Methods of Witch Divination

Witchcraft for Tomorrow - Doreen Valiente 1993

Methods of Witch Divination

In the previous chapter mention was made of the uses of the witches’ cauldron; but without touching upon its other traditional use, namely for the method of divination known as scrying.

Scrying is the old word for all kinds of clairvoyance involving the use of some object, such as a crystal ball, a vessel of water, a magic mirror and so on, in which the seer gazes and in which, or by the aid of which, visions appear. Such an instrument is called a speculum.

This practice goes back to the remotest antiquity and is found all over the world. At the same time, it is in use among all kinds of witch covens and magical societies at the present day.

The speculum used may be large or small, according to the personal taste of the practitioner who uses it. For his famous series of explorations into other dimensions which he recorded under the title of The Vision and the Voice, Aleister Crowley used a large golden-coloured topaz, set in a wooden cross of six squares painted vermilion, being reminiscent of the shape of the rose and cross emblem of the Rosicrucians. He held the cross in his hand and gazed into the stone. The use of a semi-precious stone is considered by some practitioners of magic to be particularly efficacious. Of course, real crystal or beryl, the original crystal-gazing ball, is itself a semi-precious stone and expensive accordingly. But experience teaches that all kinds of things can be used as a speculum, including things which are not costly at all, and people can still get results with them.

An example of quite a large object being used as a speculum is the magic mirror which Gerald Gardner used to display in his museum in the Isle of Man. Old Gerald used to tell the story of how he found this rather splendid magical object in a London junk shop, amongst a load of second-hand furniture. The shop was shut when Gerald noticed the mirror in its murky window, so he got there early next morning and waited on the doorstep for the shop to open in order to secure his prize, purchasing ’that old picture frame’ for a few shillings. Covered in dust and cobwebs, it did, indeed, look like an old-fashioned round picture frame with unusual slightly convex glass. However, instead of containing a picture or a mirror surface, the glass had been coated inside with a dark greyish-black substance. The frame itself bore faded gilding and the names of the four archangels of the elements and the four cardinal points: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael. It had probably been used as part of the furniture of a magical lodge.

It is part of the perennial charm of junk shops that one never knows what is going to turn up in them. Dion Fortune tells in one of her books how a magic wand was once found in a similar way, tied up with a bundle of old fire irons. However, a word of caution is necessary here. If you are fortunate enough to discover something like this, then it is wise to cleanse the object thoroughly and preferably do a banishing ritual over it also, before using it yourself, as it may have been associated with undesirable practices, or with things which may have been innocent enough in themselves but, nevertheless, antagonistic to your sort of magic. This is where the working use of the athame comes in.

As soon as you conveniently can, circle the object with the athame three times widdershins (i.e. anti-clockwise), saying over it: ’In the name of the Powers of Light, Life and Love, may all evil and hostile influences depart hence—NOW!’ Point the athame at the object and will it to be cleansed. Picture a ray of silvery-blue light jetting from the point of the athame and dispelling and breaking up anything undesirable that lingers there. Then give the object a good cleaning. Other suggestions for cleansing the aura of an object which has come into your possession and whose history is unknown or suspect are given in Liber Umbrarum; but this simple, quick banishing ritual is useful generally in many ways. The tendency of widdershins movement is to banish, hence its use here. Some covens draw their magic circle widdershins; but personally I think this is rather too negative a way of drawing the magic circle for general working purposes. It is more suitable for specific banishing rites like this one.

My own favourite means of divination by scrying is to use the cauldron, though I have got results with the magic mirror and with a silver witch ball or a green glass fishing float (the hollow balls of thick dark glass, usually green, used in times past by fishermen to hold up and mark the position of their nets—now, alas, replaced by globes of plastic).

Again, the little gypsy-pot type of cauldron is the one to use. It is made of cast iron, so it is suitably black inside. Fill it about two-thirds full with water and the black interior of the cauldron will make an excellent speculum. Drop a silver coin into the water, to make a point upon which to concentrate. I have an old silver threepenny bit which I keep for this purpose; but any small silver or silver-coloured coin will do, so long as it is bright.

