Saturday, September 5, 2020


Geomancy, called Ilm al Raml ("science of the sand" in Arabic) is a form of divination and spiritual wisdom seeking that predates the tarot in Europe. The word is formed from the Greek geo- meaning earth, and manteia meaning divination. It is known as a binary system, due to each row of a figure having either one or two dots.  A person could technically use just a single coin, flipping a certain number of times, to create a geomantic chart.

There is debate as to whether it was invented in Arabia or Africa. The most diversity of practice is found in Africa, with methods such as Ifa, but the first known names in Europe for the 16 figures of geomancy are Arabic. There is another system of binary divination in China called the I Ching, though its figures are created from 6 rows of one or two lines/dots rather than the 4 rows you see in these figures of western geomancy.

Regardless of where it came from, it was the most widely used divination system in Europe, beginning in the 10th century in Spain, and then spreading throughout the rest of Western Europe, due to its ease and availability over the more expensive astrology, and it was second in prestige only to astrology. Rather than an extensive knowledge of spherical trigonometry as is needed in astrology, all the math one needs for geomancy is the ability to add 1+1, 1+2 and 2+2. One may use the figures for divination, meditation or magical workings. It truly is a complete system of wisdom seeking and enlightenment, and a very practical one at that.

For example, once the meanings of the figures are internalized, one may begin to see each figure at work in everyday life, where situations, things and even people may be categorized by a geomantic figure in so far as they interact with other situations, things and people. By this method, one may determine the outcome of any situation simply by knowing what geomantic figure is represented by each force at work in a situation, and what figure is created by their interaction. People will think you psychic, when you are simply more aware of the forces at work and wiser as to their results than the average person.

The 16 Figures of Geomancy in their traditional order starting at the top left, going left to right, and ending at the bottom right.  Their Latin names in order are as follows: Puer, Amissio, Albus, Populus, Fortuna Major, Conjunctio, Puella, Rubeus, Acquisitio, Carcer, Tristitia, Laetitia, Cauda Draconis, Caput Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Via.

Each row of a single figure is associated with an element. From bottom to top they are Earth, Water, Air, Fire. Additionally, the figures themselves are ruled by one element primarily. From left to right, the columns' elements are fire, earth, air, water. Esoterically, all things are said to come into being through a procession of the elements and back again in this order, wherein Earth represents physical manifestation, and Fire represents existence in Spirit. Each element has other, more specific meanings. When there is a single dot in an element's line, that element is said to be active. If two dots are present, that element is said to be passive in that figure.

The 16 figures of geomancy also have planetary associations. Cauda Draconis and Caput Draconis are not given a planet. Rather, they are associated with the South and North nodes of the Moon, respectively. These are the points in the sky where the Moon crosses the Sun's elliptic into the Northern Heavens (North Node) and into the Southern Heavens (South Node).

The image below shows the 16 figures of Geomancy together with their zodiacal, planetary and elemental associations. Since there are only 12 zodiac signs, but there are 16 geomantic figures, Sagittarius is associated with two figures, Cauda Draconis and Acquisitio. Virgo is associated with the figures Conjunctio and Caput Draconis. Cancer is associated with the figures Via and Populus, both figures of the Moon, and Leo is associated with the figures Fortuna Major and Fortuna Minor, both figures of the Sun.

The figures are associated with their respective zodiacal sign due to their elemental make-up as well as their general meanings.

Creating the Figures:

First, you create the first 4 symbols using one of various simple random methods, such as a number of coin flips where heads can mean 1 and tails means 2, or using four coins of four different denominations to represent each of the four lines of a figure, rolling dice, laying down four marked sticks or tiles each having one dot on one side and two on the other (my favorite method), randomly grabbing up pebbles in the hand and counting if they are odd or even in number, or the most traditional, poking holes in a line in the sand while concentrating on your question and then counting the number of dots in the line you created, odd meaning one dot and even meaning two.

A chart image from a reading done by the author showing the Shield chart layout on the left, so named because it looks like a heraldry shield, and the square house chart on the right that is derived from the Shield chart.  

The Shield Chart:

In each case, an odd number means a single dot on that row of the figure, while an even number means two dots.  You build each of the first 4 figures, called the Mothers, from the top down. Then, you place them in the Shield chart starting at the top right and going right to left.  Then, the rest of the figures are derived from the first 4 by a simple mathematical method and placed in the Shield chart in a particular order. The 5-8th figures to the left of the Mothers are called the Daughters, and are generated from the Mothers.  The next level down consists of four figures called the Nieces, and are generated from the two figures directly above each of them.  The next level down consists of two figures called the Witnesses (left and right) which are generated from the two Nieces above each of them.  The final level down consists of one figure called the Judge, which is generated from the two Witnesses.

