Cromniomancy - Predicting the Future with Onions

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Ever since mankind became aware of the vulnerability of human life in the face of illness, misfortune, danger and natural disaster, it has been trying to take a peek into what the future holds. This led to the development of the art of divination, which in turn branched out into varied practices. Some of these depended on the psychic powers of the seer while others involved use of ordinary objects like mirrors, shells and even vegetables like onions. The last in fact formed the principle of a type of divination known as cromniomancy.

Originating from the Greek word ‘cromnion’ which means onions, cromniomancy is a form of divination that studies the sprouting behavior of onions as a way of seeking answers or predicting the future. In this case the seer studies the color, smell, direction and form of onion sprouts and draws omens from his/her observations. Cromniomancy was widely practiced among ancient cultures of Europe, Africa and northern Asia and eventually it came to be ingrained in day-to-day practices of folklore and superstition in many parts of the world.
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One of the most common purposes of cromniomancy was to provide an answer to a person who may have been troubled by a perplexing question. For this two separate onions were taken and consecrated in some manner, like by announcing the question or placing them on an altar. Then one was inscribed with ‘yes’ and the other with ‘no’. The onion may or may not be planted in the soil and was left undisturbed for a particular length of time. It was believed that the first onion to sprout would offer the right answer to the questioner.

Yet another version of cromniomancy was directed at the purpose of finding about friends and family far away and out of contact. According to this method, the onions would be placed on a sacred altar; the names of the people would be inscribed on individual onions and left undisturbed until they began to sprout. The faster the sprouting, the better the health and happiness that was enjoyed by the family member or friend named on the onion.

Apart from helping to learn about far-flung family members, cromniomancy was used to predict certain weather patterns too. In southern Germany one of the ways was to take twelve big, spherical pieces of onion and put them on a wooden board in a row at Sylvester evening. Each of these onions was supposed to represent the months from January to December. Then a grain of salt was put into every piece of onion, and the whole thing was left overnight in a room without heating, but without frost. The amount of liquid in every onion piece was taken as a prediction of how much rain or snow there would be in the respective months of the coming year.

A slight variation of the above method of cromniomancy is to be found in The Golden Bough by J.G. Frazer where it is mentioned that on one of the twelve days of Christmas, twelve layers of peel, each representing one month, were taken off an onion, and a pinch of salt was sprinkled into each. The next morning the amount of moisture collected in each foretold the amount of rain expected in the coming year.

Young men and women have comprised of some of the regular practitioners of cromniomancy and the purpose of this was to identify true love or the right mate. In fact in some parts of the world it has been traditional for young unmarried women to carve the onions with the names or initials of all potential suitors and then place them on the altar on Christmas Eve, or the first day of December, near the fireplace. It was believed that the man whose name is on the onion that sprouts first will be the one the maid is destined to love and marry. In this way onions provided romantic advice for the love-lorn men too. A young man trying to choose between two women would carve their names on separate onions. The first to sprout would reveal which of the women was most worthy of his affections. While the more serious purposes of cromniomancy may become more obscure now, the practice of using onion sprouts to find a lover is still continue in many parts of the world by young men and women. In fact it features quite commonly on several Wicca pages on the internet. This is an indication of the way an older practice undergoes several chances but continues in spirit even several centuries later.

Cromniomancy involves the use of onion for the purpose of divination and even though the medium chosen may seem rather mundane, the truth is that it is a pointer to the symbolic properties of the humble vegetable. In the practice of divination, the objects chosen for the purpose are usually never at random and though apparently ordinary, things like mirrors and keys usually contain hidden meanings. While selecting herbs and vegetables for similar purpose of divination, those that contain relatively higher levels of nutrients are usually chosen. Thus the choice of onion in divination makes sense since it is believed to have high concentrations of Vitamin C, a nutrient vital for good health and immunity. In fact in earlier times, the onion was often used as a medicinal herb to treat colds and infections. Also the physical structure of an onion with its successive layers of concentric circles, lends it to symbolic interpretations. Containing layers within layers, the onion can be imagined as possessing the hidden truth or the secret of times to come, something which the practice of cromniomancy aims to reveal.