Divination 101: The A-Z of ‘-mancies’

Rooster - courtesy of Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rooster_Profile.jpgPreviously I’ve written here on the ideomotor effect, specifically with regards to a Ouija board. Feel free to read it again, if you like. In researching that, I found I was coming across a wide variety of methods for getting answers about the future, and not all can be explained by the ideomotor effect. So, with that in mind, I wondered: could I fill a full A-Z with bizarre methods people have used to tell the future? Is there a form of divination for every letter of the alphabet? Well, sit tight kids, and you might just find out…

The word Divination itself derives from the Latin ‘Divinare‘ – “to foresee, to be inspired by god or gods”, the dictionary defines Divination as:

The practice of attempting to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge by occult or supernatural means.

It’s the supposedly occult or supernatural means that will make up the main scope of this article. Some of these methods you may have heard off, some you won’t, some may seem non-too-outlandish and some are just downright odd. I’ve only picked 26 ways to supposedly foretell the future but whilst researching this blog series I discovered at least 157 methods. I hope I’ve included one or more of your favourites but if not please feel free to add it in the comments. Also this is meant to be both irreverent and sarcastic and in one or two special cases accurate, unlike divination itself. This week: A-E!

Alectryomancy: Rooster divination. Bit of a loner? Not enough friends for the Ouija board? Then this is the divination for you! From the Greek ‘alectryon’ meaning ‘rooster’ and ‘manteia’ meaning ‘divination’. You tie a rooster (a white one is best, apparently) to a leash and peg it to the ground, so Foghorn Leghorn is only able to move in a circle. Then you place the letters of the alphabet on little cards around the rooster, or you may scratch them into the ground should you so desire, and place a little grain by each letter. Your rooster will spell the answers to your question by pecking at the grain. The letters chosen could be read in pecking order (as it were), or used to form an anagram and rearranged to help them make sense. As long as you are fluent in gibberish and fond of poulty, I’m sure this works well!

Belomancy: Arrow divination. Belomancy has been practised in the past by Babylonians, Greeks and Arabs. By one method, the words ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ (or “gods will it” / “gods forbid it”) are written on or tied to arrows, and they are placed back in the quiver. The quiver is then shuffled and one arrow is picked at random to answer your question. This method is even mentioned in the Bible – in Ezekiel 21:21 (a bit without spaceships) the king of Babylonia is said to “shake his arrows”. The second method is similar, but the arrows are all shot or loosed and the furthest flying arrow is your answer. This second method is of course open to cheating, involves walking and you have to be careful you don’t hit the Alectryomancy rooster, so there are many reasons why it’s been less frequently used.

Cartomancy: Card divination. Since a little after playing cards were introduced to Europe in the 14th century they have been used to tell the future. The cards can be placed in heaps or turned over in different ways – a little bit like patience/solitaire, but with added answers. Each card has a meaning, and although cartomancy is similar to Tarot reading, the cards meanings are simpler and so there is less navel gazing self discovery. Since this form of divination can be performed on ones self it may, like Alectyromancy, be for people with few friends or loners ? A fact that perhaps is born out by the online version. Roosters don’t count as friends by the way!

Daphnomancy: OK time for an easy one: divination by laurel leaves. You merely throw the laurel leaves onto an open fire (got central heating? Bummer!). If the leaves crackle loudly the portents are good; if they are silent the omens are bad. The louder the crackles the better, the deeper the silence the worse its gonna be! Two small niggles with this really: the Laurel needs to have been picked from a grove that is sacred to Apollo (do you know where your nearest is?), plus the fire needs to be sacred – that’s no to a gas boiler then. Personally, I have no idea where to find an Apollon grove and I’m also clueless about how to make a fire sacred. So not as easy as I thought. Lastly Laurel is poisonous to Roosters so be careful!

Extispicy: OK not strictly a Mancy but I couldn’t leave this one out. Entrails! Yep, those nasty gucky bits of animals we don’t eat (well, most of us don’t anyway) were once used to foretell the future. The animal had to be slaughtered in a ritualistic manner and then it’s inside bits spread outside and thoroughly inspected (feeling veggie yet?). The colour, shape and general condition were all seen as markers or portents. For example, the Romans thought disaster was imminent if the entrails were excessively bloody or livid in colour. The Etruscans were known to pay special attention to the livers of sheep, whereas the Romans not only looked at the innards but also burned and ate them! This is not really a form of divination you can try at home, unless you still get giblets with your chicken. Even then, all they can tell you is that it was a really bad day for the chicken, that you’re soon gonna have some really good gravy and that your pet Rooster will never look at you the same way again!

Next time I’ll bring you F-J, featuring more fun ways to pick your winning 6 numbers or to find a new boyfriend, girlfriend or one of each, and perhaps even find yourself a new Rooster!


  1. #1 by bob dezon on September 30, 2009 - 22:22

    Oh Pete, you missed all the good ones. Have a shufty…………….using wikimancy.


  2. #2 by Pete on October 1, 2009 - 00:48

    Wikimancy is a modern form of form of divination similar to bibliomancy. Like with most divination methods, the results may require interpretation (make stuff up). Be open minded, listen to your intuition and get a Rooster!

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