If you’re asking more than one question, you might want to have more than one dish on hand. Practice with a variety of oils–you may find one you like more than others.

Sorry for the long gap between lessons, it’s been a busy summer. It’s been a while since I’ve done a lesson in the category of divination I term ‘artomancy’, so I’m breaking that drought with a discussion about lecanomancy. Simply-put, it’s divination by pouring oil into a dish full of water. Sounds simple enough, but the simplest divination methods with the fewest components can sometimes be the most-challenging to master. This can be especially true when it comes to those divination methods I categorize under artomancy and psychomancy.


The word lecanomancy has its root in the Greek word lekane, which means ‘dish’ and manteia, which means to divine. So it literally translates as ‘dish divination.’ One source defines it as ‘a form of divination in which a cup, bowl, or similar open vessel is an important accessory.’ Another source defines it as ‘divination by the sound or movement made when an object is thrown into water; sometimes the water is covered with a film of oil.’


Lecanomancy is a very old form of divination. It originated in Mesopotamia, probably somewhere between 2000 to 3000 B.C.E. Whether it started specifically with the Akkadians, the Assyrians, or the Hittites, was not initially clear. One source I’ve seen attributes its origin to the Assyrians. Another source went into some detail about the Hittites use of this divination method.  The baru, the divining class of priests among the Hittites, had three main forms of divination, of which lecanomancy was one. (The other two were haruspicy, divination by examining the entrails of sacrificed animals and libanomancy, or capnomancy, which is divining by smoke).

There are reportedly still six existing tablets which tell how to interpret oil omens. All are written in the Akkadian language; three date from the old Babylonian period, one from the middle period, and two from Hattusas, so that appears to settle the matter of who started it. I have made an effort to find an English-language translation of these tablets, to no avail. If anybody knows of a website which brings together all the translated cuneiform tablets and their English language translations, I would be grateful for the web address. I’d certainly welcome the originators’ guidance on this rather free-form method of divination. For the time being, the practitioner will have to make-do with my ‘Lecanomancy Glossary of Suggested Meanings’ in the PDF posted further-on in this lesson.

At some point around the third century C.E., lecanomancy appears to have made it to Egypt, although this variation sounds more like plain-old hydromancy, or water-scrying. In Egypt, a dish was filled with water and a medium, usually a young boy, would gaze into the water, go into a trance, and have a vision. Others would then put questions to him. Noted sixteenth-century French seer Michel de Nostradamus also appears to have practiced this water-scrying variety of lecanomancy. His practice was to place a bowl of water on a tripod, then draw his interpretations from patterns on the water, when viewed by an indirect light source.