Monday, July 20, 2009

What is Alomancy?

Alomancy is an ancient divination method using salt. It is also called Adromancy, ydromancie, idromancie, and halomancy and derives from the Greek words ‘halo’ meaning salt and ‘manteia’ meaning divination or prophecy.

While there are a number of ways to perform alomancy, there are four methods that are the most common:

  • The diviner tosses fine salt crystals into the air and to “read” or interpret the patterns made as the salt particles travel through the air.
  • The diviner tosses salt into the air but the reading occurs based on the way the salt lands and the patterns that are formed on the surface (usually the ground or a table) that they land on. This method typically employs larger grains of salt than the first.
  • Salt is tossed into a fire and the reading is performed based on the colour, height, speed and direction of the flames that result. This is also a form of pyromancy, which is fire-based divination.
  • Salt residue is “read” after a mixture of salty water is allowed to evaporate from a bowl or surface.
The choice of salt as a tool in this divination method is related to the element of chance required in alomancy (as with a number of divination methods) as well as the correlation between salt and good luck. In ancient times, salt was a rare and valuable commodity, therefore those who were able to afford salt were those who it was felt were living a life of good fortune. Further, while salt was known to prolong the life of food, it was not known exactly how this occurred and was therefore thought that bad spirits caused food to go off and it was the salt that kept the bad spirits at bay. Salt was also thought of as a purifier.

A related superstition is where a person will throw a pinch of salt over his or her left shoulder using their right hand following salt being spilled. Spilling salt was believed to be a pre-curser to bad luck although the reasons for this varied from it being a misfortune to waste such a valuable item, which would invoke the displeasure of presiding deities, the actions or interference of the devil or a bad spirit who frequently seek to disturb the peace or because guardian angels (who are said to sit over your right shoulder) use this as a means to warn a person of impending danger. Either way, it was believed that the act of spilling salt meant that the person susceptible to bad spirits, who were said to sit over a person’s left shoulder (sometimes called the ‘sinister’ side) so throwing the salt over the left shoulder would ward off the bad spirits, or in the case of Christian beliefs it would be throwing salt in the eyes of the devil so you were no longer within his sights for further attack. It was believed that this needed to be done immediately after the spill to minimise the window of opportunity for the bad luck to strike.

Other superstitions regarding salt and bad spirits include the practice of throwing salt over your shoulder before you enter your house after attending a funeral, which is believe to scare off any spirits that may be clinging to your back, and placing it in a room, either in the corners or directly in the centre, to cleanse or purify the area.


Rob-bear said...

Quite fascinating. Thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

I never comment on blogs, but this one is awesome! Thanks.