views updated May 23 2018


Term for divination by divining-rods. Deriving from Greek words meaning "a rod" and "divination," it was thus alluded to by Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82): "As for the divination or decision from the staff, it is an augurial relic, and the practice thereof is accused by God himself: 'My people ask counsel of their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them.' Of this kind was that practised by Nabuchadonosor in that Caldean miscellany delivered by Ezekiel."

John Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities (1777) cited a manuscript, John Bell's Discourse on Witchcraft (1705):

"They set up two staffs, and having whispered some verses and incantations, the staffs fell by the operation of demons. Then they considered which way each of them fell, forward or backward, to the right or left hand, and agreeably gave responses, having made use of the fall of their staffs for their signs."

The practice is said to have passed from the Chaldeans and Scythians to the German tribes, who used pieces from the branch of a fruit tree, which they marked with certain characters and threw at hazard upon a white cloth. Something like this, according to one of the rabbis, was the practice of the Hebrews, only instead of characters, they peeled their rods on one side and drew the presage from their manner of falling. The Scythians and the Alani used rods of the myrtle and sallow, and as the latter chose "fine straight wands" according to Herodotus, it may be inferred that their method was that of the Hebrews, or some modification of it.

(See also Aaron's rod )


views updated Jun 11 2018

rhab·do·man·cy / ˈrabdəˌmansē/ • n. formal dowsing with a rod or stick.DERIVATIVES: rhab·do·man·cer / -sər/ n.