What is it?


Divination practice has been used since ancient times. The unpredictability of the world creates a desire to increase clarity so that we can make better decisions. This need continues to permeate our daily lives as we try to make sense not only of what we need to do and what we need to become but also of how to accomplish it.

Many think of divination practices as ways of predicting the future. This misunderstanding comes from the fact that the things we tend to inquire about are things that have not happened yet. Broadly speaking, divination is any method you choose to employ, to discover what might happen based on current circumstances or choices you make. But who exactly are you contacting?

The name divination comes from the Latin divinare (foresee, foretell), and is related to the word divine. As a result, many think that divination practices involve calling upon external forces that will provide answers to the questions asked. However, you are not actually contacting anyone, or anything that is “out there”. What you are doing when you use a method of divination is reaching inwards to your higher self. Since your higher self is neither biased nor weighed down by daily information, it is able to give an accurate answer.

Astrology is considered by some, a type of divination. However, astrology differs from other divination methods by the fact that it is static. In other words, any event that is associated with a date, place and time will yield the same astrological results every time. Divination methods, on the other hand, are more fluid and can provide different insights for the same question at different points in time. They typically are also subject to high levels of interpretation. Many consider astrology a “study” with less room for subjectivity.

Methods of divination

There are many divination methods available, from cartomancy to scrying, all of which share similar underlying philosophies. Below we have the most popular methods:

  • Tarot reading: a deck of symbolic cards that represent different energies.
  • Pendulum dowsing: commonly used for yes/no questions.
  • Playing cards: similar concept to tarot reading with less depth and limited symbology.
  • Lithomancy: divination method using stones or crystals.
  • Numerology: finds the relationship between a number and coinciding events.
  • Tasseomancy: method that involves interpreting patterns in tea leaves or coffee.
  • Scrying: involves staring into a form of crystal ball to induce a spiritual trance state. These deeper states of consciousness can lead to various mental images and revelations.
  • Runes: available in different alphabets. Once the runes are cast, the reader interprets the letters.

pendulum divination

Core philosophy

How do divination practices work? Where do the insights really come from? While the specific mechanism of divination is really unknown, there are some prevalent theories, according to Tim Maroney, who studies topics of spirituality and metaphysics.

The unconscious mind theory

The first theory is that insights from divination come from the unconscious portions of the human mind. The unconscious mind is made up of all the parts that are active but not apparent to the conscious parts of the mind. While the theory of divination by the unconscious mind is relatively clear in some forms of divination (for example, dream interpretation), it is not so clear for other methods (for example, tarot reading). How does the unconscious mind play its part in these scenarios?

One explanation is that the patterns generated by divination methods are truly random. All the information is created by the mind struggling to make order out of the oracular chaos. In other words, divination methods become a sort of Rorschach test. Another explanation is that perhaps the unconscious mind determines the physical result of the divination method (whether this can actually happen has not been subjected to rigorous experiment). Lastly, the most common explanation is that the unconscious mind may use psychic powers of some kind to shape the oracle, for instance the manipulation of probabilities.

Regardless of the mechanism by which the unconscious mind interacts with divination methods, the question remains on why we would want to contact the unconscious mind at all. The most common view, particularly in parapsychological circles is that the unconscious mind is the repository of immense wisdom, perhaps through contact with divine beings, the higher self, or psychic powers.

The synchronicity theory

The second theory that attempts to explain divination is the concept of synchronicity. This concept was first introduced by Carl Jung and holds that all events are related even when there is no causal relationship. Carl Jung described these as “meaningful coincidences” and is a critical concept in the field of metaphysics.

In the case of Tarot, for example, the seemingly unconnected events linked by synchronicity are the shuffling of the deck of cards on one hand, and the meaning incorporated in the fall of those cards on the other. The root idea behind this concept, however, is far older than Jung. It is actually a mystical idea that every event is an interaction between God and the soul and that each event actually contains spiritual meaning.

Believers of synchronicity hold that once people accept the principle of acausal connection, the number of apparent synchronicities increases to a remarkable level. Skeptics hold that this increase is only a result of the desire to see them. The concept is practically impossible to put to any kind of formal test, so the impasse between believers and skeptics is likely to persist for a while.

The Order from Chaos theory

Another popular attempt to explain divination is known as Order from Chaos. This holds that there really is no intrinsic meaning in an oracle. The cards or items just happen to fall a certain way, and no spirits, influences of the unconscious mind or synchronistic factors put any information into their fall.

