Divination 1

1.     Name and briefly describe one method of divination or seership technique common to three paleo-pagan Indo-European cultures. (minimum 100 words each)

The Drawing/Casting of Lots:  This method involves a collection of symbols, commonly from a writing system, from which the Seer picks from, and then interprets.

Norse: Runes

The Runes of the Elder Futhark is a writing system for the Germanic people.  Each symbol stands for a letter/sound, as well as additional divinatory meanings.  The runes are associated with wisdom and divination through Odin.  His story of how he learned the runes and gained their wisdom is related in the Havamal.  This discussion is more related to the magical uses for the runes.  Further meanings that apply more to the context of divination as used by man are found in the Rune Poems, whether they are from Norse, Anglo-Saxon, or Icelandic versions.  The traditional way of casting lots with the runes involved not only interpreting the meaning of each symbol, but also where it fell during the casting process (Thorsson).

Celtic: Ogham

The Ogham was a system of writing for the Celtic people in general, though it is found most commonly in Irish.  The alphabet dates from the 4th century CE, and most inscriptions are from the 4th-8th century.  Each symbol represents a letter, since the ogham was likely first used as a writing system rather for divination.  The Tree Ogham is the set of oghams that is used for divination.  The fews, or individual symbols, are broken down into five groups of five (called aicme (aicmi= plural), some of which are not commonly used in divination since they appear to have been meant solely for use in manuscripts (Ellison 1-12).

Greek: Olympian Alphabet Oracle

The Greek Alphabet Oracle comes from the Ancient Greek system of writing.  Unlike other symbol sets, where a collection of key words may accompany each symbol, the Greek Alphabet Oracle has a phrase that matches to each symbol.  The phrase starts with a word that begins with the corresponding letter.  So, when interpreting from the Greek Alphabet Oracle, not only does the Seer work with keywords and intuition, but also with an oracular phrase that references some aspect of life or the Gods within Ancient Hellenismos.  Traditionally the letter was chosen either by rolling five astrogaloi (goat knucklebones) and calculating the corresponding letter based on the associated numbers or by shaking pottery fragments that had been inscribed with the letters from a bowl or frame drum (Sophistes).


2.     Within the context of a single paleo-pagan Indo-European culture, discuss three different forms of divination or seership, and give an example of each. (minimum 100 words each)

Within the context of Ancient Greece, divination can be divided into roughly two categories: natural and artificial.  Both types were considered to be a communication between mortals and gods, but artificial divination is something that could be taught, whereas natural divination is something that is untaught and considered more reliable because it is a direct communication from the gods, rather than going through the channels of interpretation by mortals.  Another division that may make more sense and be less convoluted is to say that the two types of divination can instead be divided into institutional oracles and independent diviners (manteis) (Johnston 7-29).

Perhaps the most famous method of Greek divination is the Oracle, specifically the Oracle of Delphi.  This is both an institutional oracle and on that is noted for its natural method.  This specific natural method is called enthused prophecy.  The idea here is that a god, in this case, Apollo, god of truth and prophecy, possessed an oracle, called the Pythia at Delphi, and spoke through her with his voice.  The “breath” of the God filled the Pythia, and she spoke as Him.  One important thing to note is that the oracles were tied to their location, rather than to a specific person.  Thus we have the Oracle of Delphi, the Oracle of Dodona, etc.  A Pythia, serving at the Oracle of Delphi, is a woman born in good standing and who has been influenced as little as possible by the thoughts of man so that she may speak clearly Apollo’s words without overtones of human thoughts (Johnston 33-50).

Dice oracles were also popular.  These were a kind of “self-service” oracle.  The person seeking a divinatory reading would go to a statue or pillar where there were numbered phrases inscribed on the side.  They would take up five of the astrogaloi (four sided dice made from a sheep’s knucklebone) that lay on a table in front of the statue and roll them, adding up the resulting numbers.  They would them find the numbered phrase on the statue, which was the advice or answer to their question.  In Anatolia the oracular phrases were inscribed on a statue of Hermes.  Each phrase was “sponsored” by a particular deity.  The seeker would have to determine for themselves how the phrase and deity represented by their number applied to their question.  It is likely that there were manteis, or freelance, diviners present offering their services of interpretation to the seeker (Johnston 98-100).

