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Divination: An Art from Antiquity to Contemporary Times


Divination is the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means. It has been a part of human society since time immemorial and has manifested in various forms across different cultures and civilizations. The allure of divination lies in its mystical nature and the comfort of perceived certainty in an uncertain world.

The Essence of Divination

Divination stems from the human desire to comprehend the unknown and predict future events. In essence, it is a tool to navigate uncertainty, providing solace and guidance in times of confusion or crisis. Many consider divination as a part of psychic abilities since it often involves interpreting signs, symbols, or patterns that are not readily accessible to everyone. However, it’s important to note that not all psychic phenomena are divination, and not all divination involves psychic abilities.

Historical Perspective

Historically, divination has been an integral part of many societies, with priests, shamans, oracles, and seers playing pivotal roles in decision-making processes, from personal affairs to matters of state. For instance, the ancient Greeks consulted oracles like the famous Oracle of Delphi, while the Chinese used the I Ching (Book of Changes) to divine the future. In Africa, If a divination has been a deeply embedded part of cultural practices, helping individuals make important decisions.

Contemporary Divination

In contemporary times, divination continues to thrive in various forms and practices. Although the modern rationalist worldview might question the validity of divination, its appeal has remained steady, drawing in those searching for spiritual meaning and guidance. The resurgence of divination practices today can be seen in the popularity of Tarot card readings, oracle cards, I Ching, runes, and scrying. We examine the more popular forms of divination in more detail below.

The Art of Tarot

Today, Tarot cards are among the most widely recognized and used tools for divination1. The appeal of Tarot lies not only in its rich historical and cultural significance, but also in its versatility in addressing a range of human experiences and dilemmas.

A traditional Tarot deck is composed of 78 cards, with each card bearing distinct imagery and symbolism. This deck is bifurcated into two segments: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana.

Major Arcana

The Major Arcana is a set of 22 cards, numbered from 0 (The Fool) to 21 (The World). These cards are often considered the heart of the Tarot, as they symbolize significant life events, lessons, and archetypal themes that people encounter on their life’s journey. For instance, “The Fool” represents new beginnings and spontaneous actions, whereas “The Hermit” stands for introspection and the need for solitude. “Death” – a card often misunderstood – typically signifies transformation and the end of a phase, rather than physical death.


Each Major Arcana card carries profound spiritual and psychological implications, reflecting the universal journey of the human soul. They are deemed the ‘greater secrets’, embodying our life’s spiritual and karmic lessons.

Minor Arcana

The Minor Arcana, often referred to as the ‘lesser secrets’, comprises 56 cards divided into four suits: Cups, Wands, Swords, and Pentacles. Each suit corresponds to an element: Water (Cups), Fire (Wands), Air (Swords), and Earth (Pentacles), and is associated with different aspects of human experience.

The Cups typically signify emotions and relationships, the Wands represent creativity and action, the Swords indicate intellect and conflict, and the Pentacles are concerned with material matters and practical aspects of life. Each suit contains ten numbered cards and four court cards: King, Queen, Knight, and Page, each portraying different personalities or roles in our lives.

The Practice of Reading Tarot

Reading Tarot is an art that requires a deep understanding of the symbolism present in the cards and an intuitive sense to interpret their meanings in the context of a query or situation. A Tarot reading typically begins with the querent – the person seeking guidance – asking a question. The reader then shuffles the deck and lays out a specific number of cards in a pattern called a spread. Each position in the spread has a unique significance, which contributes to the overall interpretation.

The Tarot reader combines their knowledge of the card meanings, intuition, and the querent’s personal circumstances to interpret the cards. This process is far more nuanced than simply reciting the textbook definitions of the cards; it requires empathy, intuition, and a deep understanding of the human experience. The aim is not to predict a fixed future but to illuminate potential paths and outcomes, providing insight and guidance that can empower the querent in their decision-making.

