Tag Archives: fortune telling

Divination – A Book Worm’s Eye View

DIVINATION: A Practical Approach

It was Robert Cochrane who originally coined those now famous words:

“If one who claims to be a Witch can perform the tasks of Witchcraft, i.e. summon the spirits and they come, can divine with rod, fingers and birds.  If they can also claim the right to the omens and have them; have the power to call, heal and curse and above all, can tell the maze and cross the Lethe, then you have a witch.”

Divination is what I would refer to as the practical element of Craft magic, and we don’t even have to be witches to be able to read the portents.  But it helps!

Looking into the future is a very ancient practice. As we saw in the chapter ‘Developing the ‘Art of Seeing’ in Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living, thousands of recorded British customs and superstitions all have their roots in fortune-telling spells and charms, and they are as fashionable today as they were way back when. In fact, it’s been said that divination was as commonplace in the past as satellite communication is today: it was part of everyday life for everyone from king to commoner.  It utilised all manner of techniques and methods from a simple nut placed on the fire grate to the complicated reading of the Roman auspices.

For example a few of these techniques include:

Aeromancy: Divination using the formation of clouds and other patterns in the skies.

Botanomancy: Divination through plant life; may include the burning of plants and foretelling future events through the ashes or smoke.

Crystallomancy: An ancient form of casting lots using small stones. Or crystalomancy: Divination by studying a crystal ball.

Daphnomancy: Using the smoke of burning branches of the laurel tree to answer questions and forecast upcoming events.

Enoptromancy: An ancient method using a shiny surface placed in water.

Felidomancy: Divination through the observation of felines, including domestic and wild cats.

Geomancy: An ancient system interpreting the patterns and shapes or events found in nature.

Halomancy: Foretelling by interpreting the formation of the crystals when salt is poured to the ground.

Ichthyomancy: Observing the behaviour of fish both in and out of the water.

Jungism: The understanding of mythic symbolism as it relates to the human subconciousness.

Kephalonomancy: Ancient method of pouring lighted carbon on the skull of a goat or donkey to determine guilt or innocence.

Lampadomancy: Divination through the observation of flames from a candle or flaming torch.

Metopomancy: Divination and character analysis by studying the lines on a person’s forehead.

Necromancy: Contacting the spirits of the dead to interpret omens and forecast future events.

Oinomancy: An ancient Roman practice of interpretation through the study and evaluation of the colour, consistency and taste of wine.

Psephomancy: Divination by selecting at random small stones from a pile.

Qabbala: A blend of powerful divinely-inspired divination and mysticism.

Rune Stones: A series of mystic symbols thrown or selected to determine the future.

Scrying: Divination by interpreting the play of light on a shiny object or surface.

Tephramancy: Interpreting the ashes of a combustible object.

Uromancy: Divination using urine.

Visualisation: A controlled level of consciousness during which the seeker can divine answers to questions.

Wort-Lore: The understanding of the appropriate herbs to use to aid divination.

Xylomancy: Using the arrangement of dried sticks to predict the future.

Ying-Yang: Describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may interrelate to one another and influence future events.

Zoanthropy: Divination by observing and interpreting the flames of three lighted candles placed in a triangular position.

A deep-rooted belief in divination has existed throughout the ages, among both the uncivilized and the most civilized of cultures, as the desire to know the future continually gave rise to some weird and wonderful ways of peering into it. The Egyptians used dreams [i.e temple sleep] to divine the will of the gods; the Druids used many different forms of divination, as did the Hebrews. Although augury was first implemented by the Chaldeans, the Greeks became addicted to it; and among the Romans no important action of State was undertaken without the advice of the augers and their pre-occupation with raw liver!

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 and usually communicated to rulers and prominent persons. Seers were interpreters of signs provided by the gods via natural signs and were more numerous than the oracles being highly valued by all Greeks, not just those with the where with all to travel to Delphi or other such sites, where pythonesses perched on stools, inhaling noxious fumes. As it does today, the ancient Greeks made use of various techniques of divinatory practice: either direct or indirect, and, either spontaneous, or artificial.

Direct divination is where and when a seeker might experience divination by way of dreaming and dreams or by way of a temporary experience of madness, or phrensy (frenzy), all of these conditions being a state from which an inspired recognition of truth is attained. A necessary condition is that the seeker has made an effort to produce a mental or physical state which encourages a flash of insight. These historically attested efforts included sleeping in conditions where-by dreams might be more likely to occur, inhaling certain vapour, the chewing of leaves, drinking of blood, etc.

