Belomancy is the art of divination by arrows. The Babylonians, Scythians, et. al., were fond of belomancy. The Chaldean magicians of Nebuchadnezzar, famously mentioned in Ezekiel xxi, 21, are thought to have originated the practice. The instructions for the process are variously described as:

  • Attach a set of options to a set of arrows and fire them at the horizon. The note attached to the arrow that flies farthest contains the best option.

  • As above, but it’s the first arrow found that’s to be obeyed.

  • As above, but the arrows are placed in a quiver and the first one drawn bears the correct answer.

  • The arrows are cast to the earth and the direction they seem to indicate is the direction to proceed.

Herodotus describes a similar practice whereby Scythian soothsayers spread bundles of rods on the ground and interpreted them.

Tacitus claims to have observed German barbarians in the act of belomancy, which was called sortes sagittariæ in Classical Latin. It was later known as belomantia in Late Latin, from whence we receive the modern term.

The last recorded practitioners were Arab Bedouins who persisted in using belomancy long after it was condemned by the Qur’an.

Have you ever practiced belomancy?

This entry is part of my journal, published May 12, 2003, in Baltimore. Inspired by Anglo-American efforts to justify war with Iraq.