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Man, by nature, longs to know what the future holds for him, either out of inherent curiosity or in order to anticipate the dangers that await him. Therefore, in all ancient civilizations - and even in some cultures of today - there were diviners who used various methods to predict the future. It is possible to distinguish between practitioners who use external means to guess the future and persons who perceive the future simply through their own awareness. The prediction of the future through technical means is closely akin to *magic, and the line between them is sometimes blurred. What distinguishes the one from the other is that divination only attempts to predict future events, while magic also professes to influence and change them for good or bad. In any case, man believed that prediction of the future was possible, and that it was bound up with superhuman, demonic, or divine powers, from which the diviner received his knowledge either directly or indirectly. This belief rested on the assumption that there were powers - spirits or gods - that knew the future and with which man could communicate in order to receive this knowledge. It was believed that some men have a natural talent for receiving revelations, either in a waking state or in dreams, and in the manner in which the future is revealed to them, such men resemble the prophets, at least outwardly. Others, who predict the future through signs, had to learn the signs and the means by which to interpret them. Divination was of both general and individual concern. In Mesopotamia fortunetellers first appear in the service of the community. Egyptian documents indicate that diviners served the needs of the country and the king, as well as the everyday needs of the individual. This is also the case in the biblical world. The Bible mentions that the *Urim and Thummim were consulted on the needs of the community (Num. 27:21; i Sam. 14:41; et al.), and the prophets for a prediction of the future (i Kings 22:5ff.; ii Kings 3:11ff.); prophets were also sought after for the needs of the individual (i Sam. 9:10, 19). Among the masses, it was a widespread practice to seek false prophets and fortune-tellers, as is known from the polemics of the true prophets against them (Ezek. 13:17ff.; Micah 3:11; et al.).

The Prophet as a Mantic

There is a certain relationship, at least externally, between the mantic, who foretells the future by means of internal awareness, and the prophet (see *Prophets and Prophecy). Knowledge of mantics is drawn from Greek and Roman literature. The mantic achieved ecstasy through music, by use of intoxicating drugs, and by other means. Sometimes he ate the principal organs of a living animal upon which a magical act had been performed. Of all these methods only the use of music is found among the prophets, and that only twice: Saul is told that he will meet a band of prophets "with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, raving" (i Sam. 10:5); and when Elisha was asked to prophesy about the results of the war with Moab, he requested a minstrel – "And when the minstrel played, the power of the Lord came upon him" (ii Kings 3:15). In some cases, the prophet performs the functions of the mantic. In Deuteronomy it is stressed that the prophet is to take the place of various types of fortunetellers (Deut. 18:14ff.). The criterion given for distinguishing between true and false prophets is the fulfillment of the prophecy or its non-fulfillment (18:20–22). The prophets were also consulted on mattersof a type that a mantic would answer. In the story of Saul and the asses, the servant says of Samuel the seer: "All that he says comes true" (i Sam. 9:6), i.e., the seer envisions the future and does not err. Jeroboam sent his wife to Ahijah of Shiloh to inquire whether his son would live (i Kings 14:1ff.), Jehoshaphat asked the prophets to tell him the outcome of the battle at Ramoth-Gilead (22:5ff.), and Elisha was asked to predict the outcome of the war with Moab (ii Kings 3:11). This consultation of the prophets replaced the consultation of the *ephod found in earlier periods (cf. i Sam. 23:2–6, 9–12). Following Kuenen and Wellhausen, current theories hold that the early Israelite seer resembled the pre-Islamic Arab priest (kāhin), who understood omens and had dreams, but was not an ecstatic prophet. However, there is no evidence in the Bible that the Israelite men of God were ever guided by omens, and even the false prophets were not accused of this (although their prophecy is contemptuously called divination; Ezek. 13:7, 23; Micah 3:6, 7). The seer (Heb. ro'eh, as in i Sam. 9:9; i Chron. 9:22; ii Chron. 16:7, 10; et al.; or ḥozeh, as in ii Sam. 24:11; et al.) did not use technical means, although their use was customary among the priests, who wore the ephod under the breastplate upon which the Urim and Thummim were placed (see below).

Methods of Foretelling the Future in the Bible

In the Bible *dreams and consultation of the Urim and Thummim were considered valid means of inquiring into the future. The dream as a source of divine revelation was widespread in all ancient civilizations, and there are even books of dreams from Egypt and Mesopotamia. The dream informs the dreamer of what awaits him in the future, as in the examples of the dreams of Joseph (Gen. 37:5–9), the cup-bearer and the baker (40:5ff.), Pharaoh (41:1ff.), and many others; however, it does not explicitly reveal the future, and must be interpreted (41:8ff.). To do this, one must know what the phenomena in the dream symbolize and to what they are directed. Books of dreams were written in Egypt and Mesopotamia for the purpose of teaching the interpretations of dreams according to their symbols, and it is reasonable to assume that a system of dream-interpretation (oneiromancy) was also known in Israel. In some passages the phenomenon of the dream is negatively evaluated: "the dreamers tell false dreams, and give empty consolation" (Zech. 10:2), and "for when dreams increase, empty words grow many" (Eccles. 5:6; cf. v. 2).

The Urim and Thummim, a type of lot oracle, were placed in the breastplate over the ephod of the priest. He who consulted the Urim and Thummim sought to determine between only two possibilities, as in the case of David: "Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down? … And the Lord said, 'He will come down.'" (The Urim and Thummim answer only the second question.) "… Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the Lord said, 'They will surrender you'" (i Sam. 23:10–12). Egyptian documents indicate the manner in which the oracle worked. The appointed priest would call out to the divine oracle two answers to his question, and the god would react to one of them. By another method, the priest would call out a list of names of suspects to the god, who would react to the name of the guilty one. Thus, for example, in a description of consultation of the statue of Pharaoh Amenhotep i, who became a divine oracle after his death, the god is asked to clarify who is guilty of the theft of clothing belonging to thecomplainant. The priest called out the names of all the households in the village before the statue of the god, and the house of the thief was identified (cf. i Sam. 10:19ff.). In Egypt, the reply was given by the idol-bearers, who stepped backward to signify a negative answer, and forward for a positive one. Lucian relates a similar method of replying, in which the statue of Apollo carried in a chariot would gallop forward to indicate a positive answer (De Dea Syria, 36). Several terms for diviners, who are connected with the consultation of the spirits of the dead, appear in the Bible (Isa. 19:3): ʾov, yiddeʿoni, and iṭṭim. The Hebrew word ʾov, which is derived from the Hittite a-a-bi, means the pit from which the spirit of the dead rises, or the spirit of the dead which rises from the pit (cf. i Sam. 15:23; Isa. 29:4). The yiddeʿoni ("wizard") is apparently synonymous with the ba'al ʾov ("medium"), either because of his ability (yadaʿ, "to know") to call up the spirit of the dead or his knowledge of the future. Iṭṭim appears to be a synonym for ʾov, and is explained according to the Akkadian eṭemmu, the spirit of the dead. Consultation of the terafim is also mentioned in connection with divination (Judg. 17:5; 18:14; Ezek. 21:26; Hos. 3:4; Zech. 10:2). The word terafim is derived from Hittite tarpi(sh). The primary sense of the word is "spirit," and from this it came to designate the object that served as the symbol of the spirit, e.g., a statue or statuette. The size of the terafim was not defined. Those which Rachel stole from Laban were small enough to be concealed in a camel-saddle (Gen. 31:34), while those in David's house were large enough for Michal to place in bed and delude Saul's messengers who came in search of David (I Sam. 19:13). Some scholars hold that the meʿonen or ʿonen ("soothsayer"; Deut. 18:10, 14; Isa. 57:3; Jer. 27:9; Micah 5:11) also consults the dead to foretell the future, and they explain the root ʿnn according to the Arabic ʿanna ("to appear"). The meʿonen, therefore, is one who causes the spirit of the dead to appear. However, since the meʿonen and his activity are mentioned a number of times together with divination (the Heb. verb naḥesh and noun naḥash; Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10; ii Kings 21:6; ii Chron. 33:6), the term possibly refers to a special type of divination.

The techniques of divining mentioned in the Bible are with a goblet, with arrows, by attaching a pre-agreed significance to the manner in which one was addressed, by the inspection of a liver (hepatoscopy), and by astrology. Divination by means of a goblet is mentioned in the story of Joseph who divined with his silver goblet (Gen. 44:5). This method was apparently based on the patterns formed by drops of water ina cup of oil (lecanomancy), or by beads of oil in a cup of water; in some cases they also divined from the patterns formed in a cup of wine. This type of divination is known from Babylonian documents dated as early as the 18th century b.c.e. Divination by arrows (balomancy) is explicitly mentioned in Ezekiel 21:26, according to which Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, "shakes the arrows, he consults the teraphim.…" The word qilqal ("shakes, flings") shows that this method of divination involved the shaking of arrows. Mesopotamian documents indicate that it was customary to cast lots by flinging arrows into a quiver. Divination by arrows was practiced by Arab tribes before Islam and was prohibited by the Koran (Sura. 5:4, 92). According to the testimony of scribes, during the "period of ignorance" (jāhiliyya), the Arabs divined with blunt arrows in the sanctuary. They would place the arrows in a quiver and fling it until an arrow fell from it. The first arrow to fall was the one that expressed the will of the god. There is also evidence that the arrows were named according to the answers that they represented, and were cast before the statue of the god. It is possible to interpret the above passage concerning Nebuchadnezzar to mean that he consulted the terafim by casting lots with arrows in front of them. Bronze arrowheads of the 11th–10th centuries b.c.e., on which the word ḥeẓ ("arrow") was written, were found near Betḥ-Lehem, in Galilee, and in the Valley of Lebanon. S. Iwri interprets the word ḥeẓ here as "luck, good luck" (according to Arabic and Ugaritic), but this is only a surmise. The Bible also mentions fortune-telling or divination of the type known in Akkadian as egirru and in Greek as klēdōn, by which an interpretation was given to a conventional word that was seen as a sign. In this way, one can understand the peculiar sign conceived by Jonathan when he went to fight the Philistines: "If they say to us, 'wait until we come to you,' then we will stand in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, 'come up to us,' then we will go up; for the Lord has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us" (i Sam. 14:9–10; cf. v. 12). The same holds for the sign given by the servants of Ben-Hadad when they went to Ahab to beg for the life of their master (i Kings 20:32–33): "… and they went to the king of Israel and said, 'your servant, Ben-Hadad …' and he said, 'Does he still live? He is my brother.' Now the men were watching for an omen … and said, 'Yes, your brother Ben-Hadad.'"

