Belomancy, also bolomancy, is the ancient art of divination by use of arrows. The word is built upon Greek βέλος belos, "arrow, dart" and μαντεία manteia "divination". Belomancy was anciently practised at least by Babylonians, Greeks, Arabs and Scythians.
The arrows were typically marked with occult symbols and had to have feathers for every method. In one method, different possible answers to a given question were written and tied to each arrow. For example, three arrows would be marked with the phrases, God orders it me, God forbids it me, and the third would be blank. The arrow that flew the furthest indicated the answer. Another method involves the same thing, but without shooting the arrows. They would simply be shuffled in the quiver, worn preferably on the back, and the first arrow to be drawn indicated the answer. If a blank arrow was drawn, they would redraw.
- כִּי-עָמַד מֶלֶךְ-בָּבֶל אֶל-אֵם הַדֶּרֶךְ, בְּרֹאשׁ שְׁנֵי הַדְּרָכִים--לִקְסָם-קָסֶם: קִלְקַל בַּחִצִּים שָׁאַל בַּתְּרָפִים, רָאָה בַּכָּבֵד.
- "For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination; he shakes the arrows, he consults the household idols, he looks at the liver."
St. Jerome agrees with this understanding of the verse, and observes that the practice was frequent among the Assyrians and Babylonians. Something like it is also mentioned in Hosea 4:12, although a staff or rod is used instead of arrows, which is rather rhabdomancy than belomancy. Grotius, as well as Jerome, confounds the two together, and shows that it prevailed much among the Magi, Chaldean, and Scythians, from which it passed to the Slavonians, and then to the Germans, whom Tacitus observes to make use of it.
A lost traveller might also use belomancy to find his way, by tossing the arrow into the air, and letting its angle show him the way.
The Book of Mormon describes an oracle known as the Liahona which consisted of two spindles in a brass ball. One of the spindles would point the direction of travel. Writings would also appear on this device.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chambers, Ephraim, ed. (1728). "article name needed". Cyclopædia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (first ed.). James and John Knapton, et al.
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