The method is as follows: The fifth figure is created from the top rows of the first 4 figures going right to left, the sixth figure is made from the next row down of the first 4 figures, then the seventh is made from the third row down and the fourth is made from the bottom row of each of the first 4 figures, again going from right to left, creating each figure from top to bottom.

The second, third and fourth (bottom) levels of the Shield chart itself are filled in differently than the first level at the top.

Take the first two figures of the top row on the right side and add up each of their four rows together.  For example, if the first figure is Caput Draconis which has two dots on the top row, and the second figure is Via which has one dot in its top row, the result is 3, (because 2 + 1 = 3) which is odd, so the top row of the figure that goes on the second level below the two figures in the first level above will have one dot.  If they add to an even number (a 2 or a 4) then there would be two dots placed.  Fill in the rest of the figure from the top down in the same way, second row of the first two figures creates the second row of the figure below them, third rows create the third row, fourth row create the fourth row.

Then create the other three figures of the second level of the Shield chart in the same way, using the two figures above them to create them.  Then create the third level of the Shield chart with the same method and finally the last figure at the bottom fourth level of the Shield chart using the same method.

Image result for geomantic shield chart and house chart
Figures 1 - 4 (Mothers) are created by random means. Figures 5 - 8 (Daughters) are created from figures 1 - 4. All subsequent figures (Nieces, Witnesses and Judge) are created from the two above them by a process of simple arithmetic.

Each set of three figures, two beside each other and one below them, is called a Triplicity. They are read from right to left, and from the top down.  The most common way of interpreting the triplicities is as follows:

The top right figure is the past, the top left figure is the future, and the figure below them is the present.

First Triplicity: First Mother, Second Mother, First Niece
The querent's health, disposition, outlooks, and habits. Current trends in the querent's life.

Second Triplicity: Third Mother, Fourth Mother, Second Niece 
The influences in the querent's life at the time of the reading. Factors that shape the querent's life and the situation surrounding the query.

Third Triplicity: First Daughter, Second Daughter, Third Niece 
The places most frequented by the querent, including the home and the workplace. People and objects found at those places. Family, partners, and housemates of the querent.

Fourth Triplicity: Third Daughter, Fourth Daughter, Fourth Niece 
Friends, associates, coworkers, colleagues of the querent, as well as people in authority over the querent. Situations and factors caused by external sources.

Way of the Points: The way of the points is a method used with the shield chart to determine if there are any hidden and/or more important factors involved in the question and its answer than may be obvious from the triplicities themselves.  It is done thusly; if the judge has only one point in the top line, called the capitular (from the Latin word caput, head), then look at the witnesses, and if one or one of them also has a single point in the top line, continue following upwards until you cannot go farther up the shield chart.  The last figure that has a single point in the head line is an important figure, both in its meaning and position in the chart, i.e. the triplicity in which it resides.

The House Chart:

Once the Shield chart is filled out, the House chart is made by going around counterclockwise, beginning with the left side middle space, just as a medieval and renaissance astrology chart would have been filled out.

There are other methods of filling out the House chart from the Shield chart, such as putting the Mothers in the cardinal houses, the daughters in the succedent houses and the nieces in the cadent houses, but even though they sound fancy, they are at most 150 to 200 years old, while the method above traces from the beginnings of geomantic practice in Europe, or approximately 1000 years.

The traditional Latin names with English translations and key words for the houses in a House chart:

1.  Vita, Life --- Querent (person asking the question)

2.  Lucrum, Riches --- Money, moveable property

3.  Fratres, Brothers --- Siblings, neighbors, short trips

4.  Genitor, Father --- Father, home, real estate

5.  Nati, Sons --- Children, pleasure, gambling

6.  Valetudo, Health --- Illness, servants, small animals

7.  Uxor, Wife --- Marriage, romance, partners, open enemies

8.  Mors, Death --- Death, inheritance

9.  Itineris, Journeys --- Higher education, long trips, spirituality

10.  Regnum, Kings --- Career, government, reputation

11.  Benefacta, Good Fortune --- Friends

12.  Carcer, Prison --- Curses, secret enemies, imprisonment

In the House Chart, the answer to the question involves looking at how the figures relate to each other, borrowing the techniques and theories of Astrology, especially medieval and renaissance astrology, which differs in many ways from modern astrology, such as in the number of planets involved (seven as opposed to 9 plus asteroids) for example.

