Alternatively known as Myomancy.
From the Greek myo-, comb. form of mys ('mouse') and manteia ('divination'), it is the art and practice of divining the past, the present and the future with the aid of rats and mice.
Elihu Rich and Edward Smedley, in their The Occult Sciences (1855), described Myomantia:
"Myomancy was a method of divination by rats and mice, and is supposed to be alluded to in Isaiah 66:17. Their peculiar cries, or some marked devastation committed by them, was taken for a prognostic of evil."
Horapollo portrays the rat as a symbol of destruction. The Hebrew name of this animal is from a root which means to separate, divide, or judge; and it had been observed by one of the commentators on Horapollo that mice have a finely discriminating taste. Divination by the behavior of rats and mice was widely used among diviners in ancient Egypt, Rome and Assyria.
Traditional methods of Myomantia consisted of interpreting the cries, particular activities, or sudden appearances of mice and/or rats, as well as by the damage and destruction caused by them.
Mice noises and cries were believed by the ancients to indicate an imminent catastrophe, or something extremely unlucky in the near future.
Some diviners may have interpreted omens from the noise made by rodents, but the most popular method of Myomantia involved allowing a caged mouse its freedom, and reading futurity in the direction and/or manner in which the little mammal escaped.
Other popular methods include freeing the mouse inside an especially constructed maze — reading the auguries or answering questions according to the route the creature takes — and a very unusual technique of reading the critter's dropping patterns, undoubtedly a form of Spatalamancy.
It is considered to be an extremely bad omen to find, or to observe, mice gnawing on or eating clothing. Pliny the Elder tells of two instances of Myomantia that occurred in ancient Rome. According to Pliny, the Marsian War (Italian tribe the Marsi demanding Roman citizenship) was foretold by mice that gnawed the silver shields at Lanuvium, and at Clusium, the death of Gnaeus Papirius Carbo was prophesied by mice that gnawed the latchets of his sandals.
Another method of Myomantia interpreted omens from the occurrence of mice and rats. A sudden influx of these rodents was of critical significance. A invasion of rodents in a family house, meant a serious illness, or even a death in the near future. If instead large numbers of rats and mice suddenly appeared in the country, it was an omen that war was about to break out. According to Herodotus, when the Assyrian king Sennacherib invaded Egypt, his army was infested by mice in the night, and their quivers and bows were gnawed into pieces. Consequently, in the morning, being without arms, the soldiers fled in confusion, and many lost their lives.
Claudius Aelianus, the Roman author and teacher, relates that Fabius Maximus resigned the dictatorship in consequence of a warning from these creatures; and Cassius Flaminius, according to Marcus Terentius Varro, retired from the command of the cavalry fighting Hannibal for the same reason. Even today, in certain regions of the world, the sight of rats and mice, and evidence of rodents gnawing at furniture and/or clothing, are both considered to be a sign of enormous bad luck.
The sight of rodents leaving a ship for no apparent reason it is believed by many to presage the sinking of it. When mice and rats unexpectedly flee from a house, it foretells some type of disaster befalling the people who dwell within it, typically a fire.
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Sources: (1) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (3) Pickover, Clifford A., Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction, Prometheus Books; (4) Dunwich, Gerina, A Wiccan's Guide to Prophecy and Divination, Carol Publishing Group; (5) Buckland, Raymond, The Fortune-Telling Book: The Encyclopedia of Divination and Soothsaying, Visible Ink Press; (6) Smedley, Edward and Rich, Elihu, The Occult Sciences, Adamant Media Corporation Publishing.
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