divination Foretelling the future, finding objects and people, and determining guilt by means of information obtained from signs, omens, dreams, visions and divinatory tools. Divination traditionally is an important skill of the folk witch. In some societies, divination has been performed only by special classes of trained priests or priestesses. Divination is an important skill for many Wiccans and Pagans.

Since the earliest times in all known civilizations, people have looked to supernatural sources for help and advice, in personal affairs and particularly in matters of state. Methods of divination involve either interpretation of natural patterns in the environment or patterns that are formed by the tossing of objects such as sticks, stones or bones. Information is obtained from the way smoke curls from a fire, the shape of an animal bone, the formation of clouds, and the markings on organs and entrails of sacrificed animals. The ancient Romans favoured augury, the interpretation of the flight pattern of birds, and haruspicy, the examination of the livers and entrails of sacrificed animals. The augurs were a special caste of priests who read the signs to determine whether the gods approved or approved of coming events.

Dreams have always been an important medium for divining answers to questions, as has Scrying. Oracles are persons who enter trance states.

Popular in the Middle Ages was the tossing of grain, sand or peas onto the earth to see what could be read from the patterns. Similarly, the Japanese set out characters of the syllabary in a circle, then scatter rice around them and let a cock pick at the rice. Whatever syllables are nearest the grain picked up by the cock are used to puzzle out messages. As far back as 1000 B.C.E., the Chinese have used the I Ching, an oracle which involves tossing and reading long and short yarrow sticks. Another ancient Chinese divinatory method, which is still in use, is feng-shui, or geomancy, the siting of buildings, tombs and other physical structures by determining the invisible currents of energy coursing through the earth.

Finding the guilty.

Throughout history, divination has been used to identify parties guilty of crimes. Despite the true psychic ability no doubt employed by many diviners, it is certain that many innocent people have been punished along with the guilty. In the Pacific Islands, murderers have been identified through examining the marks of a beetle crawling over the grave of a victim. The Lugbara of western Uganda fill small pots with medicines that represent the suspects. The pot that does not boil over when heated reveals the culprit. In other methods, suspects are forced to eat or drink various substances and concoctions, such as the gruesome stew made from the boiled head of an ass. Whoever is unfortunate enough to choke or suffer indigestion — even a rumbling stomach — is guilty by divination.

During the witch hunts, witch suspects were bound and thrown in lakes and rivers to see if they would float (guilty) or sink (innocent). If the sinking innocent drowned, that was simply an unfortunate consequence (see swimming).

Contemporary divinatory methods.

Most Witches have a favoured tool in divining that acts as a prompt to intuition and the tuning in to psychic forces and vibrations. The divined information comes in a variety of ways, depend- ing on the individual. Some persons “hear” it with the in- ner ear; others see visual images on their mental screen. Divinatory information also comes through other senses, including taste, smell and tactile sensations.

Popular tools include the Tarot; rune stones; crystals, mirrors or bowls for scrying; dowsing; and the I Ching. Many Witches also use psychometry, which is the reading of objects or photographs by handling them. Astrology and numerology are often used in conjunction with divination.

Some Witches divine by reading auras, the layers of invisible energy that surround all living things.

Palmistry, the reading of lines on the hand, and TASSEOMANCY, the reading of tea leaves, are used by some Witches.

Divination is both art and skill, and one’s proficiency depends on natural psychic gifts and regular practice. For some, divination comes fairly easily, while others must work harder and longer to attune the psychic faculties.

Most covens offer training in developing psychic abilities and divinatory skills. Many Witches feel that the best time to divine is between midnight and dawn, when the psychic currents are supposed to be at their strongest.


  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harpers Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
  • Luhrmann, T. M. Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.

The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.

divination The use of psychic, magical, or supernatural power to foretell the future, fi nd hidden and lost objects, know secrets, and uncover truth. Divination is universal throughout history and is traditionally performed by a priest, a prophet, an ORACLE, a witch, a shaman, a magician, a psychic, or another person who is reputed to have supernatural powers and skills. Many divinatory, or mantic, methods exist, and diviners use the ones sanctioned by their cultures. Mantic comes from the Greek term mantis, which mean “diviner” or “prophet.” Thus, the names of many techniques of divination end in -mancy. Techniques fall into two broad categories: augury, the interpretation of natural or artificial signs, omens, portents, and the casting of lots; and the direct communication with gods, angels, and spirits through oracles, visions, trance, dreams, and possession. All divination is an attempt to communicate with the divine or supernatural to learn the will of the gods, and even in the interpretation of natural signs and lots it is assumed that the gods interfere to provide answers to questions. A skilled diviner also employs a keen sense of intuition and an innate understanding of human nature and often gives advice along with prophecy and prediction. In early civilizations, divination was a royal or holy function, used for guidance in matters of state and war and to forecast natural disasters. Most courts employed royal diviners, whose lives often depended upon the accuracy of their forecasts. The Chaldeans and Babylonians had elaborate divinatory systems that were under the auspices of priests who saw portents in everything in nature around them. The ancient Chinese had court astrologers and other diviners who interpreted cast lots of yarrow sticks, bones, and other objects. Early Egyptian priests slept in temples in hopes of receiving divinatory information from the gods in dreams. In ancient Rome, a special caste of priests called augurs interpreted signs in nature that were believed to be messages sent by the gods. Augurs interpreted such natural phenomena as the flights of birds, the patterns of clouds and smoke, and the markings on the livers of sacri- fi ced animals (livers, rather than hearts, were believed the central organ of the body). The Greeks divined dreams and consulted special oracles, who went into trance to allow the gods to speak through them. The most famous oracle resided at Delphi, near the base of Mount Parnassus. The Greeks helped spread divination among the masses by popularizing astrology. scrying, the interpretations of images that appear on refl ective surfaces, is one of the most widespread forms of divination. It requires a refl ective surface on which visions form, such as crystal bal l s, mirrors, and pools of water and liquids. Many divination methods involve the interpretation of artificial signs. The most common are types of sortilege, such as the casting of stones, bones, shells, and other objects that yield answers from the patterns of their fall. The tarot and the I CHING are examples of sortilege divination. In Western society, divination has been associated with sorcery. The Old Testament contains proscriptions against consulting diviners. As early as 785, the Catholic Church forbade the use of sorcery as a means of settling disputes, but that did not prevent consultation of village wizards and wise men and wise women. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, diviners who invoked Demonic forces were punished by fi nes, humiliation in a pillory, or loss of property; some who were also convicted of witchcraft were put to death. Despite the efforts of the church and the scientifi c community and the many laws against fortune-telling (widely considered a fraud), divination has never been eradicated; the average person has too great a desire to see into the future.


Grillot de Givry, Emile. Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy. New York: Houghton Miffl in, 1931. Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Scribner, 1971. divining rod See WAND. doll sorcery See POPPET.


The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 2006 by Visionary Living, Inc.