Ritual Astragalomancy

Astragalomancy, as I brought up in the last post, is divination using knucklebones.  Besides the fact that I can legitimately say that I “throw the bones” when I do readings, I’m excited to learn about it because it’s such a classical system of divination, and one tied directly to Hermes.  Thing is, however, that it’s pretty straightforward, pretty simple, and pretty clear.  I’m a ceremonial magician.  Can I make something more complex?  You bet your ass I can, so I did with this.  After all, knucklebones and a guide to divination is well and good, but why not consecrate my new divination tools or set up a ritual divinatory framework with them?

Dervenis in his Oracle Bones Divination happily gives instructions on how astragaloi were cleansed and prepared from the actual sheep by repeatedly boiling them in a fresh dilute solution of vinegar and cleaning off whatever can come off until they’re completely cleaned of blood and flesh.  He admits that this is a bit much to ask of the everyday reader in our culture far removed from home butchery, and my knucklebones are already cleaned off.  Still, I figured I’d incorporate this simple act into a ritual of consecration under Hermes to dedicate the knucklebones for divination; the ritual boils the knucklebones more for effect and going through the motions instead of actually cleaning them, but if you’re actually cleaning off flesh and blood from the knucklebones, the ritual can be adapted for that, too.

At dawn on the day of the month given to worship of Hermes (the fourth day of the lunar month if you go by the Attic calendar, or the seventh day if you go by the mathetic calendar), prepare a large batch of khernips and wash yourself off with it.  Set aside frankincense and cinnamon incense, olive oil, white vinegar, clean water, and red wine, and make an offering to Hermes as you would normally with the usual prayers, incense, wine, candles, and whatever else you do; be sure to offer a good-sized glass of wine to the god during your offering.  Present to Hermes the five astragaloi, either by laying them on his altar before his image (if you have one) or by raising them up to the east facing the sunrise; dedicate the astragaloi to him as a gift and a means by which you can communicate with him and he with you for advice, divination, guidance, and direction:

Hail, Hermēs Khrēsmophoros! By your guidance, I seek messages from the gods.
Hail, Hermēs Euskopos! By your guidance, I seek wisdom from on high.
With these five knucklebones, these five astragaloi, I seek to know my life and the world I live in.
O Hermēs, you who love to be a friend to humanity, I give these astragaloi to you!
Let us throw these together as friends, sharing knowledge and wisdom of action and reaction!
Let us throw these together as mates, giving and hearing words of reality and advice!
Accept these five knucklebones, Hermēs Astragalios, as tools by which we may speak together!

After this, take a small pot and wash it out with the khernips.  Take one measure of vinegar and four measures of water in the pot, enough so that the entire amount is enough to completely cover the knucklebones, and heat the solution until it comes to a rolling boil.  Place the knucklebones into the boiling solution and slowly say the Orphic Hymn to Hermes.  Take the knucklebones out of the solution and place them on a clean white towel to dry and cool off, and throw out the liquid from the pot.  If so desired, repeat all this four more times, from rinsing the pot out with khernips to drying out the knucklebones, so that the knucklebones have been washed off five times in diluted vinegar; once, however, is enough, especially if the knucklebones have already been cleaned.

After this, rinse off each knucklebone in the khernips.  Take a shallow bowl and place the five knucklebones in it, and present the knucklebones to Hermes again as clean instruments for divination.  Light the incense of cinnamon and frankincense.  For each of the five knucklebones, take one from the bowl, hold it aloft, and dedicate it to Hermes in work with divination, submerging it in the wine you offered to him earlier:

With this wine, I nourish these bones that they may be fed to work in my divination.
With this wine, I honor these bones that they may help me in my life.
With this wine, I exalt these bones that they may loosen the tongues of the gods.
With this wine, I dedicate these bones to Hermēs that he may speak with his power.

