Last month, I relocated to Providence, RI. I’m really enjoying my first taste of living in New England as an adult. I was born in Connecticut, which qualifies, but we moved away when I was two years old, and I’ve never lived in NE again…until now.
I’ve heard multiple times that the entire state of Rhode Island is haunted, and also that the house I moved into is similarly known to the spirits of the deceased. I can’t say that I’ve witnessed any of this first-hand, but I’m always open to possibilities.
Also, this possibly haunted house lies across just one thin street from a sprawling cemetery. And then adjoining that cemetery, on the far side of it from my new home, is…another cemetery. Rhode Island seems to have maybe more than its fair share of cemeteries, actually.
And on a vaguely related note, as I keep mentioning, Providence was also the home of H. P. Lovecraft, a very acclaimed writer of horror-fiction.
So all of this scary graveyard/dead/Cthulhu stuff gave me the sudden idea a few days ago to offer Tarot readings performed right in that neighboring cemetery! But then I thought that not only could I pull cards while standing in the boneyard, but I could also mix in a bit of Divination patterned after what people call Bibliomancy. This is the divinatory practice of taking a book – often the Bible, although many people use other books instead – asking a question, and then opening the book at random and fixing on a word, phrase, or passage that will then be taken as answer to the question, much like a Tarot card randomly drawn would be used in a straight-up Tarot card reading.
Instead of using a book, though, I thought it would be really interesting to use the many tombstones scattered about the cemetery. There are hundreds, if not several thousand of them, all standing, leaning, yawing, pitching, and silently moaning out the names and lifespans and last words of those interred below them. They speak…so why not listen, and gather up messages…?
But if you know anything about Divination, then you know that each form of it, no matter how specific and downright weird, tends to have some fancy name, usually ending in the suffix, “-mancy.”
Phyllomancy involves Divination performed using leaves. Capnomancy happens when a diviner makes use of smoke in order to answer questions. Nephomancy is Divination with clouds. If there’s a thing out there in the world, someone is using it to coax forth answers from the Great Beyond – divinatory practices exist that focus on eggs (Oomancy), lightning (Electromancy), molten metal (Molybdomancy), old shoes (Scarpomancy), excrement (Scatomancy), wheel ruts (Trochomancy), shells (Conchomancy), and people’s navels (Omphalomancy), among many, many others.
So Divination using tombstones is hardly that outlandishly far out there compared to some of the divinatory practices that people get up to. But what to call it??
Obviously “(something)-mancy.” Sure. But what?
There is a form of Divination that involves communicating in some fashion with the dead: it’s called Necromancy.
And there’s another one that makes use of stones: this one is Lithomancy.
I thought briefly about maybe combining them into one concept: Necrolithomancy.
But it didn’t feel quite right. For one thing, what I was envisioning would be aimed at pulling info from the tombstones themselves, and not so much from the dead souls whose passings the tombstones are commemorating. Also, on the Lithomancy prong, that practice tends more toward people using much smaller, hand-held stones, and casting them onto a flat surface, or at least drawing some members of a set of stones from out of a bag or some such. Those stones usually don’t have writing on them, or birth/death data. What I had in mind was probably more about the writing and informational aspects of the tombstones than just the fact that they fall under the heading of “stuff made of rock.”
Bibliomancy was out because tombstones aren’t books. There’s a related form called Logomancy, which involves divining messages via words…but that didn’t quite capture the fact that these would be words involved with summing up the former lives of the now dead.
I started looking into words that had nothing to do with Divination, per se, but which do a great job indicating any of the major concepts I was interested in conveying: death, cemeteries, tombstones, last words. Here were the best and most applicable candidates that presented themselves, and which I tried to then modify into “-mancy” kinds of words:
Mausoleum –> Mausoleomancy. I decided this was long and ungainly, and called to mind Leo DiCaprio due to the middle syllables.
Necropolis –> Necropolomancy. “Necropolis” means “City of the Dead,” which I love, but this is quite a mouthful. Also, it seems to apply more to an entire graveyard than to individual tombstones – I needed something that would speak not of the forest, but of the individual trees, if you see what I’m saying here.
Cenotaph –> Cenotaphomancy. Another clunky word. Plus, while a cenotaph is a very on-point word that refers to a tombstone, it seems that it almost always speaks of the kind of stone that’s erected at some place distant and distinct from where the remains of the invoked person are actually buried. That’s not what I would be getting into – presumably all of the bodies mentioned by the tombstones in this cemetery here are lying only about six feet away (in the “straight down” direction).
Epitaph –> Epitaphomancy. I actually like this one a lot…but an epitaph is the inscription on a tombstone, and I wanted to be open to any and all information I might pull from looking at these somber markers. Said info might include plant life growing on them, birds or other animals landing on them, trash left behind by sloppy mourners, the disrepair of the tombstones, you name it. Anything could be part of the message, so limiting the name of the practice to the contents of the epitaphs felt too restrictive and misleading.
And so we come to the winner: Sepulchromancy, drawn from the word sepulchre, which means a tomb of some sort. This word is also not the absolutely 100% perfect fit I’d been hoping for, but it sounds cool to me (that’s important!), and it also seems to be graveyard-specific enough without being so restrictive that it omits too much of what the practice is about. If I could only find a word that’s like cenotaph in specifically indicating tombstones, but which doesn’t include the part about the bodies being elsewhere, then I’d be set. Until such time as a word like that presents itself to me, though, I give you and the world…Sepulchromancy!