Developing a Roman Divinatory Set

While looking for a divination tool appropriate to rituals performed in the Roman Hearth culture that did not involve disembowelment, a grove member suggested we look into drawing lots. Instead of using a fixed symbol set, Ancient Romans inscribed small pieces of wood or other materials with symbols relating to specific outcomes of the questions being asked. The lots were either cast into an urn of water, or tossed like dice.

We wanted to develop a standard set of symbols that would appropriate to all occasions and for use in public rites and began by determining what symbols seemed appropriate.

We started with a brain storming session, tossing out words that came to mind when thinking of Roman history, art and mythology. Once we had a list of ideas, we contemplated the images each word brought to us, and settled on 12 words for the initial set. We shared our thoughts and condensed them into a word or short phrase that we agreed contained the divinatory meaning of the image. “Aqueduct” brought images of technological advancement. “Wolf” brought blessings of nurturing, “Salt” represented wealth.

For our first set of lots, we wrote the words with Sharpie on small glass aquarium rocks. To take the omen, we dropped them into an urn of water and pulled them without peaking. Several seers worked with the set off and on for over a year, and used it successfully for public and private divinations.

We used them one Wellspring to take the omen for a small ritual performed at the Roman Kin meeting. Following that rite, several more images came to us and after reflection, we added those images to our set, bringing the number of lots to 16. On occasion we have added event specific lots to mix.

Soon after, we replaced the glass rocks with wooden disks. This added a new level to the divination. Instead of blindly pulling a stone, we poured the disks into water and looked for which ones floated face up, and for words covering other words as they floated.

We have been using this method of divination in rituals for several years and have found it to be a successful. Developing our own divinatory tool based on an ancient method was challenging and it is exciting to see the method enlivened and functional in ritual.

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