Divination (Lat. divinatio, from divinus, divinely or prophetically inspired), a general term for the various pretended arts of discovering secret or future things by preternatural means. These arts appear in the remotest antiquity, intimately connected with religion, furnished with rules, founded on mysterious principles, and fortified by the pretences of a science. Both as a learned doctrine and a popular faith, divination has always existed in the East, and was common in Europe throughout classical antiquity and during the middle ages. It was distinguished by the Greeks as natural or artificial; the former being a presage of future events by a sort of inspiration which was possible only to persons specially favored by the deity; the latter being founded on careful observation of certain natural phenomena which were believed to have mysterious relations with future events. Astrologers, augurs, sorcerers, fortune tellers, and second-sighted persons are eminent examples of diviners. The following are among the principal of the numerous forms of artificial divination practised in antiquity: Alectryomancy was practised by drawing a circle and dividing it into 24 equal parts, into each of which were put a letter of the alphabet and a grain of wheat; a cock was then placed in the centre, and the letters, being put together in the order that the grains were eaten by it, made a word which solved the question of the diviner.
Arithmomancy depended upon the secret operation of numbers and magical squares, and the numerical value of letters; it was practised by the Chaldeans, and formed a part of the doctrine of the Pythagoreans, Neo-Platonists, and cabalists. Axinomancy consisted in suspending an axe from an upright stick, and the names of suspected persons being pronounced it was supposed to indicate the guilty by its motion. Belomancy consisted in the choice of arrows by chance from a bag containing many of them inscribed with various responses; it was in use especially among the Arabians. Capnomancy consisted either in observing the direction taken by smoke, or in inhaling the smoke of victims, which was believed to produce prophetic inspiration. Dactylomancy was practised by enchanted rings, or rings that were made in harmony with the position of the celestial bodies. Its origin is attributed to Helen, the wile of Mene-laus. It is by one of these rings that Gyges is said to have rendered himself invisible. A favorite method was to suspend the ring by a hair within a goblet, when it began to swing, the motion gradually increasing till it struck the vessel once or twice for yes or no, as previously determined.
Gyromancy consisted in walking round in a circle, the circumference of which was marked with letters, the presage being drawn from the letters on which the inquirers stumbled when they became too dizzy to stand. Hydromancy, or divination by water, consisted in observing the colors and images presented by water in a vase, either when motionless or when disturbed by dropping little stones into it. The motions of the agitated waves of the sea were also studied for purposes of divination, especially by the ancient Sicilians and Euboeans. Lampado-mancy furnished presages for the future from the form, color, and fluctuations of the flame of a lamp. Lithomancy was a method of divination by means of precious stones. The sounds of stones striking each other gave presages, and the amethyst was believed to have the virtue of sending prophetic dreams to whoever possessed it. The boetylia, or animated stones, of which the Greeks learned from the Persians, and which were believed to bear oracles, are celebrated instances.
Ornitho-mancy, or divination from the flight and song of birds, was a principal function of the Roman augurs. (See Augur.) The flame of fire (pyromancy), the accidental opening of a book (rhapsodomancy), the combination of cards (chartomancy), the drawing of lots, the dropping of stalls or observation of cups (especially in use among the old Egyptians), the interpretation of dreams, the reflections of mirrors, and the contortions of serpents, are other means. Several of these methods of divination are yet in use among the superstitious. - Some of the more remarkable forms of divination are treated in special articles, as Astrology, Chiromancy, Divining Rod, and Magic.