Rhabdomancy is a term for divining by rods, derived from the Greek word meaning “a rod” and “divination.” The practice was alluded to by Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), “As for the divination or decision of the staff, it is an augrial relic, and the decision thereof is accused by God Himself. `My people asked counsel of their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them.’ Of this kind was that practised by Nabuchadonosor in that Caldean miscellany delivered by Ezekiel.”
In John Brand’s Observations of Popular Antiquities (1777; 1813), the following description was cited from a manuscript on Discourse of Witchcraft written by Mr. John Bell (1705), which was delivered from the Theophylact: “To set up two staffs, and having whispered some verses and incantations, the staffs fell by the operation of demons. Then they considered which way each of them fell, forward or backward, to the right or left hand, and agreeably gave responses, having made use of the fall of their staffs for signs.”
This was the Grecian method of rhabdomancy which Saint Jerome took as being the same as the method alluded to in the above passage from Hosea and in Ezekiel XXI:21, 22, were it is thought “arrows” might have been used.
From the above is it easy to see how belomancy and rhabdomancy are frequently confused. In all historical incidents one is not certain whether they are identical practices or different.
The practice seemed to originate with the Chaldeans and Scythians and spread to the Germanic tribes who cut pieces of bark from fruit trees, carved characters on them and threw them at a hazard on a white cloth.
According to a rabbis the Hebrews employed the same or similar methods. Except, they did not used characters but peeled the bark clear off one side of the rods and drew the presage from the manner in which the rods fell.
The Scythians and Alani used rods made of myrtle and sallow. The latter chose “fine straight wands” for their divining devices according to Herodotus, which seems to imply the Hebrew used similar methods. A.G.H.