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as has been already noticed, admits that conjectures of prevalent humours may be collected from the spots in our nails, but rejects the sundry divinations vulgarly raised upon them: such as that spots on the top of the nails signify things past, in the middle things present, and, at the bottom, events to come. That white specks presage our felicity, blue ones our misfortunes; that those in the nail of the thumb have significations of honour; of the fore-finger, riches.
DIVINATION BY SIEVE AND SHEARS.
BUTLER mentions this in his Hudibras, p. ii. canto iii. 1. 569:
"Th' oracle of sieve and shears,
That turns as certain as the spheres."
In the Athenian Oracle, ii. 309, the divination by sieve and shears is called "the trick of the Sieve and Scissors, the coskiomancy of the ancients, as old as Theocritus." Theocritus's words are
Εἶπε και ̓Αγροιὼ ταλαθέα, κοσκινόμαντις,
'Α πρὰν ποιολογεῦσα, παραιβατις, οὕνεκ ̓ ἐγὼ μὲν
Thus translated by Creech :
"To Agrio, too, I made the same demand,
A cunning woman she, I cross'd her hand:
She turn'd the sieve and sheers, and told me true,
This," says Potter, in his Greek Antiquities, i. 352, "they called Kookivoμavreía: it was generally practised to discover thieves, or others suspected of any crime, in this manner: they tied a thread to the sieve, by which it was upheld, or else placed a pair of sheers, which they held up by two fingers; then prayed to the gods to direct and assist them; after that, they repeated the names of the persons under suspicion, and he, at whose name the sieve whirled round, or moved, was thought to have committed the fact. Another sort of divination was commonly practised upon the same account, which was called ’Αξινομαντεια.” At the end of the works of
Henry Cornelius Agrippa, De Occulta Philosophia, 1567, p. 472, is a good representation, from an iron plate, of the mode of performing this species of divination by sieve and shears. The title of this part is: "De speciebus Magiæ Cæremonialis, quam Goetiam vocant, Epitome per Georgium Pictorium Villinganum, Doctorem Medicum, nuperrime conscripta." "De Coscinomantia, cap. xxi. Huc enim coscinomantia scribenda venit, quæ, dæmone urgente, per cribrum divinationem suscitari docet, quis rei patratæ author sit, quis hoc commiserit furtum, quis hoc dederit vulnus, aut quicquid tale fuerit. Cribrum enim inter duorum astantium medios digitos, per forcipem suspendunt, ac dejeratione facta per sex verba, nec sibi ipsis, nec aliis intellecta, quæ sunt dies mies jeschet benedoftet, dovvina eniteaus, dæmonem in hoc compellum ut reo nominato (nam omnes suspectos nominare oportet) confestim circum agatur, sed per obliquum instrumentum è forcipe pendens, ut reum prodat: Iconem hie ponimus. Annis abactis plus minus triginta, ter hujus divinationis genere sum ipse usus-ubi semper pro voto aleam cecidisse comperi. Hanc divinationem cæteris arbitrabantur veriorem, sicut etiam Erasmus scribit in proverbio, Cribro divinare.' This occurs in Delrio, Disquisit. Magic. lib. iv. edit. fol. Lugd. 1612, p. 245: "Est Kookivoμavreía, quæ usurpata veteribus (unde et adagium 'Cribro divinare,') cribrum imponebatur forcipi, forcipem binis digitis comprehendebant et elevabant, et præmissis verbis conceptis subjiciebant nomina eorum, de quibus suspicabantur eos furtum vel aliud occultum crimen patrasse: reum vero judicabant illum, quo nominato, cribrum tremebat, nutabat, movebatur, vel convertebatur, quasi qui digitis forcipem tenebat arbitratu suo cribrum movere non potuerit."
In the directions for performing divination by "coscinomancie, or turning of a sieve," introduced in Holiday's Marriage of the Arts, 4to., the shears are to be fastened, and the side held up with the middle finger, then a mystical form of words said, then name those that are suspected to have been the thieves, and at whose name the sieve turns, he or she is guilty. This mode of divination is mentioned there also as being more general, and practised to tell who or who shall get such a person for their spouse or husband. Mason, in the Anatomie of Sorcerie, 1612, p. 91, enumerates, among the
then prevailing superstitions, "Turning of a sieve to show who hath bewitched one."
Melton, in his Astrologaster, p. 45, gives a catalogue of many superstitious ceremonies, in the first whereof this occurs: "That if any thing be lost amongst a company of servants, with the trick of the sive and sheers it may be found out againe, and who stole it." Grose tells us that, to discover a thief by the sieve and shears, you must stick the points of the shears in the wood of the sieve, and let two persons support it, balanced upright, with their two fingers; then read a certain chapter in the Bible, and afterwards ask St. Peter and St. Paul, if A or B is the thief, naming all the persons you suspect. On naming the real thief, the sieve will turn suddenly round about.
