Lithomancy
A species of divination performed by stones, but in what
manner it is difficult to ascertain. Thomas Gale, in a ‘‘Note
upon Iamblichus,’’ confessed that he did not clearly understand
the nature of it; whether it referred to certain motions observable
in idols, or to an insight into futurity obtained by demons
[familiars] enclosed in particular stones. That these
supernatural beings might be so commanded is clear from a
passage of Nicephorus.
The old rabbis attributed Leviticus 251 to lithomancy, but
the prohibition of stones given there is most probably directed
against idolatry in general. J. C. Boulenger showed from
Tzetzes that Helenus ascertained the fall of Troy by the employment
of a magnet, and claimed that if a magnet be washed
in spring water and interrogated, a voice like that of a sucking
child will reply.
The pseudo-Orpheus related at length this legend of
Helenus
‘‘To him, Apollo gave the true and vocal sideritis, which others
call the animated ophites, a stone possessing fatal qualities,
rough, hard, black, and heavy, graven everywhere with veins
like wrinkles. For one and twenty days Helenus abstained from
the nuptial couch, from the bath, and from animal food. Then,
washing this intelligent stone in a living fountain, he cherished
it as a babe in soft clothing; and having propitiated it as a god,
he at length gave it breath by his hymn of mighty virtue. Having
lighted lamps in his own purified house, he fondled the divine
stone in his hands, bearing it about as a mother bears her
infant; and you, if ye wish to hear the voice of the gods, in like
manner provoke a similar miracle, for when ye have sedulously
wiped and dandled the stone in your arms, on a sudden it will
utter the cry of a new-born child seeking milk from the breast
of its nurse. Beware, however, of fear, for if you drop the stone
upon the ground, you will rouse the anger of the immortals.
Ask boldly of things future, and it will reply. Place it near your
eyes when it has been washed, look steadily at it, and you will
perceive it divinely breathing. Thus it was that Helenus, confiding
in this fearful stone, learned that his country would be overthrown
by the Atridae.’’
Photius, in his abstract of the life of Isodorus by Damascius,
a credulous physician in the age of Justinian, wrote of an oracular
stone, the boetulum, to which lithomancy was attributed. A
physician named Eusebius used to carry one of these wonderworking
stones about with him.
The story is told that one night he had an unexplained impulse
to wander out from the city Emesa to the summit of a
mountain dignified by a temple of Minerva. There, as he sat
down fatigued by his walk, he saw a globe of fire falling from
the sky and a lion standing by it. The lion disappeared, the fire
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was extinguished, and Eusebius ran and picked up a boetulum.
He asked it to what god it appertained, and it readily answered,
to Gennaeus, a deity worshiped by the Heliopolitae, under the
form of a lion in the temple of Jupiter. During this night, Eusebius
said he traveled not less than 210 stadia (more than 26
miles).
He never became the perfect master of the boetulum but was
obliged very humbly to solicit its responses. It was of a handsome,
globular shape, white, a palm in diameter, though sometimes
it appeared more, sometimes less; occasionally, also, it
was of purple color. Characters were to be read on it, impressed
in the color called ‘‘tingaribinus.’’ Its answer seemed as if proceeding
from a shrill pipe, and Eusebius himself interpreted
the sounds.
Damascius believed its animating spirit to be divine; Isodorus,
on the other hand, thought it demoniacal, that is, not
belonging to evil or material demons, nor yet to those which
are quite pure and immaterial.
It was with one of these stones, according to Hesychius, that
Rhea fed Saturnus, when he fancied that he was devouring Jupiter,
its name being derived from the skin in which it was
wrapped, and such the commentator supposed to have been
the Lapides divi, or vivi, which the insane monster Heliogabalus
wished to carry off from the temple of Diana, built by Orestes
at Laodicea (AEL. Lampid, Heliogab, 7’). In Geographia Sacroe
(ii, z, 1646), Samuel Bochart traced the name and the reverence
paid to the boetylia, to the stone which Jacob anointed at
Bethel. Many of these boetylia, Photius assured us from Damascius,
were to be found on Mount Libanus.
Sources
Waite, Arthur Edward. The Occult Sciences. 1891. Reprint, Secaucus,
N.J. University Books, 1974.