The A to Z of Fortune Telling
For those who profess to possess the talent, the future can be foreseen in scores of different ways. The fact that they are all demonstrably rubbish does not deter millions from seeking the advice of those who claim expertise. What followers is an alphabet's worth of predictive tools.
Axinomancy. The Ancient Greeks, who were pretty smart about a lot of things but hardly this one, would place an agate stone on the blade of an ax. The future could be divined depending on which way the stone fell. Others chucked the ax at a tree and the angle in which the handle pointed enabled clever people to foretell the future.
Belomancy. Here is another martial trick practiced in ancient cultures such as the Babylonians and Greeks. If faced with a difficult question, numerous answers would be written down, attached to arrows, and sent winging off. The arrow that landed farthest away was believed to deliver the correct answer. A shot in the dark?
Cromniomancy. Divination by studying the sprouting behaviour of an onion. One application of many was for a woman to inscribe the names of two suitors on two onions; the one that sprouted first was deemed the best choice. There is no known connection between Cromniomancy and the satirical website The Onion, although there should be.
Dactyliomancy is the use of jewellery, usually rings, dangling from a thread to find treasure or a missing person. This started in Ancient Egypt and is still practiced today all over the world.
Extispicy involves poking about in the entrails of a dead animal to reveal omens. Often this was used during wars; giving credence to the statement that military intelligence is an oxymoron.
Fortune Cookies don't offer a lot of predictions. As The Los Angeles Times notes, they dish up “aphorisms, or silly clichés, or small pieces of lame advice.” Example: “Something noodle is about to happy.”
Gyromancy. A person spins around in a circle of letters, where they fall down from dizziness picks out a letter. They keep doing this until they spell out a prognostication. The same effect can be achieved by a night in a bar.
Hydromancy is divination by studying water ripples, waves, colour, and sounds. Not a lot of use in a desert.
Ifa divination is a system used by the Yoruba people of West Africa. Instructions on important matters are believed to come from a deity of great wisdom.
Divination Class at Hogwarts
Jiaobei. This is practiced in traditional Chinese religion. The answer to a question is given by throwing two crescent-shaped wooden blocks, called moon blocks, onto the ground. The answer, yes or no, depends on how the blocks fall. The gods, it seems, determine the result.
Kipper Cards are one of many divination methods that are supposed to reveal the unknowable future through the use of cards. It was invented in Germany in 1890 by a stationery business and then sold to another company. Under the second owner an error was made in printing the cards so that two characters were transposed. This does shed a tiny sliver of doubt on how accurate Kipper Cards might be.
Lychnomancy. Candles are an essential accessory for every fortune teller’s studio, along with crystal balls, colourful head scarves, hoop ear rings, and a machine for processing credit cards. So, lychnomancy involves placing three identical candles in a triangle and studying how their flames behave. Apparently, if all the flames go out at the same time you are in very deep trouble.
Moromancy. Practitioners can foretell your destiny by studying your foolishness. “I can predict you will be a poorer person because you stupidly came here to have your future predicted.”
Natimancy. “The future, my dear, can be easily seen in your buttocks.” The reading of the rump might lead to predictions that turn out to be bummmers.
Oenomancy. This involves making prophecies by studying the characteristics of wine. “I predict if I have five more glasses of this Pinot Sludge I will be unable to determine the present.”
Phyllorhodomancy. In 18th and 19th century England, practitioners slapped a rose petal on their hands and interpreted the resulting sound to indicate the nature of the client’s love life. Apparently, it doesn’t work so well with leaves from stinking corpse lilies or skunk cabbage.
Nobody has invented a divination method that starts with the letter “Q” so we’ll have to make one up. Quackomancy is the divining of the future by analyzing the mating call of mallards.
Unto Us Ducklings Will Be Born
Rhapsodomancy. The client randomly selects a passage of writing from a book, typically of poetry, and the wizard interprets the future from that. This is part of an entire pantheon of predictions called bibliomancy.
Scatomancy. This is the study of poop, either your own or that of an animal. The Ancient Egyptians enlisted the services dung beetles in releasing the secrets trapped in a ball of feces. “Your future looks like a pile of s***.”
Tyromancy. Everybody consulting a fortune teller is seeking information about money, love, or death, or all three. But, why dispose of good coin when a block of Limburger might be at hand? Tyromancy is a belief in the predictive power of cheese. OcultWorld.com tells that this “was also used by young maidens in countryside villages to predict the names of their future husbands. They write the names of their prospective suitors on separate pieces of cheese and the one whose name was on the piece of cheese where moulds grew first was believed to be the ideal love mate.” Ohmygosh Alice is going to marry Mouldy Maurice.
Uromancy. If we are going to study poo it’s only natural we are going to also study pee. The Ancient Romans take the blame for this and one of the criteria studied was flavour―Jumpin’ Jehosephat.
Videomancy. Here’s one that can’t be stick on the ancient Greeks, Romans, or Egyptians. Let’s turn to Occult-world.com again for an explanation: “There are many ways but the most simple is to turn on the TV, press a button channel at random and watch the first program that appears on the screen.” But, that’s as far as the website goes. What if you land on Swamp People, or an infomercial about a vegetable chopper? You’re on you own for interpretation. But, here’s a little secret. It doesn’t matter what show you watch because it’s all hogwash.
Water Scrying. The moon was bound to turn up eventually and here it is. Stare at the reflection of the moon in water, called scrying, and the future will be revealed. Apparently, this was a favourite method of the reputed seer, Nostradamus. But his forecasts were written in such cryptic terms that they could be interpreted to mean anything, just like horoscopes that are, (what’s the word ?) ah yes, bunkum.
Xenomancy. Suppose you bump into a stranger, what does that mean? You’ll need an expert in xenomancy to tell you that it likely means diddly-squat, though it will probably cost you $50 for the expert reading.
Ydromancy is one of the many forms of fortune-telling through observing water whether it droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven or makes your feet wet because you’ve got a leaky boot.
And, finally we come to Zoomancy, the business of predicting destiny by observing the behaviour of animals. The Romans thought this could be achieved by watching chickens scratching in the farmyard. Babylonians threw a bucket of water over sleeping oxen and observed the reaction. Some African tribes thought ants were good prognosticators. Elsewhere, beetles, birds, and bats have been called upon to offer opinions about what the morrow brings.
One website lists 182 ways in which the future can be foretold. These include Trochomancy (wheel ruts or tracks), Ceraunoscopy (thunder and lightning), Alomancy (spilled salt), Ichthyomancy (entrails of a fish). It can only be a matter of time before Quackomancy (duck mating calls) joins the list.
Many of the methods listed above use the suffix “mancy.” This comes from the Ancient Greek “manteia” meaning oracle or divination.
According to the industrial research company IBISworld, the U.S. market for psychic readings clocks in at $2.2 billion for 2019. The company says “a long-term shift in consumer perceptions has underpinned growth as industry services are increasingly accepted among mainstream consumers.”
- “10 Weird Fortune-Telling Methods from History.” Mia Osborn, Listverse, December 5, 2016.
- “Methods of Divination and Fortune-Telling.” Lisa Boswell, divinationandfortunetelling.com. December 5, 2017.
- “Glossary of Divination Types & Techniques.” Paranormal Encyclopedia, undated.
- “Fortune-Telling: Fact, Fiction & Fantasy.” Benjamin Radford, Livescience.com, April 09, 2013.
© 2020 Rupert Taylor