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Casting lots for tribal inheritance, woodcut for ‘Die Bibel in Bildern’, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1860) (Public Domain)

SCIENCE & TECH: Prophets For Profit: Telling The Future – Fiction, Fact Or Funny

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Technically speaking, a prophet is one who is believed to speak for God, but generally speaking, when people hear the word ‘prophet’, they tend to think of one who sees the future. In popular parlance, ‘prophesying’ or ‘telling the future’ is the same thing. People have done this, seemingly, forever, using all kinds of methods, from looking at the pattern of birds in flight; throwing the bones, dice or sticks or reading cards or palms, to predict the future .

Casting lots for tribal inheritance, woodcut for ‘Die Bibel in Bildern’, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1860) ( Public Domain )

In aeromancy, one seeks the future by looking upward toward the skies. Weather forecasters do this all the time, of course, but the craft also include watching the patterns of birds and butterflies. Sometimes people ‘draw straws’ and this is called belomancy. Randomly opening the Bible, or any book, for that matter, hoping for a message found in the first words read, is called the practice of bibliomancy. Prophets used to carve symbols on small bones, cast them on the ground, and determine the future by their positions, called astragalomancy. Using a special decks of cards to seek messages, is called cartomancy. The phrase, “ It is in the cards ,” comes from this practice. Palmistry is the art of telling the future by reading creases on the open hand. Casting lots means to throw, or cast, objects such as dice or marked sticks, to see how they land. If dice is used, it is called cubomancy. This is probably what the Jewish prophets did when, in Old Testament times, they utilized the “ urim and thummin” to determine God’s will in a particular situation. A conjuror consults the spirits of the dead to foresee the future. A necromancer actually divines the future by reading dead bodies. Sometimes people follow advice given to them in dreams, called oneiromancy. Dowsing, with pendulums, forked sticks, or “L” rods, is technically known as rhabdomancy.

Joseph Enthroned from the "Book of Omens" (Fa'lnama). The reader would flip randomly to a place in the book and digest the text having first viewed the image. (1550, Safavid Dynasty) (Public Domain)

Joseph Enthroned from the “Book of Omens” (Fa’lnama). The reader would flip randomly to a place in the book and digest the text having first viewed the image. (1550, Safavid Dynasty) ( Public Domain )

Theomancy: Oracle Of God

Finally, there is Theomancy. This is when an oracle, speaking for God, declares a message from a deity that foretells what “must come to pass.”


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Jim Willis is author of 17 books on religion and spirituality, he has been an ordained minister for over 40 years while working part-time as a carpenter, the host of his own drive-time radio show, an arts council director and adjunct college professor in the fields of World Religions and Instrumental Music. He is author of The Wizard in the Wood: A Tale of Magic, Mystery, and Meaning

Top Image : Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist by Luca Signorelli  (1499) ( Public Domain )

By: Jim Willis

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