Coin Divination

I’m on a Discord server called Hermetic House of Life, where I do some teaching of the arts of astrology and geomancy in an ad-hoc sort of way. A couple of days ago, a member requested information on divination with coins. It happened to be a slow afternoon for me, and it’s also the case that I’m sort of between projects — so I started ruminating on what such a system might look like.

It’s important to begin with the warning that there are coin divination systems out there. For example, it’s possible to throw three similar coins six times, and generate an I Ching hexagram. You can also throw four different coins (penny, quarter, nickel, dime), four times, and generate a set of four mothers for a Geomantic Shield Chart or House Chart using the figures from geomancy.

But what about using only one coin? Well, you get Ummim and Thummim, the yes-no, black/white stones of the high priest of ancient Israel — heads or tails, yes or no… no Maybe and certainly no Try Again Later.

What about two coins? If you don’t differentiate between coin types (one penny and one nickel, for example, you get:

A punnett square describing four possible answers from the throwing of two coins.
  • Two Heads = definite yes
  • Two Tails = definite no
  • One Head, One Tail = maybe.

If you differentiate coins with two coins, you get

  • Two Heads = definite yes
  • Two Tails = definite no
  • One Head, One Tail = maybe
  • One Tail, One Head = ask again later

If we only use two coins, four possible answers is the maximum we can get: that reveals only four possibilities: yes, no, maybe, and “ask again later.” In divinatory work, that’s about as tight a system as we can possibly get, that also includes answers beyond a simple yes and no.

Three Coin Divination

If we go up to four coins, there’s no reason not to use geomancy as the basis of your divination — and a good many reasons to use geomancy as your divination system, not least of which is that there’s a good five hundred years of “prior art” for you to draw on to develop your skills on. There’s no reason to re-invent the wheel when there’s a perfectly good wheel that all the existing mechanics and repair shops already know how to explain and fix. There’s also a tremendous amount of nuance there.

On the other hand, between two and four coins, is three — let’s say a quarter, a penny and a dime. Three coins where you’re distinguishing one type of coin from another have eight possible combinations: all heads, all tails, and three variants each of two tails/one head and two heads/one tail.

It’s thus possible to lay out three heads, and call that Great Fortune — three powerful faces turning their gaze to you and approving of your work. Similarly, three tails reveals Trouble City. In the US right now, a penny has a shield on its reverse, turning you away; a quarter may have a distant location — another state, a national park, or a natural wonder; a dime has three torches, a cloud of smoke and fire obscuring your path forward. In short, obstacles, distance and confusion prevent you from achieving good results.

We’re left with two mixes of Heads and Tails. I’ve given these a variety of names that should be relatively easy to memorize, and give your practice some legs:

Let’s look at the three One Tail/Two Heads first:

  • Lucky Strike = penny tail, quarter & dime heads = this indicates that you started out on the wrong foot or began with not quite the best plan (or no plan at all), but that overall the fundamentals are sound. Make some course corrections and things are likely to work out ok.
  • Sprint to the Finish = dime tail, quarter & penny heads = It will be too easy for too long, but there’s someone coming up behind you on your left, and you may get shut out if you leave everything to the last minute. Start early, pace yourself, but reserve enough energy to perform well at the end. (Initially I called this Final Warning, but that made it too close to Rough Waters, below, so I made some shifts.)
  • Muddled Middle = quarter tail, dime & penny heads = started out OK, will probably end OK, but there’s some challenging bits in the middle that may bring worry or stress. Try to remember that if it’s still rough, it’s not the end of this particular story yet — and a lot of novels end happily, but there’s a lot of mess in between beginning and ending. The querent (the person asking the question) is closer to the end of the problem than the beginning… contrast this with Rough Waters, below.

Then there are the three One Heads, Two Tails:

  • Rough Waters = dime heads, quarter & penny tails = the querent is at the start, or closer to the beginning than to the end, of a period of difficulty and turbulence that’s likely to last a while. Expect the storm to last for a while, and not to find much comfort or safety in it. Things will eventually work out, but buckle in and plan to hold on for now.
  • Rose Among Thorns = quarter heads, dime & penny tails = This is, overall, a terrible situation, and things are not likely to work out for the best. Keep your eyes open for the wonderful bits, and enjoy them and work to remember these bright spots because overall things will be rough.
  • Dark Alley = penny heads, dime & quarter tails = An easy beginning as you find what appears to be a useful short cut. It won’t be short, but it will cut.

Divinations should be able to answer more questions, though, than just general-purpose questions. Two common types of questions are WHERE, and WHEN something will happen; and a third question is HOW to activate a desired combination with a talisman.

