A term derived from the Greek astragalos ('dice' or 'knucklebone') and manteia ('divination') and applied originally to a method of telling the future from the throw of small bones (usually sheep bones), but nowadays is also applied to the throw of dice, since they were once made from bones; a form of divination involving dice, small bones or knuckle-bones, in which letters are marked on the faces of the dice and the future is foretold from the words formed as the dice fall.
In ancient times, small bones such as the vertebrae were marked with special divinatory symbols and used by diviners to draw answers to questions. Most 'astragaloi' actually only had four flat sides which were marked (the other two being rounded), as distinguished from the six-sided 'kuboi'. Sometimes these 'astragaloi' were tossed onto the pages of a picture book, or into a drawn circle or boundary, often marked with magical or divinatory symbols.
In another method of Astragalomancy using small bones, the bones were thrown and readings were taken either from the position of the bones, the nature of the upward pointing side, or from the arrangement formed upon a formal pattern or grid, in this last case suggesting a link to geomancy. On yet another form of this divinatory art, bones were inscribed with the letters of the alphabet.
In ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt, the four-sided knucklebones of sheep were also employed in this type of divination. Modern dice as we know are believed to have been first used by the Egyptians around 1400 BC.
Walter B. Gibson mentions Astragalomancy in his 'Complete Illustrated Book of Divination & Prophecy' (1973):
"Astragalomancy: divination with dice, ranging from crude bones with primitive markings to cubes bearing spots, letters, or cabalistic symbols, all interpreted by the bone caster."
B. W. Martin said of Astragalomancy in 'The Dictionary of the Occult' (1979):
"Astragalomancy: a form of divination using the astragalus or ankle bone of certain animals. The bone has two rounded ends and four more or less flat faces upon which appropriate symbols may be marked... The use of rune sticks in divination stems from the astragalus, the sticks being either a substitute for or a development of the astragali. The term is sometimes used loosely, and incorrectly, to refer to any form of divination involving the use of bones."
According to most ancient occult traditions, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are the most favorable days of the week for the casting of the dice. You should not attempt it on Fridays and Sundays. Others say that Mondays and Wednesdays are unfavorable for dice casting. You should never attempt dice divination during stormy weather.
Modern divination by dice is a fairly simple procedure. In the most popular method, a list of twenty possible answers ― numbered from four to twenty-four ― must be written out. A pair of ordinary dice is then thrown and their numbers added together and written down. A second cast of the die is performed, and their numbers are added to the first. The resulting number is then matched to the corresponding answer on the numbered list.
Astragalomancy, like most divinatory systems, is quite ancient. It was very popular in Mesopotamia, and primitive African peoples have thrown bones for divination since time immemorial.
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Sources: (1) Walker, Charles, The Encyclopedia of the Occult, Random House Value; (2) Pickover, Clifford A., Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction, Prometheus Books; (3) Dunwich, Gerina, A Wiccan's Guide to Prophecy and Divination, Carol Publishing Group; (4) Martin, B. W., The Dictionary of the Occult, Rider Publishing; (5) Halliday, William Reginald, Greek Divination; a Study of its Methods and Principles, General Books LLC; (6) Cunningham, Scott, Divination for Beginners: Reading the Past, Present & Future, Llewellyn Publications.
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