The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
Home > Books > An Essay on Archery > Chapter VIII: Divination by the Arrow
Chapter VIII
Divination by the Arrow
Part 1 of 3

I SHALL now fpeak of fome other ufes to which the Arrow has been applied, diftinct from that of a warlike inftrument; and firft of

Divination by the Arrow.

The art of divination, which,was once fo common among the nations of the eaft, feems to have exifted, partly by the aid of credulity, and partly by artifice. Men in power have by this means fpoken their own will, under the mafk of that of Heaven, and have led the vulgar into fchemes and actions, which, without this affiftance, their own authority was unable to effect. Hope, fear, and curiofity, three ftrong moving principles of the human heart, were the paffions on which this practife was founded, while imitation cherifhed, and craft led it forward.

Divination has obtained almoft univerfally; and fome of the moft interefting events which have attracted the attention of mankind, have depended on the determination of the moft infignificant circumftances. By the fall of an Arrow— by the fhining of a ftone—even by the polifh of a man's thumbnail,103—have nations been induced to raife war, and to involve thoufands in mifery and blood— Such obedience was there, to the will of rulers and of fate!

Arrows have been in ufe among all people for the purpofe of declaring Oracles and even continue fo at this day among fome of the eaftern nations. We find in fcripture, that it was practifed by the kings of Paleftine and the furrounding countries; and records of every kind eftablifh the antiquity of the cuftom.

One fpecies of divination, and which appears very common, was that of putting a number of Arrows with infcriptions on them into a quiver, and after they had been mixed together by fhaking, that which was firft drawn, determined the fate of the affair in queftion. For this kind of augury, the ancient Arabs fometimes made ufe of feven Arrows, but in general, three were fufficient. Thefe Arrows were not of the common make; they were without feathers, and were kept in the temple of fome idol, before whom the omens were ufually drawn.

When three Arrows were ufed, there were infcriptions placed on two of them, the third was left blank. On the firft was written,—" Command me Lord;"— on the fecond,—" Forbid me Lord"— Thefe two with the blank one were fhaken together in a quiver, when any thing of importance was in queftion, and if the firft mentioned Arrow was drawn, it was efteemed a favourable omen—if the fecond was drawn, it was an inaufpicious one; but if the blank one, the three were again fhaken, and the ceremony repeated, till the event was either favourably or unfavourably determined.104

A fimilar kind of divination was practifed by the Chaldaeons. They infcribed the names of thofe countries and cities, which they were about to make war againft, on Arrows; and after having mixed them together, the name borne on the firft drawn, was the country or city to be firft attacked.105

There was alfo a very myfterious cuftom in general ufe, which confifted of drawing omens from the appearance of the bright points of Arrows, by theinfpection of which, the magician or prieft difcovered the intentions of fate. We find in fcripture, that this was in ufe among the Babylonians in the time of Nebuchadnezzer. In Ezekiel, ch. xxi. v. 21, we read, that "the King of Babylon ftood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to ufe divination: he made his Arrows bright,—he confulted with images,"106

The Perfians made ufe of Arrows for another purpofe. By their affiftance they numbered their troops, and difcovered who had fallen in battle. When they undertook a campaign, each man placed an Arrow, with his name infcribed on it, in a cheft, or box, prepared to receive them, if after the battle, therefore, the king wifhed to be informed who were killed, he gave orders that each man fhould take the Arrow having his name upon it, from the cheft, or box; and when all were drawn belonging to the furvivors, thofe which remained fhewed who were abfent, or dead.107