Derived from the Greek aleuron ('flour') and manteia ('divination'), it is a method of foretelling future events by the use of flour.
Many oracle experiences in ancient times were social events. The ancient Greeks wrote sacred symbols on pieces of cloth or papyrus and then rolled them in dough that had been mixed nine times, placing the dough in the fire to be baked. Once they were cooked, the dough balls were put on a tray and passed around to a group of people who came together to ask a question of the divine. A presiding priest and/or diviners would then interpret each querent's fortune based on their chosen dough ball and the symbol inside it. The god Apollo, who supposedly presided over this form of divination, was surnamed Aleuromantis.
Different cultures practiced diverse variants of this method. The Greeks put the messages into round, hard cakes to be chosen at random. Europeans preferred to place coins inside some of the cakes, and the persons getting the coinage stuffed treats were designated the lucky ones.
In the most common form of Aleuromancy sentences were written on slips of paper, each of which was rolled up in a little ball of flour and baked. These were thoroughly mixed nine times and then divided among the participants, who would supposedly learn their fate by reading their message. As late as the 19th century the custom lingered in remote districts, and our modern "fortune cookies" are a survival of this ancient ritual.
A different variation of Aleuromancy was performed by throwing flour on the ground and interpreting the shapes produced.
Another method was sloshing out a mixture of flour and water from a bowl and interpreting the patterns of floury residue left on the bottom and sides, a process reminiscent of tea-cup reading.
On yet another method the flour was thrown into flames, a procedure surely related to either Pyromancy or Capnomancy.
An alternative type of Aleuromancy, also known as Alphitomancy, was used in determining the guilt or innocence of a suspect person by feeding them a specially prepared barley cake. Of this method of divination, Sir William Blackstone stated:
"Another species of purgation, probably sprung from a presumptuous abuse of revelation in the dark ages of superstition, was the corsned, or morsel of execration — being a piece of cheese or bread, of about an ounce in weight, which was consecrated with a form of exorcism, desiring the Almighty that it might cause convulsions and paleness, and find no passage if the man was really guilty; but might turn to health and nourishment, if he was innocent."
Aleuromancy, like most divinatory systems, is quite ancient, and has been practiced since time immemorial.
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Sources: (1) Dunwich, Gerina, A Wiccan's Guide to Prophecy and Divination, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (3) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (4) Pickover, Clifford A., Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction, Prometheus Books; (5) Johnstone, Jane, and Pilkington, Maya (editors), The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Fortune Telling, Sterling.
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