Derived from the Greek halo ('salt') and manteia ('divination'), this is a method of divination by interpreting random patterns formed by the sprinkling of salt, usually over a flat surface, such as a table.
Specifics of the interpretation process in this practice are obscure, but it probably followed similar methods to those of aleuromancy. In this fashion, interpretation of random patterns in the salt after being poured or spread over a surface were of significance. Ridges indicated problems and obstacles, while depressions and valleys signified delays and frustrations. A smooth salt formation meant a good prognostic.
In many parts of the world salt was once believed to have magical properties. Consequently it has a long history of application in rituals of purification, magical protection, and blessing.
Amongst ancient magicians it was commonplace to lay down a pinch of salt in each corner of the room before performing a spell or ritual. This practice carried over into contemporary African-American hoodoo tradition as well. Both Greeks and Romans also mixed salt with their sacrificial cakes. The use of it in divination probably dates as far back as its ancient use as an offering to pagan gods, because of its scarceness and necessity.
From that other rites developed in which salt played a significant role; hence any careless waste of such precious substance was sure to provoke the wrath of the presiding deities.
It is this ancient divination science that accounts for some of our modern salt related superstitions, including the one about people saying that misfortune is about to fall on the household when the salt cellar is overturned or spilled, and the one about throwing a pinch of salt over someone's shoulder usually the left one for good luck. The idea that spilling salt is unlucky comes from the association of salt with life. Salt symbolizes semen, so to spill it is to spill life itself.
An alternative form of Alomancy consisted in the casting of salt into a fire, and it was considered a type of Pyromancy. In Scotland on Imbolg night, it was a tradition for each member of the family to throw protective salt into the fire and divine their immediate futures by the pops and sparkling it made. This was considered to be a subset of Capnomancy, which usually covered all forms of "throwing something on the fire and figuring out what it meant."
In a technique from ancient Egypt, salt was poured or tossed to the ground, and the patterns were then interpreted. One must point out that, in those ancient times, salt was solely available in large pebble-like crystals, rather than today's tiny-sized table salt crystals.
Reminiscent of tea cup reading, other method relied on interpreting the residue of a salt solution as it evaporated in a bowl or cup. In another more contemporary method of Alomancy, fine salt was cast into the air and prognostications were given by interpreting the shape of the cloud thus formed.
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Sources: (1) Dunwich, Gerina, A Wiccan's Guide to Prophecy and Divination, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (3) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (4) Pickover, Clifford A., Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction, Prometheus Books; (5) K, Amber, Candlemas: Feast of Flames, Llewellyn Publications; (6) Buckland, Raymond, The Fortune-Telling Book: The Encyclopedia of Divination and Soothsaying, Visible Ink Press.
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