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Posts tagged ‘oracles in Mesopotamia’

From my Bookshelf: Divination and Oracles edited by Loewe and Blacker

Cards or entrails — which do you prefer for divination? From what I’ve read in this book, it seems we modern tarot readers have a lot in common with Mesopotamian entrail diviners.

The book is a compendium of scholarly but readable articles on divination techniques in various ancient cultures. I went straight to the chapter on Babylon, as I’m fascinated with ancient Mesopotamia, the oldest literate culture on earth, and the bedrock of Western civilization.

Divination in Mesopotamia

Mesopotamians believed the gods spoke to them through natural omens like bird song, or omens conjured up artificially, such as casting lots. It seemed perfectly logical to them that if you sacrifice an animal in honor of a god, the god will speak through the configuration of the internal organs. If you don’t like the fate decreed by the god (or the guts), you can always remedy it with incantations and ritual. This is just like prescribing spells and affirmations when you get a negative outcome card in a reading.

Reading sheep entrails was by far the most popular form of divination for 3,000 years until astrology took over about 600 BC. The Mesopotamian term for a professional diviner was literally “one who stretches his hand into the sacrificial animal.” Yuck!! Ordinary people who couldn’t spare a sheep used a popular folk divination technique that’s a lot like tea leaf reading. They sprinkled flour in a bowl of water and read the patterns. Read more