The faculty of scrying is a very individual thing, so really there are very few hard and fast rules. What provides good conditions for one person may not suit another. The right thing to do is what proves in practice to work. In general, however, a subdued light is the best. Some people like to arrange the light so that it shines on to the speculum and is reflected. Such reflections are called points de repère, because they tend to become the centre of a picture which forms itself, or appears to do so, upon the surface of the speculum. Others, myself included, prefer the surface to be dark, save for the appearance of the silver coin through the water, like a moon in the night sky.

There is, indeed, something very lunar about this kind of clairvoyance. You may find that you are better able to get results at the full of the moon, or at some particular phase of the moon; again, an individual matter which only experience can inform you of. Crystal, the semi-precious stone, is governed by the moon; so is water affected by the moon’s tidal pull. Scrying in vessels of water is one of the oldest and most widespread forms of divination. Sometimes rulers of ancient days owned costly chalices which were used for this purpose. Such was ’Jamsheed’s seven-ringed cup’ referred to in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Such, too, seems to have been the silver cup owned by Joseph in Egypt ’in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth.’* However, the humble cauldron of the witch, or the gourd full of water of the South Sea Islands kahuna, serves the purpose just as well, if the scryer has the faculty developed.

The reason is that the vision does not in fact appear in the speculum, though it may seem to do so, but in the mind of the clairvoyant. My own experience is that after a period of concentration, the surface of the water or the magic mirror disappears, and a picture appears before the mind’s eye, just as if it were suddenly projected upon a cinema screen. Sometimes there is a transition stage, when the picture, or some symbol, appears to be upon the surface of the speculum; but this is usually of short duration. The most vivid pictures appear when the speculum has vanished, or rather when I have ceased to be aware of it. Such pictures may be actual representations of distant, past or future events; but they are more often symbolic. One has to develop the intuition to discover what the symbols mean; and again, this is a matter of experience. The study of Jungian psychology can be helpful in this matter. I would particularly recommend the book Man and his Symbols, edited by Carl Gustav Jung.

There is no need to stare unblinkingly at the surface of the speculum. Indeed, it is better to gaze deeply into the water or the crystal, rather than to look at its surface. Just relax, allowing yourself to drift into a kind of borderland state. If other persons are present, they must be quiet and concentrate upon the purpose of what is being done. The best results are usually obtained after sunset rather than during the daylight hours. The candle-lit atmosphere of the magic circle is best; but if you happen to be scrying at some other time and place, then the room should be suitably darkened. The burning of some good incense or joss-sticks will always help.

The development of the faculty of scrying needs patience and practice; so if you see nothing the first time you attempt it, do not give up. What you are really doing is to awaken the faculties of your own inner mind. This is not going to happen all at once; nor will you always be able to perform automatically. Sometimes there will be disturbing psychic influences which will inhibit results. You must not be easily discouraged; nor must you fall into the trap of interpreting the vision to suit your own wishes or predilections. The symbol you see may be true; but your interpretation of it may be coloured by your own hopes or fears, if you let it.

The technique of scrying is very much the same, whether one uses an expensive crystal ball, a magic mirror, or whatever; so it is a question of finding the kind of speculum that suits one best. Incidentally, not everything sold as a ’crystal ball’ is really crystal. Sometimes balls of glass are described in this way, as often antique dealers themselves do not know the difference. It is not easy for one without expert knowledge to distinguish between the two; but real crystal tends to be heavy and to be peculiarly ice-cold to the touch. Held against your cheek, it will feel colder than glass—to the expert, at any rate. The latest development, however, started in USA, is to make gazing balls of clear plastic. Thus modern technology catches up with ancient witchcraft!

