Ancient and Old Divinations
The Egyptian ‘Dream Book’ is preserved in the form of a papyrus with a hieratic script. This papyrus was found in the ancient Egyptian workers’ village of Deir el-Medina, near the Valley of the Kings. This papyrus has been dated to the early reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213 B.C.).
Each page of the papyrus begins with a vertical column of hieratic signs which translates as ‘If a man sees himself in a dream’. In each horizontal line that follows, a dream is described, and the diagnosis ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as well as the interpretation is provided. Thus, as an example: ‘If a man sees himself in a dream looking out of a window, good; it means the hearing of his cry’. The good dreams are listed first, followed by the bad ones (written in red, as it is the colour of bad omens).
Around 108 dreams, which describe 78 activities and emotions, are recorded in the ‘Dream Book’. These activities may be said to be things commonly undertaken by the average person. Most of these activities deal with some form of sight or seeing. The second largest category deals with eating and drinking, and a few more deal with receiving and copulating.
The papyrus probably had several owners before being finally being deposited in Deir el-Medina. Although it is unclear who its original owner was, some of its owners can be traced through their names on the papyrus. For instance, we know that the scribe Qeniherkhepshef once owned this papyrus, since he copied a poem about the Battle of Kadesh which took place during Ramesses II’s reign. Also, the names of this scribe’s wife’s second husband, Khaemamen, and his son, Amennakht, can be found on the papyrus, indicating that the papyrus belonged to them.
Another interesting thing about the ‘Dream Book’ is that it was once part of an archive. In addition to this papyrus, there were a variety of papyri which dealt with literary, magical, and documentary works. As the ‘Dream Book’ has demonstrated, this was an heirloom that was handed down from one generation to the next.
It is interesting to consider whether the ‘Dream Book’ was regarded by the ancient Egyptians as a piece of ‘serious’ or a ‘popular’ piece of writing. After all, if archaeologists of the future were to discover newspaper clippings of the ‘daily horoscope’ (without the knowledge of the social context of our age), they would probably be equally unsure as to whether these ‘predictions’ were meant to be taken seriously or not. Obviously, how serious a reader takes these ‘predictions’ would be a whole different matter that could be explored as well.
Nevertheless, the Egyptian ‘Dream Book’ is a fascinating piece of work which shows one of the beliefs (be it serious or not) held by the ancient Egyptians. Moreover, the value placed by the ancient Egyptians on knowledge can also be seen, as this papyrus was passed down from one generation to another as an heirloom.
The Dream Interpretations
Here is a list of the dreams and their meanings. You will notice that some of them make more sense than others. The simplest way to read the list is to preface it with, ” If a man sees himself in a dream…”
- Against his finger ~ good ~ signifies receiving cattle.
- Anointing self with oil ~ bad ~ indicates his people will be taken away from him.
- An ape represents a heart.
- As helmsman of a boat, ~ bad ~ speaks of a judgement against him that is not justified.
- Baring his own rear-end ~ bad ~ means he will be poor.
- Barley and emmer in the beyond ~ good ~ he will be protected by his God.
- Being appointed an official ~ bad ~ in a dream means death is approaching.
- Beaten by a willow ~ bad ~ foretells a funeral procession.
- The bed goeth up in flames ~ bad ~ indicates his wife will be expelled.
- Beer represents surging emotions.
- “Being given a head” ~ good ~ “in order to speak.”
- Being pricked by a thorn ~ bad ~ signifies telling lies.
- Binding ~ good ~ receiving a house in the end.
- Binding people who are netted in the night ~ good ~ speech will be taken away from his enemies.
- Binding your own legs ~ good ~ dwelling with fellow-citizens.
- Bitten by a hound ~ bad ~ means to be touched by magic (but not in a good way).
- Bitten by a snake ~ bad ~ means a dispute against him.
- Blood ~ good ~ an end to his enemies.
- Blossoms ~ good ~ prosperity.
- Bones ~ good ~ sustenance of the palace.
- A bow in your hand ~ good ~ receiving an important office.
- Breaking a vessel with his feet ~ bad ~ fighting.
- Breaking apart stone ~ bad ~ his God is angry with him.
- Breaking into ~ good ~ receiving a wife.
- Breeding with a cow ~ good ~ happy day.
- Brewing beer in the house ~ bad ~ foretells of being turned away from his own house.
- Bringing mice from a field ~ bad ~ signifies a bad heart.
- Building a house for oneself ~ bad ~ foretells contrary words ahead.
- Building his own house ~ bad ~ foretells disputes against him.
- Burying alive ~ good ~ lively prosperity.
- Burying an old man ~ good ~ prosperity.
- Busiris ~ good ~ great old age.
- Carrying off temple items ~ bad ~ foretells property confiscated.
- Carved-up billy-goat’s limbs are given to him ~ good ~ a favorable outcome.
- Casting copper ~ bad ~ indicates a future of roaming the earth.
- A large cat ~ good ~ a large harvest.
- Catching birds ~ bad ~ something of his will be carried off.
- Causing cattle to come in ~ good ~ people will be assembled for him by his God.
- Chewing ~ good ~ something will happen.
- Chewing a melon ~ bad ~ disputes will happen.
- Chewing a plant ~ bad ~ indicates a debate.
- Chewing waterlily leaves ~ good ~ you will enjoy something.
- Climbing up a mast ~ good ~ he will be elevated by his God.
- Clothes are wet ~ bad ~ means fighting.
- Closing house ~ bad ~ indicates repulsion.
- Consuming the flesh of a donkey ~ good ~ to become great.
- Consuming the flesh of a crocodile ~ good ~ consuming the possessions of an official, it may also mean acting as an official.
- Copulating with a female aardwolf ~ bad ~ a judgement against him.
- Copulating with a kite ~ bad ~ something might be grabbed right out of his hand.
- Copulating with his mother ~ good ~ he will be joined by clansfolk.
- Copulating with a pig ~ bad ~ your possessions will be emptied.
- Copulating with his sister ~ good ~ something will be assigned.
- Copulating with his wife in the daylight ~ bad ~ his crimes will be seen by the God.
- Copulating with a woman ~ bad ~ signifies mourning.
- Cranes ~ good ~ prosperity.
- Crocodiles signify acting as an official.
- Cultivating herbs ~ good ~ victuals will be found.
- Cutting up a bull ~ good ~ the opponent will be killed.
- Cutting up a female hippopotamus ~ good ~ much food of the palace.
- Cutting your own hair ~ bad ~ something will be taken from the house.
- Dreaming you are dead ~ good ~ a long life.
- A dead bull means enemies.
- Drinking blood ~ bad ~ signifies fighting.
- Drinking warm beer ~ bad ~ suffering will come upon him.
- Drinking wine ~ good ~ living according to truth, or mouth will be open.
- To drive away his tears for God ~ bad ~ denotes fighting.
- A dwarf or midget ~ bad ~ signifies taking away half his life.
- Dying from a back-wound ~ good ~ you will live after your father.
- Eating in a dream represents food.
- Eating an egg ~ bad ~ something will be stolen.
- Eating figs and grapes ~ bad ~ foretells pain.
- Eating grapes ~ good ~ receiving something of one’s own.
- Eating a gutted catfish ~ bad ~ you will be seized by a crocodile.
- Eating hot meat ~ bad ~ signifies no justification.
- Eating sycamore figs ~ bad ~ signifies pains.
- Eating faience ~ bad ~ indicates strong dispute.
- Eating the flesh of cattle ~ bad ~ fighting or that something bad will happen.
- Eating tigre-nuts ~ good ~ governing townspeople.
- Eating what he detesteth ~ bad ~ he will eat unwittingly (not a good thing).
- Enchanted by a spell ~ bad ~ foretells mourning.
- Entering the temple of ‘female deity’ ~ bad ~ denotes an unfavorable outcome.
- Extinguishing~ bad ~ possessions will be ended.
- A face as a panther ~ good ~ acting as chief.
- Fallen prostrate before the southern tribunal ~ bad ~ you will be removed from office.
- Falling ~ good ~ prosperity.
- Falling off a wall reveals the outcome of a quarrel.
- Following behind a herd of billy-goats ~ good ~ a favorable outcome.
