From the Roman priest reading auguries to interpret the will of the gods to the modern fortune teller reading with a deck of playing cards, divination has been a part of human spirituality for thousands of years. Today, divination is an important part of many witches’ practices, and can be an important tool for self-reflection and analysis.
Merriam-Webster defines divination as, “the art or practice that seeks to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge usually by the interpretation of omens or by the aid of supernatural powers.” Divination can be used for many things, not just to predict the future. It can be used to understand the past, identify patterns at work in your present, or as a tool for working through trauma.
In the book You Are Magical, author Tess Whitehurst describes divination as, “a way of bypassing your linear, thinking mind and accessing the current of divine wisdom and your own inner knowing.” As I’ve discussed in a previous post, all of us are receiving psychic information all the time, though many of us don’t realize it. Divination tools like tarot cards or rune stones act as triggers to help kickstart our natural psychic gifts.
Divination relies on the use of our intuition. Intuition is defined my Merriam-Webster as, “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.” These are the things you know without needing to be told. Another way of thinking of it is this: your intuition is the way you interpret the information you receive through your psychic senses.
The most important thing to remember when doing divination is that the tool you are using isn’t giving you information — it’s simply helping you to access information you already know. The revelations come from you, not from the cards or whatever other tool you may be using.
When using divination to foresee the future, it’s important to remember that the future is never set in stone. These tools can only show you the most likely outcome based on your current direction.
Beginner-Friendly Divination Tools
These are the divination methods I would recommend for beginners. For one thing, most of these systems are fairly easy to learn and use. For another, these are some of the most popular divination methods among modern witches, so it’s easy to find information about them and/or talk to other practitioners about their experience.
As you’ll see, each divination method has its own strengths and weaknesses, so you may choose to learn several methods that you can combine to get stronger readings. Or you may find that you can get all the information you need from a single method, which is also okay.
Tarot. This is my personal favorite divination method, but it’s also the one with the most misconceptions surrounding it. Tarot cards do not open a portal to the spirit world, and they probably didn’t originate in Ancient Egypt. In fact, evidence suggests that the tarot comes from a medieval Italian card game called Tarocchi, although the modern tarot deck as we know it didn’t come around until the 20th century. Tarot cards are not any more or less supernatural than ordinary playing cards. (Which, incidentally, can also be used for divination.)
Tarot makes use of archetypes, and many readers interpret the cards as a map of an archetypal spiritual journey. For this reason, tarot cards are especially useful for identifying the underlying patterns and hidden influences in any given situation.
Most tarot decks follow the same set of basic symbolism. Unfortunately, this does mean that new readers will need to study the accepted meanings. This isn’t to say that your readings will always match up 100% with the standard meanings of the cards — you may receive intuitive messages that deviate from tradition. Still, it’s helpful to know a little of the history and traditional symbolism behind this powerful divination tool. The good news is that, since most decks use similar symbolism, once you learn the traditional meanings you can successfully read with almost any tarot deck.
I’m planning to post a more in-depth introduction to tarot very soon, but in the meantime, if you want to learn this divination method I recommend starting with the book Tarot For Beginners by Lisa Chamberlain and/or with the website Biddy Tarot.
Oracle Cards. Oracle cards have been rapidly gaining popularity in the witchcraft and New Age communities in the last few years, and it’s easy to see why. One major appeal of oracle cards is how diverse they are — there are countless different oracle decks out there, each with its own theme and symbolism. Another big plus is how beginner-friendly they are; Oracle cards are usually read intuitively, so most decks won’t require you to learn a complex system of symbolism. (Of course, the fact that every oracle deck uses different symbolism can be frustrating for some readers, because they have to learn a new set of symbols for every deck.)
Some readers (myself included) also find that oracle cards usually give more surface level information. Tess Whitehurst says that, “While oracle cards can help us answer the questions ‘What direction should I take?’ and ‘What is the lesson here?’ tarot cards are more suited to helping us answer the questions ‘What is going on?’ and ‘What is the underlying pattern at work here?’” For this reason, many readers choose to use tarot and oracle cards together to get a more well-rounded look at the situation.