Reginald Scot, in his Discovery, p. 286, tells us that "Popish priests, as the Chaldeans used the divination by sieve and sheers for the detection of theft, do practise with a psalter and key fastened upon the forty-ninth psalm, to discover a thief; and when the names of the suspected persons are orderly put into the pipe of the key, at the reading of these words of the psalm, If thou sawest a thief thou didst consent unto him,' the book will wagg and fall out of the fingers of them that hold it, and he whose name remaineth in the key must be the thief." I must here observe that Scot has mistaken the psalm: it is the fiftieth, and not the fortyninth, in which the passage which he has cited is found.
Lodge, in his Incarnate Devils, 1596, p. 12, glancing at the superstitions of his age, under the prosopopoeia of curiosity, tells us, "if he lose any thing, he hath readie a sieve and a key."
"At the Thames Police, on Wednesday, Eleanor Blucher, a tall muscular native of Prussia, and said to be distantly related to the late Marshal Blucher, was charged with an assault on Mary White. Both live in the same court, in Radcliff, and Mrs. White, having lost several articles from the yard, suspected defendant. She and her neighbours, after a consultation, agreed to have recourse to the key and Bible to discover the thief. They placed the street-door key on the fiftieth psalm, closed the sacred volume, and fastened it very tightly with the garter of a female. The Bible and key were then suspended to a nail; the prisoner's name was then
repeated three times by one of the women, while another recited the following words:
'If it turns to thee, thou art the thief,
The incantation being concluded, the key turned, or the woman thought it did, and it was unanimously agreed upon that the prisoner was the thief, and it was accordingly given out in the neighbourhood that she had stolen two pair of inexpressibles belonging to Mrs. White's husband. The prisoner hearing of this, proceeded to Mrs. White's house, and severely beat her.-Mr. Ballantine expressed his surprise at the above nonsense. Mr. F. Wegener, vestry-clerk of St. John's, Wapping, said he discovered his servant trying the faith of her sweetheart, now at sea, by turning the key in the Bible at the midnight hour, a few weeks ago.-Mr. Ballantine said he should have the key turned on the prisoner without the Bible, and ordered her to be locked up until some person would come forward and become responsible for her future good behaviour."-Observer, June 10, 1832.
In the Athenian Oracle, i. 425, divination by a Bible and key is thus described: "A Bible having a key fastened in the middle, and being held between the two forefingers of two persons, will turn round after some words said: as, if one desires to find out a thief, a certain verse taken out of a psalm is to be repeated, and those who are suspected nominated, and if they are guilty, the book and key will turn, else not."
Melton, in his Astrologaster, p. 45, tells us: "That a man may know what's a clocke only by a ring and a silver beaker." This seems equally probable with what we read of Hudibras:
"And wisely tell what hour o' th' day
The clocke does strike by algebra."
IN Indagine's book of Palmistry and Physiognomy, translated by Fabian Withers, 1656, are recorded sundry divinations, too absurd to be transcribed (I refer the modern devotees of Lavater to the work itself,) on "upright brows; brows hanging over; playing with the bries; narrow foreheads; faces plain and flat; lean faces; sad faces; sharp noses; ape-like noses; thick nostrils; slender and thin lips; big mouths," &c. Some faint vestiges of these fooleries may still be traced in our villages, in the observations of rustic old women. To this head may be referred the observation somewhere to be met with, I think in one of our dramatic pieces, on a rascally-looking fellow: "There's Tyburn in his face, without benefit of clergy."
Agrippa, in his Vanity of Arts and Sciences, p. 100, observes that "physiognomy taking nature for her guide, upon an inspection, and well observing the outward parts of the body, presumes to conjecture, by probable tokens, at the qualities of the mind and fortune of the person; making one man to be Saturnal, another a Jovist, this man to be born under Mars, another under Sol, some under Venus, some under Mercury, some under Luna; and, from the habits of the body, collects their horoscopes, gliding, by little and little, from affections to astrological causes, upon which foundations they erect what idle structures they themselves please: and adds, concerning metoposcopie, a species of physiognomy, metroposcopie, to know all things from the sole observation of the forehead, prying even into the very beginnings, progress, and end of a man's life, with a most acute judgement
1 On this face or look divination I find the following passage in Bartholinus on the Causes of Contempt of Death amongst the Heathen Danes, p. 683: "Ex facie, seu fronte, ut de prædictione ex manuum inspectione nihil dicam, contingendorum alteri casuum notitiam hauriebant. De quâ ex partium corporis consideratione oriundâ divinatione sic commentatur in secundum librum Saxonis Brynolfias Svenonius: Quasi non falleret hoc argumentum de vultu conjectandi, sic illo veteres, loco non uno, confidentur invenio usos: et præter liniamenta, atque cuticula tincturam, aliud nescio quid spirituale in vultu notasse, quod nos etiamnum Svip, genium vocitamus?""