Divination refers to the practice of ascertaining the cause of events, or of determining hidden or latent significance of certain events, normally through the help or guidance of some alleged supernatural agency or spirit. The practice sometimes also involves foretelling the future or making predictions about future events and thus bears a link with the practice or the phenomenon of fortune-telling.
Through the ages and across civilizations, both ancient and modern, we find that divination has been practiced in many forms and using a wide variety of techniques, methods or oracles. In contemporary society, some of the most popular divination mediums or oracles include tarot cards, divination astrology, horoscope, crystal gazing and the Ouija board.
Many noted anthropologists have carried out important research on divination practices prevalent in a wide variety of cultures as well as, on a broader level, on the particular worldviews that inspired belief and confidence in divination. Many African tribes, for example, even today use spiders and crabs for purposes of divination. The use of the Book of I Ching (related primarily to numerology) in ancient as well as modern China or the use of Runes in Norse mythology are some of the well-known examples.
Spirit of Divination
But why do people believe in divination? In classical cultures (especially in ancient Roman culture), it was believed that divination is related with the will of the gods. In fact, the term divination originates from the Latin ‘divere’ which means ‘to foresee’ but also, and more significantly, ‘to be inspired by the gods’. And this religious context cannot be separated from practices of divination, not even today.
It is true that not people of all cultures necessarily believed clues or intimations revealed by divination are manifestations of the wills of god. For cultures that did not put much in store concerning ideas of a godly providence or that did not subscribe to fatalistic views of human condition, had different ways of looking at divinatory revelations. All the same, most people, both ancient and modern, were and are of the opinion that, if not god or gods themselves, some higher spirits or agencies (call it supernatural, paranormal, or what you will) are in play during the performance of divination.
Divination Cards and Divination Tarot
The practice of using cards as oracles of divination goes back a long period. For example, many believe that tarot cards and its imageries had originated in ancient Egypt. In fact, for a time, it was thought that tarot imageries were closely related with the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Then there are others who trace back the origins of tarot to ancient Chinese or Indian civilizations.
However it may be, this we know for a fact that cards have been used for a long time for purposes of divination and fortune-telling. Various tribes of Roma or Gypsy fortune tellers, for example, used cards as their chief means for foretelling the future or for making predictions about the fate of a person.
The History of Divination
In Europe, however, card-reading or cartomancy is thought to have arrived no earlier than in the 14th century and during the first few centuries since then, regular playing card decks were used for divination. However, from around 18th century, different card decks with their elaborate sets of imageries, designed especially for purposes of divination, started to appear from different parts of the continent. These decks quickly gained in popularity and diviners came to prefer them to regular playing card decks. Some of the most popular of these decks today include Tarot cards, Kipper cards, Oracle cards and Lenormand.
Different card-readers or cartomancers have particular preferences as to the decks they use, although some of them also offer readings using a number of different decks. For all that, however, Tarot has come to be the most popular means when divination through card-reading is concerned.
One of the reasons for this may be that Tarot decks (consisting of 72 cards divided into two separate sections: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana) come with considerably complex imageries and archetypes. From a psychic’s perspective, this makes it easier for him or her to tap into the collective consciousness and the universal wisdom. In other words, tarot cards help their intuitive and psychic abilities to collect information from spirits more effectively when compared to other card decks like the Lenormand Cards. Whether or not this is the case, it is almost impossible to ascertain (given the nature of the divinatory processes), but this is what is believed by Tarot adherents.
Divination and Fortune Telling
Divination is never synonymous with fortune-telling although it is a fact that that both phenomena share a close link with each other. Historically speaking, the practice or art of fortune-telling was a highly prized and popular one both among the populace and among people of the high offices. Kings and monarchs, for example, often demonstrated an eager interest in the art of fortune-telling and in the ability of certain psychics to make near accurate predictions about the future. Examples abound. In recent times, Madame le Normand (whose name was borrowed during the creation of the Lenormand card deck, although the deck itself had little to do with Madame Normand’s methods of divination), to cite but one instance, enjoyed high popularity in the court of Napoleon and especially with the Emperor Josephine.
Generally speaking, though, today the art of fortune-telling commands much less respect compared to practices of divination. In fact, many fortune-tellers are even branded as charlatans by people from certain quarters. That said, one marked difference between fortune-telling and divination is that the latter is normally performed within a religious context.
Although in divination, the concerns expressed by the subject are usually mundane ones (practical and everyday problems, a lost object, an illness, some worrisome portent, etc.), the manner in which information is gleaned in divination claims to transcend the mundane. As such, a divination session is always attended by the seeker or the subject with an attitude of respect that is often colored by an intrinsic religiosity. The same, however, cannot be claimed for the fortune-tellers. In addition, although the concerns expressed both to a diviner and a fortune-teller may sometimes coincide, people today normally approach a fortune-teller with more commonplace and mundane concerns and questions such as the ones related to money, love or career.