How Does Divination Work?

I pulled three ogham out of the leather pouch and laid them, one by one, onto the surface of my shrine. This divination would be the omen for all of the Solitary Druid Fellowship, a broad swatch of Pagandom that joined one another in a shared practice for the first time on the Winter Solstice. These three ogham would be the message for the whole lot.

Winter Solstice Omen

The ogham is a system of divination that still challenges me. I continue to rely on ogham experts to tell me what these little piece of wood mean. I don’t know them all by heart, either.

I’ll wait until the ritual is done to see what they mean, I thought. This felt like the right choice at the time, and I continued on with my personal observance of the High Day.

When the ritual was done, I sat at my desk. I opened my copy of The Solitary Druid to the page with the ogham chart. I got out the journal I use for my divination practice, and turned to a blank page.

There were three pre-written questions used in the SDF liturgy, and I copied them into the journal:

  1. How were my offerings received?
  2. How shall the Kindred respond?
  3. What more would you have me learn?

I found the ogham meanings on the chart, and copied them down as well.

  1. Fern (Alder):   Guidance
  2. Straif (Blackthorn): Trouble and Negativity    
  3. Ur (Heather): Healing & Homelands

 Oh, no.

Trouble and negativity? Really? Trouble and negativity?

I stood up from my desk. I looked at my shrine and the still-burning candles.

Perhaps I should do the ritual again, make more offerings, see if there’s a different omen.

But no, that wouldn’t make sense. The omen is for all of the group. What would one person’s extra offerings do to change the omen. And anyway, do I really believe that a few extra oats can change the minds of the gods? For that matter, do I believe their minds work like that? Do I think that the Kindred are that offering-hungry, or offering-dependent, or offering-influenced? Is that really how it works?

And why am I being so one-dimensional about “trouble and negativity?!”

All of these thoughts are racing in my head as I pace in front of my altar.

Then it hits me.

Photo by Danny Akright

This isn’t my omen to read.

These ogham were drawn for the entire group, and it’s up to the group to interpret it.

So yesterday, after all of the Fellowship had a change to observe the Solstice and share about their experiences on the SDF blog, I put up a new post. Imbedded within it was a Google Doc, and the solitaries of the Fellowship were all invited to help crowdsource the SDF omen.

The results have been pretty amazing. People who have no real connection to the ogham, or who don’t even see themselves as being skilled with divination, are offering their interpretations. And thanks to the cool tech that Google provides, some of this collaboration has been happening between multiple contributors in real time.

It’s super cool.

All of this has got me thinking about divination, though. When I read the tarot, a practice that is much more comfortable to me, I rarely (if ever) look at anyone else’s concordance of card meanings. I go with my gut, trusting my knowledge of the traditional meanings while holding that up against my impressions. It feels like a very natural, very organic way of reading.

I’m also not normally reading the cards as “the message of the Kinded,” or something like that. It’s my impression, my intuitive take. Sometimes the reading feels inspired, and the messages that come feel as thought they are not completely my own. But I never think of myself as a mouthpiece for the gods.

That would be kind of Pope-ish, wouldn’t it?

And yet, I approached the draw of the ogham with this sense of obligation to communicate the message of the Kindred to the Fellowship. That implies that there is one message, or that there is one correct answer, and I don’t believe that.

I wonder…

What if the questions we ask during a divinatory practice are simply designed to point our focus toward the divine, but the answers we receive have nothing to do with the questions? If we work from the idea that the Kindred, the divine in its multiplicity, are communicating with us, isn’t it possible – likely, even – that the messages we receive are designed to re-direct our focus away from the questions, away even from our preconceptions of the divine, toward….what? Ourselves? Each other? The world? Some holy task of being human?

What do you think divination really does? How would you describe its function and purpose? Is it a part of your practice? And if so, what do you think is going on during your divination? If it isn’t a part of your practice, why not?

Tell me —

How does divination work?






17 responses to “How Does Divination Work?”