When astrology is used to answer specific questions, the planets as they appear in the sky form angular relationships at the time the question is asked, and those relationships, as well as the houses in which the planets are located at the time of the question being asked, are positive or negative indicators of the nature of the question and its answer.

In Geomancy, the houses always form the same angles in relation to each other.  The first house is always directly opposite the seventh house, for example.  Therefore, the figures that appear in the houses that have to do with the querent and the quesited (asker of the question and question asked) must also appear in other houses, or another figure must appear twice in the chart near both the querent's house and the quesited's house.  When one of these angles appears, the chart is said to be perfected. This does not mean that the answer is always favorable, only that a definite answer can be read from the chart. The angular relationships as they are used in Geomancy are as follows:

Occupation - The querent's significator and the quesited's significator are the same figure. A natural connection between querent and quesited. The matter will resolve by the querent's own nature without extra effort.

Conjunction - One of the significators moves to a house directly beside the house of the other significator. The querent and quesited meet each other. The significator that moves shows which party must work to attain the resolution: if the querent's significator moves to the quesited's, then the querent will need to work for the resolution. Otherwise, the quesited will work things out without need from the querent.

Mutation - The two significators appear next to each other elsewhere in the chart. The resolution will come by some unexpected or unusual manner. Try new avenues that wouldn't normally be expected.

Translation - The same figure appears in houses directly beside the houses of the significators. The resolution will come through a third party. A mediator will help bridge the gap between the querent and quesited.

Aspect - Perfection by aspect means that the figures pass to other houses in the chart such that they form a trine, sextile, or square relationship, and all that such angles entail in astrology.

Denial - No connection exists between the two significators. The lack of perfection in a chart. The querent and quesited cannot reach each other. No resolution.

The Poor Man's Astrology

In the medieval and renaissance periods, astrology was expensive, both to learn as well as to do or have done.  This is because it takes a knowledge of spherical trigonometry to calculate where the planets were, are, or will be at any given time in order to then analyse what their angular relationships were, are, or will be to each other.  This usually involved a university education and its concurrent expense, which required being recouped.  The average person in Europe at that time could afford neither to go to university to learn it, nor to pay an astrologer what they were charging for their skills.

Enter Geomancy.  Because each geomantic figure is associated with a planet as shown in images above, people would have a geomancer draw up an astrology chart by determining the planets associated with the the figures and then putting the planetary symbol into the houses instead of the geomantic figures, or in addition to them, and then read the chart as though it had been created using the actual planetary positions.  Even though the physical planets were not actually in those positions, it was thought that the chart was still valid because it was assumed that the figures showing up as they did meant that those planets were the ones exerting influence on the question.

Selected Resources:

Medieval and Renaissance sources include works by Gerard of Cremona (12th century), Hugo de Santalla (12th century), Pietro di Abano (13th-14th centuries), Martin of Spain (de Geomancia, 13th century), Cornelius Agrippa (15h-16th centuries), Robert Fludd (16th-17th centuries) and Christopher Cattan (16th century).

Luckily, at least at the time of this writing (Feb 2020) the Wikipedia entry on geomancy is surprisingly good as an introduction to the subject and even gives some instruction on the basics, so it is worth checking out.  More detailed information can be found in the following sources:


The Art and Practice of Geomancy, by John Michael Greer. If you were to only acquire one book, make it this one, hands down. Still in print as of this writing and very affordable at about $14 online.

The Complete Book of Astrological Geomancy, by Pestka and Schwei, unfortunately out of print but if you can can it, do so.  Based on the astrological geomancy of Cornelius Agrippa

Geomancy: a Method for Divination, by Franz Hartmann. I found this less useful to me than other sources but it may be of use to some.


Intro to Medieval Geomancy at

Astrological Geomancy course at

On Facebook there are a few groups such as Geomantic Campus and Geomantic Study-Group to get the perspective of other practitioners today

Probably to most extensive to date website with information on Western geomantic theory and practice is The Digital Ambler,

which contains a plethora of info on geomancy as well as other topics concerning Hermeticism and Western Occultism.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Garum: the Preeminent Roman Condiment

Mosaico moderno con la leyenda CAVE GARVM! (¡cuidado con el garum!) de la artista norteamericana JeanAnn Dabb presentado en la reunión de 2007 en Fishbourbne, de la British Modern Mosaic Association (http:// musings-of-a-musearius-spotlight-on-mosaic-historyjune-2014-private-houses-the-atrium-of-a-roman-domus)

The father of my persona was a garum producer.  He expanded his enterprise to include spices, and so my persona took up both businesses from him and still owns a garum factory in Cádiz in addition to his spice trade.  Owing to this, I thought I'd write a post about what garum is exactly.