The Power of Oracle Cards

Oracle cards are a modern tool of divination that have gained considerable popularity in recent years. Like Tarot cards, they are used for personal reflection, insight, and predictive purposes. However, they are distinct from Tarot in their flexibility of structure and themes, making them a highly personalized and intuitive tool for self-discovery and guidance.

Structure and Themes of Oracle Cards

Unlike the rigid structure of Tarot decks, which comprise 78 cards divided into the Major and Minor Arcana, Oracle card decks can vary significantly in number, usually ranging from 36 to 64 cards, or even more. The themes and motifs depicted in these cards can span a broad spectrum, from animals, angels, and goddesses, to crystals, chakras, and lunar cycles, among others.

The diversity of themes allows Oracle cards to cater to a wide variety of spiritual beliefs, personal interests, and life situations. This, coupled with their often striking artwork, makes them a versatile and visually appealing tool for personal insight and growth.

Interpretation and Use of Oracle Cards

Oracle cards do not follow a universal system of symbolism like Tarot cards do. Each deck comes with its unique set of meanings, usually provided in an accompanying guidebook. The interpretations of the cards rely heavily on intuition and personal resonance, thereby offering a deeply personal, interpretive experience.

Oracle cards are typically used in single-card draws, but they can also be used in spreads similar to Tarot. They can be used on their own or in conjunction with Tarot cards to add another layer of insight to a reading.

There are many popular Oracle card decks, each carrying its distinctive theme and artistic style. Here are a few examples:

  1. “Work Your Light Oracle Cards” by Rebecca Campbell: This deck encourages users to step into their light and align with their soul’s calling.
  2. “The Wisdom of the Oracle” by Colette Baron-Reid: With 52 beautifully illustrated cards, this deck weaves intricate storylines into a greater narrative of the user’s journey.
  3. “Moonology Oracle Cards” by Yasmin Boland: This deck harnesses the power of the moon cycles to provide guidance and predictions.
  4. “Animal Spirit Oracle” by Kim Krans: This deck uses the symbolism of animals to convey messages and guide individuals towards understanding their life situations better.
  5. “Archangel Oracle Cards” by Doreen Virtue: This deck is based on the powerful and loving energies of the archangels and provides guidance on various aspects of life.

These examples show the diverse range of Oracle cards available, allowing individuals to find a deck that resonates most closely with their personal journey and spiritual leanings. They serve as powerful tools for introspection and guidance, helping individuals navigate life’s challenges with greater clarity and wisdom.

Delving Into the I Ching

The I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes, stands as a profound testament to the rich spiritual and philosophical traditions of ancient China. As one of the oldest divination texts in the world, the I Ching has served as a guide for moral, philosophical, and predictive queries for over two millennia.

Structure and Composition of the I Ching

The I Ching is composed of 64 hexagrams, each consisting of six lines that can be either solid (yang) or broken (yin), representing the dynamic interplay of the universal forces of Yin and Yang. These hexagrams embody a wide array of human situations, conditions, and dilemmas. Each hexagram is accompanied by an explanatory text, often attributed to King Wen and his son the Duke of Zhou, and philosophical commentary, traditionally associated with Confucius.

Casting the I Ching

The practice of divining with the I Ching involves casting coins or yarrow stalks to generate a hexagram. While yarrow stalks were used in ancient times, coin casting has become more prevalent in modern times due to its simplicity.

When using coins, three coins are tossed six times to form each line of the hexagram, starting from the bottom. Each toss generates a line that is either yin (broken) or yang (solid), with changing lines indicated based on the combination of coin faces (heads or tails). These changing lines are of significant importance as they represent the transition from one situation or state to another.

Interpretation and Philosophy of the I Ching

The interpretation of the I Ching is a deeply reflective process. The hexagram formed during a reading symbolizes the dynamics of the situation in question, offering insight into the underlying forces at play and suggesting possible outcomes or courses of action.