  1. Kris Hughes Avatar
    Kris Hughes

    I just found this post…

    Often I find that the best question is no question. It’s what often works best for me. Just be open and use your tool of choice.

    I wonder if you’ve ever read this. It’s in three parts, this is a link to the first.


  2. Jason Ash Avatar

    Teo asks: “How does divination work?”

    I think divination is a form of contemplation work. Sometimes it’s a form of opening up to the divine and praying for answer. Other times, it’s the self that is the source of wisdom. Either way, I see it as a way to think and reflect on the things that are going on in our lives and inviting insight from the numinous.

    Teo asks: “What if the questions we ask during a divinatory practice are simply designed to point our focus toward the divine, but the answers we receive have nothing to do with the questions?”

    While I agree that sometimes a message that comes through a reading can be bigger (or simply different) than the questions asked, I was talking to veteran tarot reader who had a different take. He told me that he thought that folks back off the questions too easy when readings don’t make sense instead of doing the hard work of sitting with the reading and letting the interpretation unfold. He strongly felt that the question was an important part of the oracle work and that tarot and other forms of divination responded to the question or intention of the reading.

    That’s been really useful advice for me. This may or may not be true for you or other readers, but when I find myself wanting to “adjust” the question or position in the spread, I try to check in see if I’m resisting a difficult (or confusing message) and instead try to really sit with the difficult reading and allow it’s insight to emerge overtime. While I don’t there is one right answer, questions are an essential part the divination and are always relevant.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      You had me at your first sentence, Jason. Contemplation work — I’m so glad you said that. The entire first paragraph of your comment is resonant for me.

      You have a great point about sitting with the difficult questions. That, too, is a part of the contemplative experience. I think that there are also times that the journey one take to reach the answer is much longer or more complicated than the querent might expect it to be.

      I understand that feeling you have, that wanting to “adjust” the question or position in the spread. I think by turning this omen over to the Fellowship, really inviting people in to a communal process of divination/discernment, we were able to stretch out that experience of “sitting with the difficult reading.”

      And I completely agree with that last sentence you wrote.

      This was a great comment, Jason. Thank you for being a part of this dialogue!

  3. Derek_anny Avatar

    I see divination as a method of detecting and interpreting the flows of energy around us. Energy is everywhere, and always flowing, a more pervasive version of air currents. Divination is our way of putting up a weather vane or windsock. Often, divination is merely to discover probable flows; where the present moment is taking us. Other times, we can ask the Kindred for input. They in turn manipulate local mini-currents such that our method returns what they want it to.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      That’s so interesting, Derek. I’ve never heard it described in quite that way. It’s so visual, this idea of currents of energy.

      Is there a divinatory practice that you prefer? One that better picks up on these currents?

      1. Derek_anny Avatar

        It all depends on how a person works with their intuition. I tend to use tarot cards as a really elaborate form of bibliomancy. Either that or I go online to the oracle deck Morgan’s Tarot.

        My conception of energy/ether is influenced by feng shui, and the metaphor of a dye block placed in a river that stains the water it encounters.

  4. Chris Boydston Taub Avatar
    Chris Boydston Taub

    I’m not certain, but it feels like because you saw something negative in front of you, that you may have tried to compromise your reading in some way by saying “No, it doesn’t mean this. I meant to do it this way.” That happened to me a lot when I didn’t want to accept the negative outcome.

    If you’re performing the reading as a seer, then you need to see what is in front of you and report the message without changing the rules midway. Reading it on your own was the initial intent. It is better to know through the Straif fid that there is going to be some issues to be dealt with than to have it sideswipe you and not be prepared.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for the comment, Chris.

      I don’t think I worked to compromise anything, but rather I recognized that — unexpectedly — I wasn’t called to be the sole seer. The Solitary Druid Fellowship isn’t really built to function in the same way that a grove would, and as such the traditional understandings about roles is up for reexamination. That’s what’s happening on the Crowdsourcing post.

