Simply divine, says William Hartston as he explores the lost arts of fortune-telling from bodies, beasts and other balderdash
Ever since mankind began to wonder about its place in the cosmos, people have tried to predict the future. In the Middle Ages, when pseudosciences were rife, anything that moved - and several things that didn't - was liable to be used as a sign of things to come. Perusing parts of the body was a particularly popular pastime, as illustrated by the guided tour of the more portentous parts of Ms Elle Macpherson.

But why have most of these methods of fortune-telling died away, while others have survived? What type of mechanism governs the evolution of such techniques? A new book, The Mammoth Book of Fortune Telling (Robinson, pounds 6.99), by "Celestine", is subtitled "The complete guide to predicting fate and fortune in the stars and other mystic arts" and gives a good account of modern mystic methods. here are some of the highlights:

Western astrology: In drawing up a birth chart, don't forget to convert the time of birth to GMT (a table of daylight-saving dates back to 1916 is included). Also, you mustn't neglect to take into account the difference between sidereal and tropical time. Then, when you've checked your Ephemeris to see whether any of the transiting inner planets join forces with the transiting outer planets, you'll find that Princess Anne has a sling-shaped chart with Jupiter as the focus for the other planets. No wonder, then, that she has a powerful need to find a specific outlet for her highly charged personality!

Chinese astrology: I was born in the Year of the Pig. "Of all the signs of the Chinese zodiac, the Pig is the most lovable. This affable personality makes the most congenial of companions ... it is very rare to find a Pig- type who is greedy or self-centred." We don't get on well with Tigers or Snakes, though, and we get terribly bullied by any Dragons we may marry.

Playing cards: For goodness' sake don't try to predict your future with the cards you use for bridge or snap: "cards, like everything else, pick up influences, becoming imbued with certain invisible yet tangible qualities according to the use to which they are put". Anyway, the six of diamonds predicts marital difficulties which "in some instances could lead to divorce or separation", so watch out for that one.

Crystals: The gypsy method involves 12 gemstones and a pebble called the "Significator". You cast them and make predictions according to the position of different gems relative to the Significator. Any Dragon-Pig couples bearing the six of diamonds should hope for sardonyx, which brings marital happiness.

Geomancy: An ancient technique based on

random patterns made in earth or sand. Nowadays, it's often done with pencil and paper, but that's a poor substitute really.

Graphology: A sloping upward top-bar on a capital F can indicate humour, ambition and a strong-willed individual.

Palmistry: Loops between the index and middle finger indicate leadership abilities, charm and organisational skills.

Chinese palmistry: For best results, the Ming T'ang (centre of the palm) should be examined at the Rooster hour (5pm-7pm).

Tea leaves: Use high-quality China tea in a pot with a wide spout. No small leaves, definitely no tea-bags. Drink to the last half-spoonful then swirl three times anticlockwise, turn cup upside down on saucer and leave to drain. If the dregs take the form of a unicorn it's lucky for women, but predict a scandal for men.

So why have these systems survived while the art of omphalomancy (counting the knots in an umbilical cord to predict the number of children a woman will have) has faded away? Comparing the survivors with the extinct, one clear rule emerges: -mancies die out, -ologies survive. The methods of divination that are still with us are those had the good sense to change their names. Astromancy became astrology; chiromancy became palmistry; arithmomancy became numerology; graptomancy turned into graphology. Even urinomancy and scatomancy (divination by urine and faeces) became neatly absorbed into the departments of urology and proctology. As Maureen Lipman pointed out in that memorable BT television advert some years ago, if you've got an -ology, you can't be a failure.

A question that we cannot answer, however, is posed by one final word revealed by our search through the Oxford English Dictionary for all words ending in -mancy. The word "pseudomancy" is defined as "false or pretended divination". But how on earth did they distinguish pseudomancy from the weird varieties of genuinomancy referred to above?




















(soles of feet)