Divination has always had an important role in the Hermetic tradition, although the types of divination which have been most used have changed several times over the tradition’s history. Students of modern Hermetic systems will be familiar with the role played by the Tarot not merely as a divinatory method but also as a symbolic alphabet; astrology has had similar functions in Hermeticism since ancient times.
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, though, one of the most important divinatory methods used by Hermeticists throughout the Western world was geomancy. Like the I Ching, which it resembles in a number of ways, this system uses random actions to generate a set of binary digits: in the case of geomancy, single or double points, grouped in figures of four digits each. Four such figures, called the “Mothers”, are produced by chance, and a total of twelve others — “Daughters”, “Nephews”, “Witnesses”, a “Judge” and a “Reconciler” — are derived from these by a set of mathematical processes. These figures and their interactions are interpreted by the geomancer through a system of houses borrowed from astrological sources. (The whole procedure is given in detail in Charmasson (1980), Regardie (1972), Skinner (1977), Skinner (1980), and in many other sources.)
During the Renaissance, the art of geomancy was among the most practiced of divinatory methods, and attracted the attention of Hermetic writers of the caliber of Cornelius Agrippa and Robert Fludd. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn also included geomancy in its course of studies, but the version presented by Westcott and Mathers was a fragmentary one, copied verbatim from the works of the Jacobean plagiarist John Heydon. This has become the standard version used in the English-speaking world at present, with the result that most of the more interesting possibilities of geomancy have been almost completely neglected for a century or more.
The following is a translation of Modo judicandi questiones secundum Petrum de Abano Patavinum, an anonymous text on geomantic divination found in a wide range of manuscripts from the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Unlike most other handbooks of geomancy, it deals solely with the interpretation of the geomantic chart once this has been produced by the standard procedures, and it gives details of interpretive methods which have long been forgotten in the English-speaking world. The text I have used for this translation is that edited by Therese Charmasson (Charmasson, 1980, pp. 275-282), and is found in Munich ms. lat. 489, fol. 222-233. Words which have been added solely to fit the requirements of English usage have not been noted, but substantive additions have been placed in square brackets.
The Method of Judging Questions according to Peter de Abano of Padua
Desiring to give true and certain judgement, according to the glorious and venerable science of geomancy, one first ought to invoke, supplicate and entreat the clemency of onmipotent God, so that he may be able to extract the true signification of the figures, and open up by a true path the occult property of the twelve houses, and the Judge together with the Witnesses. In which judgement, nine things are to be considered:
- in the first place, the good or evil character of the figures.
- in the second place, to know what are the significators of the question.
- in the third place, if the first sign, which signifies the querent [the person seeking divination], occupies the house of the quesited [the subject of the divination].
- in the fourth place, if the first significator seeks conjunction with the other significator or on the contrary, if the significator of the quesited seeks conjunction with that of the querent.
- in the fifth place, to see whether a mutation is made in the question, that is, if either significator shifts out of its proper place, making a conjunction between itself and the other significator.
- in the sixth place, to see if there may be any translation between significators.
- in the seventh place, the good or evil character of the witnesses and judge must be considered.
- in the eighth place, the nature and signification of the sixteenth figure.
- in the ninth place, whether a thing lost will arrive quickly or whether hope will be cut off.
Of the good and evil character of the figures
The good or evil character of the figures is considered in this way. Now the good or evil of the four cardinal houses ought to be considered, namely which figures are benevolent, because if the figure in the first house is benevolent, a good beginning is to be presumed, whether from the goodness of the querent or otherwise; if the figure in the fourth house is good, a good end is to be rejoiced in; if the figures in the seventh and tenth houses are good, a good middle is to be hoped for, and the reverse has the opposite meaning. And if the fifteenth figure [the Judge] agrees with the fourth, the best end of all is not to be doubted, and the reverse has the opposite meaning.
Of the kinds of figures
Then it must be seen whether good figures are in aspect to the ascendant, because if they are in sextile aspect, that is, in the third and eleventh houses, it is good; if in trine aspect, that is in the fifth and ninth houses, it signifies better than all, and the reverse, when the ascendant is weakened.
