The Art of Divination

It came to my mind to speak briefly on the subject of divination. I personally have nothing against divination when used as a personal tool, to tap in the memory of the soul and for your own personal knowledge of your path by the use of imagination. For such purposes and with this in mind, I have often engaged in various form of divination as tools for self enlightenment…everything from scrying (both with water and with fire), to divining with dice, cards, reading of coffee grounds in a cup etc. I am currently interested in learning more about the Etruscan divination arts (as a nodd to my ancestors) for which they were acclaimed (and such arts also practiced by Hellenes): Ornithomancy (divination by signs of birds), and haruspicy. Of these two I have more personal experience with ornithomancy as I have always been directed  by signs of birds, as well as movement tree branches, of clouds and weather as a child.

But as engaging as these things are, I don’t put a lot of emphasis on metaphysical connections with divination as others do. In fact evidence seems to show that divination was a common enough skill that didn’t require any kind of metaphysical “specialness”. This has been concluded by me from reading instances where parents are eager to get their daughter’s married off so that they don’t end up being diviners. This suggests that divination was seen in a more pratical light as a set of skills that can be developed rather than any kind of especial talent. These skills allow the diviner to interpret things are a more indepth level that the layman may be able to. Of course some natural appitude, like with any career, helps….and therefore it is reasonable that a person with an interest and apptitude for divination (perhaps being more geared towards imaginatively associating symbols with ideas rather than being a more literal individual) would take to it quickly, but doens’t make anyone superior…though being “inspired” can give someone an edge I imagine. I would place nearly all forms of divination under this category of pratical divination: scrying, cards, dice, haruspicy, orithnomancy, “reading” tea-leave/coffee grounds, reading palms, dream interpretation etc etc (**note: not all of these are considered methods of divination in ancient Hellas, I am just giving examples off the top of my head here). It requires a study of symbols that manifest under divine providence in nature rather than special ability.

Now from here is where we deviate from pratical divination into more inspired forms of “seeing” such as the case with oracles and seers. These are folks who may not be as “educated” in their art as those who study pratical divination above. Socrates (via Plato) makes a comment essentially about how poets and oracles, both working under divine inspiration, don’t always understand what they are revealing. As a poet I have found this frustrating myself when someone asks me what a certain line means and I can’t quite pin it down. As I said above, pratical diviners may include some element of inspiration in what they do, and which may give them an edge, but the kind of divination which entirely relies on this ability is of more dubious nature and occurs less frequently in the ancient world. As much as people like to talk about oracles and pythias, in reality these positions weren’t quite so numerous. And because it works off of an entirely inspired standpoint it can also be suspect as an adequate form of “seeing”, and posing as an oracle is a form of “seeing” that I am considerably more leary of than I am of practical divination mixed with inspired seeing.

In any case, regardless of the form of divination, unless one is peforming a divination for oneself drawing from the memory of the soul and personal inspiration from that, all forms of divination should be treated with a certain amount of skepticism and caution. It is important to remember that there are no community oracles or community endorsed seers of the level that held prestige in ancient times (and if we take Aristophanes for any evidence even those were viewed with some disdain as people who claim inspiration by telling people what they think they want to hear in order to earn their living). Therefore whereas divination cannot be completely disassociated from Hellenismos, it needs to be treated with a clear and level mind.


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