Divination 1

by Victoria S. – Approved on 17 February, 2019

1. Name and briefly describe one method of divination or seership technique common to three paleo-pagan Indo-European cultures. (minimum 100 words each)

Augury is one type of divination that is common across multiple Indo-European cultures. We use the word “augury” to refer to any divination based on observation of natural events, as opposed to the drawing of lots or the use of a pendulum or other tool for divination.

Webster’s dictionary online agrees with the modern use of the word by defining Augury as:

“1 : divination from auspices (see auspice 3) or omens Ancient augury involved the interpretation of the flight patterns of birds.; also : an instance of this

2 : omen, portent”

In Ancient Rome, they read messages found in the flight of birds, and the patterns of lightning flashes (Dunn, Kindle loc 3247). Augury was also used to establish the leader of the land. Kearsley discusses how Octavian utilized a ritual called the augurium salutis in order to establish his leadership and his place in the social structure. This ritual identified the ruler as the one whom Jupiter identified as always working for the “well-being of the state.” This particular ritual was sometimes used for political gain, as in the case of Octavian who used the ritual to establish his rulership of Rome in the year 29 (150-152).

The German people used augury in their rituals. In “Germania,” Tacitus says “Augury and divination by lot no people practice more diligently.” Tacitus goes on to describe that the priests performed augury by observing the flight of birds as well as the actions of horses. In the latter practice, white horses are harnessed to a sacred vehicle and their “neighings and snortings” are interpreted by the accompanying priests and tribal dignitaries. According to Tacitus, this form of augury – observing the behavior of white horses harnessed to a sacred cart – is considered the most trusted of the various types of augury that the German people performed (Tacticus).

J.A. MacCulloch, writing in the early 1900s mentions the possibility of the Celtic Druids performed divination through the examination of entrails. According to Tacitus, the Druids used to examine the entrails of human victims (Tacticus). Given that Tacitus was possibly looking for propaganda against the Druids, we have to consider what he says carefully, and it is unknown how often, if at all, the Druids actually made human sacrifices.  MacCulloch does also mention other methods of augury that the Druids performed. Irish Druids would listen to the voices of birds, and in Briton, they would look at the direction that a hare would take. Omens were also taken from the smoke of sacred fires, and the clouds in the sky (MacCulloch 234 – 248)

2. Within the context of a single paleo-pagan Indo-European culture, discuss three different forms of divination or seership, and give an example of each. (minimum 100 words each)

There are many different forms of divination used by the people of the Norse cultures.

Diana Paxson wrote about the use of oracular trance in the Viking Age in Scandinavia by the spakona and spamadhr – women and men who “speak” oracular answers to offered questions. In addition to the spakona and spamadhr, oracular trance was also used by the völva. One example of oracular trance in lore is in ‘The Saga of Erik the Red’ where a völva, Thorbjorg, tells a group of people when the famine will end.  (Paxson, Loc 109 – 185). Thorbjorg made a circuit in winter to visit homes of those who are interested in knowing what fate had in store.  Thorkell, the chief of the area invited her to give them information on when the famine would end.  The saga details the food she was given, the clothes she wore, and the details of the ritual that she performed. Thorbjorg sat on a high seat and spoke of being joined by spirits (Eirik the Red’s Saga). Modern practitioners perform a reconstruction of the oracular trance work based in part on this example.

Tacticus mentions that the Germanic people used lots to take omens. In his description, the priest takes a twig and cuts it into pieces. The pieces are marked with “certain marks” and then thrown on a white piece of clothing.  The twigs may be interpreted by either the head of the house or the priest, depending on if the ritual is private or public.  The person doing the reading interprets the marks as they are drawn. Tacticus does mention that even good readings are still confirmed by omens (Tacticus 10). Modern Heathers and Northern Pagans use runes in a similar manner, although there is no evidence that the symbols that Tacticus mentions were the runes as we use them. 