Under these conditions the seeker may gain the power of prophecy (albeit temporary) that was associated with caves and grottoes within Greek divination, and the nymphs and Pan who were associated with caves often bestowed the gift of prophesy.  Pan was able to dwell within people, a condition known as panolepsy, that causes inspirational abilities relating to divination or prophecy.  A degree of possession of an individual by a nymph is known as nympholepsy, meaning ‘caught by nymphs’ …a term we would use today as someone ‘being fairy led’.

Indirect divination where-by a seeker observes natural conditions and phenomenon such as ‘sortilege’, and chance encounters with the animal kingdom. This consists of the casting of lots, or sortes, whether with sticks, stones, bones, beans, coins, or some other item and often interpreted by a third party. Modern playing cards and board games are believed to have been developed from this type of divination, whereby dice or counters are cast in order to predict the future.

But not all divinatory methods were well-received. As early as 692 the Quinisext Council, also known as the ‘Council in Trullo’ in the Eastern Orthodox Church, passed canons to eliminate paganism and the practice of divination, but it continued to be popular well into the Middle Ages despite being frequently banned by the Church.  In fact the seven artes magicae or artes prohibitae, i.e. those methods of divination prohibited by canon law (as expounded by Johannes Hartlieb in 1456), were:

It has been suggested that the division between the four ‘elemental’ disciplines (i.e. geomancy (Earth), hydromancy (Water), aeromancy (Air) and pyromancy (Fire) appears to be a contrivance of the time, but traditional forms such as  chiromancy was the divination from a subject’s palms as practiced by the Romany (at the time recently arrived in Europe), and scapulimancy, the divination from animal bones, in particular shoulder blades as practiced in peasant superstition. By contrast, nigromancy came from scholarly ‘high magic’ derived from High Medieval grimoires such as the Picatrix or the Liber Rasielis and was classed as ‘black magic’ and demonology, by the vernacular etymology, from necromancy.

In the constitution of 1572 and public regulations of 1661 of Kur-Saxony, capital punishment was used on those predicting the future and laws forbidding divinatory practice continue to this day in some parts of the world.  Nevertheless, the belief in ‘fortune-telling’ continued to be looked upon as a popular pastime for finding a husband or predicting a favourable outcome with regards to health, wealth and happiness.  Even the popular Victorian compilations of superstitions were given a Christian spin to weed out anything that wasn’t considered ‘nice’ or smacked too much of paganism, but the Folklore Society’s extensive archive enables serious researchers to trace these old divinatory practices back to their roots.

Divination, however, is only a small part of a witch’s stock in trade and although a very basic introduction to the subject can be learned from books, proficiency will only come through vigorous practice. This proficiency comes through the discovery of certain secret matters by a great variety of means, – correspondences, signs and occult techniques – and before a witch can perform any of these operations with any degree of success, we need to develop the ‘art of seeing’ and the ability to ‘divine with rod, fingers and birds’

Very early in his studies one student had grasped the fact that the animal world helps us to connect to this new level of being, particularly through birds, which have long been recognised as an effective means of divination.  Once he understood the principles behind the phenomena, he began to find that he was beginning to ‘see’ more.  How many people, for instance, will even notice the mice on the Underground … but he’d watched them and interpreted their behaviour. How they would always disappear long before the rumble of the train was discernable to human awareness.  Once we get into the habit of watching the animal world, we will always have something around us to warn when that ‘train’ is coming!

The most remarkable thing about divination, of course, is its continued success. And a large number of people who turn to professional readers are impressed by the amazing details ‘coming through’ from their past – but this isn’t what divination is about.  ‘Cold reading’ is a set of techniques used by mentalists, psychics, fortune-tellers, mediums and illusionists to imply that the reader knows much more about the person than the reader actually does.  There are dozens of books on the subject that reveal how, without prior knowledge, a practiced cold-reader can quickly obtain a great deal of information by analyzing the person’s body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc. Cold readings commonly employ high-probability guesses, quickly picking up on signals as to whether their guesses are in the right direction or not, then emphasizing and reinforcing chance connections and quickly moving on from missed guesses.  Even the police and military use the technique during interrogation sessions …

The witch, however, is not so much concerned with the past as with the present and more particularly the future.  Of course, our past actions affect the way we view the future but if we ignore the warnings that divination brings concerning the present, we will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.  We must also remember that regardless of whatever method is used to predict the future those results are not cast in stone! Divination reveals the future as relating to the past and the present, and what will happen if the warnings are not heeded in order to change things before they go wrong. The answer is also subjective to where an individual is standing at the precise moment in time when they pose the question.  We’re back to the saying: “You can’t change anything but yourself, but in changing yourself, everything changes around you.” So if you don’t like what the results of the reading is telling you … do something about it before it’s too late!

