According to the Oxford English Dictionary,
the term “geomancy” (literally earth-prophecy)
first appeared in a document printed in English in 1362.You can find this first mention of geomancy in Piers Plowman
by William Langland. Geomancy is unfavorably compared to the level of expertise a person needs for astronomy. In 1386 Chaucer used the “Parson’s Tale” to poke fun at geomancy in Canterbury Tales.
You have the sense that two of the most popular books in English history made fun of geomancy because there was a good reason.Geomancy 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 Agrippa’s magic (1569) as a form of divination “which doth divine by certaine conjectures taken of similitudes of the cracking of the Earthe.”
The medieval version (where we pick up the literary trail) indicates divination by dot patterns formed according to precise rules about random figures drawn in the dirt. Each pattern has a name (such as Amissio, Fortuna Major, Puella and Rubeus). The two “constellations” Puella and Rubeus are found in the remarks about “geomancie” in Canterbury Tales. You can find a few mentions of geomancy in Shakespeare’s plays.
When Christian missionaries encountered feng shui in 19th century China they had nothing in Europe or the US to compare with except this medieval form of divination. They called feng shui “geomancy.” Books by missionaries labeled feng shui as geomancy. And, sad to say, the name stuck.
Contrary to what people would like you to believe, there are no “universal geomantic traditions” and many cultures do not have such practices. The idea of a “universal” tradition was the brainchild of John Michell in his book The View Over Atlantis.