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
Middle Ages and Early Modern period
3 Contemporary folk religion
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
Russian peasant girls using chickens for divination; 19th century
Further information: List of magical terms and traditions
Julian Jaynes categorized divination into the following
Omens and omen texts. Chinese history offers scrupulously documented
occurrences of strange births, the tracking of natural phenomena, and
other data. Chinese governmental planning relied on this method of
forecasting for long-range strategies. It is not unreasonable to
assume that modern scientific inquiry began with this kind of
divination; Joseph Needham's work considered this very idea.[citation
Sortilege (cleromancy). This consists of the casting of lots, or
sortes, whether with sticks, stones, bones, beans, coins, or some
other item. Modern playing cards and board games developed from this
type of divination.
Augury. This ranks a set of given possibilities. It can be qualitative
(such as shapes, proximities, etc.): for example, dowsing (a form of
rhabdomancy) developed from this type of divination.
The Romans, in classical times, used Etruscan methods of augury such
as hepatoscopy (actually a form of extispicy) (for example, Haruspices
examined the livers of sacrificed animals).
Augury is normally
considered to specifically refer to divination by studying the flight
patterns of birds. But also, the use of the rooster through
alectryomancy may be further understood within that religious
character and likewise defined as a cockfight, or cockfighting with
the intent of communication between the gods and man.
Spontaneous. An unconstrained form of divination, free from any
particular medium, and actually a generalization of all types of
divination. The answer comes from whatever object the diviner happens
to see or hear. Some religions use a form of bibliomancy: they ask a
question, riffle the pages of their holy book, and take as their
answer the first passage their eyes light upon. Other forms of
spontaneous divination include reading auras and
New Age methods of
feng shui such as "intuitive" and "fuzion".
In addition to these four broad categories, there is palmistry, also
called chiromancy, a practice common to many different places on the
Eurasian landmass; it has been practised in the cultures of India,
Tibet, China, Persia, Sumeria, Ancient Israel and Babylonia. In this
practice, the diviner examines the hands of a person for whom they are
divining for indications of their future.
Oracle of Amun at the
Siwa Oasis was made famous when Alexander
the Great visited it after conquering Egypt from Persia in 332 BC.
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,
Urim and Thummim
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).
Oracle and Greek divination
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
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.
Middle Ages and Early Modern period
Further information: Medieval magic, Renaissance magic, and Folk
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
In 692 the Quinisext Council, also known as the "Council in Trullo" in
the Eastern Orthodox Church, passed canons to eliminate pagan and
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
life. Many Aztec gods, including central creator gods, were described
as diviners and were closely associated with sorcery.
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
Every civilization that developed in pre-Columbian Mexico, from the
Olmecs to the Aztecs, practiced divination in daily life, both public
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
Contemporary folk religion
Buddhists in Asia divine by different methods.[vague]
In Japan, divination methods include
Futomani from the Shinto
Further information: African divination
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
Yoruba people of
West Africa are internationally known for having
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.
Methods of divination
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Look up divination in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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Greek Divination: a study of its methods and principles, William
Reginald Halliday, Macmillan, 1913, 309pp - a complete scanned edition
of a general treatment of
Greek divination (at Google Books)* David
Zeitlyn and others on African
Divination systems: Africa Divination:
Mambila and others
Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Divination". Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Methods of divination
Witchcraft and magic
North American witchcraft
South American witchcraft
Cloak of invisibility
Folklore and mythology
Witch of Endor
Major historic treatises
Summis desiderantes affectibus
Summis desiderantes affectibus (1484)
Malleus Maleficarum (1487)
The Discoverie of
Compendium Maleficarum (1608)
A Guide to Grand-Jury Men
A Guide to Grand-Jury Men (1627)
The Discovery of Witches
The Discovery of Witches (1647)
Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants