Is there a future in divination?

The Skeptic, 4.2

Hmm... `Spirited Holme' or `Artful Abbot'? What would you do, stuck for a winner in the 1 o'clock `Steel Plate and Sections Young Chasers' qualifier' at Chepstow? Toss a coin? Consult the I Ching? Or the tealeaves? The stars? These are very hit-and-miss methods. What I needed was a surefire system of divination - an obliging oracle to make my mind up for me. But I had a worse choice to make: which method of prophecy should I go for?

I could march out a circle in my front lawn (it's frightingly overgrown; I think there's a lawnmower still in there somewhere), and divide the circumference into 26 positions, one for each of A to Z, and place little piles of wheat on each letter and watch a cockerel peck the letters of my revelation and ... but you know how it is - there's never a cockerel around when you want one. So, alectryomancy was out.

Ceromancy! I could drop melted wax onto water and tell the future from the patterns it formed as it cooled. No, too messy. Or perhaps the winner's name was lurking in the shapes of the clouds (nimbomancy)? Or on earth: I could try a spot of gyromancy, walking around in a circle until I fell down and then noting my orientation. No, if I was comatose too long I'd miss the race. Theriomancy, truth from the movement of animals? Sycomancy, from figs and fig leaves? Lecanomancy, the appearance of water in a basin. The burning of incense (knissomancy). Smoke (capnomancy), fire (pyromancy), ashes (spodomancy)? Where did I put that heated axe-head (axinomancy), the playing cards (cartomancy), my pet crystal (crystallomancy, and heal half the neighbourhood in the process), my magic stones (lithomancy), my logarithm tables (logarithmancy). Dice! (astragalomancy). The coagulation of cheese! (tyromancy).

On second thoughts, perhaps I should be seeking the answer within myself: my shoulder blades (scapulimancy), my breast bone (sternomancy), the sound of my belly or marks on it (gastromancy), the shape of my head (cephalomancy), my name (onomancy), my fingernails (onychomancy), my palms (chiromancy), my dreams (onieromancy). Anthropomancy - my entrails - hang on a minute...

This was starting (starting?) to get silly, and time was running out. By now I was thinking seriously about oenomancy: don't you feel that the appearance of poured wine - the sediment, the streaks of gelatin - means `something'. Anyway, after three or four glasses ... I went for `Spirited Holme'.

It wasn't. The winner was `Generally Right'. Unlike divination!

(OK, it's a fair cop. I made one of these potty divination methods up.a Can you spot the imposter? A £5 book token for the first correct answer out of the hat. Entries by 1 May to B&IS (Comp.), P.O. Box 475, Manchester M60 2TH.)


©Toby Howard 1995

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