Heaven to earth; dots and dust (brief note)

I have no idea when the idea of geomancy first cropped up in Voynich studies and I wish it wouldn’t.  To my shame, when I tried to find out who began the ‘geomancy’ thing in the new-wave period of Voynich studies (i.e. post 1980s), Google sweetly informed me that on balance – and though Wayne Herschel apparently  started it –  first I and then Stephen Bax are to blame.

Anyway, Google’s best finds:

  1. In 1992 (as I found out today), in a book by Sara Martin, John Anthony West, The Case for Astrology (p.112), the authors say that Wensel, or Wenceslaus, Emperor from 1378-1400 and king of Bohemia till 1419, was interested in astrology and geomancy – which is fair enough – then they say that pictures of girls in bathing tubs are “typical of manuscripts produced for Wenceslaus” – oh, yes – and then stretch it a bit by speaking of an “uncanny’ resemblance to the Voynich manuscript”.  Well, if the Voynich manuscript depicted girls washing in tubs, yes, but it doesn’t… so ~ not so much.
  2. Unaware of this in 2009, an amused post at ciphermysteries, (‘Voynich Manuscript “Cosmic Wormhole” Theory…’ November 5th., 2009) brought a tongue-in-cheek bit of cheer from me: “Wayne, if you can get hold of a small book by Emilie Savage-Smith, entitled in part A thirteenth-century divinatory device, you should have lots of fun correlating the astronomical and geomantic figures shown there with the star-arrangements of Voynich 68r3.”
  3. Vytautas on February 17, 2011 now said,  “In the set of these “cunning appropriations” are botanic (plants), astrology (Zodiac), possible Geomantic (elements in counts 16 and 12)”.
  4. And then in came Stephen Bax – who I suspect might have been too trusting when someone mentioned the “Wenceslaus” thing, because Bax mentioned geomancy in his talk of April 2014.
  5. In October 25th., 2014 another of Stephen Bax’s posts ( ‘Where was the Voynich manuscript produced‘) led to
  6. a comment by Darren Worley but this was just by the way, helping another contributor identify ‘Haly Abenragel’, and it’s Abenragel’s  works which include numerological-geomantic charts.  I’m pretty sure Darren didn’t intend to fan a ‘Voynich-geomancy’ fire.
  7.  On December 19th., 2014, I wrote on my blog about a certain well-known Kitab in which a few examples occur of something that looks like Voynich script.  I quoted the catalogue description, which says that work is a “Composite manuscript of Arabic of divinatory works, dating principally from the late 14th century A.D., containing astrological, astronomical and geomantic texts compiled by Abd al-Hasan Al-Isfahani, with illustrations”, and that “Fol. 81r is in Turkish”.
  8. another comment from me, in another site, again mentioning the geomantic device: “..[Geomantic notation’s] use as an astronomical notation is curious. .. The system really isn’t “Greek” so far as we know. February 13, 2015.
  9. Yet another comment to the post by Stephen Bax (‘April 2014 Talk’), has Amanda saying on June 21, 2015:  “Two ideas I’ve thought are that: this is a book for a tradesman (you mentioned Geomancy and it could be a tradesman’s book on Geomancy, such that they make money off it) or/and it’s a book for those able to read who want to read about Geomancy. It could be something other than Geomancy, which would work for these ideas, as well. The pidgeon language idea explains the several, similar words that could all be the same word. The Silk Road started in Europe and ended in Asia (or vice versa, however you want to see it) so this could be a mix between those two language bases, giving you the Persian similarities but not fully Persian… or whatever else you could find in the text. It was just something that was kicking around in my mind”

About the ‘Persian’ bit, I think there’s a very good case to be made, even just by reason of the drawing style.  But geomancy?.. I don’t think so, myself.

10. A note from David Jackson’s blog ( September 16, 2015) mentions in passing that “All of Marco’s crossbowmen are from central Europe (modern Germany, Poland) and appear usually in zodiac depictions contained with books of hours, a manual of geomancy; and other assorted hausbuch.”

which again is a fair comment, and not a ‘Voynich-geomancy’ thing.
Let’s hope that’s the end of it.   Now some nice pictures…

constellation Aquarius Harley 2506 f. 38v last quarter of the 10thC

Harley 2506 f. 38v last quarter of the 10thC


Arabic Star Lists, c. 1065 CE. The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. The earliest compilation of Ptolemy’s constellations became codified only in the 9th century CE, after it was published in Arabic

Roy 13 AXI 14

calendar France B.L. Roy 13 AXI 14

al Sufi 3rd quarter of the 13thC

al Sufi Mss (copy made last quarter of the 13thC)

divinatory device workings

the workings of a 13thC divinatory device (from paper by Savage-Smith cited below)

al Sufi late 15thC copy

a late 15thC copy of al-Sufi’s book of the fixed stars.

Michael and Demon pattern Pierpont Morgan MSg39_015r

Pierpont Morgan Library MS G.39 fol.15r England c.1500


Page of the International Astronomical Association: Constellations illustrated (with star dots included), Arabic Star-Names, short Arabic and English bibliographies.

Emilie Savage-Smith and Marion B. Smith, ‘A Thirteenth-Century Islamic Geomantic Device: another look’.  downloadable pdf. (superb bibliographic references)

al Sufi’s Kitab suwar al-kawakib al-thabita (Book of the Images of the Fixed Stars). Al-sufi was born in Rey 903AH–died 986AH in Shiraz.

al Tusi’s Tarcama-i Kitab-i Suvaru’l-kevâkib.

Met.Museum: Heilebrun History of Art – Astronomy and astrology in the medieval islamic world(essay).





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