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Augury, Auspices and Augurs - Sign Interpretation as a Divinatory Class

Updated on January 31, 2011

What is Augury?

Augury is a class of divination that involves the interpretation of signs and events occurring in nature. Practitioners of augury believe that everything in the natural world has a divine spirit that can, and sometimes will, reveal the will of the divine regarding human matters, such as decisions and actions.

Augurs carefully study and interpret natural phenomena, such as cloud formations, eclipses, weather conditions, the behavior of animals, the flight of birds, etc. In some rare cases, the behavior of people are also augured. The signs that allow practitioners of augury to gain insight into the will of the divine are called auspices. In simple terms, these auspices show the augur whether or not it is favorable to undertake some action.

Roman augur holding a lituus, the curved wand often used as a symbol of augury
Roman augur holding a lituus, the curved wand often used as a symbol of augury

History of Augury

Adopted from the Etruscans, in ancient Rome, augury was viewed as a science. The oral tradition of augury that grew in significance over many generations was finally institutionalized and formalized. It was taught and practiced in formal colleges during the era of Roman Republic. The auspices were to be determined in such important matters of state as elections, ceremonies, and war declarations. Secret archives of augury readings were at the disposal of decision makers to back their decisions up. The augurs kept the Sibylline books, a collection of prophecies made by oracles.

Weather augurs were blindfolded to do the readings to rely solely on their intuition and psychic ability. At a given site they would listen as a magistrate described what he saw in nature. Then, they would give their interpretation. As far as weather augury, the most important auspice was certainly lightning, considered to be direct communication from the primary god, Jupiter. Lightning in the west was considered a bad sign, with those in the northwest being the worst of all.

Sometimes, augurs would draw a circle in the mud divided into pie sections, each marked with a letter of the alphabet. Then, they would scatter bird feed over the circle and perform animal augury using roosters. The augur would ask a question and then observe how a rooster eats his way around the circle, spelling out the answer.

Roman augury was eventually overruled by another type of divination, practiced by haruspices, diviners that examined the entrails and livers of sacrificed animals.

Divination is the use of magical, supernatural or psychic powers to foresee the future, find lost objects, learn secrets, uncover the truth. Divination is a universal practice throughout human history, usually carried out by priests, prophets, oracles, witches, shamans, etc. Divinatory methods are also called mantic, a word coming from the Greek mantis, meaning diviner. The names of many disciplines of divination end in -mancy.

Almost every culture has developed its own set of divination techniques over the course of their history.
The Babylonians developed elaborate divinatory systems involving priests that saw portents in everything in nature.
The Middle Kingdom of ancient China had court astrologers that interpreted cast lots of yarrow sticks, bones, etc.
Early Egyptian priests dwelt in temples hoping they would receive divinatory communication from the gods in their dreams.
In ancient Rome, a special caste of priests called augurs read signs in(to) natural phenomena and believed they were messages sent by the gods.

Augury lives on...

When we talk about synchronicity today, we actually continue the tradition of augury or sign reading in an informal way. Looking to signs in nature and interpreting coincidences as message from above are a way for many "modern augurs" to help them make difficult decisions and gain validation for them. Furthermore, a multitude of methods of augury have been developed over the course of history involving the reading of everything imaginable in natural phenomena and objects. Some common types of augury are:

Types of Augury

  • Aeromancy: the observation of atmospheric phenomena.
  • Alectromancy: the eating patterns of roosters.
  • Alphitomancy: the swallowing of special wheat or barley cakes by the guilty.
  • Anthropomancy: the behavior of dying sacrificial humans.
  • Apantomancy: the meeting of animals.
  • Armomancy: haphazard appearances of objects.
  • and hundreds more.

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      Tatuana 3 years ago

      I need help with a conclusion pgararaph?I am typing an essay on Italians, and need help on the conclusion pgararaph.Here is the essay:ItaliansItalians are warm, welcoming people, who love to relax, celebrate, and socialize with family and friends. Their celebration and relaxation usually takes place around a dinner table at a restaurant or at home, so they can enjoy the traditions of Italian cuisine. Italians have a strong passion for eating, but also enjoy talking.In Italy, conversation is considered an art form. If you were to walk the streets of Italy, or stop at a cafe9, you would notice people of all ages engaged in intense and animated discussions on a wide variety of topics, ranging from family, work, politics, gossip, food, drinks, and sports, especially soccer.From the largest cities, to the most rural of villages, there is one place that will always remain as the central meeting point of Italian culture- the Piazza ( meaning square ). No matter how big or small the Piazza is, you will always see people sitting, strolling, walking, talking, and interacting with one another. Piazzas are also the main focal points for festivals, gatherings, celebrations, and political events.To real Italians, lunch is a 1-2 hour affair with traditionally a two to three course meal, which explains why most places halt for two hours of the day. Stores shut down, banks close, and all of the streets are empty. At around 2 o’clock, people start to emerge from their houses and populate the streets again until around 19:30 when it’s time for dinner. After dinner, the streets come to life again as Italians stroll around the piazza to work off their meal or head off for their evening engagement. Italian food is high in the ranks of most delicious, richest, and most varied of all cooking, with dishes for every occasion. Their food plays a huge role in their life and culture. Every region has their specialty, not only pasta, but all varieties of meat and fish are cooked to old, handed down recipes, mouth watering puddings, and of course, nobody can beat their ice creams. Shopping may not be a national past time, but it is taken very seriously in Italy. The major cities, like Rome, Milan, Florence, are full of the most wonderful shops selling everything from designer clothes to the newest and hippest furniture to be found anywhere in the world. Milan has its furniture fair every year and furniture makers from far and wide will go there to see what is happening at the leading edge of furniture design. Leather is also a good buy in Italy, Italians know their leather and the finest gloves, shoes, jackets, and bags are worn by virtually all Italians. They glory in being chic, and are generally always beautifully turned out. Sports are a very important passion in the lives of many Italians. Football, being their main passion, with hundreds of football clubs with top soccer teams playing for their country. Volleyball is also much enjoyed as is rugby, with the rugby team playing for the European Challenge Cup. Italians place more value on the simple things in life ( family, community, enjoying a Tuscan sunset ) rather than the material things most westerners covet. There are plenty of happy farmers in Italy who want no more than to share a meal with others in their community. The Italian Language is a romance language, spoken as a native language by about 70 million people in Italy, San Marino, and parts of Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, and France. Italian is based on the Tuscan dialect, which beforehand was only available to upper class Florentine society. Unlike other romance languages, Italian retains Latin’s contrast between short and long consonants. In particular, among the Romance languages, Italian is the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary.