The Working Of The Sikidy

To return to the actual divinatory operation, having selected one of the four Mother figures to represent the category of question asked, the geomantic figure in that column is examined. In our example, we have selected the Tale column as significator of the inquirer and we find the figure in it is Molahidy (i.e. Acquisitio) figure (see Appendix V).

Now as the Molahidy figure is in the column concerned with the question, the next job is to see if it also appears anywhere also in the figure (with the exception of the other three Mother figures). Looking through the grid on page 78, you will find that Molahidy is not lurking in any other position in the grid. Had it been, the subject associated with that column might have provided a clue to the nature of the problem to be resolved.

Lars Dahle explains this point more practically:2

If I expect a ship and am going to enquire about its coming by means of the sikidy, the rubric [i.e. column] Harena (property) is of course to represent it. If in this rubric [column] I find, for instance, the figure Jama [Populus], and on further examination find the same figure in the rubric Andro [? = Trano, house] this gives me no answer, as there is no natural connection between the two conceptions. If, on the contrary, I find the same figure in the rubric [column] marked Lalana [way or road], then of course I know that the ship is at any rate already on the way. I have then got an answer to the chief question; but there may still be good reason for a sharp look-out, for there may be difficulties in its way. Suppose that I also find the same figure in the rubric [column] marked Fahavalo (enemy), my mind will immediately be filled with gloomy apprehensions of pirates. Not a bit more cheerful will be my prospects, if I find the same figure under Ra be mandriaka (much bloodshed). But what a consolation, on the other hand, if the same figure reappears under the rubric [column] Nia (food); for then I must certainly be a blockhead if I do not understand that, although the ship may have a long voyage, there is no fear of scarcity of food on board; and so on. It is easy enough to see that a man with much practice and a good deal of imagination could produce much 'information' in this manner; and I suppose that in a good many cases the mpisikidy were able to find an answer already in this first act of their proceedings, even if the means of finding it might seem scanty enough to ordinary mortals.

Dahle appears to have consulted the sikidy often enough for his own benefit, despite his rather patronizing attitude towards it when he says, 'I do not intend the reader to practise the sikidy (this secret I shall keep for my own use)': a rather incredible statement for a staid Christian missionary of the turn of the century!

It is an interesting point that the process of divination was a two-way operation, and not merely a passive questioning of an accepted 'kismet-type' fate. It was felt that not only the events and train of circumstances of the present shaped the outcome of the divination, but also that manipulation of the divination could alter the outcome of events.

The divination did not just stop at being simply a divination, but was used as a diagnostic tool, and finally became part of the prognosis. The mpisikidy actually uses it to manipulate, ease, or avert the evils which have been diagnosed or predicted by it. Hence sikidy becomes a doctor's aid, and a magical tool in its own right.

Following this identification of the key figure in its other possible locations on the toetry there comes a complex system of pairing and grouping, which although we will not detail here, because of the many variations in interpretation from mpisikidy to mpisikidy, leads none the less to a quite detailed analysis of the circumstances surrounding the main events, and the first hints of actions to circumvent some of them.

Having considered the various combinations of sikidy and the significance of those which fall in more than one position, it is now necessary to turn to the sikidy tokana, or the figures which stand alone. In our original example (p. 78) the figure in the Tale or first column is such a sikidy tokana for it occurs nowhere else in the grid, it is unique. Special attention is again devoted to the Andria-manitra (fifteenth) column and the Tale (first) column.

Sikidy tokana in the first or Tale column as in our example, have a very direct effect on the querent. It will be seen that Molahidy (Acquisitio) is the sikidy tokana in the first column, and as this figure means gain in possessions, the outcome of the divination seems to imply a fairly speedy arrival of material possessions for the querent.

Similarly, a sikidy tokana in the fifteenth or Andria-manitra column has a very strong effect, and if this effect is malevolent, then the necessary fadritras will have to be paid the closest of attention, for here the querent is dealing with the god's attitude towards him and his question. Obviously none of the Slave figures can appear in the Andriamanitra column as that would have resulted in the instant destruction of the whole divination.

This limits the possibilities to eight figures. For example, if Asoravavy (Fortuna Major) turned up, the execution of a faditra, in the form of a cooking pot of rice hurled by the querent, opens up the possibility of the acquisition of a lesser fortune in the immediate future.

Sometimes the four to eight beans actually making up the auspicious figure can constitute a talisman in their own right, for having fallen as a sikidy tokana into the incredibly powerful column of Andriamanitra they are charged with the necessary force. Thus the beans making up a sikidy tokana figure of Alokola (Career) in the Andriamanitra column constitute a protection against gunshot if put into a bullock's horn and worn on the person. Similarly the beans of a sikidy tokana in the form of Molahidy (Acquisitio) if found in the Andriamanitra column and mixed with the herb tambinoana are supposed to be an excellent specific against illness if licked six times and then placed on the head! Likewise various parts of the divinatory layout are sometimes combined with other parts apparently at the whim of the diviner to derive or inspire further recipes for magical treatment or correction of the prevailing trends. These ideas actually generated very elaborate rules specifically designed to 'rig' a particular divination in order to obtain the desired auspicious result and thereby claim the beans necessary for the charm!

The directions derived from the sikidy are of two kinds - the sorora which are intended to obtain favours and the faditra designed to avert predicted ills. The latter is analogous to the scapegoat ceremony of ancient Judaism and takes the form of ashes, cut money, a sheep, a pumpkin or almost anything else the sikidy might prescribe. If the faditra is ashes, then they are allowed to blow away, if a coin then it is thrown into the deepest water, if a pumpkin then it is dashed to the ground with mock fury, and if a sheep it is carried on the shoulders of a man as far as he can run: this then should discharge the evil.

The sorora on the other hand is either cooked and eaten or worn as a charm, the latter being a string of beads or pieces of silver, whilst the former can be a bullock, fowl, rice, milk, honey or any other foodstuff.

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