Garum is an ancient Greek and Roman fish sauce, similar to Asian fish sauces today, that was used to add salt and other flavors to a dish.  Adding straight salt can remove moisture from the food, whereas garum adds moisture.  Worcestershire sauce is made with anchovies and ketchup, originally a fish sauce as well, at first contained no sugar or tomatoes. 

The Romans likely got it from the Greeks, who called it Garos or Garon. It was an extremely common cooking additive in the western Mediterranean at a time when spices were harder to come by and more expensive.  The primary use of garum was as an ingredient in cooking, rather than as a condiment, but some did use it as such as well.  Many Roman recipes call for garum, and they will not taste as they are intended without it.

Garum factories tended to be located in coastal towns to have easy access to fish.  The towns most famous for the production of garum in the Roman world were Gades (modern day Cádiz, from Pheonician Gadir meaning 'wall, compound') and Malaka (modern day Málaga, from the Phoenician word malak, meaning 'to salt'), both located in southern Spain on the Mediterranean coast.

The byproduct of garum is called allec, and was sold more cheaply to the poor. It consisted of the extremely salty fish meat, offal and bones that the liquid was expressed from.

Image result for garum
Garum in the process of being made

How To Make It:

There are five ways to make garum:  

1. Cover small fish in salt and leave out in the sun, turning them over occasionally, until fermented, then place in a fine net over a vase, which catches the garum as it drips from the fish.

2. Allow the fish to ferment by placing them in a seal-able barrel or pot, whole and in layers, alternating with layers of salt or a salt and herb mixture, 9 parts fish to 1 part salt.  This takes several months, during which time, one periodically opens the barrel or pot to occasionally stir the fermenting mixture once it has begun to liquefy. If you think this sounds unappetizing, I should make you aware that garum factories were always located on the outskirts of town, often near the sea, precisely due to the smell they produced.

3. Mix one liter of old wine with every 1/2 liter of fish. This is likely a possible reason why ketchup even today is made with vinegar, which is basically wine that has soured.

4. Mix only the innards of tuna with salt in a pot and allow to sit for two months.  This was considered the best garum in the ancient world.

5. Reduce the fish down by slow cooking.  The following recipe takes about one hour on the stove of a modern kitchen.  The result is a clear, light brown or amber colored liquid that does not have much of a fishy smell, but the process will make your home smell of fish for several hours afterwards.

Image result for fish sauce garum

Down and (Less) Dirty Garum Recipe:

I have used this recipe a couple of times.  It is very straight forward and easy to do, and can be altered to suit your own tastes and equipment quite easily.

2 pounds of whole, small fish such as anchovy or sardine.  Frozen is fine if you do not have fresh.
1 pound sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 Tablespoons of a few herbs that would have been common to the Romans, such as oregano, cumin, garlic, mint, and coriander
Enough water to cover the fish, salt and herbs with 1 -2 inches over them.

Bring the mixture to a boil and allow to boil for about 15 minutes.  As they become mush, help them along by crushing them with a wooden spoon. Continue to boil for approximately another 20 minutes until the liquid begins to thicken.

Now, begin to strain the liquid.  Using a colander and cheesecloth or paper towel, strain off the chunks first, but don't forget to press it with a spoon to express all the liquid that you can. Continue to strain until the liquid is as clear as possible with no cloudiness.  Make sure it is room temperature before storing it in sterilized glass or ceramic. Kept in the refrigerator, garum with keep indefinitely.  Salt crystals may form in the liquid when kept cold, but will dissolve again when the garum is returned to room temperature.  

Most recipes will only require 1 -3 tablespoons, so it goes a very long way.  Enjoy!


Ancient sources of information on garum come from writings in the following:

De Re Coquinaria 


An excellent modern source is the Coquinaria website: which also gives a more extensive bibliography and fermented garum recipe, and is the inspiration for this post of mine.

Image result for modern garum
Of course, one may also buy garum nowadays, but what is the fun in that! 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

La Pluma, La Cuerda y La Espada...

Image result for tercio

Lema -  motto
Consigna -  slogan

The title of this post is the motto, lema in Spanish, of my persona in the SCA.  Here, I will break down the meaning of the words and why I chose this as my motto.

