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Alectromancy (or Alectryomancy)
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, and 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 Alectromacy 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.
Wnen 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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