In a previous post, I alluded to a slightly loopy idea that had gotten into my head to use the limited number of letters present in the Lepontic alphabet for divination on analogy with the Germanic runes. Runes probably derive (primarily) from the northern Old Italic alphabet used for writing Rætic. The use of runes for divination is widely practised, and seems to rest upon a circumstantially strong historical foundation. Rætic, Venetic, Lepontic and Cisalpine Gaulish were all written in what amounts to a single northern Old Italic script, with local variations. (There’s no very satisfactory name for this particularly alphabet, by the way. It’s sometimes called the alphabet of Lugano, or Gallo-Etruscan, or Lepontic, or … well, you get the picture.)
In light of these shared origins, it occurred to me that runic divination might be adapted to the alphabet of Lugano in a reasonably plausible way. To be sure, this must inevitably be a modern in(ter)vention, and cannot claim antiquity. It can, however, claim historical analogy.
Like the Etruscan alphabet, from which it derives, the alphabet of Lugano has jettisoned a number of letters corresponding to B/beta/berkanan, D/delta and C~G/gamma. For these letters, the Lugano alphabet uses pi, tau and kappa, respectively. It also has no letter corresponding to H/eta/haglaz (since Lepontic, Gaulish and proto-Celtic are not thought to have had a phoneme /h/), and also none corresponding to the runes thurisaz, wunjo, jeran, iwaz or ingwaz, which are thought to have been Germanic innovations. It makes no use of Q/qoppa, and after an initial transitional period gives up Z/zeta (corresponding to algiz) and Ð/theta in favour of san.
What remains is an alphabet with 15 or 16 letters (depending on whether you count X/chi), all of which have more or less direct equivalents in the Elder Futhark. The qualifier ‘more or less’ can be dispensed with if one accepts that the gebo rune derives from Latin X, and dagaz from san (which are essentially identical to their runic equivalents). Divination with a scaled-down system such as this might therefore be likened to doing tarot readings with only the Major Arcana.
The letters from the alphabet of Lugano are on the right. I’ve shown them in the above table as dextroverse (i.e. for writing from left to right), although in fact most inscriptions are sinistroverse (written from right to left). For everyday use, all the letters should be the mirror image of how they’re shown above. The dextroverse variants are also authentic, however, and they’re useful here for visual comparison with the Greek, Roman and runic alphabets, which are all dextroverse.
Where do I get the Celtic names in the rightmost column above? Well, a number of runic names actually correspond exactly to Gaulish or Lepontic words in terms of etymology and even meaning: ehwaz/epos ‘horse’, laukaz/locos ‘lake’, raido/reda ‘chariot’, sowilos/sonnos ‘sun’, uruz/uros ‘aurochs’. In other cases, a semantic or etymological gap can be easily bridged: ansuz/Aisus ‘one of the Æsir/Esus’, isaz/iagis ‘ice’, mannaz/mapos ‘man/son’, Tiwaz/Toutatis ‘gods identified with Mars’, othalan/orbion ‘inheritance’. In some cases, I suggest a Celtic name that requires only a little explanation: ulidos ‘feast’ for fehu ‘wealth, cattle’ (for the Gauls demonstrated their wealth by throwing lavish feasts); noxs ‘night’ for naudiz ‘need’ (each evoking absence, insufficiency, even fear); catus ‘battle’ for kauna ‘ulcer’ (each portending physical difficulty and struggle); gestlos ‘host’ for gebo ‘gift’ (hospitality necessarily entailing giving). In the case of pritios ‘poet’, I’ve chosen the Celtic word primarily for phonetic reasons, but it would actually fit the (Anglo-Saxon) rune poem more transparently than the obscure word peorð does. Although the Lepontic letter san might be related to dagaz, or conceivably to thurisaz, I think the only satisfactory Celtic name for it is ðira ‘star’.
As for what to do when using these letters for divination, I should not presume to offer instruction when so many others are far more familiar with the ins and outs of runic divination. However, the basic idea is to invoke a god of prophecy (I go to Apollo Virotutis), ask a question, draw one or more letters, and piece together their meaning starting from the basic word assigned to each letter. (My feeling is that as long as you’ve declared what these meanings are in advance, you’ve offered a conventional idiom by which the gods can instruct you; if you’re fit to receive their instruction, then they will provide it—even if the divinatory instrument is only a modern convention.) Additional interpretive insights might be offered by the Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic and Norwegian rune poems—or even by the conventions of ancient Greek grammatomancy.
The Lexicon Leponticum by David Stifter, Martin Braun and Michela Vignoli has been an indispensable reference for this post. It’s really a fantastic scholarly resource, highly recommended for glyph variants and historical usage statistics, as well as the texts of inscriptions themselves. An article by Michel Lejeune, “Le vase de Latumaros (Discussions sur l’alphabet de Lugano)”, was useful for untangling Lepontic san, theta and zeta in my mind. I’ve also referred to various resources at the Arbre Celtique, to X. Delamarre’s Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, to the WordGumbo page on Gaulish, to the page Mots français d’origine gauloise, and, yes, to the French and English editions of Wikipedia. If any detail looks dubious, please point it out in the comments section, and we can put it right.