Hepatoscopy and astrology were more advanced methods of divining the future. The study of the liver is mentioned in Ezekiel 21:26. This custom was widespread in Mesopotamia, in the land of Canaan, among the Hittites, Greeks, and Romans, and, in a later period, also among the Arabs. The qualified augur inspected, in an established order, all the internal organs of an animal sacrificed to a god, in particular the liver. According to the signs that he found in the liver, and which were learned in schools established for that purpose, he predicted the future. "The astrologers, the stargazers," are mentioned in the prophecy concerning Babylon in Isaiah 47:13. Some scholars explain the Hebrew word for astrologers hoverei shamayim, according to the Arabic habara ("to cut into large parts"). That would indicate that astrologers divided the sky into star-families, as did Babylonian astrologers, and were identical with stargazers. Others interpret hoverei shamayim according to the Ugaritic hbr ("to bow") and consider hoverei shamayim to be those who bow to the celestial bodies; thus the passage connects the worship of stars with astrology. The observation of celestial bodies or other heavenly signs is referred to in Jeremiah 10:2: "Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens …"

The Biblical Attitude Toward Divination in General

Divination is included among the abominations of the nations which the Israelites were forbidden to learn and practice (Deut. 18:9–11). Leviticus 19:26, 31 also contains the prohibition against the use of magic to tell the future: "You shall not practice divination or soothsaying" and "Do not turn to ghosts and do not inquire of familiar spirits to be defiled by them." The punishment for those who do consult them is excommunication (20:6). However, in response to human nature, the Bible allowed consultation of the Urim and Thummim on the one hand and the prophets on the other, and considered them the only proper means of inquiring into the future. The Book of Deuteronomy designates the prophet to satisfy the needs that were met among the nations by fortunetellers using systems of magic (Deut. 18:14ff.). The dream was also a proper method of prophesying the future (cf. i Sam. 28:6; et al.), since God would often reveal Himself to His chosen ones in a dream (See *Dreams). According to the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, fortunetellers and mantics predicted the future in the name of God (Jer. 27:9–10; 29:8–9; Ezek. 22:28; cf. 12:24; 13:6–9). They probably functioned in the area of popular religion, and the prophets saw them as falsifying the word of God and therefore fought them. That fortunetellers were persecuted is known from the story of the medium and Saul, who removed the mediums and "wizards" and cut them off from the land (i Sam. 28:3, 9). In contrast to Saul's act, which he performed in accordance with the precepts of the Torah, Manasseh, king of Judah, introduced idolatry into Jerusalem: "[he] practiced soothsaying and augury, and dealt with mediums and with wizards" (ii Kings 21:6; ii Chron. 33:6). The cultic reform of Josiah put an end to these (ii Kings 23:24).

[Shmuel Ahituv]

In the Talmud

The rabbis adopted an ambivalent attitude toward divination. On the one hand there is the clear prohibition of the Bible (see above); on the other the rabbis, particularly the Babylonian amoraim, lived in an environment which was the classic home of divination, where it was extensively practiced. To some extent they overcame the difficulty by distinguishing between naḥash (divination proper), which was forbidden, and simanim ("signs"), which were permitted.

The Sifra Kedushim 6 and the Sifrei Deuteronomy 171 give different examples of divination. The former merely talks of divination by "weasels, birds, and stars," apparently referring to the cry of the animal and the bird, the bird in flight, and the stars in their courses. The latter is more explicit, giving examples of a man regulating his conduct by omens, "For instance, if he says that bread has fallen from his mouth, his staff from his hand, a snake passed on his right and a fox on his left and his tail crossed his path [which are considered bad omens], or if he refuses to do something because it is the New Moon, or the eve of the Sabbath, or Saturday night." The same passage, however, includes the enchanter (kosem) in the category of divination: "the enchanter is one who seizes his staff [and decides according to the direction in which it falls] whether I will go or not." The Talmud (Sanh. 65b) combines these with some variations and adds other bad omens, e.g., if a raven croaks at a man or a deer crosses his path. These are enumerated in Maimonides (Yad, Akum 11:4).

The dividing line between divination and signs is indicated by the statement, "Any divination which is not as the divination of Eliezer the servant of Abraham at the well [Gen. 24:14] or Jonathan the son of Saul [i Sam. 14:9–10] is no divination" (Ḥul. 95b). There is, however, a curious difference of opinion among the medieval commentators as to the import of this statement. Maimonides (Yad, loc. cit.) regards it as meaning that divinations of this kind are forbidden. Abraham b. David of Posquières (ad loc.) roundly disagrees with him, stating emphatically that the passage means that this kind ofdivination is permitted. Similarly, the tosafot (Ḥul. 95b) agree with Maimonides, while Isserles adopts the view of Abraham b. David, though with reservations (Sh. Ar., yd 179:4). The former view seems to be more in accordance with the text and context, and the difference between divination and signs seems to be that in the cases of Eliezer and Jonathan the course of action taken was dependent on the happening, whereas a "sign" merely interprets an event as an omen for good or evil and is permitted.

Thus it is specifically stated in the name of R. Simeon b. Eleazar, "A house, a child, and a wife, though they do not constitute divination, do act as signs" (Ḥul. 95b); i.e., good or bad fortune immediately following the purchase of a house, the birth of a child, or marriage may be regarded as auguries of future success or failure. In the same context comes a special kind of divination which was regarded as permitted: the custom of asking a child to recite "his" biblical verse (Ḥag. 15a; Gitt. 57a et al.) and interpreting the answer as a sign. One interesting example is given by the Talmud (Ḥul. 95b). R. Johanan decided to visit Samuel in Babylon after the death of Rav. He asked a child to quote his verse and the child cited, "Now Samuel was dead" (i Sam. 28:3). Johanan took this as a sign but the Talmud adds, "It was not so. It was only that Johanan should not be put to the trouble of visiting him." The special importance of this form of divination is provided by two passages in the Talmud, one to the effect that "since the destruction of the Temple prophecy was taken from the prophets and given to fools and children" (bb 12b) and the other "if a man wakes up and finds that a scriptural verse has fallen into his mouth, it is a minor prophecy." David ha-Levi presumably combines these two sayings when he justifies this form of divination as "minor prophecy" (Taz, yd 179:4). The Talmud is replete with "signs" which do not belong to the category of divination, and the same applies to the Middle Ages, particularly in the Sefer Ḥasidim of Judah he-Hasid.

Nevertheless the distinction between divination and signs is sometimes so fine as to be almost imperceptible. When Rav was on a journey and came to a ford, if he saw the ferryboat coming toward him he regarded it as a good omen, if departing from him a bad one (Ḥul. 95b). Similarly it is difficult to decide whether the knowledge of "the language of birds" and "the language of the palm-trees" belongs to divination or not. Although, as has been stated, the Sifra specifically forbids divination by the cries of birds, and the third of the *Sibylline books (224) states, "the Jews do not consider the omens of flight as observed by the augurs," the Talmud tells the story of R. Ilish for whom the language of the raven was interpreted; he refused to obey it since the raven is a lying bird, but when a dove repeated the message he did (Git. 45a). Of *Johanan b. Zakkai it is related that among his accomplishments was a knowledge of "the language of palm-trees" (Suk. 28a; bb 134a). The following explanation is given by Nathan b. Jehiel in the Arukh (s.v.si'ah. The text here given is by B.M. Lewin (Oẓar ha-Ge'onim, 6 pt. 2 (1934)), Sukkah, no. 67, which is slightly different): "On a completely windless day, so still that even when a sheet is spread out it does not sway, he who understands the speech of the palms takes up his position between two adjacent palms and watches how their branches turn toward one another, and there is in this movement signs from which he can recognize many things." It is also said of R. Abraham Kabassi Gaon (who lived in the year 828) that he was an adept in the speech of the palms, and as aresult used to communicate "great and wonderful things, the truth of which was attested by many."

