Venus, Issa, and the Moon Dog

Why Is There a Seventeenth Sign of Fa? Essay on the Historical Anthropology of Geomancy (Gulf of Benin, Islamized West Africa, Western Europe)

In: International Journal of Divination and Prognostication
Erwan Dianteill Centre d’anthropologie culturelle CANTHEL, Université Paris Cité Paris France

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Like Arabic and Latin geomancy in the Middle Ages, Fa divination on the Benin Coast uses sixteen fundamental signs. Beyond their common formal structure, do these divinatory systems share content? The analysis focuses on a seventeenth fundamental sign (Oche Tula), conceived of as the messenger sign in Fa. This paper firstly aims to show that this sign, whose link with the messenger god Lɛgba is well known in Yoruba and Fon mythology, also maintained a relationship with the planet Venus (nicknamed Moon Dog), which is now largely forgotten. Moreover, medieval geomancy systematically mentioned the link between the planet Venus and the two figures named Amissio (Loss) and Mundus facie (Immaculate face), which, when combined, are identical to Oche Tula. The second goal of the analysis is to reconstruct the analogical process at work in labeling the planet Venus with this sign, which in medieval geomancy was composed of two figures. On the one hand, the author tries to show that the figure “Immaculate face” – in the form of a Christian cross – represents Isa/Jesus and has been identified with the morning star (Venus) in a medieval Christian and Muslim environment. On the other hand, the geomantic double sign could represent either the negative aspect (impurity, loss) or positive aspect (purity, fertility) of the planet Venus, depending on whether it is direct or retrograde, according to medieval astrology categories.

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