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What is Divination?

The function of divination is the attempt to gain knowledge relating to future events or otherwise 'occult' information through paranormal or supernatural agencies.  It is insufficient to say that information gained from the diviner serves to allay uncertainty, locate blame, or overcome misfortune.  Divination is motivated by the fact that information, whether spurious or true, will please a client.  Unless one assumes that the information is ‘usually accurate’, one would expect clients to be displeased and subsequently skeptical.  Two main kinds are general information about the future and specific information about the past as it bears upon the future.

Anthropologists have observed that divination is a universal cultural phenomenon which has been present in many religions and cultures throughout the ages up to the present day.  Some forms of divination include astrology, cards, dice, dowsing, graphology, palm reading, scrying, etc.  Acquiring knowledge from supernatural powers can be divided into two classes:

  • Given - these are the kind of omens or signs which occur naturally, i.e. without human intervention, for example, the movement of birds, cloud formations, the appearance of comets, etc.
  • Solicited - these are the kind of omens produced with the help of human intervention, for example, tossing dice or yarrow sticks, laying out cards, etc.
A 'Fortune Teller' is anyone who tries to predict the future using any means at his or her disposal, be they cards, horoscopes, crystal balls, palm reading and so on, normally for financial gain.  The kind of topics on which predictions are made by a fortune teller, particularly in the Western world, include future romantic, childbearing and financial prospects.  Fortune tellers may also be consulted to aid in decision-making regarding plans for marriage or divorce, job opportunities and the prognosis of illnesses.

If a distinction has to be made between divination and fortune-telling, then it would probably be that divination has a formal or ritual and often social character, usually in a 'religious context', while fortune-telling is more of an everyday practice for personal satisfaction.

Will Parfitt has forty years’ experience of working with personal and spiritual development.  On his web site he explains divination thus:

“Divination works on the principle that everything is connected to everything else.  Through investigating one thing we can glean information about something else.  Divination takes a divination tool ­ the tarot cards, stones, sticks, patterns in tealeaves, and so on ­ and relates the information revealed through its use to the life of the querant (the person for whom the divination is done.)  The idea that pictures on cards or patterns of stones, for instance, might reveal information about someone’s life is strange to the Newtonian linear world view that has so influenced Western science for centuries.  That world view is changing, however, as ideas from the New Science become popularised.  Many people world-wide have heard of the notion that a butterfly beating its wings in, for instance, Hanoi could cause a hurricane in, say, Ontario, even if they don’t fully understand why.  That is the nature of modern Quantum theories, we do not nor cannot understand what happens with our linear thought, not even the scientists who make up the theories can do that, but the theories describe things that do happen.  As Fritzjof Kapra says in his book ‘The Tao of Physics’: ‘Particles are not isolated grains of matter, but are probability patterns, interconnections in an inseparable cosmic web.’  This statement forms the basis of the theory of how divination works, it is just usually described in more esoteric language.”

Divination at the end of the 20th Century

The immense popularity of horoscopes in the urban West today illustrates the almost exclusive concern with individual fortune-telling that characterises divination in a mobile and competitive mass society.  Chiromancy, tarot (fortune-telling) cards, and crystal gazing represent respectively body divination, cleromancy (divination by lots), and trancelike performance in styles suitable for what might be called a half-serious attempt to learn one’s fate.  Necromancy, in its modern spiritualist form, represents a slightly more serious and sustained effort to establish contact with extramundane beings.  But astrology, in its various popular forms, is the form of divination best suited to mass consumption, since it is based on a well-articulated body of lore, touches matters of high destiny as well as individual fortune, and ‘personalises’ its advice without the client’s having to be interviewed.  On the other hand, the more esoteric mantic arts have the appeal of discipline -- an individual may enter into the lore deeply and make it a part of a personal worldview.  Study of the I Ching for divinatory purposes can involve this sort of commitment.

More Recent & not so Recent Revelations

In 1997, a book was published which changed the way the world looked at prediction.  This book was The Bible Code written by Michael Drosnin (which was followed by The Bible Code 2: The Countdown in 2002).  In The Bible Code, Drosnin tells us of a code that exists within the Bible (written 3000 years ago) which predicts events that (in retrospect) have already happened, are happening now, and are still to happen.  The Bible Code was deciphered by an Israeli mathematician (Dr Eliyahu Rips), using a computer-programmed 'skip sequence', which, after eliminating all spaces between words, then looked for key words encoded in the text.