The I Ching goes beyond mere divination; it is steeped in philosophical wisdom. It embodies the Taoist philosophy of change and harmony, emphasizing the cyclic nature of events, the balance of opposing forces, and the constant flux of the universe. The Book of Changes teaches that by understanding these natural principles and aligning ourselves with them, we can navigate life’s challenges more effectively.

Sage doing IChing Reading

Throughout history, the I Ching has been studied and consulted not only as a divination tool but also as a source of moral guidance, a manual for achieving a balanced life, and a text revealing the interconnectedness of all things. Its influence has permeated various aspects of Chinese culture and thought, including literature, art, and even strategic decision-making.

The enduring appeal of the I Ching lies in its profound wisdom and the universal truths it encapsulates – making it a timeless guide for personal growth, ethical living, and understanding the ebb and flow of life’s changes.

Unraveling the Mysteries of Runes

Runes, derived from the ancient Germanic languages, are steeped in history, mythology, and spiritual tradition. Originally developed as an alphabet, known as the runic alphabet, these characters quickly took on esoteric meanings and became powerful tools for divination and magical practices.

The Runic Alphabet and Meanings

Most modern runic divination is based on the Elder Futhark, an alphabet of 24 symbols or runes that was widely used across pre-Christian northern Europe. Each rune is more than just a letter for writing; it is a symbolic representation of a cosmic force or principle. They are divided into three groups, or Aetts, each containing eight runes.

For instance, “Fehu,” the first rune, represents wealth or cattle, indicating prosperity and abundance, while “Raidho” symbolizes travel or journey, denoting movement, evolution, or change in life. “Algiz” stands for protection and defense, and “Uruz” is symbolic of strength and vitality.

The Practice of Rune Casting

Rune casting, or “throwing the runes,” is the method of divination used with runes. Traditionally, this involves inscribing the runic symbols onto small tokens made of natural materials such as wood, stone, or bone. The individual seeking guidance, known as the querent, usually focuses on a question or situation while casting a handful of these runes onto a cloth.


The interpretation of the runes involves understanding the inherent meaning of each individual rune and analyzing the relationships between the runes that appear in a reading. This could depend on their proximity to each other, their orientation (upright or reversed), or their position in a specific runic spread, much like Tarot spreads.

Runes as a Personal and Spiritual Guide

Reading runes is not just about predicting outcomes; it is also about personal introspection and spiritual growth. The guidance from a rune reading can help the querent understand the forces at work in their life and reveal the potential consequences of their actions. It’s worth noting that, like many other forms of divination, rune readings do not provide definite answers, but rather offer perspectives and insights that can help the querent make informed decisions.

Runes are also employed in magical work, inscribed on talismans or used in spells and incantations for protection, healing, success, and various other purposes. This usage highlights the versatile nature of runes, serving as a powerful tool for both understanding the unfolding patterns of life and actively influencing them.

The Ancient Practice of Scrying

Scrying, an age-old method of divination, hinges on the intuitive interpretation of images and symbols observed within reflective surfaces. Often referred to as “seeing” or “peeping,” this practice has roots in ancient cultures worldwide and remains a significant aspect of many mystical and magical traditions today.

Tools and Techniques of Scrying

Scrying can be conducted using a variety of media that offer reflective or semi-reflective surfaces. The choice of medium often depends on personal preference and the cultural background of the practice.

Crystal balls made from clear quartz, glass, or other minerals are probably the most recognized tool for scrying, largely due to their portrayal in popular culture. Mirrors, typically ones with a black or darkened surface, known as “black mirrors,” are also common tools. Other media include pools of water, oil, or ink; shiny metals like gold, silver, or bronze; and even flames or smoke.

The practice of scrying involves gazing into these reflective surfaces in a meditative state. This is not about focusing on the physical reflection, but rather allowing the gaze to soften and the mind to open to intuitive impressions. Over time, the scryer may begin to perceive images, symbols, or scenes within the medium.

Interpretation and Purpose of Scrying

Interpreting the images perceived during scrying relies heavily on intuition and personal symbolism. These visions can be literal or symbolic and may represent past, present, or future events, or even provide insights into the hidden aspects of a situation.

