It’s impossible to know exactly how old these practices are, but the first written account tells of a physician named Eusebius using a special stone called a baetulus.
What is Stone Divination (Lithomancy)?
Stone divination is the practice of using terrestrial or meteoric stones, crystals, or other minerals to uncover hidden information. This is generally done in one of two ways:
- Crystallomancy involves divining using a trance state or the light reflected from a crystal.
- Sortilege involves divination based on randomly selecting or tossing stones.
Crystallomancy is more commonly called “scrying” or “crystal gazing.” When most people think of modern lithomancy, sortilege is generally what comes to mind.
How does Stone Divination Work?
Lithomancy involving sortilege is easy to learn, but can take a long time to master. The diviner will have a pouch of stones of varying shapes, colors, and materials. Each of these corresponds to a different concept.
Some sets of casting stones may represent the planets, others might represent ideas like love, good fortune, messages, a man, a woman, and so forth.
Unlike tarot or runes, there is no standard set of meanings or images involved in lithomancy. The meanings and stones may be intuitively chosen by the diviner, or be part of a magical tradition.
Diviners will also often have a table, board, or cloth marked with areas that correspond to the past, present, and future, the subconscious, conscious self, and other people, or other pertinent categories.
To use these stones, the diviner must first ask a question. They then draw one, three, or more from their pouch. They look at these randomly-drawn stones, interpret them in light of the question being asked, and formulate an answer.
In sortilege, the diviner may cast all or some of their stones on a surface. This can go a number of ways:
- If the diviner is using a marked cloth or board, they can interpret the stones based on where they landed. If a “love” stone lands in an area marked “future,” then it can herald a new relationship for the querent.
- If not, they can interpret the stones based on how they fell in relation to each other. If a “love” stone falls right next to a “messages” stone, they’ll be receiving news from or about a loved one.
- The diviner may also interpret stones based on how near or far they fall from the diviner or querent. Stones that land far away may either signify events far in the future, or elements that aren’t relevant right now. Stones that land close may point to upcoming events or important information.
- They can also do any combination of these methods. If both the “love” and “messages” stones land in an area marked “past,” it means they have recently received a message about or from a loved one.
On the surface, lithomancy sounds simple. Choose some stones, assign them all meanings, ask a question, and toss them. In practice, learning how to string these meanings together into a coherent answer takes years of practice.
Stone Divination History
As was mentioned above, nobody really knows exactly how old lithomancy is. Photius’ account of Eusebius and his baetulus come from the mid-to-late 800s, but stone divination is likely much older than that.
Several sources indicate that it was practiced primarily in the British Isles, but ancient cultures there relied strongly on oral traditions. This means that there are no truly accurate, unbiased accounts of their divinatory practices. Much of what we do know comes secondhand from writers from colonizing civilizations.
Sortilege is a type of cleromancy, or the casting of lots. The name comes from the Latin “sortes,” for “lots.” Sortilege was commonly employed in ancient Rome to divine the future or learn the will of the gods.
Most commonly, these sortes were made of pieces of bone or wood that were tossed into an urn filled with water, but they could also be cast like dice or stones.
Diviners could also combine sortilege with bibliomancy, by inscribing each of the sortes with verses from poetry.
The Sortes Vergilianae, for example, was a kind of divination that involved randomly drawing passages from the Roman poet Virgil. These passages were considered to offer advice or predictions relevant to the recipient.
In the context of lithomancy, sortilege still involves randomly drawing or tossing lots. In this case, the lots are the lithomancer’s stones.
Getting Started With Stone Divination
On one hand, starting with stone divination is simple — there are no long guidebooks with meanings explicitly spelled out for you to memorize, or ancient alphabets to learn.
On the other, this can make it very challenging for beginners. If you aren’t confident in your abilities as a diviner, the idea of working with such an intuitive and free-form divination system can be very intimidating.
The best way to get started is to draw parallels between lithomancy and types of divination you’re familiar with.
Take the tarot, for example. You can look at the major arcana, and select stones to represent each card.
If you prefer astrology, select stones for each sign and the planets. Place them in a pouch, draw out one, three, nine, or a random handful, and cast them.
What do you see? Which stones are closest to you? Which are farthest away? If you used a casting cloth or board, how did the stones land?
The best thing you can do when learning any new divination system is to write down everything. Even if you’re doing a quick one-stone drawing, or just trying to divine what you should have for lunch, write it down.
Keeping track of things and journaling your divination will be immensely helpful for you. Some diviners are better at answering love-related questions, while others are better at questions about money, health, or spirituality.
You might find that the stone you’ve chosen to represent “love” seems to end up turning up in readings about employment instead. You won’t be able to pick up on these patterns if you don’t keep track.
Lithomancy is an ancient, beautiful divinatory practice that is wide-open. If other forms of divination don’t seem to work for you, lithomancy offers you the opportunity to literally make your own. You choose your stones, you select the meanings, and you decide how you wish to interpret them.