- Fattening the cattle ~ bad ~ an unfavorable dream.
- Feces ~ bad ~ his possession will be consumed.
- Ferrying in a ferry-boat ~ good ~ the going forth of all disputes.
- Fetching jars out of the water ~ good ~ a life of abundance.
- Fire~ bad ~ your son or brother will be taken away.
- Flames coming against him ~ bad ~ he will be slaughtered.
- Giving one’s self victuals of the temple ~ good ~ life will be assigned to him by his God.
- “God Who Is Above” ~ good ~ a great meal.
- Guarding patras monkeys ~ bad ~ change is ahead.
- Hair hath lengthened ~ good ~ your face will brighten, or possibly, the multiplying of possessions.
- Harnessing a wagon ~ bad ~ indicates insults against him.
- Herbs of the field ~ good ~ sustenance for father.
- Homage-praesent ~ good ~ your call will be heard.
- Honey jar with a cover ~ good ~ something by his God.
- Immersing in the river ~ good ~ being purified from badness.
- In the field ~ good ~ you are giving to him.
- Killing a bull ~ good ~ your enemies will be killed.
- Killing snakes ~ good ~ disputes will be killed.
- Looking into a deep well ~ bad ~ you will be placed in prison.
- Looking through a window ~ good ~ his call will be heard by his god.
- Lying down on the floor ~ bad ~ something of his will be consumed.
- Making love with a cow ~ good ~ a day of love.
- Measuring barley ~ bad ~ signifies a dispute against him.
- Measuring barley with a measuring cup ~ bad ~ victuals will be regulated.
- Milk ~ good ~ much food.
- Mixing dates ~ good ~ victuals will be found.
- Moon shining ~ good ~ clemency to him of his God.
- Mourning ~ good ~ the multiplying of possessions, or possibly the road will tilt.
- A mouth filled with earth symbolizes eating off fellow-citizens.
- Nomads ~ good ~ your dead father will come.
- Notching sycamore figs ~ bad ~ indicates depression.
- An ostrich ~ bad ~ signifies harm to him.
- Paddling water ~ good ~ prosperity.
- A papyrus scroll ~ good ~ established in own home.
- Penis stiffening ~ bad ~ the victory of his enemy.
- People far away ~ bad ~ death is drawing near.
- Placing beer into a jug ~ bad ~ something will be taken away from the house.
- Placing incense on the flame for the God ~ bad ~ the power of God against him.
- Placing your own face against the floor ~ bad ~ requirements by yon (?) ones.
- Planting gourds ~ good ~ a good life as his God’s gift.
- Plastering his house with yellow ochre ~ bad ~ his people will be taken away.
- Ploughing emmer ~ good ~ something unspecified.
- Plundering ~ good ~ you will be satisfied.
- A pond ~ good ~ the road will tilt.
- Potting ~ bad ~ foretells that you will be in pain.
- Pounding barley and emmer ~ bad ~ seeking from him.
- Praising ~ good ~ he will be justified before his God.
- Preparing a shrine ~ bad ~ a crime will be brought to light.
- Pressing wine ~ bad ~ your possessions will be confiscated.
- Receiving ~ good ~ estate will be united.
- Receiving copper ~ good ~ you will be exalted.
- Receiving a harp ~ bad ~ you will come to harm.
- Receiving material ~ good ~ prosperity.
- Removing a wall ~ good ~ purification from badness.
- Removing his fingernails ~ bad ~ removing works of his hands.
- A river ~ good ~ he will be heard by his God.
- Sailing downstream ~ bad ~ means tying, it also signifies life running backward, and/or speaks of a violent dispute.
- Sailing in a boat ~ good ~ dwelling with fellow citizens.
- Sawing wood ~ good ~ his enemies are dead.
- A seat in his boat ~ bad ~ means his wife will be set aside.
- Seeing a woman’s vulva ~ bad ~ a “backside” of misery.
- Seeing your own face in a mirror ~ bad ~ signifies another wife.
- Sees himself in a dream, and the mouth is broken ~ bad ~ God will break his heart.
- Shank of his leg is amputated ~ bad ~ a judgment against him.
- Shaving your lower body ~ bad ~ mourning to come.