The magic mirror is one in which the glass is backed, not with a mirror surface, but with some dark substance. I have seen many mirrors backed with good quality black enamel paint, and stated by their owners to give satisfactory results; but the traditional material for the backing of the magic mirror is Stockholm tar, the stuff the old wooden ships used to be tarred with. It is the black, aromatic residue left after turpentine has been distilled, hence it is sometimes called turpentine asphaltum.

Some mirrors are convex, others concave, while others may be simply a flat sheet of glass. In my opinion, the concave mirror is the best; that is, a round piece of glass like that which covers a clock face, only turned the other way over. Such a piece of glass may be obtained from a clock repairer, or perhaps from an old clock itself.

It should be well cleaned and then given three coats of black paint, or whatever pigment one decides to use. Make sure each coat of paint is dry before applying the next one. As the paint is applied to the back of the mirror, if you want your mirror to be concave then you must paint the convex side, and vice versa. When each coat of paint is dry, magnetize it by making passes with your hands over it before applying the next coat.

Then you must contrive to make a frame for your mirror, according to your own skill and ingenuity. A square wooden box of suitable size will do for this. Pad it inside with cotton wool or kapok, so that you can sink the mirror firmly into the padding. Then cut a square piece of thin wood or hardboard to fasten over it, with a round hole framing the mirror surface but at the same time holding it in place. Fix this in position with a good adhesive. Then make a lid for the box so that the mirror is protected from dust when not in use. Finish the box with a coat of paint, perhaps adding some magical sigils as you prefer.

A very good magic mirror was made for me by a friend in this way. The box is painted black, with magical sigils added in silver paint. The lid has a pair of small hinges to hold it in place. From its size and shape, I suspect that the box was a wooden cigar box.

In these days of plastic containers of all kinds, one may be lucky enough to find a round plastic container which is just the right size to take the mirror glass. The glass can be attached to the rim of the container with adhesive, and the container painted in some suitable colour and adorned with magical signs, according to your own taste. In this case, however, you will also need a square of black material to wrap the mirror up in when not in use, as the mirror’s surface should not be exposed to the light. Apart from gathering dust, such exposure will destroy the mirror’s sensitivity, especially if it is exposed to strong sunlight.

Gazing crystals or glass balls, too, should be kept wrapped up when not in use. The black wrapping cloth will come in useful as a background to the speculum when you are actually scrying.

In addition to magic mirrors of this kind, some witches also use a small ordinary reflecting mirror for various magical practices. This is one of the secrets of old traditional witchcraft; but I can give one instance of the way in which it is used. Such mirrors, which are, of course, kept for this purpose and not used for anything else, are small, just enough to reflect the witch’s face and no more. They are mounted in a wooden frame, usually hand-carved in some curious design, according to the skill of the artist.

The witch places the mirror in front of her in a dim light, usually with a candle on either side of it. It should be just light enough to reflect the face of the person looking into the mirror. She sets some incense burning, then looks into the mirror, concentrating upon some wish that she desires to come true. (I use the pronoun ’she’, though, of course, a witch may be either a woman or a man).

The instructions given in a manuscript book from which I quote are as follows: ’Concentrate your eyes upon the reflected image of your eyes. Then close your eyes and be still. Develop the image of the wish in your mind. When you have visualized it clearly, open your eyes. Concentrate hard upon the eyes imaged in the mirror. Try to see through them into space beyond. Whisper the wish three times. Make another offering of incense, to close the ritual.’

I am told that the use of a mirror in this way is a potent adjunct to magical practice, provided the user has firm faith and belief in what they are doing and provided also that the wish is something within their sphere of possibility. One can, indeed, use a mirror in this way to build up one’s self-confidence, by talking to one’s own mirrored image as if one were talking to another person.

