About Oracles and Divination

A Brief Introduction to Divination


What is Divination?

Divination is the interpretation of messages, signs, or symbols in order to obtain guidance about current and future events.



Many different methods of divination were used in the ancient and medieval worlds, including the observation of animal behavior, the movements of stars and planets, the casting of lots, and inspired oracular utterances. That such divinatory practices are found in cultures around the world, and throughout history, points to their widely perceived usefulness and significance.

Witsen's Shaman
Early depiction of a Siberian shaman

The origins of divination lie in the spiritual practices of early shamanic tribal societies. By consulting the ancestors, or totem animals, or other spirit entities, the shaman provided healing and guidance to the community.

As societies expanded and became more complex, specific locations such as sacred springs and groves, waterfalls, mountains, and grottos, became favoured places for contacting the spirit world.

Oracles and Soothsayers

In the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, it was generally specially chosen priestesses who passed on messages from the gods to those who visited the sacred sites seeking guidance and prophecies.

The Pythia at Delphi
The Pythia at the Temple of Apollo

The most famous of these was the Pythia, who was the High Priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece.

Delphi was believed by the ancient Greeks to be the center of the world, and the Oracle of Delphi was renowned throughout the lands for the accuracy of her prophecies.

The Delphic Oracle, along with many other oracles of the period, communicated messages that were believed to come directly from the gods.

Such inspired oracles can be distinguished from those soothsayers whose prophecies were based on observing and interpreting signs and symbols. True oracular inspiration is therefore different from divination that uses technical methods for generating and interpreting readings, such as astrology, tarot, runes, or the I Ching.

In many ways, the inspired Oracles of ancient times can be likened to modern-day spiritualist trance mediums, and to psychics who channel messages that are said to come from angels, spirits, or extradimensional beings.

Such inspired communications are generally associated with persons claiming to possess special psychic or spiritual gifts, or to those who temporarily enter a heightened state of consciousness, whether this occurs spontaneously, or is occasioned by psychoactive drugs, shamanic drumming, or other trance-inducing activities.

In contrast, methods of divination that are based on the application of technical procedures, such as astrology, geomancy, numerology, and tarot, are available to anyone who learns the system and who acquires the necessary knowledge and experience. Also, they are generally practiced without the need to enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness.

Although many people believe there is a supernatural element to these technical methods of divination, from a modern psychological perspective, they can, like our dreams, also be understood as subtle means of tapping into the wisdom of the human psyche.