Friday, December 07, 2007


Wikipedia explains the term: "The Psychomanteum dates back to ancient Greece, where a person would gaze into a still pool of water. This silent and steady gazing into a reflective pool would produce apparitions or visions that were probably answers to the questions one was looking for. It is said that in the Victorian era, mirrored rooms were specially built to summon or contact spirits from the spirit world."

Trachtenberg does not use the term, but he describes a technique that makes the term applicable:

This technique was known to Jews in Talmudic times: "It is permitted to enquire of the 'princes of oil' and the 'princes of eggs,' but [one does not do so because] they lie." It may even be that Joseph's divining cup (Gen. 44:5) was similarly employed. During the Middle Ages the Talmudic terminology was retained, and we read of "princes" of glass, the thumb-nail, etc. The "princes" were the figures that appeared upon the polished surfaces, and though "they lie" medieval Jews were nothing loath to take their chances on what they might reveal. ...

While this means of divination seems to have been most often used in cases of theft, it was also employed to disclose events that were yet to occur. The "princes" whom the diviner conjured were bound to reply to any question put to them, provided, of course, that the sorcerer had the power to make them respond.

What was the nature of the "princes," and in what degree were the visions that the boys reported real? In the fourteenth century a French writer contemptuously dismissed these phenomena with a skepticism that rings quite modern: "Magicians are especially prone to employ as their mediums children who are credulous and impressible, and who, influenced by tales heard from old wives, are ready to see a demon in every shadow." There were others who accepted the occult significance, if not the objective reality of such visions, adopting Plato's explanation that "the soul of the gazer is thrown back upon itself by the luminosity of the object seen and then exercises its latent powers of natural divination," thus arguing that one may behold the future while in a hypnotic trance. But by far most of the medieval and ancient writers and the masses too, did not for a moment doubt that these images were real enough, honest-to-goodness demons...

The same questions agitated Jewish minds. In general the "princes" were held to be evil spirits, minions of the "power of uncleanness," and the technique was usually denominated "divining by the invocation of demons." This was the sole field in which the demons were privileged to function in behalf of the Jewish magician. Eleazar of Worms, however, insisted that they were angels, the
memunim of a thief, summoned to show himself in a polished surface, thus gave away the identity of the malefactor, and re-enacted his actions at the time of the robbery. (JEWISH MAGIC AND SUPERSTITION, pp. 220-222)

Trachtenberg also recounts a case in which the plaintiff claimed that the defendant had not paid the full fee due a "professional diviner", but had paid only an hourly rate, which was a lesser sum of money. R. Isaac b. Samuel "decided for the diviner on the ground that 'in such matters it is customary to pay more than merely enough to cover the labor involved'," indicating that divination was a recognized profession.

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