Balaam part 5
by John Thomas Lowe
Interpretive Divination part 5
Interpretive Divination involves, in the main, the reading of portents, omens, or prodigies. To the scientifically minded, no event is without a cause. However, random events occur in an ordered world, and such events are subject to various interpretations. Manipulated events are an element of interpretive Divination, but the less active forms depend on projection, introjection, and free association and thus are associated, to some degree, with intuitive techniques.
Pyromancy (Divination by fire) may be highly dramatic in a society dependent on fire for nighttime light and safety. In some trans-Saharan societies, the diviner may test an accusation at a séance around the fire, which will explode upon the “guilty” one. Elsewhere, objects may be overtly cast into the fire, and signs read in the reaction. Hydromancy (Divination by water) is usually less dramatic, ranging from the reading of reflections in a shallow surface, in the manner of the crystal gazer, to construing the movements of floating objects, as in the reading of tea leaves.
A range of related mantic practices may be grouped under the terms cleromancy, or Divination by lots, and geomancy, which may involve casting objects upon a map or a figure drawn on the ground. Cleromantic practices in trans-Saharan Africa may rely on the supposedly magical—or indeed horrifying—qualities of objects in the diviner’s bag or basket. When they are thrown, the proximity of one piece to another—for example, a dried bit of intestine from a murdered child and a man-eating animal’s tooth—may be regarded as having meaning, or the position of a particular piece at the center or apart from the others may be picked out. Often, the diviner must first prove his ability by discovering the client’s problem through a line of patter accompanying the throws—suggesting this, questioning that, leaping from one matter to another—until the client's reactions betray an interest. At this point, the diviner may be said to introject ideas and attitudes, while the lots act for the diviner and client alike as a projective device, the meaning of which is only half-formed in the objective pattern cast. A far more elaborate practice is the geomancy of West Africa, in which elegant equipment is combined with impressive erudition in a séance in which lots are used to select verses, wherein the client is expected to find answers. The nature of the lots employed, the number lore on which the selection of verses is based, and the verses themselves are entirely distinct from their counterparts in the Chinese yarrow (an herb with finely dissected leaves) tradition embodied in the I Ching. However, the general equivalence of the two elaborations is noteworthy. The parallel has perhaps been obscured by using the term geomancy in China and elsewhere to signify only a specialized art by which propitious locations are selected.
Sometimes a diviner can interpret signs so characteristic of a client that the practice falls between interpretive and intuitive arts. Somatomancy, or body divination, is interpretive in most forms, whether in China or the West, though the employed sign system comprises personal attributes of the client’s physique. Examples are phrenology, which employs features of the head that are usually unnoticed, and the reading of moles, where the body is treated as a microcosm bearing astrological signs. However, oneiromancy, dream interpretation, employs explicitly psychic phenomena; in this case, the diviner may be said to assist the intuition of meaning by the client as often as to introject. The Ojibwa and Bella Coola people of North America were characteristically preoccupied with the meanings of their dreams.
The prototype of the intuitive diviner is the shaman or curer who uses trance states. These are achieved idiopathically (i.e., arising spontaneously) or induced by drugs or autokinetic (self-energized) techniques, such as hand trembling among the Navajo. As a mantic art, trance is associated with oracular utterance and spirit possession. An impressive performance will represent the actual voice of a god or spirit addressing the client directly, and Divination in this mode is known from diverse religious traditions, including Christianity. The idea that the gods may be importuned to speak on temporal human concern seems to be very ancient. In early Egypt, incubation was practiced—i.e., sleeping in the temple inspired by the resident God. The idea behind Mayan maiden sacrifice was the same: some maidens were cast into a sacred cenote, or deep well, and those who survived after some hours were brought back to recite the messages received during their ordeal—a virtual enactment of the journey into the underworld. As oracular utterance became regular, special techniques or contraptions were developed to make God’s image show assent or denial or amplify the sound of an unseen priest’s voice. In nomadic societies today, however, the diviner may still achieve personal authority by passing into a trance before his fellows, trembling and speaking “as if possessed”—that is, as if his spirit had ceased to inhabit his body and had been replaced by another.
Related to belief in possession is the conviction that malevolent persons are essentially unlike innocent, though not outward. When a test is devised for discovering malevolence, commonly conceived of as witchcraft or as a nonhuman force disguising itself in human form, the test takes the form of an ordeal. This may demonstrate invulnerability to harm, the presence of blessed qualities being viewed as inconsistent with malevolence; among the many types of the ordeal are walking on coals and retrieving an object from boiling liquid. The ordeal may even involve death: in the ordeal by water, a witch was expected to float and be spared for burning, but an innocent person would be accepted by the water and drown. In trans-Saharan poison ordeals, the innocent person is expected to survive.
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China: Late Shang divination and religion
Although certain complex symbols painted on Late Neolithic pots from Shandong suggest that primitive writing was emerging in the east in...
Intuitive Divination may also be a wholly private affair. A Roman might hear a warning from the gods in a piece of conversation; the Aztec might discern a portent in an animal’s howl. A Native American who sought a private vision through isolation, self-mutilation, and fasting would preserve the memory of that vision throughout life, turning to it as his unique guardian spirit.
Divination at the end of the 20th century
The immense popularity of horoscopes in the urban West today illustrates the almost exclusive concern with individual fortune-telling that characterizes Divination in a mobile and competitive mass society. Chiromancy, tarot (fortune-telling) cards, and crystal gazing represent respectively body divination, cleromancy (Divination by lots), and trancelike performance in styles suitable for what might be called a half-serious attempt to learn one’s fate. Necromancy, in its modern spiritualist form, represents a slightly more serious and sustained effort to establish contact with extramundane beings. But astrology, in its various popular forms, is the form of Divination best suited to mass consumption, since it is based on a well-articulated body of lore, touches matters of high destiny as well as individual fortune, and “personalizes” its advice without the client having to be interviewed. On the other hand, the more obscure mantic arts appeal to discipline—an individual may enter into the lore profoundly and make it a part of a personal worldview. Study of the I ching for divinatory purposes can involve this sort of commitment.
• Nature and significance
• Types of prophecy
• Prophecy in the ancient Middle East and Israel
o The ancient Middle East
o Origins and development of Hebrew prophecy
o Prophecy and apocalyptic literature
o Prophecy and prophetic religion in postbiblical Judaism
• Prophecy in Christianity
o Divination and prophecy in the Hellenistic world
o New Testament and early Christianity
o Prophetic and millenarian movements in later Christianity
• Prophecy in Islam
o The centrality of prophecy in Islam
o The Qurʾānic doctrines of prophecy
o Later theological and philosophical doctrines
o Prophetic figures after Muhammad
• Prophecy in other religions
o Prophetic movements and figures in the Eastern religions
o Prophetic movements and figures in the religions of nonliterate cultures