This theory removes all motivation to perform divinations. Since there is no information in an oracle, divination is at best a waste of time. However, modified skeptical positions hold that the process of attributing meaning to chaos can have positive effects, even though the meaning is merely an illusion of the mind.

In traditional divination methods, there is a reader and a querent. The reader acts as a consultant, using the specific divination method to illuminate an issue for the querent. Some sources insist that a reader is necessary; otherwise, the prejudices of the querent will dominate the reading.

If we take Tarot cards, for example, there are different methods depending on what theory the reader believes in:

If we apply the theory of the unconscious mind, then the reader should shuffle the cards, though the querent may cut them to feel more involved in the process. With synchronicity theory, then the querent or the reader may shuffle the cards. It makes no difference since synchronistic meaning comes through purely random factors. With theory of order from chaos, it makes no difference either who or what shuffles.

How to use divination

As mentioned earlier, many times people misunderstand divination as a way of telling the future. However, in divination any question can be asked, including telling the future. When this happens, the questions of predestination and psychic powers inevitably arise. If we can accurately read the future, then the future must already exist in some sense, and we must have some way of viewing it.

The validity of this assertion is a subject of great debate and it is difficult to grapple with the concept with our current limited knowledge. Yet many people believe that we as humans have innate psychic powers that we can tap into.

It is probably best to use a weaker form of the precognition idea, which does not involve a predestined future or psychic powers. Instead, the unconscious mind presumably has the power to perceive more or less where some events are heading and to present its views on the subject. It is best to take all answers about the future with a grain of salt. It is also wise to phrase questions in such a way that they ask for perspective on what is happening and what has happened, and for guidance, rather than outright predictions.


An ancient practice

From the earliest stages of civilization, people have used  divination to communicate with the higher realms of consciousness when seeking help in lives. It is one of the primary practices used by shamans, seers, priests and medicine men. Such persons are often called diviners, who often belonged to special classes of priests and priestesses in both past and present civilizations.

The Egyptians, Druids, and Hebrews relied on scrying. The Druids also read death throes and entrails of sacrificed animals. The Chaldeans first systematized Augury. The Greeks used this abundantly, and the Romans did not undertake any important state action without the advice of the diviners. As far back as 1000 BC the Chinese had “I Ching”, an oracle which involved the tossing and reading of long or short yarrow sticks.

In biblical times, the observation of the flight of birds for the purpose of divination appears in Ecclesiastes. Joseph practiced hydromancy and he divined the future by pouring water into a cup, throwing little pieces of gold into the fluid and observing the figures that formed (Genesis). In the first century B.C.E., the Roman orator Cicero wrote a formal treatise on the subject of divination under the title De divinatione, in which he distinguishes between inductive and deductive types of divination.

Evolution from Middle Ages to present times

In the Middle Ages, the philosophers were averse to divination. However, among  the common folk and some mystics, the practice was well-known. A common practice in the Middle Ages was to toss grain, sand or peas onto a field in order to read patterns. However, as Christianity came along, it forbade all kinds of divination and after some centuries it disappeared as an official system though it continued to have many adherents. The Church Fathers were its vigorous opponents.

Governments have at times acted with great severity. Constantius decreed the penalty of death for diviners. During the Dark Ages, divining arts managed to live in secret, but after the Crusades they were more accepted. At the time of the Renaissance and again preceding the French Revolution, there was a marked growth of methods considered noxious to the church. The latter part of the nineteenth century witnessed a revival, especially in the United States and England with spiritism and other types of divination becoming widely popular. Today, divination has become commonplace, with locales and bookstores featuring divination tools from palm-reading and phrenology to runestones.

Benefits and uses

Divination can be a decision-making tool. The divination methods live outside the ego-box perspective and help a person resolve dilemmas that logic can’t handle. Divination methods not only provide insights into current conditions, but also into how to manage change over time.

The benefits of divination practices include:

  • Mental clarity: the process of consulting divination methods consist of a non-emotional mindset to articulate a question, problem or dilemma. The simple act of getting clear about a charged issue is a large first step toward its resolution.
  • Non-attachment and greater objectivity: Moving through the divination ritual helps create some emotional distance from any problem or concern. The less attachment, the less threatening things appear and the less impact the emotion of fear will have on the interpretation of the reading.
  • Focused relaxation: studies have proven that a calm state of focused relaxation is the best state of mind for intuition and creativity. Divination methods allow a user to focus on issues of personal importance with less stress. This aligns the conscious and subconscious parts of the mind so that they can coordinate with each other.
  • Answers that ring true: to derive the benefits from a divination session, all you have to do is to be receptive to new thoughts that may arise. It is not necessary to believe in anything. Your interpretation of the reading will either stimulate your intuition and give you a meaningful insight or not. Many people report they find the insights and advice from a session to be amazingly apt.

