Divination (from Latin divinare "to foresee, to be inspired by a god", related to divinus, divine) is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic, standardized process or ritual. Used in various forms throughout history, diviners ascertain their interpretations of how a querent should proceed by reading signs, events, or omens, or through alleged contact with a supernatural agency.
Divination can be seen as a systematic method with which to organize what appear to be disjointed, random facets of existence such that they provide insight into a problem at hand. If a distinction is to be made between divination and fortune-telling, divination has a more formal or ritualistic element and often contains a more social character, usually in a religious context, as seen in traditional African medicine. Fortune-telling, on the other hand, is a more everyday practice for personal purposes. Particular divination methods vary by culture and religion.
Divination is dismissed by the scientific community and skeptics as being superstition. In the 2nd century, Lucian devoted a witty essay to the career of a charlatan, "Alexander the false prophet", trained by "one of those who advertise enchantments, miraculous incantations, charms for your love-affairs, visitations for your enemies, disclosures of buried treasure, and successions to estates", even though most Romans believed in prophetic dreams and charms.
Deuteronomy 18:10-12 or Leviticus 19:26 can be interpreted as categorically forbidding divination. However, some would claim that divination is indeed practiced in the Bible, such as in Exodus 28, when the Urim and Thummim are mentioned. Some would also say that Gideon also practiced divination, though when he uses a piece of fleece or wool in Judges 6:36-40, he is not attempting to predict the outcome of an important battle; rather, he is communicating with God. Communicating with God through prayer may in some cases be considered divination; both are open, typically two-way conversations with God. In addition, the method of "casting lots" used in Joshua 14:1-5 and Joshua 18:1-10 to divide the conquered lands of Canaan between the twelve tribes is not seen by some as divination, but as done at the behest of God (Numbers 26:55).
Both oracles and seers in ancient Greece practiced divination. Oracles were the conduits for the gods on earth; their prophecies were understood to be the will of the gods verbatim. Because of the high demand for oracle consultations and the oracles’ limited work schedule, they were not the main source of divination for the ancient Greeks. That role fell to the seers (μάντεις in Greek).
Seers were not in direct contact with the gods; instead, they were interpreters of signs provided by the gods. Seers used many methods to explicate the will of the gods including extispicy, bird signs, etc. They were more numerous than the oracles and did not keep a limited schedule; thus, they were highly valued by all Greeks, not just those with the capacity to travel to Delphi or other such distant sites.
The disadvantage to seers was that only direct yes-or-no questions could be answered. Oracles could answer more generalized questions, and seers often had to perform several sacrifices in order to get the most consistent answer. For example, if a general wanted to know if the omens were proper for him to advance on the enemy, he would ask his seer both that question and if it were better for him to remain on the defensive. If the seer gave consistent answers, the advice was considered valid.
At battle, generals would frequently ask seers at both the campground (a process called the hiera) and at the battlefield (called the sphagia). The hiera entailed the seer slaughtering a sheep and examining its liver for answers regarding a more generic question; the sphagia involved killing a young female goat by slitting its throat and noting the animal’s last movements and blood flow. The battlefield sacrifice only occurred when two armies prepared for battle against each other. Neither force would advance until the seer revealed appropriate omens.
Because the seers had such power over influential individuals in ancient Greece, many were skeptical of the accuracy and honesty of the seers. The degree to which seers were honest depends entirely on the individual seers. Despite the doubt surrounding individual seers, the craft as a whole was well regarded and trusted by the Greeks.
The divination method of casting lots (Cleromancy) was used by the remaining eleven disciples of Jesus in Acts 1:23-26 to select a replacement for Judas Iscariot. Therefore, divination was arguably an accepted practice in the early church. However, divination became viewed as a pagan practice by Christian emperors during ancient Rome.
In 692 the Quinisext Council, also known as the "Council in Trullo" in the Eastern Orthodox Church, passed canons to eliminate pagan and divination practices. Fortune-telling and other forms of divination were widespread through the Middle Ages. In the constitution of 1572 and public regulations of 1661 of Kur-Saxony, capital punishment was used on those predicting the future. Laws forbidding divination practice continue to this day.
