Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/142

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

and splitting a fowl and inspecting its inside: if blackness or blemish appears about the wings, it denotes the treachery of children and kinsmen; the backbone convicts the mother and grandmother; the tail shows that the criminal is the wife, &c.[1] In ancient Rome, where the art held so great a place in public affairs, the same sort of interpretation was usual, as witness the omen of Augustus, where the livers of the victims were found folded, and the diviners prophesied him accordingly a doubled empire.[2] Since then, haruspication has died out more completely than almost any magical rite, yet even now a characteristic relic of it may be noticed in Brandenburg; when a pig is killed and the spleen is found turned over, there will be another overthrow, namely a death in the family that year.[3] With haruspication may be classed the art of divining by bones, as where North American Indians would put in the fire a certain flat bone of a porcupine, and judge from its colour if the porcupine hunt would be successful.[4] The principal art of this kind is divination by a shoulder-blade, technically called scapulimancy or omoplatoscopy. This art, related to the old Chinese divination by the cracks of a tortoise-shell on the fire, is especially found in vogue in Tartary. Its simple symbolism is well shown in the elaborate account with diagrams given by Pallas. The shoulder-blade is put on the fire till it cracks in various directions, and then a long split lengthwise is reckoned as the 'way of life,' while cross-cracks on the right and left stand for different kinds and degrees of good and evil fortune; or if the omen is only taken as to some special event, then lengthwise splits mean going on well, but crosswise ones stand for hindrance, white marks portend much snow, black ones a mild winter, &c.[5] To find this quaint art lasting on into modern times

  1. Burton, 'Central Afr.' vol. ii. p. 32; Waitz, vol. ii. pp. 417, 518.
  2. Plin. xi. 73. See Cic. de Divinatione, ii. 12.
  3. Wuttke, 'Volksaberglaube,' p. 32.
  4. Le Jeune, 'Nouvelle France,' vol. i. p. 90.
  5. J. H. Plath, 'Rel. d. alten Chinesen,' part i. p. 89; Klemm, 'Cultur. Gesch.' vol. iii. pp. 109, 199; vol. iv. p. 221; Rubruquis, in Pinkerton,