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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This man in Rhumsiki, Cameroon, tells the future by interpreting the changes in position of various objects as caused by a fresh-water crab through nggàm[1].

Divination (from Latin divinare "to foresee, to be inspired by a god"[2], related to divinus, divine) is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of a standardized process or ritual.[3] Diviners ascertain their interpretations of how a querent should proceed by reading signs, events, or omens, or through alleged contact with a supernatural agency.[4] Divination can be seen as a systematic method with which to organize what appear to be disjointed, random facets of existence such that they provide insight into a problem at hand. If a distinction is to be made between divination and fortune-telling, divination has a formal or ritual and often social character, usually in a religious context; while fortune-telling is a more everyday practice for personal purposes. Particular divination methods vary by culture and religion.

Divination is often dismissed by skeptics, including the scientific community, as being mere superstition: in the 2nd century, Lucian devoted a witty essay to the career of a charlatan, Alexander the false prophet, trained by "one of those who advertise enchantments, miraculous incantations, charms for your love-affairs, visitations for your enemies, disclosures of buried treasure, and successions to estates"[5], though most Romans believed in dreams and charms. It is considered a sin in most Christian denominations and Judaism.



Psychologist Julian Jaynes categorized divination according to the following four types:

  • Omens and omen texts. "The most primitive, clumsy, but enduring method...is the simple recording of sequences of unusual or important events." (1976:236) Chinese history offers scrupulously documented occurrences of strange births, the tracking of natural phenomena, and other data. Chinese governmental planning relied on this method of forecasting for long-range strategy. It is not unreasonable to assume that modern scientific inquiry began with this kind of divination; Joseph Needham's work considered this very idea.
  • Sortilege (cleromancy). This consists of the casting of lots, or sortes, whether with sticks, stones, bones, beans, coins, or some other item. Modern playing cards and board games developed from this type of divination.
  • Augury. Divination that ranks a set of given possibilities. It can be qualitative (such as shapes, proximities, etc.): for example, dowsing (a form of rhabdomancy) developed from this type of divination. The Romans in classical times used Etruscan methods of augury such as hepatoscopy (actually a form of extispicy). Haruspices examined the livers of sacrificed animals. Note that augury is normally considered to specifically refer to divination by studying the flight patterns of birds.
  • Spontaneous. An unconstrained form of divination, free from any particular medium, and actually a generalization of all types of divination. The answer comes from whatever object the diviner happens to see or hear. Some religions use a form of bibliomancy: they ask a question, riffle the pages of their holy book, and take as their answer the first passage their eyes light upon. Other forms of spontaneous divination include reading auras and New Age methods of Feng Shui such as "intuitive" and Fuzion.

Forbidden in the Bible and in the Quran

The attitude of the Bible toward divination is decidedly ambivalent. On the one hand, verses like Deuteronomy 18:10-12 clearly forbid any acts of divination, describing them as something detestable to God. On the other hand Exodus 28 gives members of the priestly class the authority to perform divinatory rituals inside the temple. Priests used the Urim and Thummim to divine the will of Yahweh before times of sacrifice. Divination appears to be condoned in several places in the Hebrew Bible such as the chastisement of Noah, the journey of the sons of Jacob to Egypt, and the selection of a king by Samuel. It appears not so much that divination is forbidden in the Bible, but its use was restricted to people whom God appointed. Divination by members of other religious sects, for example in the context of witchcraft and necromancy, is forbidden.

In the Quran, divination is described in Surah V (The Table) as an abomination: "O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination; of Satan's handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper." [6]

Divination forbidden in Christianity and Western society

Divination was considered a pagan practice in the early Christian church. Later the church would pass canon laws forbidding the practice of divination. In 692 the Quinisext Council, also known as the Council in Trullo in the Eastern Orthodox Church, passed canons to eliminate pagan and divination practices.[7] Soothsaying and forms of divination were widespread through the Middle Ages. In the constitution of 1572 and public regulations of 1661 of Kur-Saxony, capital punishment was used on those predicting the future.[8] Laws forbidding divination practice continue to this day.[9]

Divination in Ancient Greece

Both oracles and seers in ancient Greece practiced divination. Oracles were the conduits for the gods on earth; their prophecies were understood to be the will of the gods verbatim. Because of the high demand for oracle consultations and the oracles’ limited work schedule, they were not the main source of divination for the ancient Greeks. That role fell to the seers (manteis in Greek).

