Alternatively Belomantia, Bolomancy and Sortes Sagittariae.
Derived from the Greek belos ('an arrow, a dart') and manteia ('divination'), it is the art and practice of divining the past, the present and the future by using feathered arrows.
Sir Thomas Browne describes Belomancy in Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646):
"As for the Divination or decision from the staff, it is an Auguriall relique... Of this kinde of Rhabdomancy was that practised by Nabuchadonosor in the Chaldean miscellany, delivered by Ezekiel. A like way of Belomancy or Divination by Arrowes hath been in request with Scythians, Alanes, Germans, with the Africans and Turks of Algiers."
In The Occult Sciences (1855), Belomancy is also referred to:
"Belomancy, the method of divination by arrows, dates as far back as the age of the Chaldeans. It existed among the Greeks, and still later among the Arabians. The manner in which the latter practised it is described on another page (Divination), and they continue its use though forbidden by the Koran. Another method deserves mention. This was to throw a certain number of arrows into the air, and the direction in which the arrow inclined as it fell pointed out the course to be taken by the inquirer. Divination by arrows is the same in principle as Rhabdomancy. The methods of using the lots have been very numerous, such as Rhabdomancy, Clidomancy, and the Sortes Sagittariæ, otherwise Belomancy, and the common casting of dice."
In Chamber's Encyclopedia (1868), Belomancy is as well defined:
"Belomancy... a mode of divination by arrows, practised among the Arabs and other nations of the east. A number of arrows being shot off with sentences written on labels attached to them, an indication of futurity is sought from inscription on the first arrow found. This is only one of many ways of divining by arrows."
The Bible also mentions this type of divination in Ezekiel 21:21:
"For the king of Babylon will stop at the fork in the road, at the junction of the two roads, to seek an omen: He will cast lots with arrows, he will consult his idols, he will examine the liver."
This "mingling of arrows" mentioned by Ezekiel was practiced by the King of Babylon. On this subject, Archbishop William Newcome observed:
"Seven divining arrows were kept in the temple of Mecca, but generally, in divination, the idolatrous Arabs made use of three only. On one was written 'My Lord hath commanded me'; on another 'My Lord hath forbidden me'; the third was blank. If the first was drawn, they looked upon it as a approbation of the enterprise in question; if the second, they made a contrary conclusion; but if the third happened to be drawn, they mixed them, and drew over again, till a decisive answer was given by one of the others."
Saint Jerome's observation on the same passage is not very different:
"They wrote on several arrows the names of the cities they intended to assault, and then, putting them all together promiscuously in a quiver, they drew them out thence as lots are drawn; and that city whose name was written on the arrow first drawn, was the city they first made war upon."
Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117) claimed to have observed German barbarians in the act of Belomancy.
There are several known methods that were used to perform this type of divination. In the most common and simple form of Belomancy, the diviner attached labels to the arrows, and the advice or oracle tied to the one which travels farthest was taken as valid. Alternatively, the advice attached to the first arrow to be found was to be obeyed.
In another method, three divining arrows were marked with occult symbols, then cast into a quiver and mixed together. One of the arrows was then drawn and the omens interpreted.
On yet another method that deserves mention, a certain number of arrows were thrown into the air, and the direction in which they inclined as they fell, pointed out the course to be taken by the inquirer. Herodotus describes a similar practice whereby Scythian soothsayers spread bundles of rods on the ground and interpreted them.
Roman soldiers were particularly fond of Belomancy. Their method was shooting their arrows up in the air, and observing in which direction the shafts leaned when they came down and stuck into the ground.
Belomancy, like most divinatory systems, is quite ancient, and has been practiced since time immemorial by the Babylonians, Scythians, Greeks, Romans and Arabians, among others.
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Sources: (1) Morwyn, The Complete Book Of Psychic Arts, Llewellyn Publications; (2) Walker, Charles, The Encyclopedia of the Occult, Random House Value; (3) Dunwich, Gerina, A Wiccan's Guide to Prophecy and Divination, Carol Publishing Group; (4) Chamber's Encyclopedia; (5) Browne, Sir Thomas, Pseudodoxia Epidemica; (6) Smedley, Edward; Taylor, William Cooke; Thompson, Henry; Rich, Elihu; The Occult Sciences, Adamant Media Corporation Publishers; (7) Encyclopædia Metropolitana; Or, System of Universal Knowledge, General Books LLC.
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