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Divination (from Latin divinare “to be inspired by a god”, related to divine, diva and deus) is the attempt of ascertaining information by interpretation of omens or an alleged supernatural agency[2], either by or on behalf of a querent.

If a distinction is to be made between divination and fortune-telling, divination has a formal or ritual and often social character, usually in a religious context; while fortune-telling is a more everyday practice for personal purposes. Divination is often dismissed by skeptics, including the scientific community, as being mere superstition: in the 2nd century, Lucian devoted a witty essay to the career of a charlatan, Alexander the false prophet, trained by “one of those who advertise enchantments, miraculous incantations, charms for your love-affairs, visitations for your enemies, disclosures of buried treasure, and successions to estates”[3], though most Romans believed in dreams and charms. It is considered a sin in most Christian denominations and Judaism.


Psychologist Julian Jaynes categorized divination according to the following four types:

  • Omens and omen texts. “The most primitive, clumsy, but enduring method…is the simple recording of sequences of unusual or important events.” (1976:236) Chinese history offers scrupulously documented occurrences of strange births, the tracking of natural phenomena, and other data. Chinese governmental planning relied on this method of forecasting for long-range strategy. It is not unreasonable to assume that modern scientific inquiry began with this kind of divination; Joseph Needham’s work considered this very idea.
  • Sortilege (cleromancy). This consists of the casting of lots, or sortes, whether with sticks, stones, bones, beans, coins, or some other item. Modern playing cards and board games developed from this type of divination.
  • Augury. Divination that ranks a set of given possibilities. It can be qualitative (such as shapes, proximities, etc.): for example, dowsing (a form of rhabdomancy) developed from this type of divination. The Romans in classical times used Etruscan methods of augury such as hepatoscopy (actually a form of extispicy). Haruspices examined the livers of sacrificed animals.
  • Spontaneous. An unconstrained form of divination, free from any particular medium, and actually a generalization of all types of divination. The answer comes from whatever object the diviner happens to see or hear. Some religions use a form of bibliomancy: they ask a question, riffle the pages of their holy book, and take as their answer the first passage their eyes light upon. Other forms of spontaneous divination include reading auras and New Age methods of Feng Shui such as “intuitive” and Fuzion.

Common Methods

  • astrology: by celestial bodies.
  • augury: by the flight of birds.
  • bibliomancy: by books (frequently, but not always, religious texts).
  • cartomancy: by cards.
  • cheiromancy/palmistry: by palms.
  • chronomancy: about time, lucky/unlucky days.
  • cybermancy: by computers.
  • gastromancy: by crystal ball.
  • hydromancy: by water.
  • extispicy: by the entrails of animals.
  • feng shui: by earthen harmony.
  • I Ching divination: by the I Ching; a form of bibliomancy.
  • numerology: by numbers.
  • oneiromancy: by dreams.
  • onomancy: by names.
  • Ouija: board divination.
  • rhabdomancy: divination by rods
  • runecasting/Runic divination: by runes.
  • scrying: by reflective objects.
  • taromancy: a form of cartomancy using tarot cards.
  • necromancy: by the dead, or spirits/souls of the dead/recently dead
  • pyromancy: by fire.


  1. Spider
  2. Definition of divination
  3. Lucian of Samosata : Alexander the False Prophet

Further Reading


  • Robert Todd Carroll (2003). The Skeptic’s Dictionary. Wiley.
  • Lon Milo Duquette (2005). The Book of Ordinary Oracles. Weiser Books.
  • Clifford A. Pickover (2001). Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction. Prometheus.
  • Eva Shaw (1995). Divining the Future. Facts on File.
  • The Diagram Group (1999). The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Fortune Telling. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Paul O’Brien (2007). Divination: Sacred Tools for Reading the Mind of God. Visionary Networks Press


  • D. Engels, Das römische Vorzeichenwesen (753-27 v.Chr.). Quellen, Terminologie, Kommentar, historische Entwicklung, Stuttgart 2007 (Franz Steiner-Verlag)
  • E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, oracles, and magic among the Azande (1976)
  • Toufic Fahd, La divination arabe; études religieuses, sociologiques et folkloriques sur le milieu natif d’Islam (1966)
  • Philip K. Hitti. Makers of Arab History. Princeton, New Jersey. St. Martin’s Press. 1968. Pg 61.
  • Michael Loewe and Carmen Blacke, eds. Oracles and divination (Shambhala/Random House, 1981) ISBN 0-87773-214-0
  • W. Montgomery Watt. Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman. Edinburgh, Scotland. Oxford Press, 1961. Pgs 1-2.
  • J. P. Vernant, Divination et rationalité (1974)

External links