Sunday, July 27, 2014


Kleros is one of those Greco/Roman words which is the basis of many other words in our vocabulary. It is a noun meaning "LOT" as in the "casting of lots," as in the ping-pong balls which once flew around inside big plastic domes on TV when they announced the drawing of a lottery back in the latter half of the 20th century.

Which may have also inadvertently given us the phrase "a lot of stuff," as in "there were a lot of Lots flying around inside that ping-pong ball thingamabob on the lottery last night. And no. I didn't win anything."

Now, what makes Kleros interesting is that it also gives us the word Cleric. Which, despite what those of us brought up on D&D may eagerly believe, is not the calling of a valiant war priest who fights for one's God with plate mail and mace, casting powerful spells and turning the undead.

No, a Cleric in the classical sense, is a secretary.

Priests go out and preach to the believers. Clerics wander around the back offices of the church and toil over the registry, counting up tithes and trying to keep track of who is who - and considering medieval times - who is more important than whom in relation to how much they have been giving to the church.

Which is where we get the phrases "clerical error," as well as "clerical work." Yeah, not too exciting. Except that the Kleros in Cleric can also be summed up by the phrase "one's lot in life."

Which is what they are keeping track of - a position which in the medieval mindset is handed down from one of three sources:

    God - through the miracle of birth which bears you into your station.
    King - through the power of regency, meaning the king has placed you where he wants you, via the power invested in him by God.
    Cleric - who accidentally made you a Bishop through a clerical error.

So behind it all there is this sense that life is a lottery. Something which to us seems quite random, yet we are taught to believe that the power of God uses to make sure that the people he wants in certain positions of authority are placed there.

Aka "Divine Right"

Aka the monarchy who lords over you has the right to do so because God made them monarchs - and God is never wrong - anyone who believes otherwise is a heretic and will be burned at the stake for defying the will of the Monarchy.

Oops, I mean God.

Or possibly the Monarchy. Or both or whatever.

It's easy to criticize when put that way. And yet the idea is still very firmly rooted in the collective unconscious of our ultra-modern psyche.

It's the reason why Right-wingers and the Conservative Right and the Christian Right describe themselves using the moniker Right. It's not just a direction. It's a decree from on high.

It's also the reason why the media goes ga-ga over yet another prince being born in England - even though his power has been constitutionally stymied to opening shopping malls and smacking around the papparazi.

It is also the root of all divination, which is the belief that divine powers reveal future intentions through random occurrences. Tarot Cards. Tea Leaves. Astrology is not based on a random draw, but your date of birth certainly seems to be. I know I didn't plan mine.

Numerology uses the name your parents gave you at birth, which - assuming that your parents do not understand the Byzantine mechanizations of numerology and aren't secretly trying to make you into what they want you to be in every possible way (parents can be so sneaky that way!!!!) - numerology is once again using a random seed to divine the will of the Gods.

All of which leads back to the earliest form of Divination, as well as our last incarnation of Kleros, namely Cleromancy, the practice of telling the future by a roll of the dice.

We don't actually know that Cleromancy is the earliest form of divination. We just assume it is because Tarot Cards need paper and ink. Astrology and numerology require higher mathematics. Alectryomancy - divination by way of watching chickens peck in the dirt - requires both domestication and agriculture.

For Cleromancy, all you need is a circle in the dirt and a sack of Lots to throw into it. Sea shells, knuckle bones, carved sticks, runic stones, seeds, nuts, dice, etc....

Oh yeah, and a ton of macho sexual overtones. I don't think it's an accident that we keep our dice in sacks and prefer to roll them in pairs, traditionally a pair of six-siders which - on average - are about the same size as a pair of shrivelled up testicles. Not that I have had much experience with such things but....

Another thing that is interesting about Cleromancy is that it has not held up as well as other forms of divination. If you search you can find "rules" for the "game" of cleromancy, yet on the whole even Exispicy seems to be more popular.

I believe that cleromancy didn't fall out of use so much as was forced out of use. Dice are most often associated with games. If you want to talk about the down side of relying on chance you bring up the phrase of "a roll of the dice." Even the modern game which most closely resembles Cleromancy is called, quite tellingly, Craps. I think cleromancy was intentionally undermined, and it may have been done by the exact same people who established it: the cleromancers - or more simply - the clerics.

Go back thousands of years in time and we encounter an age ruled by Priest-Kings such as Pharoahs and Shahs. However they did not know themselves as Priest-Kings because that would imply two different professions combined. As civilizations advance professions splinter according to need. Rarely do they ever combine. Back at the dawn of civilization there had yet to arise a need complex enough to cause the duties of Priest and King to separate.

So yeah, your king was your priest and your priest was your king and people would look at you funny if you suggested anything otherwise.

And then burn you at the stake.

But what did those Priest-Kings do? Aside from basking in the love and respect of a nation? They probably spent their days in consultation. Being appointed by the Gods puts you in demand. It also makes you out to be someone who could never and should never be wrong.

How does one maintain such a facade? Without shutting yourself away from the world? First you put God above you. People will call you a God, but even the Pharoahs of Egypt had the good sense to claim to be just an avatar of Ra and not the actual God. Next you divine his will in a cryptic way which vents any blame or accusations of error away from oneself.

Aka you roll the dice and see what turns up. Get something you don't like? It's the dice's fault.

Eventually though, writing comes into being, and with it history and case studies - basically the Bible in a nutshell - now people can keep track of all the times you have been wrong. This is probably also the time when the profession of Priest separates from that of King so that the King can  have an easier time remaining blameless.

These early priests still practice divination, because it is demanded of them, but behind it all is a more lawyerly affair that consults the history/holy books, looks back on what has happened in the past, and uses that to more accurately predict the future. The casting of Lots is phased out and dice are relegated to the lands of games and cleromancy is condemned along with all other forms of fortune telling when taken seriously.

Ever wonder why Christianity (at the very least, I don't know about the others) maintains such a vehement hatred of Astrologers and Fortune Tellers? Aside from the amazing amounts of bad advice which tends to spill from both? It was probably because back before the advent of writing they were all practioners of Divination and all in direct competition with one another. They did the same thing using different techniques.

Ever wonder why we still listen to them?
It's because we always have.


You really have to wonder why Gary Gygax chose to use the word Cleric instead of "War Priest" or "Battle Friar." It is known that TSR chose the term "Magic-User" over Wizard so as not to offend religous gamers (although apparently Thief and Assassin were totally Kosher). But you have to wonder if Gary being sneaky in choosing a term which he knew to be closely tied to someone who keeps track of lots, the predecessor of dice, and at one time used them to divine the will of God.

Is it an Easter egg?
Or just another roll of the dice?
Unfortunately, the world will never know.