What is Geomancy?
by Steve Parker
As I think the question over, I am sitting at the top of the Schoolhouse Hill, here in Vermont, USA, looking at the mowing I've done over the past few days and the beautiful view across the valley. People are baling hay in the fields, spreading manure, raking windrows of mown grass. My definition of geomancy is based on a life of experience in a down-to-earth relationship with my place in a particular locale.
What comes to mind is the definition of the shaman as "mediator between culture and landscape" - the seeker of answers to his culture-s needs and dilemmas from the well of wisdom found in the landscape. The geomancer, too, fills this role of mediator between genius of culture and genius of place. The geomancer works and shapes the landscape. The skill of the surgeon, to a certain extent, is at work here. But the geomancer, like the shaman, studies the languages of the landscape. On a practical level he becomes intimately familiar with its productive capabilities, its ability to hold, support, and sustain people, its complexity in terms of the life forms and life systems resident upon it, and its life essence and intelligence in a spiritual sense; its genius.
The geomancer does all of this, however, not in isolation from his kind, but fully conscious of his membership in his own culture. He must be equally knowledgeable about his cultural genius - the needs, modes of behavior, aspirations and dilemmas of his people. What he seeks is a relationship composed of a series of complex adaptations of landscape to culture, of culture to landscape - in such a way that his culture can eat the material and spiritual food of the landscape, and in which the landscape not only retains its character but attains a heightened sense of intensified character, a vibrant kind of health.
The landscape - through relationship with the culture that lives upon it - achieves a self-awareness through the experience of human love and intimate human practice. The detection and enhancement of specific sites with intensified energies is part of this, but the entire practice of "landscape relationship" involves the study and practice of the sacred - the shifting of energy, matter, and form from one life system to another in such a way that all life systems party to this transaction retain their health and vitality and are energized through the experience. This would include the taking of a stag from the local deer herd for food for the tribe, the growing of corn and squash and wheat in cultivated areas, the extraction of minerals from the soil for the construction of tools and implements. These transactions take place in such a way that the material - the practical - is not divorced from the spiritual or the shamanic perception.
This is something I struggle with in my farming. I experience a duality between intuitive or shamanic perception and my expertise in a technical sense - my practical knowledge of how to get things done on the land. If I suspend one of these, then my performance is incomplete. When working in a field through communication with the devic energies - the genius of the landscape - I have to loosen my practical sense, which is accustomed to too much control and tends to be a little "fascistic". In order to make room for my shamanic sense, I have to consciously subordinate the other side of my perception a little. As a result it tends to go into eclipse and I start thinking I can grow this field of Christmas trees just by asking the devas to help me. The results are not what I want them to be. It has been a real challenge for me in the development of my practice of geomancy to integrate these different kinds of perception and knowledge.
Geomancy, for me, is in large part about farming - a practical, utilitarian treatment of landscape designed to produce commodities and goods that humans require, done efficiently and sustainably. But if this was all that farming was it would be dull and somewhat lifeless. Farming for me is also very much about energy - not simply that contained in the produce I grow and harvest, but the energy inherent in my relationship with the landscape and in the flow of energy through the landscape, some of it resulting from my practices. Farming for me is very much about spirit as well as product. It's very much about relationship between myself and the specific places on my farm, very much also about art and beauty and my sense of aesthetics - what I see as beautiful in my landscape and what I do that I see as beautiful in its effects upon the aesthetics of the landscape.
My relationship with landscape involves not just the present but the past as well; the past and its consequences. The fields I work are fields because the trees were cleared from them 200 years ago by my ancestors. The woods I manage are woods because they were abandoned by human beings who became discouraged with that ground as open field and allowed the forest to return. I'm able to cross streams because bridges were constructed, to move from one portion to another because a road was constructed. These are profound shapings of environment and I continue those; I construct roads, I install stream crossings. But I am also involved in healing various injuries which have occurred as a result of past practices; scarring of the landscape through abuse, depletion of nutrients through over-farming and returning too little fertility to pasture or crop land. There also have been wounded energies alive upon the landscape - stored, painful memories which I-ve been involved in healing to the extent that I have been aware and able. There may well be more such energies not within my perceptual range at this time.
Geomancy for me involves the continual practice of being close to the landscape in a relationship of husbandry that involves active work on my part, productive of a continual harvest of products required by the culture. The frame of mind which I attempt to maintain in this work is both executive - the carrying out of tasks that require concentration and skill - and at the same time receptive, an openness to the messages of the landscape; where the nesting birds are, whose nest is in jeopardy as a result of my presence, and how to avoid it.
Looking at part of this hillside where a great many small trees and woody shrubs remain, I watch a pair of king birds battling with another species for nesting space. I realize nesting is still going on in this area and so make the decision to postpone the bush hogging here for another few weeks. This is part of what geomancy is for me, the sensitivity to the life systems upon the landscape other than my own. In general I try to tailor my practices to the needs and requirements of the landscape, and in doing this the life systems are sustained and my awareness is heightened.
Geomancy, then, partakes of the practical skill of land husbandry and also the sensitivity to ecology and ecosystems found in biology and the sciences. Without this wide body of information, geomancy may become as abusive of landscape as much of our traditional farming has been in the past. In constructing a landscape which "feels good" to humans we may damage greatly the residence of other life forms upon it. Geomancy must define landscape not simply in terms of the human response to it and the human needs from it, but from the perspective of as many of the residents upon it as possible.
If we take this seriously it begins to move us into new levels of shamanic perception; the ability to feel, for instance, how a coyote or timber wolf or white-tailed deer experiences landscape. We may be able to enter the genius of the wolf or the deer, to receive its energy and insight. In doing this we experience our landscape from a very different footing, from which we can reflect on our own activities and the possible harm they may be causing. To do this shape-shifting practice is corrective of destructive tendencies which result from too limited a perspective, too human a frame of mind.
The practice of geomancy performed in this way gets us into the habit of viewing things from outside of our familiar, customary perspective. Through this exercise of expansion of perception we come to know ourselves in a more profound way. The expansion of outward perception creates space for a deeper and wider inner perception of who we are as well.
There is some way in which everything I do on this landscape, all of the shaping, the surgical procedures, the cultivation and location of plants in the landscape and the tending of them, the harvest of them, serve multiple purposes. As I do the design and reconstruction of portions of the landscape for practical reasons from the point of farming, they are also shaping a landscape designed to receive humans who are on a journey of transformation. This is much of what gives my farming its geomantic quality - a rather hazy perception of the possibilities for human fulfillment and spiritual nurturance and healing through the experience of this place. A journey through landscape and through time spent upon the landscape engenders a spiritual journey of growth and insight. These are as unique and particular as the people who experience them.
High Reach Farm
North Danville, VT