Human beings have always been eager to know what the future holds – either to prepare themselves better to meet any misfortune or simply to satisfy their curiosity. This urge eventually led to the development of divination which was not only used to foretell events that would come about but also to reveal occult knowledge. Austromancy is one such form of divination.
Little is known about Austromancy now except for that this form of divination depends on observing the winds and then making interpretations of the future from them. In austromancy, emphasis is usually given on south winds. The term is derived from the Latin word Auster meaning south winds as well as mancy meaning prediction. In austromancy, the diviners observe various aspects of the winds like the direction from which they are blowing, where they are blowing to as well as the strength and intensity of the winds. According to some experts, austromancy also includes the study of the clouds, including their color, shapes as well as position in the sky, as a portent of things to come while others believe that divination by clouds more properly forms the subject matter of nephomancy.
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In divination several methods of telling the future often seem to overlap and this is the case here too. Austromancy seems to form a part of a larger type of divination known as aeromancy which means divining the future by observing and interpreting weather patterns and other phenomenon taking place in the sky. Aeromancy is in fact one of the oldest forms of divination and this owes to the human tendency of seeing the weather as indicator of the moods and wishes of the gods. A balmy weather and sunny sky would imply that the gods are happy while arid conditions or destructive rain would mean that the gods are angry and misfortune is in store. Likewise various phenomenon of the sky like thunder and lightning could also be used to divine an unhappy state of things to come. Austromancy or divining by the direction and strength of winds also forms part of this larger group and appears to have been practiced originally by the Babylonians, Etruscans and then by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Yet another term associated with austromancy is anemoscopy which refers to the specific methods by which winds were studied in order to read the future. According to this the direction and intensity of winds were observed along with the shape of dust clouds stirred up by the winds. Ancient Greeks practiced wind divination in the sacred grove of Dodona, which was dedicated to their main god Zeus. According to a writer Psellus, the practice involved hanging of striking wands from branches of sacred oak trees in a way so that they would strike resounding brass basins when the wind blew. The kinds of sound that the wands and leaves made upon blowing of the winds was interpreted by the seers as an indication of future events.
The same principle of the winds making specific sounds as it passes through different medium like leaves of a tree or a wind chime was used in various versions of austromancy or anemoscopy. A pendulum variation of anemoscopy involved holding a pendulum over a circle lined with runes or other symbols and observing how the wind blows the pendulum. The runes and symbols marked out by the swinging position of the pendulum would be then interpreted as a portent of things to come.
Though austromancy is not really well-known now, it probably held great sway in earlier times when the direction and strength of winds could determine very significant happenings ranging from the start of a sea voyage to sacrificial fire for the gods.