By Patricia Telesco
Divination, a word meaning “inspired by god,” is an ancient, venerable mystical art. A person endeavors to gain insight into a situation, question, or the future by unusual means. Sometimes folks used elaborate rituals. Other times they looked to clouds, moles, geographical features, the flight pattern of birds, and even laughter for omens and signs.
It is relatively safe to say that nearly everything in the world has been used once (or twice) as a divination method. People want to learn about present prospects and future hopes. Some methods like the Tarot, Candle Scrying, Palmistry, Throwing Dice (bones), and Crystal Balls are well known. Others are a little harder to find out about, and some are down-right weird. We mean creepy weird, yucky weird...scratch your head weird!
You cannot help but wonder how someone, somewhere, decided that dust could be used for divination. Gotta wonder what the living room table is telling you. And that is just one example, which is odd, but not overly startling. Let's have a look at some of the ones lingering on the edges of “what were they thinking?” Who knows you may even want to try a couple.
There is Ptarmoscopy, divination by sneezing in our weird category. Now, there isn't a lot of information as to how this works. But we can be a little cheeky here. Perhaps that stifled sneeze means someone's too uptight. Or, the boisterous sneeze is a sign of boldness. Nothing in history says that when we do not have exact instructions, we can't make up our own!
On the yucky side there's Uromancy, divination by urine. This method goes back to 4,000 BCE in Babylon. Physicians looked at urine in determining a patient's issues and possibly their fate. Blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm were all bad news. There was even a standardized color palate. This particular method is interesting in that modern medicine still looks to urine as a diagnostic tool. So pee in the snow! It's good for you.
If you like walking on the dark side, maybe Umbromancy will appeal-divination by shadows. Similar to seeing shapes in the clouds, you turn your attention to a shadow. Use the shadow of something or someone tied to your question. Close your eyes momentarily, think of what you want to know, then open them. The first shape you see represents your answer. Mind you, this whole approach gives new meaning to “throwing shade.”
For hopeful bards, there's Rhapsodomancy. Rhapsodomancy, which dates back to the Greeks who took down the muse uttered by oracles, takes several forms. In one approach it's like bibliomancy where you open a book to a section, but instead of a word you read the first stanza you see. Alternatively you may overhear an epic poem, enthusiastically en-toned by a weaver of songs, and hear an answer to a heartfelt question. A modern update would be randomly changing your radio station or hitting shuffle on your Mp3 (charmingly called Shufflemancy).
Looking for creepy weird combined with yucky? How about Hierocopy-divination by observing the remains of a sacrificial animal. A rooster sacrifice was alectormancy, for example. Exactly what the expert looked for in the remains varied a bit by culture. The idea was that the gods would somehow express insights through a creature thought suitable in their eyes. Maybe try to go with something less dramatic-watch for dog excrement on your next walk.
An interesting divination method (although not icky) is called Molybdomancy. Some type of molten metal goes into a vessel of water. The shape is interpreted as a portent. A lot of the shape interpretations bear striking similarities to tea leaf readings. A broken shape, for example, speaks of misfortune and a horse foretells travel. In Finland shopkeepers sold horseshoe shaped tin bullion for this purpose. There is a chance that this practice had ties to smithing since the people with that skill were considered highly magical.
If you are feeling lucky, try belomancy, divination by arrows. You know the phrase, “I shoot an arrow into the air, where it lands I know not where?” Well, each arrow used in belomancy had markings basically indicating “yes,” “no,” “stop,” or other simple answers. The arrow flying the furthest was the answer. Tip: do not try this in the woods, at night, with friends.
A safer approach is Macharomancy with polished knives. Place a dagger in the center of a circle with numbers. Designate each number (perhaps 12) as one possible prediction. Traditional correlations included yes, no, be patient, warning, wait, success, love, news, guests, stop, and go.
The list of divination methods through history goes on and on. Divination by old shoes is scarpomancy, predictions based on the ravings of lunatics (no, not your inlaws) is chresmomancy, and divination by fashion is stolisomancy. In the last case, a fashion statement turns into “this person needs help.”