astrologer author tarot deck designer

Choosing 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. The word derives from two Latin words: divinare--"to foresee" and divinus--"divine or pertaining to the Gods".

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 on 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 Some feel the ability to do divination is a divine gift, and should be used properly and reverently or it might be withdrawn.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 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."

The foreseeing part certainly fits with the telling the future. But divination can also be used to determine what may be happening at present or in the past. So just saying divination is telling the future is ignoring some important aspects. And sometimes it is more important to know what happened in the past to lead up to a present situation. You can also use divination to check up on people who might be out of touch or out of reach.

Some people feel that when you do divination you are in some way receiving a message from God, whatever you perceive God to be. If you treat divination reverently and with respect, you probably will get better results than if you just take it as a game. Sometimes you get your question answered. And sometimes you get an answer to something you didn't ask about, but which the Cosmos feels you need to know. That's the message from God. Be open to these Cosmic messages, and you just might find your life is more smooth and less upsetting than if you just ignore those off the wall readings. When the Cosmos speaks, it pays to listen.

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.

Divination is a tool. Some people think divination is an end in itself. If you are just fooling around, then it probably is. But used properly, with reverence and positive intent, divination is a tool which will enable you to do more. But you have to USE the information you are given. Just telling fortunes won't cut it. You have to take the information and use it to make things better for yourself, for your friends, for the world.

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.

In the ancient Western world there were two types of divination—direct or natural divination, consisting of dreams, necromancy (divination using information channeled from spirits of those who have passed on, either known or unknown to the practitioner—mediumship and channeling are similar to this), oracles and prophets; and indirect or artificial divination which was divided into two categories; 1) the observation of animate phenomena, haruscipy (reading the entrails of sacrificed animals), augury (reading the flight patterns of birds), and taking notice of human birth marks or deformities; and 2) the observation of inanimate phenomena, such as casting of lots and dice, observation of weather phenomena, terrestrial events (like earthquakes), or celestial phenomena—from which arose astrology. The ancients felt women were better at natural divination and men better at artificial divination. 

Nowadays, people just choose whatever they feel most comfortable with.

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 (or Haruscipy) was 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 that 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.

Then there are the many created systems of divination, some derived from others (the leNormand decks being based upon Tarot), some made up (Mah Jong divination—it was created as a gambling game and stayed that way for centuries), and others too numerous to consider. Created or ancient, all seem to work if you are reverent and use them with respect.

You can use divination to get information about a person or situation, or you can use divination to explore your inner self. Dream interpretation is a good method for self-exploration. All you need is a notebook, perhaps a good dream dictionary and patience.

Jungian psychology advocates using divination as a tool for personal-self exploration. You can do readings for and about yourself. You can ask what aspects of yourself need work and/or modification. You can ask how important people in your life have affected you. You can ask about past lives and the people in them.

You can do a reading about a person or situation that is troubling, but you do not understand why. Sometimes a reading can give insight and perspective, and cause you to see a person or situation in a new light. Anything which helps increase self-awareness and understanding of the world is beneficial for personal growth. Even if what you find out isn't as nice or pleasant as you thought. It's better to know, even the unpleasant stuff, than to operate from ignorance.

Most people practice divination for themselves and possibly a few friends. They have their Tarot Cards or whatever and they use them when they feel a need to find out about things they normally might not be able to. They can ask about the future, past or present. They can ask about themselves, friends, loved ones, or national figures. Around election time predictions of who will win are always popular.

Some people believe everything we have done and will do is fixed and immutable. Most others take the opposite tack that, as Yoda put it, "Always in motion is the future". You can ask about the past or present, and have a chance of finding out how accurate you were. But asking about the future is always tinged with a bit of uncertainty. Most readers feel that what you find out about the future is what is most probable given the present conditions. A giant asteroid could hit the Earth tomorrow, and that's the end of it all. But that probably won't happen, so you can do your divination realizing what you come up with is a possible future. If you don't like what is predicted, you can always act to change it. Even refusing to act is acting to change things.

Some people practice divination for the public at large, as a way of helping others and also possibly making money. If you choose to read for money, you should be aware that most municipalities have fortune telling laws on the books, which are there for good and just reasons. Honest readers state their readings are for entertainment only, and they are not usually violating any laws. Dishonest people have used divination in various forms to perpetrate theft by swindle, and that’s why there will always be anti-fortunetelling laws on the books, if only to protect the public from these unscrupulous parasites. 

Divination answers a strong need in humans. It has been around as long as mankind has been aware and thinking. And sometimes it seems that the more complex and hectic life is, the more urgent the need for finding out about the future. Some feel it gives them some sort of competitive edge. Others just like to know what might be. And others feel they can help others using divination.

How does a person go about choosing a divinatory system?

There are several criteria to look at. The first consideration is availability and price. It does no good to determine you will be the best thrower of knucklebones the world has seen, if you cannot get a set of knucklebones. The most widely available system of divination available today is Tarot.

There are hundreds of Tarot decks available in many stores. Some people just decide to do Tarot, and pick up a deck they like. Some people choose to get a deck and book set, which is more convenient, though more expensive.

Most decks come with a small booklet (the Little White Book or LWB) which gives a few meanings for each card and details how to do a few simple spreads. That may be all you need. 

There are many good books on Tarot, both general and specific to certain decks. Some people want a bigger book to go more in depth about their deck, the symbolism and how the cards interrelate. The internet has many good sites on Tarot. A few review decks, with sample pictures of cards. If you want help deciding which deck to get, try those. Time spent researching can save you money in the long run, because you want a good deck that fits you. Best to wait a bit, than to buy any deck that is available and discover it’s just not for you.

There are other divinatory systems which are easily available, but which are pricey. You have to weigh your resources against your needs. It does no good to look at a sealed product and read about what it can do on the back. The description may be good, but after trying the system, you might not like it. Some people go to a reader to see how a system works, and what kind of information they can get. Psychic fairs are good for that. If a friend has a copy or set, you can ask for a reading from the friend, or perhaps borrow it yourself and practice. It's better to see the system in action, so to speak, rather than buying something blind.

The second consideration is ease of use and learnability. Astrology is a wonderful divinatory system, and there are hundreds of books available to read and enjoy, but it takes time and practice to be an effective astrologer. If you don't want to have to learn to cast charts by hand there are lots of good programs available for your computer. On the Internet there are a number of good freeware programs that also calculate charts for you. But you still have to be able to make sense of all the squiggles the computer generates.

Many people have taken the time and energy to study astrology and become fairly proficient at it. You don't have to be at professional level to use astrology effectively in your daily life. Many good almanacs have descriptions and ideas on how to use the Moon in the signs as an aid to making your life easier.

But to be able to completely interpret a natal chart, or to effectively compare two charts to determine the general level of compatibility takes time and study. It isn't something a person is going to pick up and master in a weekend, or even with a month of close study.

Tarot can be used fairly effectively even by a beginner, if you are willing to use the book. This is perfectly acceptable. The pictures themselves speak to the meanings of each card, and these make it easier to memorize and understand what each card is about.

There are many other easy, do-it-yourself types of divination out there, which promise you are able to easily master what the system has to offer. And most actually work that way, too.

With usability also comes portability. Cards travel well, just put them in your bag and carry them wherever. Having an elaborate crystal ball may be fun, and you may be good at it, but if the ball is big and heavy, and has an elaborate stand and is breakable, you won't want to be carrying it around here and there. If you just want to do readings for yourself and a few friends at home, having a big setup which is fairly permanent is OK. But if you like to do readings at psychic fairs or parties, you have to take the portability into account.

The third consideration is comfort and familiarity. Runes are a good divinatory system, but they are less available and familiar than Tarot or astrology. The Runes actually died out and were not used for anything except scholarly research into a dead alphabet until they were "rediscovered" and revived in the late 1700's. And the 'modern' interpretations of the Runes are ALL based upon speculation, because there are no living practitioners of the traditional Runic system. They died in the 1200's. There are several good divinatory systems based upon Oriental methods and mindsets, but those cultures are not necessarily easily understandable to a westerner. It helps to understand the mindset behind I Ching and Feng Sui to be comfortable with them. Some people find they are drawn to a certain system, even though they have no idea of the culture it came from. That's OK. If you feel it's right for you, then go for it. But if you are just choosing without that extra "nudge", take the culture and mindset into account before investing a lot of time and money.

The fourth consideration is long-term interest. You can become an expert in reading a magic eight ball in about five minutes. Do you want to make a life-long study of its mysteries? Probably not.

Many people grow with divinatory systems as they use them. Some are so complex and multi-layered that they can provide a lifetime of interest. Astrology, I Ching, Tarot and the Runes work well with long-term study and interest. If you just want a system that gives you a quick reading on immediate issues, and you aren't interested in long-term study, then choose something simpler. If you want to become more accomplished and knowledgeable, then choose a complex system. If you are interested in lifelong study and interest, take up one of the systems that has more levels of complexity.

Finding a divinatory system that is right for you can take some time and effort, but if you are careful and choose correctly, you will have something which can last a lifetime.

Blessed Be

© 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2019 Estelle Daniels, all rights reserved.