Divination is only a small part of a witch’s stock in trade, and although a basic introduction to the subject can be learned from books, proficiency will only come through vigorous practice. This proficiency comes through the discovery of certain secret matters by a great variety of means, correspondences, signs and occult techniques. Before a witch can perform any of these operations with any degree of success, we need to develop the ‘art of seeing’ and the ability to divine with rod, fingers and birds. Divination is what could be referred to as the practical element of Craft magic, and we don’t even have to be witches to be able to read the portents. But it helps! A companion volume to Pagan Portals: By Spellbook & Candle and Pagan Portals: By Wolfsbane & Mandrake Root, from popular Moon Books author Melusine Draco.
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About the Author
Mélusine Draco originally trained in the magical arts of traditional British Old Craft with Bob and Mériém Clay-Egerton. She has been a magical and spiritual instructor for over 20 years with Arcanum and the Temple of Khem, and writer of numerous popular books. She now lives in Ireland near the Galtee Mountains.
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The Practical Approach
It was Robert Cochrane who originally coined those now famous words:
If one who claims to be a Witch can perform the tasks of Witchcraft, i.e. summon the spirits and they come, can divine with rod, fingers and birds. If they can also claim the right to the omens and have them; have the power to call, heal and curse and above all, can tell the maze and cross the Lethe, then you have a witch.
Divination is what I would refer to as the practical element of Craft magic, and we don't even have to be witches to be able to read the portents. But it helps!
Looking into the future is a very ancient practice. As we saw in the chapter: Developing the 'Art of Seeing', in Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living, thousands of recorded British customs and superstitions all have their roots in fortune-telling spells and charms, and they are as fashionable today as they were way back when. In fact, it's been said that divination was as commonplace in the past as satellite communication is today: it was part of everyday life for everyone from king to commoner. It utilised all manner of techniques and methods from a simple nut placed on the fire grate to the complicated reading of the Roman auspices.
For example a few of these techniques include:
Aeromancy: Divination using the formation of clouds and other patterns in the skies.
Botanomancy: Divination through plant life; may include the burning of plants and foretelling future events through the ashes or smoke.
Crystallomancy: An ancient form of casting lots using small stones. Or crystalomancy: Divination by studying a crystal ball.
Daphnomancy: Using the smoke of burning branches of the laurel tree to answer questions and forecast upcoming events.
Enoptromancy: An ancient method using a shiny surface placed in water.
Felidomancy: Divination through the observation of felines, including domestic and wild cats.
Geomancy: An ancient system interpreting the patterns and shapes or events found in nature.
Halomancy: Foretelling by interpreting the formation of the crystals when salt is poured to the ground.
Ichthyomancy: Observing the behaviour of fish both in and out of the water.
Jungism: The understanding of mythic symbolism as it relates to the human subconscious.
Kephalonomancy: Ancient method of pouring lighted carbon on the skull of a goat or donkey to determine guilt or innocence.
Lampadomancy: Divination through the observation of flames from a candle or flaming torch.
Metopomancy: Divination and character analysis by studying the lines on a person's forehead.
Necromancy: Contacting the spirits of the dead to interpret omens and forecast future events.
Oinomancy: An ancient Roman practice of interpretation through the study and evaluation of the colour, consistency and taste of wine.
Psephomancy: Divination by selecting at random, small stones from a pile.
Qabbala: A blend of powerful divinely-inspired divination and mysticism.
Rune Stones: A series of mystic symbols thrown or selected to determine the future.
Scrying: Divination by interpreting the play of light on a shiny object or surface.
Tephramancy: Interpreting the ashes of a combustible object.
Uromancy: Divination using urine.
Visualisation: A controlled level of consciousness during which the seeker can divine answers to questions.
Wort-Lore: The understanding of the appropriate herbs to use to aid divination.
Xylomancy: Using the arrangement of dried sticks to predict the future.
Ying-Yang: Describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may interrelate to one another and influence future events.
Zoanthropy: Divination by observing and interpreting the flames of three lighted candles placed in a triangular position.
A deep-rooted belief in divination has existed throughout the ages, among both the uncivilized and the most civilized of cultures, as the desire to know the future continually gave rise to some weird and wonderful ways of peering into it. The Egyptians used dreams (i.e. temple sleep) to divine the will of the gods; the Druids used many different forms of divination, as did the Hebrews. Although augury was first implemented by the Chaldeans, the Greeks became addicted to it; and among the Romans no important action of State was undertaken without the advice of the augers and their pre-occupation with raw liver!
