Molybdomancy: A New Year’s Eve Tradition

Even though it coincides with different dates in different cultures, New Year’s Eve celebrations are the common heritage of almost all humanity. So much so that over time, many superstitions and interesting traditions have emerged about New Year’s Eve. Although eating grapes, drinking champagne, wearing red clothes, playing bingo, and crowded dinners are usually the first things that come to mind, this article focuses on the tradition of lead pouring, also known as molybdomancy.

What is Lead Pouring?

Lead pouring is a method of divination that is accomplished by pouring molten lead into a cold liquid, usually water. This method, also known as molybdomancy, is also practiced in some countries to ward off the evil eye and keep evil away.

How is Molybdomancy Practiced?

Knowing what will happen in the future is one of the biggest dreams of many people. That’s why societies have developed interesting divination methods in the past. You can find a list of these prophecies on Wikipedia.

Among the methods of divination, there are also methods in which the intestines or livers of dead animals are used. Fortunately, molybdomancy is not one of them… So how is molybdomancy practiced?

First, the fortune teller melts lead or tin in a ladle for divination. Next, the molten metal is poured into cold water. Rapidly cooling metal takes interesting shapes. The fortune teller makes predictions about the future by looking at these figures.

Molybdomancy in Germany

The History of Molybdomancy

The origin of molybdomancy and where it first appeared is unclear. However, American writer Patricia Telesco wrote that the Ancient Romans and Celts used divination methods similar to molybdomancy.1 In particular, divinations made by melting wax were very popular with some Ancient Roman fortune tellers.

The origin of molybdomancy goes back to ancient times in Turkic communities as well. Yaşar Kalafat wrote that lead pouring is practiced for the treatment of some phobic diseases in the Tengrism belief.2 The ritual usually went like this:

First, the patient is seated on the floor or in a chair. Meanwhile, two people hold a cloth over the patient’s head. The fortune teller or another person holds a bowl of water just above the cloth. The fortune teller pours molten lead into this bowl in one fell swoop. And then, inferences are made about the disease according to the shape of the lead that solidifies in the water.

Lead pouring was a very popular tradition in Turkic communities until recently.
Dontbesogullible ©️CC BY-SA 4.0

Researcher Murat Uraz has interpreted traditions such as hanging garlic in houses to keep evil at bay or lead pouring as practices of fetishism that have changed over time.3

The Balkan peoples, especially Serbs and Bosnians, also practiced molybdomancy for similar purposes.

Lead Pouring in Malleus Maleficarum

Written by two inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum was an important reference book for witch hunters. The book includes many methods for detecting witches, one of which is lead pouring. According to Malleus Maleficarum, lead pouring could be practiced to find out if someone was enchanted by witches. Moreover, with this method, witches could be harmed indirectly.4

Modern Day Molybdomancy

Molybdomancy is known as tinanvalanta in Finland, bleigießen in Germany and Austria, and lití olova in Czechia. Today it is a common tradition to perform molybdomancy on New Year’s Eve in Finland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Czechia. The way it is practiced is the same as the methods mentioned above. Someone pours molten lead or tin into a bowl filled with water. Based on the shape of the solidified metal, prophecies are made for the coming year. Just as the figures resembling an airplane or a ship signify a journey…

Winter Solstice: What are Yule, Saturnalia and Nardugan?

Apart from the countries mentioned above, molybdomancy and similar traditions are also practiced in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Turkey, Estonia and Latvia.

Health Harms Of Lead

Breathing lead vapor is extremely risky for human health. For this reason, many countries limited the sale of molybdomancy kits in 2018. Health professionals encourage the use of beeswax, a much more harmless material, instead of lead and tin.

  1. “FutureTelling: Complete Guide To Divination”, Patricia TELESCO, Crossing Press, ISBN: 978-0895948724[]
  2. “Altaylar’dan Anadolu’ya Kamizm-Şamanizm”, Yaşar KALAFAT, Yeditepe Yayınevi, ISBN: 975-6480-23-8[]
  3. “Türk Mitolojisi”, Murat URAZ, Düşünen Adam Yayınları, ISBN: 975-9792359[]
  4. “Malleus Maleficarum”, Heinrich KRAMER & Jacob SPRENGER[]