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Basic Information

In history/mythology/religion, a Haruspex is a priest trained in the arts of haruspicy and/or hepatoscopy (also known as extispicy and hepatomancy respectively) - which are forms of divination by means of analyzing the entrails and/or liver (respectively) of an animal sacrifice. Names for other organ specific divinations can be constructed, but don't tend to appear in the hisotrical record and were probably not practiced. From this bloody art, the Haruspex could foretell the future and interpret messages from the Gods.

Haruspicy was practiced in Ancient Rome, though their tradition and methods were actually developed in Etruria and incorporated into Roman Mythology and Religion by the same Interpretatio Romana method by which Etruscan Mythology was subsumed into Roman. Etruscan Mythology said that the art of haruspicy was taught to mankind by the deity Tarchies, after a farmer accidentally dug him up out of the ground.

Related methods were also practiced in Ancient Greece.

In Ancient Mesopotamia (specifically the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Neo-Babylonian Empire), a similar divinitory art was known as Bārûtu. There is even mention of similar practices in the ancient Hebrew tradition, although Judaism usually holds that Hashem frowns on divination (possibly this comes under the loophole of enlightment through the study of Creation).

Whether the liver could then be used as part of a thyesthai or not probably depended on your tradition.

Tools of the Trade

  • A Haruspex reads the liver or guts of a sacrificed sheep, chicken, or other animal. Obviously that means they need access to the animals, and probably whatever tools are used to slay them. Depending of tradition, different animals might be required for different purposes and there may be rules about their ritual purity and cosmetic features ("free from blemish or defect" should be considered the default, colour, age and gender might also matter to the deity being consulted … for example chtonic gods might prefer black animals whilst celestial gods might require a white one).
    • The liver of an animal sacrificed for other purposes - such as thanksgiving, propitiation or atonement or as part of a bargain - might also be examined to determine if the offering had been accepted or not…
  • There are a few sources from classic antiquity that imply sometimes human sacrifice was used for haruspicy as well. (Or, technically, used for Anthropomancy.)
  • Several bronze or ceramic liver-shaped reference plates have survived through the ages. The most famous of these is the Piacenza Liver, discovered buried on a farm in 1877. (Presumably being buried on a farm is a relatively appropriate fate all things considered.) These devices are covered with symbols and writing, and were likely used to train new haruspex.



Game and Story Use

  • Haruspicy is inherently bloody, dark, and creepy. It's got some great built-in imagery, and is a shock to modern sensibilities.
    • It's a squicky power that would feel right at home being wielded by the head of a cult, or a treacherous advisor or Power Behind The Throne. The priests who practiced it back in the classical era had a lot of political and social power; so you'd better not mess with the Haruspex.
      • Haruspicy would also be interesting in the hands of the creepy child trope, provided that child were an avatar of Tarchies (the snake-footed baby god that taught haruspicy to the Etruscans).
    • It would also be a natural fit among the broken obsessive sorcerers of Unknown Armies, either for use by oddball PCs or creepy NPCs.
    • Note that it's only creepy to modern audiences - to the average Greek or Roman it may have been a bit messy, but was no more creepy than the consecration of the Host in a Roman Mass.
  • The Piacenza Liver or similar tablets could make for an interesting public domain artifact. Perhaps its power is unleashed only when the tablet has been fed enough blood, or the right bits from the innards of sacrifices. Perhaps the tablet is Tarchies himself, since both of them seem to have been dug up on a farm at least once. Coded myth may also apply here.
  • Maybe a serial killer who mutilates his victims much like Jack the Ripper is practicing a little haruspicy on the side, and that's why his victims are always missing the same few internal organs. As above, go for the full Hannibal Lecter and add in the thyesthai to follow.
  • The alternate organ divinations might be applied in an alternate setting - perhaps using a concordance of the ruling gods or astrological planets for the relevant organ … for example, in Western astrology the heart is governed by the house of Leo whose ruling planet is The Sun. Thus a cardioscopy (cardioamantic divination) or examination of the heart of a sacrifice might be performed to consult a solar deity, on behalf of someone whose ruling house was Leo or for matters concerning the Sun. The heart of a lion might be particularly revealing…
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