A collection of ConjureMan Ali's thoughts about magic, the occult, and spirituality.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Geomancy and Khatt al Raml

Thanks to some wonderful modern books like that of John Michael Greer, geomancy has begun to rise in popularity. For a while it was eclipsed in Europe by astrology and the tarot, but it is definitely making a come back. Though it continues to be a relatively small practice, the interest is growing and every day I meet new people who have taken their first steps to becoming geomancers.

Geomancy is a practice that is very dear to me. Though over the years I have become known as a tarot reader here in the West, I practiced geomancy long before I ever picked up the tarot. Indeed, I didn't start working with the tarot until my teenage years where I was trained in geomancy from a very young age. My practice in geomancy is quite old and along with astrology and dream interpretation is the only form of divination that I am known for in the Middle East. It is an essential part of my practice as a djinn conjurer. When it comes down to it, my business and political clients in the Middle East are only interested in geomancy and astrology. None of them want tarot readings, but all of them want charts cast for business deals, financial decisions, personal matters, and political endeavors. Every single one of my retainer clients are either geomancy clients or astrology clients, or both.

So what is geomancy? Geomancy is a North African and Arabic form of divination that was originally done by making dots in the sand. A number of dots and lines were marked which gave birth to a set symbols and figures from which a chart was produced. It became associated with astrology and traveled via the Muslims into Europe where it became a highly popular form of divination. Geomancy comes from the Greek, geo mantia meaning "earth divination."

There are however some differences between European geomancy and its parent tradition, khatt al raml, also known as ilm al raml or simply ramal. Khatt al raml translates to "sand cutting." While over the years, I have become familiar with European geomancy especially through the good works of John Michael Greer and others, my foundation is traditional khatt al raml. I have been asked about the differences between khatt al raml and geomancy for a while and so this post has been a long time coming. I have identified some points which highlight some of the major differences between the two arts, they are in no particular order and I will likely do a part two or more as time permits.

Though I am highlighting some of the differences between the two arts and while khatt al raml is the parent of geomancy, I am not making claims of superiority or that one is better than the other. Both are wonderful methods of divination with much in common. The differences however are there and worth noting:

