Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bone and Dice Divination: The Art of Astragalomancy

A crystal ball, symbolic of divination
A crystal ball, symbolic of divination

Bone and Dice Divination: The Art of Astragalomancy

Astragalomancy, meaning divination by dice, is a compound word derived from the ancient Greek astragalos, meaning a bone from the vertebrae, or when in the plural, astragali, a dice or knuckle bone; and manteia, meaning prophesy or divination. The confluence between dice and bone makes sense because the ancient Greeks made their dice from sheep knuckles. A related term, astragyromancy, comes from the Greek word gyromancy, which suggests divination performed by the spinning of a dice. Both of these terms are actually subsets of the larger discipline of cleromancy, which is divination by the process of sortition, or casting lots.

Sortition was an important concept in the ancient world, especially in Greece and Rome where the casting of lots was used to to select government officials. Sortition was considered by the Greeks to be a purer, less corruptible form of democracy than holding elections. It had in the past at times been popular to believe that casting lots indicated the will of the gods. Included amongst possible items used to conduct the process, were marked sticks and pebbles.

There are numerous instances of the casting of lots in the Bible. The Bible does not condemn the practice; which is a bit of a conundrum, as it does cast a pall upon other divination practices.

How is it Performed?

Divination with dice requires the user to associate definitions with each sum of numbers that can appear upon the throwing of the dice. Often when the dice are thrown, the numbers as well as the position of the dice for each throw are recorded, and the information is then interpreted. There are a variety of differing traditions and styles for astragalomancy that originated in different cultures and places, beginning, perhaps, in ancient Egypt and getting passed along to the Greeks and Romans.

Countries in Central and East Asia have their own history of divination, some methods involving dice and one even involving doughballs, as in Tibet. Doughball divination is interesting enough; balls of dough ensured to be equal in size, are stuffed, each with a choice of possible answer to the query posed. For three days they are left to sit, untouched by anyone, near a sacred object or statue. Prayers are spoken. At the end of that time the cover is removed from the bowl. A worthy lama rolls the doughballs around, he allows one to fall out; this is done in close proximity to the sacred object. The answer held within that ball is deemed the correct one. Though not identical to the casting of lots, with the response defined by drawing from pre-marked objects, in a sense it is a similar process.

Wooden runes

Divination that makes use of colors or symbols rather than numbers is known as pessomancy (also psephomancy, psephology). In this form of divination different colors and numerals are ascribed different meanings and portents. There are other methods of divining from this same practice that branch off into determining the meaning of the cast by the position of the objects and the nature of their relationships with each other, and thus the process is called thrioboly, and in other instances #AmazonADlink: geomancy. By these descriptions, reading runes is a form of pessomancy/thrioboly.

Practices relative to the above have also been recorded in parts of Africa. In the past and into modern times, practitioners have used objects such as wooden dice and etched bones in their prognostications.

An African man throwing/reading bones.
Wellcome Images via Wikemedia Commons. CC BY 4.0

The Specifics

Generally, divination occurs on a specially prepared surface. The Greeks would draw a circle and divide it into 12 even spaces. The sum of the dice (typically 3 were thrown at a time) would be interpreted in relationship to the space on which those dice rested.

Another simpler method in use today, is to draw a circle with no divisions in it. The practitioner then throws three dice and those that land outside of the circle are ascribed varying degrees of good or bad luck. It is often considered a sign of good luck if all of the dice land outside of the circle; however, if only one or two die land outside, it's considered bad luck. The dice that land inside of the circle are added together. Many diviners who use three, six-sided dice have a list of 18 possible interpretations. This is because with three dice the highest sum that can be achieved is 18. Thus, every possible sum of the dice has a different interpretation ascribed to it.

Interpretation and What Affects It

The position of the dice relative to each other also affects their interpretation. For instance, if a die falls on the floor it is considered a poor omen for your friendship and social life. If one die lands on another and remains there, it means a gift is on its way to you.

Many traditions are also sensitive to the timing and frequency of divination. Conventions differ with some traditions claiming Mondays and Wednesdays are poor days to throw dice and others saying that they are ideal days. Most traditions agree that dice should not be thrown more than two or three times per person per day.

Related Reading

A PDF on dice divination
Rolling dice, by 
Cleromancy, by Starzkarmic Kyra
An interesting post on fortune telling, at Psychic Nirup
Read about various forms of divination on Wikipedia
#AmazonADlink: Fortune Telling, by Raymond Buckland

Please not that we neither recommend nor disrecommend any services offered via the sites listed above, they simply have some interesting related articles.

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