The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Divination is the art of discovering the future right now in the present. It is the art of foretelling the unknown, whether in the past, present or future. Hidden secrets to which one is not usually privy are revealed via divination. One can thus understand the past, predict the future, and make better plans for the present.
Divination is ultimately a passive art. The diviner serves as a medium, as opposed to witchcraft, which is an active art that attempts to effect change. Many witches or other magical practitioners incorporate divination techniques; however many diviners do nothing more than examine and analyze events without attempting to cause change.
That said, fortune-tellers, prophets, and diviners have been traditionally lumped in with other practitioners of the magical arts; divination has frequently been forbidden, sometimes on pain of death.
Many psychics such as clairvoyants and clairaudients simply know the future or hidden information. They hear, see or dream the desired information; they may or may not have any control over the process. Divination, by definition, is a conscious attempt to obtain information based on specific techniques.
Countless techniques for divination exist, however most are based on specific systems:
Scrying involves gazing. Scrying techniques include reading a crystal ball or candle-gazing. The diviner fixes their gaze on the scrying object and waits patiently until visions appear, often in their peripheral vision. In some ways, this is a very accessible technique: one can scry into a fire, onto bare Earth or in a pan of water, a still lake or even one’s polished thumbnail. No expense is required, no literacy, no materials or books. However, scrying can be difficult to accomplish. One must find just the correct gaze (focused but not too sharp) and state of mind (focused, but sometimes visions are revealed via the mind’s wandering).
Synchronicity is the name Jung gave to the theory that any two events that occur at the same moment are related. Methods of divination involving synchronicity usually incorporate tools like cards, dice, runes, coins or other objects. Objects are randomly scattered; the patterns created are interpreted and then related to the question at hand. Techniques using synchronicity are based on systems and rules (each rune has a specific meaning, for instance), however, intuition still plays a big role.
Sometimes neither scrying nor synchronicity is required. The future may be revealed by interpretation of signs. Palm reading (chiromancy) for instance reveals the future via the interpretation of one’s hand, particularly the lines but also features like shape, muscle tone, and skin texture. Other similar divination techniques involve interpreting the placement of moles on the body.
Psychic visions and prophecies may also be induced via psychoactive substances, lucid dreaming, and various ecstatic techniques including music and dance.
Divination is extremely popular worldwide. Among the most popular modern techniques are the I-Ching, Tarot and other cards, palm reading, and rune-casting.
The Greek suffix -mancy indicates prophecy or divination. Any word ending with that suffix (cartomancy, necromancy, aleuromancy, and so forth) indicates some type of divination technique. Astrology may also be considered a system of divination.
The successful, accomplished diviner often feels an energy surge during the process, similar to shamanic ecstasy. Diviners often describe it as being “plugged into the sacred.” Those who love divination perceive it as a sacred and spiritual art.
Ancient oracles such as that of Delphi might be classified as shamanic divination. (Psychic visions were carefully induced using various substances and techniques.) Many modern games derive from divination techniques including cards and dice.
Many historians believe it was the need to record divination results for posterity that sparked the very birth of writing. Divination results were recorded on tortoise shells and the shoulder bones of sheep and cows.
Divination is an ancient practice, simultaneously perceived as crucial and dangerous. In the ancient world, important decisions were never made without consulting an experienced diviner. Rulers kept diviners on the payroll ready to interpret omens at any moment. Words like auspice, harbinger, augur, and omen all derive from ancient divination techniques. Diviners were crucial to early religion and spiritual practice too. Diviners determined when sacrifices should be offered and to whom. Sacrificial animals (and humans) were often treated as instruments of divination: among the most ancient forms of divination is the analysis and interpretation of the liver.
However, access to hidden or forbidden information has also been perceived as dangerous. Rulers, particularly the autocratic and dictatorial, prefer to keep this information to themselves. Diviners have historically found themselves imprisoned, endangered or expected to provide the prophecy the ruler wishes to hear and have it be accurate!
Divination has frequently been forbidden. Those who practice the art or consult practitioners have been threatened with dire punishment. The Roman jurist Paulus wrote in the early third-century CE, “…if slaves consult about the life expectancy of their masters, they are to be subjected to the extreme penalty, that is, the cross. And any person consulted [by them for this purpose], if they give answers, shall be either condemned to the mines or banished to an island.”
Divination was equated with witchcraft during the witch-hunt era. It was believed that if proved accurate, then the information must have been provided by demons, hence it was a diabolical art. Divination remains outlawed in many places, although in Western regions this is because it is often perceived as fraud.