Coscinomancy is a form of divination that is practiced with a sieve, and a pair of tongs or shears, which are supported upon the thumb nails of two persons looking upon one another, or the nails of the middle finger may be used.

Potter in his Greek Antiquities says, «It was generally used to discover thieves, or others suspected of any crime, in this manner: they tied a thread to the sieve by which it was upheld, or else placed a pair of shears, which they held up by two fingers, then prayed to the gods to direct and assist them; after that they repeated the names of the persons under suspicion, and he, at whose name the sieve whirled round or moved, was thought guilty.»

In the Athenian Oracle it is called «‘the trick of the sieve and scissors, the coskiomancy of the ancients, as old as Theocritus,’ he having mentioned it in his third idyll, a woman who was very skillful in it.» Saunders, in his Chiromancy, and Agrippa, at the end of his works, give certain mystic words to be pronounced before the sieve will turn. It was employed to discover love secrets as well as unknown persons.

According to Grose, a chapter in the Bible is to be read, and the appeal made to St. Peter or St. Paul.


Definition and meanings

Coscinomancy, an ancient form of divination, involved the use of a sieve and shears or tongs to uncover hidden information or identify guilty parties in crimes, particularly theft. This method has historical roots in Greek and Roman practices and was also used in medieval Europe.

Here’s a more detailed look at how coscinomancy was traditionally performed and its cultural significance:



  • Basic Setup: The practice typically involved suspending a sieve by attaching it to a thread or placing it on a pair of shears or tongs. This setup was then balanced on the thumb nails or middle finger nails of two persons, or sometimes held by one person using two fingers.
  • Invocation of Divine Guidance: Before beginning the divination, a prayer or invocation to the gods (in ancient practices) or saints (in Christianized versions) was made. This was to seek divine assistance in revealing the truth.
  • Naming Suspects: Names of suspected individuals (in cases of crime) or names of potential lovers (in matters of the heart) were then recited. The movement of the sieve at the mention of a particular name was taken as an indication of guilt, involvement, or relevance.


Historical References

  • Greek Antiquities: Potter’s «Greek Antiquities» mentions the use of coscinomancy to discover thieves or persons suspected of crimes in ancient Greece.
  • The Athenian Oracle: This source refers to coscinomancy as an ancient practice, with a mention in Theocritus’ third idyll. It suggests the practice was well-known and had been in use for a long time.
  • Saunders and Agrippa: Both these figures in the history of occult and mystical studies mention coscinomancy, with Agrippa providing specific mystical words or incantations thought to be necessary for the practice.


Christian Adaptation

  • Biblical Chapter Reading: In some Christian adaptations of the practice, a chapter from the Bible was read during the divination process.
  • Invocation of Saints: Appeals were sometimes made to saints like St. Peter or St. Paul for their intercession or guidance in the divination process.


Cultural Significance

  • Use in Crime Solving and Love Matters: Coscinomancy was not only used to identify thieves or culprits in criminal cases but also employed to uncover secrets in romantic contexts.
  • Reflection of Societal Beliefs: The practice reflects historical beliefs in supernatural forces and divine intervention in human affairs. It also shows the human inclination to seek answers to unknowns, particularly in situations where conventional methods of discovery were insufficient or unavailable.


Source: 81, 110.