. Rabelais Gargantua & Pantagruel iii. xxv.
    Hard by here, in the Brown-wheat-Island, dwelleth Her Trippa; you know how by the Arts of Astrology, Geomancy, Chiromancy, Metopomancy, and others of a like stuff and nature, he foretelleth all things to come...
  • 1868 Chambers's Encyc. III
    Geomancy (this was anciently practised by casting pebbles on the ground, from which conjectures were formed; but the Arabian geomancy was more recondite, being founded on the effects of motion under the crust of the earth, the chinks thus produced, and the noises or thunderings heard)...
  • 1970 Man, Myth & Magic v.
    Geomancy - by dots on paper, marks on the earth, or particles of earth.

Middle English


  • 1425 Mandev. (Eg) 115/9
    At a syde of pe emperour table sittez many philosophers and grete clerkez of diuerse sciencez, sum of astronomy, sum of nigromancy, sum of geomancy, sum of pyromancy, sum of ydromancy.

Extensive Definition

Geomancy (from Greek geōmanteia< geo, "earth" + manteia, "divination"), from the eponymous ilm al-raml ("the science of sand"), is a method of divination that interprets markings on the ground, or how handfuls of dirt land when someone tosses them. The Arabic tradition consists of sketching sixteen random lines of dots in sand.
In Africa one traditional form of geomancy consists of throwing handfuls of dirt in the air and observing how the dirt falls. It can also involve a mouse as the agent of the earth spirit. Ifá, one of the oldest forms of geomancy, originated in West Africa. In China, the diviner may enter a trance and make markings on the ground that are interpreted by an associate (often a young boy).
In Korea, this tradition was popularized in the ninth century by the Buddhist monk Toson. In Korea, Geomancy takes the form of interpreting the topography of the land to determine future events and or the strength of a dynasty or particular family. Therefore, not only were location and land forms important, but the topography could shift causing disfavor and the need to relocate. The idea is still accepted in many South East Asian societies today, although with reduced force.
Geomancy formed part of the required study of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the late 19th century, and also survives in modern occult practice.
In the 19th century CE, Christian missionaries in China translated Feng Shui as geomancy, but this was incorrect.
In recent times the term has been applied to a wide range of other occult, fringe, and pseudoscientific activities, including Bau-Biologie. This article deals with geomancy in its traditional meaning.

Literary background

The poem Experimentarius attributed to Bernardus Silvestris (Bernard Silvester), who wrote in the middle of the 12th century, was a verse translation of a work on astrological geomancy.
Either Gerard of Cremona (c. 1114–87) or Gerard of Sabionetta (Sabloneta), who lived in the thirteenth century, wrote or translated Astronomical Geomancy from Arabic into Latin. An original in Arabic is possible, as the traditional method of structuring a geomantic divination follows the direction of Arabic writing. There has been disagreement among scholars over which of these two men was responsible for this text.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "geomancy" appeared in vernacular English in 1362 (vernacular English at this time was the language of the lowest classes; Latin and French were the common languages of the middle class, gentry, and nobles).
Geomancy's first mention in print was Langland's Piers Plowman where it is unfavorably compared to the level of expertise a person needs for astronomy ("gemensye [geomesye] is gynful of speche"). In 1386 Chaucer used the Parson's Tale to poke fun at geomancy in Canterbury Tales: "What say we of them that believe in divynailes as …geomancie…" Shakespeare also used geomancy for comic relief.
It was explained as divination (in the same sentence with pyromancy and hydromancy) in the best-selling Travels of Sir John Mandeville (1400, ISBN 0-14-044435-1), as "geomantie that superstitious arte" in a book of alchemy (1477), and defined in Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's Philosophy of Natural Magic: Complete Work on Natural Magic, White & Black Magic (1569, ISBN 1-56459-160-3) as a form of divination "which doth divine by certaine conjectures taken of similitudes of the cracking of the Earthe." European geomancy does owe some of its valuations to medieval astrology (the "houses" for example).
In Ben Jonson's Elizabethan comedy The Alchemist, the character Abel Drugger is a practitioner of geomancy.
In the story of Aladdin often included in "The Arabian Nights" called "The History of Aladdin" both the African Magician and his brother use geomancy to find Aladdin to do him harm.