La Pluma - the feather, the pen

I chose the pluma as part of my motto because I enjoy practicing both calligraphy as well as archery.  Both have an obvious relationship to the feather, as calligraphy pens were made mostly from long feathers in the Renaissance, and the fletchings of arrows are made with feathers as well.  Writing represents culture, wisdom, law, and art.  It implies community, for writing is by nature designed to communicate to others, over both distance as well as time.  The arrow represents various things, such as tradition due to its antiquity, bravery due to its use in war and the hunting of large game, and poise due to the necessity of grace, body awareness and skill in order to hit the target.

La Cuerda - the cord, the string

I chose the cuerda as part of my motto because I play the guitar, the violin and various other instruments both stringed and otherwise such as flutes and drums, and also because one cannot fire a bow without its string. The tension of the string creates an outlet for the energy produced by the limbs of the bow to fire the arrow.  The tension of the string also provides an outlet for the energy pressed into it by the fingers when playing an instrument.  Likewise, one must have a degree of rectitude and purpose, but one must be flexible to allow for the proper expression of skill and art.

La Espada - the sword

I chose the espada as part of my motto because I enjoy the practice of rapier fencing the the SCA, in particular the practice of the Spanish style of rapier fencing known as La Verdadera Destreza, in which geometry plays a crucial role in understanding the art and science of the martial arts.  The cuerda also has to do with Spanish fencing because of the circle with geometric patterns drawn within that is a primary teaching tool of the art.  The espada represents strength and courage in the face of adversity and, in common with other cultural arts, can be a source of personal improvement and empowerment, though unlike many other arts, the price of success or failure in fencing is more immediately seen and felt, and therefore requires courage, and the willingness to self-critique objectively in order to improve.  The espada used with compassion and grace is a primary avenue of protection and defense, not just of oneself, but also of loved ones and the weak and vulnerable of the community, and a proper caballero (knight) must always defend the weak and oppressed rather than exploit them.

For these reasons, I chose this motto.  May I live up to these ideals both in the Society and in my personal mundane life.

Monday, December 16, 2019

La Limpia: the Egg Cleansing of Curanderismo

La Limpia

La limpia means basically "the cleansing" in Spanish.  It is a term used in traditional curandismo for a spiritual cleansing or purification.  There are several ways of performing a limpia, but one of the most common ones is using a fresh egg, usually a chicken egg. I was first taught this technique when I was in Panama, Central America for two years in the mid-90's.

Instructions for performing a Limpia using an egg:

Begin with a clean egg.  Plain white or brown egg, doesn't matter, but it must be fresh.

If you have an altar or other spiritual area where you prefer to work, perform your usual preparations there now.  This may include lighting incense and a candle or candles, but it *must* include consecrated water in a bowl or other container and fresh water in a separate bowl or container. If you have no permanent altar, you can set up a temporary one using a table or even on the floor with a clean cloth, white or whichever color or pattern that feels appropriate. If you use an incense, be sure it has cleansing and purifying associations.

If you work with any guardians, guides, helping spirits, or deities, call upon them now in your usual way.

Bring the egg to the altar, and consecrate it in your usual way, whether with a prayer, mantra or what have you while passing it through the incense smoke and sprinkling it with the consecrated water.

Take the egg into your power hand, and if you have a holy symbol, you may hold it in your other hand.  Devise a prayer of cleansing and purification, or take an existing one from your tradition, and recite it while doing the following:

Roll the egg gently down the body of the person, beginning at the top of the head and going down the back of the neck to the nape.  Roll it down both sides of the head, both sides of the face and neck.  Roll it down each shoulder and arm all the way to the tips of the fingers.  Now the back, then the chest and abdomen.  Then the legs from the groin down to the ankles.  Then the hips down along the outside of the legs to the ankles.  Do not forget the tops and bottoms of the feet all the way to the tips of the toes.  You aren't necessarily required to touch every square inch of their skin with the egg, but the general idea is that every body part is thoroughly covered from top to bottom.

After this has been done completely, you can dispose of the egg by cracking it into a toilet and flushing, or more traditionally, into a running river or stream, at a crossroads, or off the property at the base of a tree for the tree to transmute the negative energy into the earth to be cleansed.


A type of limited divination can be performed with the egg after the limpia has been done that pertains specifically to any negative energy that the egg absorbed, where it came from, etc. If you would like to perform a divination before you dispose of the egg, then read on.

Crack the egg into the glass of fresh water.  Be sure you do not put it into the consecrated water. Now, look for abnormalities in the texture, color, and shape of the egg yolk and white.

Some basic interpretations:

  • If there is an unpleasant smell, if there is blood in the yolk or white, it is a sign someone is working against you in some way, though not necessarily by magical or supernatural means.

  • If there is blood in the water in the form of spots, it means someone is using spellwork against you, especially if the water is cloudy.