On 1 September 1994 Drosnin flew to Israel to meet a close friend of the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, to ask him to pass on a letter that Drosnin had written to the PM, informing him of his predicted assassination.  He also stated in the letter that the threat should not be ignored, providing explicit details of three previous assassinations also discovered in the code, those of the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and his brother Robert Kennedy.  In the case of Anwar Sadat, both the first and last names of the assassin were also encoded.  Tragically, on 4 November 1995, this other predicted assassination came true.  Yitzhak Rabin was shot dead in Tel Aviv by Yigal Amir, a right-wing radical opposed to the signing of the Oslo Accords, officially called the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements or Declaration of Principles (DOP).  Basically, the Israeli government had agreed to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people while the PLO recognised the right of the State of Israel to exist, at the same time renouncing terrorism, violence and its desire for the destruction of Israel.

This is just one example taken from hundreds, all in 'code' which is fully diagramatically explained in the book.  I would like to show some examples of such here but copyright laws prevent me from so doing.  However, having said that, for those who have not read any of Drosnin's books, copies of many examples are being flaunted openly on the internet.  Book 2 opens with the predicted destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001.  A third book, The Bible Code: The Quest was scheduled to be released in October 2007, but until 19 October 2010 I was still eagerly awaiting my pre-ordered copy.  It has finally arrived under a new subtitle of Saving the World.

Drosnin's books are excellently presented, with graphic proof of the text, and may well help to convince you that prediction is a fact.  Our lives have been mapped out for us, but our futures, although predetermined, can be changed at any of the many different 'road junctions' or 'cross roads' we encounter along the route depending upon the action we take.  Having now already read this third book it is to be hoped our world leaders heed its predictions.

The same code has been tried on several other large texts, including War and Peace, but the results could not be repeated, i.e. no 'code' existed within these texts.  It has been verified by a number of famous mathematicians at Harvard, Yale and Hebrew Universities, which has naturally helped to enhance its credibility.  Drosnin tells us that the code has also been replicated by a senior code-breaker at the US Department of Defense, and has passed three levels of secular peer review at a leading US math journal, all of which seems pretty convincing and conclusive as to its 'existence'.

N.B.  The whole concept of a code hidden within the text of the Bible is by no means new.  Sir Isaac Newton (1643 - 1727), who was also convinced of its existence, was still searching for a 'Bible Code' when he died -- but then he did not have the distinct advantage of an extremely sophisticated computer program to assist him in his quest, or could it possibly have been that bump on his head that held him back?

Mother Shipton (not so Recent)

Mother Shipton is perhaps England’s most renowned soothsayer, although the method of divination she used to foretell the future does not appear to have been recorded, or has been overlooked by her 'biographers'.  My personal theory, and I stress personal, is that she may have used water from the nearby 'dropping well' (like the petrifying well in Matlock Bath in Derbyshire) for scrying purposes, scrying having been the method adopted shortly before her death by Michel de Notredame (Nostradamus).  Whether or not he took a leaf out of her book, or whether the legend of Mother Shipton came about as a result of his life makes us ponder, for another marked similarity between these two 'prophets' to take into consideration is the fact that he, like Mother Shipton, wrote his predictions in verse format, albeit always in quatrains (4-line verses).

The massive rock perched above the dropping well was formed in precisely the same manner as a stalactite, i.e. by running/dripping water leaving a vast deposit of minerals which build up over a period of time.  A great underground lake is the source of that water.  It travels approximately one mile underground along a thick layer of heavy mineralised rock (from which it dissolves those huge amounts of different minerals) before emerging as a spring behind the well, gushing over the top at a reputed rate of 700 gallons per hour (3100 litres for younger readers).  It is claimed that it takes as short a period as 3 months to turn a child's small, cuddly teddy bear to stone!  Many artefacts on display in the small museum were left by celebrities to undergo the process of petrification.

