Introduction and Influence
Divination has existed in all cultures throughout
history. Its basic idea involves foretelling the future or accessing
occult information by various means. Traditionally, the person who
practiced divination was regarded as having supernatural powers.
Despite its frequent modern reformulation in
psychological or parapsychological terms (e.g., receiving information
from "the unconscious" or "higher" mind), historically, divination has
always been an attempt to communicate with the supernatural or "divine"
realm in order to secure information from the "gods." Its fundamentally
pagan and spiritistic nature has never changed, regardless of how
"modern" its practices have become today.
In Divination: Ancient and Modern, occultist
Dr. John H. Manas argues that the long history of divination forms an
inseparable connection to spiritism and the occult.
1 For example, he describes divination as an
"ancient mysterious art of the gods," i.e., spirits. 2
He also explains that the method of spirit contact used in occult
divination today was the same one used in ancient times:
The same process [of spirit contact] was followed by the ancient
diviners. This can be seen in the meaning of the words used by the
ancient Greeks for divination... which signify impulse, force,
paroxysm, an unnatural condition of the individual concerned, which is
under the influence and control of a psychic force, an invisible
entity, of a god. This procedure and method of communication with the
spirit world was then, as it is today, the most popular.3
Thus, the ancients interpreted divination as instituting contact with
the "gods," while modern practitioners often refer to divination as
instituting contact with the spirits. Or, as we noted, the more
naturalistically minded believe it to be contact with the untapped
powers of the mind. Regardless, ancient diviners "were trance mediums
through whom the spirit entity, the god, or as we say today, the control
[spirit], or the [spirit] guide, spoke." 4 In other words, "the same
methods that were used in ancient times by the Oracles are used today by
the most advanced of our mediums. In ancient times, the discarnate
entity... was called [a] god.... Today these discarnate entities are
called spirit controls or guides." 5
Dr. Manas argues that all forms of successful divination require both
psychic development and contact with the spirit world:
Divination is an art and, as such, it has to be mastered through
patient effort and spiritual illumination. Certain brain, etheric and
mental centers have to be opened and certain dormant faculties
developed. It takes a long time according to the aptitude and the
development of the candidate. A good diviner must also be a good
philosopher and occultist…. Only a pure and unselfish diviner will
send out high spiritual vibrations, which in turn will attract and
make possible his communication with a correspondingly high discarnate
With the contemporary occult revival, many ancient
methods of divination have reappeared in the last quarter century, and
many new forms have also appeared—usually, it seems, through the
assistance of the spirit world. Although some of these divination
practices are marketed as "games," many declare to be dealing with
The following list includes several popular methods,
their possible or probable origins, and examples of their use:
Runes: Viking/European (magic and divination)
Palmistry: possibly India (divination, character
I Ching: Chinese (divination)
Numerology: unknown (divination, character analysis)
Tarot: Middle East (divination)
Cartouche: Egyptian (magic and divination)
Leela: Hindu (divination)
Ouija Board, Phoenix Cards: American (divination or
Dungeons and Dragons: American (game of skill with
potential occult involvement)
Star+Gate Symbolic System: American (divination)
With one exception, Dungeons and Dragons, the goal of
these practices is either divination or some form of occult
self-knowledge or spiritual "enlightenment." This is not unusual in that
such methods are typically tied to a worldview based on ancient pagan
magic or Eastern or Western occultism. Thus, those who author books on
these subjects typically have a prior interest in the occult. For
example, Murray Hope, the author of The Way of the Cartouche: An
Oracle of Ancient Egyptian Magic (New York: St. Martin’s Press,
1985), is also the author of Practical Egyptian Magic, Practical
Greek Magic, and The Runes and Crystal
The appeal of these methods is their ability to
allegedly divine the future, or the psychological self-insight they
claim to offer, which explains their presence in modern psychotherapy.
