[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lectryomancy (also called alectoromancy or alectromancy) is a form of divination in which the diviner observes a bird, several birds (or most preferably a white rooster or cockerel) pecking at grain (such as wheat) that the diviner has scattered on the ground.
From the Greek alectryon meaning 'rooster'.
The most common and popular form of this divination is based on the observation of a rooster eating corn scattered on letters. This practice was used when the sun or the moon was in Aries or Leo. The letters of the alphabet are drawn in a circle and grains of wheat are placed on each letter. Next a rooster, usually a white one, was let pick at the grains. The order in which the rooster would eat the grains would spell out a message. The observer also replaces each grain as the bird eats it, so that letters may be repeated. It was the responsibility of the pullularius to feed and keep the birds used.
The Diviner may just interpret the pattern left by the birds' pecking in randomly scattered grain. In Africa, a black hen or a gamecock is used. An African diviner sprinkles grain on the ground and when the bird has finished eating, the seer interprets the designs or patterns left on the ground.
Another method of alectormancy, supposedly used less often, was based on reciting letters of the alphabet noting those at which a cock crows. Letters were recorded in sequence and then these letters were interpreted as the answer to the question chosen by seers.
A rare, obsolete meaning of alectormancy is “a divination by a cock-stone”. A cock-stone or alectoria was “a christall coloured stone (as big as a beane) found in the gyzerne, or maw of some cockes” (Cotgrave). These stones, purportedly found in a roosters crop, were known to the Romans (in Latin they were called alectoria gemma, literally “cock's gem”) and were imputed with magical powers. Apparently, they were used for some sort of lithomantic divination, though the details of this use are not to be found.
Roosters were commonly used for predictions in different parts of the world, and over the ages different methods were used.
For the ancient Jews, the cock must be young and white. When his claws are cut off he is forced to swallow both of them together with a small roll of parchment made of lambskin upon which have been previously written words. Now the diviner holding the cock must repeat a certain incantation or conjuration. Next, when putting the cock with the circle, he must recite two verses of the Psalms, which are exactly the midmost of the seventy-two verses in the entry on Onimancy, and it should be noted on the authority of an ancient Rabbi that there is not anything within these seventy-two verses which is not of some use within Kabbalism.
Alectryomancy was another method by which the Romans explored the will of gods. It consisted in consulting the sacred chickens that were carried along on military campaigns. If, before a battle, the chickens ate the food so greedily that some of it fell from their beaks, this was considered an excellent omen.
A story of doubt concerns the magician Iamblicus who used this divination to discover the successor of Valens Caesar in the Roman Empire. However, the bird just pecked four grains that spelled T.H.E.O This left a great uncertainty. The letters could stand for “Theodosius,” “Theodotus,” “Theodorus,” or “Theodectes.” According to the popular stories of the time, Valens proceeded to execute all that were named Theodorus, Theodotus and Theodectes. It is said that the unfortunate Iamblicus, to avoid the effects of the emperor's resentment, took a draught of poison.
Reverend Edward Smedley , in his The Occult Sciences/ (1855), mentions this type of divination:
“Alectromancy, or Alectoromantia, an ancient method of divination with a cock. In practising it, a circle must be made in a good close place, and this must be divided equally into as many parts as there are letters in the alphabet. Then wheat-corn must be placed on every letter, beginning with A, during which the depositor must repeat this verse, Ecce enim veritatum. This must be done when the sun or moon is in Aries or Leo. A young cock, all white, should then be taken, his claws cut off, and these he should be forced to swallow with a little scroll of parchment made of lambskin upon which has been previously written [heb chars]. The diviner holding the cock should repeat, O Deus Creator omnium, qui firmamentum pulchritudine stellarum formâsti, constituens eas in signa et tempora, infunde virtutem tuam operibus nostris, ut per opus in eis consequamur effectum. Next, on placing the cock within the circle, he must repeat these two verses of the Psalms: Domine, dilexi decorum domûs tuæ et locum habitationis tuae. Domine Deus virtutum, converte nos et ostende faciem tuam, et salvi erimus. These are exactly the midmost of the seventy-two verses mentioned under the head of Onimancy, and it is to be noted on the authority of an ancient Rabbi, that there is nothing in these seventy-two which is not of some cabalistic secret. The cock being within the circle, it must be observed from what letters he pecks the grains, and upon these others must be placed, because some names and words contain the same letters twice or thrice. These letters should be written down and put together, and they will infallibly reveal the name of the person concerning whom inquiry has been made.”
This form of divination is related to Ouija, by the random selection of letters; and gyromancy by the random selection of letters from a circle around the diviner themself; and to orniscopy, divination by the movements of birds.