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An ancient method of divination used to prove the guilt or innocence of a suspected person with a loaf of barley. When many persons were accused of a crime and it was desired to find the true culprit, a loaf of barley was made and a portion given to each of the suspects. The innocent people suffered no illeffects, but criminals were said to betray themselves by an attack of indigestion. This practice gave rise to the oath: "If I am deceiving you, may this piece of bread choke me." By means of this method, a lover might know if his mistress were faithful to him, or a wife, her husband.

The procedure was a follows: A quantity of pure barley flour was kneaded with milk and a little salt, without any leaven. It was then rolled up in a greased paper, and cooked among the cinders. It was afterward taken out and rubbed with verbena leaves and given to the person suspected of deceit, who, if the suspicion was justified, would be unable to digest it.

In ancient times, there was said to be a sacred wood at Lavinium, near Rome, where Alphitomancy was practiced in order to test the purity of women. The priests kept a serpent or a dragon in a cavern in the wood. On certain days of the year the young women were sent there, blindfolded, and carrying a cake made of barley flour and honey. Those who were innocent had their cakes eaten by the serpent, while the cakes of the others were refused.


Waite, Arthur Edward. The Occult Sciences. 1891. Reprint, Secaucus, N.J.: University Books, 1974.