Moses *Isserles qualifies the permissibility of such divinations as that of Eliezer and Johanan (see above) with the reservation, "But he who trusteth in the Lord, mercy compasseth him about" (Ps. 32:10), and the Talmud (Ned. 32a) states "He who refrains from practicing divination is brought within a [divine] barrier which even the ministering angels are not permitted to cross." Generally speaking, the view of the halakhic authorities is that divination, like all the other forms of superstitions mentioned in the Bible in this context, such as sorcery, necromancy, and "familiar spirits," is possible but forbidden. A strikingly different, rational, view is taken by Maimonides. After faithfully detailing their laws as found in the Talmud he concludes: "But all those things are lying and falsehood and it is with them that the ancient idolaters led astray the nations of the lands that they should follow them. It is not fitting that the people of Israel, who are wise and perspicuous, be attracted by those follies or imagine that they are of any effect, as it is said, 'For there is no enchantment with Jacob, neither is there any divination with Israel' (Num. 23:23); and it is also said, 'For these nations which thou art to dispossess, hearken unto soothsayers and unto diviners; but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee to do so' (Deut. 18:14). Whosoever believes in those matters and their like and imagines that they are true, and matters of wisdom, but the Torah has forbidden the practice of them, is but of the fools and the retarded and in the category of women and minors whose mind is not whole. Those who possess wisdom and are of wholesome mind, however, know clearly that all these things which the Torah has forbidden are not words of wisdom but confusions and vanity to which those lacking in knowledge are attracted and as a result they have forsaken all the ways of truth. For this reason the Torah, when it warns against all these follies, says (Deut. 18:13), 'Thou shalt be wholehearted with the Lord thy God'" (Yad, Akkum 11:16). *Elijah b. Solomon, Gaon of Vilna, however, criticized Maimonides for this rational approach, saying that "accursed philosophy led him astray."

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]

In the Middle Ages


During the Middle Ages, both Jews and Christians readily read omens from bodily phenomena. The following passages by *Eleazar b. Judah of Worms seem to derive from non-Jewish sources: "Just as the astrologers foresee events from the stars, so there are some who can foretell the future from human signs. If the flesh under one's armpit quivers, they will be broaching a match to him soon … If the sole of one's foot itches … he will be journeying soon to a strange place …if his palm, he will hold in his hand gold or silver … itching in any part of the body is an omen … God apprises man, through bodily phenomena, of what will transpire" (Ḥokhmat ha-Nefesh, 25d). Another powerful omen was sneezing. The behavior of animals was also regarded as a portent for the future. A dog howling mournfully is a clear sign that the angel of death is walking through a town; similarly, a dog dragging his hindquarters along the floor toward the door is an indication of the approach of death.

A number of occurrences betokened good or ill fortune; it was unlucky to open the day or the week with an action involving loss, for it was possible that this action could color the whole subsequent period. For this reason, it was considered undesirable to pay the tax-collector or repay a debt on the first day of the week. Other such superstitions include a seminal pollution on the Day of Atonement which was generally believed to herald death within a year, though the talmudic authorities differed in their interpretation of this; a Pentateuch falling to the ground was so bad an omen that it was customary to try to counter it by a period of fasting; making a mistake in prayer also heralded disaster; in the Rhineland it was believed that when the flames on the hearth leap unusually high, a guest will shortly arrive. If the fire is doused with water, the visitor will be drowned (Yoma 88a; Responsa Maharil, 83a–b, etc.; Balu, 149; Grimm, vol. 3,467, para. 889).

Particular tokens of good fortune were some foods. The main meal on Rosh Ha-Shanah included a number of foods symbolizing happiness and prosperity: a lamb's head, "that He may put us at the head and not the tailend" of things; fat meats, and sweets such as apples dipped in honey, "that the new year may be prosperous and happy"; pomegranates, "that our merits may be as numerous as its seeds"; fish, which are proverbially symbols of fruitfulness, and others. The practice of eating on New Year's Day foods specially chosen for their good influence on the future probably initially reflected Roman custom, and it was also widespread in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages and modern times.

the art of prediction

The desire to know the future was not satisfied through interpretations of omens alone. The active creation of signs and portents was also widely practiced. Although, like leading non-Jewish thinkers, religious and lay, the rabbis forbade these practices on moral and religious grounds, their more or less open recognition that such "evils" bore results made all their prohibitions ineffectual. Medieval Jewry was acquainted with a considerable variety of means of divination deriving from Oriental and Greco-Roman sources as well as from contemporary Christian practice, and they resorted to many of these. One method was to place a lighted candle during the ten days between Rosh Ha-Shanah and the Day of Atonement (traditionally regarded as the period when the fate of each man is determined in heaven) where no draft could extinguish it. If the light went out, then the man in question would die before the year's end; if the candle burned to the end, then he could count on at least one more year of life.

On the night of *Hoshana Rabba, when it was believed that the decision concerning men's fate during the new year was finally and irrevocably set out in the heavenly book of records, it was a widespread practice among medieval Jews to go out into the moonlight to see if the shadows they cast were lacking heads, for the absence of a head was a certain sign that what had happened to the shadow would soon befall the body. The earliest Jewish reference to this custom is made by Eleazar of Worms, and Nahmanides also mentions it, as well as many later German-Jewish writers.

Like Christians, Jews occasionally used the Bible as a method of divination. They followed the usual procedure of opening the Bible at random and taking as a portent the first word or sentence that met the eye, but in the Middle Ages they also adhered to a practice common in talmudic times of asking children what verses they had studied in school that day and taking them as good or bad omens.

Divination through casting lots was common throughout the Middle Ages. Although it was usual to employ simple devices like tossing a coin or throwing dice, even in these cases the procedure was complicated by rules governing when the operation could be performed, how the lot was to be held, and how the results should be interpreted, as well as prescribing what prayers or charms should be recited. The Hebrew "booksof lots," like their Christian counterparts, were of Arabic origin; the Jewish versions seem to have been composed mainly in southern Europe and in the Orient.

The method of divination most common among Jews, which was well known in Oriental and classical antiquity, was also frequently practiced by medieval Christians. By this method a young child was made to gaze into a polished or reflecting surface until he saw figures that revealed the desired information. While this method of divination appears to have been most frequently used for detecting theft, it was also employed to divulge future events.

calling up the dead

Two kinds of necromancy are recognized in the Talmud, that of raising the dead man by naming him, and that of questioning him through the medium of a skull. Although both types were often referred to in the Middle Ages, it is doubtful if they were still employed. Other methods seem to have been more popular, such as the practice of two friends agreeing that the first to die should return to reveal the secrets of heaven to the other, appearing either in a dream, or during waking hours.

Other methods described in the sources include: (1) "incantations" at the grave, which were apparently frowned upon,for the word lahash usually refers to a forbidden kind of magic; (2) spending the night on a grave, distinctively dressed and burning spices "until one hears an exceedingly faint voice from the grave responding to his questions"; this method was also considered unacceptable for it was included in the forbidden category of magic; (3) "A man and a woman station themselves at the head and foot of a grave, and on the earth between them they set a rattle, which they strike while they recite a secret invocation; then while the woman looks on the man puts the questions, and the deceased reveals the future to them"; (4) an apparently acceptable method which invoked the dead through the use of angelic names: "Stand before the grave and recite the names of the angels of the fifth camp of the first firmament, and hold in your hand a mixture of oil and honey in a new glass bowl, and say 'I conjure you, spirit of the grave, Nehinah, who rests in the grave upon the bones of the dead, that you accept this offering from my hand and do my bidding; bring me N son of N who is dead.'"

divining treasure

It was widely believed in the Middle Ages, particularly in Germany, that treasure lay hidden in the earth. Many northern European folktales recount how a ghostly blue flame sometimes flickers on the ground above the hiding place of a hoard. However, since such capricious signs were a rare occurrence, people were not content to wait patiently for the chance appearance that would make them rich. A surer way of reaching the earth's treasures, therefore, was provided by the diviningrod. Several 15th-century Jewish formulas for making and using a diviningrod, which follow closely the texts of German recipes, have been printed. The language of spells, the names used in them, and the very belief on which they are based, are clear indications that they were borrowed from German originals. Not only buried treasure but also soughtafter information could be revealed by this method. The preparation of the rods followed the same pattern, but the invocations were altered to suit the differing needs.


T.W. Davies, Magic, Divination and Demonology Among the Hebrews … (1898); E.B. Taylor, Primitive Culture, 1 (19135), 78–81, 117–33; J. Doeller, Die Wahrsagerei im Alten Testament (1923); J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (19353), passim; Y. Kaufmann, Toledot, 1 (1937), 358ff.; idem, Mi-Kivshonah shel ha-Yeẓirah ha-Mikra'it (1966), 208–15; A. Guillaume, Prophecy and Divination … (1938); A.L. Oppenheim, in: afo, 17 (1954–56), 49–55; idem, Ancient Mesopotamia (1964), 206–27, 366–9; de Vaux, Anc Isr, 349–53; H. Wohlstein, in: bz, 5 (1961), 30–38; S. Iwry, in: jaos, 81 (1961), 27–34; M. Vieyra, in: Revue Hittite et Asiatique, 69 (1961), 47–55; J. Nougayrol et al., La divination en Mésopotamie ancienne (1966); H. Hoffner, in: jbl, 86 (1967), 385–401; H.L. Ginsberg, in: vt supplement, 16 (1967), 74–75; idem, in: jnes, 27 (1968), 61–68; W.F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (1968), 123–94. middle ages: J. Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition (1961); L. Blau, Das altjuedische Zauberwesen (1898); J. Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, 3 vols. (1875–84); Gross, Gal Jud, 692–700; Grunwald, in: mgjv, 5 (1900), 1–87; 77 (1933), 161–71, 241–52, 467; Guedemann, ibid., 24 (1875), 269f.; 60 (1916), 135–9; H.C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, 3 (1911), 379–549; Lévi, in: rej, 22 (1891), 332f.; 25 (1892), 1–13; 26 (1893), 69–74, 131–5; 29 (1894), 43–60; 47 (1904), 214; 61 (1911), 206–12; 68 (1914), 15–21; L. Thorndike, The Place of Magic in the Intellectual History of Europe (1905); idem, History of Magic and Experimental Science, 8 vols. (1923–58).


views updated May 18 2018


The method of obtaining knowledge of the unknown or the future by means of omens. Astrology and the utterances of oracles are usually regarded as branches of divination. The derivation of the word supposes a direct message from the gods to the diviner. Divination was practiced in all grades of primitive communities and civilizations. The methods are many and various, and, strangely enough, in their variety are confined to no one portion of the world.