      And, I think it should be noted that there are many interpretations on that page about how one might read Straif. Some of them take it as a possible negative thing in our collective future, and others see it as connected to the pains of childbirth, of bringing something new into the world.

      Had I rushed to say that Straif meant *one thing* we would have all missed out on these different interpretations.

      Do you see what I mean?

      1. Chris Boydston Taub Avatar
        Chris Boydston Taub

        Understood! I gathered my feelings on this from your decision on what three questions you should ask before you posted them. Since they were inspired by you, I thought the answers would also be inspired through you. 🙂

        We’re in agreement on that particular fid meaning. I look at Straif as transformation. I was also taught to look at it as, “Consult your gods for more information.” Which means each of us should look at the question and ask our Kindreds how we should interpret this for ourselves – that there is something significant in asking the Kindreds for help at this point. Good stuff. 🙂

        1. Teo Bishop Avatar

          And I thought they would, too! That was my assumption, but the message I received (my own divinatory experience) was to step back and let other’s speak. 🙂

          Thanks for being a part of this dialogue, Chris. I appreciate it.

        2. Jason Hatter Avatar
          Jason Hatter

          I was /am being taught that a frequent meaning of that particular fid seems to be a trimming of the fat, in a painful way. IN other words, things you are used to will be removed, it will probably be painful, but you’ll survive, and will probably be the better for it in the long run. You’re just not going to like it.

          1. Teo Bishop Avatar

            Thank you, Jason!

  5. Drake Avatar

    When my partner and I take the omens during our hearth rituals, we don’t ask the questions that you do. I never ask if the kindreds have accepted my offerings. If I have performed the ritual correctly, then the kindreds are obligated to accept, it’s part of the contract (It’s a Roman thing). Instead, we ask “What wisdom do you have to share, and what further needs to you have of us?” we take an omen for each of the three kindred, and then typically the specific diety/ies of occasion. When we get a negative omen, we tend to take it as a warning of troubles ahead. Often we will then ask for clarification/advice on how to deal with the upcoming troubles. It has worked well for us.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for sharing your process, Drake. I appreciate it.

      The subject of whether questions are appropriate in the SDF liturgy, or *which* questions would be appropriate, is on my mind. Some people ignored the written questions, which I think is totally fine. Others used them, and others took a completely different approach to the divinatory section of the liturgy. It helps to get a sense of how others are using divination in their personal observances.

      Blessings to you!

  6. valerie Avatar

    I think divination is simply a process of extracting basic information we really already know, we just aren’t seeing it. It may be for any number of reasons this information isn’t readily accessible, I tend to lean toward the nagging circumstance of emotions mixed with ego, that can be a large hurdle. I’ve utilized various divination forms from the odd and unusual to the very common for nearly all of my life, I think I was probably in elementary school when my mom had me reading tea leaves and flames. I guess I basically see it as a way to knock obstacles of perception out of the way and figure out what’s real and what we make up and tell ourselves. I’ve never done a reading of any kind for another person that provided any information I didn’t get just from speaking with and being around them. Many people may disagree with me, and that’s okay, we all have our reasons, methods and thoughts, for me, though, this is what’s true. 🙂

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Valerie. I’m glad that you’re a part of this conversation. I love this bit —

      “I basically see it as a way to knock obstacles of perception out of the way and figure out what’s real and what we make up and tell ourselves.”

      I hear you saying that divination helps you to discern was is not simply “perceived,” but what is “real.” Am I reading you correctly? If so, I think it’s fascinating that we might use a tool that relies on our perception to help us understand or pick apart our perception! (It’s like an MC Sscher painting!!)

      Again, thank you for your comment! Blessings!

      1. valerie Avatar

        Yes, you’re reading me correctly. I know my own perception can really impact that which I decide is true, I have to assume that is probably true for most or all of us as I am not *that* different from anyone else.

        Totally Escher. That’s life.

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