is the practice of ascertaining information by supernatural
means. If a distinction is to be made with 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. Divination is often dismissed by skeptics as being mere superstition
. However, advocates say there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of divination. Divination is a universal cultural phenomenon which anthropologists have observed as being present in virtually all religions
and cultures in all ages up to the present day.
Scientific research and methods have made it possible to predict future events with some success, e.g., eclipses, weather forecasts and volcanic eruptions. However, this is not divination. Strictly speaking, divination assumes the influence of some supernatural force or fate, whereas scientific predictions are made from an essentially mechanical, impersonal world-view and rely on empirical laws of nature. So, as an operational definition, divination would be all methods of prognostication that have not been shown to be effective using scientific research.
Beyond mere explanations for anecdoctal evidence, there are some serious theories of how divination might work. One such theory is rooted in the nature of the unconscious mind, a theory which has some empirical scientific basis. Based on this theory, divination is the process by which messages from the unconscious mind are decoded. The belief in a supernatural agency or occult force as the source of these messages is what distinguishes this theory from a scientific explanation.
Julian Jaynes categorized divination according to the following 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. This consists of the casting of lots whether with sticks, stones, bones, beans, 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.) 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.
- 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 Christians and members of other religions use a form of bibliomancy: they ask a question, rifle 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.
One of the most popular methods of divination is astrology
, typically categorized as Vedic, Western, and Chinese.
Many methods of divination exist:
- Aeromancy (divination by clouds)
- Alectryomancy (divination by rooster)
- Aleuromancy (divination by flour), including fortune cookies
- Alomancy (divination by salt)
- Alphitomancy (divination by cakes)
- Anthropomancy (divination by human sacrifice)
- Apantomancy (divination by seeing animals)
- Astraglomancy (divination by dice)
- Astrology (divination by stars)
- Austromancy (divination by winds)
- Axiomancy (divination by axes)
- Belomancy (divination by arrows)
- Bibliomancy (divination by books, especially the Bible)
- Botanomancy (divination by burning plants)
- Capnomancy (divination by smoke)
- Cartomancy (divination by cards)
- Captopromancy (divination by mirrors)
- Causimomancy (divination by burning)
- Cephalomancy (divination by skulls)
- Ceraunoscopy (divination by thunder and lightning)
- Ceromancy (Ceroscopy; divination by placing melted wax into cold water)
- Crystallomancy (divination by crystals); other reflecting objects have been used for this purpose too.
- Cheiromancy (or Palmistry; divination by palms) where the markings of the hand are interpreted as signs.
- Chirognomy (divination by hands)
- Clairaudience (divination by psychic hearing)
- Cleromancy (divination by casting lots)
- Clidomancy (or Cleidomancy; divination by keys)
- Coscinomancy (divination by hanging sieves)
- Critomancy (divination by barley cakes)
- Cromniomancy (divination by onion sprouts)
- Cyclomancy (divination by wheels)
- Daphnomancy (divination by burning laurel wreaths)
- Demonomancy (divination by demons)
- Empyromancy (divination by burning)
- Extispicy (divination from the exta of sacrificed animals)
- Geomancy (divination by earth)
- Geloscopy (divination by laughter)
- Graphology (divination by handwriting)
- Gyromancy (divination by dizziness)
- Hepatoscopy (also haruspication; divination by liver)
- Hippomancy (divination by horses)
- Hydromancy (divination by water)
- Icthyomancy (divination by fish)
- Lampadomancy (divination by light)
- Lecanomancy (divination by a basin of water)
- Libanomancy (divination by incense)
- Lithomancy (divination by precious stones)
- Margaritomancy (divination by bouncing pearls)
- Metagnomy (divination by visions)
- Meteoromancy (divination by meteors)
- Metoposcopy (divination by foreheads)
- Moleosophy (divination by blemishes)
- Myomancy (divination by rodent behavior)
- Numerology (divination by numbers)
- Oculomancy (divination by eyes)
- Oinomancy (divination by wine)
- Omphalomancy (divination by umbilical chords)
- Oneiromancy (divination by dreams)
- Onomancy (divination by names)
- Onychomancy (divination by fingernails)
- Oomantia (or Ooscopy, Ovomancy; divination by eggs)
- Ophiomancy (divination by snakes)
- Orniscopy (or Ornithomancy; divination by birds of flight)
- Pegomancy (divination by spring water)
- Phrenology (divination by the shape of one's head)
- Phyllorhodomancy (divination by rose petals)
- Pyromancy (or Pyroscopy; divination by fire)
- Rhabdomancy (divination by rod or stick)
- Rhapsodomancy (divination by poetry)
- Scapulimancy (divination by bovine or caprid scapulae)
- Sciomancy (divination by spirits)
- Sideromancy (divination by burning of straw)
- Spodomancy (divination by ash)
- Stichomancy (divination by books)
- Stolisomancy (divination by clothing)
- Tasseography (divination by tea leaves)
- Tephramancy (divination by bark ashes)
- Tiromancy (divination by cheese)
- Xylomancy (divination by burning wood)
For Further Reading
- Robert Todd Carroll (2003). The Skeptic's Dictionary. Wiley.
- Julian Jaynes (1976). The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Houghton Mifflin.
- Clifford A. Pickover (2001). Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction. Prometheus.
- Eva Shaw (1995). Divining the Future. Facts on File.