From Fortean Times 211 (2006 Special Issue)

"All phenomena are approximations between realness and unrealness" - Fort, Books, p14.

A second look at de Boinod's futurology [FT 206: 12]... Bibliomancy sought the future via random openings of texts. Several papyri (e.g. Papyri Magici Londinienses 121.148a) evince the Greek use of Homer's poems. Romans naturally exploited Virgil, especially emperors: Historia Augusta, Lives of Hadrian (ch 2 para 8), Clodius Albinus (ch 5 para 4), Alexander Severus (ch 4 para 6, ch 14 para5), Claudius II (ch 10 para 4). Hence Virgil's mediaeval status as a great magician. One verse (Aeneid, bk2 v314, "Frantically I seize arms, yet there's no sense in this") stumbled upon by Albinus, was likewise chanced on by Charles I in the Civil War. In Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano, the Consul makes similar use of Shakespeare. Augustine mentions unspecified poets so used, while extending bibliomancy to the Bible (Confessions, bk4 ch3; Epistles, 119), as did Christians at large, from Martin of Tours to Francis of Assisi.

(What price Sortes Forteanae?)

Aeschylus (Prometheus Bound, ws501-14) credits his hero with inventing hepatoscopy, divining animal livers. Given the eagle's daily feasting on his own, this looks logical, though it had long been a Babylonian speciality: "The King looked in the liver" (Ezekiel 21. 21). Experts analysed this and related organs for various blemishes, e.g. streaky gall-bladders, all suggesting future disasters (Euripides, Electra, v825; Cicero, On Divination, b1<2 ch13). As one facing gall-bladder excision, I have a vested interest in this skill - Liver Let Live? Liver Let Die?

The Romans traced haruspicy and extispicy back to the Etruscans. A bronze liver marked out for novice diviners was found (1877) at Piacenza in Northern Italy, their territory, while key texts, the Libri Tagetici, were associated with the Etruscan Tages (Cicero, On Divination, bk2 ch50). Claudius's Etruscological interests (Suetonius, Claudius, ch42 para2) enhanced this derivation. Of other emperors, Nero received a bad haruspical omen, Vespasian a good one (Suetonius, Nero, ch56; Vespasian, ch5 para2) When Alaric was besieging Rome (408-10), Pope Innocent I invited haruspices to perform their pagan rites (Zosimus, New History, bk5 ch4l). None dared to come forward - Rite On, Rite Off.

Haruspicy extended to interpreting lightning strikes and cognate phenomena. Extispicy specialised in animal entrails. Pliny (Natural History, bk28 ch2 para5) forbade inspection of human viscera, a rule gruesomely violated by the teenage emperor Elagabalus who (Historia Augusta's Life, ch8 para2) sought his future through the organs of children.

"Aery tongues that syllable men's names,/On sands, and shoars, and desert wildernesses" (Milton, Comus, ws207-8). Greek and Roman literature abounds in tales of mysterious prophetic sounds and voices, e.g. those that forecast Caesar's assassination (Virgil, Georgics, no1 v476) and Nero's downfall (Suetonius, Nero, ch48 para2). They were often attributed to Pan, Fauns, and similar beings (Cicero, On Divination, bk2 ch6). Ridiculing all this, poet-philosopher Lucretius (On The Nature Of Things, bk4 ws580-94), concludes "Mankind everywhere has greedy ears for such romancing," a line that brings us back to Fort (Books, p 1046) on rhabdomancy (dowsing): "Sometimes we may receive wisdom from the vaporings of yokels."

Barry Baldwin
(reprinted with permission of the Author; blame any typically graphic transcription errors on dm)