  • If the water becomes cloudy but there is no blood or unpleasant smell, it is a sign of soul loss, called susto (a scare or fright) in the tradition of curanderismo.

  • If you see a face in the yolk, it is the face of an enemy. A thin face means the enemy is male, while a round face means the enemy is a female.

  • A yolk in the shape of an eye, means the evil eye. The evil eye is not necessarily caused on purpose, as in the indication of spellwork above, but usually is caused by negative emotions such as anger or jealousy directed at the querent typically through a glare (hence the name) or through words.

  • If there are small bubbles in the water, it means that some negative energy directed at the querent was absorbed by guardian spirits.

  • If the water is clear, and with none of the signs above, it means that nothing unnatural is happening.

  • Some also say that if a mesh or web pattern forms in the egg white , it means something is hindering or limiting you in some way, whether physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

The egg should sink in its entirety to the bottom of the glass for a completely clear reading. If any part of it floats, it means that another cleansing or purification is necessary. The more of the egg that floats, the more negative energy is still present. If the initial reading shows only a small amount floating, it could indicate that the problem has only just begun and might be able to be fixed easily if acted upon immediately.

After this divination is performed, the remaining egg and water should be disposed of as previously described.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Past Its Prime: Are 18th and 19th Century Martial Arts Obsolete or Incomplete?

Image result for 18th century broadsword treatise
Singlesticks and Wicker Targe

While the subject of this post falls outside the period covered by the SCA, I felt the need to address it, as the martial arts of Spain and its colonies were every influential in the creation of later European martial arts. A comment on a friend's Facebook post today claiming that 18th century martial arts are incomplete got me thinking, is that true?

He described 18th century schools of defence as incomplete martial art systems when compared to the earlier systems from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and that they are the last vestiges of viable swordsmanship used on the actual battlefield.

Now, I think I might understand what he was trying to say by this, but I must disagree with it.  I'm not sure if he meant that

1) they are less complete because there were fewer types of weapons being used, i.e. fewer types of swords, axes, polearms, etc, possibly because of the increased use of firearms, or

2) if he meant that 18th century martial arts were more limited in scope regarding the situations in which they could effectively be used/employed, or

3) perhaps he meant something else entirely, such as that most 18th century treatises are more focused in scope rather than showing integrated systems of weapons and unarmed techniques all in one place, i.e. usually only about the broadsword OR the smallsword OR wrestling OR pugilism.  Some treatises of the 18th and 19th centuries did contain smaller sections of various weapons and unarmed techniques in addition to their main topic, but most were more specialized than say, The Flower of Battle written by Fiore dei Liberi in the 15th century, or the works of Joachim Meyer of Strasbourg, that included an integrated system that used the same principles for the weapon and unarmed portions of the art.

If he meant the first or second point above, that there were fewer types of weapons being used or that they were more limited in when and where they would be effective, then my response would be this; There are only two broad areas for weapons use, military and civilian. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the same situations existed.  You could find yourself in a war, and you could find yourself set upon by ruffians on a dimly lit rural road or urban street.  There were knives, daggers, swords, polearms (such as the lochaber axe, and arguably the bayonet), cavalry charges with sword and lance, military swords and swords more designed for civilian carry and use; in other words, the styles of swords et al might have changed, but all the same situations giving opportunity for their use had more or less not.

If he meant the third point above, then I would also disagree on the grounds that information was far more accessible in later centuries than in earlier ones, and the populations greater in number.  It was not unlikely that you could much more easily find someone to teach you fencing or wrestling or pugilism in pretty much any decent sized city in any Western country in Europe or the Americas.  Books were published by the hundreds if not the thousands, rather than by the dozen in comparatively more rudimentary printing presses in the Renaissance, or as in the Medieval period, hand copied one by one in a monastery.  Books did not have to contain instruction on every range of combat with any and every weapon that could take advantage of the theory, because such information was easily obtainable elsewhere, unlike in the medieval period where such information was a closely guarded secret amongst the nobility hidden behind obscure rhyming verse.

The martial arts of the 18th century contained techniques with weapons, both military and civilian, both cut and thrust, both long and short.  They also contained techniques of unarmed wrestling and striking, that were high-percentage (meaning proven over time to work in the greatest number of situations throughout history, *including* earlier periods) and that worked using the same theory of timing, distance, leverage and power generation as the weapon techniques. Pugilism used rapier and smallsword tactics. The walking cane was explicitly described as being used in almost the exact same way as a broadsword or backsword, the only difference being modifications to keep your hand safe due to the cane having no hand protection.  The Bowie knife used modified cutlass technique to account for a shorter blade.  Those same cutlass techniques were nothing but modified broadsword and saber techniques to account for the cutlass's shorter blade compared to the broadsword.  The martial systems of the 18th century were, indeed, cohesive and comprehensive to a very great degree.