  1. Khatt al Raml is a living tradition. Geomancy mostly died out and was eclipsed in Europe. While I am sure some pockets of geomancy survived, much of the modern interest in geomancy reconstructs the tradition from old texts. Khatt al raml on the other hand has been continuously practiced and the traditional way of learning is mouth-to-ear from master to student. There are books on khatt al raml but the primary means of transmission is learning from master to student. It is a living tradition with living cultural bearers. 
  2. Khatt al Raml is practiced only by authorized practitioners.  In order to practice khatt al raml you must receive authorization to do so, which speaks to its nature as passed down from master to student. This involves being part of an established lineage, spending time in training, then receiving an ijaza which permits you to practice the art. In a way it is initiatory as there are rites and tests that have to be done. Now these do vary from lineage to lineage. For example, in most lineages you have to pass a specific set of tests in order to demonstrate your skill and knowledge of ilm al raml. In my lineage we have the test of 99 where we have to demonstrate our ability to accurately predict based on 99 traditional scenarios (locating a unknown thief, finding the root of a rumor, finding a missing object, testing if an object contains a spirit, ascertaining guilt or innocence, locating hidden treasure, predicting course of a battle or competition and so on for a total of 99 cases). This means that each traditional practitioner of khatt al raml, if they come from a traditional lineage, is an established and tested diviner. Practitioners demonstrate this by naming their lineage.
  3. Khatt al Raml is deeply connected to rouhinya and Middle Eastern spiritual practices. Like traditional astrology, khatt al raml is deeply connected to spiritual practice and it can be said that it is inherent to it. Modern forms of divination may relate their work to psychology, Jungian archetypes etc. Khatt al raml is considered a spiritual discipline. Traditional practitioners employ prayers before casting a chart, use purification rites and ablutions, and recognize that their abilities as diviners depend on their knowledge and skill AND their spiritual connection. Without that connection the divination is considered muddied. If the knowledge of casting a chart is the science of khatt al raml then the spiritual connection is the art. Both are needed for successful auguries.
  4. Khatt al Raml is part of three other traditional Middle Eastern and North African forms of divination; astrology, bibliomancy, and oneiromancy. These are the four traditional divination types of the region and are interrelated to one another. Khatt al raml is not a separate practice, but actually deeply connected to its three counterparts. In order to be properly skilled in khatt al raml you need knowledge and skill in the other three arts and often you train in them simultaneously. Modern geomancers are already aware of geomancy’s connection to astrology but may not have heard of the other two’s connection. One of the traditional uses of khatt al raml is to interpret dreams. Dreams are categorized as having a variety of sources and therefore meanings and khatt al raml is called upon to determine both the origins of a dream and its meaning. Many of the figures in khatt al raml also have dream symbols associated with it. Similarly, many of the figures in khatt al raml are associated with specific verses in the Qur’an, or a piece of Sufi poetry; both of which are used in bibliomantic divinations. Knowledge in all of these go hand-in-hand. 
  5. Khatt al Raml is predictive, diagnostic, and prescriptive. Modern geomancy still retains the former two, but the latter is lost. Khatt al raml not only predicts outcomes, or provides diagnosis, but also prescribes spiritual and medical treatment. Prescription is part of medical readings which are frowned upon by some modern geomancers. In traditional khatt al raml, medical readings are quite common, especially in areas where folk healers hold sway. I personally do medical readings, but always advise that my readings are not a substitute for professional medical attention and that clients have to seek out a doctor. That said, figures and patterns in geomancy prescribe certain things, both medically and spiritually. Medically these are related to Yunani which is based on Graeco-Arabic medical theories. Spiritually, the prescriptions follow traditional folk-healing techniques. For example, a client may be advised to avoid hot drinks, or to eat sugared dates, or to only wear white for a month, or to avoid gossip etc. Prescriptions are an essential part of khatt al raml and are a means by which to avoid calamity, address a spiritual affliction, or improve the client’s condition.
  6. Khatt al Raml is associated with people and stories. Certain figures as well as patterns in a chart come with stories and fables. The practitioner of Khatt al raml must memorize each of these stories and their meaning. Some of these stories are religious and others are folk tales. The figures also represent historical and religious figures (in addition to describing ordinary people). The skilled practitioner will recognize the pattern, recount the story, and relate it to the client’s situation. This is quite similar to Ifa in that way and puts khatt al raml into the wider family of African divinations like hakkata, Ifa, diloggun, bone reading, sikiddy ec. The various religious and historical figures in khatt al raml are used to ascertain spiritual patrons and a person's spiritual calling. 
  7. Khatt al Raml is not monolithic. While there are variations and some minor differences in the practices of European geomancers based on differences in the texts they draw from there is a lot of conformity. For khatt al raml on the other hand, it is more accurate to view it as an umbrella covering a wide range of practices. Historically, khatt al raml can be divided into three schools, African, Levantine/Arabic, and South Asian. For example the South Asian school as practiced in Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan employ the use of ramal dice and have some different meanings for the figures. In Africa, the prescriptive and story-telling aspect of khatt al raml is more emphasized. There are however similarities and commonalities like those covered in this post.
  8. Khatt al Raml listens to the Judge. Modern geomancers place a great deal of importance on the house chart and modes of perfection, almost to the point where the Judge takes on a secondary importance. The houses and modes of perfection also are in khatt al raml, but the Judge is the answer. I have seen many geomancers cast charts where the judge says one thing and the house another and they stick to the house’s interpretation and then wonder what went wrong. In traditional khatt al raml, the Judge gives you the yes or no and the houses with modes of perfection reveal how the thing will come about. If there is a conflict then the Result of the Result is generated which acts as the final seal, or khatam. The importance of the Judge cannot be overstated especially since some practitioners in parts of the world only cast the takht or what is known as the shield/tableau in European geomancy. The role of the Judge and its configuration to rest of the chart is reflective of Medieval Islamic social structure with the qazi and wakil.
  9. Khatt al Raml is the magic of angel and djinn. Just as khatt al raml is a spiritual discipline so too is it a magical practice. Khatt al raml is not a passive divination system, but is used in magical practice. First, it is associated with the magic of djinn and angels. Knowledge of khatt al raml is believed to have been taught to Prophet Idries (Enoch/Hermes) from an angel. Knowledge of khatt al raml, like knowledge of astrology, is having the knowledge of angels. It is also connected to the djinn. Especially in its African branch, practitioners cast chart through the agency of familiar spirits, calling upon their personal djinn. It is said that without the familiar djinn that one is blind to the true meaning of the chart. Khatt al raml itself is very magical. Each figure is a magical symbol, from them talismans are created, and prescriptions are made. Practitioners trace out figures in the sand then gather up the sand in their hand and blow the sand to winds with prayers to carry out spells. Figures are dissolved in water and drunk with prayers. The charts themselves are manipulated to create taskin. The figures are manipulated in such a way so as to rewrite destiny, or create a magical effect. Many of these talisman or taweez rely on numerological and symbolic meanings and again call on agency of God, angels, and djinn. This is one of the closest guarded practices of khatt al raml; the creation of talismans and its use in magic.
  10. Khatt al Raml is secret. Knowledge of khatt al raml grants one knowledge to the world of the hidden (ghayb) with its djinn and angels. But knowledge of khatt al raml itself is hidden. Much of its knowledge is not written down in books, but passed down from master to student in transmission that is unbroken. Khatt al raml’s ways are secret and there are layers of hidden knowledge that remain still unknown in the west and that have not made their way into geomancy. 


Vickie said...

What a great post! Khatt al Raml is fascinating. I learned a little more about this magical tradition today. Hope you continue to educate us about the power and history of this practice. Always learning! Thanks, Conjure Man Ali!

Balthazar said...

Thank you for this fascinating comparison Ali. Much needed. Khatt al Raml is a fascinating living tradition. More respect needs to be paid to it. I found your discussion of the Judge especially interesting and rings true from my own experience. If the court is rotten, then - no cigar!

ConjureMan Ali said...

Thank you both!