Of the exaltations of the figures
Next the exaltations of the figures must be considered. Now the figures of Mercury, Albus and Conjunctio, are exalted in the ascendant; the figures of Luna, Populus and Via, in the third; the figures of Venus, Amissio and Puer, in the fifth; the figures of Mars, Rubeus and Puella, in the sixth; the figures of the Sun, Fortuna Major and Fortuna Minor, in the ninth; the figures of Jupiter, Acquisitio and Laetitia, in the eleventh; the figures of Saturn, Carcer and Tristitia, in the twelfth; and when a good figure is in its exaltation, its good signification is doubled; if it is evil, its evil is doubled.
Of the association of figures
Likewise it must be seen which figure benefits from its companions, and from which figures it arises. Now if a good figure is in good company, its good signification is completed and increased, and the reverse has the opposite effect, if it has an evil companion1; if on the other hand a good figure is created from good parents, this signifies complete good, while if it is created from one good and another evil figure, it remains in its own proper signification. And if it arises from two evil figures, it is tainted by them and is left mixed in character. If it is evil, all is reversed.
Of the mutation of a figure and its signification
It must be known also why a figure is said to change its fortune; this signifies that it happens that fortunate signs exercise their signification against the will of the querent, and signify the negation of the arrival of the thing desired. For example: if someone asks whether rains will come, and Laetitia is formed in the tenth house, which is the house of rains or drought, this Laetitia here signifies fair weather and lack of rain; Laetitia therefore changes its fortune, for although it is good, it becomes of evil signification, fair weather, when this be against the desire and will of the querent. For indeed any figure which has a signification against the will of the querent, whatever it may be, in that question is judged evil, and the reverse in the opposite case.
Of knowing how to discover the significator
Now judgement in geomancy in no way can be given, if the practitioner himself does not know the places of the question, that is, the significators, which are known to signify the arrival or negation1 of the question [that is, the quesited]. For indeed the significators are those figures which signify the querent and the quesited.
Now the place of the querent’s significator is the first house, since in the first house the querent is always considered, and note that someone is not the querent who asks in the place of another, but he for whom the question is asked is said to be the querent, whether he be present or not. For example: if I ask for N., as though it were he, not I but he is called the querent. And truly the other significator which signifies the quesited matter, is considered now in one house, now in another.
If, for example, someone asks if he will profit, or if he will receive money from a debtor, or if something lost is in the house, or if his money will remain untouched, or if he will be enriched, all these are considered in the second house.
If on the other hand he should ask whether he is esteemed by a brother or sister, or whether he will die before a brother of his or a sister or a close relative, or of what sort his companions may be in lodgings or on a journey, or if a journey will be short, or if it will be safe, or if his messenger whom he wishes to send will do what he ought to do well, all of this is considered in the third house; it is the other significator.
And if someone should ask whether he is esteemed by his father, or by his uncle, or by his father-in-law, or by any older member of his family, or if a patrimony ought to be increased or recovered, or if it be good to found a castle or a house, or if any work which has been started will come to an end, or if a thing has been lost in the place enquired about, or in what part of a house or ship or land or field is a thing which has been lost, or if a thing which has been lost will be found in a place hoped for, or if some building will fall down, or a plantation of trees come to bear fruit, or if a field will abound with produce, or if the price of seed will rise or fall in a quesited month or year, or if a particular tract of land is fertile, or if any matter will come to a good end; in all these questions, the fourth house is the significator.
And if someone asks whether he will have children, or similarly the querent asks whether she will conceive or give birth, or die during childbirth, or have complications, or what food will be served at a banquet, and of what flavor, and if the food be poisoned, or if the returns from the querent's property will be increased, or if he will live happily, or if a lawsuit or dispute which his carried on against him will be settled peaceably; the fifth house signifies all these things.
In the sixth house, these things are considered, namely whether the querent will be sick, or if an absent person is sick, and what caused him to fall sick; if he will be cured by the medicine which has been selected; if small animals are fruitful or sterile or if they will be lost; if it is good to keep or hire a servant, of if he will run away or serve well, or if he will stay a long time with the querent, or what color the urine will be [this is a sign used in medical diagnosis].
In the seventh house, these things are considered: if the querent will take a wife; if a marriage will take place; if a marriage will be fortunate; if the querent will marry a particular woman; if he will regain a wife or a sweetheart or a lover; if he will be defeated by someone with whom he fights; if a woman be a virgin or if she has given birth; if a wife or sweetheart be lawful; if the querent will separate from his wife; if a particular horse will win a race; if the querent will be defeated in war or in a lawsuit; if his adversary will make peace or an alliance with him; if a business partner is honest; if a debtor intends to pay his debt; if an exile will return to his homeland; if he will be well in the land to which he goes; of what quality is the land to which he goes; and the quality of all opposites is declared by the seventh house.
