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divination,

practice of foreseeing future events or obtaining secret knowledge through communication with divine sources and through omens, oracles, signs, and portents. It is based on the belief in revelations offered to humans by the gods and in extrarational forms of knowledge; it attempts to make known those things that neither reason nor science can discover. It is known that divination by means of crack patterns in shells was practiced in China as early as the 2d cent. B.C. In the West, before divination spread throughout the Greco-Roman world, various branches of the practice as used by the Chaldaeans were considered superior to all the sciences. Among those branches the most significant were the study of the flight of birds, the study of water and water patterns, the study of the entrails of sacrificial animals (haruspication), and the inspection of animals' shoulder blades (scapulimancy). The Greeks placed their greatest trust in the wisdom of the oracleoracle,
in Greek religion, priest or priestess who imparted the response of a god to a human questioner. The word is also used to refer to the response itself and to the shrine of a god. Every oracular shrine had a fixed method of divination.
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. Divination was essential to all the religions of classical antiquity; no state and hardly any individual would have dared undertake a significant action without first consulting the gods. Divination persists to the present day in crystal gazing, palmistry, fortune-telling, and astrology.

Bibliography

See W. R. Halliday, Greek Divination (1913, repr. 1967); W. B. and L. R. Gibson, The Complete Illustrated Book of Divination and Prophecy (1973).

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The eight divinatory arts, from Robert Fludd's Utriusque Cosmi Maioris, 1617. Fortean Picture Library.

Divination

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Divination is an attempt to read the future, determine the will of God, or give practitioners a feeling of being able to control fate. Probably every religion ever practiced has used some form of divination.

The Hebrew Bible absolutely condemns it, but priests nonetheless threw some sort of ritualistic dice called the Urim and Thummin. Romans sometimes went to war on the basis of what priests saw when they killed an animal and looked at its entrails. Different objects were thrown, rolled, dropped, tossed, or heated to get results.

Even today people read cards, tea leaves, or messages in newspaper astrology columns, convinced they can discover the future. Psychic telephone lines do a big business.

There are those who demonstrate with great effectiveness that they are able to locate water with a divining rod. Others claim they can locate lost people after holding a piece of clothing. Police forces occasionally employ such people, though usually very quietly.

Objections to divination range from simple scoffers to those who believe practitioners are in league with the devil. Christian religions especially have a history of punishing any who practice the art. If divination fails, the practitioners are ridiculed as fakes. If it is successful, they are accused of dealing with Satanic forces.

Whatever the techniques employed, divination is an ancient religious practice, probably dating to the very first person who prayed to a god and then asked for a sign as proof that the prayer was heard.

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Vestal virgins of Rome performing a divination ritual, depicted in an early nineteenth-century print. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Divination

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Divination is so called because it is considered a gift of the divine—a gift from the gods. It is the art of foretelling the future, using omens, portents, visions, and divinatory tools. Although far from being the exclusive preserve of Witches, it is an art that many present-day followers of the Old Religion have perfected in its various forms. Most Wiccans are experts at one or more branches of divination, including astrology, card reading (known as cartomancy), palm reading (cheiromancy), casting runes or dice (cleromancy), and crystal gazing (scrying). They recognize what is important in what they see and present it to the person questioning.

There are many methods of divining, possibly hundreds of them. Others include tea leaf reading (tasseography); interpreting dreams (oneiromancy); candle flame gazing (lampadomancy); using numbers (arithmancy or numerology); observing smoke (capnomancy); using a pendulum (radiesthesia); pouring oil on water (leconomancy); handling an object (psychometry); drawing lots (sortilege); and observing the behavior of animals (zoomancy). Pyromancy, or gazing into the flames of a fire and "seeing" pictures, is something that many people have done, probably without realizing that they were indulging in divination. But whatever tools are used, they are only that—tools. They serve as a focal point for the psychic senses. It is the interpretation of what is seen that is important. The diviner must see and then interpret the signs, awakening in himor herself the psychic ability to recognize what is important to the person for whom the reading is being done. There may be warnings of danger, illness, even death. In the case of the latter, it is up to the reader to determine how best to present what is seen so as not to terrify the querant.

Divination has, for thousands of years, been a tool of priests, seers, shamans, astrologers, medicine men, Gypsies, and wise men and women. In some civilizations, only a special class of people were allowed to divine. The ancient Greeks had the oracles and sibyls, the Romans had augurers, a special priest class. The ancient Egyptians also had special priests. The Celts had the Druids. Divination was done both for the individual and for a group, and was even used to determine the fate of kingdoms and countries.

In its simplest form, divination can entail gauging what the future may hold judging by the flight of a bird. A complex form might be throwing down yarrow stalks to form hexagrams for the ancient Chinese practice of I-Ching, or mathematically working through numerology. There are enough types of divination, ranging from very basic to very complex, that most people can achieve some sort of result with practice.

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Early nineteenth century print of Roman vestal virgins performing a divination ritual. Courtesy Fortean Picture Library.