Another type of divination that was common in ancient Greece, as well as many other cultures, was the reading of entrails.  One reason this was so common was because those animals that were most often sacrificed to the gods (sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs) always shad their entrails read as part of the sacrificial procedure.  This was done often simply for the sake of making sure that the offering was acceptable to the gods.  The reading of entrails is thought to be rather straightforward.  The diviner would look at the innards of a creature, most notably the liver, and receive a yes or no answer to whatever question had been asked.  There is debate on the subject, but it is generally agreed on that this process can only be done three times each day for the same question.  This was more a sense of omen taking than other methods were. The belief was that certain signs would always precede creation events.  The manteis was trained to know what those signs were and what they were known to precede (Johnston 125-128).


3.     Discuss both the role of seers within at least one Indo-European culture and the relationship of seers to other members of the society, including in that discussion how seers or visionaries would have supported themselves or how they would have been supported by their people.(minimum two paragraphs)

The Institutional Oracles were an important part of the economic ecosystem of the cities they existed around.  Generally speaking, they did not provide for themselves in the way of sustenance, but rather relied on the folk they served to bring that to them.  In the Homeric Hymn to the Pythian Apollo there is story asking how the people chosen by Apollo to care for his temple shall be provided for.  They were reminded that “the glorious tribes of men will bring gifts to you as Iepaeon (`Hail-Healer’), and you will receive with delight rich sacrifices from the people dwelling round about” (Evelyn-White).  This meant that when the people brought forth sacrifices to the altar of Apollo at his temple, the priests there would be well fed as long as the fame of the oracle lasted. In this same sense, it was also beneficial for the surrounding towns to enhance their Oracle’s reputation.  The more people traveled through, and stayed for extended period of time, the better business was for that town.  This was especially true of the Oracle of Delphi, which later became the site for the Pythian Games (Johnston 34-46).

For the independent diviners (manteis), they made their living much the same way other merchants did: by selling their wares and services to the public.  They were well-respected as part of the aristocratic class of men (and sometimes women) who would seek to further themselves and their reputation not only through their divination, but also through feats of strength and courage.  The manteis was a crisis manager; he was an integral part of the Hellenic society.  When something went wrong, the manteis would not only look to the future, but would also look to the past.  It was their job to determine how the folk might have offended the gods at some point in the past so that the correct amends could be made to set the course of history back on a good path.  The manteis also had a very important role in the military history of Greece.  In myth, every army had its own manteis, because of how important it was to consult the will of the gods when approaching something that their good or ill will may determine the outcome of the battle.  The manteis would bring out sacrificial animals before a battle.  They would kill these animals and read their entrails, determining how the battle would go and what would need to be done in order to win the battle.  Generals were known to put great weight in these divinations, and would even delay battle until the omens were fortuitous.  The independent diviner had more freedom than the institutional oracles to peruse the life they wanted.  They were less tied to the people in the sense of dependency, but also had to prove themselves much more than the institutional oracles to maintain their reputation and thus be able to sell their services (Johnston 116-118).



4.     Identify and describe one method of divination to which you find yourself attracted, and discuss its relationship to paleo-pagan divination.(minimum 300 words.)

I am attracted to divination by lots.  This method is common across many cultures, and I find the juxtaposition of the simplicity of drawing a symbol against the complexity of interpreting that symbol within the context of the question and all the sublets that it may represent to be very effective and rewarding.  Since I am drawn almost exclusively to the Hellenic deities, I am specifically attracted to the Greek Alphabet Oracle, also known as the Olympian Oracle.  Within this symbol set are the 24 letters of the ancient Greek alphabet.  There is very little source material regarding this symbol set specifically (discussed in further detail in the following question), and what there is, is difficult to find translated into English or find at all.  In general, it is a method of divination that involves choosing a number of symbols seemingly at random and interpreting their meanings in relation to the individual symbol, in relation to each other and the placement of each symbol drawn, and in relation to the question asked.

