Derived from the Greek ther ('wild animal') and manteia ('divination'), it is the art and practice of divining the past, the present and the future by the movement of beasts, or wild animals.
This mode of prophecy is linked to the ancient belief that gods, goddesses and other divine beings inhabited the bodies of animals, or could appear in animal form at will.
In one form or another, prognostication by observing animal behavior has been practiced since pre-historic times. Ancient hunters and gatherers, as well as agricultural and pastoral cultures, made use of Theriomantia.
Beasts crossing someone's way, or appearing in a strange and unlikely place were of divinatory significance, as well as unexpected animal migrations. Bees were considered to be a sign of future eloquence, toads were accounted lucky omens, and serpents were bad luck.
This type of fortune telling still is very popular among African aborigines. For example, 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. The Dogon, a western African tribe, examine paw patterns left by jackals to make prognostications.
Theriomantia is a form of Zoomancy and Augury, and it is, like most divination techniques, quite ancient.
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Sources: (1) Walker, Charles, The Encyclopedia of the Occult, Random House Value; (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) Dunwich, Gerina, A Wiccan's Guide to Prophecy and Divination, Carol Publishing Group.
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