As a species, we humans don’t like surprises. Sure, we might enjoy a surprise birthday party or an unexpected check in the mail, but on the whole, we like to know what is going to happen next so we can plan for or around it. And throughout most of human history, individuals or groups of people have claim to possess the magical power to foretell or divine the future, and they used all sorts of tools and signs to do their divination.
Modern English contains a large (and growing) collection of words to describe these various types of divination. The names for the types of divination end in -mancy, and the words we call their practitioners (or perpetrators) end in -mancer, both of which derive from the Greek mantis “diviner, prophet.”
The “Methods of Divination” page on Wikipedia lists more than 250 such -mancies. A number of them are marked with the telltale superscript “,” but even so, there’s a whole world of magic out there, of which the following 16 are only a fun representation.
- aeromancy: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” This is a well-known maxim today, but half a millennium ago, chanting the same phrases might lead to accusations of aeromancy, or divination by atmospheric conditions.
- bibliomancy: Sometimes when people face personal struggles and don’t know what to do, they grab a Bible and, using a pin, a nail, or just their finger, choose a verse at random and interpret that verse as guidance for their plight. This is a form of bibliomancy, divination by choosing and interpreting a random passage from a book, especially the Bible. (I use the dictionary myself.)
- cartomancy: Not, as I thought, the ability to tell where a geological feature would appear by looking at a map, cartomancy is one of the most well-known types of divination: fortune-telling through the use of playing cards.
- chiromancy: Don’t accuse your chiropractor of chiromancy. Neither chiropractic nor chiromancy has a root that refers to the spine; the Greek cheir means “hand.” Chiromancy is palm reading or palmistry.
- crystallomancy: You probably guessed that crystallomancy is divination by crystal. Crystal balls certainly fall under this umbrella, but the use of any shape of crystal or other clear solid can be referred to as crystallomancy.
- gastromancy: Gastromancy is an ancient form of divination by means of words seemingly uttered from the stomach; it’s often associated with ventriloquism. Gastromancy can also refer to a type of crystallomancy using large-bellied (hence gastro-) glasses in which images are said to appear by magic or through which one interprets the world.
- geomancy: Geomancy is a kind of general divination that relies on natural rocks and dirt, such as the shapes created by the random arrangement of geological figures or the way a handful of earth falls on the ground.
- hydromancy: Hydromancy is divination by water or other fluid. You might remember this the next time you stare a little too deeply into the bubbles during your next bubble bath.
- necromancy: Necromancy is the divination known to every D&D player. These days it’s used generally to refer to black magic and sorcery, but it finds it roots in the belief that necromancers communicated with the spirits of the dead in order to foretell the future.
- nephelomancy: A cloud shaped like a rabbit is one thing; a cloud shaped like your inevitable fate is another. In fact, if you’re trying to tell the future by the shapes and movements of clouds, you’re practicing nephelomancy.
- oneiromancy: A favorite of fantasy fiction both old and new, oneiromancy (from the Greek oneiros “dream”) is divination through the interpretation of dreams.
- osteomancy: Osteomancy is a general term for divination through the use of bones. There are more -mancies indicating the specific bones used for divination; for example, scapulimancy is divination using the scapula, or shoulder blade.
- pyromancy: There’s something transfixing about a good campfire, but if you ever find yourself staring into the heart of one and seeing images of your future, you might inadvertently be practicing pyromancy, divination by fire.
- rhabdomancy: Rhabo- comes from the Greek rhabdos “rod.” Rhabdomancy is divination through the use of rods or wands. This does not include divination through the interpretation of Rod Stewart lyrics.
- theriomancy: Theriomancy is a general term for divination by the behavior of animals. Theriomancy breaks down into more specific branches based on the animal used for divining, including ornithomancy (birds), ichthyomancy (fish) and ophidiomancy (snakes).
- tyromancy: Perhaps the tastiest form of fortune telling, tyromancy is divination through cheese.