The fable of Mother Shipton's life begins in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire in 1488.  The word 'fable' has been chosen because no-one knows for certain whether or not Mother Shipton actually existed, but if she did then it was most likely as Ursula Sonthiel.  The legend tells us that the woman who attended her birth reported hearing a tremendous crack of thunder followed by an exceedingly strong smell of sulphur as Ursula came into this world.  She was born in a cave close to the River Nidd, the cave itself (now a very popular tourist site) having been formed approximately 12,000 years earlier through a collapsed deposit of minerals, supposedly created by the same spring that now flows over the dropping well.  The baby was apparently so hideous it was rumoured that her mother, a young girl of fifteen called Agatha Sonthiel, had actually been seduced out of wedlock by the Devil himself.

At this juncture, one branch of the tale tells us that Agatha died during childbirth, while yet another says she gave Ursula up at the age of two for fostering and went to spend the rest of her shattered life in a convent.  Following our own research into Mother Shipton, this second tale seems far more plausible.

As she grew older, Ursula started to show uncanny signs of both prophetic and psychic abilities.  At the house where she was being fostered, on the outskirts of Knaresborough, crockery and furniture would move of its own volition in her presence, cutlery would fly across the room, and strange noises would be heard.  As she continued to develop, so did her powers, although she reputedly used them only to help people, but it was probably because of her growing reputation as a witch, compounded by the fact she was so grotesque, that many locals lived in fear of her.  But beauty is only skin deep, or so the saying goes, for despite those hideous features, at the tender age of 24 she married a carpenter by the name of Toby Shipton.  Nobody seems to mention Toby's looks, but if he married Ursula simply to get the 'child benefit' of the time he lost out on the deal, for the marriage was childless, and his wife died nearly 50 years later in 1561.

Mother Shipton wrote her prophecies during the reign of King Henry VIII, in the form of poems, and 'predicted' his victory over France at the Battle of the Spurs in 1513.  Perhaps one of the most famous of her 'prophetic poems' is:

Carriages without horses shall goe,
And accidents fill the world with woe.
Around the world thoughts shall fly
In the twinkling of an eye....
Under water men shall walk,
Shall ride, shall sleep and talk;
In the air men shall be seen,
In white, in black and in green....
Iron in the water shall float,
As easy as a wooden boat.

What is claimed by many to be her most famous prophecy, which, fortunately for all of us alive today, did not come to fulfilment, is

The world to an end shall come,
In eighteen hundred and eighty one.

The first known edition of Mother Shipton's prophecies did not appear in print until 1641, some eighty years after her death, but it was not until 1684 that what is considered to be the most important edition of her work was published.  This was edited by Richard Head, and included her earliest biography.  Richard Head invented much of the story of her life as well as the descriptions of her, mostly based on legend and folklore that had been passed down by word of mouth.  Later writers also fabricated prophecies.  Charles Hindley, for example, admitted that many of the predictions in his edition of 1862 had been concocted to fool the Victorian public, in particular those which would have been easily recognisable to someone of the time such as . . . .

A house of glass shall come to pass
In England, but alas!
War will follow with the work
In the land of the pagan and the Turk.

. . . . patently clear references to the Crystal Palace and the Crimean war.

There are many sites on the internet where you can read all of her prophecies, but it has long been established that they are hoaxes, the majority having been written after the events happened.  Despite this, her legend has been passed on through the generations and Mother Shipton, just like King Arthur, the unicorn and Robin Hood has now become part of English folklore.

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Methods of Divination

Many different methods of divination can be found around the world, and many cultures practice the same methods under different names.  During the Middle Ages, scholars coined terms for these methods, some of which had hitherto been unnamed, in Mediaeval Latin, very often utilising the suffix -mantia when the art seemed more mystical (ultimately from Ancient Greek manteía, 'prophecy' or 'the power to prophesy') and the suffix -scopia when the art seemed more scientific (ultimately from Greek skopeîn, 'to observe').  Names like drimimantia, nigromantia, and horoscopia arose, along with other pseudo-sciences such as phrenology and physiognomy.