The Greeks have many documented methods of divination, but I’ve found that the Greek Alphabet Oracle fits well within methods used across many paleo-pagan cultures.  The important part of this for me is that it means it fits well within ADF cult practice.  Drawing or casting lots is the most common method of divination I’ve seen in ADF public ritual, making the method of taking an omen in ritual familiar both to me and to the Folk (who are used to seeing Runes or Oghams drawn from a bag as a method of taking an omen).  This is why I’ve chosen to use the Greek Alphabet Oracle in my divinatory practice, even though it lacks in the way of obtainable source material.  It is familiar in application to other methods of divination commonly used.  On a practical level, it is also easily transportable, and can be consulted rather easily in a variety of situations and locations.


5.     Briefly describe the symbology of your chosen method of divination, and include a method of application for that system. (minimum 100 words overall description plus at least one sentence or line per symbol)

The system of divination that I used most often is the Greek Alphabet Oracle.  There are three traditional ways of using this system.  The first way is through the drawing of lots.  Traditionally this would have been done with pottery fragments, each inscribed with a letter.  This is the method that I use, drawing inscribed wooden disks from an opaque bag.  I found that pottery fragments were both too brittle, since I had no way to fire them, and the shapes weren’t uniform enough, removing some measure of objectivity.  The second method is through the casting of five knucklebones, or astrogaloi.  There are four “sides” of a knucklebone, and each is given a value (1, 3, 4, and 6).  When those values are added together they correspond to a letter.  There are 24 possible different sums, between 5 and 30, with 6 and 29 being impossible.  The third method is similar, except that it uses five six-sided die, rather than bone.  The possible values are again between 5 and 30, with both 13 and 25 being uninterpretable from a reconstruction standpoint.  Generally, the die will be recast, though some may choose to interpret 13 as having to do with sacrificed and resurrected Gods (i.e.: Dionysos) and 25 as having to do with perfection (being the square of 5) (Sophistes).

Each letter in the alphabet oracle correlates to a phrase containing a key word that starts with that letter.  Below I’ve written the phrase that goes with the letter in italics, as well as the phrase I wrote to add some of my own insight while maintaining the structure that these omens where taken in. I had the phrases that I wrote begin with the same letter, or at least sound, so that as I was learning them it would be easier for me to remember.

Alpha: “The God [Apollo] says you will do everything {Hapanta} successfully.” 

All you do is successful.

Beta: “With the help of Tychê [Fortune], you will have an assistant {Boêthos}, the Pythian [Apollo].” 

Because you asked for help

Gamma: “Gaia [the Earth] {Gê} will give you the ripe fruit of your labors.” 

Gaia gave what you need.  Harvest it.

Delta: “In customs inopportune strength {Dunamis} is weak.” 

Deciding how to act and when strength is necessary

Epsilon: “You desire {Eraô} to see the offspring of righteous marriages.” 

Eager to see the results of union

Zeta: “Flee the very great storm {Zalê}, lest you be disabled in some way.” 

Zeus causes the storm: flee before his anger

Eta: “Bright Helios [Sun] {Hêlios}, who watches everything, watches you.” 

Every word you speak, Helios knows the truth

Theta: “You have the helping Gods {Theoi} of this path.” 

Throughout your journey, you will have the gods help.

Iota: “There is sweat {Hidrôs}; it excels more than everything.” 

If you lose all else, your hard work remains

Kappa: “To fight with the waves {Kuma} is difficult; endure, friend.”

Keep on enduring the inevitable with courage.

Lambda: “The one passing on the left {Laios} bodes well for everything.” 

Learn that blessings come from the most unsuspecting places

Mu: “It is necessary to labor {Mokhtheô}, but the change will be admirable.” 

Much good will come through labor and toil.

Nu: “The strife-bearing {Neikêphoros} gift fulfills the oracle.” 

Notice when strife has come, for it is a sign.