Småland is famous for Årsgång, a practice which occurred until the early 19th century in some parts of Småland. Generally occurring on Christmas and New Year's Eve, it is a practice in which one would fast and keep themselves away from light in a room until midnight to then complete a set of complex events to interpret symbols encountered throughout the journey to foresee the coming year.
Divination was a central component of ancient Mesoamerican religious life. Many Aztec gods, including central creator gods, were described as diviners and were closely associated with sorcery. Tezcatlipoca is the patron of sorcerers and practitioners of magic. His name means "smoking mirror", a reference to a device used for divinatory scrying. In the Mayan Popol Vuh, the creator gods Xmucane and Xpiacoc perform divinatory hand casting during the creation of people.
Every civilization that developed in pre-Columbian Mexico, from the Olmecs to the Aztecs, practiced divination in daily life, both public and private. Scrying through the use of reflective water surfaces, mirrors, or the casting of lots were among the most widespread forms of divinatory practice. Visions derived from hallucinogens were another important form of divination, and are still widely used among contemporary diviners of Mexico. Among the more common hallucinogenic plants used in divination are morning glory, jimson weed, and peyote.
Although Japan retains a history of traditional and local methods of divination, such as omyodo, contemporary divination in Japan, called uranai, derives from outside sources. Contemporary methods of divination in Japan include both Western and Chinese astrology, geomancy or feng shui, tarot cards, I Ching (Book of Changes), and physiognomy (methods of reading the body to identify traits). Rather than indicate cultural appropriation, understood as inappropriate acts of appropriation by a dominant culture in the context of colonization or inequality, Japanese divination represents instances of unique and creative amalgamation of cultural elements. This concept may be referred to as syncretism, creolization, or cultural hybridity. In the example of feng shui, Japanese adaptations of feng shui extend outside the traditional form, featuring such hybrids as "car feng shui," "workplace feng shui," "makeup feng shui," and even "toilet feng shui."
Personality typing as a form of divination has been prevalent in Japan since the 1980s. Various methods exist for divining personality type. Each attempt to reveal glimpses of an individual's destiny, productive and inhibiting traits, future parenting technique, and compatibility in marriage. Personality type is increasingly important for young Japanese, who consider personality the driving factor of compatibility, given the ongoing marriage drought and birth rate decline in Japan.
An import to Japan, Chinese zodiac signs based on birth year in 12 year cycles (rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, cock, dog, and boar) are frequently combined with other forms of divination, such as so-called 'celestial types' based on the planets (Saturn, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, or Uranus). Personality can also be divined using cardinal directions, the four elements (water, earth, fire, air), and yin-yang. Names can also lend important personality information under name classification which asserts that names bearing certain Japanese vowel sounds (a, i, u, e, o) share common characteristics. Numerology, which utilizes methods of diving 'birth numbers' from significant numbers such as birth date, may also reveal character traits of individuals.
Individuals can also assess their own and others' personalities according to physical characteristics. Blood type remains a popular form of divination from physiology. Stemming from Western influences, body reading or ninsou, determines personality traits based on body measurements. The face is the most commonly analyzed feature, with eye size, pupil shape, mouth shape, and eyebrow shape representing the most important traits. An upturned mouth may be cheerful, and a triangle eyebrow may indicate that someone is strong-willed.
Methods of assessment in daily life may include self-taken measurements or quizzes. As such, magazines targeted at women in their early-to-mid twenties feature the highest concentration of personality assessment guides. There are approximately 144 different women's magazines, known as nihon zashi koukoku kyoukai, published in Japan aimed at this audience.
