Cledonism or cledonomancy is a form of divination based on chance encounters or remarks, such as words occasionally uttered.
Derived from ancient Greek kledon an omen, a presage contained in a word, sound or chance utterance.
The consultant whispered his questions into the god’s ear, then stopped his own ears, went out, and, when he got beyond the market-place, listened for chance words from passers-by. These were construed into an answer. The consultant must pay attention to certain words when spoken without premeditation whenever individuals happened to meet.
Cicero observes that the Pythagoreans made observation not only of the words of the gods, but of those of men; and accordingly believed the pronouncing of certain words, e.g. the word incendium (destruction, ruin), at a meal to be very unlucky. Thus, instead of prison, they used the word domicilium (residence, dwelling); and to avoid Erinyes, said Eumenides.
According to Pausanias (2nd century AD) , cledonism was popular at Smyrna, where the Apollonian Oracles were interpreted. He also mentions its use at the shrine of Hermes Agoraios in Pharae. An individual, upon whispering a question into the god’s ear, plugged his own ears, left the agora, and then listened for the god’s answer among the chance words of pedestrians. This was likely popular because the individual selectively chose which words formed the answer.
An example of cledonism occurs in the Odyssey, Book XX. Before taking vengeance on the suitors, Odysseus asks for a divine sign, and Zeus answers with a clap of thunder. This is immediately followed by words from a servant-woman, asking Zeus to “let this be the very last day that the suitors dine in the house of Odysseus.”
A man was not sure weather to marry a young woman of his own clan or a rich woman of more exalted rank. While thinking over the problem, he heard a child at play with his fellows shout, ‘Take care of yourself’ which he at once understood to mean that he should marry the rich one! (1970 B.I. Rakoczi in Man, Myth & Magic v. 659/1)
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