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Geomancy (from the Latin geo, "Earth," mancy "prophecy") has always been a method of divination that interprets markings on the ground or how handfuls of dirt land when you toss them.

It was explained as divination (in the same sentence with pyromancy and hydromancy) in the best-selling Travels of Sir John Mandeville (1400), as "geomantie that superstitious arte" in a book of alchemy (1477), and defined in a book of Cornelius Agrippa's magic (1569) as a form of divination "which doth divine by certaine conjectures taken of similitudes of the cracking of the Earthe."

In Africa the traditional form of geomancy consists of throwing handfuls of dirt in the air and observing how the dirt falls. In China, the diviner may enter a trance and make markings on the ground that are interpreted by an associate (often a young boy).

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "geomancy" appeared in vernacular English in 1362 (vernacular English at this time was the language of the lowest classes; Latin and French were the common languages of the middle class, gentry, and nobles).

Geomancy's first mention in print was Langland's Piers Plowman where it is unfavorably compared to the level of expertise a person needs for astronomy ("gemensye [geomesye] is gynful of speche"). In 1386 Chaucer used the Parson's Tale to poke fun at geomancy in Canterbury Tales: "What say we of them that believe in divynailes as ... geomancie ..." Shakespeare also used geomancy for comic relief.

The English version of geomancy involved groupings of marks on the ground called "constellations" with names like Puella and Rubeus.

In the 19th century CE Christian missionaries in China unfortunately labeled Feng Shui as geomancy, although there is no comparison.

In recent times the term seems to have become a catch-all for a variety of cultic, fringe, and pseudoscientific pastimes.

See also: