Why Do Divination?

by Estelle Daniels

People agree that Witches know about herbs and healing and they "tell fortunes". What is divination? It is more than just "telling fortunes". Divination at its most basic is: To tell the past, present or future through indirect means either using a focus or with pure psychic talents. To obtain information about a person or situation though psychic means.

Why was divination originally developed? In the olden days (before telephones or TV) there might be months between word from loved ones who were away from home, so divination was a way of keeping tabs upon them which didn't depend upon mail (which was not always reliable). If your livelihood depended upon 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 Some feel the ability to do divination is a divine gift, and should be used properly and reverently or it might be withdrawn.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. And 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 which just mirror what is put in, a good reading will mirror a person's thoughts back at them, reinforce what has been done and help a person 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 which will tell your fortune. For those who have used them, they can be frighteningly accurate. And 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 and listening and plain old-fashioned advise. That may sound boring and mundane, but there it is. Before psychologists and the self-help industry were invented, people often went to the local "wise woman" for advise 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 found on Earth. People want it, and if there's some sort of a living to be made from it somebody will.

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 feel 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 more close to the Divine, however one views it. One can certainly get a feeling there is some intelligence taking interest in what happens upon this small blue ball when one gets an accurate and insightful reading.

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), etc. to the more obscure scrying, augury, phrenology, physiognomy, bibliomancy and the ever popular magic eight ball (don't knock it, it works!).

Scrying is divination by using some outside focus, like water, or 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, watching and listening to birds and interpreting their movements and sounds. Augury is also used to describe divination by entrails, used by the Romans. They would sacrifice an animal, and would open it up and 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 1800's, which predicts character using the bumps on the head. There were machines made around 1900 gave phrenology readings, they had lots of wires which pressed against the head and by measuring bumps made a printout of the character. A mechanical specialized early type of computer.

A physiognomist reads faces, by the form and placement of features. It 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. You think of a question and hold your Bible closed, close your eyes and let the book fall open and put your finger or a pin on a page. Whatever verse your finger or pin 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 advise came from God.

One can use many objects to tell fortunes, dice, dominoes, cards, mah jong tiles. One can use natural things, birds, flowers (he loves me, he loves me not), clouds, winds. Some claim meteorology is a sophisticated and narrow form of divination. They even call it predicting the weather. Meteorologists have about 50% accuracy (by their own admission) which is really pretty low, but they have organized better, cloaked it in higher mathematics and use more sophisticated technology. 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 precursor 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. That divinatory method wasn't ecologically sound (not 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 which still thrives in our modern world.

© 1997, 2002 Estelle Daniels, all rights reserved.

If you want to use a few of Estelle's articles on your website, contact her by e-mailing articles@estelledaniels.com to ask permission. Without her permission it is illegal, and a violation of copyright law, to post her articles on your web site. Please respect her rights and make the proper arrangements, or simply link to this website and let people read the article here.

As long as people play by the rules, the powers-that-be will not have to enact draconian laws to regulate copyright use on the internet. It makes life easier for all of us.

Article index

The Age of Aquarius

Alternative Sabbats

Auntie Estelle's Predictions for the Millennium

Basic Electional Astrology

Basic Qabala

BBS, Cyberspace and Privacy

Ceremonial Magick


Choosing Divination

Cord Magick


Dressing Kabbalistically

Eclipses, why are they such a big deal?

Ethical Garage Saling

Finding Magickal Tools

The Future of Witchcraft

House Shields

I Ching
Initiation Instant Circle Know Your Gods Know Yourself Kwan Yin, Mother of Mercy LBRP
Magical Ethics for Teens

Magick in the Workplace

Magickal Timing Tools

Mars Close Encounter

Mercury Retrograde

Modern Magic Carpets

Moon/Mercury Aspects and Psychic Ability

Moon Phase Timing

Moon Spells and Lunar Correspondences

Parents and Wicca

Planetary Hours

Planetary Stations

Psychic Attack

Psychic Manipulation

The REAL Millennium

Tarot Meditations

To Know, To Will, To Dare and to Keep Silent

Void-of-Course Moon

What is Divination?

Why a Circle?

To report problems with this web site e-mail webkeeper@estelledaniels.com

Please note that Estelle is not herself online, although she does exercise approval over the contents of this website. She would like to convey her apologies, that due to constraints of time and volume, she cannot respond to individual correspondences.