From earliest times, human beings have been curious about the future. Divination, the discovery of things hidden in the past, the present, or the future by the interpretation of signs, symbols, and portents, is a means of satisfying that curiosity. Some consider the ability to divine to be a gift from the Divine–but in fact almost anyone can he taught one or more divinatory practices.
There have been many fascinating and unusual forms of divination used around the world and throughout the centuries. Find out about shaking tents, knife-spinning, knucklebones, corn pollen, yarrow stalks and more, right here:
The ancient Romans believed that the gods controlled the flight of birds, thus indicating their wishes. A college of diviners was responsible for interpretation. The Aztecs had a similar college of diviners, whose job was also to interpret the flight and the songs of birds.
Some Native American peoples have made use of the “shaking tent,” or teepee to foretell the future. The shaman enters a tent he has erected and carefully closes the entrance behind him. He chants incantations and dances around inside the tent, which is usually built around tall, strong poles that would normally take several strong men to bend. After awhile, the entire structure starts to vibrate. The poles are observed to shake and then to bend. As the shaman’s energy builds, the tent shakes more and more, and the poles begin to bend over. Violent noises come from inside the tent and also, seemingly, from the air above it and from below the ground. The tent poles bend far beyond heir breaking point. Eventually the noises fade and the shaman is heard questioning the spirit he has invoked.
In Brazil, the plages of the Uapes perform a ritual using a long tree stem, about the height of a man, known as a paxiuba. Holes are bored into it at various places along its length. By speaking into these holes the priests make the leaves tremble; the sound is interpreted as a message from one of their principle deities, Jurupari.
Lapp and Siberian shamans divine by beating on multicolored drums. They place small brass rings on the surface of the drums and scry the future through the vibration of those rings. A Romani Gypsy puri dai spins a knife, casts sticks, or floats needles to discover answers to questions. In places of Polynesia, coconuts are cast; in parts of Africa, shells and knucklebones. Diviners in Burma and Thailand pierce the ends of an egg and blow its contents onto the ground to be interpreted. A Navajo divination technique utilizes pollen sprinkled on the diviner’s hand. The ancient Egyptians cast bone or ivory dice-like objects called astragals to read their future; the Greeks used dice, and the Chinese use yarrow stalks.
Divination is referred to in the Bible. Joseph sees visions as a child (Genesis 37) and later refers to scrying: “This cup in which my lord drinketh, and whereby he divineth” (Genesis 44:5). The Urim and Thummim were devices used by the high priest in ascertaining the will of God (Exodus 28:30).
Adapted from The Book of African Divination, by Raymond Buckland and Kathleen Binger (Inner Traditions, 1992). Copyright (c) 1992 by Raymond Buckland and Kathleen Binger. Reprinted by permission of Inner Traditions.
Adapted from The Book of African Divination, by Raymond Buckland and Kathleen Binger (Inner Traditions, 1992).