Alternatively Daphnomancie and Daphnomantia.
Derived from the Greek daphne ('laurel') and manteia ('divination'), it is the art and practice of divining the past, the present and the future by listening to the noise made by laurel or bay branches and/or leaves crackling in an open fire.
According to the practice, the louder the crackles, the better the omens. If crackles were absent, the prognostic was bleak. A bright fire burning the leaves was also favorable, but if it smoldered and died out, the outlook was gloomy.
A Yes and No method was also employed. The diviner would ask a question and throw a laurel branch into the fire. If the branch crackled, the answer was "yes," or "probably." If instead there was no crackling, the answer was "no."
This practice of burning bay laurel leaves originated in ancient Rome, where a sacred grove of laurel trees existed. These laurel trees were planted at the grove by each Roman emperor when they ascended to the throne. Another interesting fact about this sacred grove is that, in the year 68 AD, it withered and died. This was taken as an extremely bad sign for the Roman Empire. It so happened that, in that same year, emperor Nero died, and the long line of Caesars met its demise.
According to legend, at the Delphic oracle the pythonesses delivered their prognostications with bay leaves clenched between their teeth. Nathan Bailey, in his An Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1727) states that "Daphnophagi were certain prophets or diviners in ancient times, that pretended to be inspired after the eating of bay-leaves."
These prophesying pythonesses of Delphi were reputedly stimulated to deliver their predictions by inhaling fumes emanating from a geological fissure beneath the shrine. Some believe that special vision-inducing botanicals were burned instead, although if so, that formula remains mysterious. General consensus is that whatever else was in the formula, it also contained bay laurel leaves.
Daphnomancy is a type of Pyromancy, and takes its name from the mythological nymph Daphne who, according to the story, was transformed into the first bay laurel tree when she tried to escape Apollo's attempt to rape her.
Adding complexity to the sexual dimensions of the Daphne-Apollo legend, another famous oracular shrine was named after and presided over by Daphne herself. The oracle at Daphne, near Tarsus, was obtained by dipping bay leaves or branches into a sacred spring. The shrine at Daphne, maintained within lush, beautiful groves, was renowned or notorious, depending upon one's perspective, for its carnal pleasures and licentious sexual rites. The shrine, together with its surrounding groves, was an early casualty of Christianity's rise to power. Bay leaves, however, remain an ingredient of many magic spells and a tool for divination.
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Sources: (1) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (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.
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