Alternatively known as Dactyliomancy.
Derived from the Greek dakterlios ('finger ring') and manteia ('divination'), it is the art and practice of divining the past, the present and the future with the aid of rings.
Samuel Purchas mentions Dactylomancy in his "Pilgrimage" (1613), declaring only, "Dactyliomancie was a divination with Rings."
Ring divination was very popular among the early Romans. Special rings of gold and silver were made at certain planetary patronages for this specific purpose. These special rings were as well empowered with intricate rituals and incantations.
Solemn services of a religious character also accompanied the performance of Dactylomancy. Diviners would move the rings about on a tripod in conjunction with invocations, prayers and chants.
According to Ammianus Marcellinus, Dactyliomancy was used to find Valens' successor, and the name Theodosius was correctly indicated.
In the Middle Ages, specially crafted rings were in fashion for this form of divination. These rings were astrologically themed, and each was appropriate for use in Dactylomancy on a particular day of the week. The Sun ring, to be used on Sundays, was made from gold, bearing a peridot carved with the image of a lion-headed snake. A Moon ring, to be used on Mondays, was made of silver and set with a quartz crystal that had been engraved with two crescents. The ring used on Tuesdays was a Mars ring, made of iron and bearing a ruby displaying the image of a serpent ="Venus"biting a sword's hilt. The Mercury ring, used on Wednesdays, was fashioned of tin or lead, bearing a carnelian engraved with a caduceus. The Jupiter ring, used on Thursdays, was made of tin bearing a topaz engraved with an eagle and a five-pointed star. On Fridays, a Venus ring made of copper set with an emerald carved with a symbol of sexual union was to be used. Finally, the ring used on Saturdays was the Saturn ring, made of lead and set with an onyx bearing the image of a snake encircling a stone.
To perform this type of medieval Dactylomancy, an additional seventy-eight metal discs were manufactured, three for each letter of the alphabet, which were engraved on their face. These rings were then placed on top of a round table marked with the Zodiac signs and the planets. The appropriate ring was then suspended over the table at the end of a linen thread. After incantations, a consecrated torch was applied to the thread. As the linen burned, the ring fell on to the table. This procedure was repeated seven times, and those letters over which the ring rolled and the one on which it halted were grouped together to form a response to the question.
There were several different methods of ring divination at one time or another. In the most common form, the ring was used as a pendulum, indicating a yes or no response to a particular question by the direction in which swung or rotated. Sometimes human hair was used to suspend the ring, specially when the querent wanted to know if his or her illness was consequence of being bewitched. The direction the ring swings indicates the origin of the bewitchment, and possibly the guilty party.
In a variant of this method, the ring pendulum was held over a circle or table inscribed with letters and numbers, like in an Ouija board. The messages were then spelled out. In fact there is some indication that our modern Ouija boards have evolved from these crude table oracles.
In another method, the ring was dropped into a bowl of water, its position at the bottom determining the prediction or the response to a formulated question. Sometimes the inside bottom of the bowl contained a special pattern and/or symbols imprinted, to aid in the prognostication.
On yet another method, the ring dangles by a thread inside a vessel half-filled with water. The ring's cord is shaken, and the amount of times the ring hits the vessel's wall determines the prediction.
In an obscure form of Dactyliomancy, gold, silver, copper, iron or lead rings were placed on the finger-nails in certain planetary conjunctions; it was said that wedding rings were ideal for this purpose, although no detailed account of this method exists today.
You can perform modern ring divination at home if you so desire. Just attach a thread to a ring, preferably a gold wedding ring. Suspend it in an empty glass and ask your question. If the ring knocks against the glass only once, the answer is yes. If twice, no. Make sure you wait a few moments after the first knocking to see if another will follow.
Dactyliomancy is quite ancient, and is thought to be one of the earliest forms of Radiesthesia.
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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; (5) Buckland, Raymond, The Fortune-Telling Book: The Encyclopedia of Divination and Soothsaying, Visible Ink Press; (6) Cunningham, Scott, Divination for Beginners: Reading the Past, Present & Future, Llewellyn Publications.
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