Rhabdomancy
Term for divination by divining-rods. Deriving from Greek
words meaning ‘‘a rod’’ and ‘‘divination,’’ it was thus alluded
to by Sir Thomas Browne (1605–82) ‘‘As for the divination or
decision from the staff, it is an augurial relic, and the practice
thereof is accused by God himself ‘My people ask counsel of
their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them.’ Of this kind
was that practised by Nabuchadonosor in that Caldean miscellany
delivered by Ezekiel.’’
John Brand’s Observations on Popular Antiquities (1777) cited
a manuscript, John Bell’s Discourse on Witchcraft (1705)
‘‘They set up two staffs, and having whispered some verses
and incantations, the staffs fell by the operation of demons.
Then they considered which way each of them fell, forward or
backward, to the right or left hand, and agreeably gave responses,
having made use of the fall of their staffs for their
signs.’’
The practice is said to have passed from the Chaldeans and
Scythians to the German tribes, who used pieces from the
branch of a fruit tree, which they marked with certain characters
and threw at hazard upon a white cloth. Something like
this, according to one of the rabbis, was the practice of the Hebrews,
only instead of characters, they peeled their rods on one
side and drew the presage from their manner of falling. The
Scythians and the Alani used rods of the myrtle and sallow, and
as the latter chose ‘‘fine straight wands’’ according to Herodotus,
it may be inferred that their method was that of the Hebrews,
or some modification of it. (See also Aaron’s rod)