Derived from the Greek entomos ('insect') and manteia ('divination'), it is the art and practice of divining the past, the present and the future from the appearance and behavior of insects.
To this may be referred the various omens of popular folklore, such as crickets bringing good luck, and ladybirds indicating visitors.
In Scotland, the seven-spot ladybird beetle — in America called the seven-spot ladybug (Coccinella Septempunctata) — is locally known as King Calowa, and is the preferred insect used for divination, evident by the traditional Scottish rhyme:
"King, King Calowa,
Up your wings and flee awa'
Over land, and over sea;
Tell me where my love can be."
The ancient Greeks had numerous beliefs about portentous insects. Ants were meant to have presaged the death of Cimon, and, also, the great wealth of Midas was foretold by ants coming to him as a boy while asleep and dropping grains of wheat into his mouth. To be bitten by an ant was believed to foreshadow enmity and quarreling. If ants made their nest near a home's threshold, prosperity was indicated.
The African Zandes (also spelled Asande or Azande), a central African tribe, practice Myrmomancy — the observations of ants eating food to discern the future. They also use termites and their mounds to make predictions. Polynesian tribal leaders coax a beetle to crawl over a murder victim's grave so that its tracks are prophetically read to indicate the murderer's name.
According to John Potter, bees "were esteemed an omen of future eloquence", and he cites the well-known story of Plato, who, as a baby in the cradle was visited by a swarm of bees which alighted on his lips, thereby predicting his gift of oratory. Obviously this is playing on the idea of words as sweet as honey, mellifluous speech. In fact Plato was known later as the Athenian Bee. An identical tale is told of St. Ambrose. If a bee flew into a house, it was thought to be an extremely lucky omen. To kill a bee presaged bad luck. When bees seemed reluctant to leave the hive, rain was to be expected very soon. The Romans also considered that seeing a flight of bees was a very ill omen. The calamitous defeat of Pompey's army by Caesar at Pharsalus in 48 B.C. was supposedly foretold by a swarm of bees which settled upon the sacred altar. To be stung by a wasp was believed to constitute a warning to be in your guard against jealousy, deception and danger.
Beetles were constantly observed for divination purposes. If a beetle crossed someone's path, it was considered to be a very lucky omen. The bigger the beetle, the greater good fortune it would bring. In contrast, if a cockroach was seen in a place where it should not be, it was held to presage death. Crickets and grasshoppers were thought to favor travel and generally foretell good news. But if they abandoned a house in which they had been for a long time, coming illness or death was feared. When colonies of gnats disport themselves in the evening sunshine, it was believed that the morrow would be sunny and warm. Large numbers of gnats seen in the spring was considered an omen that the later part of the year would be mild.
The most obvious insect related to fortune telling would, however, have to be the mantis. This is the ancient Greek name for the insect, and, is identically the same as the word mantis meaning, a diviner.
According to Suidas this insect was a type of slow, green, locust. It had long, thin fore-feet, and was possibly, though not necessarily, the same as our praying mantis, though exactly what insect it was is unknown. Apparently it was observed for divinatory purposes. Unfortunately not a lot more is known about it and why it deserved its name. Our modern praying mantis is so-called from the prayer-like attitude of the front-legs, but this is only a modern appellation, dating back to the 17th century.
Also, here we may note the old superstition of the death-watch. Recorded since at least the 17th century, this was a clicking or ticking noise like that of a watch, which was believed to portend the death of someone in the house within the next twelve hours. It was for many years unknown exactly what it was that produced the noise, however, it was eventually discovered to be a certain beetle that made the sound, apparently its mating call, by striking its head against a hard surface.
Entomomancy is a type of augury.
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Sources: (1) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (3) Johnstone, Jane and Pilkington, Maya, The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Fortune Telling Published by Sterling; (4) Pickover, Clifford A., Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction, Prometheus Books; (5) Dunwich, Gerina, A Wiccan's Guide to Prophecy and Divination, Carol Publishing Group; (6) The Complete Book of Fortune, Bracken Books.
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