Extispicy: Admit it. You have no idea what this means.

Comets: Portents of doom and revolution
Comets: Portents of doom and revolution

That’s okay; I didn’t know either. I had to look it up, but it just means ‘a form of divination that relies on the study of animal’s entrails.’

Now you wish you hadn’t looked at this post, don’t you? I understand. I know when I  look at entrails, I don’t generally see anything but a mess. I would not have made a good priest with that attitude, I suspect.

But because of this, you can see the value of training a priest or priestess to interpret these messages, since without that perspective, come on, let’s face it, entrails are pretty gross.

In Mesopotamia, where we left our story, extispicy was practiced by priests as one of the forms of divination available to them. The two types of divination, interestingly enough, since I never knew this, are ‘operational’ and provoked, and ‘observational’ and unprovoked. Not surprisingly, extispicy is operational and provoked by the priest who asked a question of the gods, and would root around amongst entrails for the answer.

There are many forms of divination, of course; most of them are operational and provoked, since most of the time, people want an answer to a specific question, and they are not willing to wait (hence the development of the Magic 8 Ball and reading tea leaves). Divination you have to wait on includes, for the astrologer, comets, eclipses, and other natural phenomena.

According to Nicholas Campion,

“[U]nprovoked, observational divination required that the diviner remained passive; provoked, operational divination demanded active intervention in the dialogue with divinity. As these two forms were to develop in Greek astrology, the former was to lead to the doctrine of planetary influences, in which celestial forces impinged on human affairs; the latter eventually appeared primarily in what were to be known in Medieval Europe as ‘interrogations’ or questions posed and answered according to complex astrological rules” (The Great Year, 51).

So the plot thickens when kings, priests, and the heavens all start talking to one another; this conversation starts to get really complicated, and the future of astrology becomes highly political, not to mention highly theoretical.

After all, a ‘doctrine of planetary influences’ does not have the same visceral immediacy as sacrificing a bull and reading its entrails. There’s a distance that emerges over time between the celestial event and the interpreter of that event, and the further we move away from an intimate relationship to nature via anthropomorphism, the closer we come to turning the ‘divine’ into something purely theoretical.

The comet appearing over the castle is interpreted as portending change for the monarchy.
Since I am not the only person thinking about natural phenomena, NASA has a page on this subject as well: Comets in Ancient Cultures.