Grammatomancy – its all Greek to me


Grammatomancy, or divination by letter, is an ancient Greek method not dissimilar to that of Norse Runes, with a poetic verse and divinatory meaning associated with each letter of the alphabet. There are three traditional methods of consulting this oracle according to the modern day author Apollonius Sophistes. The first, divination using 24 pottery shards or stones each marked with one letter, is easily recognisable to those who uses runes on a regular basis. The psêphoi (stones) or ostraca (pot shards) are stored in a bag or jug and one drawn at random in response to a question, or shaken in a container until one, or possibly more, fall out. The second and third methods are more complex using knuckle bones and dice to cast a value which relates to one of the 24 letters.

What I really like about this divination technique is that you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.  Personally I am not inclined to run out and buy a profusion of dice or pig astragaloi (knuckle bones) from my local butcher to create a complex system that I know would have turned me off to the process. However you do not have to limit the meaning of the letters to the poetic verse associated with them and the oracle has other applications in ritual and magic.

Sam Block of The Digital Ambler blogs and tweets on geomancy and grammatomancy extensively and through. The blog has a series of interesting posts on the subject of stoicheia, where each letter is associated with a magical force. The the five elements, seven classical planets and the twelve signs of the zodiac (5+7+12=24) are all represented in stoicheia and this method has application in understanding magical and barbarous words such as those in the PGM. Sam also explores how the Greek Alphabet Oracle can be used to create sigils through the use of a Greek Sigil Wheel similar to the Rose Cross Sigil Wheel.

My own experience of the Greek Alphabet Oracle is that it is often as pointed and as accurate as Lenormand cards and I have worked to personalise the process to my own praxis of honouring Hekate and Pan jointly.

Apollonius has adapted an invocation found in the alphabet oracle from the mountain of Adada which calls on Apollo and Hermes to aid the diviner in their work. Although Apollo is the Olympian most associated with the art of prophecy and oracles I have adapted this invocation to call on Hekate and Pan to grace me with the same assistance. Whilst this is partially based in my personal praxis of working with these two divinities side by side there are more logical reasons for this.

Hekate is a goddess associated with liminal times and spaces and that which is hidden. As Hekate Angelos takes the role of messenger between men and Gods. In this instance I see Hekate as aiding me in understanding the messages that the God’s contain within the oracle. Pan on the other hand might seem an odd association but in his own right Pan is a God associated with rustic prophecy, such as divination using the flight and calls of wild birds (Apantomancy, Orniscopy and Orinithomancy). Pan was not dabbler and it is from him that Apollo learns the art.

“Apollon, after learning the mantic art from Pan, son of Zeus and Thymbris, made his way to Delphoi, where Themis gave the oracles at that time.”

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 22 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.)

Although it might seem strange to associate a rustic God with the higher concept of writing and literacy its an association that works for me. The act of prophecy is a very much a primal one, accessing parts of the human brain and psyche which are significantly under used in our modern lives but which fit perfectly into Pan’s sphere of influence.

What drew me to the oracle was how direct and pointed they can be. As example I had promised to perform a reading on behalf of a friend and after a bit of a fall out with my daughter I approached the oracle in a bit of a temper. After invoking Hekate and Pan I drew three cards which were stuck together rather than the intended one. The letters, in order,  were;

Xi – “There is no fruit to take from a withered {Xêros} shoot.”
Omega – “You will have a difficult {Ômos} harvest season, not a useful one.”
Rho – “You will go on more easily {Rhaion} if you wait a short time.”

Kind of reads like a conversation doesn’t it, and needless to say I was throughly chastised and messaged my friend to say I would be later with the reading than planned.  On this occasion I didn’t even have to read into the meanings behind the prose as it was obvious that the God’s felt I was too angry to divine anything and needed to simmer down.

A less straightforward example, where I had to ponder more closely. I was questioning the oracle on whether or not I should ask for support from a particular person in pursuing my goal.  Doing so would make the task much easier but would have left me in their debt which wasn’t something I wanted. I drew one card;

Phi – “Having done something carelessly {Phaulos}, you will thereafter blame the Gods.”

At first I wondered how this applied to my situation, I hadn’t done anything yet had I? I thought carefully about the words and situation and realises that if I was not careful I would become involved with someone I didn’t want to be and it would give me cause for regret. I then read the explanation given by Apollonius more fully and amongst his words a particular phrase stuck out; “Hermes will help you get your wagon unstuck, but only if you push on it.”. It echoes my own favourite maxim “the God’s help those who help themselves” and I was encouraged to bite the bullet and do this task alone.

This method of divination has resonated with me, not only is it simply and straightforward but it has many other applications im looking forward to exploring and maybe incorporating into my practice. Im also looking forward to having another excuse to be creative. My oracle is at present in the form of cards which I made from a set of children’s ‘teach yourself Greek’ flash cards. They aren’t the easiest of thing to use but I am planning to make a set out of wood in the near future.

If you are interested in knowing more the words of Digital Ambler The Digital Ambler and Apollonius Sophistes Apollonius Sophistes are excellent web based resource.


About knotmagick

Weaving Magick and Crochet in the madhouse I call home. I am a devotee of Hekate and a follower of Pan.
This entry was posted in Magick, Pagan Blog Project and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Grammatomancy – its all Greek to me

  1. Pingback: Resolutions | Knot Magick

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