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Geomancy: A 13th Century Islamic Divination Device

August 14, 2010

Geomantic Device

This beautiful and complex device from the 13th Century, with its dials and wheels also carries the inscription:

“‘I am the revealer of secrets; in me are marvels of wisdom and strange and hidden things. But I have spread out the surface of my face out of humility, and have prepared it as a substitute for earth…”

This device can see into the future, but requires skill to use. It is also covered with inscriptions. The one quoted above and another which reads:

” I am the possessor of eloquence and the silent speaker and through my speech arise desires and fears. The judicious one hides his secret thoughts, but I disclose them just as if hearts were created as my parts…

Geomancy is a well-known form of divination but it is a manual operation. This is the only known device which automates the procedure. The 19 dials on the reverse side of the device represent different Houses. They are inscribed with labels such as the House of Soul and Life, of Property and Wages, of Brothers and Sisters, of Fathers and Mothers, of Offspring and Children, of Illness and Disease, of Maturation and Sexual Matters, of Slaughter and Death, of Movement and Changes, of Power and Glory, of Hope and Expectations, of Enemies and Jealousies. Smaller dials read “The House of the Questioner”, “The House of the Object of the Inquiry”,”The House of the Result” and “The House of the Result of the Result”

Another inscription on the device records the name of the creator: Muhammad ibn Khutlukh. The triangular design at the top of the device suggest that the maker also made astrolabes. However, one of the only known other devices by this maker is a brass incense burner which was sold recently (2008) at Christies auction house for about 1 million pounds sterling.

Much more detail on the device, its history and its function in the references below.

Where is it?
The device is in the Islamic Room, Room 34.
Walking into the room, walk down onto the main floor of the room, and go to the far end, to the East. The device sits in a free-standing glass cabinet near the Northeast corner of the room, along with other objects of divination.

Further Reading
Islamic Geomancy and a Thirteenth Century Divinatory Device (1980), Emilie Savage Smith and Marion Smith
Wikipedia: Geomancy
Brass Incense Burner sold at Christies.

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August 14, 2010

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