Apantomancy relies on chance encounters with animals or things to divine the future. It is closely related to zoomancy.
Apantomancy has been used for centuries. Traces of it still continue to this day. The belief that a black cat can cause misfortune by crossing someone’s path is an old superstition and a fine example of apantomancy. Similarly, ancient Aztec diviners determined the site to build their new city, Mexico City, when they spotted an eagle taking off from a cactus, a live snake clutched in its talons. This event is still portrayed in the coat of arms for Mexico City (see below).
Medieval Europeans believed that chance encounters with animals were filled with meaning. A person who came across a hare or a goat was assured of imminent good fortune. Over time, however, the hare (and rabbits, too) became signs of impending evil. A 19th century charm was devised to protect victims from chance hare encounters. For maximum effect, the intended victim was to spit over his or her left shoulder, then reciting the words “Hare before, trouble behind. Change ye, Cross, and free me.”
Since prehistoric times, this form of divination has been practiced around the world. In Great Britain and the USA, the most common animals used in interpretation include cats, dogs, bats, hares, birds, and farm animals.
in 19th century Yorkshire, fishermen believe that if a dog or other four-legged animal crossed their path as they walked to the boats, disaster would follow. Some would even track and kill the animal to prevent the disaster that was to follow.
In other areas of England, a weasel crossing your path warned of treachery to follow. To avoid this fate, a coin would be dropped at the spot where the weasel crossed the road. The bad luck would pass to the unlucky soul who found and picked up the coin.
To ancient Europeans, an encounter with a white mouse meant good fortune. Seeing a buzzard, on the other hand, was a symbol of death. Ravens, bats, and asses were all ill omens. On the other hand, a blue bird promised future happiness. If a spider runs or spins in the morning, money is to follow. If a dog follows a lady home, a handsome husband is sure to follow.
Interpretations of these omens can be different among cultures. For example, Americans dread the bad fortune of a black cat crossing their path. To the British, the same black cat can be a sign of good fortune.