Hieromancy is one of the many forms of divination used throughout the world. Until the Middles Ages many of these forms of divination didn’t have names and many predate their naming and have been used for almost as long as men have walked the earth. Hieromancy historically is defined as the studying of the entrails of sacrifices. Many cultures across the globe have engaged in ritual sacrifice. If the people were practitioners of hieromancy they would spill the entrails of the sacrifice, sometimes while they still lived, and read prophecies in the way the entrails dropped onto the ground. Hieromancy could be performed with any form of sacrifice – human or animal.
The practice of hieromancy is believed to have begun in ancient Mesopotamia. The most important organ was the liver, especially for classical Greece. In fact, next to the oracles hieromancy was the most important form of divination that was used on the classical world. Cicero, the great Roman orator even noted its prolific usage in his De Divinatione. Few examples of the practice remain but we do know that a healthy, whole liver was considered a good omen, but if it was missing lobes then doom was most certainly fast approaching. One ancient race even had tools for teaching hieromancy; an ancient Etruscans model of a sheep’s liver cast in bronze has been uncovered. The liver is marked with the names of different gods in each quadrant.
Even earlier than the classical period, the ancient Egyptians looked not only at sacrificial entrails for divination via hieromancy but also at gems, fountains and other sacrificial offerings. The druidic cults of the Celtic lands were known to make prophetic interpretations of their sacrifices – human sacrifices would crackle as they burnt on pyres and these crackling sounds would be used to make prophecies and predictions.
While there could be a number of other terms to encompass these alternative methods of divination, the modern definition of hieromancy has been expanded to include ‘sacred objects’, not just the entrails of sacrifices. Much like the ancient Egyptian method of practicing hieromancy, it can be used to include any ‘sacred’ or ‘sacrificial’ item. Everything from crystals to tarot cards to any other item used in a sacred ritual.
There are a couple of exceptions to the hieromancy rule – blood and bodily fluids. Methods of divination using the blood and the fluids of the body have their own name and fall into their own category of divination known as dririmancy. While this practice could certainly be performed in conjunction with that of hieromancy, they are most definitely different practices.
Interestingly, hieromancy is used as a class of magic in the popular Magic: The Gathering card game. A favorite character from the series is Gideon Jura who is called a hieromancer. However, the use of Hieromancy as a system of magic is very far removed from its actual purpose. Hieromancy magic is nothing at all like the historical practice of spilling the entrails of a sacrifice for the purposes of telling the future.