DIVINATION in The Vedas, Babylonian and Etruscan


Ashtamangala Prasnam (Prediction) in Kerala, India

Written by London swaminathan

Research Article No.  1792; Date: 10th April 2015


From India’s Northernmost Himalayas to the Southernmost Kanyakumari, the beliefs were same. This is attested by the 2000 year old Sangam Tamil Literature and the earlier 3700 year old Vedic Sanskrit literature. They all believed that the behaviour of animals and birds as well as natural phenomena can predict future. Some of their beliefs have some scientific basis. We see the strange behaviour of animals and birds before natural catastrophes such as big storm or Tsunami or earth quakes. Hindus linked the black bird crow with the departed souls which is in Sangam Tamil literature and earlier Sanskrit literature. Tamils linked the arrival of the guests with crowing. When the housewives cook special dishes naturally the good smell will attract the crows around the house. But many of their beliefs cannot be explained scientifically. This type of belief is seen around the world.

Vedic Hindus used the fire of the Sacrifice, flight of birds, crying of animals, position of the planets, falling of comets and meteors, natural phenomena, sneezing, fluttering/twitching of eyes, etc. Mahabharata has got lot of references to the wind, meteors and the positions of the planets before the great Bharata war.

babylonian liver.jpg1900 BCE sippar,iraq

Babylonian Liver Prediction

Kausitaki Brahmana on crows:

When a ceremony is performed to win for a maiden a husband, the side from which the crow first appears is that from which her wooer will come ( KB 34-24)

Satapata Brahmana on Cows

The movement of the cow at a particular moment in the soma sacrifice shows the fortune of the sacrificer ( SB 4-5-8-11)

Hiranyakesi Grhyasutra on Owls

The owl is invoked to fly around the village and give signs for the future; it is a bird which flies to the dwelling of the gods, and the Rig Veda already knows birds of omen (HGS 1-17-3)

The hyena’s howl is uttered either of its own will, or on the prompting of other powers (HGS 1-17-1)

Gobhila Grhyasutra on Bride and Balls of Earth

The character of the bride can be judged by her choice of balls of earth taken from various places (G G S 2-1-3ff)

The sex of the future child believed to be by the fact whether the member of the body of the prospective mother, which a Brahmana boy touches accidentally has a masculine or feminine name (Keith 390-1)

Later Tamil and Sanskrit literature have hundreds of beliefs like this.

dowsing rod

Dowsing Rod to find water and treasures

Sumerian, Babylonian Beliefs


Divination was widely used in Mesopotamia. It is based on the idea that to some extent the future is predetermined; it can be interpreted/divined by those with specialist knowledge. Sumerians used extispicy i.e.the liver, lungs or the colon spiral of specially slaughtered young ram were inspected for peculiarities during a nocturnal rite (Etruscans also used the liver for predictions).

The study of celestial omens was more popular and it survived for long. Observation of birds was practised like India and Italy/Etruscan. Divination played an important part in decision making. It was used before building a temple, military expedition, for king’s wellbeing and safety, fortune telling and weather forecasting.

(In my home town in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, even the rain and harvest are forecast by the colour of the dress the god Azakar/Perumal wears during Chitra festival).

Hittites also used Extispicy. Anatolians used old women like the Greeks and Tamils, for prediting.


Prasnam Predition by shels and cowries in Kerala

Following books are recommended for researchers


Magic and divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria by A. Jeffers, 1996

The act of Extispicy in ancient Mesopotamia by Assyriological miscellanies, 1980

The Interpretations of dreams in the Ancient Near East by A L Oppenheim , 1956

Rituals of the diviner Malibu, CA, 1983

Abhidana Cinatamani in Tamil give some information about Arootam and Sakunam in pages 137 and 541.


Etruscan Liver Diagram for predictions



From my earlier article Etruscan-Hindu/Tamil Link posted on 28 July 2012



Birds Used for Prediction

Boulon is the word for bird. It is similar to PUl in Tamil.

Tamils believed that flights of birds or their sounds (calls) can predict good and bad things that is going to happen. Even today their traditional calendars (Panchang) publish those details every year. No two cultures in the world come so close as the Tamils and the Etruscans. Etruscans had such a calendar.

Etruscans believed that Gods speak to mortals through nature. They even interpreted thunder and lightning. This is in the Hindu Upanishads. The famous parable of Three “Da” sounds of Thunder is in the Upanishads. Another story about five elements trying to lift a blade of grass is also in the Upanishads.

Etruscans used livers of sacrificed animals to find their future. Mesopotamians had similar beliefs. Like Vastu Shastra allocate different corners for different Gods, they have different areas for different gods in the liver. A Bronze model of a sheep’s liver from Piacenza (150 BC) gives 52 names of divinities, mostly abbreviates. Many of them were repeated.


Oxford Water Diviner

Source Books

Dictionary of the Near East, British Museum Publication

A Cultural Index to Vedic Culture by N N Bhattacharya

My Previous articles (See the list below)


Read also my articles:

Can Birds Predict Your Future? (Posted on 22 July 2012)

Beware of Wagtail Birds: Prediction by Varahamihira (19 February 2015)

How to find water in the Desert? Varahamihira on Water Divination (Posted on 16 February 2015)

Tamil Astrology: Rope Trick for Predictions (Posed on 27 February 2013)

Two Tamil Articles posted on 12 April 2012 on Greek Delphi Oracles and Tamils

Birds and Gods

Amazing Power of Human Mind: Six Stories


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