The adaptation of the Western divination method of tarot cards into Japanese culture presents a particularly unique example of contemporary divination as this adaptation mingles with Japan's robust visual culture. Japanese tarot cards are created by professional artists, advertisers, and fans of tarot. One tarot card collector claimed to have accumulated more than 1,500 Japan-made decks of tarot cards. Japanese tarot cards fall into diverse categories such as Inspiration Tarot (reikan tarotto), I-Ching Tarot (ekisen tarotto), Spiritual Tarot (supirichuaru tarotto), Western Tarot (seiyō tarotto), and Eastern Tarot (tōyō tarotto). The images on tarot cards may come from images from Japanese popular culture, such as characters from manga and anime including Hello Kitty, or may feature cultural symbols. Tarot cards may adapt the images of Japanese historical figures, such as high priestess Himiko (170-248CE) or imperial court wizard Abe no Seimei (921-1005CE) . Still others may feature images of cultural displacement, such as English knights, pentagrams, the Jewish Torah, or invented glyphs. The introduction of such cards began by the 1930s and reached prominence 1970s. Japanese tarot cards were originally created by men, often based on the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot published by the Rider company in London in 1909. Since, the practice of Japanese tarot has become overwhelmingly feminine and intertwined with kawaii culture. Referring to the cuteness of tarot cards, Japanese model Kuromiya Niina was quoted as saying "because the images are cute, even holding them is enjoyable." While these differences exist, Japanese tarot cards function similarly to their Western counterparts. Cards are shuffled and cut into piles then used to forecast the future, for spiritual reflection, or as a tool for self-understanding.
As seen previous to this section, many different cultures around the world use divination as a way of understanding the future. The most common act of divination in the Bao’an village in Taiwan is called the Poe, Bao’an is not the actual name of the village, but for privacy purposes that is what it will be called. The Poe translated to English means “moon boards”. The Poe consists of two wood or bamboo blocks cut into the shape of a crescent moon. The one edge is rounded while the other is flat; the two are mirror images. Both crescents are held out in one’s palms and while kneeling, they are raised to the forehead level. Once in this position the blocks are dropped and the future can be understood depending on their landing. If both fall flat side up or both fall rounded side up, that can be taken as a failure of the deity to agree. If the blocks land one rounded and one flat, the deity agrees. “Laughing poe” is when rounded sides land down and they rock before coming to a standstill. “Negative poe” is seen when the flat sides fall downward and abruptly stop, this indicates anger. When there is a positive fall, is called “sacred poe”, although the negative falls are not usually taken seriously. As the blocks are being dropped the question is said in a murmur, and if the answer is yes, the blocks are dropped again. To make sure the answer is definitely a yes, the blocks must fall in a “yes” position three times in a row.
A more serious type of divination is the Kiō-á. There is a small wooden chair, and around the sides of the chair are small pieces of wood that can move up and down in their sockets, this causes a clicking sounds when the chair is moved in any way. Two men hold this chair by its legs before an altar, during this incense are being burned, and the supernatural agent is asked to descend into the chair. It is seen that it is in the chair by an onset of motion. Eventually the chair crashes onto a table prepared with wood chips and burlap. The characters on the table are then traced and these are said to be written by the god who possessed the chair, these characters are then interpreted.
Divination is one of the tenets of Serer religion. However, only those who have been initiated as Saltigues (the Serer high priests and priestesses) can divine the future. These are the "hereditary rain priests" whose role is both religious and medicinal.
Specialized diviners called Ob'guega (doctor of Oguega oracle), as well as Ob'Oronmila (doctor of Oronmila oracle) from the Edo people of West Africa for thousands have used divination as a means of foretelling the past, present and future. These diviners are initiated and trained in Iha (divination) of either Ominigbon or Oronmila (Benin Orunmila).
The Yoruba people of West Africa are internationally known for having developed the Ifá system, an intricate process of divination that is performed by an Awo, an initiated priest or priestess of Orunmila, the spirit of the Yoruba oracle.
Bloody Mary is a folklore legend consisting of a ghost, phantom, or spirit conjured to reveal the future. She is said to appear in a mirror when her name is chanted repeatedly. The Bloody Mary apparition may be benign or malevolent, depending on historic variations of the legend. Bloody Mary appearances are mostly "witnessed" in group participation play.Cartomancy
Cartomancy is fortune-telling or divination using a deck of cards. Forms of cartomancy appeared soon after playing cards were first introduced into Europe in the 14th century. Practitioners of cartomancy are generally known as cartomancers, card readers, or simply readers.
Cartomancy using standard playing cards was the most popular form of providing fortune-telling card readings in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The standard 52-card deck is often augmented with jokers or even with the blank card found in many packaged decks. In France, the 32-card piquet stripped deck is most typically used in cartomantic readings, although the 52 card deck can also be used. (A piquet deck can be a 52-card deck with all of the 2s through the 6s removed. This leaves all of the 7s through the 10s, the face cards, and the aces.)