As witches we are responsible for our own destiny and a proficiency in our own chosen system of divining gives us a powerful advantage. Experienced practitioners usually prefer to use a single form of divination, and while some methods may prove to be more efficient than others, and some diviners may be more accurate than their fellows, it is traditionally part of a witch’s natural ability to be able to divine by ‘rod, fingers and birds’, as the saying goes.  After years of practice with any particular system, we find that we can interpret the signs without even having to think about it – it’s like receiving a message from an old friend.

The results we get from our endeavours are signs of opportunities to be taken, dangers to be avoided, or impending news of change. Here the witch also interacts with Nature to keep close watch on any unusual activities or occurrences that might have any effect on themselves, or those close to them. This is another reason why it is essential for even the most urban of witches to be well-versed in natural lore as well as magical lore. It pays to understand the local wildlife, otherwise we might not see that unusual ‘something’ in an animal’s or bird’s normal behaviour patterns.

Our native flora and fauna are linked to our magical subconsciousness and, if we have required any form of divinatory methods to guide us through the subsequent stages of our love life or career, we must be receptive to those responses. For those with a working understanding in the language of magical correspondences, it is easy to grasp how natural the reading of the symbols becomes, and how easy and obvious (in most instances) is the interpretation. For the beginner, however, accept that the answers are not going to appear suddenly in chapter and verse in a book on fortune telling.  Divination is more subtle and, more often than not for the inexperienced, irritatingly obtuse!

Reading for others is a common moral and ethical dilemma that is often raised on internet sites and personally I always refuse point blank to indulge in the practice.  That has not always been the case.  There used to be an unwritten ethic whereby a reader seeing something really nasty in the future was duty bound not to reveal what they had seen lurking in the woodshed.  And in the words of that old Leonard Cohen song … “I’ve seen the future, brother, it is murder!” I decided it was unreasonable for me to carry the burden of knowledge for strangers and waiting for the other boot to drop, and that has remained my personal code to the present day … so don’t ask.

If you do wish to read for others then remember not to use your own ‘tools’ for outsider’s readings as these will become contaminated through use.  Keep your own private equipment under lock and key and have a completely different set for public readings – even this should be ritually cleansed after use as each reading will leave a psychic residue behind and contaminate the next person’s reading.

On the legal front, the whole ball-game changed in 2008 when the Fraudulent Mediums Act (which replaced the 1735 Witchcraft Act) was replaced by the new Consumer Protection Regulations. Now there’s a whole list of disclaimers that must be added to the fortune-teller’s spiel if they are to avoid an avalanche of writs from disgruntled customers.  The reason behind the introduction of the new law was because very little in the multi-million-pound psychic industry in Britain is for free, and anyone charging or accepting ‘gifts’ in exchange for a service is bound by the new regulations.  A legal specialist wryly observed: “Now there is no difference in law between a psychic and a double-glazing salesman.”

Let’s face it, there are ‘professional’ fees charged for all manner of types of divination, including Tarot, psychic readings and clairvoyance – just take a look at the number of classified advertisements in any of the MB&S magazines.  According to Office of Fair Trading research, which provided the basis for the new changes, psychic mailings are estimated to have cost gullible Britons £40m in 2006-07, while psychic services via telephone, online and satellite TV keep the tills ringing in the psychics’ favour.

In the USA the legal status of spiritualists, psychics, fortune-tellers and healers has often been a precarious one, and explains why many pagans adopted the title of Reverend as this kept them within the boundaries of the law.  As one web-post explained:  “If one goes to psychic fairs, etc., you will notice that virtually all readers are Reverend ‘So and So’ with another title attached.  If you are using Tarot or scrying for a church or religious purpose [i.e counselling], and not for the purpose of fortune-telling – you are legal.”  So there you have it … if you are a professional diviner and charge a fee for your services, you might be falling foul of the Office of Fair Trading.

From a purely personal point of view, my abilities when it comes to divination have always been limited, I have to confess.  I regularly use cartomancy (i.e. Crowley’s Thoth Tarot) and the pendulum for personal divinatory purposes – and with a great deal of success I might add – but tend to rely more on the messages from the natural world on a daily basis.  I have the most amazing crystal ball collection but generally use them for meditational work by holding the appropriate sphere in the palm of the hand – one colour for each sephiroth of the Qabalah – rather than prediction.  So … I’m okay with fingers (cleidomancy) and birds (alectryomancy) but the rod (rhabdomancy) I really have to work at to get any kind of results …

Pagan Portals DIVINATION: By Rod, Birds and Fingers by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books (www.moon-books.net) ISBN 9 978 1 78535 858 6 : UK£6.99/US$10.95 : 82 pages.  Available in paperback and e-book format






Why Divination is Dangerous

To put this in context, I’ve been working with divination tools for twenty years, but there are reasons to be careful of them. Used in the wrong ways, or for the wrong reasons, they can cause far more harm than they alleviate. I believe that fortune telling can and does work, which is why I take it seriously and encourage caution, and responsibility. Here are some things to be mindful of.