Seers were not in direct contact with the gods; instead, they were interpreters of signs provided by the gods. Seers used many methods to explicate the will of the gods including extispicy, bird signs, etc. They were more numerous than the oracles and did not keep a limited schedule, thus they were highly valued by all Greeks, not just those with the capacity to travel to Delphi or other such distant sites.

The disadvantage to seers was that only direct yes or no questions could be answered. Oracles could answer more generalized questions, and seers often had to perform several sacrifices in order to get the most consistent answer. For example, if a general wanted to know if the omens were proper for him to advance on the enemy, he would ask his seer both that question and if it were better for him to remain on the defensive. If the seer gave consistent answers, the advice was considered valid.

At battle generals would frequently ask seers at both the campground (a process called the hiera) and at the battlefield (called the sphagia). The hiera entailed the seer slaughtering a sheep and examining its liver for answers regarding a more generic question; the sphagia involved killing a young female goat by slitting its throat and noting the animal’s last movements and blood flow. The battlefield sacrifice only occurred when two armies prepared for battle against each other. Neither force would advance until the seer revealed appropriate omens.

Because the seers had such power over influential individuals in ancient Greece, many were skeptical of the accuracy and honesty of the seers. Of course the degree to which seers were honest depends entirely on the individual seers. Despite the doubt surrounding individual seers, the craft as a whole was well regarded and trusted by the Greeks.[10]

Common methods

See also


  1. ^ Also done with spiders see
  2. ^ http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Divinatio.html
  3. ^ Peek, P.M. African Divination Systems: Ways of Knowing. page 2. Indiana University Press. 1991.
  4. ^ Definition of divination
  5. ^ Lucian of Samosata : Alexander the False Prophet
  6. ^ (Surah V, 90)
  7. ^ http://apostolicconfraternityseminary.com/council_of_trullo.html
  8. ^ (Ennemoser, p59, 1856)
  9. ^ http://pluralism.org/news/view/147
  10. ^ Flower, Michael Attyah. The Seer in Ancient Greece. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

Further reading



  • Robert Todd Carroll (2003). The Skeptic's Dictionary. Wiley.
  • Lon Milo Duquette (2005). The Book of Ordinary Oracles. Weiser Books.
  • Clifford A. Pickover (2001). Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction. Prometheus.
  • Eva Shaw (1995). Divining the Future. Facts on File.
  • The Diagram Group (1999). The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Fortune Telling. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Paul O'Brien (2007). Divination: Sacred Tools for Reading the Mind of God. Visionary Networks Press
  • Andreas Seiler Novel (2008). Real Wizard. Numerology.


  • D. Engels, Das römische Vorzeichenwesen (753-27 v.Chr.). Quellen, Terminologie, Kommentar, historische Entwicklung, Stuttgart 2007 (Franz Steiner-Verlag)
  • E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, oracles, and magic among the Azande (1976)
  • Toufic Fahd, La divination arabe; études religieuses, sociologiques et folkloriques sur le milieu natif d’Islam (1966)
  • Philip K. Hitti. Makers of Arab History. Princeton, New Jersey. St. Martin’s Press. 1968. Pg 61.
  • Michael Loewe and Carmen Blacke, eds. Oracles and divination (Shambhala/Random House, 1981) ISBN 0-87773-214-0
  • W. Montgomery Watt. Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman. Edinburgh, Scotland. Oxford Press, 1961. Pgs 1-2.
  • J. P. Vernant, Divination et rationalité (1974)
  • David Zeitlyn and others on African Divination systems: [See]http://era.anthropology.ac.uk/Divination

