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Astragalomancy, also known as astragyromancy, is a form of divination that uses dice specially marked with letters and numbers.

Originally, as with dice games, the "dice" were quadruped knucklebones or other small bones. Marked astragali of sheep and goats are common at Mediterranean and Near Eastern archaeological sites, particularly at funeral and religious locations.[1] For example, marked astragali have been found near the altar of Aphrodite Ourania in Athens, Greece, suggesting astragalomancy was performed near the altar after about 500 BC.[2]

Also known as cleromancy, the use of contacting the divine truth with random castings of dice or bones is a practice that stretches back before recorded history. The Metropolitan Museum of Art shows bone "dice" used by the Shona people of Africa.[3] These are called Hakata. They have been in use for thousands of years, and remain extant.

Being that astragalomancy is a form of sortition, numbers are scrawled into the dice; the numbers are associated with letters, thus bearing on the questions of the diviner. The diviner then casts the dice, resulting with a random sequence of numbers.[4] This sequence is to be interpreted by the diviner with regards to certain rules, which are usually specific to his/her religion (e.g. Buddhism).

Astragalomancy is considered the twin of Pessomancy (also known as Psephomancy), which is another act of divination that uses colored or marked pebbles as opposed to numbered dice. These pebbles are either thrown out of a bag after shuffling or drawn from the bag at random. The interpretation of the colors or symbols relate to issues such as health, communications, success, and travel.[5]

In Tibetan Buddhism[edit]

The Dalai Lama is reported as using the mo, balls of dough in which have been placed pieces of paper with possible "choices" written on them, to help in making important decisions.[6] Tibetan divination has long featured the mo in making everyday decisions, too.[7] There are books written by various lamas on interpretations for the casting of dice.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Reece, David S. (2000). "Worked Astragali" (PDF). Kommos: an excavation on the south coast of Crete volume IV: the Greek sanctuary. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 398–401. 
  2. ^ Reece, David S. (1989). "Faunal remains from the altar of Aphrodite Ourania, Athens". Hesperia. American School of Classical Studies at Athens. 58 (1): 63–70. doi:10.2307/148320. JSTOR 148320. 
  3. ^ "Divination Dice (Hakata)". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  4. ^ "Astragalomancy." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. Ed. J. Gordon Melton. 5th ed. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 100. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.
  5. ^ "Pessomancy (or Psephomancy)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. Ed. J. Gordon Melton. 5th ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 1202. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 28 February 2015.
  6. ^ Evan Osnos, Profiles, “The Next Incarnation,” The New Yorker, October 4, 2010, p. 63
  7. ^ Tseten, Dorjee. "Tibetan art of divination". The Office of Tibet. Archived from the original on 2008-05-04. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 

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