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06 September 2005

old method of determining criminal guilt

The Rev'd Elders of the said place were much surprized upon their hearing of the said Report, and faithfully made inquiry about it; but the whole of naughtiness, that they could discover and find out, was only this, that two or three girls had foolishly made use of the sieve and scissors, as children have done in other towns. This method of the girls I do not Justifye in any measure; but yet I think it very hard and unreasonable, that a town should lye under the blemish and scandal of sorceryes and conjuration, merely for the inconsiderate practices of two or three girls in the said town." -- letter of Thomas Brattle, 1692

Coscinomancy is mentioned in the notes to Thomas Brattle's letter about the Salem witch hysteria.


Coscinomancy is a form of divination that is practiced with a sieve, and a pair of tongs or shears, which are supported upon the thumb nails of two persons looking upon one another, or the nails of the middle finger may be used. Potter in his Greek Antiquities says, "It was generally used to discover thieves, or others suspected of any crime, in this manner: they tied a thread to the sieve by which it was upheld, or else placed a pair of shears, which they held up by two fingers, then prayed to the gods to direct and assist them; after that they repeated the names of the persons under suspicion, and he, at whose name the sieve whirled round or moved, was thought guilty." In the Athenian Oracle it is called "'the trick of the sieve and scissors, the coskiomancy of the ancients, as old as Theocritus,' he having mentioned it in his third idyll, a woman who was very skillful in it." Saunders, in his Chiromancy, and Agrippa, at the end of his works, give certain mystic words to be pronounced before the sieve will turn. It was employed to discover love secrets as well as unknown persons. According to Grose, a chapter in the Bible is to be read, and the appeal made to St. Peter or St. Paul. A.G.H.


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