Alectromancy (or Alectryomancy)

views updated

Alectromancy (or Alectryomancy)

An ancient method of divination with a cock. In practicing it, a circle must be made and divided equally into as many parts as there are letters in the alphabet. Then a wheat-corn must be placed on every letter, beginning with A, during which the depositor must repeat a certain verse. This must be done when the sun or moon is in Aries or Leo. A young cock, all white, should then be taken, his claws cut off and the cock forced to swallow them together with a little scroll of parchment made of lambskin upon which has been written certain words. Then the diviner holding the cock should repeat a form of incantation. Next, on placing the cock within the circle, he must repeat two verses of the Psalms, which are exactly in the middle of the 72 verses cited in the entry on onimancy.

With the cock inside the circle, it must be observed from which letters he pecks the grains, and upon these letters new grains must be placed. The letters, when written down and put together will reveal the name of the person concerning whom inquiry has been made.

According to legend the magician Iamblicus used this art to discover the person who should succeed Valens Caesar in the empire, but the bird picking up four of the grains, those which lay on the letters "T h e o," left it uncertain whether Theodosius, Theodotus, Theodorus, or Theodectes, was the person designated. Valens, however, learning what had been done, put to death several individuals whose names unhappily began with those letters, and the magician, to avoid the effects of his resentment, took a draught of poison.

A kind of Alectromancy was also sometimes practiced upon the crowing of the cock, and the periods at which it was heard. Ammianus Marcellinus (fourth century C.E.) describes the ritual that accompanied this act rather differently. The sorcerers commenced by placing a basin made of different metals on the ground and drawing around it at equal distances the letters of the alphabet. Then whoever possessed the deepest occult knowledge, advanced, enveloped in a long veil, holding in his hand branches of vervain, and emitting dreadful cries, accompanied by hideous convulsions. He would stop before the magic basin, and become rigid and motionless. He struck on a letter several times with the branch in his hand, and then upon another, until he had selected sufficient letters to form a heroic verse, which was then given out to the assembly.

The details of an operation in Alectromancy are described in the fourth song of the Caquet Bonbec, of Jonquieres, a poet of the fourteenth century.


Waite, A. E.. The Occult Sciences. 1891. Reprint, Secaucus, N.J.: University Books, 1974.