Since ages, mankind has wanted to know what the future holds for them and their loved ones. For this, the earliest humans looked about in nature and their surroundings for omens and portents of the future. Over time their efforts was formalized into the practice of divination, of which there were numerous types and one of these was known as astraglomancy.
Sometimes also known as astragalomancy or astragyromancy, astraglomancy is a kind of divination that involves the casting of a dice and reading of the results as the shape of things to come. In order to divine the future, not any dice will do – it has to be a special kind which has numbers or symbols engraved or painted on its sides. In the earliest times of the practice of astraglomancy, small-shaped bones were used which is how this method of divination got its name – ‘astraglos’ is Greek for knucklebone or vertebra of a mammal while ‘manteia’ refers to divination. The earliest dice for this purpose were probably fashioned out of the knucklebones or vertebra of quadrupeds or small animals.
The results of the casting of dice were interpreted in various ways by the diviners. Sometimes numbers on the dice were associated with letters to form words that had a bearing on questions asked by the diviner. Other ways to read the dice would be to notice the position of the dice or bones, the meaning of whatever symbol was written on the upward facing side of the dice or from the symbolic meaning of the section on a formal pattern or grid on which dice fell. According to ancient occult tradition, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays were the most favorable days of the week for the casting of the dice while seers were discouraged from performing it on Fridays and Sundays.
The history of astraglomancy is varied and can be traced across continents of Europe, Africa and Asia. The earliest use of dice in order to foretell the future seems to have been made by the Egyptians as far back as 1400 BC. Some of the earliest evidence of astraglomancy have been found in the form of astragali of sheep and goats in locations in the Mediterranean and Near East, particularly in locations with religious significance or which may been used for funereal purposes. One such instance is the discovery of astragali near the altar of Aphrodite Ourania in Athens, Greece suggesting astragalomancy was performed near the altar at around 500 BC. In fact divination by the throwing of dice seems to have been quite popular among the ancient Greeks and the practice was even associated with the gods and goddesses, particularly Hermes and Athena. Following the footsteps of the classical Greeks, the ancient Romans too took to divining by astraglomancy and for this were known to have used the knucklebones of sheep.
Over time astraglomancy evolved in many separate ways and even took upon sub-classifications. One of these was a simplified and formulaic dice divination system quite popular with European diviners who in turn derived it from the ancient astrological practice known as the part of fortune. According to this, dice representing the planets would be thrown onto an astrological diagram of the 'houses' and the results would be interpreted as the influence of those planets in the different areas of a person's life.
Divination by throwing of dice was used by certain tribes in Africa too. The Metropolitan museum of Art in New York has exhibits of bone dice known as hakata and used by the shona tribe of Africa. The earliest description of the use of hakata divination is documented by a Portuguese visitor to the region who in 1586 noted that people of the shona tribe threw lots before beginning a journey or undertaking a significant project; if the result was fortunate, they would go on with their plans but shelve them if the readings of the lots indicated misfortune. Even though hakata or special dice sets was most commonly used by this tribe, sometimes the seers or ‘banganga’ would also employ collections of shells, seeds or bones for the purpose of divination. This version of astraglomancy was also found among neighboring Venda, Tsonga, and Batoka tribes.
Among certain Tibetan cultures, divination by dice or ‘mo’ has been practiced for long. According to this a special kind of dice marked with symbols or symbolic numbers is cast and the results guide the decisions to be taken by leaders or significant members of the tribe. There are books written by various ‘lamas’ on interpretations for the casting of dice.
Modern practice of astraglomancy involves the two dice roll as well as the three dice roll. In each case, first of all the ground is prepared by marking out a circular diagram of twelve inches in diameter and then dividing twelve equal sections in the manner of a dial of a clock. To predict the answer to a question the practitioner has in mind, he/she needs to silently concentrate on the question, or ask it aloud, while shaking a pair of dice in their hands. After the dice is tossed into the circle, number of spots facing up on the dice are added up and then refer to the table of answers for exact interpretations.
According to some of the basic rules, if one rolls out of the circle, it should then be ignored but if both roll out, the dice should be re-thrown. If they roll out of the circle again, the session should be stopped as this is regarded as a bad omen for those involved. Also if one dice lands on top of another and stays there, it means that the seeker will either receive a gift, usually something valuable, or be forewarned about a potential misfortune. According to the most popular traditions of astraglomancy, the predictions of this form of divination begin to come true within nine days of casting the dice.