Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/713

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



precautions to insure success. There are places in Africa where three men can not be sent on a journey together for fear two of them may combine and sell the third. But that by the way. When a man has determined on a journey he must consult the oracle by means of divination. The methods most commonly employed are as follows: The magician takes a quantity of flour and lets it fall in a steady stream on a flat stone placed at the head of the traveler's bed. If it forms a perfect cone as it falls, the omen is good; if not, there is an end of the matter at that time and by means of the flour cone. Sacrifice must now be offered to propitiate the offended spirits. When the cone is perfect it is covered by an inverted pot and left for the night. In the morning the pot is removed and the cone examined; if it is still whole and in the exact state in which it was left when covered, there is nothing further to be done beyond presenting a thank-offering of rice, flour, or fowl to the ancestral spirits and set out on the journey. Should there be a falling of the cone, even a small slip down its side, it is a sign not to be disregarded, and the oracle, after propitiatory sacrifice, must once more be consulted. The flour cone is now abandoned. The magician takes a pot of beer which he pours out upon the ground. If it sinks in one spot the gods are propitious, but should it run along the ground their faces are averted in anger or grief.

Another common method of divination is by means of small stones, claws, teeth, bits of snake-skin, and other odds and ends which the magician keeps in a calabash or gourd, and which are shaken to be thrown as is done with dice. He examines the position in which the contents fall, and as claws, teeth, or stones are to right or left he gives his responses, always with Delphic ambiguity. It is not necessary to have a magician present in order to consult the oracle, though this is desirable. The recognized diviners sell bits of prepared root which travelers carry. These, three in number, are in cases of difficulty placed upon the ground, two side by side, and the third across those lying parallel. The owner, after placing them in position, retires, and after an interval of some hours returns to examine them and learn the response. If they are in the position in which he left them, the oracle is favorable; if not, the reverse.

But even after the responses have been favorable and the sacrifices and offerings made, the departure of the travelers may be delayed. Should the leader, during the first day's march, hurt his toe against root or stump, they must return and begin the process of divination de novo. A rabbit crossing the road they are following denotes the death of the leader should they persist in the enterprise. A certain species of snake found on the path bodes evil to the whole party. When fairly on the road they