Another common complaint about oracle cards is that many decks are overwhelmingly positive and shy away from dark themes or imagery, which creates an imbalanced reading experience. I think this is best summed up by one Amazon review for the Work Your Light Oracle, which says: “Basically, this is very much a deck for Nice White Ladies(TM) who like crystals and candles but aren’t ‘super into all that witchy stuff.’”
There ARE oracle decks out there that address darker themes, but many of the most popular decks on the market are overwhelmingly positive. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a little positive encouragement is more helpful than brutal honesty. However, too much focus on the positive can lead you to ignore your problems, which only makes things worse in the long run. For this reason, finding balanced decks is important — if you’re going to use a very shiny happy deck, my advice would be to alternate it with more grounded decks, or with a deck specifically designed for shadow work.
That being said, oracle cards are a great divination tool if you can find a good deck, especially for beginners who are intimidated by more structured systems like tarot and the runes. If you’re interested in working with oracle cards, the best way to start is to find a deck that 1.) you feel a strong attraction to, and 2.) has a good guidebook. (My favorite oracle deck is the Halloween Oracle by Stacey Demarco, which I use for readings all year.)
Runes. The Elder Futhark alphabet is a runic alphabet that originated in ancient Scandinavia around 200 AD. While this was an actual writing system, it also had magical and mythological associations in the cultures that originally used it. While using the runes for divination is a modern practice, it is based on the historical sense of magic surrounding these symbols.
Like tarot, the runes have a traditional set of meanings. However, because there are only twenty-four runes, there aren’t as many meanings to learn as there are with tarot. Some rune sets also contain a blank stone, which has its own special meaning. I have personally found the runes to be a great source of wisdom and insight, although they do tend towards “big picture” messages rather than small details.
However, there is one major stain on the runes’ history; they were studied and used by Nazi occultists before and during World War II. Like many symbols associated with historical Germanic paganism, the runes were appropriated as part of Nazi propaganda — for example, the Sowilo rune was incorporated into the SS logo. This isn’t to say that you can’t reclaim the Elder Futhark alphabet, but I do think it’s important to know the history going in. Because of their association with Nazism, it’s best to avoid wearing or publicly displaying the runes.
There are other ancient alphabets that are used for divination, like the Anglo-Saxon runes or the Irish Ogham, but the Elder Futhark is the most popular.
If you’re interested in learning divination with runes, I recommend the book Pagan Portals: Runes by Kylie Holmes.
Pendulums. Pendulums are interesting because, unlike tarot, oracle cards, and runes, they can be used to answer yes or no questions. For this reason, many readers use pendulums to get clarification on readings they’ve done with other divination methods, but you can also use pendulums on their own.
A pendulum is any small, weighted object hanging from a chain or string. You can buy a pendulum made specifically for divination from a metaphysical shop or an Etsy seller, but you can just as easily use something you already have: a necklace, your housekey, or a small rock or crystal tied to a string.
Pendulums may be the easiest divination method to learn. The only thing you need to do to learn how to interpret a pendulum is ask it what its “yes” and “no” motions look like. To do this, simply hold your pendulum in your hands and focus on your connection to it. Then, let the pendulum hang from its chain or string so it can swing freely. Say or think, “Show me ‘yes’.” Allow the pendulum to swing, and pay attention to its movements. “Yes” is often a forwards-and-backwards swing or a clockwise circle, but your “yes” may look different. (Some witches even notice that different pendulums in their collection have different “yes” and “no” movements!) Once you’ve gotten the pendulum to show you its “yes,” ask it to show you its “no.” For many readers, “no” is a side-to-side swing or a counterclockwise circle, but again, yours may be different.
The biggest downside to pendulums is that because they typically only answer “yes” or “no,” you have to be very specific with your questions. Pendulums aren’t the best tool for general energy readings or open-ended advice. However, that specificity makes them great for validating your gut feelings, interpreting your dreams, identifying a deity or spirit that you think may be reaching out to you, or any other situation that requires a little clarification.
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