Another aid to witchcraft practice is the witch ball, the ancestor of those shining globes used to decorate the Christmas tree, though, of course, the large witch balls seen in antique shops are made of much heavier and more durable glass. In olden days, they were hung in the windows of houses to reflect the glance of the evil eye back upon the ill wisher. The older ones are of bright reflecting silver colour; some are made to hang in a window, while others were intended to stand upon some piece of furniture in the dark corner of a room. Later, other colours were introduced, usually bright blue, green or gold. Witch balls are a very attractive antique, and one often finds that shopkeepers are reluctant to part with them, because they seem to think a witch ball is something lucky to hang in their shop, though they no longer remember the real reason for its presence.

Witches use witch balls, especially the silver ones, for scrying as well as for magical protection. They say that if the ball is gazed at in a dim light with this purpose in mind, eventually the miniature scene reflected in its mirror surface will change into another scene, according to the clairvoyant faculty of the scryer. From personal experience, I can recall instances of this myself, sometimes even when one has been just idly looking at a witch ball in a relaxed way, thinking of nothing in particular.

I have not made any extensive use of the witch ball as a speculum; but I can give here a little rune which is meant to be spoken over the ball as one looks at it. Like most charms, it should be repeated at least three times:

Round of silver shining bright,

As the moon at still midnight,

When the witching hour has struck,

Shadows show of life and luck.

By this rune be now enchanted,

And the second sight be granted.

Mention has been made previously of the hollow glass balls which used to be used by fishermen to keep their nets afloat. These often turn up in antique shops and are sometimes erroneously referred to as witch balls, though their actual use was something much more prosaic. However, from my own experience, these make excellent specula for scrying purposes. The best ones are those which are made of glass of a deep, glossy green colour. They can easily be mounted upon a stand in order to use them for scrying.

Witches in old seaport towns used to prefer these fishing float balls even to a ball of crystal, because the latter was a dangerous thing to have in one’s possession in the times of persecution. It could only have one possible use, namely for magic, whereas the glass fishing float was quite a common object that could be in anyone’s cottage.

There used to be a belief in the days of medieval magic that the results obtained by the crystal ball were really caused by a demon, who had been bound to the crystal by magical ceremonies. According to the witch persecutors, therefore, it was not the clairvoyant faculties of the witch that produced the visions, but the demon who caused them to appear in the speculum. Hence, anyone who practised scrying could be accused of trafficking with evil spirits, which was a capital offence. No wonder witches used their ingenuity to find scrying instruments in things of common use, such as cauldrons and fishing floats.

Apart from scrying, there are many methods of divination used by witches, such as interpreting dreams, observing omens, and so on, which would be impossible to treat of in full detail here. Some witches practised the better-known occult arts, such as astrology and palmistry, which they held in common with other occultists. These arts were, indeed, more or less respectable in olden time, because they were part of that system of occult philosophy which was accepted and practised even by churchmen. Only in later days did they fall into disrepute. Hence, there is no lack of books upon these subjects; so I have preferred here to deal with some of those methods of divination specifically associated with the craft of witches.

One of these, of which little, if anything, has been written before, is lithomancy, or divination by stones. This type of divination is particularly associated with witchcraft, to such an extent that it has given the French their word for ’witch’, namely, sorcier (male witch) and sorcière (female witch), being one who practises sortilège, literally the casting of sorts or lots, for purposes of divination.

There are a number of different ways of doing this. I will give details here of the one I know and which I have tried with good results. It requires thirteen stones, the typical witches’ number, namely seven stones for the seven planets, plus a life stone, a luck stone, a love stone, a home stone, a news stone and a magic stone.

The witch must collect these stones herself, at an appropriate time. If she knows something of astrology, she will choose a day in the waxing moon when that luminary is well aspected by the appropriate planets. Otherwise, one of the Great Sabbats may be chosen, if an opportunity to collect stones arises. At least, let the finding of the stones take place in the increase of the moon.

A sea beach is a good place to look, as, of course, the stones do not need to be large. They should be roughly about the size of dice, as they are going to be cast in a similar way. There should not be too much disparity of shape or size between the stones, or this will affect the casting of them. Today, it is not difficult to find shops which sell semi-precious stones which have been smoothed by the ’tumbling’ process, quite sufficiently to make them suitable for this purpose; so, if you cannot find enough of the right sort of stones to make up your own set, you can augment them by stones purchased at the appropriate time.

