Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/145

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127
DIVINING INSTRUMENTS.

north-east corner of India, among the Bodo and Dhimal, the professional exorcist has to find out what deity has entered into a patient's body to punish him for some impiety by an attack of illness; this he discovers by setting thirteen leaves round him on the ground to represent the gods, and then holding a pendulum attached to his thumb by a string, till the god in question is persuaded by invocation to declare himself, making the pendulum swing towards his representative leaf.[1] These mystic arts (not to go into the question how these tribes came to use them) are rude forms of the classical dactyliomancy, of which so curious an account is given in the trial of the conspirators Patricius and Hilarius, who worked it to find out who was to supplant the emperor Valens. A round table was marked at the edge with the letters of the alphabet, and with prayers and mystic ceremonies a ring was held suspended over it by a thread, and by swinging or stopping towards certain letters gave the responsive words of the oracle.[2] Dactyliomancy has dwindled in Europe to the art of finding out what o'clock it is by holding a ring hanging inside a tumbler by a thread, till, without conscious aid by the operator, it begins to swing and strikes the hour. Father Schott, in his 'Physica Curiosa' (1662), refrains with commendable caution from ascribing this phenomenon universally to demoniac influence. It survives among ourselves in child's play, and though we are 'no conjurers,' we may learn something from the little instrument, which remarkably displays the effects of insensible movement. The operator really gives slight impulses till they accumulate to a considerable vibration, as in ringing a church-bell by very gentle pulls exactly timed. That he does, though unconsciously, cause and direct the swings, may be shown by an attempt to work the instrument with the operator's eyes shut, which will be found to fail, the directing power being lost. The action of the famous divining-rod with its curiously versatile sensibility to water, ore,

  1. Hodgson, 'Abor. of India,' p. 170. See Macpherson, p. 106 (Khonds).
  2. Ammian. Marcellin. xxix. 1.