Tacticus also talks about how the Norse took omens through augury. According to Tacticus, “no kind of augury is more credited” than reading the movement of horses. According to Tacticus, horses that were white and had never been put to work were especially prized for these omens.  The horses were yoked to a chariot that had been consecrated for that purpose, and the priest or other officiant interpreted the movement and sounds of the horses (Tacitus 10). Davidson also talks about how the settlers of Iceland used augury by throwing their “high-seat pillars” overboard. They would then see where the wooden pillars came ashore before determining where they would come ashore (135).

3. Discuss both the role of seers within at least one Indo-European culture and the relationship of seers to other members of the society, including in that discussion how seers or visionaries would have supported themselves or how they would have been supported by their people. (minimum two paragraphs)

In Northern cultures, seers were consulted to know the future. In the saga of Eirik the Red, we are told the story of a “space-queen” who traveled to different homes in the winter. The seer was asked questions about their future. These questions included information about the weather and the state of the famine and what each person was “most curious to know.’ The saga goes on to tell us that the significant prophecy of the seer came true. Nothing is mentioned about the other prophecies.

In the tale, the seer is treated by the household as an important person. All the men in the household welcome her, and special food is created for her. They gave her a place to sleep and made sure that she had what she needed to perform the prophecy. Everything in the saga leads us to believe that the seer was well respected and appreciated if potentially feared.

The Saga tells us that the seer went on a circuit of homes in winter. This information makes me believe that she may have some way of taking care of herself in summer, but she depends on the hospitality of others during the harsher months (Eirik the Red’s Saga).

4. Identify and describe one method of divination to which you find yourself attracted, and discuss its relationship to paleo-pagan divination. (minimum 300 words)

For the last few years, I have been slowly learning the Runes. I started my studies with the Elder Futhark, and have recently been looking at the Anglo-Saxon Runes.  While we do not know for sure if the runes were originally used as a form of divination, we have runic carvings that date back to around 50 – 160 CE (McCoy).

The Eldar Futhark is a set of 24 runic symbols that are believed to have been found by Odin and shared with ancient Heathens.  There are many questions about the origin and meanings of the runes, but modern pagans have generally agreed upon similar meanings for the runes. These meanings still very slightly from reader to reader.

In addition to the modern meaning of the word, “rune” can also mean  “mystery.” It could refer to a written character, a spell, or an incantation (Plowright loc 88). The academics are not certain that there was a “significant runic magical system,” but there does seem to be evidence that runes were part of the magico-religious tradition (Plowright loc 134-135).

The Hávamál tells us that Odin sacrificed himself to himself in order to obtain the runes from the water beneath the World Tree (Crawford 42).  This leads us to believe that the runes May be connected to something that is older than the mythology that we have and may have connections to the chthonic powers of chaos. This connection to the waters beneath the World tree may reflect a connection to the Norns – three maidens who record the “lives and fates of children” (McCoy).

While we do not have good evidence of the original names of the Elder Futhark runes, but we do have names for the Younger Futhark and the Anglo-Saxon runes. Runic scholars have reconstructed the names for the Elder Futhark runes from a combination of the three runic poems that we have remaining (Plowright loc 184-214).  

Modern pagans will often use the runes for divination by drawing runes one at a time and reading them collectively.  Others will toss the runes onto the ground and read them by how they fell. There is no historical evidence of the former method of reading, and I wonder if it might not be related to the practice of reading tarot cards.  We do, however, have some evidence from Tacticus of wooden lots being cast on the ground and read (Plowright loc 1294).

5. Briefly describe the symbology of your chosen method of divination, and include a method of application for that system. (minimum 100 words overall description plus at least one sentence or line per symbol)

The runes first appeared in the 3rd century AD, so we know that it is not an ancient written language (“Runic Alphabet”).  We have also seen indications that the runes were used for magic in some of our lore. In the Havamal, we learn that the origin of the runes was when Odin sacrificed himself to himself by hanging on a tree for nine nights. He also lists out eighteen spells that he knows and the implication is that the runes are used for these spells (Hollander, Loc 1354 – 1468). While there seems to be no evidence that runes, as we know them, were used in divination in ancient cultures, in modern times, the runes are used as divination as well as a focus for meditation.