External links

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

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Reference articles

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

DIVINATION, the process of obtaining knowledge of secret or future things by means of oracles, omens or astrology. The root of the word, deus (god) or divus, indicates the supposed source of the soothsayer's information, just as the equivalent Greek term, mantiké, indicates the spiritual source of the utterances of the seer, mantis. In classical times the view was, in fact, general, as may be seen by Cicero's De divinatione, that not only oracles but also omens were signs sent by the gods; even the astrologer held that he gained his information, in the last resort, from the same source. On the side of the Stoics it was argued that if divination was a real art, there must be gods who gave it to mankind; against this it was argued that signs of future events may be given without any god.

Divination is practised in all grades of culture; its votaries range from the Australian black to the American medium. There is no general agreement as to the source of the information; commonly it is held that it comes from the gods directly or indirectly. In the Bornean cult of the hawk it seems that the divine bird itself was regarded as having a foreknowledge of the future. Later it is regarded as no more than a messenger. Among the Australian blacks, divination is largely employed to discover the cause of death, where it is assumed to be due to magic; in some cases the spirit of the dead man is held to give the information, in others the living magician is the source of the knowledge. We find moreover as emi-scientific conception of the basis of divination; the whole of nature is linked together; just as the variations in the height of a column of mercury serve to foretell the weather, so the flight of birds or behaviour of cattle may help to prognosticate its changes; for the uncultured it is merely a step to the assumption that animals know things which are hidden from man. Haruspication, or the inspection of entrails, was justified on similar grounds, and in the case of omens from birds or animals, no less than in astrology, it was held that the facts from which inferences were drawn were themselves in part the causes of the events which they foretold, thus fortifying the belief in the possibility of divination.

From a psychological point of view divinatory methods may be classified under two main heads: (A) autoscopic, which depend simply on some change in the consciousness of the soothsayer; (B) heteroscopic, in which he looks outside himself for guidance and perhaps infers rather than divines in the proper sense.

(A) Autoscopic methods depend on (i.) sensory or (ii.) motor automatisms, or (iii.) mental impressions, for their results. (i.) Crystal-gazing is a world-wide method of divining, which is analogous to dreams, save that the vision is voluntarily initiated, though little, if at all, under the control of the scryer. Corresponding to crystal-gazing we have shell-hearing and similar methods, which are, however, less common; in these the information is gained by hearing a voice. (ii.) The divining rod is the best-known example of this class; divination depending on automatic movements of this sort is found at all stages of culture; in Australia it is used to detect the magician who has caused the death of a native; in medieval and modern times water-divining or dowsing has been largely and successfully used. Similar in principle is coscinomancy, or divining by a sieve held suspended, which gives indications by turning; and the equally common divination by a suspended ring, both of which are found from Europe in the west to China and Japan in the east. The ordeal by the Bible and key is equally popular; the book is suspended by a key tied in with its wards between the leaves and supported on two persons' fingers, and the whole turns round when the name of the guilty person is mentioned. Confined to higher cultures on the other hand, for obvious reasons, is divination by automatic writing, which is practised in China more especially. The sand divination so widely spread in Africa seems to be of a different nature. Trance speaking, on the other hand, may be found in any stage of culture and there is no doubt that in many cases the procedure of the magician or shaman induces a state of autohypnotism; at a higher stage these utterances are termed oracles and are believed :o be the result of inspiration. (iii.) Another method of divination is by the aid of mental impressions; observation seems to show that by some process of this sort, akin to clairvoyance, fortunes are told successfully by means of palmistry or by laying the cards; for the same "lie" of the cards may be diversely interpreted to meet different cases. In other cases the impression is involuntary or less consciously sought, as in dreams, which, however, are sometimes induced, for purposes of divination, by the process known as incubation or temple sleep. Dreams are sometimes regarded as visits to or from gods or the souls of the dead, sometimes as signs to be interpreted symbolically by means of dream-books, which are found not only in Europe but in less cultured countries like Siam.