Crystal gazing and such allied methods as shell hearing may be classed as divination that arises from the personal consciousness of the diviner. Of the same class is divination by dreams, automatic writing, and so forth. What might be called divination by "luck" is represented by the use of cards, the casting of lots, the use of knuckle bones as in Africa and elsewhere, or coconuts as in Polynesia. Haruspicy, or the inspection of entrails, divination by footprints in ashes, by the flight of birds, or by meeting with ominous animals, represents still a third class of divination.

The art of divination is usually practiced among primitive races by the shaman caste; among more sophisticated peoples by the professional divineras in Rome and ancient Mexico and even among modern civilized people by persons who claim the faculty of divination, such as the Spiritualist medium or the witch.

The art is undoubtedly of great antiquity. It was employed in ancient Egypt side by side with astrology, and divination by dreams was constantly resorted to, a class of priests being kept apart, whose office it was to interpret dreams and visions. Instances of dreams are recorded in the ancient Egyptian texts; for example those of Thothmes IV, king of Egypt in 1450 B.C.E., and Nut-Amen, king of the Eastern Soudan and Egypt about 670 B.C.E. The Egyptian magician usually set himself to procure dreams for his clients by such devices as the drawing of magic pictures and the reciting of magic words, and some of these are still extant. In Egypt, however, divination was usually effected by astrological methods.

In ancient China the principal method of divination was by means of the oracles, but such forms as the examination of the marks on the shell of a tortoise, are also found; they are similar to the examination of the back of a peccary by the Maya of Central America. Chinese monarchs consulted the fates in this manner in 1146 B.C.E. and found them unfavorable, but as in Egypt, most soothsaying was accomplished by means of astrology. Omens, however, were by no means ignored, and were given great prominence, as many tales in the ancient books testify.

In ancient Rome a distinct caste or college of priests called augurs was set apart to interpret the signs of approval or disapproval sent by the gods in reference to any coming event. This college probably consisted originally of but three members, of whom the king himself was one, and it was not until the time of Cæsar that the members were increased to 16. The college remained in existence as late as the fourth century, and its members held office for life.

A tenet of the Roman augurs was that for signs of the gods one must look toward the sky and glean knowledge of the intentions of the divine beings from such omens as the flash of lightning and the flight of birds.

On a windless night, the augur took up a position on a hill that afforded an extensive view. Marking out a space for himself, he pitched a tent, seated himself and covered his head, asked the gods for a sign, and waited for an answer. He faced southward, thus having the east (lucky) quarter on his left, and the west (unfavorable) portion of the sky on his right. He carefully observed every sign that came within the scope of his vision, such as lightning, the appearance of birds, and so forth. Birdsong was carefully listened to and divided into sounds of good or evil omen. The reading of omens was also effected by feeding the birds and observing the manner in which they ate. The course of animals and the sounds they made were also closely watched, and all unusual phenomena were regarded as omens or warnings. Sortilege, or the casting of lots, was often resorted to by the caste of augurs.

The election of magistrates was nearly always referred to the diviners, as was the dispatching of an army for war and the passing of laws.

In the East divination generally appears to have been effected by crystal gazing, dreams, and similar methods of self-hallucination or self-hypnotism. Divination flourished in Chaldea and Assyria among the Babylonians and Ethiopians, and appears to have been much the same as in Egypt. In the Jewish Talmud witches were said to divine by means of bread crumbs. Among the Arabs, the future was often foretold by means of the shapes seen in sand. The Burmese and Siamese pierced an egg at each end, and having blown the contents onto the ground, traced within them the outline of things to be. Divination by astrology too was common in oriental countries, as were the predictions of prophets.

It is remarkable that among the native races of America the arts of divination known to the peoples of the Old World were, and still are, used. These arts, as a rule, were the preserve of the medicine man and priestly class. In ancient Mexico there was a college of augurs like the auspices of ancient Rome; the members occupied themselves with observing the flight of birds and listening to their songs, from which they drew their conclusions. In Mexico, the Calmecac, or college of priests, had a department where divination was taught in all its branches, but there were many ex officio prophets and augurs.

In Peru, still other classes of diviners predicted by means of the leaves of tobacco, or the grains or juice of coca, the shapes of grains of maize, taken at random, the forms assumed by the smoke rising from burning victims, the viscera of animals, the course taken by spiders, and the direction in which fruits might fall. The professors of these methods were distinguished by different ranks and titles, and their training was long and arduous.

The American tribes as a whole were keen observers of bird life. Strangely enough the bird and serpent are combined in their symbolism and in the names of several of their principal deities. The bird appeared to the American primitive as a spirit, in all probability under the spell of some potent enchantera spell that might be broken only by some great sorcerer or medicine man.

As among the ancient Romans, the birds of America were divided into those of good and evil omen, and certain Brazilian tribes apparently thought the souls of dead Indians entered into the bodies of birds. The shamans of certain tribes of Paraguay acted as go-betweens for the members of their tribes and such birds as they imagined enshrined the souls of their departed relatives. This usage would appear to combine the acts of divination and necromancy.

The priesthood of Peru practiced oracular methods by "making idols speak," and this they probably accomplished through ventriloquial arts. The piagés or priests of the Uapés of Brazil had a contrivance known to them as the paxiuba, which consisted of a tree trunk about the height of a man, on which the branches and leaves had been left. Holes were bored in the trunk beneath the foliage, and when the priests spoke through these the leaves trembled and the sound was interpreted as a message from Jurupari, one of their principal deities.

But all over the American continent, from the land of Eskimos to that of the Patagonians, the methods of oracular divination were practically identical. The shaman, or medicine man, raised a tent or hut that he entered, carefully closing the aperture after him. He then proceeded to make his incantations, and in a little while the entire lodge trembled and rocked; the poles bent to a breaking point, as if a dozen strong men were straining at them, and the most violent noise came from within, seeming first to emanate from the depths of the earth, next from the air above, and then from the vicinity of the hut itself.

The reason for this disturbance has never been properly explained, and medicine men who were converted to Christianity assured workers among the Native American tribes that they had not the least idea of what occurred during the time they occupied these enchanted lodges, for they were plunged into a deep sleep. After the supernatural sounds had to some extent faded away, the medicine man proceeded to question the spirit he had evoked. The answers were generally ambiguous, like those of the Pythonesses of ancient Greece.

Divination by hypnosis was well known in America. Jonathan Carver, who traveled among the Sioux about the latter part of the eighteenth century, mentioned it was used among them. The Ghost Dance religion of the Native Americans of Nevada had for one of its tenets the belief in hypnotic communion with the dead.

Divination by means of dreams and visions was extremely common in both subcontinents of the Western Hemisphere, as exemplified by the derivation of the word priest in the native languages. The Algonquians called them"dreamers of the gods;" the Maya, "listeners," and so forth. The ability to see visions was usually quickened by the use of drugs or the swallowing or inhalation of cerebral intoxicants, such as tobacco, maguey, coca, the snake plant, and others. Indeed many Native American tribes, such as the Creeks, possessed numerous plants that they cultivated for this purpose. A large number of instances are on record in which Native American medicine men were said to have divined the future in a most striking manner.

For example, in his autobiography, Black Hawk, a celebrated Sac chief, related that his grandfather had a strong belief that in four years' time "he should see a white man, who would be to him as a father." Supernaturally directed, he traveled eastward to a certain spot, and there, as he had been informed in dreams, met with a Frenchman who concluded an alliance between France and the Sac nation. Coincidence is certainly possible in this case, but not in the circumstances of Jonathan Carver. While was dwelling with the Killistenoes they were threatened with a famine, and their very existence depended on the arrival of certain traders, who brought them food in exchange for skins and other goods. The diviners of the tribe were consequently consulted by the chief, and announced that the next day, at high noon exactly, a canoe would make its appearance with news of the anxiously awaited expedition. The entire population came down to the beach in order to witness its arrival, accompanied by the incredulous Carver, and, to his intense surprise, at the very moment forecast by the shamans a canoe rounded a distant headland, and, paddling speedily shorewards, the navigators brought the patient Killistenoes news of the expedition they expected.

John Mason Brown recorded an equally singular instance of the prophetic gift of an American medicine man (see Atlantic Monthly, July 1866). Difficulties experienced while searching for a band of Native Americans the Mackenzie and Copper-mine rivers had forced the majority of Brown's band to return home, until out of ten men who originally set out only three remained. They had almost decided to abandon their search when they stumbled upon a party of braves of the tribe they sought. These men had been sent out by their medicine man to find three white men. The shaman had given them an exhaustive account of the men's horses, equipment, and general appearance before they set out, and this the warriors related to Brown before they saw his companions. Brown asked the medicine man how he had been able to foretell their coming. The shaman, who appeared to be "a frank and simple-minded man," could only explain that "he saw them coming, and heard them talk on their journey."