For this course, I focused on the Elder Futhark Runic system. For my regular form of personal divination, I pull one rune and meditate on it for a few minutes. Usually, that rune highlights or reminds me of something that I need to focus on that day. For instance, drawing Laguz may remind me to pay attention to my emotions today, and not to let them control my actions and reactions.

Here is how I interpret the runes:

Fehu: Fehu represents cattle or mobile wealth. This is not the wealth of property, but the prosperity that we can, and should, share.

Uruz: Some sources say that this rune means “Strength of Will” (Norse Mythology). In a trance journey with the rune, I find that it is more about the primal, natural potential that IS and cannot be diverted.

Thurisaz: Thurisaz looks a bit like a thorn to me and, like many of the runes, it is a complex rune. Thorns can be used both to harm and to heal. You can use a poisoned thorn to hurt someone or make them sick, or you can use a thorn to lance an infection to allow it to heal. Thurisaz can also act as protection – as a hedge of thorny plants can. However you interpret Thurisaz, it is important to remember that the tool is dangerous and it can harm all involved.

Ansuz: Ansuz is the rune of communication to the gods. It reminds us to listen for a message or to look for blessings.

Raidho: Raidho is the journey. It is the joy of a caravan, the joy of the journey and the understanding that sometimes change is a good thing.

Kenaz: Kenaz is Fire. It is the fire that burns and the fire that transforms. It can remind us that there is pain in transformation and creation.

Gebo: Gebo is a gift given in return for, or in anticipation of, another gift. Gebo is about freely sharing without expectation, of giving for the joy of giving.

Wunjo: Wunjo is joy. It is the wild joy that you feel when you can put all your cares aside and revel in the wonder of life.

Hagalaz: Hagalaz means “hail” (Norse Mythology). Hail can be destructive, but it also brings water life once it melts.

Naudhiz: Naudhiz is the need fire. It is the real need that you have, that unfulfilled desire. It is not what you think you need, but the thing that will bring your true desire.

Isa: Isa is usually interpreted as “ice.” Sometimes it is the cold of hibernation, and sometimes it’s the calm and peace before the next step.

Jera: Jera is the cycle of the year. It is the reminder that we will reap what we sow. It is also the reminder that seasons will pass.

Eihwaz: Eihwaz is the world tree. The tree that grows strong and stable, connecting the worlds.

Pertho: Pertho is the loot cup. The cup of fate and chance.  A reminder that while fate can change what happens, it is up to us in how we deal with it

Algiz: Algiz is about protection and defense. It is the elk that stands between you and the enemy, with its head down, holding the danger at bay.

Sowilo: Sowilo is the sun, the life-giving light and the light of success.

Tiwaz: Tiwaz is often associated with the god Tyr. It is about leading by example, doing the right thing, and taking responsibility for your actions.

Berkano: Berkano is the beginning. It is fertility and sustenance, and new beginnings.

Ehwaz: Ehwaz is the horse and rider. It is about the journey made together with another being, and of working together to reach the end of the journey.

Mannaz: Mannaz is the symbol of humankind, the symbol of the self, of being. 

Laguz: Laguz is water, emotions. It reminds us to connect to our emotions.  I also associate it with the god Njord and the sea.

Ingwaz: Ing is the seed of potential. It is the next thing waiting to come to fruition, waiting patiently for its time. It is also associated with the god Inv Frey.

Othala: Othala is inheritance. It is the property and traditions that are passed from generation to generation.

Dagaz: Dagaz is the dawn, the new day. It is the time of beginnings and new hope. It is the joy that comes with the dawn as the sun rises and warms the land.

Translations of the name of the runes and the phonemes are from: http://norse-mythology.org/runes/the-meanings-of-the-runes/

6. Describe the results of three divinations performed by you. These divinations may be text assisted. (minimum 100 words each)

Here are three divination readings that I did for other people. All of these readings were done in-person with the aid of a book.

