A form of divination 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 indigestion.
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.