The Art of Divination: Part 1

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When it comes to fortune telling, you may fall into one or more of the following categories:

  1. It isn’t real, but it IS a fun thing to do when you’ve got twenty minutes and twenty bucks to spare at a weekend Renaissance Festival. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. Lighten up and have fun with it.
  2. It is ridiculous. Why anyone would give a single red cent to quacks who should get a REAL job is beyond me.
  3. I have a deep respect for those who practice divination, but I don’t practice myself. I don’t get readings often, but when I do, I take them seriously.
  4. I have a specific reader that I go to at least once a month.
  5. I practice a form of divination.
  6. I don’t give a crap either way. Do what you want. Why am I even reading this?

Regardless of where you stand, I am not here to change your minds or convince you one way or the other which group is correct. My goal today is to touch on some of the more popular forms of divination, give brief overviews (I’ll be more detailed about each in the future), and hopefully help guide some of you towards which you’d be interested in learning more about.


The history of palmistry is somewhat vague, but the general agreement is that it originated in India and spread to China and Greece. The practice did die out during the Middle Ages after the Catholic church called it pagan and outlawed it. Palmistry is also counted as one of the seven forbidden arts in Renaissance Magic. It found a resurgence in the 19th century, and while it is considered a pseudoscience, there are many who find the practice to be enlightening and enjoyable.

The theory behind palmistry essentially boils down to the belief that our hands, being unique to the individual, take their shapes for a specific reason. Palm-readers or chirologists study the lines, mounts, sizes, shapes, and in some cases the fingernails, color, and texture to get a ‘reading.’ Readings vary depending on the school of thought a reader ascribes to (there are several techniques). A hand may tell a reader about a person’s character, their potential, what the future may hold for them, their past lives, etc. Therefore, it is possible to have various readings in the same day and learn different information from each.

My personal belief is that the dominant hand shows what is while the non-dominant hand shows what could be. However, the general rule of thumb is that the dominant hand shows what you are born with while the non-dominant hand shows what you’ve gained throughout your life.

Tarot Cards

Tarot began as a card game in Italy sometime around the 1500s. It wasn’t until the eighteenth century that tarot cards became popularized as divinatory tools. Jean-Baptiste Alliette was a French occultist who went by the pseudonym Etteilla, and he designed one of the first decks to be used specifically for mysticism and readings.

The tarot is broken into the major and minor arcana. The major arcana consists of twenty-two cards, each reflecting major life events or lessons to be learned. The minor arcana is made up of fifty-six cards divided into four suits (14 cards each): swords, cups, wands, and pentacles. Each suit has ten numbered cards and four court cards, and the suits all represent specific aspects of a person’s life such as emotions, finances, action, and intellect.

The way it works is that a person will ask a question and a reader (or the person themselves) will deal out a spread (more on this in a future post) and interpret the cards in order to come up with an answer. There are many types of spreads that range from beginner to advanced. Some people may draw only a single card a day to let it be their guide while others may engage in a complex multi-card spread.

For those beginning their tarot journey, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is recommended for its ease of use and guided interpretations.

The main critique of tarot readings (aside from it being a pseudoscience) is that within a short amount of time, a person will draw a different spread or card, thus cancelling out the truth of the previous reading. Tarot readers argue that this is because most questions typically have more than one answer, and the cards are meant to act as a guide. They show what could be, not what will be.

It is recommended that if you choose to practice tarot, you bond with your deck (sleep with it under your pillow, meditate with it, etc). There are practitioners who would say your first set must be given to you, not purchased, but there are many readers who don’t believe this.

Oracle Cards:
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A lot of people typically ask what the difference is between oracle cards and tarot cards. It comes down to structure. Tarot cards, with slight variations, typically will have the same set of cards, major and minor arcana, with the same suits and court cards. The rules are also more defined in tarot.

Oracle cards can have any number of cards in the deck and are generally considered easier to read. The biggest difference is that oracle decks are considered to be sweeping or grand in scale. They answer big questions whereas tarot offers the details. As for which is better to use, that depends on the individual. There are people who swear by tarot while others prefer oracle cards. Then there are people who will incorporate both into their readings.

Like with tarot cards, it is recommended you bond with your deck.


