This is not the temple/shrine of Hermes Agoracos at Pharae, but it was likely something similar. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock Images.

Pharae even had a small temple or shrine to Hermes Agoracos, or Hermes of the Marketplace, dedicated to the practice. There was a specific ritual inquirers had to go through to practice cledomancy properly here. This shrine/small temple was situated on the agora, or public square. In it stood a statue of an ithyphallic Hermes, called the kleidonios or ‘giver of word oracles.’ Also in the temple was a small altar, an incense burner, and several bronze oil lamps. It was located in the marketplace, because it was considered that Hermes was at His most-communicative in such locations.

To consult the oracle involved following a specific procedure. The inquirer was encouraged to arrive at evening or at dawn. Because Hermes was a god of borders, it was considered especially desirable to consult the oracle when the day was turning to night, or the night to day, essentially the border-times of the day. The inquirer first set incense in the incense burner and set it alight. They filled and lighted all the bronze lamps. They then place a coin either in the statue’s right hand, or on the right side of the altar in front of him. Leaning to one side of the statue’s head, the inquirer whispered their question into one of the statue’s ears. Immediately covering their own ears, the inquirer left the shrine and walked onto the square, and through the marketplace. When they felt the moment was right, they uncovered their ears and the first voice, words or sounds they heard were considered to be the oracle’s answer to their question.  

It wasn’t just the ancient Greeks who practiced cledonomancy. In Tibet, one practice of diviners was to pose a question, then sticking a bone and a piece of juniper tied-together with white wool in the left pocket, walk out the door and listen for seemingly prophetic sounds to come to his ear. In traditional China, government officials would pay very close attention to the songs children sang in the streets, because it was believed their innocent songs sung while playing directly reflected coming events.