Divination #1 – Runes – Feb 2018

Query: General reading for moving forward for a friend

This reading was a simple three rune reading.  The three runes were pulled to answer the question rather than any particular sequence.  The first rune, Algiz is a protective rune. It can also represent the World Tree and connection to the gods. The second rune is Jera, the rune of cycles. It can mean the harvest cycles or any other cycles that we go through – internally or externally. The last rune, Mannaz is the rune of manifestation and embodiment. Together, they caution the querent to keep up a shield, to be cautious while they wait for the cycles to come back around again.  The querent will need to make sure that they remain grounded in the present while they wait.  Overall, the runes recommend patience as time passes.

Divination #2 – Tarot – Sept 2018

Query: Is the new job the right one? Given at OBOD East Coast Gathering
Link to image: https://i.imgur.com/EDC0PJ2.jpg

This was one of my first readings with Tarot. I used a layout from Kristoffer Hughes. The base of the question is the Knight of Shields, with the Five of Wands crossing it.  In the past is The World. The unconscious element is the Ten of Swords, while the conscious elements are The Sun.  Bringing it all together is the Seven of cauldrons.

The King of Shields (pentacles) represents the querent in this case, and a challenge of passion opposes him. In this case, he was not able to do the things that made him passionate about the job anymore.  The World in the position of the past emphasizes what he feels that he has lost. He was feeling betrayed and like he had been stabbed in the back as shown by the Ten of Swords. To me, The Sun is about joy in life. This is what the querent is missing in his life. The final card is the Seven of Cauldrons. This card shows the silhouette of someone looking out over the water towards seven spirits behind seven cauldrons. It reminds me of someone who is looking for a spiritual connection or help.

Overall, I think that the querent wants to get out of their current job situation and look for something that speaks to them on a spiritual level.

Divination #3 – Oct 2018

Query: My partner asked what does he need to consider to find a new job after his company closed.

For this reading, I chose a three card spread that spoke of past, present, and future. In the position of the past is the Devil. This card speaks of shackles or chains that the querent is allowing to remain attached.  The card of the present is the four of pentacles, a card of financial stability. The last card is The Emperor speaks of internal sovereignty and knowing that you have control over yourself.

Interestingly, The Emperor is another four.  For this reading, the querent needs to step outside of their comfort zone, to throw off the chains, and step into their sovereignty and the fullness of what they can be.  In the meantime, the querent should not need to worry about money as long as they are not wasteful.

7. Discuss your view of the purpose of divination. (minimum 100 words)

The word “divination” comes from a Latin word that means “pertaining to a deity.” Patrick Dunn says that divination “is a sacred activity in which the gods speak back” (loc. 2938). Different methods of divination are ways that we can seek messages from the gods.  Most people who work with the gods cannot hear them directly, and divination is how we hear the messages from the gods.

Divination can also help us to see options that may not have occurred to use for a decision that we need to make or a situation that we are facing. For example, when trying to make a decision, I will often turn to the runes or tarot to look at my options. I often find that meditating on the reading will provide additional options and perspectives of which that I had not previously been aware.

8. Discuss the relative importance and effect of divination within your personal spiritual practice. (minimum 100 words)

I use divination in my daily practice to help me interpret the guidance from the gods. Typically, I say a prayer and make an offering to one of the Kindreds – usually the Ancestors or specific gods – and ask for guidance in return. I either draw an ogham card or pull a rune to help understand the message from the gods that day.  For example, one day I drew Ruis from the Ogham. Ruis speaks about dealing with negative consequences of an action or choice and converting that rage, shame, or embarrassment into a positive reaction. Sure enough, that day I was reminded of the negative consequences of an action, or inaction, that occurred last month. Thanks to the reminder of the ogham that morning, I was in the right frame of mind to recognize the positive that could come out of an otherwise frustrating situation.

I have also used divination to help me understand an issue or decision that I’m facing. In this case, I will often draw 3-5 cards, ogham, or runes and interpreting the spread. This interpretation helps me to view the issues with additional perspectives and often helps me to approach the decision from a new direction. In this case, I find that the interpretations and messages that come to me through this form of divination may come from the Kindreds, or it may come from my subconscious.

Either way, divination helps me to connect to Spirit and the Kindreds to provide guidance.

