In this early form of divination, the future was foretold by throwing small bones, a practice which in its modern form also includes the toss of the dice. Since early dice were made from bones (most commonly with sheep bones), it is easy to see how the link was made. The term comes from the Greek word astragalos, meaning “dice” or “knucklebone”, and manteia, meaning “divination”.

The vertebrae of sheep were particularly prized for dice. Each bone was carefully marked with symbols. As the bones were tossed, the diviner would concentrate on a question, and the bones would answer. How the bones were read depended on the method used – a soothsayer could study the position of the bones as they fell, or examine which end of the bone pointed up, or even study where each bone landed in reference to a grid. Another form required diviners to write the letters of the alphabet onto bones.

The knucklebones of sheep have four sides, making them perfect for dice and divination. Ancient Romans, Egyptians, and Greeks all used sheep knucklebones, with the earliest recorded use around 1400 B.C. in ancient Egypt.

Because astragalomancy is so ancient, it is no surprise that its use was widespread. The Mesopotamians used it extensively, and it has been used by Africans for centuries.

By tradition, only five days of the week are favorable for this form of divination. Fridays and Sundays are seen as bad days to cast the dice.

Would you like to try this for yourself? Divining the future through a dice toss is a simple way to get the answers you want today. You only need a pair of dice, a piece of paper, and a pen. First, decide on the question you would like to ask. On a sheet of paper, write 20 possible answers. Number these answers from four to twenty-four. As you concentrate on your question, toss the dice. Add the two numbers together and write them down. Continue to concentrate, and cast the dice a second time. Add these two numbers to the first number. Now check your list of answers – the one that matches your number is the correct one.

Roman statue of girl playing astragaloi. Courtesy Wikipedia.