Some forms of divination are much older than the Middle Ages, such as haruspication, while others (such as megapolisomancy or coffee/tea-based tasseomancy) originated in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Several of the more common methods used in divination are shown below in alphabetical order.  A description of these methods can be found by clicking on the relevant link.  Please note that this list is far from complete -- there are literally hundreds more, many of which are shown in the second list!

  • Astrology - Divination using celestial bodies, i.e. the sun, moon, planets, and stars.
  • Aura-Soma - Divination by Colour
  • Cartomancy - This is a form of fortune telling using playing cards (Tarot is discussed later).
  • Ch(e)iromancy / Palmistry - Divination by interpreting the lines and structure of the hand.
  • Cleromancy (Dice/Dominoes) - Divination by "casting lots", such as pebbles or sea shells.  Nowadays using dice and dominoes.
  • Dowsing (Divining Rods) - A method of divination where a forked stick or divining rods is/are used to locate water or precious minerals.
  • Geomancy - This is the study of figures on the ground and the influence of the Earth's "currents".
  • Graphology - The analysis of a person's character through his/her handwriting.
  • I Ching - An ancient Chinese manual of divination based on eight trigrams and sixty-four hexagrams, interpreted in terms of the principles of yin and yang.
  • Necromancy - The supposed practice of communicating with the dead, especially in order to predict the future.
  • Numerology - The numerical interpretation of numbers, dates, and the numberic value of letters.
  • Oneiromancy - The interpretation of dreams.
  • Phrenology - A long practiced study of head formations.  Often referred to as Bumpology nowadays.
  • Pyromancy - And PYROSCOPY are forms of divination by fire or flame, often assisted by substances thrown onto the flames.
  • Runes - These are a set of tiles or stones containing primitive carvings of characters or letters used for divination and opening up psychic awareness.
  • Scrying - A general term for divination using a crystal, mirrors, bowls of water or ink to induce visions.
  • Tarot - A pack of playing cards used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe.  In the late 18th century, it began to be used for divination.
  • Tasseomancy - The interpretation of used tea leaves / coffee grounds remaining in a tea / coffee cup once the beverage has been drunk.

Some Other Methods of Divination

(This list is not exhaustive)