Pliny the Elder attributed the invention of augury to Tiresias the seer of Thebes, and this type of omen-reading was already one millennium old in the time of Classical Greece; the fourteenth-century BCE diplomatic correspondence preserved in Egypt called the 'Amarna correspondence' reveals that the practice was familiar to the king of Alasia in Cyprus who needed an 'eagle diviner' to be sent from Egypt. This earlier, indigenous practice of divining by bird signs, familiar in the figure of Calchas, the bird-diviner to Agamemnon (Homer, Iliad, I.69), was largely replaced by divination through inspection of the sacrificial victim's entrails – haruspices – during early days of archaic Greek culture. Plato notes that hepatoscopy ('liver-gazing') held greater prestige than augury by means of birds.
Both oracles and seers in ancient Greece practiced divination. Oracles were the conduits for the gods on earth; their prophecies were understood to be the will of the gods verbatim and usually communicated to rulers and prominent persons. Seers were interpreters of signs provided by the gods via natural signs and were more numerous than the oracles being highly valued by all Greeks, not just those with the wherewithal to travel to Delphi or other such sites, where pythiai perched on stools, inhaling noxious fumes. As it does today, the ancient Greeks made use of various techniques of divinatory practice: either direct or indirect, and, either spontaneous, or artificial.
Direct divination is where and when a seeker might experience divination by way of dreaming and dreams or by way of a temporary experience of madness, or phrensy (frenzy), all of these conditions being a state from which an inspired recognition of truth is attained. A necessary condition is that the seeker has made an effort to produce a mental or physical state which encourages a flash of insight. These historically attested efforts included sleeping in conditions whereby dreams might be more likely to occur, inhaling certain vapours, the chewing of leaves, drinking of blood, etc.
Under these conditions the seeker may gain the power of prophecy, albeit temporary, that was associated with caves and grottoes within Greek divination, and the nymphs and Pan who were associated with caves often bestowed the gift of prophesy. Pan was able to dwell within people, a condition known as panolepsy that causes inspirational abilities relating to divination or prophecy. A degree of possession of an individual by a nymph is known as nympholepsy, meaning 'caught by nymphs' ... a term we would use today as someone 'being fairy led'.
Indirect divination whereby a seeker observes natural conditions and phenomenon such as 'sortilege', and chance encounters with the animal kingdom. This consists of the casting of lots, or sortes, whether with sticks, stones, bones, beans, coins, or some other item and often interpreted by a third party. Modern playing cards and board games are believed to have been developed from this type of divination, whereby dice or counters are cast in order to predict the future.
But not all divinatory methods were well received. As early as 692. the Quinisext Council, also known as the 'Council in Trullo' in the Eastern Orthodox Church, passed canons to eliminate paganism and the practice of divination, but it continued to be popular well into the Middle Ages despite being frequently banned by the Church. In fact the seven artes magicae or artes prohibitae, i.e. those methods of divination prohibited by canon law (as expounded by Johannes Hartlieb in 1456), were:
It has been suggested that the division between the four 'elemental' disciplines (i.e. geomancy (Earth), hydromancy (Water), aeromancy (Air) and pyromancy (Fire) appears to be a contrivance of the time, but traditional forms such as chiromancy was the divination from a subject's palms as practised by the Romany (at the time recently arrived in Europe), and scapulimancy, the divination from animal bones, in particular shoulder blades as practised in peasant superstition. By contrast, nigromancy came from scholarly 'high magic' derived from High Medieval grimoires such as the Picatrix or the Liber Rasielis and was classed as 'black magic' and demonology, by the vernacular etymology, from necromancy.
In the constitution of 1572 and public regulations of 1661 of Kur-Saxony, capital punishment was used on those predicting the future and laws forbidding divinatory practice continue to this day in some parts of the world. Nevertheless, the belief in 'fortune-telling' continued to be looked upon as a popular pastime for finding a husband or predicting a favourable outcome with regards to health, wealth and happiness. Even the popular Victorian compilations of superstitions were given a Christian spin to weed out anything that wasn't considered 'nice' or smacked too much of paganism, but the Folklore Society's extensive archive enables serious researchers to trace these old divinatory practices back to their roots.
Divination, however, is only a small part of a witch's stock in trade and although a very basic introduction to the subject can be learned from books, proficiency will only come through vigorous practice. This proficiency comes through the discovery of certain secret matters by a great variety of means – correspondences, signs and occult techniques – and before a witch can perform any of these operations with any degree of success, we need to develop the 'art of seeing' and the ability to 'divine with rod, fingers and birds'. Adrien, one of our Coven of the Scales students reported his breakthrough by observing:
Animals have much to teach us. If we observe them, they can give us a lot of information. One simple example is in the London Underground. We see many mice. They often run on the tracks but as soon as a train approaches, they run away, way before we can even hear the train. They warn us of the train's arrival. We can also learn how to read omens with animals. I am not going to pretend at this point that I am able to, but I really understand that all this is interconnected like a huge spider web and anything on one side, affects something on the other side of the web. I believe animals are completely in tune with that. Animals in our environment help us stay connected to the web of life. They remind me of the side of me I am continuously forced to forget in a busy city.