Scrying serves as a means to tap into the subconscious mind and the intuitive faculties, enabling the practitioner to access guidance, insights, or predictions. The visions seen during scrying are often subjective and can be unique to the individual scryer. Thus, the interpretation requires a deep understanding of personal symbolism and a willingness to trust one’s intuition.

Scrying in Historical and Cultural Context

Historically, scrying has been practiced in various cultures worldwide. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Celts reportedly used scrying in their rituals and oracles. In the late Medieval period, it was often associated with witchcraft and magic.

In some cultures, special importance was placed on the medium used for scrying. For instance, in Celtic cultures, seers often used beryl stones or crystal spheres for their divinatory practices. In Central America, Aztec priests used obsidian mirrors for scrying and ritualistic activities.

Today, scrying is often associated with modern witchcraft, divination, and magical practices. It is viewed as a method of developing one’s psychic abilities, enhancing intuition, and obtaining spiritual guidance.

Regardless of its cultural origins or the medium used, scrying remains a deeply personal and intuitive practice that serves as a bridge between the conscious and subconscious mind, the physical and spiritual realms, providing valuable insights into the mysteries of life.

The Timeless Attraction of Divination

The allure of divination, an ancient practice that traverses cultures and generations, remains potent in the modern world. Its enduring appeal is multi-faceted, hinging not only on its perceived predictive capabilities but also on its capacity to offer comfort, guidance, and a deeper understanding of oneself and the world.

A Guiding Beacon in the Midst of Life’s Uncertainties

At its core, divination serves as a guiding beacon amid life’s complexities and uncertainties. It can provide a roadmap of sorts, pointing out possible routes and outcomes while leaving the choice of path up to the individual. Whether through Tarot, runes, or the I Ching, divination doesn’t foretell a set future but rather illuminates potential scenarios based on current energies and patterns.

This element of guidance offers a sense of reassurance to many. It can make the unpredictable nature of life seem a bit more manageable, offering insights that allow individuals to make more informed decisions or understand their circumstances from a fresh perspective.

Fostering Personal Exploration and Introspection

Divination also encourages personal exploration and introspection. As individuals engage with divinatory tools, they are often prompted to reflect on their values, desires, and fears. Whether it’s the introspective journey prompted by a Tarot reading or the soul-searching triggered by interpreting the fall of the runes, divination tools serve as mirrors that reflect our innermost selves.

This introspective aspect is crucial for personal growth and self-understanding. It encourages individuals to delve deeper into their subconscious, unravelling hidden truths and shedding light on unexplored parts of their psyche.

The Intrigue and Comfort of Divination

Despite leaps in science and technology that have answered many of our questions about the physical world, the mystery of what lies beyond our immediate perception persists. Divination offers an intriguing way to explore these mysteries, to seek answers to life’s metaphysical questions that cannot be addressed by empirical science alone.

Moreover, divination provides comfort in its own unique way. The ritualistic aspect, the connection to a tradition that stretches back centuries, and the sense of contact with a higher wisdom or the spiritual realm – all contribute to the comforting essence of divination.

The interpretive nature of most divination forms also allows for personalized guidance, making the experience more relatable and comforting for individuals. It is like having a conversation with the universe, where personal dilemmas are acknowledged, and cosmic guidance is given.

The Human Quest for Understanding

Ultimately, the enduring appeal of divination reflects an intrinsic human desire to understand the world beyond our immediate senses. It taps into the age-old curiosity to know what the future holds, to seek meaning in the past, and to comprehend the intricate tapestry of existence.

In this sense, divination represents a spiritual and philosophical journey, one that helps navigate the mysteries of life, fosters self-understanding, and provides comfort and guidance in times of uncertainty. Its timeless allure testifies to its inherent value in the human quest for understanding, making it a fascinating and indispensable part of our shared cultural and spiritual heritage.


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