Xi: “There is no fruit to take from a withered {Xêros} shoot.” 

Expectations should be rational

Omicron: “There are no {Ou} crops to be reaped that were not sown.” 

Only what you plant will yield a harvest

Pi: “Completing many {Polus} contests, you will seize the crown.” 

Perseverance through adversity will win many battles.

Rho: “You will go on more easily {Rhaion} if you wait a short time.” 

Remain a short while and you will proceed more easily.

Sigma: “Phoibos [Apollo] speaks plainly {Saphôs}, ‘Stay, friend.’” 

Stay and hold your ground

Tau: “You will have a parting from the {Tôn} companions now around you.” 

Travelers must eventually part ways.

Upsilon: “The affair holds a noble undertaking {Huposkhesis}.” 

Understand whether you should seek a noble quest, or whether your quest is being hindered.

Phi: “Having done something carelessly {Phaulos}, you will thereafter blame the Gods.”

Fate is yours alone – take responsibility for it and do not blame the Gods.

Khi: “Succeeding, friend, you will fulfill a golden {Khruseos} oracle.” 

Completion of your goals is excellent

Psi: “You have this righteous judgment {Psêphos} from the Gods.” 

Suitable judgment has been passed down by the Gods.

Omega: “You will have a difficult {Ômos} harvest season, not a useful one.” 

Onerous times await you.


6.     Describe the results of three divinations performed by you. These divinations may be text assisted. (minimum 100 words each)

Omen for Querant as she worries about her health (3/28/12)

Kappa — Theta — Beta

Things are going to be rough ahead, but you are loved, so stay strong.  The gods are with you.  Apollo the Healer is with you.  Good Fortune (Tyche) is on your side.  As the waves crash over you, you may find it harder and harder to endure all the tis being thrown at you.  Remember to float.  Work on just being.  The Gods are watching over you, and they are here to help you.  The path ahead has many obstacles, but allow them to guide your steps.  And remember that you specifically have the assistance of Apollo and Tyche.  They will help you get through the struggles ahead, but in return you must ask for help when you need it.  They can open the doors for help to be given, but you must walk through those doors and ask for what you need.

Comfest: Querant (6/23/12)

Past: Phi — Present: Omega — Future: Zeta — Overarching Connection: Nu — Further Clarification: Theta & Xi

In the past she had made some actions or mistakes that she was perhaps too hard on herself for or didn’t accept that that’s how fate or the situation should or was meant to go.  Presently she’s in a holding pattern, sending out all these feelers and none of them are taking hold.  Her advice to get out of the pattern is to stop pouring her energy into that which isn’t serving her, and stop per suing those things that are only draining on her.  The overarching connection is the strife-bearing gift.  What is the silver lining she can take from Phi, Omega, and Zeta?  She can learn not to be careless with others emotions, to continue trying to find a way out, and to recognize what is helpful to her.  For further clarification she was reminded that though she’s struggling on this path, the Gods have her back.  She also needs to be sure that she properly cares for and tends the seedlings she plants.  Either be all in, or don’t water your energy bothering at all.

Comfest: Querant (6/23/12)

Past: Nu — Present: Omega — Future: Theta

Maybe something bad happened a little while ago, but now you’re trying to fix, but aren’t really getting anywhere.  So, to work on fixing it you need to remember all the people around you and the divinities have got your back. You just need to remember that you can ask them for help.  You’re not in this alone, even though it may feel like it sometimes.  Learn from the mistakes of your past.  Every bad experience has a lesson within it.  Try to find that lesson and apply it to what you’re struggling with now.  You’ll find that your relationship with the divinities will deepen as you work through this current struggle and apply the lessons they gave you to learn.


