A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies | View All

divination (fortune telling)

An undue opinion of our own importance in the scale of creation is at the bottom of our unwarrantable notions in this respect. --Charles Mackay

Divination is the attempt to foretell the future or discover occult knowledge by interpreting omens or by using paranormal or supernatural powers. The list of items that have been used in divination is extraordinary. Below are listed just a few. Many end in 'mancy', from the ancient Greek manteia (divination), or 'scopy', from the Greek skopein (to look into, to behold). Most forms of divination rely on magical thinking, apophenia (finding meaning in meaningless patterns), and pareidolia (seeing distinct forms in vague and random patterns).

  • aleuromancy (divination by flour)
  • aeromancy or acromancy (divination by examining what the air does to certain things)
  • alectoromancy or alectryomancy (divination by a cock: grains of wheat are placed on letters and the cock "spells" the message by selecting grains)
  • alphitomancy (dropping barleycakes in water and interpreting the result)
  • anthropomancy (divination by interpreting the organs of newly sacrificed humans)
  • arithmancy (divination by numbers)
  • astragalomancy or astragyromancy (using knucklebones marked with letters of the alphabet)
  • astrology
  • astromancy (by stars)
  • axinomancy (divination by the hatchet: interpreting the quiver when whacked into a table)
  • belomancy (divination by arrows)
  • botanomancy (divination by herbs)
  • bronchiomancy (divination by studying the lungs of sacrificed white llamas)
  • capnomancy (divination by the smoke of an altar or sacrificial incense)
  • cartomancy
  • catoptromancy or crystallomancy (using mirrors or lenses)
  • cephalomancy or cepthaleonomancy (divination by a donkey's head)
  • ceromancy (by the melting of wax)
  • chalcomancy (by vessels of brass or other metal)
  • chiromancy (palmistry)
  • cleidomancy (divination by interpreting the movements of a key suspended by a thread from the nail of the third finger on a young virgin's hand while one of the Psalms was recited)
  • coscinomancy (divination by a balanced sieve)
  • cromniomancy (divination by onions)
  • crystallomancy (by crystals)
  • dactylomancy (divination by means of rings put on the fingernails or the number of whorls and loops on the fingers)
  • daphnomancy (divination using the laurel branch: how did it crackle when burned?)
  • dowsing
  • extispicy (divination by examining entrails)
  • fractomancy (interpreting the structures of fractal geometric patterns)
  • gastromancy (by the sound of or marks on the belly)
  • geomancy
  • gyromancy (divination by walking around a circle of letters until dizzy and one falls down on the letters or in the direction to take)
  • haruspicy (inspecting the entrails of slaughtered animals)
  • hepatoscopy or hepatomancy (divination by examining the liver of sacrificed animals) 
  • hydromancy (divination by examining what certain things do in water or when taken out of water, such as coffee grounds or tea leaves); hydatoscopy (if rainwater is used); pegomancy (if spring-water is used)
  • kapnomancy (by smoke)
  • katoptromancy (by looking0glasses)
  • kephalonomancy (burning carbon on the head of an ass while reciting the names of suspected criminals; if you're guilty, a crackling sound will be heard when your name is spoken)
  • koskinomancy (by sieves)
  • krithomancy (by corn or grain)
  • lampadomancy (interpreting the movements of the flame of a lamp)
  • libanomancy or knissomancy (interpreting the smoke of incense)
  • lithomancy (divination using precious stones)
  • lecanomancy (dropping precious stones into water and listening for whistles)
  • logarithmancy
  • macharomancy (by knives and swords)
  • margaritomancy (divination by the pearl: if it jumps in the pot when a person is named, then he is the thief!)
  • metoposcopy (interpreting frontal wrinkles)
  • molybdomancy (divination by melted lead: interpreting its noises and hisses when dropped into water)
  • myrmomancy (divination by watching ants eating)
  • necromancy (communicating with spirits of the dead to predict the future)
  • oinomancy (divination by wine)
  • omphalomancy (interpretation of the belly button)
  • oneiromancy (interpretation of dreams)
  • onomancy (divination by names)
  • onychomancy (interpreting the reflection of sun rays off fingernails)
  • ornithomancy or orniscopy (interpreting the flights of birds)
  • ovomancy or oomancy or ooscopy (breaking eggs into a container of water and interpreting the shape of the egg white)
  • papyromancy (divination by folding paper)
  • podomancy (by the feet)
  • psychometry (divination by touching objects)
  • pyromancy or pyroscopy (divination by fire)
  • rhabdomancy (using the divining rod or magic wand)
  • rhapsodmancy (divination by a line in a sacred book that strikes the eye when the book is opened after the diviner prays, meditates or invokes the help of spirits)
  • rumpology (divination by the lines on the buttocks)
  • scapulamancy
  • sciomancy (by shadows)
  • scrying
  • sideromancy (interpreting straws thrown on a red-hot iron)
  • skatharomancy (interpreting the tracks of a beetle crawling over the grave of a murder victim)
  • stereomancy (diving by the elements)
  • spatilomancy (by skin, bones, etc.)
  • splanchnomancy (reading cut sections of a goat liver)
  • stichomancy
  • sternomancy (divination by the marks from the breast to the belly)
  • sycomancy (by figs)
  • tasseography (reading tea leaves)
  • tephromancy (by ashes)
  • theriomancy (divination by beasts)
  • tiromancy (interpreting the holes or mold in cheese)
  • tyromancy (by cheese)
  • urim v'tumim (reading sacred stones attached to
    the breastplate of the high priest in ancient Judaism)
  • uromancy (divination by reading bubbles made by urinating in a pot)

See also my review of an unpublished manuscript on fortune telling by James Michener.

readers comments

further reading

Christopher, Milbourne. ESP, Seers & Psychics (Thomas Y. Crowell Co. 1970).

de Givry, Grillot. Witchcraft, Magic & Alchemy (New York: Dover Books, 1971), republication of the 1931 Houghton Mifflin Company edition, Book II, chapter viii, "the Divinatory Arts."

Mackay, Charles. (1841). Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds (Crown Publishing, 1995).

Pickover, Clifford A. Dreaming the Future - the fantastic story of prediction (Prometheus, 2001).

Steiner, Robert A. "Fortunetelling," in The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal edited by Gordon Stein (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1996) pp. 281-290.

Zusne,  Leonard and Warren Jones. Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking. 2nd edition. (Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. 1989).

Last updated 27-Oct-2015

© Copyright 1994-2016 Robert T. Carroll * This page was designed by Cristian Popa.