The essential point is that the stones should appeal to you personally as being right for that particular purpose. They do not have to be semi-precious. Any stone which is curiously marked or beautifully coloured in such a way as to suggest the thing it symbolizes will do.

My own set of stones consists of a mixture of stones which I have found and those which I have bought. If I describe it, the reader may get an idea of what such a set of stones ought to be, though there is no need for him or her to imitate it slavishly. Rather, one’s set of divining stones should be individual to oneself, satisfying one’s own idea of what is right in this way and appealing to one’s own inner mind.

With this proviso, here is my own set of divining stones. Firstly, the stones of the seven planets: for the Sun, a piece of golden crocidolite or tiger’s-eye; for the Moon, a piece of cloudy white quartz with silvery streaks in it; for Mars, a piece of bloodstone; for Mercury, a piece of what I think is a kind of agate, a variegated stone mainly of a lavender colour, streaked and spotted; for Jupiter, a piece of dark blue crocidolite with a lightning-like effect in it as it catches the light; for Venus, a piece of very smooth light green stone, probably aventurine; for Saturn, a highly polished piece of completely black stone.

Now the other six stones. Of these, two are stones which I have found. One of them, the magic stone, is quite unusual. It is a very tiny specimen of the fossils known as ’shepherds’ crowns’, actually a fossil sea-urchin. Although so small, it is beautifully marked with a five-rayed star, making it a most appropriate magic stone.

The other stone found by myself is a fairly small but very smooth pebble with a round hole neatly through its centre. Such ’holey stones’ have been lucky since time immemorial, hence this is an obvious choice for the luck stone.

The life stone is a bright red piece of cornelian, anciently spelt ’carnelian’, meaning ’flesh-like stone’. Red is the colour of life, hence its frequent use in magic.

The news stone is a multi-coloured pebble, similar to the one used to represent Mercury, though darker in colour. Its different coloured spots and streaks show that news may be good or bad.

The home stone is a piece of blue and green moss agate, a stone associated with earth, as the streaks and veins of green within it look like tiny growing plants.

Lastly, the love stone is a piece of rose quartz, a stone whose beautiful rose colour is naturally associated with love and sentiment. Curiously enough, this piece is roughly in the shape of a heart.

I keep the stones in a little draw-string bag made of soft suede leather. For casting them, I spread out a piece of black fur fabric upon the floor, or upon a table, rather a modem innovation, I know, but really there is no reason why one should not use modern things in witch rites if they answer the purpose. In olden days, the stones would have been cast upon an animal’s skin, or simply upon the earth floor of the witch’s cottage, though a skin or thick cloth protects them from accidental chipping.

The divination is made from the way in which the stones relate to each other as they fall. The diviner must be guided by intuition, as well as by some knowledge of what the different planets govern in astrology.

More details about astrological influences may be obtained from any standard book about astrology. Here, as a few generalized indications, it may be said that the Sun is a good influence, bringing light and cheerfulness into a situation; the Moon indicates journeys by water, also feminine matters and motherhood, together with psychic things; Mars brings strife and struggle, though also energy to meet them; Mercury governs communications, writing, travel and the gaining of knowledge; Jupiter brings good luck, expansiveness and the gain of money; Venus is the planet of love, beauty and artistic things; while Saturn indicates restriction, slowness and sometimes misfortune.

With regard to the other stones, the luck stone, the love stone and the news stone have the obvious meaning of their names. Where the magic stone falls shows the most important part of the divination, the ruling factor. The life stone is the personal life of the one who is the subject of the divination; it may relate to physical or mental health. The home stone relates to one’s actual home surroundings; it can also indicate one’s personal property or real estate.