Invasion of Privacy. It’s nigh on impossible to cast runes, tarot cards or anything else in a way that only reveals things about you. We all exist in relationship, and quite often when it comes to fortune telling, relationship is what people most want to know about. Is there a partner in the future? Does X really fancy me? Is Y having an affair? Casually poking about trying to find out private things about other people is invasive and irresponsible. You can also get it wrong. If you can’t avoid it in dealing with your own issues, tread gently. Information gathered through divination should not be worked with alone. Look for other sources. Be sceptical, consider alternative interpretations. If you need to know something about a person, frequently the best method is to ask them.

Asking the wrong questions. Think carefully about what you ask. If you seek information in a yes/no sort of way, you close down your options and may miss the relevant information. ‘Am I going to get this job?’ The answer may be no, but going to the interview might open up a different opportunity. Hearing ‘no’ and deciding not to bother, you might miss your big chance. Ask open questions. Don’t ask things you don’t actually want to hear the answers to. E.g. ‘Am I going to die young?’ If you get the question right, the chances of getting a useful answer are much improved. Avoid divination methods that only give binary answers, unless you’re asking very simple questions like ‘is it a boy or a girl?’ ‘did I leave my car keys in here?’

Dependence. Divination is not a substitute for making your own choices. It’s a tool for helping clarify thoughts and issues. However, when times are challenging, it’s always a temptation to reach for the runes or tarot (or whatever you use). They can be comforting, and take away the feeling of pressure and responsibility. This is a trap to avoid. Divinations cannot, and should not make your choices for you, and if you are using them on a daily basis, you need to cut back. The exception would be things like oracle cards, where it’s as much about sparking meditation as seeing what the day will bring. More than once a day with those would be unhealthy.

The future is not cast in stone. Perhaps the greatest danger with any divination tool, is believing it. I think the future is open to change, and the act of contemplating it alters the possibilities before us. Nothing is certain. Divination is one tool amongst many, for getting a sense of where life’s currents may be carrying you. It does not offer absolute, unassailable truth. If you see a future you don’t like, think very hard about how you can change it, roll with it, survive it. Do so with great care. There are plenty of ancient tales (Oedipus Rex springs to mind) where an attempt to dodge fate actually brings it down upon a person. Even if you firmly believe that we cannot cheat the fate we are dealt, there is scope for finding the best possible way through, with honour.

Used wisely, and in moderation, divination tools help deal with some of life’s challenges. They are not things to be ruled by or in thrall to. When it comes down to it, you still have to decide how to act.

Personal Experiences of Divination

As one of our themes for this month is divination, I thought I’d kick off by writing about some of my personal experiences in this field.

I got into divination indirectly as a result of Brian Bates’ novel ‘The Way of Wyrd’. My father read it, and was inspired by the book to go out and acquire a rune set. After a while, he decided it wasn’t for him, and the runes became mine. I would have been about twelve. I started learning with the intention of being a fortune teller at my school’s fund raising fete, and by the time we got there, I didn’t know anything like enough, and had to rely on notes. But I was twelve, and charging 50p for a reading so no one really cared.

It took me a couple of years of reading and study to get the runes enough into my head that I could read a cast without looking at notes. More years to get so that it feels more like opening a door, than trying to make a story out of possible interpretations. I’ve been rune casting for about twenty years now, although it’s not something I do very often.

I use what is probably an anachronistic set – including a blank rune, because that’s what I started with. I read runes reversed – not as their opposites, but as a darker take on what the upright meaning gives, and I have been doing this long enough that many of my interpretations have become a touch idiosyncratic!

While runes remain my favourite divination tools, I also have the druid animal and plant oracle cards, which I find helpful on days when I’m just looking for some inspiration. When I cast runes for me, it’s usually because I’ve hit a problem and I don’t know enough to make an informed decision. If I need more sense of a wider picture, or to check I’m not misunderstanding, then the bag comes out. Casting for other people often feels a lot more like counselling, only with props. The runes make it possible to tell people things they might not be willing to hear or explore in other circumstances.

Most of my divination work is about understanding the shape of now, and what has informed that. I don’t believe the future is fixed, so I don’t believe that you can ever reliably divine it. What you can do is look for the patterns, for the direction current actions might lead in, and the possible outcomes. I’m less interested in what might happen, than in how to act for the best. Of course, having any sense of where things might be headed creates the possibility of changing outcomes.

I frequently cock things up. I cast, and it isn’t until after the event that I really understand what it meant. But every time, I learn a bit more, so it’s a process.