- The acquisition of information via supernatural means; derived from the Latin divinare, meaning “to foretell” or “to discover something.” Divination may involve consulting a specialist, such as a shaman, or may—particularly in contemporary Western contexts— be conducted for oneself. Observing the meaning of dreams, the casting of lots (bones, stones, sticks, playing cards, etc.), reading patterns in nature (such as the flight of birds or the movement of the planets), and scrying (gazing at a crystal ball or into a pool of water) all mark examples of how almost any device might be put to use in divination and demonstrate the ubiquity of divination across cultures. The prophesying of future events from the entrails of a sacrificed animal (extispicy) among the Scythians, for instance, marks one specific indigenous instance of the practice. In antiquity also, Tacitus describes the use of lots from a nut-bearing tree in Germania, and although it is not clear whether the marks on them were runes, today’s Heathens use the runes in divination, attributing a shamanic connection due to the vision of the runes witnessed by the shamangod Odin, a master of seidr—and seidr itself is used in prophesy today. Similarly, Druid shamans often ascribe a divinatory role to the “Celtic” ogham script, and there are efforts to reconstruct the practice of Awenyddion. Among many indigenous communities, shamans are considered to be repositories and seekers of knowledge, using divination to find knowledge inaccessible locally. Saami shamans watch the movements of a “frog” (sometimes a collection of interlocked metal rings) across their decorated drums as they strike them. Diviners may seek to identify the perpetrator of sorcery or the originator of some insult to other-than-human persons responsible for the presence or absence of animals for hunting. Dreams may also be treated as opportunities for divination: what a shaman dreamed could be interpreted as indicative of the likely result of any attempt to heal illnesses during the next day.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.