acultomancy        divination using needles
aeromancy        divination by means of the weather
ailuromancy        divination by watching cats’ movements
alectormancy        divination by sacrificing a rooster
alectryomancy        divination by watching a rooster gather corn kernels
aleuromancy        divination using flour or meal
alomancy        divination using salt
alphitomancy        divination using loaves of barley
alveromancy        divination using sounds
ambulomancy        divination by taking a walk
anthomancy        divination using flowers
anthracomancy        divination using burning coals
anthropomancy        divination using human entrails
apantomancy        divination using objects at hand
arithmancy        divination using numbers
armomancy        divination by examining one’s shoulders
aspidomancy        divination by sitting and chanting within a circle
astragalomancy        divination using dice or knucklebones
astromancy        divination using stars
austromancy        divination using wind
axinomancy        divination using an axe or hatchet
batraquomancy        divination using frogs
belomancy        divination by means of arrows
bibliomancy        divination by opening a book at random
botanomancy        divination using burning branches or plants
brontomancy        divination using thunder
capnomancy        divination by means of smoke
cartomancy        telling fortunes using playing cards
catoptromancy        divination by examining mirrors placed underwater
causimancy        divination by means of fire
ceneromancy        divination using ashes
cephalonomancy        divination by boiling an ass head
ceraunomancy        divination using thunderbolts
ceraunoscopy        divination using lightning
ceromancy        divination by means of wax drippings
ceroscopy        divination using wax
chiromancy        divination by means of palmistry
chronomancy        divination by means of time
cleidomancy        divination using keys
cleromancy        divination using dice
conchomancy        divination using shells
ccoscinomancy        divination using a sieve and a pair of shears
crithomancy        divination by strewing meal over sacrifices
critomancy        divination using viands and cakes
cromnyomancy        divination using onions
crystallomancy        divination by means of clear objects
crystalomancy        divination using a crystal globe
cubomancy        divination by throwing dice
dactyliomancy        divination by means of a finger
dactylomancy        divination using rings
daphnomancy        divination using a laurel
demonomancy        divination using demons
dririmancy        divination by observing dripping blood
emonomancy        divination using demons
enoptromancy        divination using mirrors
eromancy        divination using water vessels
extispicy        divination using entrails
gastromancy        divination by sounds from the belly
geloscopy        fortune-telling by means of laughter
geomancy        divination by casting earth onto a surface
grafology        divination by studying writing
graptomancy        divination by studying handwriting
gyromancy        divination by falling from dizziness
halomancy        divination using salt
haruspication        divination by inspecting animal entrails
hematomancy        divination using blood
hepatoscopy        divination by examining animal livers
hieromancy        divination by studying objects offered in sacrifice
hieroscopy        divination using entrails
hippomancy        divination using horses
hydromancy        divination using water
hypnomancy        divination using sleep
ichnomancy        divination using footprints
ichthyomancy        divination by inspecting fish entrails
iconomancy        divination using icons
idolomancy        divination using idols
kephalonomancy        divination using a baked ass’s head
keraunoscopia        divination using thunder
knissomancy        divination using burning incense
lampadomancy        divination by flame
lecanomancy        divination using water in a basin or pool
libanomancy        divination by watching incense smoke
lithomancy        divination by stones or meteorites
logarithmancy        divination by means of algorithms
logomancy        divination using words
macromancy        divination using large objects
maculomany        divination using spots
margaritomancy        divination using divination using pearls
mathemancy        divination by counting
meconomancy        divination using sleep
meteoromancy        divination by studying meteors
metopomancy        divination using the forehead or face
metoposcopy        fortune-telling or judgement of character by the lines of the forehead
micromancy        divination using small objects
myomancy        divination from the movements of mice
narcomancy        divination using sleep
necyomancy        divination by summoning Satan
nomancy        divination by examining letters of name
odontomancy        divination using teeth
oenomancy        divination by studying appearance of wine
oinomancy        divination using wine
ololygmancy        fortune-telling by the howling of dogs
omoplatoscopy        divination by observing cracks in burning scapulae
omphalomancy        divination from the knots in the umbilical cord
oneiromancy        divination by dreams
onomancy        divination using a donkey or ass
onomancy        divination using proper names
onychomancy        divination by the fingernails
oomancy        divination using eggs
ophidiomancy        divination using snakes
ophiomancy        divination by watching snakes
ornithomancy        divination by observing flight of birds
oryctomancy        divination using excavated objects
ossomancy        divination using bones
osteomancy        divination using bones
ouranomancy        divination using the heavens
pedomancy        divination by examining the soles of the feet
pegomancy        divination by springs or fountains
pessomancy        divination using pebbles
phyllomancy        divination using leaves or tea leaves
physiognomancy        divination by studying the face
psephomancy        divination by drawing lots or markers at random
psychomancy        divination by means of spirits
pyromancy        divination using fire
retromancy        divination by looking over one’s shoulder
rhabdomancy        divination using a rod or stick
rhapsodomancy        divination by opening works of poetry at random
scapulomancy        divination by examining burnt shoulder blade
scatomancy        divination by studying excrement
scatoscopy        divination by studying excrement
schematomancy        divination using the human form
sciomancy        divination using ghosts
scyphomancy        divination by means of a cup
selenomancy        divination by studying the moon
sideromancy        divination using stars; divination by burning straws
sortilege        divination by drawing lots
spasmatomancy        divination by twitching or convulsions of the body
spatilomancy        divination by means of faeces
spheromancy        divination using a crystal ball
stercomancy        fortune telling by studying seeds in dung
stichomancy        divination by picking passages from books at random
stolisomancy        divination by observing how one dresses oneself
sycomancy        divination using fig leaves
tephromancy        divination by ashes
theomancy        divination by means of oracles
thrioboly        divination using pebbles
thumomancy        divination by means of one's own soul
tiromancy        divination using cheese
topomancy        divination using landforms
trochomancy        divination by studying wheel tracks
tyromancy        divination using cheese
uranomancy        divination by studying the heavens
urimancy        divination by observing urine
xenomancy        divination using strangers
xylomancy        divination by examining wood found in one’s path
zoomancy        divination by observing animals


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