Crystal gazing was in common use among many Native American tribes. The Aztecs of Mexico used to gaze into small polished pieces of sandstone, and a case is on record in which a Cherokee Indian kept a divining crystal wrapped in buckskin in a cave, occasionally "feeding" it by rubbing over it the blood of a deer. At a village in Guatemala, the traveler John L. Stephens saw a remarkable stone that had been placed on the altar of a temple, but that had previously been used as a divining stone by the Indians of the village.

Divination by arrow was also common. According to Fuentes y Guzmán, the chronicler of Guatemala, the reigning king of Kiche, Kicah Tanub, when informed by the ambassador of Montezuma II that a race of irresistible white men had conquered Mexico and were proceeding to Guatemala, sent for four diviners, whom he commanded foretell the result of the invasion. Taking their bows they discharged some arrows against a rock. They returned to inform their master that, because no impression had been made upon the rock by the arrowheads, they foresaw the worst and predicted the ultimate triumph of the white manan incident that shows that the class to which they belonged stood in no fear of royalty. Kicah Tanub, dissatisfied, sent for the "priests," obviously a different class of diviners, and requested their opinions. From the omen of an ancient stone (brought from afar by their forefathers) having been broken, they also foretold the fall of the Kiche empire.

Many objects such as small clay birds, boats, or boat-shaped vessels, have been discovered in sepulchral mounds in North America, and it is conjectured that these may have been used for purposes of divination.

Portents, too, were implicitly believed in by the American races. Nezahualpilli, king of Tezcuco, near Mexico, was accomplished in this type of divination. Montezuma consulted him concerning the terrible prodigies that startled his people before the advance of the Spaniards upon his kingdom, and that were supposed to predict the return of Quetzalcoatl, the legendary culture-hero of Anahuac, to his people. These included earthquakes, tempests, floods, and the appearance of comets and strange lights while mysterious voices were heard in the air.

Divination has persisted in modern civilizations. Perhaps one of the most remarkable diviners was Nostradamus (Michael de Nostradame, 1503-66) who published hundreds of prophecies in enigmatic verses. Many believe these prophecies refer to events that have occurred through the centuries and that some will be fulfilled in the near future. The seventeenth-century astrologer William Lilly predicted the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Great Fire in the following year.

In addition to such gifted individuals who seemed to be able to discern future events through signs and visions, there are also popular techniques by which ordinary people believe they can gain knowledge of the hidden present or future. As well as the popular practice of astrology, there are many fortune-telling systems such as dream interpretation, palmistry, and the tarot cards. Many such systems were successfully revived in the occult boom of the 1960s. Perhaps one of the most interesting revivals was that of the ancient Chinese system of the I Ching, where divination of present and future events is associated with a deeper philosophy of the function of destiny in human affairs.

Psychical researchers have recorded many cases of spontaneous prevision of future events, although there is as yet no satisfactory explanation for such phenomena involving clairvoyance, telepathy, or dreams.

Dowsing, or water-witching, is another form of divination, although it relates mainly to the discovery of hidden water, metals, or other information. The use of a twig or rod by the operator is reminiscent of the magic wand or the tripod of occult magicians in the practice of necromancy. It also seems related to the rationale of table turning, planchette and Ouija board in Spiritualism. Divination proper, however, is a system of interpreting hidden knowledge rather than eliciting information through the intervention of spirits. One development of dowsing of special interest is the art of radiesthesia, where pendulums are used instead of a dowsing rod, for the purpose of eliciting a wider range of information, such as ascertaining states of health or disease, prescribing remedies, tracing missing persons, or even divining distant events.

Some of the seventy or so most well defined systems of divination such as axinomancy, belomancy, and capnomancy are the subject of separate entries in this encyclopedia, as are such specialized related studies as astrology, crystal gazing, and palmistry.

Popular interest in divination continues to flourish in modern times and even to increase with the uncertainties and anxieties of economic and political life. Gypsies are still reputed to have hereditary talents for fortune-telling.

National newspapers carry daily astrological indications, and the use of tarot cards is widespread, but the art of divination still seems to require some basic or developed talent that no mechanistic system can entirely dispense with. A pertinent statement is that of the psychical researcher Count Cesar de Vesme: "Any system is good for the man gifted with super-normal powers, and any system is bad for the man not so gifted."


Aylesworth, Thomas. Astrology and Foretelling the Future; A Concise Guide. Danbury, CT: Watts, 1973.

Barrett, Sir William, and Theodore Besterman. The Divining Rod: An Experimental and Psychological Investigation. London, 1926. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1926.

Besterman, Theodore. Crystal Gazing. London, 1924. Re-print, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1965.

Black Hawk. Autobiography. St. Louis, Mo., 1882.

Bouche-Leclerq, Auguste. Histoire de la Divination dans l'Antiquite. 4 vols. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Collins, Rodney. The Theory of Celestial Influence. London: Stuart & Watkins, 1955.

Connor, W. R. Roman Augury and Etruscan Divination. New York: Arno Press, 1976.

Deutch, Yvonne, ed., and F. Strachan, comp. Fortune Tellers. London, 1976. Reprint, New York: Black Watch, 1974.

Ebon, Martin. Prophecy in Our Time. New York: New American Library, 1969. Reprint, London: Alhambra, 1971.

Freedland, Nat. The Occult Explosion. New York: G. Putnam's Sons, 1972.

Gibson, W. B., and L. K. Gibson. The Complete Illustrated Book of Divination and Prophecy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973. Reprint, London: Souvenir Press, 1974.

Grand Orient [A. E. Waite]. Complete Manual of Occult Divination. 2 vols. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1972.

Halliday, W. R. Greek Divination: A Study of Methods and Principles. London: Macmillan, 1913.

Hill, Douglas. Fortune Telling. London: Hamlyn, 1972.

Jahoda, G. The Psychology of Superstition. London, 1969. Re-print, Baltimore, Md: Penguin, 1971.

Kao, James. Chinese Divination. Smithtown, N.Y.: Exposition Press, 1980.

Legge, James, trans. I Ching; Book of Changes. 1899. Reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1963.

Manas, John H. Divination: Ancient and Modern. New York: Pythagoran Society, 1947.

McIntosh, Christopher. The Astrologers and Their Creed. London: Hutchinson, 1969. Reprint, New York: Praeger, 1970.

Miall, A. M. Complete Fortune Telling. Greenberg, 1950. Re-print, Hackensack, N.J.: Wehman, 1962.

Rakoczi, Basil Ivan. Foreseeing the Future. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

Saltmarsh, H. F. Foreknowledge. London: G. Bell, 1938.

Schoenholtz, Larry. New Directions in the I Ching. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1975.

Waite, Arthur Edward. The Occult Sciences. 1891. Reprint, Se-caucus, N.J.: University Books, 1974.


views updated Jun 08 2018

124. Divination

See also 24. ASTROLOGY ; 174. FUTURE ; 252. MAGIC .

