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A form of
using a loaf of barley that was practiced in the earliest of times. Chiefly
it was employed to prove the innocence or guilt of persons. One of its principle
uses was in times when several persons were suspected of a crime. All of
the suspects were given the barley bread to eat, as it was assumed that
those innocent could eat it perfectly, while the guilty person would get
This practice gave rise to a popular oath: "If I am deceiving you,
may this piece of bread choke me." Eventually the practice became so
prominent that it was not just reserve for people suspected of crimes. It
was used to test the faithfulness of a mistress, a husband, or a wife.
There were procedures in both making the bread and administering it. A quantity
of pure barley was kneaded with milk, a little salt and without leaven.
This was rolled up in greased paper and baked among cinders. When baked
it was taken out and rubbed with verbena leaves. Then, pieces of it was
given to the suspects. Those that were guilty, it was assumed, would be
unable to eat it.
In ancients another form of alphitomancy was practiced. In a sacred wood
of Lavinium, near Rome, priests kept a serpent, or some say, a dragon. On
certain days of the year young women would enter the woods carrying cakes
made of barley and honey. It was said that the devil led the women into
the woods. Supposedly the serpent ate the cakes of the innocent women, but
refused the cakes of the others. A.G.H.