Divination Around The World
Mankind has yearned for knowledge for thousands of years, including knowledge about the future. Divination systems can be found in the history of every civilization, many of which survive today.

Ancient Greece – One of the most famous divination systems in the Western tradition is Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece, which was dedicated to the god Apollo. The Oracle at Delphi was one of many shrines in Greece dedicated to the oracular tradition of obtaining guidance from the gods.  Consulting the oracles were an important part of the spiritual lives of the ancient Greeks. Querents sought guidance about important decisions such as who to marry and when to go to war. The querent would submit a question, often scratched on the surface of a lead strip, and then submit the question to the priestess. The priestess, also known as a Sybil, would enter into a trance and speak a message. A priest would take this oracular message and interpret it for the querent, often in the form of a riddle. This form of oracular divination can be found in many present-day cultures, including African witch doctors, Haitian voodoo priests, and Asiatic shamans.

The Celts – The Celts used a wide variety of divination methods, including Ogham sticks. Ogham was an ancient, symbolic alphabet used by the Druids for both everyday and magical purposes. Ogham characters were carved into twigs, then thrown and interpreted. This method of divination was known as Crannchur. Trees were very important to the Druids, with each having a particular energy and wisdom. Often, Ogham symbols were carved into twigs from a variety of trees, adding to the richness of the reading.

The Maori – The Maori are a Polynesian people of the Pacific Islands and New Zealand. The main shamanic figure among the Maoris is called a tohunga who is a priest and seer. He uses both “second sight”, known as matakite, as well as interpreting omens such as leaves and weather patterns. The Maori used a divination method known as Niu Kowhata which involves reading tossed stones and shells. An elderly woman called a kuia is consulted for dream interpretation, and in present day, is often consulted to predict winners in horse races. Interestingly, there is one divination practice that is totally unique to the Maori: using kite-flying as an oracle.

Africa – Systems of divination have existed in Africa longer than on any other continent. In fact, some systems go back all the way to the Stone Age, yet are still practiced today. Using bone oracles is the oldest, and most basic, form of divination. In African culture, the bones for the oracle can be actual animal bones, or carved ivory or shell. Some African bone oracles involve as many as 60 small bones, and the diviner is required to learn an extensive interpretative system in order to interpret their combinations. In Mali, West Africa, an interesting form of divination is reading the tracks made by foxes. At night, expert diviners draw a grid on sand. The next day, they interpret the tracks within the grid to foretell the future.

China – Many modern divination methods have their roots in China. Tea leaf reading, also known as tasseomancy or tasseography, originated in China, as did animal astrology. Divination using animal bones such as a shoulder blade was a common oracular tradition in the ancient world. In China, diviners would heat or drill the shoulder blade in order to produce cracks. Those cracks were then read to determine the emperor’s health, as well as predictions about weather, the harvest, and military campaigns. Perhaps the most famous form of Chinese divination—The I Ching—has its roots in the heating of a tortoise shell in order to produce trigrams and hexagrams which, when combined, form a message for the querent.

The Norse – The Norse shared several divination methods with The Celts, including dream reading and interpreting omens from nature. The Norse peoples include the Teutonic tribes of northern Germany and the Vikings of Scandinavia. In Norse mythology, Odin gave the oracular gift of runes to humanity. The word rune comes from the Germanic word runa, which means mystery or secret.  Runes are a set of stones inscribed with the futhark alphabet. Futhark is a word derived from the first six letters of the runic alphabet. The querent casts the runes, and then interprets their positions and combinations.

The Inuit – The Inuit live in the northernmost extremes of the American continent, as well as Siberia and Greenland. Often incorrectly called “Eskimos”, the Inuit believe that spirit powers called Innua reside in every living thing. The Inuit have many shamanistic divination methods which tap into the universal wisdom of Innua. One of these methods is drum divination, whereby a drum is decorated with symbols representing animals and other elements. A ring is placed on the top of the drum, and the drum is beaten. When the ring comes to rest, the symbol upon which the ring landed is then interpreted.

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