(B) In heteroscopic divination the process is rather one of inference from external facts. The methods are very various. (i.) The casting of lots, sortilege, was common in classical antiquity; the Homeric heroes prayed to the gods when they cast lots in Agamemnon's leather cap, and Mopsus divined with sacred lots when the Argonauts embarked. Similarly dice are thrown for purposes of sortilege; the astragali or knucklebones, used in children's games at the present day, were implements of divination in the first instance. In Polynesia the coco-nut is spun like a teetotum to discover a thief. Somewhat different are the omens drawn from books; in ancient times the poets were often consulted, more especially Virgil, whence the name sortes virgilianae, just as the Bible is used for drawing texts in our own day, especially in Germany. (ii.) In haruspication, or the inspection of entrails, in scapulomancy or divination by the speal-bone or shoulder-blade, in divination by footprints in ashes, found in Australia, Peru and Scotland, the voluntary element is prominent, for the diviner must take active steps to secure the conditions necessary to divination. (iii.) In the case of augury and omens, on the other hand, that is not necessary. The behaviour and cries of birds, and angang or meeting with ominous animals, &c., may be voluntarily observed, and opportunities for observation made; but this is not necessary for success. (iv.) In astrology we have a method which still finds believers among people of good education. The stars are held, not only to prognosticate the future but also to influence it; the child born when Mars is in the ascendant will be war-like; Venus has to do with love; the sign of the Lion presides over places where wild beasts are found. (v.) In other cases the tie that binds the subject of divination with the omen-giving object is sympathy. The name of the life-index is given to a tree, animal or other object believed to be so closely united by sympathetic ties to a human being that the fate of the latter is reflected in the condition of the former. The Polynesians set up sticks to see if the warriors they stood for were to fall in battle; on Hallowe'en in our own country the behaviour of nuts and other objects thrown into the fire is held to prognosticate the lot of the person to whom they have been assigned. Where, as in the last two cases, the sympathetic bond is less strong, we find symbolical interpretation playing an important part.

Sympathy and symbolism, association of ideas and analogy, together with a certain amount of observation, are the explanation of the great mass of heteroscopic divinatory formulae. But where autoscopic phenomena play the chief part the question of the origin of divination is less simple. The investigations of the Society for Psychical Research show that premonitions, though rare in our own day, are not absolutely unknown. Pseudopremonitions, due to hallucinatory memory, are not unknown; there is also some ground for holding that crystal-gazers are able to perceive incidents which are happening at a distance from them. Divination of this sort, therefore, may be due to observation and experiment of a rude sort, rather than to the unchecked play of fancy which resulted in heteroscopic divination.

See also the articles AUGURS, ORACLE, ASTROLOGY, OMEN, &C. Authorities. - BOUChe Leclercq, Histoire de la divination dans l'antiquite; Tylor, Primitive Culture, passim; Maury, "La Magie et l'astrologie," Journ. Anth. Inst. i. 163, v. 436; Folklore, iii. 193 Ellis, Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 202; Dictionnaire encyclopedique des sciences medicales, xxx. 24-96; Journ. of Philology, xiii. 273, xiv. 113; Deubner, De incubatione; Lenormant, La Divination, et la science de presages chez les Chaldeens; Skeat, Malay Magic; J. Johnson, Yoruba Heathenism (1899). (N. W. T.)

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countable and uncountable; plural divinations

divination (countable and uncountable; plural divinations)

  1. (uncountable) The act of divining; a foreseeing or foretelling of future events.
  2. The pretended art of discovering secrets or the future by preternatural means.
  3. (countable) An indication of what is future or secret; augury omen; conjectural presage; prediction.

