Grammatomancy: Divination by Letters

While idly browsing around Reddit and the rest of the vasty deep of the Internet, I encountered an absolutely fantastic website for people working in Greco-Roman or Hellenic pagan paths, the Biblioteca Arcana.  I was directed to the site while looking up some information on dice-based divination, and ended up discovering something a little more interesting: a system of divination that uses the Greek letters much as modern diviners use the Elder Futhark runes.

The system is pretty easy to learn.  There are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet (ignoring the obsolete digamma, qoppa, and sampi), and each letter is associated with a particular oracular verse or lyric that begins with that letter (much as an acrostic).  Select a letter through some random means (dice, selecting a stone from a bag, etc.), and the oracular verse corresponded with the letter is the answer.  This is effectively divination by Greek letters, or grammatomancy.  Since all the oracular verses are fairly short, it’s only a minor chore to associate the Greek letters with the meanings of them, no more tedious than learning runes.  It might even be simpler, since the traditional technique didn’t allow for multiple letters being drawn or reversed letters (though I’m sure the system could be modified to allow for it, definitely something to try out).

The dude at the link above, Apollonius Sophistes, offers three methods of selecting letters randomly: using stones or potsherds inscribed with one letter on each, using four sheep knucklebones, or using five six-sided dice (noted as 5d6 in RPG terms).  The knucklebones and dice, when rolled, give a number associated with a particular letter.  While I’m fond of the first method, I wanted something that was simpler to carry around.  Considering that there are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet, why not use that number to our advantage?  We can factorize 24 into 4 and 6, so one method is to use the a four-sided die (1d4) to select a “hexad” of letters (hexad 1 = Α through Ζ, hexad 2 = Θ through Μ, etc.), and to use a six-sided die (1d6) to select the letter within the hexad.  So, say we roll the dice and get 3 on the d4 and 5 on the d6.  So, we look at the fifth letter in the third hexad, which is Ρ (Greek rho, not Latin pee).

Alternatively, 24 divides into 2 and 12; we could use a twelve-sided die (d12) and roll it twice, once to determine whether we look at the first dodecad of letters (first dodecad =  Α through Μ, second = Ν through Ω) and again to determine the specific letter within that dodecad.  We might say that an odd number on the first roll is associated with the first dodecad and an even number with the second.  So, say we roll 2d12, and we get the numbers 4 and 11.  4 is even, so we look at the eleventh letter in the second dodecad, which is Ψ (Greek psi).  Alternatively, instead of rolling 2d12 and using the first roll for its parity, we might roll a 1d12 with a 1d2 (i.e., flip a coin), but that requires having something extra on hand.

At any rate, what’s awesome about this style of grammatomancy is that we can combine the oracles given above with the technique of stoicheia, where each of the Greek letters is assigned to a particular magical force.  Consider that there are 12 astrological signs, seven traditional planets, and four classical elements plus Spirit/quintessence.  Thus, 12 + 7 + 4 + 1 = 24, the number of letters in the Greek alphabet.  The seven vowels (Α through Ω) are assigned to the planets (Moon through Saturn); the five complex consonants (Θ, Ξ, Φ, Χ, Ψ) are assigned to the elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire, Spirit); the twelve simple consonants leftover are assigned to the twelve signs of the zodiac in order (Β with Aries through Τ with Pisces).

Through the use of the association of the zodiac signs with the simple consonants, we might use Agrippa’s association of the Olympic deities with the signs (book II, chapter 14) to arrive at big-name gods instead of just signs if we want a less astrological bend to this; similarly, we might use his association of the elements (book II, chapter 7) and of the planets (book II, chapter 10) to the directions.  We might want to go this route if we want to know which god or wind is favorable to appeal to or would hinder us, though all divination and oracles come from Apollo and/or Hermes in traditional reckoning.  This is in addition to using the numerical values of the letters in isopsephy or Greek gematria, as well, for another layer of interpretation that you might consider.

I’ve always held writing to be magical (as it damn well is, coming from Hermes-Thoth-Odin-whoever), and I’ve always wanted to try using writing itself as divination besides automatic writing.  Runes never clicked with me, but this style of Greek grammatomancy seems much more appealing; it’s probably just an aesthetic thing, but hey, aesthetics matter, and it fits much more closely in the systems and currents I work with than a writing system far removed in time, space, and symbolism.  I strongly suggest checking out the dude’s page and experimenting with this and other techniques of his; I know I will.  As a good academic should, he even posts his sources and scans of original Greek texts where applicable, which is pretty awesome.  I’m pretty psyched to learn this style of divination, if you guys couldn’t tell.

32 responses

  1. It’s a great oracle form, and one that I personally use myself. It’s good to see that someone’s spreading the good news about it.

    • I’ve been geeking out about it almost nonstop. I’m writing up what’s gonna be an ebook about it with my observations on it and fuller explanations and examples than what Apollonius offers, if I can get his permission to use his translations. I’m also including my analyses linking the letters to mythological examples and Hermetic concepts.

  2. Hmm. Interesting. I also use a dice method for geomancy because I found it to be less tedious.

    My method:

    I) Take four dice, designate each as the first, second, third and fourth. First corresponds to the dot at the top of the figure and fourth represents the dot at the bottom of the figure.

    II) Have the querent think about the matter while holding the dice. Then roll all four dice simultaneously. Then input the dots according to the order. If the number is odd, then one dot. If the number is even, two dots.

    This way you only need to roll four dice four times. I don’t know whether it’s as effective as the traditional method though :P.

    I use two d10 and two d4 dice, cuz it’s cooler that way.

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  5. Admittedly, that’s a neat method of assigning the correspondences to the Greek alphabet (and it’s similar to the way they break out by letter class in Hebrew), but I would have thought you’d go with the QBL order as given in Skinner & elsewhere. Neh?

    • Never mind, I’m confused. I haven’t worked with the Greek alphabet, and didn’t see Skinner’s column L17 and the notes to L13-17. Always read the notes in that book, duh, that’s why it’s worth the $50.

      • I don’t like that style of attribution of the letters to the QBL, because the QBL doesn’t have as many paths as the Greek alphabet has letters (22 vs. 24). There does exist a specifically Greek style of QBL with a different set of paths, but when using the standard Kircher tree, I go by stoicheic (planetary/elemental/zodiacal) attribution of the letters instead of their order. This still leaves out Theta and Psi, which relate to Earth and Spirit, which the Hebrew script doesn’t attribute to any letter. Just using the order (1 = aleph = alpha, 2 = bet = beta, etc.) bugs me because the stoicheic attributions aren’t the same between Greek and Hebrew (alpha = Moon, aleph = fire, etc.); despite that they have a common ancestor, as Skinner notes in CMT, they have different end forms.

        That said, I do go over both of these methods in my ebook on grammatomancy, which I totally suggest reading. I go over QBL, magical attributions, gematria, and the like at some length. ;)

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