Western methodology

Geomancy in western tradition requires no instruments and no calculations; it is based solely on the human propensity for pattern recognition.
Diviners in medieval Europe used parchment or paper for drawing the dots of geomancy but they followed the traditional direction of notation (right to left) for recording the dots. Western occultism still defines geomantic technique as marking sixteen lines of dashes in sand or soil with a wand or on a sheet of paper. The dashes aren't counted as they are made (thus constituting a form of spontaneous divination).
The geomancer counts the number of dashes made in each line and draws either a single dot (for an odd number) or two dots (for an even number) next to the lines. The pattern of dots produced by the first to fourth lines are known as a figure, as are the fifth to eighth lines and so on.
Those four figures are entered into two charts, known as the Shield and House charts, and through binary processes form the seed of the figures that fill the whole charts. The charts are subsequently analysed and interpreted by the geomancer to find solutions, options and responses to the problem quesited, along with general information about the geomancer (unless the geomancer is performing the divination for another, in which case information is shown about the person the charts were cast for) providing an all-round reading into the questioner's life.
This form of Geomancy is easy to learn and easy to perform. Once practiced by commoners and rulers alike, it was one of the most popular forms of divination throughout the Middle Ages.
The four binary elements of each figure allow for 16 different combinations. As there are 4 root figures in each chart, the total number of possible charts equals 16×16×16×16, or 65536. The charts are also interpreted differently depending on the nature of the question, making it one of the most thorough kinds of divination available, and with only 16 figures to understand is extremely simple.
Unique Geomantic Shields
Out of the 65536 possible permutations of the classical geomantic shield some are extremely useful from a mathematical and qabalistical point of view. This is because some of the shields contain all of the 16 geomantic figures only once in each case, and these may be termed as 'Unique Geomantic Shields'. In these cases the shield, which has fifteen different sections, has all of the figures except Populus. Below is a table which shows the four 'Mothers' needed to create the Unique Geomantic Shields. For the method of how to create the configurations from the four 'Mothers', perhaps the best online source is Crowley's Liber 96 available most reliably from (At the risk of sounding utterly unprofessional I must admit that I am only aware of twelve such permutations, and that quite probably more exist. Then again if we all waited for every piece of academic information to be perfect before publishing it perhaps very little would get done. If someone can prove that the nth degree of such geomantic shields exist feel free to delete and update these paragraphs.)
Geomantic Magic Square (Qemea)
A Magic Square is traditionally a set of inclusive integers laid out in a square grid so that the sums of the columns, rows and central diagonals are equal. The arrangement below could be loosely described as a Qemea, but it is certainly a Magic Square of sorts. When one counts up the dots on the figures we find the number 24 cropping up all over the place: the four columns, the four rows, the two central diagonals, the four central squares, the outer four squares, and also the fours sets of four squares each if we look at the configuration as four squares.

Astrological geomancy

Because traditional Western geomantic divination was so dependent on astrological technique, it was often referred to as astrological geomancy. Although documents from the 12th century explain the theories and methodologies of this type of geomancy, it was more recently popularized by occultist Franz Hartmann in his book The Principles of Astrological Geomancy.

Geomancy, fractals and modern computers

Mathematician Ron Eglash while studying fractal structures in Africa culture identified a binary recursive process that used self similarity to create a random number generator from a initial set of lines that the geomancer draws from the ground. This technique was brought from Islamic mystics to Spain where it was introduced to Alchemist circles. Partly inspired by this Gottfried Leibniz, a German mathematician, developed the binary code theory, which later was the base for Boolean algebra and modern computers.
  • source Ted Talk, 2007, Ron Eglash

Further reading

  • Jaulin, Robert (ethnologist)
    • La Mort Sara, Paris, 10/18, 1971 (1967)
    • La Géomancie, Paris, Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l'homme, 1988
    • Géomancie et Islam
  • Pennick, Nigel (occultist)
    • Beginnings: Geomancy, Builders' Rites and Electional Astrology in the European Tradition
    • Sacred Geometry: Symbolism and Purpose in Religious Structures
    • The Ancient Science of Geomancy: Living in Harmony with the Earth
    • The Sacred Art of Geometry: Temples of the Phoenix
    • The Oracle of Geomancy
    • The Ancient Science of Geomancy: Man in Harmony with the Earth
  • Greer, John Michael (occultist)
  • Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy supposedly by Henry Cornelius Agrippa (occultist); Kessinger Publishing ISBN 1-56459-170-0
geomancy in Czech: Geomantie
geomancy in German: Geomantie
geomancy in Estonian: Geomantia
geomancy in Esperanto: Geomancio
geomancy in French: Géomancie
geomancy in Italian: Geomanzia
geomancy in Lithuanian: Geomantija
geomancy in Dutch: Geomantie
geomancy in Slovak: Geomantia
geomancy in Finnish: Geomantia
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