A big thank you to Professor Alyssa Goodman, whose online course PredictionX: Omens, Oracles & Prophecies helped me greatly in putting words to the different categories of divination you see in this piece. If you are interested in the history of divination, this course is fantastic and free to audit.
Systems of divination can be largely categorized into one of four types based on the type of input being worked with. These four are: human, random, randomized, and non-random. While most forms you’ll see on my shop are categorized as randomized, it’s important to know the differences between the four for better understanding overall.
Think about the last time you just “knew” something or had a gut feeling about how something was going to turn out. This is human-based divination at its smallest example. In a human-based system, there is no physical or visible data to be interpreted. The diviner is the only one able to discern the signs being interpreted. The most famous example of this would be the Oracle of Delphi. This form of divination has its fair share of both believers and skeptics. For example, some might not believe in a human being able to prophecy (i.e., a seer or oracle) but would totally believe it if you said, “I have a bad feeling about this.” It is very easy for humans to distrust a divination system with no basis in something they can see.
One step removed from pure human divination, the next sort is random divination. This would be any form of divination where the event being interpreted is not being influenced by the diviner or predictability. The diviner must wait for unscheduled, seemingly random events to occur before they can start to interpret. I say “seemingly” because random events are often triggered by one thing or another, and it can be easy to “causality” an event right out of this category. For example, let’s say you are looking for a sign regarding how your future is going to go and you see three vultures fly overhead. You might see this as an ill omen. Where did the vultures come from? Why were they there? You usually don’t see vultures. Of course, if you did some investigation, you might learn the vultures had been feeding on some roadkill nearby but were scared by a car, causing them to fly into your line of sight. At this point it becomes a game of intuition and probability. What is a sign to one person might be a regular event to another? Things are left to diviner’s discretion to some extent.
If you decide to try your hand at divination, you are probably thinking of taking up a form of randomized prediction. In these forms of divination, a human will initiate a process to produce a random result. For example, any divination system where you are picking a random item or items out of a collection of items (i.e., cartomancy, runes, ogham staves, etc.) would fall into this category. This type of divination can be done on command, making it very popular. Of course, the human could be influencing the results, say through fancy card shuffling or weighted dice. Removing that possibility for bias, however, this sort of divination style is easy to learn and is probably the first form you think of when someone says “hey, can you tell my fortune?”
Cartomancy is a form of divination using a deck of cards. Most forms of cartomancy are differentiated by the type of deck being used and the way the cards are read.
Tarot is one of the most recognized forms of cartomancy in English speaking countries. There are a plethora of decks out there on the market. Many are based off the Rider Waite format, but others such as the Thoth style deck can also be found. The way the deck speaks varies wildly based off the artist, but the messages are often considered more cryptic than other cartomancy methods.
Lenormand and Kipper are very similar decks, speaking very plainly but in a very “gossipy relative” sort of way. They are well suited to messages about mundane life events, such as social, romantic, or business situations.
Using a deck of “normal” Playing Cards for divination is a great method for closeted witches or beginners looking to use what they have on hand without major investment. Divining using playing cards can be a bit like using only the minor arcana of a tarot deck, crossed with some of the meanings of a Lenormand or Kipper deck. If you are looking for details on a specific person, Playing Cards tend to be good for that.
If you find a cartomancy deck without a specific format, it is often referred to as an Oracle deck. These decks are often very tailored to a specific type of reading and can be very good for inspiring messages or advice on next steps.
Other Types of Randomized Divination
Runes are a well-known form of divination that is very popular even today. Most often found as a set of carved stones, the runes are either selected blindly or cast onto a divining surface of some sort. Messages from runes can be more “mystical” sounding than other divination methods.
While the alphabet of Ogham was originally a Celtic creation, it is unclear if it was ever used for divination. Much has been lost of ancient Celtic and Druidic practices. However, modern diviners have taken up the alphabet as a divination system akin to runes. The letters of the alphabet are carved onto wood staves and selected or cast in a way not unlike rune stones. Each letter is connected to a tree or plant, and the messages are highly connected to community and nature allusions.
Pendulum readings are a very varied form of divination that takes a bit of practice and a steady hand. A weighted object is hung from the end of a chain or string. Holding the other end of the string with a very steady hand, the diviner asks questions and interprets the results based on how the pendulum moves. Diviners often use pendulum boards to help create set results, such as “yes/no” boards, alphabet boards, or even more tailor-made ones for specific use cases.
Charm casting is a very individualized form of divination. The diviner has a bag of charms, small items they’ve selected to each symbolize a specific thing or intention. By tossing the charms onto a flat surface and interpreting where they land, the diviner can look for connections between different areas in the subject’s life to determine causes, effects, and blockages. Each charm set is unique to the caster and their interpretations of things.
The other thing you might think of when asked to tell someone’s fortune is astrology, which is a form of non-random divination. These sorts of divination take repeatable, predictable processes and interpret the results that come from them. For example, figuring out a birth chart in astrology will always use the same system on the same date, time, and location, meaning you are going to end up with the same chart. The same can be said for systems like numerology, where your name and birth date are run through the same formulas every time. If you were to run the same data through the same system, you’d get the same result every time. The nuance and differences come in with who is interpreting the results and what they say the results mean.
Astrology is the art of reading the movements of the planets, stars, and other astronomical data and interpreting a meaning from those results. While there are several schools of Astrology, which can lead to some variance, it is largely a set thing. If you give your birthday to any practiced Astrologer, you will get the same birth chart and largely the same interpretation. The difference lies in some of the fine details of that interpretation and what the astrologer’s focus is on. To do a full reading, the subject’s full birthday, time, and location are required, to properly map where the stars were at that time.
Numerology is a form of divination where dates and names can be converted through specific methods into numbers. Those numbers are then checked against charts for interpretation. If the math is done correctly and the charts being used are largely the same, any Numerologist will be able to tell you the same results. There is no chance the results of a reading will change by running the formulas again. To do a full reading, the subject’s full name and birthday are used.
If you would like to learn more about different types of divination, I’d recommend checking out Different Voices in Divination, a post I helped write over on the Home 4 Wayward Witches site.