‘You will meet a tall, dark fish…’

Sophie Williams 3 November 2013

Never before had I been so excited to get my fortune told by a non-mammal. Today I had my fortune told by a fish – or rather, Alex Loktionov in a shark costume. Alex is an expert in Assyrian oil divination, a fortune-telling method practised by men – who really did wear fish costumes – from the Middle East around 1800BCE.

You may have heard of the Assyrians (or at least seen their man-headed sphinxes at the British Museum.) Alex is the University of Cambridge’s only student Assyriologist and he performs oil divination as a form of “outreach” to make “Assyriology look cool.” He is frustrated that the ancient Egyptians receive all the academic interest when in fact “as a civilisation [the Assyrians’] impact on the world is arguably the greatest of them all: they invented things like writing, urbanism, roads, having sixty minutes to the hour…”

Alex last week tried to draw attention to this amazing forgotten civilisation by recreating their means of telling the future for the Festival of Ideas. What does the future have in store for me? It seems today was an auspicious day, as I received two positive predictions. (The other eight or so possible outcomes are all doom-related.) Apparently I will be rich and live a long life – as long as I offer sacrifices to the Sun god.

I ask Alex what this entails; he tells me that I should offer libations to the sun god once a week.

“That’s feasible,” I thought. “At least it’s not animal sacrifice.”