7.     Discuss your view of the purpose of divination. (minimum 100 words)

Sarah Iles Johnston states that the purpose of ancient divination is “to gain knowledge of what humans would not otherwise know” (Johnston 3).  This general statement is true in all regards, but I think in terms of divination for religious purposes, if a general goal can be set that we’d like to live our lives to the fullest in the best way we can, then divination can guide us.  I believe that in our lives and in this world we’re each set on a path.  Our general course has been set by the fates.  Our threads spun out, woven, measured, and will eventually be cut.  The specifics are left up to us to determine how we spend our thread, how we burn our wick. Divination can help us see more clearly the path laid out before us so that we can make more informed and conscious decisions about the direction we’re heading.  It can also offer reassurance for choices made, or guidance to view a situation from another perspective.  In general, I see an omen taken as the way things will pan out if no changes are made in the course you are taking.  So, but seeing the path ahead you are more able to make an informed choice as to whether or not you should hold your course, or set your sails to divert a different direction.  As with all things, divination is no substitute for the thoughts and work and actions we put into our lives.  It cannot make the changes, but can help to clear the clouds so we can see a bit further and with a bit more wisdom.


8.     Discuss the relative importance and effect of divination within your personal spiritual practice. (minimum 100 words)

Within my spiritual practice there are a few ways that I approach and use divination.  On a personal level I will take an omen for guidance on the coming days.  I rarely look further ahead than a month, simply there are so many choices and branching of paths in that amount of time that an omen and the wisdom it provides could really go any which way.  I find it useful in this way to brace myself in a sense.  The other piece of this is that oftentimes taking an omen for myself will force me to see a situation in a different light, from a different perspective, allowing me to change my course if I need to.

I also use divination in ritual space, especially when working with a new or unfamiliar deity, to see if the offerings I’m making have been accepted.  I find this especially useful when I’m unsure of what kinds of things the deity would like to receive as offerings.  Following up on that, the other way I use divination is to see what blessings or wisdom are offered to me in return for the offerings I make.  I’ve found that I more often receive wisdom and guidance than I do specific blessings, but perhaps that is the nature of the Greek Oracle.


9.     Discuss your view and understanding of the function of the Seer. (minimum 100 words)

The role of the Seer is to serve as an intermediary between the Folk and the Kindreds.  The Folk can be anything from a solitary, to a Grove, to a larger community.  The Kindreds can be from any of the Ancestors, Nature Spirits, or Shining Ones depending on whom the Seer is addressing.  The Seer can serve as one in a ritual setting with a larger purpose, or in a more intimate setting with the main goal being to seek guidance from the Kindreds.  In the case of a ritual, the Seer takes the Omen, serving as the voice of the Kindreds.  In a more intimate setting, the Seer is directed more by the querant and the questions they ask.


10.     Discuss the importance and value of divination as it relates to ADF. (minimum 100 words)

The Seer directs the divination within an ADF ritual.  The Seer’s job here is three-fold: to find out whether or not the Sacrifices of the Folk have been accepted, to interpret the blessings and wisdom that is received in return, and to help the Folk determine how to apply those blessings and wisdom to their lives.  I think this is important because finding out if our gifts are well received helps to deepen our relationship with the Kindreds.  In addition, once we have learned what we’re being offered in return, it is sometimes overlooked how to apply those blessings and wisdom to our lives.  I’ve found that the Socratic method works well for this part because though you can give someone wisdom, if you cannot help them apply it to their own life, it does them little good.  By asking questions that help them focus on the blessing and think on multiple meanings of it, you can help them find the ways it applies to them.



Sophistes, Apollonius. “A Greek Alphabet Oracle.” A Greek Alphabet Oracle. Biblioteca Arcana, 2005. Web. 23 July 2012. <http://web.eecs.utk.edu/~mclennan/BA/LAO.html>.

Ellison, Robert Lee. Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids. Tucson, AZ: ADF, 2007. Print.

Evelyn-White, H. G. “The Homeric Hymns 1-3.” Classical E-Text. Theoi.com, 2011. Web. 06 Aug. 2012. <http://www.theoi.com/Text/HomericHymns1.html>.

Johnston, Sarah Iles. Ancient Greek Divination. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell Pub., 2008. Print.

Thorsson, Edred. Runecaster’s Handbook: The Well of Wyrd. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1999. Print.


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