A term derived from the Greek axine ('axe') and manteia ('divination') and applied to the art and the practice of divination by an axe — usually a woodcutter’s axe — or hatchet.
Axinomancy also covers other methods of prediction, or answering questions, including by means of a saw. It is also relevant to mention that some dowsers use a common carpenter's saw as a divining rod.
A popular method of Axinomancy recorded among the ancient Greeks was that of placing an agate stone on a red-hot axe; its motion was taken to indicate the identity of someone guilty of a crime.
Another method was performed by balancing an axe on an upright stake, and the names of suspected persons were pronounced to determine guilty by its motion. In another method, also used for detecting the guilty and robbers, the hatchet was cast on the ground, head downward, with the handle rising perpendicularly in the air. Those present had to dance around it in a ring until the handle of the axe tottered and it fell to the ground. The end of the handle indicated the direction in which the thieves had to be sought. It is said by some that if this divination is to succeed, the head of the axe must be stuck in a round pot.
Axe divination was also used in some cultures to determine the most auspicious place for a woman to give birth.
According to Sir Thomas Urquhart's 'The Third Book of the Works of Mr. Francis Rabelais';
"To have the truth ... disclosed ... by axinomancy: we want only a hatchet and a jet-stone to be laid together upon a fire of hot ambers."
Another common method was through the observation of how an ax or hatchet handle quivers or points when driven into a tree or post.
Yet another method involved observation in the way an axe falls to the ground, usually used by diviners to point the direction a thief has taken. This method was also used to find buried treasure. Another method to find loot was to put the axe head in a fire until red hot. The axe was then placed on the ground — preferably in an area where the existence of treasure was suspected — in such a way that the axe's sharp edge faced the sky. A round stone, usually an agate or a jet stone, was then set on the axe's edge. If it remained there without moving, no treasure was in the area. If it fell, it would roll quickly away. This procedure was repeated two more times. If the stone rolled toward the same direction all three times, that was the most ideal place to dig, for it was an indication the treasure was within thirty one paces. If it rolled in a different direction each time, more searching was required.
The Chokwe people of Central Africa still practice axe divination today. The butt of the axe is set in the sand so that the axe stands straight, and the diviners dance around it until it falls. Conclusions are drawn from the marks it leaves in the sand and also by the direction it falls.
An obscure form of Axinomancy consisted of prognostications taken from the heating of an axe head in the embers of a fire. If the axe head glowed red and stayed in one piece and/or place, it was considered a good omen. If instead it bounced within the crackling fire, or the head split up into pieces, it was considered a negative omen.
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Sources: (1) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (2) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (3) Pickover, Clifford A., Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction, Prometheus Books; (4) Dunwich, Gerina, A Wiccan's Guide to Prophecy and Divination, Carol Publishing Group; (5) Cunningham, Scott, Divination for Beginners: Reading the Past, Present & Future, Llewellyn Publications.
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