Weird Wednesdays: To forgive is divination

Crystal Ball (Photo by Shin Himitsu)

We humans have been trying to gaze into the future for ages. Since the cavemen first looked up at the sky and decided that a random clump of stars was a giant crab and that the other one was a goat-thing (and so on) we’ve been seeing omens in everything from tea leaves to tarot cards.

One of the first recorded cases of divination was a picture of a Sumerian using a stick or rod to find water (known as water-divining). Mesopotamians used entrails like sheep livers to tell what the future held. Later on, the Greek Oracle at Delphi would use the vapours of a sacred spring to experience visions of the future.

Now, you’ve probably heard of crystal balls and cootie catchers. History, however, has produced some more unorthodox methods of gazing into the unknown. Here are a few of the weirder ways to see into the future!

Chickens (Pullaromancy/poultomancy/alectryomancy)

The Romans were a superstitious bunch. Some of the most prolific records from the empirical days are the omens—books of daily omens compiled by priests and diviners called haruspex. Everything from bees to owls to clouds to shadows, was used to tell whether the day would be a good or bad one for Rome.

Sacred to the empire’s naval force were its chickens. The bird would be allowed onto a ship by a priest called the pullarius (“keeper of the sacred chickens”) before the vessel went to battle.

The birds would be fed grains. If they ate well, the ship would be considered blessed and sent on its way. If they ate poorly, then it was an ill omen and the ship would be kept in port.

Legend has it an impatient Roman general was infuriated when the sacred birds refused to eat one day. He threw the birds off the boat in a rage (don’t worry, they float) and went off to battle anyway, his entire fleet sinking soon after. Trust the chickens, folks!

Eggs (Oooromancy)

Dodging questions as to what came first, these happy little packages of breakfasty goodness were used in colonial times as a method of fortune telling. Puritan girls (including the ones from Salem) would crack an egg into a pot of boiling water. The solidified shapes of the egg white and yolk would be inspected and interpreted for meaningful symbols, much like dripping hot wax or lead into water. And as a bonus, you get egg drop soup afterwards!

Axes (Axinomancy)

For those of you who are into bladed weapons, this one’s for you!

An axe would be thrown into a table, a tree or the ground, and the shaking of the handle would be interpreted for answers. Alternatively, in Greek times, a hatchet would be suspended by a rope in front of a criminal or person on trial. If the blade swung toward them, they were guilty. If it swung away, then they would walk free. Better than jury duty, no?

Buttocks (Rumpology)

Much like palm reading, the future can be told through butts! Using the lines, bumps, ridges and imperfections in another person’s bottom, you can learn about aspects (ass-pects?) of their personality. A round bottom means a person is optimistic and happy. A flat bum means its owner is vain and stingy. A square bum means you often put your career ahead of your personal life. Er, don’t try this in a locker room.

Beans (Favomancy)

This method was popular among the Russians. A handful of beans would be thrown on the floor. Like runestones, their position, orientation to the north and south, and their groupings would be used to tell whether the subject’s future was fruitful or frightful. Chianti optional.

Feces (Scatomancy)

Usually your bowel movements tell you about the past-- like if you had Taco Bell for lunch. However, Ancient Egyptians took it a step further. Dung beetles, also called scarabs, were considered sacred. It was said a dung beetle god drove the sun across the sky, and the god Ra was resurrected from a ball of dung.

Egyptians also used the little critters for divination, watching how the beetles gathered and moved the dung as an omen. A more modern version involves telling the future from the bird splats on your car (known as splatomancy).

All of these omens you can try in your own home. Whether or not you do is entirely up to you. In terms of unreliable fortune telling techniques, I’ll stick with horoscopes, tea leaves and the Weather Channel. Stay informed, readers—and stay weird.


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.