What's more, 18th and 19th century techniques were designed to work in an environment so much closer to our own than earlier periods with their armored knights and armies and fleets of archers.  Lack of armor brought about by increased use of firearms meant that the 18th century civilian walking an urban street or riding in the confined space of a carriage had the same tactical and technical concerns regarding self-defense as we do today, from the size and convenience of the weaponry to the situational awareness involved in urban living, so the martial arts of the 18th century are far more applicable to us today than earlier systems.

Related image

Mobilian Trade Language

Mobilian Trade Language, aka Mobilian Jargon, was a linguistic pidgin which consisted primarily of words from Choctaw ( and Chickasaw, with some loan words from Algonquian (such as papos "papoose" and niskin "eye") as well as Spanish and French. It had an extremely simplified grammar, and was spoken in the Southeastern United States and up into the Midwest region.

Also known as Yama due to its word for "yes", scholars who have studied the language are divided on whether the language was created before or after the arrival of Europeans to the continent.  Proponents of the after arrival theory claim that Choctaw and Chickasaw were mutually intelligible enough that a pidgin between them could have been unnecessary, but that such a simplified grammar would have been something that Europeans could have picked up and used much easier as the grammar of most European languages, such as the Spanish and French of the first Europeans to arrive, is very different from the grammars of the Muskogean languages of the American Southeast.

Scholars who favor the pre-arrival theory state that the pidgin was so fully established and so quickly commented upon by the incoming Europeans, who stated that it was the "old court language" of the entire region, that it must have already existed before the Europeans' arrival. Who knows? It may even have had partial origins in the abandoned city of Cahokia, near present day St. Louis.

Related image
Copper artifacts of the Mississippian Culture depicting the "Birdman"

Regardless, the language was used extensively by almost all the native tribes in present day Eastern and southern Louisiana, Mississippi, and into western Alabama, as well as by the Europeans who needed to communicate with them.

There is evidence that some native tribes, especially in Southeast Louisiana, used Mobilian Jargon as their primary language towards the end of the colonial period, sometimes due to several tribes who spoke different languages consolidating themselves for mutual benefit as their numbers dwindled, and therefore of necessity using the Jargon to communicate amongst themselves and then naturally teaching the Jargon to their children.

Resources for studying the language are few and far between.  There are currently only three books about the subject as of this writing:

-- Mobilian Trade Language Phrasebook and Lexicon, by David Kaufman

-- The Mobilian Trade Language, by James Mack Crawford

--Mobilian Jargon: Linguistic and Sociohistorical Aspects of a Native American Pidgin, by Emanuel Drechsel

Sint-holo, aka Sinti Lapitta, in Solar symbolism

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Of Broadswords and Bilbos

It is often useful to compare and contrast different systems of fencing, this is often done to highlight the differences between the systems.  In this comparison, I would like to instead highlight what I have found to be certain similarities between two systems that at first glance would appear to be diametrically opposed, i.e. the Scottish Highland/Three Kingdoms Broadsword method and the Spanish fencing method La Verdadera Destreza. Considering that I study both systems, and considering both countries were at war during the time period of my SCA persona, I thought it would be interesting to write about the commonalities, and some difference, I have noticed between the two.

While the broadsword system focuses more on the cut, owing to the shape of the weapon, and the Spanish rapier system is of course more point/thrust oriented, it is also far more reliant on cuts than other rapier methods, classing its four principle cuts (left and right descending cuts, and left and right moulinet descending cuts) equally to its thrusts, believing that each technique has its place where the others would be less effective, or practical, or safe.

Both the Highland Broadsword system and the Spanish La Verdadera Destreza system had similar footwork and floor diagrams, and the traverse as an integral part of their tactics for defense and offense.  Taking an angle to the opponent enabled one to keep the opponent in line to one's attacks, while removing oneself from the line of attack of the opponent.  Both taught advancing, retreating, and traversing steps in the same or similar ways, neither system ever advocating the crossing of the feet, in order to maintain stability and speed in the defense.  While the later broadsword methods were more linear owing to their being taught to soldier who needed to fight in formation with their comrades to either side of them, earlier broadsword methods took a less favorable view of attacking along the diameter, just as LVD did.