In the eighth house, these things are considered: whether someone will die at a predestined point; if the querent will get possession of the remains of the dead; if in the land to which he goes he will be enriched; if his adversary has much money; if something reached the person to whom it was sent; if he will die as a result of a particular illness; whether something he fears has truly come upon him.
In the ninth house, these things are asked: if a particular person be Catholic, or if he have faith or if he be religious; if a wise man has skill [or a particular skill or knowledge]; if a long journey will be safe; if a church will be built; if the querent will receive church preferment [appointment to an ecclesiastical office]; if a church which has been begun will be completed; if a church will fall down; if the querent will not receive preferment; if he will be deposed from his position in the church; if a religious official will govern his subordinates well; if the church will receive goods; if the querent will receive favor in the church; if the treasury of the church will be increased; if the church will be honored with riches.
In the tenth house, these things are considered: if the querent will be king or a powerful man or an elected official; if he will be bailiff to a king or official, that is, will have land or people placed under him by the king; if the king will be honored in his kingdom or despised or if he will be deposed; if having been deposed he will regain the throne; if he will govern the kingdom well; if the kingdom will be at peace; if the kingdom will be increased; if the querent will have hope of gaining honors; if the kingdom will be increased; if the querent will have hope of gaining honors; if the querent will be honored; if he will be fortunate in his relations with the king or a prince or his particular lord; if the querent’s teacher be faithful in all things; if the querent is esteemed by the king or prince or his lord; if his teacher knows the branch of knowledge which he has promised to teach; if the querent is esteemed by his mother; how his widowed mother will fare; if he will profit by a manual art; if the manual art about which he asks will be useful and lucrative to him; if on an appointed day it will rain, or what kind of wind will blow, or what kind of weather there will be.
In the eleventh house, these things are considered: if the querent will be fortunate; if he will have friends; if a friend is useful; if the querent will be helped by a friend; if the friendship of a friend will endure; if a king or prince will have treasure, or if his treasury will increase; if the king’s tribute [or taxes] will remain the same; if he will conquer land; from whom he will have tribute; if the querent will be a bailiff or a servant or a minister at the court of a king or prince; if a king or prince will forgive the querent and restore his [position, property, etc.]; if the querent will lose his position as bailiff or servant to a king or prince; if a thing hoped for will come to pass or if the querent will attain a thing hoped for; if by his service he will benefit his elders; if a thing which has been entrusted to someone will be safe, or if a thing which has been deposited will be reclaimed.
In the twelfth house, these things are considered: whether the querent will have hidden enemies, or if the hidden enemies be dangerous, or if hidden enemies will defeat the querent; or how hidden enemies seek to harm the querent; and if a large animal which he wants to buy be good or vicious, or if he should sell it, if he will in truth profit from it, or if it is old or young; and if the querent will be captured or imprisoned, or if in that prison he will die, or if he will go into or out of debt or prison or slavery, and if he will be honorably buried, or what kind of sepulchre he will have, and if after his death he will have a good reputation or a bad one.
Of the occupation of figures
Occupation is when the sign of the querent occupies the house of the quesited. For example: someone asked whether he would be able to recover his house, which he had lost, and Albus was in the first house and shifted itself [i.e., also appeared] in the fourth, occupying the place of the quesited. And note that there is no kind of answer in this science better than this one, if the first sign be fortunate, seeing that the thing in question must be acquired, without doubt, if God wills.
Of the conjunction of figures
Conjunction is when one significator shifts itself into conjunction with the other significator [i.e., also appears in a house next to that of the other significator]. For example: someone asked whether his slave who ran away could be recovered, and Acquisitio was in the first house, and shifted itself into the fifth house, that is, in conjunction with the sixth house, which is the significator of the slave; from which one supposes that the slave will be recovered, because of the signification of this conjunction. And note that when the first significator shifts itself into conjunction with the other significator, this always means that the querent, through his own diligence and effort, will acquire the thing inquired about; and when the figure of the quesited goes to a conjunction with the significator of the querent, then this will mean that the querent, without diligence or effort on his own part, will have the thing inquired about.
