What is it about?

Geomancy is a mathematical system of divination known since the XIIth century in Christian and Islamic Spain. Based on sixteen simple figures, it was extraordinary succesful in Western Europe and in the Arab World during more than five centuries. The same figures are used today in West Africa and in particularly in Southern Nigeria and in the Republic of Benin. That system of divination is called Fa in Benin and Ifa in Nigeria. The meaning of the figures is completely different from their Arab and European equivalent. The question asked in this paper is simple: is there a meaningful link between the African Fa and Arab and European geomancy? This link is the Morning Star, that is the planet Venus. Medieval geomancy in Spain was heavily influenced by astrology, and each planet had its geomantic sign. In that context, Venus is always associated with the figure called "Boy" (or "Immaculate Face") combined with the figure "Loss". In the Arab world, that figure "Boy" may also have been associated with the prophet Issa ibn Maryam (Jesus for the Christians). In Africa, the diviners combine the same two figures to perform rituals ; the two figures are known as the Messenger sign (Oshe Tula). My research in Fa and Ifa litterature shows that the Messenger sign was symbolically linked to Venus, known as "the Moon Dog" in local Yoruba mythology. In other words, Venus, i.e. the Morning Star, is the meaningful missing link between geomantic forms of divination in Western Europe, in the Islamic world and West Africa, and further away, in Cuba, in Brazil and in the Americas.

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Why is it important?

Against the idea that European, Arab and West African cultures are separated, it is essential to show the diffusion of symbols between those cultures. Historical anthropology shows that divination symbols have circulated between those cultural areas since at least the Middle Ages. In the case of geomancy, the mathematical aspect of divination is very stable across history and cultural areas, but some astrological elements are also permanent : it is the case of the planet Venus.


This article took me many years ! As a fieldwork anthropologist I was familiar with observations, interviews, photographs and videos in Africa. But this paper combines different skills. I had to read many manuscripts in Latin from the Middle Ages to show the origin of the Messenger sign that is used in Yoruba and Fon divination. I also had to consult sources in Arabic, Spanish, English, French, Fon and Yoruba.

Dr. Erwan Dianteill
Universite Sorbonne Paris Cite

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: How to Write a Coherent Introduction to the Commentary on the Apocalypse: On an Edition of the Writings of Joachim of Fiore (d. 1202), International Journal of Divination and Prognostication, March 2022, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/25899201-12340025.
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