Alectromancy (page 2)
A kind of Alectromancy, believed to have originated in Africa, was also practiced upon the crowing of the cock, and the periods at which it was heard. Another method was to recite the letters of the alphabet, making note of those at which the cock crowed.
On yet another method, closely related to Lithomancy, a 'cock stone', or 'Alectoria', was used. These stones, purportedly found in a roosters gizzard, or maw, were supposed to be white as a crystal. The Romans called them gemma, literally "cock's gem." These stones were also believed to be imputed with magical and mystical powers.
The Roman army also practiced a kind of Alectromancy, by consulting the 'sacred' chickens that were carried along on their military campaigns. If, before a battle, the chickens ate the food so greedily that some of it fell from their beaks, it was considered an excellent omen. But if they did not care about the feed, it was necessary to be cautious in any strategic decision.
An habitually recounted story about Alectromancy tells that, on the eve of a major sea battle ― Battle of Drepanum, 249 BC ― with the Carthaginians, Claudius Pulcher, a head-strong Roman naval commander, chose to ignore a rather pointed omen. The 'sacred' chickens on his ship stopped eating. "Throw the damn chickens into the sea!" he shouted. "If they won't eat, let them drink!" The Roman sailors followed their leader's bidding and were badly beaten by the Carthaginians.
Another often remembered story involving Alectromancy is the one about the Roman emperor Valens, who wanted to know the name of his successor. Using the cock and circle of letters method, the previously mentioned philosopher and magician Iamblicus tried to discover the name of the person who should succeed Valens in the empire. But the bird always picked the same 4 letters, spelling out the word THEO.
According to the popular stories of the time, Valens proceeded to execute all that were named Theodorus, Theodotus and Theodectes, on the grounds that they would rob him of his kingship. Had he been a little more careful with his divination, or extermination, he might have been more successful, for he was eventually succeeded by Theodosius. On any rate, Valens, apparently not happy with the ambiguous results of the prognostication, ultimately began a campaign to stamp out oracles, soothsayers, astrologers, and even philosophers, since their trend was to favor practitioners of the mystic arts. It is said that the unfortunate Iamblicus, to avoid the effects of the emperor's resentment, took a draught of poison.
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Sources: (1) Dunwich, Gerina, A Wiccan's Guide to Prophecy and Divination, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Norman, Bailey, Universal Etymological Dictionary; (3) Johnstone, Jane, and Pilkington, Maya (editors), The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Fortune Telling, Sterling; (4) Smedley, Edward, The Occult Sciences, Kessinger Publishing; (5) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (6) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (7) Pickover, Clifford A., Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction, Prometheus Books.
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