1 . the art or science of divination by means of the air or winds.
2 . Humorous. weather forecasting. Cf. austromancy .
alectoromancy, alectryomancy
a form of divination by recording the letters revealed as a cock eats kernels of corn that cover them.
an old form of divination using meal or flour. aleuromantic , adj.
a form of divination involving the examination of barley.
a form of divination involving walking, usually in circles. Cf. gyromancy .
a form of divination by examining the embryonic sac or amniotic fluid.
the art of divination through the study of burning coals. anthracomantic , adj.
a form of divination using the entrails of dead men. anthropomantist , n. anthropomantic , adj.
a form of divination involving the shoulders of animals. Cf. spatulamancy .
a form of divination involving examination of a shield.
a form of divination involving dice or knuckle-bones, in which letters are marked on the faces of the dice and the future is foretold from the words formed as the dice fall. Also called cleromancy .
a form of divination involving the relative positions of heavenly bodies. Also called genethlialogy, genethliacs .
divination by observation of the stars. Also called sideromancy .
1 . the art of f oretelling the future by means of signs, originally by the flight of birds; divination.
2 . an omen or portent from which the future is foretold. augur , n. augurial , adj. augurous , adj.
divination by observing the winds, especially the south wind. Cf. aeromancy .
a form of divination involving the use of an axhead. axinomantic , adj.
divination in which marks or words are placed on arrows which are then drawn from a quiver at random.
a form of divination using books or the Bible in which passages are chosen at random and the future foretold from them.
a form of divination involving the examination of plants.
a form of divination involving smoke.
a form of divination involving playing cards.
a form of divination involving a crystal ball or mirrors.
a form of divination involving the head.
a form of divination involving thunder or thunderbolts.
a form of divination involving dropping melted wax into water.
a form of divination involving brass vessels.
a form of divination involving aerial visions.
chiromancy, cheiromancy
a divination to determine the precise time for action.
cleidomancy, clidomancy
a form of divination involving a key or keys.
a form of divination involving a sieve and shears. coscinomantic , adj.
a form of divination involving the strewing of grain over the bodies of sacrificed animals. crithomantic , adj.
a form of divination involving crystal-gazing.
Rare. a form of divination involving thrown dice. cubomantic , adj.
a form of divination involving finger rings.
a form of divination involving a demon or demons.
a form of divination involving a fire and smoke.
a form of divination involving a mirror and its reflections.
haruspicy. extispex , n. extispicious , adj.
1 . a form of divination involving listening to stomach sounds.
2 . a form of divination by gazing into a crystal ball or a glass full of water. Cf. crystallomancy . Also called crystal-gazing . gastromantic , adj.
geloscopy, gelotoscopy
a form of divination that determines a persons character or future from the way he laughs.
genethlialogy, genethliacs
a form of divination that analyzes the pattern of a handful of earth thrown down at random or of dots made at random on paper. geomancer , n.
1 . a form of divination involving analysis of handwriting. Also graptomancy .
2 . a technique of personality analysis involving the examination of handwriting.
graphology def. 1.
a form of divination involving walking in a circle. Cf. ambulomancy .
a form of divination involving the use of salt. Also called alomancy .
the act or art of prognostication or divination; soothsaying.
haruspicy, haruspication
a form of divination from lightning and other natural phenomena, but especially from inspection of the entrails of animal sacrifices. Also called extispicy . haruspex , n. haruspical , adj.
hematomancy, haematomancy
divination by means of blood.
a form of divination involving sacrificial remains or sacred objects. Also called hieroscopy .
a form of divination involving the observation of horses, especially by listening to their neighing.
1 . the art of casting horoscopes or divinations based upon the relative positions of heavenly bodies.
2 . the position of the sun and stars at the time of a persons birth. horoscoper, horoscopist , n.
a form of divination involving observations of water or of other liquids.
the analysis of the personality and appearance of people by studying their footprints. ichnomantic , adj.
a form of divination involving the head or entrails of fishes.
a form of divination involving idols.
a form of divination involving observation of the flame of a torch or lamp. Cf. lychnomancy .
a form of divination involving the examination of water in a basin.
a form of divination involving rocks or stones.
a form of divination involving logarithms.
a form of divination involving the observation of words and discourse.
a form of divination involving lamps. Cf. lampadomancy .
the art of divination and prophecy. mantic , adj.
Obsolete, the art of fortune-telling. mantologist , n.
a form of divination involving the examination of pearls.
a form of divination involving the observation of meteors.
Rare. a form of divination involving examination of facial features.
Rare. a form of divination by studying the motion of molten lead.
a form of divination that is flawed or foolish.
a form of divination through observation of the movements of mice.
1 . the magic practiced by a witch or sorcerer.
2 . a form of divination through communication with the dead. Also called nigromancy . necromancer, necromant, nigromancien , n. necromantie , adj.
divination by the observation of clouds.
a form of divination involving the examination of letters, possibly from a graphological point of view. Cf. onomancy .
a form of divination involving numbers. Also called arithmancy .
oenomancy, oinomancy
a form of divination involving observation of the colors and other features of wine.
a form of divination involving the examination of shoulder blades. Cf. armomancy, scapulomancy, spatulamancy .
a form of divination in which the number of knots in a new-borns umbilical cord are counted to foretell the number of children the mother will have later.
a form of divination involving dreams. oneiromancer , n.
onomancy, onomomancy
a form of divination involving the letters of a name. Cf. nomancy .
a form of divination involving examination of the fingernails.
a form of divination involving eggs.
a form of divination involving snakes.
ornithomancy, ornithoscopy
a form of divination involving the observation of birds, especially in flight.
osteomancy, osteomanty
divination by the examination of bones. osteomantic , adj.
a form of divination involving analysis of the appearance of the hand, especially of its various lines. Also called chiromancy, cheiromancy .
a form of divination involving the study of the soles of the feet. Also called podomancy .
a form of divination by studying springs or fountains. pegomantic , adj.
a form of divination involving pebbles. Also called psephology, psephomancy .
a form of divination involving the examination of leaves.
1 . pessomancy
2 . a form of divination involving the study of marks made on pebbles which are drawn at random from a container.
a form of divination that is deliberately false or misleading.
a form of divination involving communication with the spirits of the dead.
a form of divination involving fire or flames.
a form of divination in the manner of Pythia, the Delphic priestess.
a form of divination involving a rod or wand, especially to locate objects or materials beneath the ground, as water or precious metals; dowsing.
a form of divination involving verses.
a form of divination in which a shoulder blade is heated in a fire and the resulting cracks in the bone are consulted for omens. Cf. armomancy, omoplatoscopy, spatulamancy . scapulomantic , adj.
a form of divination by examination of excrement.
divination of a persons future from observation of physical appearance.
a form of divination through communication with the spirits of the dead. sciomantic , adj.
a form of divination involving the use of a cup.
a form of divination involving observation of the moon.
Ancient Greece and Rome. a woman with oracular or prophetic powers, the most celebrated being that of Cumae. sibyllic , sibylic, sibylline , adj.
1 . a believer in or follower of the sibyls.
2 . a believer in their prophecies.
1 . astrom ancy.
2 . a form of divination involving observation of the sparks, shapes formed, etc., when straws are burnt against a red-hot iron.
a form of divination involving drawing lots.
a form of divination used to foretell disease by observing spasms or twitching of the potential sufferers body.
spatilomancy, spatalamancy
a form of divination involving the examination of animal feces.
a form of divination by means of an animals shoulder blade. Cf. armomancy, omoplatoscopy, scapuloniancy . spatulamantic , adj.
a form of divination through the uses of ashes. spodomantic , adj.
a form of divination involving examination of the breastbone.
a form of divination involving lines of poetry or passages from books.
a form of divination involving the examination of writing on or carving in the bark of a tree.
a form of divination involving figs or fig leaves.
clairvoyance or other occult or supernatural knowledge.
tephramancy, tephromancy
a form of divination involving the examination of the ashes remaining af ter a sacrifice.
a form of divination involving the responses of oracles or other soothsayers.
1 . a form of divination involving wild beasts.
2 . a form of divination based upon observation of the movements of animals. Cf. zoomancy .
a form of divination involving observation of cheese, especially as it coagulates.
Rare. a form of divination by studying urine. uromantic , adj.
a form of divination involving pieces of wood.
a form of divination based upon the observation of animals or their movements under certain circumstances. Cf. theriomancy .


views updated Jun 11 2018



The “Science” of Divination.. Signs of all kinds, solicited or unsolicited, might be sent by the gods. In the case of a solicited omen, a professional diviner (Akkadian: barti) examined a condition that he had deliberately provoked. By doing so, he could ask the gods to answer specific questions or inquire about the advisability of undertaking some action. If the answer was negative, the plan was postponed, and the diviner made another attempt at divination at what he hoped was a more propitious time.

Solicited Omens. Extispicy was an especially important means of soliciting omens. The entrails (the liver, lungs, or colon spiral) of a slaughtered young sacrificial animal (usually a sheep, sometimes a goat) were inspected and interpreted by the diviner. The signs and their associated portents were consistently written down, and eventually they were collected into omen series. Livers modeled in clay were marked with various characteristics and inscribed with their related predictions. Extispicy was used from the mid-third millennium b.c.e. on, and over time it developed into an advanced discipline with its own vocabulary of technical words for the entrails and a catalogue of their many different markings. Other means of soliciting omens included lecanomancy (the observation of the patterns formed by oil blobs dropped onto water), libanomancy (the observation of the behavior of smoke from incense), belo-mancy (the observation of arrows shot into the air), cledonomancy (the analysis of chance responses or remarks overheard in a crowd), and, rarely, necromancy (calling up the spirits of the dead).

Unsolicited Omens. Other forms of divination involved observation of naturally occurring events, such as signs seen in the sky. They were the domain of other kinds of diviners: the exorcist (Akkadian: ashipit), and, in later times, a scholar (Akkadian: tupsharru). Observing unprovoked omens gradually became more widespread, and celestial divination eventually surpassed extispicy in popularity, surviving even after the end of Mesopotamian civilization. Also important among unsolicited signs were teratological omens (monstrous births among animals), terrestrial omens (a huge range of strange everyday occurrences), hemerological and menological omens (favorable and unfavorable days for undertaking certain plans), prognostic omens (predictions of the course and outcome of diseases), and physiognomic omens (predictions derived from the appearance and behavior of individual people). Augury (the observation of birds) and oneiromancy (the interpretation of dreams) were also practiced. All branches of divination had their own specialized practitioners.

Longevity of the Tradition. Divination was used in all periods of Mesopotamian history. It was practiced in the service of kings to guide them in important decisions about military campaigns, temple building, court appointments, and many other matters. It was also used by people of lesser

rank to investigate the future or to find an answer to a particular question.

The Nature of Omens. A sign from a god, such as an eclipse, was believed to forecast the same good or bad fortune in all future days. Once a sign was observed and had been followed by a specific event, this sign, whenever it was seen again, was thought to indicate a similar future event. The sign did not have any influence on or in any way cause the coming event. It was just a warning; if x occurred, it was expected that y would follow. Scribes wrote down such signs and their indications, compiling tablet upon tablet of omens, which only they, as specialized diviners, had been trained to interpret. When x happened again, scholars consulted these compendia of omens to see what outcome, y, might be on the way.

Divination and Prevention. The portended events detected by divination were not inevitable. If the signs were properly read and interpreted, magical or other appropriate steps might be taken to avert the potential consequences. One measure was the performance of apotropaic rites by an exorcist. Intended to ward off evil, these rites took many different forms, each designed to take care of specific and different evil portents. If the origin of the evil was unknown, the exorcist could resort to the generic “rite against all evil.” For eclipses, one of the most perilous and fearful of events, there were several preventive measures. One was a ritual that called for the continuous and rapid beating of a bronze kettledrum.