WHERE questions require both a location, and a direction, as well as a distance. This is why geomancy figures can be used to represent both numbers, as well as places or directions, depending on the specificity of the questions asked. So by adding possible locations, as well as directions and numbers to our meanings, we generate a wider range of possibilities.

So for example, I might ask the question, “How many days will it be until I see my lover again?” and get the answer Sprint to the Finish, and get the result 180. This doesn’t mean it will be exactly 180 days, but that you’ll see them within 180 days. Or you might ask the question “where is the ring that I lost?” and get the answer Trouble City — which would tell you that it was somewhere to the south of you, or in an abandoned or neglected part of your house. If you asked “how far is the ring from me in feet?” you might get the answer Rose Among Thorns, which tells you it’s within 12 feet of your current location. That might prompt you to search the bowl of spare change in the living room, which is south of where you did the divination and about 10 feet away.

Additionally, adding in color to each combination means that I can stack three coins in the right combination, tie them in that configuration with yellow thread or wrap them in yellow cloth, and seal the knot with a bit of wax, and I’ve created a mini-talisman of that figure. The challenge is, of course, that the figure is reversed if I lose track of which way the coins are stacked, so it may be worthwhile to wrap a slip of paper around them, like a fortune cookie, with an intention statement on it, along with the name of the figure I’m generating.

chart of the Three Coin Divination system.

I have to admit, I kind of see this divination system as being the sort of thing that makes its appearance in the cafeteria at a high school or even a primary school among the sort of precocious pre-witches and wizards.

It would make a good divination system, as well, for a game-master to have the NPC priest use when communing with the gods…. “How many orcs are there in this encampment?” “Somewhere under 180.” “How many are women and children?” “Apparently around 60.” “How many are fighters?” “Twelve.”

Here are those additional data-points to answer how, where, and when questions, with the names of the figures arranged from “generally positive” to “generally negative” from top to bottom.

  • Great Fortune: with money or valuables – north – 7 – yellow
  • Lucky Strike: windy or open or cold – northeast – 30 – bright blue
  • Sprint to the Finish: an office or business – southeast – 180 – dark green
  • Muddled Middle: a kitchen or breakfast place, wet or muddy – west – 14 – red
  • Rough Waters: hot, overheated or small – southwest – 60 – dark blue
  • Rose Among Thorns: a field, garden, bedroom, bathroom, or formal place – east – 12 -pink
  • Dark Alley: a dark, shadowy, lightless place – northwest – 90 – gray
  • Trouble City: abandoned or neglected places – south – 0 or ∞ – black

We can take this a step further (though I can’t do this on the grid, below), and add in a couple of human descriptors, that help us answer WHO types of questions. There isn’t room on the grid for these (alas) without making it unreadable at this scale, but you can develop your knowledge of these at a later stage:

  • Great Fortune: a successful person, a leader; tall and athletic, youthful, more masculine than feminine; proud, boastful,
  • Lucky Strike: a lucky person, a manager, a coach or advisor; rounder, thicker, more feminine than masculine; humble, kind.
  • Sprint to the Finish: a ‘plugger’, a diligent or reliable person; full adult to middle age, more feminine than masculine; dedicated and honorable
  • Muddled Middle: a disorganized or confused person, flighty, unreliable; middle age, more masculine than feminine; swift-thinking but not so intentional
  • Rough Waters: a teenager, a part-timer, someone with other work; physically strong, fair haired, seen as both masculine and feminine in different circumstances; quick with excuses.
  • Rose Among Thorns: receptive or passive person, prone to anger; more feminine than masculine, more likely to delegate than do; loving and gentle.
  • Dark Alley: bright-eyed, eager, a morning person; controlling, vengeful; fair, not dusky; secretive
  • Trouble City: an elder, a fragile person; too thin, anxious, shrunken, limited; gray, ashen, dull,

Now… it’s important to say, this is not a fully tested and perfect divination and magical system. I made it up. This week. On a lark. For fun. There’s literally no guarantee that it works. There’s not even proof that it works. I haven’t even tested it.

But you can learn the basics of the system in a few hours, I suspect, and teach it to someone else a few days later. And you can probably do a daily divination on the question “What will I encounter today?” for a few weeks to see if it gives reliable (if somewhat vague) results.

Is it Tarot? No. It doesn’t even have the sixteen possibilities of geomancy. It only gives eight pieces of advice, a compass rose of directions, and a rather vague set of numeric values.

But it is a complete divination system? Yes, pretty much. And it gives you some sense of what you should be able to do with any divination system, really — answer yes-no questions, questions of who-what-how-where-when, and provides a range of minor magic acts that you can do to attract specific energies.

Let me know if you use it, and what kinds of results you get.

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