Of the mutation of significators
Mutation is when both significators shift out of their own places, making a conjunction between themselves. For example: someone asked whether he would be able to have the woman he loved, and Carcer was in the first house and Puer in the seventh, signifying the woman; now there is a shifting of Carcer to the fourth house and Puer to the third house. This conjunction of significators outside of their own places means, therefore, that the querent will have the woman in question, but not in the proper place, that is, not in the place of the querent, nor in the house of the quesited; but because the conjunction is said to be made from the place of the querent, it denotes that the querent will have the woman near his own home.
Of the translation of figures
Translation is when on figure carries the disposition [of the matter] from one significator to the other. For example: someone asked whether he would be able to bring about his marriage3, and this is how the divination came out: Acquisitio was in the house of the querent and Laetitia was in conjunction with it, making a good translation to the seventh, since it was conjoined to it in the eigth [i.e., Laetitia also appeared in the eighth house and was this in conjunction with the seventh house, the house of marriage], thus having disposition of the marriage, and because the ascendant [the first house] was acquisitive and fortunate, and because the figure Conjunctio was formed by [the combination of the figure in] the first and seventh houses, and because a trine aspect from the fifth house strengthened the ascendant, and even more because of the combination of all these, the marriage was brought about with ease.
Of the good or evil character of the judge and witnesses
The good or evil character of the judge and witnesses is considered thus, as experience shows: since the fifteenth figure [the judge] is closer to the diviner than the others, it is therefore attributed to the Moon among the planets, since the Moon is closer to the Earth than the other planets. And just as the Moon in one lunation, by reason of the very swift speed of its course, passes through every sign and visits all of the planets, separating from one and applying to another; in the same way, the fifteenth figure comes int o being out of the procreation and generation of all the figures above it. But since among these we first have the thirteenth and fourteenth figures [the witnesses], the thirteenth figure is attributed to the planet from which the Moon is separating and the fourteenth to the one to which it is applying; therefore if the thirteenth is good and fourteenth evil, this signifies that the matter about which the question is asked tends to the worse, and if the thirteenth is evil and the fourteenth good, the mater tends to the better, if the fifteenth supports their testimony. The good or evil character of the judge does not differ from that of the fourth house, because both of them signify the end of the matter in question; from which, if both of them be good, there can be no doubt of the best conclusion of the quesited matter, if God wills, and the reverse in the opposite case; and if one is good and the other evil, you may judge that the quesited matter will have a mediocre end.
Of the sixteenth figure
The sixteenth figure, of which the good or evil character must be considered, assuredly is created from the first and fifteenth figures. If it is good, and appears in another part of the chart, it signifies that, after the quesited thing is obtained in whatever position in the chart pertains to it, there will also be that good thing which arises out of the nature of the house in which the sixteenth figure is found. But if it be evil, all is the reverse.
Of the swift or slow conclusion of the question
Whether the arrival or denial4 of the thing desired will take place sooner or later is considered thus: count the points of all sixteen figures of which I speak. Then if the number of points be 96, because all the figures of geomancy are formed out of a total of 96 points, it is plain that the arrival of the conclusion will be swift, and neither slow nor doubtful; if it be more than 96, it will be slow, and by as much as it is more than 96, it will be that much slower; and if the tale of the points be less than 96, so much more quickly the quesited matter seeks its end; and by as much as it is less than 96, so much more quickly will the end arrive.5
Notes on the text
1. “If it has a good companion” in the original
2. The original has adventus vel negotiatio, which I have taken as a scribal error for adventus vel negatio
3. The words per translatorem, “by the translator”, were inserted in the text at this point.
4. Same as Note 2.
5. The original repeats “more than 96” and “slowly” in this last clause.
- Agrippa, Henry Cornelius (pseud.), Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy (repr. Kila, MT: Kessinger, 1992) Contains Agrippa’s On Geomancy and Gerard of Cremona’s On Astrological Geomancy.
- Charmasson, Therese, Recherces sur une Technique Divinatoire: La Geomancie dans l'Occident Medieval (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1980).
- Pennick, Nigel, Games of the Gods (York Beach, ME: Weiser, 1989).
- Regardie, Israel, A Practical Guide to Geomantic Divination (NY: Samuel Weiser, 1972).
- Skinner, Stephen, The Oracle of Geomancy (Bridport, Dorset: Prism, 1986).
- ------- , Terrestrial Astrology (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980).