Toward a Mandala of Geomancy

For @polyphanes: toward a geomantic mandala
Mandala Studies

I’ve done enough work with geomancy at this point that I’m trying to design a mandala or star of geomancy as one of my next big art projects.  There are sixteen signs or signatures of geomancy, and they’re used in a lot of my practice of divination.  I did about nine sketches of the possible designs so far, although I’m leaning toward the one on the right in the photograph above, because I think it has the potential to look very much like an Islamic tiling pattern — and Geomancy came to western Europe through Islamic or Moorish Spain in the 1100s through 1300s AD.  I may go for an even more intricate, unicursal star pattern, though, so that I can really play with the over-and-under line work which is so common to Islamic tile patterns…

Let me back up a bit.

Geomancy, for those not in the know, is a system of divination that possibly comes originally from West Africa.  It’s apparently similar to the Ifa oracle, which is still practiced in places like Nigeria and Ghana, and seems to be associated with Bantu-language regions.  It’s sometimes called the sand divination system, because series of random lines are drawn out on smoothed earth or sand to generate the figures, which are simple four-bit binary characters.  The characters are read top to bottom (or outside to inside in the mandala in the right-side drawing shown in the photograph).  This system of divination came to western Europe through Moorish Spain — the Arabs and Berbers probably brought it from West Africa via trade routes, gold-for-salt over the Sahara, to the Islamic Empire sometime between AD 700 and AD 900, and then it filtered its way into the magical lore of western Europe. At some point its system was tied into the overarching magical system of the late Middle Ages, namely astrology (the quantum physics or string theory of the late 1300s). If you want to know more about the system, I can’t recommend Digital Ambler’s guides to geomancy enough — they’re one of the clearest explanations of the symbolism of the system that I know of on the ‘net. Although he does need to produce an overarching post that helps systematize and pull everything together in one place that he’s written, and provide a guide to reading it all for a beginner (I think).

One of the challenges I’m having, though, is the difficulty that there’s not a clean-cut order for the Geomantic symbols.  Each symbol is freighted with a duality — called Stabile or Mobile — and a quaternary: Air, Fire, Water or Earth.  Under normal circumstances, this would lead to an easy situation — two eight-pointed stars overlaid at an angle to one another produces sixteen points, and one eight-pointed star contains two of each element, and all of the Stabile or Mobile signs…

But no.

That’s too easy. Really too easy.

It turns out that there are three stabile Air signs, and one mobile sign.  And three mobile Water signs, and one stabile.  And that throws the whole basic mandala pattern that I was planning to use, out the window.  So we begin again.  Four squares — one yellow for Air, one blue for Water, one red for Fire, and one green for Earth — overlaid with one another, should result in the right number of cells or kites for the symbols of Geomancy to fit inside them and make some beautiful patterns…


Now there’s all this big empty space in the middle of the design.  Enough to do some quite hefty additional ornamentation or creativity — except that geomancy is a pretty fast-and-simple system.  It’s not like Tarot, with four minor and one major arcana sets, and court cards and aces and all sorts of florilegia.

So I’m pondering. If you have any ideas, feel free to let me know.  In the meantime, once summer is fully upon me as an end from school, I’ll be writing a more complete series of posts about geomancy here.

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