Divination

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Divination is so called because it is considered a gift of the divine, or a gift from the gods. It is the art of foretelling the future—of obtaining knowledge of the unknown—using omens, portents, visions and divinatory tools. It is an art which many have perfected over the years, in various forms. Most Gypsies, for example, are experts at one or more branches of divination such as card reading (cartomancy), palm reading (cheiromancy), casting runes or dice, crystal gazing (scrying), and more. They recognize what is important in what they see and present it to the person questioning (known as the Querant). Divination was originally a tool of royalty, used in determining natural and unnatural disasters, wars and plagues, and lines of succession. The Babylonians and the Chaldeans had priests who spent all of their time in divination. The Chinese had court diviners who threw the yarrow stalks (I-Ching). The ancient Egyptians had priests who did nothing but attempt to dream the future for the pharaohs.

There are many methods of divining, possibly hundreds of them, ranging from observing dust (abacomancy) to observing the behavior of animals (zoomancy). Pyromancy, or gazing into the flames of a fire and “seeing” pictures, is something which many people have done, probably without realizing that they were indulging in divination. But whatever tools are used, they are only that … tools. They serve as a focal point for the psychic senses. It is the interpretation of what is seen that is important. The diviner must see and then interpret the signs, awakening in him-or herself the psychic ability to recognize what is important to the person for whom the reading is being done.

There may be warnings of danger, of illness, even of death. In the case of the latter, it is up to the reader to determine how best to present what is seen so as not to alarm the Querant.

Divination has been a tool of priests, seers, shamans, astrologers, medicine men, Gypsies, wise men and women for thousands of years. It is frequently referred to in the Bible. Even when divination extended beyond strictly royal use, in many civilizations only a special class of people were allowed to do the divining. The ancient Greeks had the oracles and sibyls. The Romans had a special priest class called augurers, and the ancient Egyptians also had special priests. The Celts had the Druids. Divination was done both for an individual and for a group, often being used to determine the fate of kingdoms and countries.

In its simplest form, divination can be gauging what the future may hold judging by the flight of a bird or birds. A complex form might be throwing down yarrow stalks to form hexagrams for the ancient Chinese practice of I-Ching, or mathematically working through numerology. There are enough types of divination, ranging from very basic to very complex that, with practice, most people can achieve some sort of results.

It has been said that divination falls into three categories: interpretation of natural phenomena, interpretation of artificial phenomena (such as the casting of lots), and direct communication with deity through dreams, visions, trance, etc.

Sources:

Anderton, Bill: Fortune Telling. North Dighton: JG Press, 1996
Buckland, Raymond: A Pocket Guide to the Supernatural. New York: Ace, 1969
Buckland, Raymond: The Fortune–Telling Book: The Encyclopedia of Divination and Soothsaying. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2004
Foli, Prof. P.R.S.: Fortune–Telling by Cards. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1902
Gibson, Walter B. and R. Litzka: The Complete Illustrated Book of the Psychic Sciences. New York: Doubleday, 1966
Grand Orient (A.E. Waite): The Complete Manual of Occult Divination: Volume 1—Manual of Cartomancy. London: William Rider, 1912
Gray, Magda (ed.): Fortune Telling. London: Marshall Cavendish, 1974
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen: Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1991

Divination

(dreams)

Traditions of dream divination and classification are linked to popular lore and to the attempt to find meaningful patterns in everyday life. The most important tradition of dream divination is found in ancient Mesopotamia, where more interest was shown in divination than in any other known civilization. Only in Mesopotamia did divination occupy a dominant position during the entire span of the civilization, which quite early set down divinatory lore in writing. A number of cuneiform tablets dealing with divination have been found, and some of them make predictions based on the contents of dreams. To properly evaluate the role assigned to the dream in Mesopotamian civilization, it is necessary to place the dream omens in the context of the entire range of the diviner’s art.

The Mesopotamian heritage of oneiromancy (divination of dreams) was imparted both to the Hellenistic world and to Islamic civilization. Oneiromancy is the oldest form of divination in Islam, where the influence of its pre-Islamic past is remarkable. The Oneirocritica of the second-century Greek Artemidorus represents the basis of a popular tradition of dream classification and interpretation. According to Artemidorus and those who followed him, the analysis of dreams is based on the observation of the commonality of daily experience, rather than on the belief in the existence of a divine spirit.

Dream divination plays a fundamental role in many contemporary traditional cultures. For instance, the power of Temne diviners depends upon active accomplishment in dreaming. They derive their abilities from an initiatory dream that they establish a contractual relationship with a patron spirit, whereas most ordinary people are passively acted upon in their dreams by spirits, ancestors, or witches. During divination, diviners do not merely comment on the meaning of a client’s dream, but may also ascribe a specific dream to a client who, until then, had been unaware of having dreamed it.

Dream divination can even play a significant political role in a traditional culture, as in societies where succession to leadership or other status is determined by dreams. Dream divination can be used as a way of deciding upon one claim or candidate rather than another, or even of effecting the selection of a successor from among those who had not previously claimed candidate status.

divination

the art, practice, or gift of discerning or discovering future events or unknown things, as though by supernatural powers