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The ancient art of divination

‘But there are gods; therefore they foretell. Nor, if they foretell, do they fail to give us ways to learn what they foretell; nor, if they give us such ways, is there no divination; therefore there is divination.’
Cicero, De Divinatione I.82-83. 

Hello goddess. 

Divination is the act of connecting with the divine - and parsing the information in our everyday life.

Some of you may have already heard of the modern day methods made popular, such as: tarot and oracle cards; runes; pendulums; scrying; even astrology.

All different tools employed to connect with an energy outside of ourselves, within ourselves, something more than human; something divine

This practice of divination has its roots in our history. Many ancient civilizations used the talents of seers and oracles to make decisions; epics are rife with portents and prophecy.

So when you roll dice and parse a message from it; when you scry into a mirror; when you pull a card - you are perpetuating that most ancient practice of communing with the divine. 

In the ancient world, divination was not just a means to access future knowledge, but also used to gain information about the present and for advice.

Divination gave an individual a way of legitimizing their decisions and validating their choices, whether in the political or private sphere. 

Sound familiar? Is this not what we do when we reach for our divination tools - a confirmation, a validation of something we wish to know?

The ancient world was rife with oracles, astrologers, holy men and women, all advertising themselves as connections to the divine, sources of wisdom, and willing to share their otherworldly knowledge to those who would sponsor their services. 

In Pharaonic Egypt, priests were the representative of the gods in public life, but also the representative of the public to the gods, and this right was conferred upon them by the king, setting them apart from the public. 


Oracles were a way for the public to interact with the god and connect them to the divine, while also acting in a way for gods, through the priests, to guide and advise the public to keep the social order.

The oldest known oracle in Egypt is the oracle of Amun at Karnak in Thebes, its use attested for political reasons from the fifteenth century B.C.E., and was in use for a thousand years.

In Pharaonic Egypt the typical way to consult an oracle was on festival days where one would submit their question to a priest during the god’s procession.

According to Diodorus Siculus, the idea was that the god answered by directing the priests’ movements, and the priests would interpret and give the gods’ answer.

Oracles, and the methods by which people interacted with them, changed over time - becoming more personal. This trend especially began under the rule of the Hellenistic rulers of Egypt, the Ptolemies, and continued into the Roman period. 

Luck Oracles: 

In the Ptolemaic period a popular method of divination was a binary oracle.

These binary oracles presented two different answers to the same question, presented to the priests, and the answers were taken with the god’s authority. 

The form used on these papyri is an address to the god, sometimes the applicant's name, and a statement of the problem.

This petition would be placed in an urn with another - either blank or with the same question phrased differently - and the consultant would then blindly choose the answer. 

By invoking the deity and adding in that random element of blind choice, thereby leaving it up to divine intervention, the petitioner would come away from this oracle with the feeling that the answer was given by the divine, rather than through luck. 

This is a quick and easy way to define a choice, but also leaving it up to the gods to decide.  

Next time you need to make a decision between two choices, you can use this method: 

Binary Oracle Ritual: 
  1. Clearly define your question, and two possible answers.
  2. Write both possibilities on separate pieces of paper and place both into a container. 
  3. Close your eyes, clear your mind. Appeal to whatever divinity feels more right - whether a specific god(dess) or to your intuition. 
  4. Allow that to guide your blind choice.
  5. After reading the answer you have chosen, thank the divinity you appealed to. 

Another form of luck oracle which is attested to in the Eastern Mediterranean were dice oracles. These were not seen as connected to a god or to the dead, but regardless, their answers were seen as pronouncements of the divine. 

A die found in Egypt, dated to the Ptolemaic Period, and currently in the Petrie Museum, was likely used as an oracle.

Made of limestone, each of its sides are inscribed with the hieroglyphic names of the gods Osiris, Horus, Isis, Nephthys, Hathor, and Hor-Duat, and its surface shows use over a long period of time.

It is difficult to ascertain its exact use, but the connection to the Egyptian gods, especially Osiris, Horus, Isis, and Hathor who all have oracles within their temples, could signify its possible oracular use. 

Does this not bring to mind the use of runic dice, also used for divination today, and based off the Nordic practice of runes? Depending on the side(s) showing, you can parse the answer to the question you ask, leaving the roll of the dice up to luck - or fate. 

Dreams: 

Dreams are the ooey-gooey space where the subconscious can become conscious - if you choose to work with them.

They are the place where your mind goes to incorporate everything that happened while in the waking world, and can help you make connections between events and peoples in a manner that feels god-touched. 

Reports from ancient Egypt regarding dreams or divine contact are rare, but dreams were accepted as a way of communicating with the deceased or divine.

For example, The Letters to the Dead, dated from the end of the Old Kingdom to early Middle Kingdom, links communication with the deceased to dreams, but Amenhotep II in 1429 B.C.E. was the first recorded Pharaoh to receive a message from the god Amun in a dream. 

During the Ptolemaic and Roman periods some temples began opening their complexes to the public and offered considerable medical and healing facilities through the use of herbs, medicines - and dream interpretation. 

Incubation and dream interpretation were associated with the Greek god Asclepius and healing, and were used to discover the source of illness or their remedies.

This usually involved a process of purification and preparation - possibly the ingesting of certain drugs - followed by a night or more spent in a certain room within the temple complex with the hopes of receiving divine intervention through dreams. 

If you wish to work with dreams as way of divination: 

Dream Oracle Ritual: 
  1. Wind down from your day mindfully - if this means starting from your shower before bed, listening to calming music, using essential oils, meditating - whatever feels right. 
  2. Write your intention on a piece of paper and place it under your pillow. You can also include crystals to amplify your intention and assist in the dream process. (Suggested crystals are: celestite, selenite, and amethyst.) 
  3. While dreaming, should anything feel significant within the dream, make a conscious decision to remember it; whether by repeating it, or emphasizing the event in the dream. 
  4. When you wake, record your dream - whether in a journal, on a note in your phone, or a voice recording. If it feels right to share it with others, do so. 
  5. Allow the dream to settle into your conscious mind, and sit with it for the day. As your conscious mind begins to work on it, the answers will come. 

Working with dreams is a practice; something you have to consciously do for a period of time before you begin to remember and understand them.

When interpreting your dream, you not only have to know the dream, but also yourself - as dreams are very personal events and are your deeper thoughts rising to the surface. 

For example; if your dream features the color orange a lot, ask yourself: What does orange signify to you? Does it represent tulips, and therefore spring? Or does it remind you more of fallen leaves, and therefore autumn? 

As you work more with your dreams, these meanings will become more clear, the connections crystallizing. 

The ultimate premise behind oracles in the ancient world and in the modern day is trust. The people of the past placed their trust in the gods, and by appealing to them and placing their trust in them, were they able to then trust the messages from the gods. 

Always remember - divination is when you choose to communicate with the divine, whether within you… or outside yourself. Your intention is important, and clarifying that intention before you receive your message helps you in understanding the answers the divine imparts upon you. 

Trust yourself, and trust your intuition; and when that does not feel sufficient, can you then place your trust in something higher than yourself - something divine - and accept the answers you receive?

Written for Terra Luna Sol by:

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