After all five knucklebones have been fed with wine, empty and clean out the bowl, then place them back in the bowl (you may want to pat them dry first) and drizzle them all with the olive oil.  Rub each with the olive oil, making sure that they’re slick and covered with the stuff.  Waft each of the knucklebones in the incense so that the smoke completely surrounds each bone, having come in contact with all its surfaces.  Present the oiled and suffumigated knuclebones in the bowl (again emptied and cleaned out) to Hermes again, setting them before his image (if you have one), and pray:

Hail, Hermēs Khrēsmophoros! By your guidance, I seek messages from the gods.
Hail, Hermēs Euskopos! By your guidance, I seek wisdom from on high.
Great Hermēs guides all on their paths.
Great Hermēs leads all to their ends.
Great Hermēs knows all in their minds.
I dedicate these five astragaloi, to the words and works of Hermēs Astragalios,
that I may not be misguided, that I may not be mislead, that I may not be left in ignorance.
Cleaned, fed, anointed, suffumigated, dedicated,
may Hermēs speak clear and true through his oracles of his dice!

After this, leave the knucklebones on his altar for some time, at least a full day but, if possible, a full lunar month; set a candle on top of the bones every day that they’re being consecrated.  Once the consecration period is over, make an offering to Hermes in thanks for consecrating and accepting the knucklebones as a tool to be used with him for divination; the dice can now be wiped off from any extra oil that did not take and can be kept in a clean, protective bag.  Afterwards, that same day, also make an offering to Apollo, the best friend of Hermes and the other primary god of divination, and present the dice to him that his words may also come across true and clear through the dice with the guidance and aid of Hermes.

With that, our astragaloi are consecrated and ready for use.  Now, how do we go about using them?  Traditionally, astragalomancy was performed in the agora or forum, the town marketplace, by a herm (four-sided pillar topped with a bust of Hermes) with the 56 different oracles inscribed on the sides.  Next to the herm would be a table or a bowl containing the five astragaloi for divination; you’d ask Hermes the question, take up the astragaloi, roll them on the table or on the ground, and look up the corresponding answer.  Pretty simple and straightforward; ritually speaking, we don’t need to do more than just invoke Hermes and ask him our query.  Then again, that’s boring, so let’s be a little fancier.

Before consulting the astragalomancy, it helps to always figure out what exactly you’re going to ask.  I’ve talked about this plenty before, more in person than otherwise, but the query is the most important part of the whole divination process.  Without a good query, your answer’s going to be shit.  A good query follows the rules of the three “C”s:

  • A good divination query is clear.  There is no obscurity, duplicity, or vagueness in the query; you’re being honest about what it is you want to know, and you’re putting it bluntly, frankly, and openly for both yourself, the diviner, and the gods or spirits who answer.
  • A good divination query is concise.  You aren’t droning on for half an hour telling your life story, nor are you taking the garden path when asking your question.  Instead, you’re able to succinctly phrase your question into a single, short sentence.  This goes hand-in-hand with the clarity of the query.
  • A good divination query is concrete.  You know exactly what you’re asking about and you’re asking it clearly and concisely.  You aren’t talking about abstract concepts or hypothetical theoretical potentialities of what ifs, but something that can actually happen with tangible or viewable results.

So, rather than asking “will I ever be happy in my love life?”, which is clear and concise but not concrete, you might ask “will John Doe propose to me by the end of this year?”; instead of asking “am I in the right place in my life” after droning on for an hour about your college mistakes, you might ask “should I leave my current company to work on my start-up idea?”.  You get the gist.  Given the placement of the oracle and given the major focus of the astragalomantic verses, although astragalomancy can be applied to any query, they’re especially powerful for matters involving business, trade, travel, and other worldly affairs.  It’s quite probable that tradesmen, shopkeepers, and other business-minded people would consult the agora astragalomancy before business deals or other ventures as our modern businesspeople consult the stock market and trade indexes.

