I first encountered St Michael's chain in 2010. I was approached by an American friend of mine who asked me if I had knowledge of it as he wanted to learn the method of using it.
I told him I didn't know the method nor had I ever heard of it.
He told me he heard it was a form of divination that originated in Sicily and Southern Italy.
Bemused, I decided to do a little research of my own. I had never come across this method of divination whilst in Southern Italy nor had I ever heard of it.
However being of proud dyed in the wool Calabrese stock, a fortune teller and a devotee of St Michael the Archangel, I was naturally delighted by the possibility of such a divination system.
After a little research on the Internet I found.....nothing.
There were mentions of a St Michael's chain online, however this was a chain of office that was used in the confraternity of St Michael, it seemed to have no link to any kind of divination system.
I started asking around my Sicilian and Calabrese family and friends to see if anyone knew anything. They all just scratched their heads and looked puzzled.
A little disappointed, I packed the idea away in my mind and forgot about it.
Autumn 2011 and I came across a pamphlet on Sicilian folk magic written by an Italian-American author. In the book there was a description of the chain and how to use it.
The description given in the book was somewhat clumsy, unclear and badly written. It claimed the chain was a form of divination used to communicate directly with the Archangel Michael himself.
After a little study, I realised the chain was little more than a very simple form of geomancy.
4 holy medals of St Michael the Archangel where to be attached at equal lengths along a chain, the chain would then be thrown after certain prayers and ritual gestures. The chain produces a binary system depending on if medals land "up" or "down" that in turn make up 16 geomantic patterns, the 16 patterns where the same geomantic patterns found in traditional European geomancy and West African Ifa.
However their meanings deviated from both these systems separate interpretations (though admittedly one or two of the meanings of the patterns did coincide directly with the traditional European geomantic interpretations.)
There was also a second method of employing the chain in the book, this method again relied on forming binary patterns.
However in this instance only five patterns could be produced. It struck me that these five patterns where identical to the five outcomes of Obi divination utilised in Santeria.
Intrigued and not really sure what to make of the whole thing, I decided to go ahead and test the method of divination nevertheless.
I attached 4 St Michael medals to a chain, blessed them in the name of the Archangel and invited some friends to pose questions.
To our surprise, we found the chain to be an immensely accurate form of divination. So accurate in fact that I found the insights and predictions it provided quite remarkable.
The first question posed was by a friend of mine who has an eye disease called retina pigmentosa, she enquired if there was anything to help her medical treatment. The answer from the chain: "Pray to St Lucy" (patron of the blind and eye disorders.)
The second question posed was by my friend who worked in a bar and often would often walk through a bad area of town in the early hours to get home, he posed a question for general advice in his life, the answer: "beware violent crimes, beware thieves and avoid being in dangerous places at night." After this result he confided in me that the previous night he had been followed by a potential attacker, who had tried to corner him. He took the chains advice and decided to get taxis home from work from then on!
Origins of The Chain:
In the book from which I learnt the divination method, the author made no real claims to the origin of the chain or how he came to learn it. It could be that he did indeed formulate the entire system himself by fusing together Geomancy, Ifa and Obi.
After a little more research, I found that geomancy style divination was indeed practised in Southern Italy. I have even spoke to someone who had geomantic readings performed with 4 coins to produce the binary patterns (in the same way the medals of the chain produce patterns).
This hardly surprised me though. Ive seen all sorts of bizarre forms of divination coming out of southern italy, divination isn't so much a practise in Italy, as a national obsession. Ive seen everything from scopa cards to sex position dream interpretation (I kid you not, there's some scary old women who will divine your sordid nocturnal fantasies into winning lotto numbers.)
But, sadly alas, no mention specifically of a St Michael's chain.
In truth; I have no knowledge to what the origin of the chains is, whether it is the relatively recent invention of an Italian-American benedetto or the product of time tested traditional Italian folk Catholicism, I dont know. I would really like to say its the latter, but I cant, simply because I don't have any evidence to say it is.
It seems of little consequence regarding the pragmatics of divination anyway.
What is important is that it works. Which Ive found it does.
But whats so special about it, that's warranting this blog post, is that it works to a level of divinatory accuracy that is almost disturbing. I have no doubt the chain and its system is a damn useful divination tool and not something I'm prepared to just throw away, just because it might not be of antique origin.
Speculations of the Chains Historic origins:
The chain is definitely influenced by some form of geomancy, there is no two ways about it. It also works, old or not, it taps into something powerful. Infact Id really apreciate it if anyone reading this experienced with Geomancy or Ifa would be kind enough to share any of their thoughts and ideas on how it might work.
Geomancy itself is Arabic to my understanding. The mythological origins of geomancy are that the Islamic prophet Idris was given the binary figures by Jibreel (Archangel Gabriel.) though its actual historic invention is shrouded in mystery and speculation.
The method was brought to Europe in the middle ages, probably through Spain and Italy. It may have also been taken to West Africa by Arab traders and slavers, where it evolved into the seperate religious divinatotry practice of Ifa. However many other people think Ifa divination is a system that evolved independently and the feature of its binary figures being similar in nature to Arabic/European geomancy are purely coincidental.
With this information, we can speculate that Arabian geomancy might have once had a strong hold in Southern Italy. Arabic ethnicity, culture and language all have had a heavy influence on Puglia, Calabria and Sicily that is strongly evident even to this day.
It doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to see a system under the patronage of one Archangel (Gabriel) shift under the patronage of another one, who is more popular in the region it is being practised (Michael). But again, Ill leave it to you to decide what you think the chains origins are.
I am sitting firmly on the fence. I'm quite happy throwing my St Michael chain and getting good results whatever its origins.
(as my Arab ancestors would have said.)