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The Image of Heaven
Hepatoscopy, Liver Divination


The ancient Babylonians considered the liver of a sacrificial sheep, amutu, to be the mattalat šame, the "mirror of Heaven." In the same way that one can read the decisions of the Gods in the Heavens, by astrology, one can also read their minds in its image, the liver. I cannot do better than quote Babylonian Hepatoscopy's foremost living student, Ulla Jeyes of Copenhagen, for a concise introduction to its basic principles:

The visceral surface of the liver, which was the object of a thorough examination by the Babylonian diviner, was divided into zones. The main zones had the colorful names of "Station," "Path," "Strength," "Palace Gate," "Well-being," gall-bladder, "Path to the left of the gall-bladder," "Finger," "Yoke," and "Increase." These zones were always examined in the order given. Each zone consisted of its particular feature and the surrounding area, for which the term is "land." In the case of, for example, the "Station," the zone consists of the vertical crease of the left lobe and its "land."
The key principle in Babylonian extispicy is that the right represents pars familiaris and the left pars hostilis. This means that any depression or deficiency which in itself was considered of negative value would cause an unfavorable omen result when it appeared on a right side and a favorable one on a left side.

Extispicy, divining by the entrails of sacrificial sheep, and more specifically hepatoscopy, "liver-examination," was the highest form of the diviner's art.
Because I suspect the great majority of readers will neither be raising nor slaughtering their own sheep, I want to provide an adaptation for the Liver-oracle on cards.

The principle on which the cards are based is logarithmic. You stand a 50 percent chance of getting a normal feature, and a 50 percent chance of getting an anomaly. With the anomalous 50 percent, you stand a 50 percent chance of getting a less anomalous anomaly, and so on with decreasing chances for greater anomalies. The exception is the "Fortuitous Marks" (hereinafter called "Marks") pack, where you stand a less than 11 percent chance of getting a Mark on a certain Zone of the amutu; with a well-shuffled deck you should therefore expect 1 to 2 Marks on each side of each Zone.

It is difficult to say whether this principle reflects actuality, since I know of no statistical studies that have been done on these features of real sheep livers. It seems unlikely, however, since liver pathologies are not really random.

Although the use of cards can never really approximate the subtlety of interpreting a real liver, it can go a long way towards teaching the principles of hepatoscopy, and is a detailed source of divinatory information. I have adapted as much of the traditional material to this format as I could; even though some of the details may appear arbitrary, they are in fact in strict accordance with the available data. If you were to master this technique, you would no doubt be competent to examine a real liver if on ever came your way. For the ancient baru (diviner), practice livers and living instructors would have been abundant; the liver was there, they just had to interpret it. Our difficulty is that we first have to create a liver. Although it seems tedious, the process I have developed below is simple to master and rewarding to interpret. Once learned, an entire divination will take about an hour.

To prepare for the divination:

1. Buy 4 packs of 100 blank filing cards (3 x 5) or business card blanks.
2. Have a four-sided die or a six-sided die, and a coin.
3. One group of cards will be for the size of the Zones of the amutu:

Total: 60 cards

4. The next group will be for the colors of the Zones and Marks:

Total: 65 cards

5. The last group will be for the marks:

Total: 266 cards
Total: 391 cards

To keep the cards separate, you could color their backs as elemental colors - "Marks" red for Fire; "Colors" dark blue for Water; "Zones" yellow or pale blue for Air; the liver itself is Earth. Copy the Liver blank, and write the information you get on the sections provided.

To use the cards in divination:

1. Do the operation at night; say the Prayer of the Divination Priest or the "Prayer to the Gods of the Night" (Maqlu tablet I).
2. Make an offering by lighting incense (juniper or frankincense) and pouring a libation of fresh water.
3. Ask your question and shuffle the Zones pack; draw a card for the general size of the liver; write it above the liver on the blank (if you get "absent" or "multiple" cards, reshuffle and draw again; if you get either of them again you should probably wait a day before attempting another divination).
4. Shuffle the Colors pack, and draw a card for the color of the liver in general, and write it under the size (use colored pens or pencils to make it easier);

5. Shuffle the Zones pack again; draw a card for the size of the left side of Zone 1; write it in the blank;
6. Shuffle the Colors pack for the color of the left side of Zone 1, and write it down.
7. Shuffle te Zones pack and draw a card for the size of the right side of Zone 1; write it on the blank;
8. Shuffle the Colors pack and draw a card for the right side of Zone 1; and write it down.
9. Do steps 3-8 for all 12 Zones (and their subzones, if you wish, all numbered consecutively on the blank).
10. Shuffle the Marks pack for each of the 14 Marks in order, first the left side, then the right; write name and number of Marks down (unless blank) you may choose to shuffle thoroughly until it feels right, and then count off 14 to 28 cards (if they have been properly shuffled the odds would be the same as reshuffling between each - this 'straight through' method is faster and more divinatorily pleasing as well)
11. Shuffle the Zones pack for the size of the Marks that you have, in order;
12. Shuffle the Colors pack for the color of Marks 6, 10, 11, 12, and 13 (the others are always "normal"), in order, and write them down;
13. Begin interpreting the Zones one by one, as each is completed. Add the following steps for certain features:
14. Interpret the liver according to the general instructions on the significance of the Zones, Colors and Marks, and whether they are on the left or right hand side.
15. Close with a prayer of Thanksgiving.