The Substitute King Ritual. For eclipses that specifically forecast the death of the king, there was a special remedy, the “substitute king ritual,” in which a man was selected to take the place of the king, thereby assuming the fate predicted for the true king. He was usually some flawed individual, perhaps a condemned criminal, who, while he had no power, wore the real king’s clothes, sat on the throne, and listened as the bad omen predicting his impending death was recited. Meanwhile, the real king, addressed as “farmer” to disassociate him from his royal station, remained in seclusion and underwent a purification process. At the end of the period for which the omen was considered valid, usually one hundred days, the substitute king was put to death.

Omen Series. Omens were recorded and eventually organized into collections, or series. Over time, they were copied and recopied, edited and revised, shortened or amplified. Each of the many branches of divination had its own omen manual for diviners to consult. All omens, no matter what their themes, were phrased in identical form. All were expressed as a conditional sentence consisting of two clauses: the protasis “if x happens,” and the apodosis “then y will happen.” In omen collections, every conceivable protasis, whether possible or not, was considered. For example, there are omens about lunar eclipses that cannot possibly occur on the eighteenth to twenty-first days of the Babylonian lunar month. One reason for the inclusion of such impossible situations can likely be the systematic way in which omens were organized into collections. Whenever gaps occurred in the scheme, they were filled by omens deliberately created to make the arrangement complete. Omen series became increasingly more detailed, and series contain runs of certain themes, such as an event happening on selected days of the month, or on each and every day of the month, or a phenomenon occurring in all four common colors. There was an ever-present contrast between right and left. In extispicy it might be the right and left side of the liver, or in celestial divination perhaps the left and right side of eclipse shadows. Other opposites might be above and below, in front of and behind, bright and faint, sunrise and sunset, on time and late or early. When there was more than one event in the protasis, there were clear guidelines: a good sign combined with a good sign predicted a good outcome; good combined with bad meant a bad result; bad combined with bad had a good portent.

Spread of the Babylonian Tradition. The history of divination in Mesopotamia is a long one. Although the observation and interpretation of divine signs warning of future events must have begun earlier, omens were written down and copied from at least the last third of the third millennium into the first century c.e. Divination was an accepted means of predicting future events, and it was the work of learned professionals. The corpus of omens was respected as a scholarly source to be referred to and quoted throughout the ages. It is not surprising that divination texts make up the largest single category of recovered Akkadian literature. Mesopotamian divination, and especially celestial omens, spread to neighboring kingdoms in the mid-second millennium b.c.e. Omens were copied in Mari, Emar, Alalah, Qatna, and Ugarit in Syria; Hazor in the upper Galilee; Hattusa in Anatolia; Nuzi on the northwest periphery of Mesopotamia; and Susa in southwest

Iran. Inside Mesopotamia, the astronomical omen series Enuma Anu Enlil was still being copied in the Achaemenid and Hellenistic periods, and experts in charge of astronomical observations acquired a special name: “Scribe of Enuma Anu Enlil,” a title that survived into the second century b.c.e. These long-lived Mesopotamian celestial omens were undoubtedly the source for similar omens found in Egyptian, Indian, and Greek sources. From Egypt, there is a demotic papyrus preserving two Achaemenid texts that include counterparts to Babylonian examples. Babylonian astronomical knowledge, as well as celestial and terrestrial omens, was transmitted to India from the mid-first millennium B.C.E. on; Greek omens in Babylonian style were composed by someone now known as Pseudo-Petosiris. From these sources, Mesopotamian omens spread to the Far East, to Islam, and to medieval Europe. Where the Mesopotamian omen tradition was not adopted or adapted, it was treated with contempt; divination was forbidden in ancient Israel and scorned in the Hebrew Bible.

From Celestial Divination to Mathematical Astronomy.. As a scholarly pursuit, celestial divination in Mesopotamia provided a solid background for the composition of other observational astronomical texts and especially for the mathematical astronomy that developed later. Astronomers and astral diviners became masters of scholarly investigation. As they regularly observed and recorded astronomical and meteorological phenomena and matched their observations to related predictions from collections of omens, they began to be interested in the timing and circumstances of astronomical events in themselves. From the omen series Enuma Anu Enlil alone, it is apparent that by end of the second millennium B.C.E. and the beginning of the first, scholars were aware of the periodicity of planetary and other celestial phenomena; they were curious about the possibilities of the predictability of their cycles; and they were engaged in finding mathematical methods to do just that. Their efforts to measure intervals between certain celestial phenomena for prediction purposes is just one example of this new interest. The scholars, by observing eclipses and their various aspects, gathered knowledge that would stand them in good stead when later they began to construct eclipse theory. And in measuring some periodic deviations from mean-time intervals of phenomena, they developed tools such as the linear zigzag function, which was useful later in their mathematical astronomy.

Personal Celestial Divination. Until the end of the fifth century B.C.E., astronomy and astral omens were the concern of the king and the country in general but not the province of his subjects. It was not until the Achaemenid period (538-331 b.c.e.) that the use of celestial omens expanded to include predictions, based on astronomical phenomena at the time of birth, about the future lives of common people. These personal celestial omens describing the position and phenomena of one or more planets or fixed stars at birth are now termed “nativity omens.” Personal proto-horoscopes also emerged. Unlike nativity omens, they do not normally give predictions about the future life of a child; yet, they might include nativity omens. While the terms “nativity omens” and “proto-horoscopes” bring to mind the pseudo-science of modern astrology, the recording of celestial omens at the time of birth, which were considered signs from the gods, is quite different from what modern people think of as astrology or even what the ancient Greeks thought it was.

Proto-Horoscopes. Thirty-two Babylonian-style proto-horoscopes are known, ranging in date from 410 b.c.e. to 69 b.c.e., near the virtual end of cuneiform writing. Technically, because Babylonian proto-horoscopes do not contain predictions based on planetary positions and zodiacal signs, these texts are not identical to Hellenistic and Roman horoscopes. Classical horoscopes use a far richer collection of significant data, and their validity is derived from Aristotelian physics and Hellenistic cosmology rather than from signs from the gods. Rather than forecasting the future, Babylonian proto-horoscopes merely state certain astronomical facts at the time of birth or, in a few cases, time of conception. Following the date, and perhaps the time of day, of the child’s birth or conception are the positions of the planets, all at one point in time. These data cannot be observational and must have been computed. They follow a fixed order: the moon, sun, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Saturn, and Mars. Sometimes the planetary positions are described by degree within a zodiacal sign, but more often than not the zodiacal sign is given alone. There also might be statements about the length of the month (twenty-nine or thirty days); measurements of time intervals such as sunrise to moonset or moonrise to sunrise; eclipses, including those not visible in Babylon; equinoxes and solstices; and the conjunction of the moon with reference stars. The following is a proto-horoscope for someone born on 7 September 140 b.c.e.:

Year 172 (Seleucid Era) Arsaces was king.
[Ululu (month VI)] 30 (were the days of the previous
month), night of the 13th … evening watch,
In his hour (of birth), the moon was in Pisces,
the sun in Virgo, Jupiter in Sagittarius, Venus in Libra
Mars in Gemini, Mercury and Saturn
which had set were not visible. They were with the sun.
That month, moonset after sunrise on the 14th, last lunar
visibility on the 28th,
That year, (autumnal) equinox was on the 2nd of Tashritu
(month VII). (Rochberg, 1998)


Hermann Hunger and David Edwin Pingree, Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 1999).

Ulla Jeyes, “The Act of Extispicy in Ancient Mesopotamia: An Outline,” Assyriological Miscellanies, 1 (1980): 13-32.

Ulla Koch-Westenholz, Mesopotamian Astrology (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 1995).

A. Leo Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization, revised edition, completed by Erica Reiner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977).

Simo Parpola, ed., Letters from Assyrian Scholars to the Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal, part 2, Alter Orient und Altes Testement 5/2 (Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker, 1983).

Erica Reiner, Astral Magic in Babylonia, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, volume 85, part 4 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1995).

Francesca Rochberg, Babylonian Horoscopes (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1995).

Francesca Rochberg-Halton, “Benefic and Malefic Planets in Babylonian Astrology,” in A Scientific Humanist: Studies in Memory of Abraham Sachs, edited by Erle Leichty, Maria deJ. Ellis, and Pamela Gerardi, Occasional Publications of the Samuel Noah Kramer Fund, no. 9 (Philadelphia, 1988), pp. 323-328.

Ivan Starr, The Rituals of the Diviner (Malibu, Cal.: Undena, 1983).


views updated May 17 2018


The art or practice of foreseeing or foretelling future events or of discovering hidden or secret knowledge. Divination goes back to prehistoric times and in numerous and various forms has worldwide distribution. At all cultural levels, some kinds of divination, such as astrology, crystal gazing, and palmistry, continue to flourish even in mature modern civilizations. It is convenient, following the example of Cicero (De divinatione 1.1i and2.26) to distinguish two main categories in divination, the natural or intuitive and the artificial or inductive. In practice, however, there is considerable overlapping in this division.

Natural Divination. Among its various forms, divination based on dreams (oneiromancy) and that based on oracles (chresmology) are especially important. An elaborate system of interpretation of dreams was developed among the ancient Greeks in which time, place, and content all entered as factors in the symbolical explanation. The extant treatise of Artemidorus of Daldis (late 2d cent. a.d.) on the interpretation of dreams (Oneirocritica ) is an example of this kind of literature. Ordinary dreams all had meaning, but particular weight was given to dreams occurring in temple incubation.