Once you have the query fixed in your mind, understanding what it is you’re actually going to ask, prepare yourself and a few supplies for making a formal supplication for divination from Hermes.  Wash off with khernips and sprinkle it around the area you’ll be divining in as well as on the astragaloi.  Set the astragaloi before you.  Make an offering to Hermes by lighting a white candle and, if desired, some frankincense incense, and pour out a small amount of wine, praying:

Hail, Hermēs Khrēsmophoros! By your guidance, I seek messages from the gods.
Hail, Hermēs Euskopos! By your guidance, I seek wisdom from on high.
Great Hermēs guides all on their paths.
Great Hermēs leads all to their ends.
Great Hermēs knows all in their minds.
I make you this offering, Hermēs, and I seek your presence here!
I come with a question seeking answers, a query seeking advice!
Accept this light, this incense, and this wine, blessed god, and be pleased with them.
Open now my paths and see now my plight!

Feed the astragaloi with wine, using the fingers of your left hand to dip into the glass of wine for Hermes and sprinkling them onto the astragaloi.  Pray the same wine-feeding prayer as above:

With this wine, I nourish these bones that they may be fed to work in my divination.
With this wine, I honor these bones that they may help me in my life.
With this wine, I exalt these bones that they may loosen the tongues of the gods.
With this wine, I dedicate these bones to Hermēs that he may speak with his power.

Take up the astragaloi in your left hand and speak your query directly into them; focus on the query, breathing onto the astragaloi, until they become warm.  Once they’ve taken on your heat, cup them in both hands, shake them four times, and toss them onto the ground before you.  Make a note of how each astragalos falls, both in terms of which side it falls on (Khion, Hyption, Pranēs, Kōon) and how it falls in terms of speed, bounce, location, direction, and whether it bumps into another astragalos or into another object.  Announce the god associated with the throw of the astragaloi, and read aloud the corresponding oracle associated with the throw of the astragaloi.  Meditate on the god, the oracle, and the manner in which the astragaloi fell and how it all ties into a single answer for your query; if desired, also consult the Greek alphabet oracle interpretation for the sum of the throw.

If there are any more questions to be asked, wash off the astragaloi with khernips and feed them with wine again, saying the prayer as above, then repeat the process of throwing the astragaloi and meditating on the answer.  Once all questions have been asked, the divination ritual can be brought to a close.  Wash off the astragaloi with the khernips once more and pour a bit more wine into the offering for Hermes, thanking him for his answers and guidance from your heart, and asking that he continue to guide you that his advice may not be wasted or spoken in vain.  The candle can be respectfully put out or left burning as an offering.

Of course, if all the above is too much for you, you might invoke Apollo and Hermes, the gods of divination and prophecy, in a simple prayer that Apollonius Sophistes gives on his page about the Greek alphabet oracle.  This is an invocation at the top of a pillar with a set of oracular verses upon which grammatomancy is based, directly preceding the verses themselves.  The prayer runs thus:

Apollo, Lord, and Hermes, lead the way!
And thou, who wanders, this to thee we say:
Be still; enjoy the oracle’s excellence,
for Phoebus Apollo has given it to us,
this Art of Divination from our ancestors.

As far as ritual timing goes, I’d say that pretty much any time is good for Hermaic astragalomancy.  He’s both ouranic and chthonic, liminal, and everywhere all the time; there’s no bad time to work with him for this.  That said, as a matter of custom, any days the agora or market wouldn’t be open is probably a day to not consult the bones for this; in my lunar grammatomantic calendar, the unlettered days would be an example of this.  The usual astrological phenomena apply, of course: be wary of Mercury retrograde, rethink starting a matter when Mercury is afflicted or Moon is void of cource, yada yada.  Taking observance of the weather, a common warning in geomantic practice, is useful, too; you probably don’t want to do divination with the gods when those same gods in charge of the weather and the world are fighting or upset, causing storms or hurricanes or damaging winds or sharp frosts or whatever.  The process of figuring out the query can be coupled with meditation to clear out your own mind and settle your own passions, too, but you probably already know this.

4 responses

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