In English-speaking countries, the most common form of cartomancy is generally tarot card reading. Tarot cards are almost exclusively used for this purpose in these places.Crystal ball
A crystal ball, also known as an orbuculum, is a crystal or glass ball and common fortune telling object. It is generally associated with the performance of clairvoyance and scrying in particular.Esoteric Tarot
Esoteric Tarot is the art of reading Tarot cards, which is the practice of using cards to gain insight into the past, present or future by formulating a question, then drawing and interpreting cards. Reading Tarot cards is a type of cartomancy.Fortune-telling
For the origami, see Paper fortune teller.
Fortune telling is the practice of predicting information about a person's life. The scope of fortune telling is in principle identical with the practice of divination. The difference is that divination is the term used for predictions considered part of a religious ritual, invoking deities or spirits, while the term fortune telling implies a less serious or formal setting, even one of popular culture, where belief in occult workings behind the prediction is less prominent than the concept of suggestion, spiritual or practical advisory or affirmation.
Historically, fortune telling grows out of folkloristic reception of Renaissance magic, specifically associated with Romani people. During the 19th and 20th century, methods of divination from non-Western cultures, such as the I Ching, were also adopted as methods of fortune telling in western popular culture.
An example of divination or fortune telling as purely an item of pop culture, with little or no vestiges of belief in the occult, would be the Magic 8-Ball sold as a toy by Mattel, or Paul II, an octopus at the Sea Life Aquarium at Oberhausen used to predict the outcome of matches played by the German national football team.There is opposition to fortune telling in Christianity, Islam and Judaism based on scriptural prohibitions against divination. This sometimes causes discord in the Jewish community due to their views on mysticism.
Terms for one who claims to see into the future include fortune teller, crystal-gazer, spaewife, seer, soothsayer, sibyl, clairvoyant, and prophet; related terms which might include this among other abilities are oracle, augur, and visionary.
Fortune telling is dismissed by the scientific community and scientific skeptics as being based on magical thinking and superstition..Geomancy
Geomancy (Greek: γεωμαντεία, "earth divination") is a method of divination that interprets markings on the ground or the patterns formed by tossed handfuls of soil, rocks, or sand. The most prevalent form of divinatory geomancy involves interpreting a series of 16 figures formed by a randomized process that involves recursion followed by analyzing them, often augmented with astrological interpretations.
Geomancy was practiced by people from all social classes. It was one of the most popular forms of divination throughout Africa and Europe, particularly during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
In Renaissance magic, geomancy was classified as one of the seven "forbidden arts", along with necromancy, hydromancy, aeromancy, pyromancy, chiromancy (palmistry), and spatulamancy (scapulimancy).Haruspex
In the religion of Ancient Rome, a haruspex (plural haruspices; also called aruspex) was a person trained to practice a form of divination called haruspicy (haruspicina), the inspection of the entrails (exta—hence also extispicy (extispicium)) of sacrificed animals, especially the livers of sacrificed sheep and poultry.
The reading of omens specifically from the liver is also known by the Greek term hepatoscopy (also hepatomancy).
The Roman concept is directly derived from Etruscan religion, as one of the three branches of the disciplina Etrusca. Such methods continued to be used well into the Middle Ages, especially among Christian apostates and pagans, with Thomas Becket apparently consulting both an aruspex and a chiromancer prior to a royal expedition against Brittany.The Latin terms haruspex, haruspicina are from an archaic word haru "entrails, intestines" (cognate with hernia "protruding viscera", and hira "empty gut"; PIE *ǵʰer-) and from the root spec- "to watch, observe". The Greek ἡπατοσκοπία hēpatoskōpia is from hēpar "liver" and skop- "to examine".I Ching
The I Ching or Yi Jing (Chinese: 易經; pinyin: Yìjīng; Mandarin pronunciation: [î tɕíŋ] (listen)), also known as Classic of Changes or Book of Changes, is an ancient Chinese divination text and the oldest of the Chinese classics. Possessing a history of more than two and a half millennia of commentary and interpretation, the I Ching is an influential text read throughout the world, providing inspiration to the worlds of religion, psychoanalysis, literature, and art. Originally a divination manual in the Western Zhou period (1000–750 BC), over the course of the Warring States period and early imperial period (500–200 BC) it was transformed into a cosmological text with a series of philosophical commentaries known as the "Ten Wings". After becoming part of the Five Classics in the 2nd century BC, the I Ching was the subject of scholarly commentary and the basis for divination practice for centuries across the Far East, and eventually took on an influential role in Western understanding of Eastern thought.
