THEN I ACTUALLY TRIED IT…
Choosing some of my own pre-composed slips for this experiment, I laid them down on the bottom of the bowl in something of a clump (see picture above). Saying a brief prayer to All Interested Parties to give me an accurate result, I poured the water in as slowly as I could. And this was the result:
I believe I had chosen the right sort of paper to print them on (10 or 20 lb. weight), but the slips just lay there at the bottom of the bowl like celluloid fettuccini. Though some looked more interested in floating to the surface of the water than others, none made the first move. I tried stirring the water with my finger three times counter-clockwise, to see if I could jar any of them loose, and maybe rise. But after a little initial excitement, they still lay there. Perhaps I’d laid them on the bottom of the bowl the wrong way. I tried a different approach:
Pouring the water in as slowly as I could manage, this was the result:
Laying the slips out in a neat daisy pattern caused virtually all the slips to turn over in the water so that none were anonymous. Again, I had a number of slips at the bottom of the bowl who looked interested, but no volunteers who rose to the occasion. Again, I tried stirring the water with my finger, three times counter-clockwise, and again got the same result—after a little initial excitement, no volunteers who rose to the surface of the water.
Perhaps I needed to wait overnight to see if any of them would float to the surface. ‘Watched pots never boil’ and all that. But I wasn’t feeling the needed patience. It was time to move on to approach number one, the tiny-scrolls-embedded-in-clay.
For this, I bought a packet of Crayola™ Model Magic at my local Target store. I cut off three-quarters of the rectangular slab and laid it at the bottom of the bowl. Using a cocktail stirrer fished out of a kitchen drawer, I wound each slip of paper around the cocktail stirrer, then stuck them in a roughly even pattern around the clay, so that it looked liked this:
As I poured the water in, being careful not to pour it directly onto the bed of clay and its scrolls of paper, I noticed that one of the tiny scrolls of paper started immediately unwinding, and very noticeably:
As expected, the water got cloudy as I poured.
I went to the kitchen to empty the pitcher of water and leave it in the drain-board to dry. When I returned to the bowl, the square of clay had popped to the surface of the water like a cork, and three of the scrolls had come loose, and lay on top of the clay:
Heaving a sigh, I decided the foremost answer was the scroll that had started unscrolling first and the most-completely. The two other scrolls which had pulled themselves loose from the bed of clay, I assumed were follow-up messages. I laid them out in order on a sheet of paper toweling:
It sounds very “Jane Austin” to me. Why do you think it might be hundreds or thousands of years old? I’d think early/indigenous cultures would prefer other methods not relying on paper, but that’s just *my* hunch.
Good point. It *does* sound very Jane Austin-ish, and was probably more-used in more-recent centuries. I suspect that as long as there have been bowls, water, clay, some sort of paper to write on, and something to write with, some enterprising soul probably tried this particular approach to divination further back than we know. I’m inclined to think such an enterprising soul would most-likely be from one of those early civilizations around the Mediterranean, such as the ancient Egyptians, Greeks or Romans, three societies with some variety of paper in use. But in the end, I have no proof–just a speculation.