Pearl divination, known as margaritomancy, is a divination tactic at least several centuries old. The oldest mention of it I’ve seen appeared in L’Incredulite et Mescreance du Sortilege by Pierre de L’Ancre in 1622: “The pearl is to be enchanted and shut in a pot; then, if it chance that the name of a thief be pronounced, the pearl will leap, striking against the pot.” Occultist Lewis Spence, in his An Encyclopedia of the Occult, reported a variation of this. In this version, a pearl was placed on the hearth near the fire and covered with a vase. The names of suspected persons were then pronounced over the vase. When the name of the guilty was uttered, the pearl was supposed to bound upwards and ‘pierce’ the bottom of the vase.

Clearly, the earliest forms of pearl divination were purely forensic in nature. Considering that the only people who would’ve owned pearl jewelry in seventeenth-century Europe were likely wealthy people who had a vested-interest in the answer, my guess is this divination method was developed and first practiced by wealthy ladies who were suspicious of the household help, then branched-out into other questions while they were at it.

I came across another form of pearl divination. It has the virtue of being both a little more informative and totally unconcerned with whodunit. For the traditional form of this divination practice, you will need a white pearl, a black pearl, and sea shells, preferably the sort which have a rounded side and a ‘mouth’ side such as shells of the conch or cowrie variety, but any with a concave and convex side to them will do. Traditionally, seven sea shells were used, but you may employ up to nine shells.

If you have pearl buttons in your buttons jar that can work as your ‘white’ and ‘black’ pearls, great! Still have a packet of shells from your trip to the coast last summer? Awesome. There’s something to be said for a divination set comprised of items you already own, or which were previously owned by family members. If you don’t have any such remnants stashed around the house, your local craft supplies store can help, but be prepared to be flexible in your choices. My white and black pearls ended up being a couple of wooden beads. My ‘shells’, came from a string of shell-like beads in the jewelry section. Try to have the pearls and shells be roughly the same size. A pair of tiny pearls with outsized shells looks jarring.