Friday, June 27, 2014


So, have you ever been bored in a meeting or lecture, and found yourself doodling randomly on a piece of scrap paper?  Here's how to turn that scribbling into a suuuper mystical act of prophetic fortune telling.

This post is a microwave-quick introduction to the ancient art of geomancy, which in the middle ages was often considered the "down-to-earth" counterpart to traditional pie-in-the-sky, head-in-the-clouds astrology.  It's been written about since at least the 11th century, but it's lesser known these days than many of its magical cousins (e.g., Tarot cards, rolling bones, I Ching, and so on).

Artist unknown; img yoinked from here
There's a traditional system for doing this that you can find on plenty of web sites, but I'll give you the bite-sized version.  It's summer, after all -- you've got stuff to do.  So here's the deal:  take out your pencil and paper, and sit at the ready, thinking about your future.  Try to zone out, or trance out, just a bit, so that when you do the next step, you won't be tempted to count along.

The next step is to start making a row of dots with your pencil.  That's all.  Once you've done a few dozen, just stop when you feel it's right to stop.  Like I said, don't count along!  You're following in the footsteps of desert mystics who poked similar dots in the shifting sands of the Sahara.

Now, take a breath or two, then repeat the above three more times.  You'll end up with four rows, each with essentially a random number of dots.  (This act of poking your pencil is called "squilling" by the official geomancers, by the way.)

Okay, now you can count up the dots in each row.  Does the first row contain an even or odd number of dots?  An odd number can be shortened to just one dot.  An even number is shortened to two dots.  Do this for all four rows, and you'll be able to construct a symbol that looks something like this:

The traditional system would have you repeat this process several more times, then permutate and recombine these things like little strands of mutating DNA.  But let's just be satisfied with one symbol for now.  Feel free to dig deeper if you like.  (And yes, there's an app for this, too.)

There are 16 possibilities for these "geomantic figures" -- or sigils, or geomes, or hexadecagrams -- occultists love inventing words.  I've combed the ancient texts and extracted what I thought were the most artful and poetic interpretations of them, and assembled them into this here meme-worthy infographic...

Be warned that there are some not-so-nice possible outcomes.  You'll see "sadness" and "loss" in the above list, but that's life.  Sometimes we need to lose to know how to win, as the great man says.  You'll also see, from the bottom two symbols in the list, that J. K. Rowling must have perused this list at some time in the past, too...  :-)

Hmm, I feel I should keep going with the disclaimers.  Let me just quote an old Usenet colleague, who once ended a similar kind of post with:
Nobody believes what I say, not even me. The above is a joke for all legal, moral, or ethical purposes, and is not meant to be ingested.  Yeah, right.


  1. I had no idea. I don't think I could do it. I don't think I could resist the urge to count along.

    Pass the Magic 8 Ball...

    1. Oh, that's interesting. Maybe as a musician you're often counting beats & measures?

      I've got a theory about divination's purported ability to access a person's subconscious mind. If the method is too random (like rolling dice), it doesn't give the subconscious any way to "influence" the results. Same if it's too deterministic (like natal astrology). There's got to be a way for the conscious mind to let go while the subconscious has a chance to "act" in some subliminal way. It's a thin line between two extremes.

  2. Replies
    1. A ha... other qualities of this symbol, from a scholarly paper, include "mysticism, meditation, development of the faculties of the soul, and philosophical deepening of the world."