Oracles in the strict sense were the utterances of a seer, prophet, or prophetess in a state of trance or ecstasy; therefore, under divine influence or possession. The utterances, in fact, were regarded as coming directly from the invoked divinity. Since many, if not most of these utterances, were unintelligible, or at least vague and ambiguous, skilled interpreters of oracles became necessary and formed an influential class of specialists in religion. The oracles of Delphi given by the Pythia or priestess of Apollo were especially significant, as were also the utterances ascribed to the legendary sibyls, the Sibyl of Erythrae in Asia Minor and the Sibyl of Cumae near Naples being the most famous. Collections of such oracles were made and were consulted in times of crisis under the direction of expert diviners. The Sibylline Books mentioned by Vergil and othersnot to be identified with the extant work of the same nameconstituted such a collection.

Artificial, or Inductive, Divination. This kind of divination, which assumes a number of different forms, is based primarily on the observation and interpretation of certain actions of men, animals, or other living beings, and on human contacts with or employment of certain inanimate objects. The following list is not exhaustive, but includes the more significant and characteristic types. In some instances the term alone is sufficient, as it is self-explanatory.

Ornithomancy. Divination based on the flight, cries, and eating of various species of birds, and especially on deviations from the habitual in such cases, was a very important and influential type. Among the Romans, it was made an official part of the state religion. The College of Augurs was one of the oldest and most significant of Roman religious institutions. No public act was undertaken without consulting the auspices. Besides ornithomancy, there are methods of divination based also on the actions of fish, reptiles, and bees.

Cledonomancy. Divination by observation of human signs, actions, or utterances, is also a very significant type. Special importance was attached to sneezing, twitching of the hands or other members, and chance utterances or exclamations. The utterances of children, quite unconscious of deeper implications of what they said, were solemnly interpreted. Chiromancy or palmistry may be included under this general class of signs or omens.

Extispicy. Divination based on the examination of the entrails of animals was a widespread type, familiar through the liver divination (hepatoscopy) borrowed by the Romans from the Etruscans, who brought it to Italy from the Orient. It was a common form of divination in ancient Mesopotamia. Frequent animal sacrifices made this type of divination easily possible and at the same time led to its elaboration. The Romans always regarded the Etruscans as experts in hepatoscopy.

Pyromancy, or Empyromancy. This is divination based on the observation of the actions of wood, bone, eggs, flour, or incense when thrown on a sacrificial fire, or less formally, on any fire, and also on the shape of the flame, curling of the smoke, and similar phenomena. Omoplatoscopy or scapulimancy involved the observation and interpretation of changes in color, especially in the white shoulder blade of a sheep or other animal when placed above a fire.

Hydromancy. This is divination by water. The actions of springs and fountains were observed as offerings were thrown into them. If the offerings did not sink, this was regarded as a very bad sign. Hydromancy was more commonly practiced with a dish or a basin (lecanomancy) in which the actions of globules of oil or the eddies produced by dropping a pebble in the water were carefully observed. Catoptromancy, or mirror divination, is closely related. It was often used as a substitute for hydromancy. It was employed also, especially with the accompaniment of magic formulas, in necromancy.

Cleromancy. Divination by lots has a very wide distribution and assumes many forms. In addition to the casting of dice, one finds astragalomancy (divination with knuckle bones), axinomancy (observation of vibrations of an ax hurled into a post), sphondulomancy (divination by spindles), rhabdomancy (divination by rods or arrows), divination by oscillation of a suspended ring, rotation of a ball or sphere, and similar means. Geomancy can be included here also. It is a form of divination mentioned in antiquity, but especially common among the Arabs and medieval Latin writers under Arabic influence, in which points were marked off and lines or figures drawn, originally in sand, which were then interpreted according to definite rules. The drawing of lots inscribed with letters or formulas was very common, as was also the related practice of placing one's finger at random at a verse in Homer or Vergil (rhapsodomancy), and applying its apparent message to the question at issue (see sortes homericae, vergilianae, biblicae).

Meteorological Divination. This was concerned with the interpretation of lightning flashes and strokes, shooting stars, meteorites, and earthquakes, as also with monstrous human or animal births, all these phenomena being regarded as portents of evil or major change, especially in the state.

Astrology. Mathematical divination as applied to the planets and the stars and their supposed influence on the lives of men had been developed in the Near East and spread throughout the Greco-Roman world with further elaboration after the conquests of Alexander the Great. Because of its special character and importance, it is treated in separate articles (see astrology; horo scopes).

In Judaism. The religion of Yahweh could not countenance divination. Hence throughout the OT there are stern prohibitions against it and denunciations of it as an evil (cf., Dt 18.914; Lv 19.26; Is 44.25; Jer 14.14;27.8; Ez 13.6, 9, 23). The whole Biblical milieu, however, from Egypt to Babylonia practiced divination in numerous and elaborate forms, and the prophets, especially, found it necessary to fulminate against it not only among the masses but also at the courts of the kings of Juda and Israel. The lots involved in the mysterious urim and thummim were always regarded as being permitted by and under the control of Yahweh. Postbiblical Judaism did not look with favor on divination, at least in strictly orthodox circles. Biblical sanction was claimed for divination from the cup, as it is called, and also for the rare and solemn divination by the sacred name of Yahweh. In cabalistic and popular Judaism under the influence of non-Jewish environment, however, certain forms of divination were practiced that were not originally or characteristically Jewish in any way.

Christianity and Divination. Like Judaism, Christianity could not tolerate divination, yet in its mission to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews it found itself in a world steeped in all phases of polytheism, divination, and other forms of superstition. Hence from the time of the New Testament on, the Church had to combat divination in public and private life, in both of which divination was inextricably connected with every kind of activity. The Fathers of the Church found it necessary to attack divination in all its forms and to warn converts against slipping into their old ways, especially in times of crisis. The opposition ranges from the learned expositions of Clement of Alexandria and St. Augustine to popular sermons. Pagan emperors had repeatedly condemned many aspects of divination that they regarded as dangerous to the state. But, beginning with Constantine the Great, Christian emperors were much more severe, and Theodosius the Great, at the end of the 4th century, forbade divination and attached heavy penalties to its practice. Certain Greco-Roman practices, as well as Celtic and Germanic ones, were eradicated slowly only by persistent ecclesiastical legislation and preaching; and a few Christian usages, adopted under pagan influence, such as the biblical sortes, lasted until very recently, despite ecclesiastical prohibition. A Christianized form of astrology had a vogue even as late as the Renaissance, but disappeared with the rise of modern astronomy.

In Islam and Other Living Religions. Ibn Khaldun (a.d. 13321406) listed the forms of divination employed in Islam, the most important being geomancy and gematria. Islam, however, shows considerable diversity in divination, owing to the influences of the institutions of peoples converted to Islam or to the general environment of the Islamic groups. Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions of the Middle and Far East give an important place to divination. With these religions, however, much more than in the case of Islam, there is an intimate connection between divination in its various forms and astrology. Finally, divination is found among the existing primitive cultures, but its range is limited, and, ordinarily, magic plays the dominant role.

See Also: delphi, oracle of; magic; sibylline oracles.

Bibliography: a. s. pease, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. m. cary et al. (Oxford 1949) 292293, with good bibliog. p. courcelle, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, ed. t. klauser (Stuttgart 1941 [1950]) 3:123551, an excellent article, with copious bibliog. r. brouillard and h. cazelles, Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet (Paris 1947 ) 3:905910, with bibliog. h. j. rose et al., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings, 13 v. (Edinburgh 190827) 4:775830, a series of articles giving worldwide coverage. t. hopfner, "Mantike," Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. (Stuttgart 1893 ) 14.1 (1928) 125888. a. bouchÉ-leclercq, c. daremberg, and e. saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquités grecques et romaines d'après les textes et les monuments, 5 v. in 9 (Paris 18771919; repr. Graz 196263) 2.1:292319, old, but excellent. t. ortalan, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951 ) 4.2:144155, with bibliog. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 176177. j. p. hyatt, "Magic, Divination, and Sorcery," Dictionary of the Bible, j. hastings and j. a. selbia, eds., 5 v. (Edinburgh 1963) 607611. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15v. (Paris 190753) 4.1:11981212. r. la roche, La Divination: Avec un supplément sur la superstition en Afrique Centrale (Washington 1957).

[m. r. p. mcguire]


views updated May 14 2018

Divination. The art or skill of divining (sc., by use of ‘divinity’ or deity) that which is unknown—e.g. the future, the identity of culprits, lost items, the best partner for marriage, etc. Divination may be entirely divorced from the gods, and usually is undertaken by recognized and designated specialists who use mechanical means or manipulative techniques. J. Collins (Primitive Religion, 1978) attempted a classification of ten methods: (i) by dreams; (ii) by presentiments; (iii) by body actions; (iv) by ordeals; (v) by possession; (vi) by necromancy; (vii) by animals or parts of dead animals; (viii) by mechanical means, using objects; (ix) by patterns in nature; and (x) by observing other patterns, e.g. that death always comes in threes.


views updated May 23 2018

div·i·na·tion / ˌdivəˈnāshən/ • n. the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means.DERIVATIVES: di·vin·a·to·ry / diˈvinəˌtôrē/ adj.


views updated Jun 08 2018

divination Foretelling the future by interpreting various signs. Divination is a form of magic with worldwide distribution. Omens are often thought to be found in cards, palms, or the entrails of sacrificed animals.


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This entry consists of the following articles:

an overview
greek and roman divination


views updated Jun 11 2018

divination Divination is an act which tries to foretell the future or discover the origin of a situation—usually of a calamity or illness. It does this through the consultation of an oracle or deity by a religious specialist, the diviner.

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