The I Ching uses a type of divination called cleromancy, which produces apparently random numbers. Six numbers between 6 and 9 are turned into a hexagram, which can then be looked up in the I Ching book, arranged in an order known as the King Wen sequence. The interpretation of the readings found in the I Ching is a matter of centuries of debate, and many commentators have used the book symbolically, often to provide guidance for moral decision making as informed by Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The hexagrams themselves have often acquired cosmological significance and paralleled with many other traditional names for the processes of change such as yin and yang and Wu Xing.Ifá
Ifá is a Yoruba religion and system of divination. Its literary corpus is the Odu Ifá. Orunmila is identified as the Grand Priest, as he is who revealed divinity and prophecy to the world. Babalawos or Iyanifas use either the divining chain known as Opele, or the sacred palm or kola nuts called Ikin, on the wooden divination tray called Opon Ifá.
Ifá is practiced throughout the Americas, West Africa, and the Canary Islands, in the form of a complex religious system, and plays a critical role in the traditions of Santería, Candomblé, Palo, Umbanda, Vodou, and other Afro-American faiths, as well as in some traditional African religions.Necromancy
Necromancy () is a practice of magic involving communication with the dead – either by summoning their spirit as an apparition or raising them bodily – for the purpose of divination, imparting the means to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge, to bring someone back from the dead, or to use the dead as a weapon, as the term may sometimes be used in a more general sense to refer to black magic or witchcraft.The word "necromancy" is adapted from Late Latin necromantia, itself borrowed from post-Classical Greek νεκρομαντεία (nekromanteía), a compound of Ancient Greek νεκρός (nekrós), "dead body", and μαντεία (manteía), "divination by means of"; this compound form was first used by Origen of Alexandria in the 3rd century AD. The Classical Greek term was ἡ νέκυια (nekyia), from the episode of the Odyssey in which Odysseus visits the realm of the dead and νεκρομαντεία in Hellenistic Greek, rendered as necromantīa in Latin, and as necromancy in 17th-century English.Omen
An omen (also called portent or presage) is a phenomenon that is believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change. People in ancient times believed that omens bring a divine message from their gods.These omens include natural phenomena, for example an eclipse, abnormal births of animals and humans and behavior of the sacrificial lamb on its way to the slaughter. They had specialists, the diviners, to interpret these omens. They would also use an artificial method, for example, a clay model of a sheep liver, to communicate with their gods in times of crisis. They would expect a binary answer, either yes or no answer, favorable or unfavorable. They did these to predict what would happen in the future and to take action to avoid disaster.Though the word "omen" is usually devoid of reference to the change's nature, hence being possibly either "good" or "bad," the term is more often used in a foreboding sense, as with the word "ominous". The origin of the word is unknown, although it may be connected with the Latin word audire, meaning "to hear."Onmyōdō
Onmyōdō (陰陽道, also In'yōdō, lit. 'The Way of Yin and Yang') is a traditional Japanese esoteric cosmology, a mixture of natural science and occultism. It is based on the Chinese philosophies of Wu Xing (five elements) and yin and yang, introduced into Japan at the beginning of the 6th century. It was accepted as a practical system of divination. These practices were influenced further by Taoism, Buddhism and Shintoism, and evolved into the system of onmyōdō around the late 7th century. Onmyōdō was under the control of the imperial government, and later its courtiers, the Tsuchimikado family, until the middle of the 19th century, at which point it became prohibited as superstition.Oracle
An oracle is a person or agency considered to provide wise and insightful counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future, inspired by the gods. As such it is a form of divination.Oracle bone
Oracle bones (Chinese: 甲骨; pinyin: jiǎgǔ) are pieces of ox scapula or turtle plastron, which were used for pyromancy – a form of divination – in ancient China, mainly during the late Shang dynasty. Scapulimancy is the correct term if ox scapulae were used for the divination; plastromancy if turtle plastrons were used.
