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General divination using the shoulder-bone (blade-bone) of a sheep has a very long history in Scotland and Wales, with regular references back to 1188 (see Opie and Tatem, 1989: 30), but is apparently rarely recorded in England, apart from in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (‘Parson's Tale’ (c.1395), l. 602). Chaucer's parson is here railing against false swearing and conjuring ‘as doon thise false enchauntours or nigromanciens in bacyns ful of water, or in a bright swerd, in a cercle, or in a fir, or in a shulder-bone of a sheep’. Strangely enough, the blade-bone (of either sheep or rabbit) turns up in English sources in the 19th century, in a specific divinatory context, as one of the many ways in which one can see one's future lover or even draw him/her to you: ‘Take the blade-bone of a rabbit and stick nine pins in it, and then put it under your pillow, and you will be sure to see the object of your affections’ (N&Q 1s:6 (1852), 312, from Hull, Yorkshire). Opie and Tatem also identify another reference to the blade-bone in the Canterbury Tales (‘Pardoner's Prologue’, ll. 350–60) which maintains that water in which such a bone has been steeped will have strong veterinary applications.

Opie and Tatem, 1989: 30–1;Lean, 1903: ii. 342, 356, 372.

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