The art and practice of divination by herbs is one of the oldest methods of prognostication known to mankind. Its formal name is botanomancy, which is derived from the Greek word botane, meaning “herb.”
Phyllomancy is a type of divination closely related to botanomancy. Diviners who employ this method typically interpret the patterns of veins on leaves to gain insight to future events or to reveal things of the unknown.
Causimomancy is another variation of botanomancy. It draws omens from the ashes produced by the burning of plants and trees. Deriving its name from the Greek word kaustos (meaning “burned”), this method of divination also draws omens from the rate at which a plant placed in a fire burns. Traditionally, if a plant smoldered and burned slowly or failed to burn altogether, this was taken as a bad omen. But if it burned rapidly, the omen was good.
Causimomancy has several variants, including capnomancy (the drawing of omens from the various patterns of smoke generated by the burning of flammable botanical material), crithomancy (the interpretation of grain and flour), daphnomancy (the drawing of omens from the smoke and sounds produced by burning laurel wood or leaves), and libanomancy (the divinatory interpretation of incense smoke).
The art and practice of capnomancy is said to have originated in the mysterious land of Babylonia, where it was carried out at certain times of the year when the positions of the planets were most favorable for prognostication. Cedar branches or shavings would be placed upon hot coals or cast into a fire and then priests skilled in the reading of omens would carefully interpret their smoke.
The Druids were said to have believed in and worshipped the spirits of trees and plants, particularly the oak, vervain, and mistletoe. Herbal divination (in addition to rune casting, geomancy, animal prognostication, and other methods) was a practice at which they were highly adept, and many of their divinatory rites were held within the sacred space of oak groves. The type of herbal divination most commonly employed by the priestly caste of the ancient Celts was a form of capnomancy known as dendromancy. It called for oak branches or mistletoe plants to be ritually cut with a golden sickle and then cast into a blazing fire or set upon live coals. The color and direction of the smoke generated by the burning plant would then be carefully interpreted.
Typically, smoke that rose straight up to the heavens was interpreted as being a favorable omen for the tribe. However, smoke that hung close to the altar was seen as not so favorable. And if it touched the earth, this was believed to be a warning from the spirits or the gods that a new direction or course of action be taken at once.
The early Romans and Greeks, who utilized the divinatory methods of daphnomancy and phyllorhodomancy, respectively, also practiced herbal divination. The art and practice of daphnomancy is believed to have been devised by the augurs of pre-Christian Rome and connected to a sacred grove of laurel trees planted there by various Roman emperors. In the year 68 A.D., the entire grove mysteriously withered and died, as if to portend the death of the Emperor Nero and the demise of the long line of Caesars, which occurred shortly after during that same year. Daphnomancy takes its name from the fabled Greek nymph Daphne, whom the gods changed into a laurel tree.
Libanomancy is a divinatory practice that can be traced back to the magicians of ancient Babylonia. According to the Three Collated Libanomancy Texts (translated by Irving L. Finkel), if when you sprinkle incense upon a fire and its smoke drifts to the right, this is an indication that you will prevail over your adversary. However, if the incense smoke drifts to the left, this means that your adversary will prevail over you. If incense smoke clusters, this is a favorable omen of success and financial gain. But if it is fragmented, a financial loss is portended.
Beware of incense smoke that “gathers like a datepalm and is thin at its base,” for this is a sign of hard times to come. If the rising smoke of incense is cleft (in two), this is said to foretell a loss of one’s sanity.
In Greece, divination by observing the leaves and petals of roses (phyllorhodomancy) was a popular method of foretelling future events. Rosa gallica (more commonly known in modern times as autumn damask) is believed by many occult historians to have been the flower of choice among the diviners
of ancient Greece.
A rose petal with a concave form would first be selected, a yes-or-no question asked, and then a state of meditation entered into. Afterwards, the diviner would place the rose petal in the palm of his or her right hand and then firmly clap both hands together one time. If the petal burst, this indicated an affirmative answer. But if it failed to burst, this was interpreted as a negative reply.
Forecasting the future or gaining answers to questions by interpreting the various sounds produced by the rose petal during the clapping of one’s hands is but one of the many variations of phyllorhodomancy.
Herbal divination continues to be practiced in our modern day and age, and in a variety of ways. The plucking of a daisy’s petals to determine the true feelings of one’s beloved, the picking of a four-leaf clover to attain good luck or to make a wish come true, and counting the number of breaths needed to blow all the fuzzy seeds off a dandelion’s stalk to determine how many years will pass before one’s wedding day arrives, are all examples of botanomancy in its simplest (and most popular) forms.
This informative “Wicca How-To,” plus much more, can be found in:
This book provides you with everything you need to know about the Pagan lore of plants and how to practice powerful magick utilizing roots, flowers, leaves, and bark. It reveals the well-guarded secrets of herbal enchantments from centuries past, touches on many of the intriguing folkloric beliefs connected to herbs, and provides a satisfying helping of east-to-follow spells for many purposes.