Runes represent the writings of early Germanic languages, and while the predominant form of communicating via the written word was eventually replaced by the Latin alphabet, runes remained an important part of the culture and therefore were never forgotten. While there is historical evidence that suggests rune magic was practiced and believed centuries ago, reading runes for divinatory purposes is considered quite modern.

The belief is that each rune conveys a specific message. Like with Tarot and Oracle cards, however, when they are used for fortune-telling, they are meant to serve more as a guide. There are some who would argue you should only ask questions pertaining to specific issues when using runes, though others would say it’s perfectly acceptable to ask broader questions.

The most common rune sets come with the Elder Futhark alphabet engraved on them. They may be made of any material, but stone seems to be the most popular. When working with runes for magic, many believe that the properties of the material are extremely important. Runes, like tarot and oracle cards, should be bonded with before you use them.

Spirit Boards:

I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t mess with spirit boards. Not anymore *she says as she stares morosely off into the horizon*.

The use of spirit boards dates back to the twelfth century, but the popular form that we know today as the Ouija Board found it’s popularity in the late nineteenth century. After the American Civil War, there was an increased interest in Spiritualism and the occult, particularly with the ability to communicate with the dead. Even the first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, is said to have used a spirit board to communicate with her child who passed away.

Ouija boards traditionally were made using wooden boards and planchettes, but over time, cardboard and plastic became the preferred medium considering manufacturing costs. However, spirit boards do not have to be purchased. Many people make their own on something as simple as notebook paper. Pendulums are sometimes used instead of planchettes.

It comes as no surprise that many denounce the use of the board as it potentially serves as a gateway for demonic entities or evil spirits to come through. Even pagan practitioners who don’t necessarily believe in demons would caution inexperienced users against using spirit boards (myself included). However, there are people who believe that spirit boards can be beneficial in learning about who they are and how to grow.

Scientists claim that spirit boards and dowsing rods are actually manipulated by the ideomotor effect: unconscious muscle movements. Thus, they categorize it as a pseudoscience. However, there are psychologists who believe they can provide insight into an individual’s mind and subconscious for exactly that reason. This would give more credence to the argument that spirit boards are good for learning about the self.

I still won’t be using one, though.

Photo by Lucas Pezeta on

Perhaps one of the oldest forms of divination, Astrology finds its roots in Sumerian culture. Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, studied the movements of the celestial bodies, making observations about their effects on the earth as well as drawing conclusions to how they influenced humans. This practice grew well beyond the Sumerians, finding roots in China, Japan, Greece, Europe, Native Americans, Meso Americans, and so on. For many centuries, it was considered a valid science, but as of the nineteenth century, it falls under the category of pseudoscience.

The most common type of astrology practiced in the United States is Western Astrology. The belief is that the positions of celestial bodies can predict future events (which was also a belief upheld by the Mayan civilization), and they also determine a person’s personality traits. These traits are given to one of twelve different signs of the zodiac. Generally, most people, even if they do not believe in astrology, know their sun sign. However, that only scratches the surface of what astrology is said to reveal about a person and their life.

The other well-known type of astrology is from China. While it is complex and takes into account birth date, the season, and the hour you were born more so than the position of the stars, most people in the west have simplified it to just the twelve animals that are determined based on birth year.

To be continued:

By no means are these the only forms of divination available to us today. I fully intend on continuing to explore and explain more such as numerology, scrying, oracles/prophets, and more in the future as well as delve deeper into the ones covered above.

Ultimately, what we can take away is that fortune-telling and the desire to know what is coming as well as gain insight into the human condition goes back well into ancient times. For some, these practices are still valid and will continue to be a part of certain cultures and religions. For others, they are merely fun parlor tricks or ridiculous pseudoscience. My take is that these practices, as well as most practices, are what you make of them. It can certainly be said that somebody who is seeking advice from fortune-telling may find peace in a decision they’ve been unsure about or comfort in knowing that whatever mess they’re going through will eventually resolve or end. At the end of the day, if getting your palm read helps you, then go for it. If you don’t agree with a reading or outcome, take it as a guide for what NOT to do and make choices that lead you in a different direction. If you’re doing it for fun, have fun! And if you think it’s all stupid… Well, that’s cool, too.

Check out this daily three card spread template available at HeCrafte’s Etsy shop!

What should we talk about next?


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