While many Italian methods of rapier did teach attacking from an angle, one can readily see that in the main, Italian methods prefer to deviate the opponent's blade from the center diameter so that they can attack along it, while the Spanish method of rapier prefers to carry the opponent's blade offline with a step after gaining it with an atajo, then stepping towards the opponent with their thrust along that off-center angle.  For this reason, Italian styles have been described at times as being more "the best defense is a good offense", while the Spanish method can be described as more "Defend, then offend while being defended".  George Silver would very likely have approved of such an outlook, as he expressed similar views in his writings, that the primary goal was to not be wounded, and to worry about wounding the opponent *after* one is in a safe position/angle.

Floor Diagram Comparison

Image result for thomas page, 1746
Thomas Page, The Use of the Broadsword, 1746

Francisco Lorenz de Rada, 1705

The Highland Broadsword system variant of the Three Kingdoms Broadsword method prefers to slip the leading leg back on every parry, while in a way it can be said that Spanish La Verdadera Destreza fights with a permanently "slipped lead leg", due to the fact that their fighting stance is upright with feet close together, much like the first position (slipped lead leg position) of Highland Broadsword.  In both cases, this means that the lead leg is as far out of reach of the opponent as is practical, with the sword point (Spanish right angle and Highland hanging guard) or edge placed far in front, threatening the opponent and keeping them at bay. Neither system advocates excessive leaning forward, backward or to the side, but rather prefers the torso to remain as bolt upright as possible at all times.

One can contrast this with many Italian rapier methods, such as Fabris, which show all manner of leaning forwards, backwards and sideways in their guards for various purposes of defense and offense which align more with their own tactical goals in the fight.

Stance Comparison

R. G. ALLANSON-WINN, Broadsword and Singlestick, 1911

Related image
The Right Angle Stance of La Verdadera Destreza

Although in later centuries the Spanish rapier became long and thin-bladed like other nations' rapiers, at first Spanish rapiers retained the older dimensions of earlier sideswords with complex hilts, as can be seen in the image below of the Bilbo. Additionally, the Spanish and their colonies continued to carry full size rapiers long after the rest of Europe and their colonies had switched to the smallsword, and when they did switch to the smallsword, they preferred more robust ones with larger hilts/guards than other nations.  When compared to other rapiers and to the basket hilted broadsword, one can easily see that the Bilbo (and earlier sideswords) shares more characteristics with the later.  The original conception of the LVD system as devised by Carranza took place at a time when Spanish espadas roperas were more conservative with shorter, wider blades, which were still very capable in the cut.

Additionally, the prescribed blade length of the Spanish sword and British sword (see Paradoxes of Defence, and Brief Instructions on My Paradoxes of Defence, by George Silver) were very similar, and for similar reasons, both tactical and legal.

Sword Characteristics Comparison

Related image
Various European Broadswords, including a Scottish and English example, both far right

Related image
Spanish Bilbo, 16th Century

While George Silver, who wrote Paradoxes of Defense in praise of native British backsword and broadsword methods in the 16th century, criticized the Spanish rapier method, he did say that it was the best of the rapier methods, all of which he saw as imperfect and limited in scope.  His dislike of gaining the blade and circular parries in favor of making what he termed a "true cross" of the blades for defense is one of his strongest critiques of rapier methods. However, the Spanish method continued to be practiced in Spanish-speaking lands all the way up to the point at which swords ceased to be used in everyday life and on the battlefield in the early 20th century, well over 300 years of use and tradition, and Spanish swordsmen were widely feared as a whole.

Additionally, some of the reasons Silver had for criticizing the Spanish method came to be more and more adopted even in British fencing such as profiled stances and regarding point work, and the atajo of Spanish rapier play is much closer to the true cross of Silver in my opinion than the Italian method of gaining the blade, owing to what I see as the greater angle produced by an atajo between one's blade and that of the opponent.  One does not simply put the strong of one's blade on the weak of the opponent's to produce an atajo.  One must also angle one's point over the opponent's sword farther out of presence than Italian methods tend to prefer, and then spiral one's point back into presence with a curved or traverse step.  These additional parts to a Spanish attack create more of a true cross effect between the blades than the Italian tendency to gain the blade and come down the middle and allowing the forward push of their sword to ramp the opponent's sword out of the line.

Although they are *by no means* the same system, nor is one derived from the other, I believe that the Highland Broadsword systems and the Spanish La Verdadera Destreza systems share much more in common to each other, especially tactically, than either of them do to any other systems of fencing.  Having said this, I am by no means an expert in any of the methods mentioned, nor even an expert fencer in general.  These are simply the observations that I have made while studying these two styles over the past several years.