- Shod with white sandals ~ bad ~ roaming the earth.
- Shooting at a target ~ good ~ something will happen.
- Silver and gold ~ good ~ much food of the palace.
- Sitting in a garden of sunlight ~ good ~ pleasure.
- Sitting in the hold of a ship ~ bad ~ the dragging of your own heart.
- Sitting on a sycamore tree ~ good ~ badness will be driven out.
- Sky is raining ~ bad ~ disputes are coming.
- Snaring birds ~ bad ~ being deprived of possessions.
- Snatching the wood of a God from his hand ~ bad ~ his own crimes will be discovered by his God.
- Standing on high ground, holding ~ good ~ a favorable outcome.
- Stone ~ good ~ receiving something.
- Taking dates ~ good ~ victuals as a gift of his God.
- Tearing your own clothes ~ good ~ you will be freed from all badness.
- Teeth falling out below ~ bad ~ an underling will die.
- Tending small kids ~ bad ~ possessions will be lost.
- Threshing grain ~ good ~ receiving life in house.
- Throwing hay onto water ~ good ~ elation.
- Throwing wood ~ bad ~ harm will be brought into the house.
- Throwing your own clothes on the ground shows the outcome of a dispute.
- Tigre-nuts ~ good ~ a happy life.
- A tomb ~ good ~ possessions will be great.
- To send far (a message) ~ good ~ great.
- Tossing about his house ~ bad ~ he will be ill.
- Towing a boat ~ good ~ landed well in his house.
- Uplifted fingers ~ good ~ provided by his God.
- Upon a roof ~ good ~ something will be found.
- Upon a sycamore ~ bad ~ you will lose.
- To dream of urine ~ bad ~ something belonging to his daughter will be consumed.
- Veiling himself ~ good ~ he will drive away his enemies.
- Waving a rag (or pennant) ~ bad ~ you will be challenged.
- Dreams that you are weak ~ bad ~ you will find enemies.
- Wearing an Asiatic garment ~ bad ~ you will be expelled from office.
- Weaving thread ~ bad ~ your possessions will be confiscated.
- White bread ~ good ~ that your face will brighten.
- Wings enfolding ~ bad ~ he is not justified before his God.
- With a blow ~ good ~ something to him.
- With one greater than oneself ~ good ~ you are exalted by your own ability.
- With one side paralyzed ~ bad ~ something taken away.
- A woman signifies “against a wife by the husband.”
- Working stone ~ good ~ established in his house.
- Writing ~ good ~ being established in office, it also means life is good.
- Writing on a papyrus roll ~ bad ~ his crimes will be reckoned by his God.
- Your own face in water (reflection?) ~ bad ~ spending a lifetime in another life.
- Your penis hath enlarged ~ good ~ an increase of possessions.
- Your woman with a married man ~ good ~ retreat.
Kasia Szakowska : Behind Closed Eyes : Dreams and Nightmares in Ancient Egypt. The Classical Pr of Wales, Swansea, 2003.
In bone divination, bones of various sorts are ritually tossed onto a mat, an animal hide, or into a circle drawn in the dirt, and the resulting patterns interpreted.
Throwing the bones is an ancient practice traditional to many regions of the world, including Africa, Asia, and North America. The number and type of bones employed, as well as the inclusion of other small objects, such as pebbles, shells, and hard nuts, varies quite a bit from culture to culture.
In the traditions of some cultures, the bones, shells, and/or nuts that are to be thrown are left in their natural state; in other cultures they may be shaped and marked, much like dice, dominoes, or the cut cowrie shells used in Obi and Diloggun divination.
Marked bones are often used in groups of two or four to obtain yes or no answers, as well as more detailed information. There is quite a bit of evidence to support the idea that gaming dice, often casually called “the bones,” may have had their origin in marked bone divination, as there are still forms of divination in which the markings of the spots and dots on dice or dominoes are used to read fortunes for clients.
As a hoodoo practice, casting or throwing the bones has deep traditional roots in African culture, especially as developed among the sangomas or divining healers of the Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa, and Ndebele traditions in southern Africa. Trained as herbalists, spirit mediums, and diviners, they fulfill an important role in their culture, equivalent to that of a root doctor in the United States or an obeah practitioner in Jamaica.
