5 of the Most Disgusting Ways People Have Tried to Predict the Future
Who wouldn’t want to be able to get a peek into the future? It could allow you to do all sorts of life-changing things: win the lottery, prepare for tragedy, avoid the errant soccer ball that’s going to hit you in the nuts and make you an unwilling TikTok star that vindictive teens will laugh at for years. If there was a chance to become a rich, happy future you that no one knows as “NUTSHOT GUY WHO SQUEALS LIKE PIG,” it would be a priceless opportunity.
But that’s something in the modern world, we’ve more or less given up on. The art of fortune-telling is mostly practiced under neon signs or highly monetized astrology apps, neither of which are considered particularly scholarly. Looking back in history, though, a lot of people took claims of soothsaying fame much more seriously. Enough so that they were willing to put their faith in the hands of some seriously weird and gross methods.
Here are five of the strangest methods ever used to predict the future…
Skeletons and bones have been a base element of spooky situations since time immemorial. Whether it’s ancient murals or modern metal album covers, the appearance of a good old fashioned creepy skeleton has a natural occult feel to it. Maybe it’s due to the natural uncomfortable energy and its connection to a departed soul that people naturally assume that there must be some magic in them there bones.
However it originated, the use of animal bones in soothsaying, known as osteomancy, has appeared in many cultures. Sometimes it’s as simple as tossing animal bones and interpreting their positions. Others took it further, like the practice of pyro-osteomancy, where bones or turtle shells would be inscribed with questions and burned, with the resulting cracks being read like a much grosser, more clackety form of palm reading.
If you were living in 6600 B.C. China and wanted to find out if “she likes me yes/no,” the nearest turtle better skedaddle posthaste unless they want you to turn their tummy into an impromptu Ouija board.
Osteomancy was pretty gnarly, but it did have one big advantage over the next entry: It was at least dry. If you were after answers with a whole lot more squelch to them, you might head over to a type of soothsayer known as a haruspex. These were ancient Roman practitioners of the art of haruspication, predicting the future through the entrails of sacrificed animals. Props to them for finding a way to make killing the animal the least disgusting part of a ritual sacrifice.
The practice went back to the Etruscans of pre-Roman Italy, who were a people famous for their supposed powers of divination. If you wanted to find out how your next war was going to shake out, the Etruscans were the ones to hit up so they could pop out a sheep’s liver and give you a sneak peek. They were so confident in their soothsaying skills that basically no big decisions were made before somebody had a chance to poke through some pig guts as a sort of stomach-turning risk-assessment exercise.
Of course, if you really want to get some messages from the land beyond, there’s that classic heavy-hitter of an offering: human sacrifice. Anthropomancy sounds somehow more academic than the other entries on this list, probably for how easily it might be confused with anthropology. After all, they both involve studying humans, just differing in the amount of blood, suffering and how much they’re allowed in college libraries.
Anthropomancy, or human divination, used human sacrifice as a way to predict the future. The studying of the entrails and organs in the vein (no pun intended) of haruspication was a part of it, but it included some grosser bits, too. For example, the exact sounds the unlucky human crystal ball uttered at their moment of death were used, as well as the particular movements of their death spasms. Even for ancient people, this was pretty dark stuff, which is why they moved toward animal-based haruspication instead.
The practice of scatomancy is not predicting the future via the abstract vocalizations of a jazz musician. This entry would be a lot more pleasant to read if it was. Unfortunately, scatomancy centers more around, well, droppings. Turds, deuces, mudpies — pick your favorite euphemism and bring them by your local soothsayer to have your excrement read.
Funnily enough, they might not have been as far off as they thought, given that analyzing feces is a genuinely helpful medical practice, but they might have gone just a little too hocus-pocus with it. It’s an ancient art, but against all odds and recommendation, it still is occasionally practiced today, by people who likely see a lot of pinkeye in their future. I will say, it might be the most appropriate way ever to try to predict if the Browns are going to the Super Bowl.
The last entry is maybe the most recognizable figurehead of historical pseudoscience: the practice of phrenology. It was originally cooked up by Franz Joseph Gall, a doctor in the late 1700s with all the knowledge of the human body that goes along with that time period. It’s still well-known today as a pinnacle of medical quackery, something that would be thoroughly hilarious if it didn’t have such a deep connection with slavery and racism.
What sometimes falls by the wayside is that phrenology was also used as a form of predicting the future itself, at least of the person in question. Given that there were specific knobs attributed to things like theft and murder, getting your head read could mark you as a nightmare in the making. At its height, phrenological readings might be part of your job interview, or could determine your future life path.
Thank god we figured out it was a load of crap before doctors were sticking their fingers into babies’ soft spots and sending them straight to future jail.