As said above, one has to use one’s personal judgement to interpret the fall of the stones. If, for instance, the news stone fell close to the home stone, with the Venus stone nearby, one could divine that a love letter was on its way. If the love stone lay beside the magic stone, then this would be really important to the person who received it. And so on; the permutations of the different stones and their meanings are practically endless, because naturally they have to be interpreted in accordance with the individual for whom the divination is being done. As with all forms of divination, practice brings facility and skill.

The actual procedure of divination is as follows. The stones are thrown within a circle made by the cord, the witches’ garter, coiled round upon the cloth or skin which is laid out smoothly upon the floor or a table. The words of an old Welsh charm are used when casting the stones: ADA ADA IO ADA DIA. It is pronounced like this: ’ Ah-da, ah-da, ee-o ah-da dee-a.’ Exactly what it means frankly I do not know; but it is a traditional divination rune or formula of words of power, probably Celtic in origin.

Light a candle and stand it by the circle. The room should be dimly lit, or darkened if it is day-time. Also have some incense burning, an incense-cone or a joss-stick. Take your athame and place it by the circle, on the right if you are right-handed. Have your divination stones ready in their little bag, or ’wise-woman’s wallet’ as it used to be called (’wiseman’s wallet’ in the case of a male witch).

When you have everything neatly laid out, take up your athame and consecrate the circle with it, circling three times round the small circle which you have outlined with your cord, pointing the athame and concentrating just as if you were making the big working circle. You may kneel upon the floor if you have laid your divination circle there, or be seated at your table. Of course, this kind of divination may be done within the standard-size magic circle of the coven, or one may use it oneself in private, like most other kinds of divination; but as usual, if other people are present they must be quiet and concentrate in order to aid its success.

As you consecrate the circle with your athame, repeat these words:

Witches’ garter, bind the spell.

Thirteen stones, the truth foretell.

Earth and water, wind and flame,

Magic in the Old One’s name!

Then lay your athame aside and take out the stones. Hold them in your hands and warm them, concentrating upon the object of your divination. Shake them from one hand to another, as the words of the spell are recited three times: ADA ADA IO ADA DIA. When you are ready, cast the stones at random into the circle. You must make a completely random cast; do not deliberately distribute them in any way. Then look carefully at the way they lie, consider and interpret them.

You may throw the stones three times at a sitting, but no more. This will allow for a general reading and two questions. To answer a question ’Yes’ or ’No’, a slightly different procedure is followed.

In this case, you use just three stones, one for affirmative, one for negative and one for the indicator, laying the rest of the stones aside. You use the magic stone for the indicator. If you are asking the question, ’Shall I follow such and such a course of action?’, then you use the Jupiter stone for affirmative and the Saturn stone for negative. In astrology, Jupiter is the Great Fortune and Saturn the Great Infortune, in other words the indicators of good luck or bad luck, so they are appropriate for this particular type of question. In other cases, use the Sun stone, the positive influence, for ’Yes’ and the Saturn stone, the negative influence, for ’No’.

Shake the three stones together using the rune ADA ADA IO ADA DIA, as before. Then cast them into the circle. The answer will be told by which of the stones lies nearest to the indicator stone. If both are about equidistant, the answer is doubtful. The question is not yet formed, will not arise, or this is not the time to ask it. This placing can also indicate that the question is frivolous or insincere.

This is really quite a simple method of divination, but it can tell a good deal if you really concentrate on it and take time and trouble over it. It is especially useful for ordinary, down to earth matters.

If, however, you seek for guidance upon matters of a higher plane, clairvoyance by one of the various methods of scrying will be more suitable. Alternatively, you can make use of the Tarot cards, which have the advantage of being able to give insight into affairs of either the most mundane or the most metaphysical kind. The Tarot is part of the general heritage of magic and mysticism and may be studied in that context. I need only say here that personally I accept the interpretation of the Tarot cards as given by the Order of the Golden Dawn, as being the most fruitful for study. It may be found in detail in the compendium of the Order’s teachings edited by Dr Israel Regardie, entitled The Golden Dawn.

* Genesis, 44.