Arachnomancy (page 2)
The indigenous species the diviners use for this ancient craft is a large, black and hairy earth-dwelling spider, said to be an aggressive nocturnal hunter. These arachnids are thought by the local inhabitants to be the messengers of a mysterious and powerful spirit that purportedly has excellent night vision and is in constant contact with the dearly departed. In this region of Cameroon it is a capital crime to kill these divinatory spiders.
To perform the oracular reading the mod ngam, literally "man of spiders," locates an inhabited spider-hole and clears the area immediately around it of all vegetation and any other interfering objects and debris. Alternatively the spider can be dug out of its hole and taken to a more conveniently sited abandoned hole in which it will be kept.
The diviner then places over the spider's burrow a large pot that has its bottom knocked out. After placing his set of divining cards in it, usually near the burrow's entrance, the diviner adds a stone and a stick, all prearranged in a specific way. The mod ngam then covers the pot with a shard or piece of tin as a lid which can be removed to inspect the entrance to the burrow and its immediate surroundings.
If the diviner is trying to interpret the origin of a illness, misfortune, or other type of general oracular determination, he awaits — often overnight — for the spider to eventually come out of its burrow and, by trying to escape the pot, rearrange the cards. If instead the diviner needs an answer for a specific question, he taps the pot. In response to the knocking the spider emerges from its hole, and by doing so, it disturbs the leaves. Understanding is then achieved by considering the cards new position in relation to the stone and the stick. Questions allow one of two responses, one explicitly associated with the stick and the other with the stone. Sometimes numerous stones and sticks are used, to allow answers associated with different individuals.
Several different spiders may be consulted simultaneously. This enables a faster rate of questioning since sometimes twenty minutes elapse before the diviner can check whether the spider has responded to a question. It also allows a consistency check to be made by asking the same question of different spiders. Diviners admit that ambiguous or unintelligible answers are possible, but assert that this seldom occurs.
Spider webs are an omen of future prosperity, and they should not be disturbed or removed, or potential wealth and riches will also be removed from someone's prospects.
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Sources: (1) Pickover, Clifford A., Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction, Prometheus Books; (2) Pascal, Boyer, The Naturalness of Religious Ideas: A Cognitive Theory of Religion, University of California Press; (3) Zeitlyn, David, Spiders In and Out of Court, or, 'The Long Legs of the Law': Styles of Spider Divination in their Sociological Contexts; (4) Gebauer, Paul, Spider Divination in the Cameroons; (5) Rowe, John Rowland, Inca Culture at the Time of the Spanish Conquest; (6) Proctor, Dorothy, Legends of the Stars; (7) Webster, Richard, The Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Llewellyn Publications.
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