Alectryomancy is an ancient divinatory for that utilized a cock. When practicing this divination a circle which was divided into as many parts as there were in the alphabet was drawn in a closed place. Then a wheat-corn was placed in each section beginning with the first letter, or A.
Whoever placed the corn must recite a certain incantation while doing it. The time for this divination is when the sun or moon is in Aries or Leo.
The cock must be young and white. When his claws are cut off he is forced to swallow both of them together with a small roll of parchment made of lambskin upon which have been previously written words.
Now the diviner holding the cock must repeat a certain incantation or conjuration. Next, when putting the cock with the circle, he must recite two verses of the Psalms, which are exactly the midmost of the seventy-two verses in the entry on Onimancy, and it should be noted on the authority of an ancient Rabbi that there is not anything within these seventy-two verses which is not of some use within Kabbalism
The cock, being in the circle, is observed to see from which of the letters he peck the grains. Upon these others must be quickly placed because frequently some words often contain the same letter two or three times. The letters should be written down and assembled, for they will infallibly reveal the name of the person concerning whom the inquiry was made.
A story of doubt concerns the magician Iamblicus who used this divination to discover the successor of Valens Caesar in the Roman Empire.
However, the bird just pecked four grains that spelled “T h e o.” This left a great uncertainty. The letters could stand for “Theodosius,” “Theodotus,” “Theodorus,” or “Theodectes.” When Valens heard of this divination he had several persons murdered whose names began with these letters. The magician to escape his known fate drank a draught of poison.
This form of divination resembles the use of a planchette or ouija board.
Another form of alectriomancy is sometimes practiced when a cock crows or is heard crowing.
Another version of the above divinatory incident was related by Ammanius Marcellinus in the fourth century AD. In this version the ritual is described somewhat differently. Sorcerers begun by placing a basin made of different metals on the ground and drawing around it at equal distances the letters of the alphabet.
Then the sorcerer possessing the deepest occult knowledge would come forth, enveloped in a long veil, holding in his hands branches of vervain, and letting forth dreadful cries which were accompanied by hideous convulsions.
Eventually, almost immediately, he would stop before the basin where he became rigid and motionless. He, then, struck with the branch in his hand upon a letter several times, and then proceeded doing likewise on other letters until the sufficient amount was selected to form a heroic verse which was then given out to the assembly.
When the Emperor Valens was informed of this divinatory ritual, he was so appalled that the infernal powers had been consulted concerning his destiny that he ordered that not only the sorcerers but all the philosophers in Rome be severely punished that many lost their lives.
Details of the performance of Alectryomancy are exactly and curiously described in the fourth song of the Caquet Bonbec, written by the 14th century poet Jonquieres. A.G.H.
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