Very early in his studies, this student had grasped the fact that the animal world helps us to connect to this new level of being, particularly through birds, which have long been recognised as an effective means of divination. Now that he understood the principles behind the phenomena, he began to find that he was beginning to 'see' more. How many people, for instance, will even notice the mice on the Underground ... but he'd watched them and interpreted their behaviour. How they would always disappear long before the rumble of the train was discernable to human awareness. Once we get into the habit of watching the animal world, we will always have something around us to warn when that 'train' is coming!
The most remarkable thing about divination, of course, is its continued success. And a large number of people who turn to professional readers are impressed by the amazing details 'coming through' from their past – but this isn't what divination is about. In his interview, Cold Reading: Confessions of a 'Psychic', Colin Hunter explained that 'cold reading' is a set of techniques used by mentalists, psychics, fortunetellers, mediums and illusionists to imply that the reader knows much more about the person than the reader actually does. There are dozens of books on the subject that reveal how, without prior knowledge, a practised cold-reader can quickly obtain a great deal of information by analyzing the person's body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc. Cold readings commonly employ high-probability guesses, quickly picking up on signals as to whether their guesses are in the right direction or not, then emphasizing and reinforcing chance connections and quickly moving on from missed guesses. Even the police and military use the technique during interrogation sessions.
The witch, however, is not so much concerned with the past as with the present and more particularly the future. Of course, our past actions affect the way we view the future but if we ignore the warnings that divination brings concerning the present, we will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. We must also remember that regardless of whatever method is used to predict the future; those results are not cast in stone! Divination reveals the future as relating to the past and the present, and what will happen if the warnings are not heeded in order to change things before they go wrong. The answer is also subjective to where an individual is standing at the precise moment in time when they pose the question. We're back to the saying: 'You can't change anything but yourself, but in changing yourself, everything changes around you.' So if you don't like what the results of the reading is telling you ... do something about it before it's too late!
As witches we are responsible for our own destiny and a proficiency in our own chosen system of divining gives us a powerful advantage. Experienced practitioners usually prefer to use a single form of divination, and while some methods may prove to be more efficient than others, and some diviners may be more accurate than their fellows, it is traditionally part of a witch's natural ability to be able to divine by 'rod, fingers and birds', as the saying goes. After years of practice with any particular system, we find that we can interpret the signs without even having to think about it – it's like receiving a message from an old friend.
The results we get from our endeavours are signs of opportunities to be taken, dangers to be avoided or impending news of change. Here the witch also interacts with Nature to keep close watch on any unusual activities or occurrences that might have any effect on themselves, or those close to them. This is another reason why it is essential for even the most urban of witches to be well versed in natural lore as well as magical lore. It pays to understand the local wildlife, otherwise we might not see that unusual 'something' in an animal's or bird's normal behaviour patterns.
Our native flora and fauna are linked to our magical subconscious and, if we have required any form of divinatory methods to guide us through the subsequent stages of our love life or career, we must be receptive to those responses. For those with a working understanding in the language of magical correspondences, it is easy to grasp how natural the reading of the symbols becomes, and how easy and obvious (in most instances) is the interpretation. For the beginner, however, accept that the answers are not going to appear suddenly in chapter and verse in a book on fortune telling. Divination is more subtle and, more often than not for the inexperienced, irritatingly obtuse!
Reading for others is a common moral and ethical dilemma that is often raised on internet sites and personally I always refuse point blank to indulge in the practice. That has not always been the case. There used to be an unwritten ethic whereby a reader seeing something really nasty in the future was duty bound not to reveal what they had seen lurking in the woodshed. And in the words of that old Leonard Cohen song ... 'I've seen the future, brother, it is murder!' I decided it was unreasonable for me to carry the burden of knowledge for strangers and waiting for the other boot to drop, and that has remained my personal code to the present day ... so don't ask.
If you do wish to read for others then remember not to use your own 'tools' for outsiders' readings as these will become contaminated through use. Keep your own private equipment under lock and key and have a completely different set for public readings – even this should be ritually cleansed after use as each reading will leave a psychic residue behind and contaminate the next person's reading.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Pagan Portals Divination: By Rod, Fingers & Birds"
Copyright © 2017 Mélusine Draco.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Practical Approach 1
Chapter 2 Divination by Rod 13
Chapter 3 Divination by Fingers 30
Chapter 4 Divination by Birds 46
Chapter 5 The World of Wyrd 66
About the Author 82