Derived terms

  • star divination

Related terms


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See also

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

of false prophets (Deut 18:10, 14; Mic 3:6, 7, 11), of necromancers (1Sam 28:8), of the Philistine priests and diviners (1Sam 6:2), of Balaam (Josh 13:22). Three kinds of divination are mentioned in Ezek 21:21, by arrows, consulting with images (the teraphim), and by examining the entrails of animals sacrificed. The practice of this art seems to have been encouraged in ancient Egypt. Diviners also abounded among the aborigines of Canaan and the Philistines (Isa 2:6; 1 Sam. 28). At a later period multitudes of magicians poured from Chaldea and Arabia into the land of Israel, and pursued their occupations (Isa 8:19; 2Kg 21:6; 2Chr 33:6). This superstition widely spread, and in the time of the apostles there were "vagabond Jews, exorcists" (Acts 19:13), and men like Simon Magus (Acts 8:9), Bar-jesus (13:6, 8), and other jugglers and impostors (19:19; 2 Tim 3:13). Every species and degree of this superstition was strictly forbidden by the law of Moses (Ex 22:18; Lev 19:26, 31; 20:27; Deut 18:10, 11).

But beyond these various forms of superstition, there are instances of divination on record in the Scriptures by which God was pleased to make known his will.

  1. There was divination by lot, by which, when resorted to in matters of moment, and with solemnity, God intimated his will (Josh 7:13). The land of Canaan was divided by lot (Num 26:55, 56); Achan's guilt was detected (Josh 7:16-19), Saul was elected king (1Sam 10:20, 21), and Matthias chosen to the apostleship, by the solem lot (Acts 1:26). It was thus also that the scape-goat was determined (Lev 16:8-10).
  2. There was divination by dreams (Gen 20:6; Deut 13:1, 3; Jdg 7:13, 15; Mt 1:20; 2:12, 13, 19, 22). This is illustrated in the history of Joseph (Gen 41:25-32) and of Daniel (2:27; 4:19-28).
  3. By divine appointment there was also divination by the Urim and Thummim (Num 27:21), and by the ephod.
  4. God was pleased sometimes to vouch-safe direct vocal communications to men (Deut 34:10; Ex 3:4; 4:3; Deut 4:14, 15; 1 Kg 19:12). He also communed with men from above the mercy-seat (Ex 25:22), and at the door of the tabernacle (Ex 29:42, 43).
  5. Through his prophets God revealed himself, and gave intimations of his will (2Kg 13:17; Jer 51:63, 64).
This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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Simple English

, Cameroon.]] Divination (Greek μαντεια, from μαντις "seer") is an attempt to get information through omens or supernatural things. The verb form is to divine, but this should not be confused with the adjective divine. Divining the outcome of things has been done by many different methods, such as the ones listed below.

Divination is different from fortune-telling. Divination is more ritual, usually religious. Fortune-telling is more for personal things.

Types of divination

  • Astrology (by celestial bodies)
  • Ailuromancy (by the behaviour of felines)
  • Augury (by the flight of birds)
  • Aura-Soma, based on colors
  • Bibliomancy (by book, frequently but not always a religious text)
  • Cartomancy (by cards, e.g., playing cards, tarot cards, and non-tarot oracle cards; see also Taromancy)
  • Cheiromancy (by palms; see Palmistry)
  • Chronomancy (by time; lucky/unlucky days)
  • Coscinomancy (by a sieve)
  • Crystallomancy (by crystals or other reflecting objects; see also Scrying)
  • Extispicy (from the entrails of sacrificed animals)
  • Geomancy (by earth), includes Feng Shui divination
  • Graphology (by handwriting)
  • I Ching divination (ancient Chinese divination using I Ching): (But using an I Ching manual can make it also a form of Bibliomancy/Stichomancy)
  • Heruspicy (by the organs of sacrificed animals)
  • Numerology (by numbers)
  • Oneiromancy/Incubatio (by dreams)
  • Onomancy (by names)
  • Ouija board divination
  • Palmistry (by palm inspection)
  • Phrenology (by the shape of one's head)
  • Pyromancy, or pyroscopy (by fire)
  • Rhabdomancy divination by rods
  • Scrying ("seeing" in a crystal ball, a mirror, or water
  • Runecasting / Runic divination (by runes)
  • Sternomancy (by markings or bumps on the chest)
  • Taromancy (by specially designed cards: Tarot; see also Cartomancy)

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