People agree that Witches know about herbs and healing and that they “tell fortunes,” or perform divination. What is divination? It is more than just “telling fortunes.” Divination at its most basic is used to tell the past, present, or future through indirect means, either using a focus or with pure psychic talents. It is used to obtain information about a person or situation though psychic means.
Why was divination originally developed? In the old days (before telephones or TV) there might be months between word from loved ones who were away from home. Divination was a way of keeping tabs on them that didn’t depend on mail or messengers. If your livelihood depended on a king who lived far away, divination made sense when there was no other way of determining what that king was thinking and doing. If you were a priest, you might use divination to determine what the Gods wanted. Divination and divine have the same root, diva, which is Hindu for God. Some feel the ability to do divination is a divine gift, and should be used properly and reverently or it might be withdrawn.
With cell phones and pagers nobody is ever really out of touch today. Still, divination can give insights into people’s actions and motivations. It can also help explain why things might have happened as they did. It can help shed light upon the future, but you have to remember the immortal words of that great sage Yoda, “Always in motion the future is. Careful you have to be.”
Divination can be used to help a person in the great work: the continuing work of perfecting the self, with self-examination as the means for achieving it. Using divination as a personal psychological self-help tool (using modern terminology) can give a person insight into their own motivations and thoughts, and help gain perspective. Like those computer psychologist self-help programs that just mirror what is put in, a good reading will mirror a person’s thoughts back, reinforce what has been done, and help the diviner extrapolate about the future.
To a small extent everyone practices divination. “If you go outside without your coat, you’ll get sick.” Witches have just made a franchise out of it, and, because practice makes perfect, they are more accomplished at it than most. Having psychic ability helps also, though it is not necessary. There are computer programs that will tell your fortune. For those who have used them, they can be frighteningly accurate. Nobody can claim computers have psychic ability. They aren’t even sentient. (Yet.)
So why bother trying to do divination yourself if computers can do it for you? Computers may be accurate but they are impersonal, and a fair portion of a good reading is counseling, listening, and plain old-fashioned advice. That may sound boring, but there it is. Before psychologists and the self-help industry were invented, people often went to the local wise woman for advice and maybe a few herbs. The need for guidance and counsel from an outside source is universal. That’s why fortune tellers of some type have been present in most every culture on Earth — people want it, and there’s some sort of a living to be made from it.
Divination is fun. The entertainment factor is very strong for many who get readings. Some readers are more than willing to work in that context. Others fell it demeans the reading and trivializes their skills and results. It’s a matter of personal preference.
Divination can forge a link with the psychic and spiritual realms. One can feel a bit closer to the divine, however one views it. One can certainly get a feeling there is some intelligence taking interest in what happens on this small blue ball when one gets an accurate and insightful reading.
Types of Divination
How many ways are there to do divination? There is literally no limit, from the more familiar tarot cards, astrology, runes, numerology, palmistry, handwriting analysis (some dispute this is divination) to the more obscure scrying, augury, phrenology, physiognomy, bibliomancy and the ever popular Magic Eight Ball (don’t knock it, it works). There are many methods to choose from.
Scrying is divination by using some outside focus, like water, a crystal ball, or fire. With scrying the focus is usually bright or shimmery. The reader concentrates and “sees” images, and interprets those images, often in the same way as dreams are interpreted.
Augury is very ancient. It is watching and listening to birds and interpreting their movements and sounds. Augury was also used by the Romans to describe divination by entrails. They would sacrifice an animal and open it up to read the intestines, liver, heart and other organs. Eventually the animal would be gutted and dressed, and ready to roast as payment for the priests who did the divination. What a coincidence! It’s a living.
Phrenology is a form of divination popular in Britain in the 1800s. It predicts character using the bumps on the head. There were machines made around 1900 that did phrenology. They had lots of wires that pressed against the head and, by measuring bumps, made a printout of the person’s character. This was a specialized early type of computer.
A physiognomist reads faces by the form and placement of features. This form of divination was popular in ancient China, and is sometimes used in concert with phrenology.
Bibliomancy is one of the few divinatory methods acceptable to conservative religious authorities. To divine using this method you first think of a question. Then hold your Bible closed, close your eyes, let the book fall open, and put you finger on a page. Whatever verse your finger falls on is the answer to your question. Some Puritan sects regularly practiced bibliomancy, reasoning that the Bible was the word of God, and therefore the advice came from God.
One can use many objects to tell fortunes, like dice, dominoes, cards, and mah jong tiles. One can use natural things, such as birds, flowers (he loves me, he loves me not), clouds, and wind. Some claim meteorology is a sophisticated and narrow form of divination. They even call it predicting the weather. Meteorologists have about 50 percent accuracy (by their own admission), which is really pretty low, but they have organized it better, cloaked it in higher mathematics, and they use more sophisticated technology. Have you ever watched radar? It can be used as a focus for scrying also. Maybe that’s how they do it.
Some Witches make money by telling fortunes. You can encounter them at psychic fairs and parties. Some Witches only tell fortunes for themselves and close friends and would never dream of charging for their services. Some Witches use divination as a tool to help others, much like a counselor or clergy. It’s an individual choice.
Divination is a practice almost as old as civilization, maybe older. Tortoise shells with patterns of cracks dating to 7000 BCE* and earlier have been found in China. Some feel these are the precursors to the I Ching. They were certainly used for divination — take a tortoise shell and a hot poker, think of your question and place the point of the hot poker against the tortoise shell. Whatever cracks are made are your answer, but presumably you need some sort of priest to interpret the answers. And yes, divination seems to have developed contemporaneously with a priestly class. The tortoise shell divinatory method wasn’t ecologically sound for the turtle, but it illustrates how people will use whatever is at hand in order to try to tell the future. Divination is an ancient practice that still thrives in our modern world.