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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

April A-Z: Divination

Divination is the art of foretelling the future or gaining secret information preternaturally or supernaturally.

We're all familiar with divination tools such as tarot cards, runes and crystal balls. However, there is also a long tradition of divining using everyday items. Incidentally, I also think it's interesting that, although the noun 'divination' relates to this art generally, we tend to use the verb 'divining' to describe the practice of dowsing for water, particularly with rods.

Here are some everyday things that have been/are used in divinatory practices:

  • bones
  • water with another fluid floating on its surface, such as ink
  • bird flight patterns
  • clouds
  • coins
  • dominoes
  • dice
  • playing cards
  • a ring or pendant on a chain or string

Some of these require the user to ascribe meanings to different aspects, e.g. to different cards or dominoes, while others involve looking for patterns and images to emerge. Simply tossing a coin to decide something, or using lots (or the shortest straw) to choose someone, can be seen as a kind of divination - of letting the gods choose.

Some may believe that unseen powers control the outcome of our divinatory efforts.

Others, that it's just evidence of our human tendency to see patterns in things.

Others still believe these represent means of letting our unconscious or subconscious mind or higher self 'speak' to us.

Regardless of how it works, we remain fascinated with the possibility of gaining 'extra' knowledge, as evidenced by the increase in psychic fairs and similar events.


  1. Hi Beth! Thanks for coming by our "D is for Divination" entry. It's funny that we both started thinking about the "everyday items" angle. From now on I may do all my divination using Justin Bieber. Seems like the boy should be good for something.

    The Arcane Hour: D is for Divination

  2. Hi Beth, I enjoyed your post - interesting topic!


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