Who practices it

Given that the different divination methods have developed as a grassroots approach, there are no education, accreditation or standards for any of these methods. In fact, the way a practitioner develops knowledge can be via self-teaching or by learning from a more experienced practitioner.

In more mainstream divination practices, such as Tarot readings, there are some associations such as the American Tarot Association or TABI, which not only list local practitioners, but also provide training and certification materials. Most other methods do not have this type of bodies or associations.

A common denominator for all practitioners, regardless of the divination method, is the amount of experience and the ability to connect with their clients. To this end, when you look for a divination practitioner, you should keep the following points in mind:

  • Learn about the practitioner: what is their style? Are they intuitive, practical, predictive, spiritual? Are they straight to the point?
  • Find a personal connection: it is hard to know if you have a personal connection with a practitioner until  you have actually had a session with them. You can get a sense by reading their profile, looking at a photo or asking a question prior to meeting.
  • Get the details: how long will the session take? Is there a hard limit on time? It is important to feel comfortable with how the practitioner conducts the actual session. You can usually find this information in the practitioner’s FAQ.
  • Read testimonials, feedback and reviews: most good practitioners are happy to share client testimonials and feedback about their services. Even better are those practitioners who request your direct feedback immediately after a session.
  • Look for experience: how long have they been doing that? What other related skills do they have? Do they teach on their methods or blog about it?

What to expect

A divination session can be an enlightening way of exploring the energy of surrounding events. It can provide clarity about the past, present and future. The session connects the seeker and the reader to bring forth the energy from within.

Before a session, it is helpful to think about the areas to explore and the questions to ask. A good question is:

  • Clear: there is no obscurity, dishonesty or vagueness in the question.
  • Concise: the question can be articulated in a single, short sentence.
  • Concrete: you know exactly what  you’re asking about and you’re asking it clearly.

A meditation session is beneficial prior to a divination session. This allows for relaxation, an open mind and a deeper connection with your higher self. When the session starts, the practitioner will start with the mechanics of the specific method. For example, in the case of Tarot cards, the reader will begin with the shuffling process and will explain next steps. In the case of tasseomancy, the practitioner will serve tea to the user and provide instructions on how to drink it.

The practitioner will provide insights related to the questions asked. The interpretation not only happens on the reader’s side but also on the user’s side. The user should apply the relevant message to his own circumstances. The user can ask clarifying questions though oftentimes the reader cannot go into deep levels of specificity.

Tarot divination woman

Usually divination sessions are time-bound, so at the end of the time limit, the practitioner wraps up the conversation. Good practitioners hear questions without any judgment and provide as much interpretation as possible in a frank, yet compassionate way. An ethical practitioner will never force you or suggest to get another reader. You come on your own free will.

Interesting facts

We know divination has always been around us in one way or another. Below there are some interesting facts about this overall practice.

  • Tarot is the most popular form of divination.
  • It doesn’t happen often, but it’s possible for tea leaves to indicate to come back at a later time.
  • A general advice is to not get divination sessions too often. This gives time for things to change, grow and develop. Often sessions can confuse the user and diffuse clarity.
  • The largest crystal ball currently known is in the Smithsonian museum. The crystal ball stems from 1800s China and weighs more than 106 pounds.
  • Divination practitioners usually combine divination reading knowledge with other abilities. For example, many times a practitioner may employ clairvoyant abilities to enhance the interpretation of a reading.
  • More recently, major fashion houses such as Versace and Dolce & Gabbana have used Tarot designs in their collections.

Closing statement

Divination can be a topic of contention. It is used by many and frowned upon by others. As with many of other practices in the alternative medicine space, the exact functioning of divination is not fully understood. This in turn leads to criticism and distrust by skeptics.

With this said, reputable practitioners can help people find answers that can be at times elusive. Cartomancy, for example, is becoming a mainstream practice that provides insights in times of confusion. This can help make better decisions, understand ourselves better and assist with  spiritual growth by finding meaning in our actions.

Divination, as with any other spiritual practice, is not a silver bullet. It is a useful tool that can help us tackle specific uncertain situations. Its insights should be taken as such, and not as directives or prophecies. We all have free will and have the ability to alter the course of our destiny.