Divination (from Latin divinare "to foresee, to be inspired by a god", related to divinus, divine) is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic standardized process or ritual. Used in various forms for thousands of years, diviners ascertain their interpretations of how a querent should proceed by reading signs, events, or omens, or through alleged contact with a supernatural agency, most often describe as a spirit or demon. 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, as seen in traditional African medicine; while fortune-telling is a more everyday practice for personal purposes. Particular divination methods vary by culture and religion.
Divination is often dismissed by sceptics, 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", though most Romans believed in dreams and charms. It is considered a sin in most Christian denominations and Judaism, though some methods, especially dream interpretation, do appear in Scripture.
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.
Divination in the Bible
On the one hand, verses like Deuteronomy 18:10-12 clearly forbid any acts of divination, describing them as something detestable to God. Leviticus 19:26 says "You must not practice either divination or soothsaying." But Exodus 28 gives members of the priestly class the use the Urim and Thummim to divine the will of Yahweh before times of sacrifice.
Divination 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.Acts 16:16 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. Laws forbidding divination practice continue to this day.
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.
Divination in Mesoamerica
Divination was a central component of ancient Mesoamerican religious life. Many Aztec gods, including central creator gods, were described as diviners and were closely associated with sorcery. Tezcatlipoca, a core Mesoamerican god, is the patron of sorcerers and practitioners of magic. His name means "smoking mirror", a reference to a device used for divinatory scrying.
Every civilization that developed in Ancient Mexico, from the Olmecs to the Aztecs, practiced divination in daily life, both public and private. Scrying through the use of reflective water surfaces, mirrors, or the casting of lots were amongst the most widespread forms of divinatory practice.
"Visions derived from hallucinogens were another important form of divination, and are still widely used among contemporary diviners of Mexico. Among the more common hallucinogenic plants used in divination are morning glory, jimson weed, and peyote."
- Anthropology of religion
- Bone divination
- Dream interpretation
- I Ching
- Magical terms and traditions
- Methods of divination
- New Age
- Omen (or portent)
- Runic divination
- Tarot reading
- Traditional African medicine
- Western mystery tradition
- ^ Also done with spiders see
- ^ http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Divinatio.html
- ^ Peek, P.M. African Divination Systems: Ways of Knowing. page 2. Indiana University Press. 1991.
- ^ Definition of divination
- ^ Lucian of Samosata : Alexander the False Prophet
- ^ http://apostolicconfraternityseminary.com/council_of_trullo.html
- ^ (Ennemoser, p59, 1856)
- ^ http://pluralism.org/news/view/147
- ^ Flower, Michael Attyah. The Seer in Ancient Greece. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
- ^ a b c Miller, Mary (2007). Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico. London: Thames & Hudson.
- 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
- Ancient Astrology and Divination on the Web, resources on Greco-Roman and Mesopotamian divination
- Greek Divination: a study of its methods and principles, William Reginald Halliday, Macmillan, 1913, 309pp - a complete scanned edition of the most recent general treatment of Greek divination (at Google Books)
- "Divination". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
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