Mingling of African traditions with Native American and European forms of divination have produced quite a lot of variation in hoodoo practices. Traditional items used by Southern-style hoodoo doctors and spirit-led fortune tellers who employ these ancient methods of divination include bones, stones, coins, stalks, or shells. Additionally, some who follow this style of divining with natural curios may also perform augury by inspection of natural botanical and zoological curios such as owl pellets.
According to Catherine Yronwode, a well known author and practitioner in the world of Hoodoo, there are three basic forms of bone divination:
- Heated and cracked bone reading:
a form of Pyromancy. Usually done by heating the shell of a turtle, ox scapulae, or turtle plastrons in fire and then interpreting the cracks that form. This began and was primarily practiced in ancient China, in the late Shang Dynasty.
- Mathematical systems of bone reading:
Geomancy. An example of this is Hakata, a very interesting form of divination found in Africa, where one would interpret hand-made tablets by the markings inscribed there on.
- Spirit-led interpretive bone reading:
Cleromancy. This is a Shamanic from of divination. It is used, and varies greatly, among many different cultures and beliefs. A wide array of animal bones are used in Shamanic bone reading. The bones carry different meanings and energies according to what animal they belonged to, and what type of bone it is (tooth, claw, hand bone, etc.)
Although there is no single system of bone or curio divination used by all African American practitioners, some old-timers read a set of chicken bones or ‘possum bones, and do so only on the ground rather than a table-top, after the manner still practiced in Africa to this day. Others mix pebbles with their bones, as some sangomas do, and might read on a table-top — but no matter what natural curios are included, the practice is still called “throwing the bones.”
Hoodoo bone readers consider it traditional to keep their divination bones in a basket, bowl, or bag on or near their altar when not in use and to cast them out onto a mat, a hide, or a circle to read them, which are African techniques of working. Each bone may have a meaning, and the patterns among the bones may be significant as well.
For example, in one family tradition, nine chicken bones are used, and each bone has a meaning:
- wing bone signifies travel
- neck bone signifies poverty
- wish bone signifies good fortune
In addition to being used in rites of throwing, bones are also ritually manipulated in other ways for the purpose of telling the future for a client. For instance, they may be burned in a fire and the resulting chars and cracks examined in order to determine specific answers.
Bones, as well as other body parts, may also be used as a means to communicate mediumistically with the dead and with spirits, through psychometry.
Many diviners believe that one’s set of bones should be special and unique to the individual. You simply cannot go out and buy a bone divination set. Bones can be gathered, bought, obtained from different sources, but the completion of the set and power lay with the the individual’s personal contributions.
Practitioners of Hoodoo will use a wide array of bones along with artifacts or game pieces to represent a specific person. The Sangomas, an African people who greatly influence the Hoodoo tradition, believe that it is their ancestors speaking through the bones; so to aid in communication, will carry a porcelain doll head containing dirt from the grave site of the ancestral spirit they work with.
Among the Mongolians, four unmarked sheep knuckle bones are thrown, each of which has four distinguishable sides, which produces an array of 36 possible answers to any given question. The name for this system of divination is shagai, often rendered in English as “Complicated Fortune Telling.” In addition to functioning as a system of divination, shagai can also be played as a gambling game.
Alphitomancy is an old old form of divination involving barley cakes or loaves of barley bread.
This is an ancient method of determining the guilt or innocence of a suspect person by feeding him or her a specially prepared wheat or barley loaf or cake. If the person suffers from indigestion, or finds the loaf to be distasteful, this is interpreted as a sign of guilt.
There was said to be near Lavinium a sacred wood, where Alphitomancy was practiced in order to test the purity of the women. The priests kept a serpent, or, as some say, a dragon, in a cavern in the wood. On certain days of the year the young women were sent thither, blind-folded, and carrying a cake made of barley flour and honey. The devil, we are told, led them by the right road. Those who were innocent had their cakes eaten by the serpent, while the cakes of the others were refused.
Source: Crystal Links
Found in: Encyclopaedia of Superstitions, Folklore,
and the Occult Sciences of the World