Published Dec. 28, 2004
Many means of prophesy have arisen from the quest for foresight over the millennia, and the newspaper publishes two: horoscopes and the weather. Many people know of two others: crystal gazing, called crystalomancy or scrying, from the verb scry; and cartomancy, divination with playing cards, thought to date to ancient Egypt or India. Gypsies, who have their roots in India, were known to practice this method in 14th-century Europe.
The suffix -mancy comes from the Greek word mantis, meaning a diviner or prophet. The Indo-European root men gave rise to words referring to thought and the mind: mind, memory, mental, dement, mania and manic are a few.
Many are the mantic arts, practiced at all times on all continents. A common figure in our country’s folklore is the dowser, holding out a trembling, forked divining rod, also called a dowser, searching for subterranean water by means of dowsing, also called rhabdomancy. Divining rod comes from divine, meaning to discover by intuition.
Tasseomancy, or tasseograpy, is commonly know as tea-leaf reading. The querant drinks a cup of tea and interprets the pattern formed by the remaining tea leaves. The shapes have specific meanings. A cat means be careful with someone who seems like a friend; a foot means walk away from the past and into a new experience; a knot foretells an argument; a mermaid indicates time for flirtation or fun; and a square means don’t be locked into antiquated thinking.
Arithmancy, also known as numerology and numeromancy, is the use of numbers or letters, refined by Cornelius Agrippa in the 14th century. Numerologists believe each number has a certain cosmic vibration and can foretell a person’s future and karma. Letters of a person’s name are matched to numbers and totaled, that total describing the person’s personality. Some people devote years to the complexities of arithmancy.
Apantomancy, or alectryomancy, is prognostication using animals. Everyone knows about a black cat crossing your path: a bad sign in America, it is considered good luck in Great Britain. Ground Hog Day is another form of apantomancy. Ancient Europeans believed a chance meeting with a squirrel, a white mouse or a hedgehog foretold good luck, but seeing a pig, bat or hare was a bad omen. I’m glad to report that it is considered good luck in North America to meet a goat or a flock of sheep.
British folklore says if a maiden holds a ladybug in her hands and releases it, she will know by its flight from whence her lover will arrive. Ancient Etruscans drew a circle and the 20 letters of their alphabet on the ground, with a kernel of grain at each letter. A hen or rooster was placed in the circle, and the psychic wrote down the letters in the order of eating.
Scapulomancy is interpretation of the cracks, after roasting, in the shoulder bone of an animal, usually a sheep. Cephalomancy may have involved the examination of the skull of a sheep, goat or donkey after boiling. It also refers to the examination of the human skull to determine personality, also known as phrenology, which was wildly popular in the United States in the 1800s.
Chiromancy is another well-known method of prognostication. Also known as palmistry, chiromancy comes from the same root as chiropractor, chir- meaning hand. Palmistry is possibly one of the most ancient forms of divination. Ancient people practiced anthropomancy, divination by studying the intestines of human sacrifices, a variation of hepatomancy, the study of animal livers. Anthroposomancy, or physiognomy, is the interpretation of a person’s face and body shapes or the moles and lines on a face. The shape of the face indicates personality: square is practical, and circular means emotional, optimistic and sociable.
Maybe New Year’s resolutions could be loosely classed under chronomancy, the determination of a good time for action.

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