Belomancy - Shooting Arrows to Predict the Future


What the future holds has always been a matter of curiosity and worry for mankind in all times and places. This led to the growth of a distinctive branch of study known as divination that observed signs and symbols and interpreted them as portent of the future. Belomancy is one such form of divination that was quite widely practiced in the ancient times.

Belomancy is a kind of divination which interprets a flight of arrows and how they move when they hit their target to in order to understand what lies ahead. The term is derived from the Late Greek phrase belos meaning an arrow, a dart and manteia meaning divining. This practice dates back to the time of the nomadic Arabs and the inhabitants of Chaldea of southern Babylonia. It was widespread in almost all ancient cultures of the region like the Babylonians, Arabs, Scythians and the Greeks.

According to belomancy, the direction and movement of arrows shot at random was a way of understanding God’s will. All the arrows had feathers attached to them and most were inscribed with certain occult symbols. Alternatively different possible answers to a given question could be written and tied to each arrow. For instance three arrows could be chosen, out of which one would be inscribed with the answer signaling ‘yes’, another meaning ‘no’ and the third kept blank which meant to mix them and try again. When an answer for a difficult question was sought, these arrows were selected at random from a quiver and shot. The arrow which fell farthest would serve as the answer and guide the actions of the individual or group.

Another version of belomancy involves reading the future with arrows but without shooting them in the distance. Instead the arrows would simply be shuffled in the quiver, worn preferably on the back, and the first arrow to be drawn by the seer indicated the answer. If a blank arrow was drawn, the whole process would be repeated again. This method of divination is mentioned in Ezekiel 21:21 and Psedudoxia Epidemica by Sir Thomas Browne. Something like it is also mentioned in Hosea 4:12, although a staff or rod is used instead of arrows, which is more properly the subject matter of rhabdomancy rather than belomancy.

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A slightly different use of belomancy could have been to fathom the right direction in the course of a journey. In this case a lost traveler might toss the arrow into the air, and observe the angle at which it fell in the distance. According to standard divination practice, the direction at which the arrow fell would be the right one to adopt by the traveler in order to find his way. This form of belomancy was quite common among ancient Greeks and Arabs who used to travel great distances. The Book of Mormon describes an oracle known as the Liahona which consisted of two spindles in a brass ball. One of the spindles would point the direction of travel and even writings would appear on this, device, thus indicating that this is the right path to choose.