HoS Advent Calendar 2016

A Byzantine form of Geomancy?

A figure that correlates the planets, signs of the zodiac, and figures, which seems to be related to some geomancy of some form. “Cleromancy,” Harley MS 5596, fol. 4v.

This illustration from a 15th-century manuscript seems to be a type of geomantic figure that correlates the planets, signs, and figures (arrangements of dots). It shows the standard astrological relationships between planets and signs. Starting at the top and proceeding counterclockwise from the moon:

  • Moon — Cancer
  • Mercury — Gemini and Virgo
  • Venus — Taurus and Libra
  • Sun — Leo
  • Mars — Aries and Scorpio
  • Jupiter — Sagittarius and Pisces
  • Saturn — Capricorn and Acquarius

We also see a figure of dots associated with each planet/sign combination.

The planets and signs are each associated with a pattern of dots, as they are in geomancy. Here the planets and signs have been labeled.

In its most generic sense, geomancy involved interpreting random markings of dots. Four rows of dots were grouped into figures, each named, associated with a planet, a sign, day or night, and other properties. There were sixteen such figures. This diagram was, perhaps, a form of geomancy or a related mantic practice (the generic title given to this work, “cleromancy”—divination by drawing lots, seems more closely related to the first figure than to this one.)

Various forms of divination were widely practiced (or at least discussed) throughout the Byzantine world, ranging from the recognizable astrology and necromancy to the relatively obscure (at least today) catoptromancy and lecanomancy—divination through interpreting images in mirrors or patterns in liquids in bowls. Both practices could both be part of long and complicated rituals that compelled demons to appear on the surface of the liquid or in the mirror. The demons could be commanded to reveal the future.