Oracle Bones Divination: The Greek I Ching
Destiny Books, 2014/2004
Reviewed by innowen
Dervenis’s book, Oracle Bones Divination, describes the practice of astragalomancy—the divination using the ankle bones of an animal (in this case, a sheep). According to Dervenis, this system possibly predates the Chinese I Ching by a few thousand years. Dervenis has spent a lot of time pouring over ancient texts and poems to make sure he was able to produce a coherent and cohesive ressurection of this practice. He’s even given it a bit of a modern face-life by giving instructions on how to divine with coins instead of the bones. The book contains two parts. Part one discusses this system, how Dervenis came about reconstructing it, and how he feels it works. It also goes into a bit of historical background about the Greek’s perspective on divination and mentions a smattering of Gods who could be used in seeking guidance. Part two details the stanzas that are to be read in the divination setting. The stanzas themselves are short and a bit “mystic”. They read more like fortunetelling bits than actual advice that one could get from going to a practitioner.
To use this system, you need three coins and a question. Holding the question in your head, you then “toss” the coins and use a chart from the book to record the number. You do this five times for each question before consulting a chart in the back of the book to tell you what page to read from. This is very similar to the Chinese I Ching system. However, trying to find your 5 numbered system can take some time. Dervenis lists the order of the coin tosses in an order of “total” numbers. For example, 4-4-3-1-3 = fifteen. So I had to go to the area that lists all fifteens and then find my pattern in the next column. It’s not easy to find the numbers (the book doesn’t list all the combinations, rightfully so!).
This book is compact. It comes in at 166 pages but there’s no fluff. I liked how Dervenis introduces readers to the heart of the matter. I also like that he cites his sources and notes that if he got interpretations of the stanzas wrong, then it was his fault. I also like the fact that he’s a true resource for this system… he’s Greek and lives in Athens. This is important when it comes down to spiritual appropriation. He’s not appropriating the material, he’s trying to restore a valuable resource for his culture.
Because this book is intended to act as a real divination system, I decided to ask the system three questions (just like I do when I review new tarot decks or other systems). The results of the coin tosses (and their interpretations) come straight from the book.
1. What can you teach users?
4-4-3-1-3= page 80. My toss lead me to the “Zeus the Savior” passage, which reads, “A single one, two threes fall, and two fours: For such deeds as much transpire, with courage, take action. Proceed, for the gods send good tidings on this matter. Spare no efforts; there is nothing evil ahead for you.”
I interpret this to mean that this system can help users gain clarity and get clear guidance from this system. That it takes courage to test this out and to “learn” it but it will help you uncover what concerns you have.
2. What are your strengths?
3-6-3-3-4 page 118. This passage is called “Victory Triumphant” and reads,” One six and three threes, the fifth a four: I foresee good things, stranger, in this consultation. And he who walks in foreign lands will end his journey well. With the help of Zeus, you will soon achieve what you strive for.”
I interpret this to mean that the oracle’s strengths lie in it’s ability to give those victory over adversity.
3. What are your weaknesses?
4-3-3-1-3 page 74. This passage is called “Triton” and reads,” A single one and three threes, the fifth a four: Your attempts are in vain; you struggle against the waves. You seek a fish in the ocean; be in no hurry to act. Nor is it useful for you to make demands of the gods at the wrong time.”
Wow… okay, this is a bit spooky. It’s like the oracle has a sense of humor and knows that I am asking it about itself. It’s like this passage is all “I know what you are doing and it’s not going to work. Take me seriously, or don’t use me at all.” Point taken oracle, point taken. I’m just trying to let the readers here know what they can expect, that’s all.
Oracle Bones Divination is a great introduction to using this oracular system. It gives readers history of where it came from, two ways to divine for guidance, and it even discusses some of the theory behind how this could all work and which of the Greek gods to use when casting the system. If you are curious about Greek methods of divination, then this book is right up your alley.
Three pawprints out of five.