by David Bailey
Part of “Pseudoscience A to Z”, a series of articles first appearing in the OSSCI newsletter about topics that have not been subjected to much critical thinking by their promoters.
Divination is the ancient practise of attempting to determine the future by means of,… well, just about any method the human mind can conceive of. Many of these are described by words that end with the suffix –mancy, which comes to us from the old French word mancie, which in turn comes from the Greek mantis, meaning ‘prophet’. Few things in the world have escaped this ancient version of the ‘tagline’, and volumes could be filled with descriptions of all the ‘-mancys’ that seers, oracles, and now new-agers, have used over the centuries.
Some are no doubt related. Aeluromancy, for instance, is the art of dropping wheatcakes in water and interpreting the results (if any), while alphitomancy uses barleycakes. I guess it depends upon what was on sale at the mill that week. Cephalomancy uses the study of a donkey’s head, and Kephalonomancy involves burning carbon on the head of an ass while reciting the names of suspected criminals. I’m not sure what happens if you use a laurel branch instead of carbon, because that’s more properly called Daphnomancy. Apparently the guilty party’s name will induce a crackling sound when spoken. Oinomancy is divination by wine, and probably works well with Tiromancy, which seeks to interpret the holes or mould in cheese. (Excuse me for a few minutes, I’m getting a bit peckish.)
Where was I? Ah yes. All that wine made me dizzy and led to Gyromancy, which seeks to determine what to do by walking around a circle of letters. It is unclear whether you are supposed to walk inside or outside the circle, but either way you go around until you get dizzy, fall down on the letters, and then somehow figure out what to do. Now, do I credit/blame the walking or the wine?
With Axinomancy you whack a hatchet into a table and interpret the way it quivers. As an alternate method I suppose you could interpret the quivers of the dinner guest it’s whacked close to. After dessert, stand them against the wall and try Belomancy, which uses arrows. You could try Coscinomancy, which uses a balanced sieve, but I doubt that would hold any water. Since you’re obviously close to a kitchen doing all this, try divination by onions, Cromniomancy. Do it under a sink full of water to avoid the tears, but don’t be too hasty pulling that plug because you can move on to Hydromancy, which examines the effects upon things such as tea leaves or coffee grounds when they are put into or taken out of water.
If you decide upon tea it’s called Tasseography, and if you use spring water the proper term is Pegomancy, while using rainwater is Hydatoscopy. Now scoop some of that water into a saucepan and make poached eggs. Watch what happens to the shape of the egg white, and you are practising either Ovomancy, Oomancy, or Ooscopy. If you’re still curious, open the refrigerator, grab that fresh liver, and try some Hepatomancy. Unless of course you’ve been saddled with goat liver, which makes it Splanchnomancy. If you drip anything on the floor during all of this you may get to determine your future with Myrmomancy, which is done by studying the way ants are eating.
On to more expensive foodstuffs, cut open an oyster to get a pearl. Drop it into a pot for a spot of Margaritomancy. Recite some names, and if the pearl jumps at the mention of one of them it means one of two things; either that person is a thief, or your oyster was feeding on Mexican jumping beans.
The only one of the mancys for which I have evidence is Ornithomancy, the study of bird flight. In my experience as a nature photographer I can assure you that once you have selected the film you want, set the camera on your tripod, framed, focused, and determined exposure, the bird will fly a split second before you press the shutter. Happens every time…
Skeptics Canada Society for Critical Inquiry.