Principles of Interpretation

There are six basic principles to follow when interpreting the amutu, the usuratu kayyanatu (the "Normal Drawings"), the siru (the "Flesh"), and the Marks:

  1. Right or LeftRight and left can also be interpreted as parts of one person, such as when you can't decide between two alternatives - in this case decide beforehand which side will represent which alternative, the two sides can represent any duality you wish to explore
  2. Number:
  3. Size:
  4. Color:
  5. Head, Middle and Base:
  6. Particular instructions for the features (see note 13 above).

Interpreting the usuratu kayyanatu and siru (collectively called the "Zones"):

  1. manzazum / naplastum / naplasum - the "Presence" / "View;" symbolizes the God and Goddess, and sometimes the client. This is the situation at the outset: its circumstances, demands, the background and other factors that occasioned the question.
  2. Padanum / harranum / kibšum neptu - the "Path," / "Campaign" / "Course" / "Breach," symbolizes the military campaign, the journey, or any course about to be or just undertaken.
  3. Ruqqi pitir sarim / pu tabu the "Hollow of the Windcleft" / "Pleasing Word" - if present, it indicates complete success for what is undertaken, modified by other features; it is not always present.
  4. Dananum / puzrum, the "Strength" / "Secret" - symbolizes a secret desire or result, or an ulterior motive behind the question.
  5. Bab ekallim / abullum - "The Palace Gate" / "City Gate;" symbolizes the Palace, the Business or Career, as well as its income and personnel, and the security of assets.
  6. Šulmum / padan imitti martim - "The Well-being" / "The Path to the Right of the Gall-bladder;" symbolizes safety and prosperity for the journey or campaign; this Zone is not always present; if it is it is unmitigatedly positive, showing help from the Gods - roll the die to see where that help will arrive.
  7. Martum / re'um - "The Gall-bladder" / "The Shepherd;" symbolizes King and Throne, the clients themselves in their public capacities; roll the die to see how the Martum lies:
    1. The Gall bladder is stuck to the left - the enemy's army is strong;
    2. The Gall bladder is completely unstuck - the client is directionless and not trusted;
    3. (and 4) The Gall bladder lies normally - things are well for the client (if a six sided die is used, 5 and 6 indicate normalcy as well).
  8. Padan šumel martim / mihiš pan umman nakrim - "The Path to the Left of the Gall-bladder" / "The Defeat of the Enemy's Army;" symbolizes the enemy's campaign, the actions of rivals and detractors, their course.
  9. Nidi kussem - "The Throne Base;" symbolizes private life of the client, strength and discipline, and the hidden aspects of life such as scandals, intrigues, love affairs.
  10. Ubanum - "The Finger;" symbolizes the foreign, hostile, sinister and secluded; secret forces working deeply hidden; (the middle plain is counted left in evaluating sides);
  11. Nirum - "The Yoke;" symbolizes the City, State, and Countr, larger concerns.
  12. Šibtum - "The Increase;" symbolizes the economy and finances in general;


  1. Kakkum - "The Weapon;" symbolizes an army, an effort or a group of people acting for or against the client (depending on side and where it is pointing).
  2. Kakšum - (a mushroom-shaped weapon), symbolizes a blunt weapon, and therefore defeat on whichever side it occurs.
  3. Sepum - "The Foot;" symbolizes coming, invasion, conveyance.
  4. Šilum / pilšum - "The Hole" / "The Perforation;" symbolizes a death, blindness or great loss; an eclipse or complete reversal of fortune.
  5. Pitrum - "The Split;" symbolizes detachment, separation, a diversion of people or funds.
  6. Erištum - "The Request;" symbolizes a demand made by God or the enemy which must be met.
  7. Pillurtum - "The Cross;" symbolizes anarchy and chaos, insurrection or unavoidable confrontation.
  8. Nekemtum - "The Hidden Part" or "The Recess;" symbolizes something taken away, like booty in victory.
  9. Niphum - a type of configuration of Marks which cannot be interpreted favorably or unfavorably; the element of chance beyond the power of the diviner (it's like the joker in a deck of cards); if received:
  10. Sihhum - a grape-like pustule which is a symptom of the hydatid disease, which symbolizes rains, floods, and diseases (can be good or bad).
  11. Ziqtum - "The Sting (of a Scorpion);" symbolizes heroism, rebellion, and thirst; a sudden and unpredictable change.
  12. Pusum - "The White Patch;" a patch (of any color - see instruction 13), symbolizing famine or drying up of resources.
  13. Qum - "The Filament;" symbolizes restraint or obstruction, or some kind of hurdle to cross.
  14. Larum - "The Branch;" symbolizes expansion, achievement, growth.