Divination has been practiced ever since human beings were interested in predicting the future, or at least some of its aspects as relevant to their lives. While many of widespread forms of divination like cartomancy and chiromancy continue to exist even today, many of them have been lost to obscurity. And one of the latter is Critomancy.
Critomancy, also known as Crithomancy, refers to the practice of divining the future or a hidden truth by means of a study of barley dough, cakes or those made by flour of some other grains. In this case the dough of the barley or any other flour is offered for sacrifice and then closely examined by the seer. He or she draws omens about the future from the way the flour is spread on the sacrificial victim. The term crithomancy owes its origins to the ancient Greek words, krithe which means barley as well manteia which means divination.
There are various ways by which critomancy was practiced in the earlier days. The procedure may have included forming patterns with the kernels or the flour ground from them and then studying these patterns as having symbolic meanings. In other variations the barley dough used for baking cakes was studied or the seer would observe the final product that is the cake in order to glean answers to questions pertaining to the future. An alternate method was to uses grain and/or corn instead of flour as the determining aspect for the reading.
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Some later versions of critomancy involved baking a single symbolic object into one of many food items—cakes, bread or rolls and then including a secret charm like a ring, coin or even a dry fruit like walnut into any one of these. The person who is served the piece containing the charm determines his or her future according to traditional meanings – thus Rings stood for marriage, silver coins foretold money while walnuts symbolized good health.
In the use of barley flour, dough of cake for divination purposes, critomancy shares a relation to alphitomancy which involved consumption of specially baked bread, usually made from barley. These cakes were fed to those who stood accused of a misdeed of some sort, to establish guilt or innocence. It was believed that the cakes would be digestible by someone with a clear conscience but would be unpleasant to those with guilt written on their minds. In using flour of any kind to carry out divination, critomancy can be said to be related to aleuromancy whereby answers to questions are rolled into balls of dough, which once baked are chosen at random by those who have questions to ask. All these forms of divination use flour or grain or one kind or other as a way of looking for pertinent answers. This could be because flour or cereal grain has since the earliest times been a symbol of good fortune, health and prosperity. Eventually these came to embody a symbolic value and were used in a number of magical and occult practices.