Diviners would submit questions to deities regarding future weather, crop planting, the fortunes of members of the royal family, military endeavors, and other similar topics. These questions were carved onto the bone or shell in oracle bone script using a sharp tool. Intense heat was then applied with a metal rod until the bone or shell cracked due to thermal expansion. The diviner would then interpret the pattern of cracks and write the prognostication upon the piece as well. Pyromancy with bones continued in China into the Zhou dynasty, but the questions and prognostications were increasingly written with brushes and cinnabar ink, which degraded over time.
The oracle bones bear the earliest known significant corpus of ancient Chinese writing and contain important historical information such as the complete royal genealogy of the Shang dynasty. When they were discovered and deciphered in the early twentieth century, these records confirmed the existence of the Shang, which some scholars had until then doubted.Ornithomancy
Ornithomancy (modern term from Greek ornis "bird" and manteia "divination"; in Ancient Greek: οἰωνίζομαι "take omens from the flight and cries of birds") is the practice of reading omens from the actions of birds followed in many ancient cultures including the Greeks, and is equivalent to the augury employed by the ancient Romans.
Ornithomancy in some form has been found globally among a wide variety of pre-industrial peoples.Runic magic
There is some evidence that, in addition to being a writing system, runes historically served purposes of magic. This is the case from earliest epigraphic evidence of the Roman to Germanic Iron Age, with non-linguistic inscriptions and the alu word. An erilaz appears to have been a person versed in runes, including their magic applications.
In medieval sources, notably the Poetic Edda, the Sigrdrífumál mentions "victory runes" to be carved on a sword, "some on the grasp and some on the inlay, and name Tyr twice."
In early modern and modern times, related folklore and superstition is recorded in the form of the Icelandic magical staves. In the early 20th century, Germanic mysticism coins new forms of "runic magic", some of which were continued or developed further by contemporary adherents of Germanic Neopaganism. Modern systems of
runic divination are based on Hermeticism, classical Occultism, and the I Ching.Scrying
Scrying, also known by various names such as "seeing" or "peeping", is the practice of looking into a suitable medium in the hope of detecting significant messages or visions. The objective might be personal guidance, prophecy, revelation, or inspiration, but down the ages, scrying in various forms also has been a prominent means of divination or fortune-telling. It remains popular in occult circles, discussed in many media, both modern and centuries old.Tarot
The tarot (; first known as trionfi and later as tarocchi or tarock) is a pack of playing cards, used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play games such as Italian tarocchini, French tarot and Austrian Königrufen. Many of these tarot card games are still played today. In the late 18th century, some Tarot packs began to be used in parallel for divination in the form of tarotology and cartomancy and, later, specialist packs were developed for such occult purposes.
Like common playing cards, the tarot has four suits (which vary by region: French suits in Northern Europe, Latin suits in Southern Europe, and German suits in Central Europe). Each suit has 14 cards, ten pip cards numbering from one (or Ace) to ten and four face cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Jack/Knave). In addition, the tarot has a separate 21-card trump suit and a single card known as the Fool. Depending on the game, the Fool may act as the top trump or may be played to avoid following suit. These tarot cards, without occult symbology, are still used throughout much of Europe to play card games.
In English-speaking countries, where these games are not played frequently, tarot cards are used primarily for divinatory purposes, usually using specially designed packs. The cards are traced by some occult writers to ancient Egypt or the Kabbalah but there is no documented evidence of such origins or of the usage of tarot for divination before the 18th century.Traditional African religions
The traditional African religions (or traditional beliefs and practices of African people) are a set of highly diverse beliefs that include various ethnic religions. Generally, these traditions are oral rather than scriptural, include belief in a supreme creator, belief in spirits, veneration of the dead, use of magic and traditional medicine. The role of humanity is generally seen as one of harmonising nature with the supernatural. According to Lugira, "it is the only religion that can claim to have originated in Africa. Other religions found in Africa have their origins in other parts of the world."
Methods of divination
|Folklore and mythology|
|Major historic treatises|