I called it the Postal Oracle, which is both a tribute to the god of messengers and a reference to the source of the material: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (may he be honoured and feast with his ancestors!). The choice of book is not without mercurial significance, for a trickster is essentially a transgressor and there’s something subversive in sortes taken not from classical authors so often placed on a pedestal, but from modern satirical fiction about a con-man who escapes death and is placed in charge of a decrepit postal service he cunningly manages to revive. It’s witty, funny and a tribute to man’s resourcefulness and ability to act smart, even if not in an honest manner. And the postmaster wears a golden suit with a winged cap – an avatar of a god, one of the characters says. It’s all well within Mercury’s realm.
Of course, I wanted to make sure He was on board with this, so almost a year ago I offered Him incense, explained Him the whole idea and asked for a sign of approval, should He agree and be willing to guide me through the selection of the sentences. A few days later, things happened: I got a small prize out of a lottery ticket and my mother lost a two euro coin, which turned out to be at home, right next to Pratchett’s book, which I was keeping close to Mercury’s shrine. And it wasn’t just any coin: it was an Italian two Euro coin, which has Dante’s laurel-crowned head on it. An acclaimed writer, in other words, which I took as a sign of approval of the source material. Several days later, I also had dreams that involved coloured stars and dice.
Now, my initial thought was to use bibliomancy to pick the sentences, but that didn’t turn out well. I hesitate too much and after several dozen picks, creasing starts having a say on which pages you open. As I struggled with this, I had a dream that involved a Terry Pratchett title and book cover: the words were Carpe Jugulum, but the image was from Maskerade. I wondered if this meant I should take a look at those two books, but then it occurred to me that the mismatch between title and cover could mean that I shouldn’t combine the two. Rather, I thought, it may well mean that I should stay within Pratchett’s universe, but seize the throat, i.e. pick the words myself. Which is what I did and, several months later, when I finished going through Going Postal, I did the math and found out I had unintentionally written down 444 sentences. Message received!
Another issue I had to solve was the type and number of dice. Early on, I decided I wanted them to have different colours, for dice don’t normally come out in a straight line, so I need a way of knowing which one stands for the units, dozens and hundreds. My initial idea was to use four six-sided dice, which meant I would have to list 1296 sentences, but since I had only 444 when I finished going through the book, I knew I needed to rethink that. The solution presented itself shortly after: keep things as much as possible in multiples of 4. It was obvious, but I missed it in the middle of all the mind storming. So I’ll be using four eight-sided dices, three of which will have numbers from 1 to 8, allowing for a total of 512 answers (5+2+1=8). The fourth dice will be different and should have two symbols four times: one will mean that the god has nothing else to say and the other that I should draw again to add more sentences to the reply. That way I won’t have to rely on pure instinct to decide whether to throw the dice again and Mercury can talk all He wants (and rumour has it that He can be very chatty). The colours will be those I dreamed of: red for the units, blue for the dozens, green for the hundreds an white for the more/enough.
Starting tomorrow and then on the first Wednesday of every month, I’ll be using the Postal Oracle to seek advice or divine what will happen during the month. I’ll be writing everything down and analyse it as an experiment for at least a year, so as to see if the system works as it is, if it needs a few changes and if Mercury’s approves the final version. Putting it all together has led me to conclude that divination is a matter of shared language: you give the Gods enough vocabulary they can work with and they’ll use it to the best of its ability and according to their will. And just as with any language, both sides need to understand it and know how to use it, which requires practice. So I’ll be practising and I’ll be open to suggestions from Mercury. I reckon this is going to be an interesting ride.