Virtually all the "how-to" books speak of the uncanny knack for accuracy
that these practices are purported to have. As David and Julia Line
observe in Fortune Telling by Runes, "[T]he uncanny knack they
have of being right, for the greater part of the time, cannot be
explained in purely factual terms. Rational theories can and are
applied—but they still remain only theories. At the end of the day, you
will either believe in runes or not."
Because of their alleged accuracy and power for
self-transformation, certain segments of modern psychology show an
increasing interest in these ancient forms of divination, particularly
where they help achieve what can be interpreted as psychological insight
or "growth." This occurs principally through their ability to act as
"counselor" or "guide" in psychological self-evaluation and by their
ability to uncover relevant "unconscious dynamics" (e.g., archetypes or
dream symbolism), which allegedly promote a more successful experience
in psychotherapeutic treatment or in personal and spiritual "growth."
As a result, their alleged "therapeutic" potential has
attracted the interest of at least some segments of modern psychology.
This is especially true in those schools most open to such an encounter:
Jungian, transpersonal, humanistic, and now hundreds of fringe
The famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung was a believer in
the runes, I Ching, and the tarot, and his theories are often cited in
support of the alleged psychological dynamics involved in these forms of
divination. And articles in many psychology magazines also explore the
psychotherapeutic "potential" of these or related methods.
In essence, modern methods of divination constitute
one small portion of the contemporary American occult revival and, given
our culture’s fascination with the supernatural (not to mention the
national penchant for novel psychotherapy), their success seems ensured.
But a fundamental question remains. If these methods
work, especially supernaturally, what is their true source of power?
Books on these topics often speak in terms of some kind of genuine, even
supernatural, power behind these methods. And we will argue that by
engaging in these divinatory arts, one can indeed tap a personal source
of occult power that has access to hidden information, as well as an
ability to manipulate events. In other words, we will show why we
believe people are ultimately dealing with contacting spirit entities,
and that this is where the genuine source of power is encountered. To
our way of thinking, it is more logical to conclude that a supernatural
personal intelligence outside space (and, perhaps, to some degree, time)
is the source of information and volition, rather than to argue that
sticks, dice, cards, and numbers can predict the future or reveal secret
information about individuals.
Modern explanations for such uncanny powers often
discard or downplay the supernatural in preference for natural,
psychological, or parapsychological theories. As occult writer Michael
Howard writes in The Magic of the Runes: Their
Origins and Occult Power:
Today we have invented a brand new technical terminology to
describe these powers which our ancestors took for granted. We call
them extra-sensory perception, parapsychology, precognition,
out-of-the-body experiences and telekinesis. Even our feeble attempts
to rationalize these powers by giving them pseudo-scientific names
cannot disguise how little we really know about them. Nowadays a
scientifically educated psychic researcher or "parapsychologist" would
laugh at you if you insisted on describing his field of study as
"magic" or "magical," but it was so regarded by our forebears—and who
is to say they were wrong to do so? 8 Many of the millions of people
utilizing these systems have indeed discovered that they are powerful.
Yet such people are often informed that they are merely utilizing a
principle of nature, or a "higher" aspect of their own mind, or
nebulous "universal forces." Of course, if the true origin of the
power behind these methods is spiritistic, merely assigning the source
of power to "natural" causes cannot change their reality.
Thus, historically, those who used these forms of
divination viewed their source of power far differently than most modern
psychologists and parapsychologists. The real power was attributed to
magic and spiritism. When people sought out and obeyed the spirits
through these methods, they often achieved their goals; the spirits also
(to be continued)
1. John H. Manas, Divination: Ancient and Modern,
New York: Pythagorean Society, 1947, p. 211.
2. Ibid., p. 203.
3. Ibid., p. 205.
4. Ibid., p. 212.
5. Ibid., p. 235.
6. Ibid., p. 261.
7. David and Julia Line, Fortune Telling by Runes,
Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England: Aquarian Press, 1985, p. 8.
8. Michael Howard, The Magic of the Runes: Their
Origins and Occult Power, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire,
England: The Aquarian Press, 1986, pp. 53-54.