Belomancy seeks to foretell the future using arrows. Also known as bolomancy and Sortes Saggitariae, it has been referred to in the Bible (Ezekiel 21:21). In medieval times, Sir Thomas Browne wrote his famous treatise Pseudodoxia Epidemica, in which he describes this form of divination.
There were several ways to use arrows to foretell the future. In the most common form, messages were attached to each arrow. Using a bow, each arrow was shot through the air. The arrow which flew the furthest indicated the true answer. In a related version, practitioners believed that the first arrow to be found indicated the truth.
Belomancy did not always require that someone shoot the arrows. In a slightly different method, three arrows would be chosen. Each would be marked with different symbols before being placed into a quiver, often with a number of unmarked arrows. The first marked arrow to be drawn would reveal the future.
Another common method simply tossed a number of arrows into the air. As these arrows fell, the direction and angle of each one was interpreted. It was believed that the arrows would help the inquirer to find the correct path in life. Scythian soothsayers described by Herodotus used a similar method, although they preferred rods to arrows.
As with many systems of divination, belomancy has a long and proud tradition. The Babylonians, Greeks, Arabs, and Scythians all practiced a form of arrow divination. The historian Tacitus reports belomancy among the German barbarians, indicating that the practice was widespread.