9. Discuss your view and understanding of the function of the Seer.
(minimum 100 words)

To me, the Seer is a vital part in our understanding of the world. They are our connection to the Gods, and they help us to understand what the Divine wants of us. In ancient time, the Druids were also seers who would find lost people or predict the results of battles.

In ‘Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld,’ MacLeod talks about ‘The Wooing of Etain.’ In this story, the druid uses “four rods of yew and he writes the ogham thereon,” and through his knowledge of the Ogham, the druid finds where Etain is. (MacLeod Loc. 560-562). Through the different methods of divination, the modern seer can help seekers to uncover hidden knowledge and guide those interested in communication with the Kindreds.

10. Discuss the importance and value of divination as it relates to ADF.
(minimum 100 words)

Divination is a key component in our core order of ritual. After we call in all the Kindreds, we ask for an omen. Depending on this group, this omen could be asking if our offerings are accepted or asking what blessings the Kindreds would offer us.  In the early days of ADF, the question for the omen centered around if the blessings were accepted. This caused some people to hold back good offerings to ensure that they had extra in the case of their offerings not being accepted. Today, it is most common for the seer to ask what blessings the Kindreds have to share with us (Newberg).

In addition to asking for the omen during a ritual, many seers will also use divination to facilitate communication with the Kindreds outside of ritual. This type of communication can be beneficial to determine the best types of offerings to use, if a particular ritual should be performed, or the best timing for a ritual. 

Divination, in all its forms, is an excellent way to establish communication with the Kindreds.


Albertsson, Alaric. HANDBOOK OF SAXON SORCERY & MAGIC: Wyrdworking, Runelore, Divination, and Wortcunning. Kindle ed., LLEWELLYN, 2017.

“Augury.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/augury.

Crawford, Jackson. The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. Kindle ed., Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2015.

Davidson, Hilda Ellis. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse University Press, 1988.

Davis, Kevin L. Runes, Magic, and Divination. www.academia.edu/9204963/Runes_Magic_and_Divination.

Dunn, Patrick. The Practical Art of Divine Magic: Contemporary & Ancient Techniques of Theurgy. Kindle ed., Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd, 2015.

“Eirik the Red’s Saga.” Translated by John Sephton, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, Project Gutenberg, 8 Mar. 2006, www.gutenberg.org/files/17946/17946-h/17946-h.htm.

Ellison, Robert Lee. The Solitary Druid: Walking the Path of Wisdom and Spirit. Kindle ed., Citadel Press, 2005.

Hollander, Lee M. The Poetic Edda. Kindle ed., University of Texas Press, 1988.

Kearsley, Rosalinde. “OCTAVIAN AND AUGURY: THE YEARS 30–27 B.c.” The Classical Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 01, 2009, pp. 147–166.

Kvilhaug, Maria. “The Völva – The Norse Witch.” Freyia Völundarhúsins, freya.theladyofthelabyrinth.com/?page_id=258.

MacCulloch, J A. “The Religion of the Ancient Celts.” Sacred-Texts.com, 9011, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/rac/. Accessed 30 Mar. 2018.

MacLeod, Sharon Paice. Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld: Mythic Origins, Sovereignty and Liminality. Kindle ed., McFarland Et Company, 2018.

McCoy, Daniel. “The Origins of the Runes.” Norse Mythology for Smart People, norse-mythology.org/runes/the-origins-of-the-runes/.

Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Infobase Pub., 2008.

Newberg, Brandon. “Step Ten: The Omen.” Ancient Symbols, Modern Rites: A Core Order of Ritual Tutorial for Ar NDraiocht Feind, Ár NDraíocht Féin, 2007, www.adf.org/members/training/dedicant-path/articles/coortutorial/step-ten.html.

Oliphant, Samuel Grant. “The Use of the Omen in Plautus and Terence.” The Classical Journal, vol. 7, no. 4, 1 Jan. 1912, pp. 165–173.

Paxson, Diana L. Taking up the Runes: a Complete Guide to Using Runes in Spells, Rituals, Divination, and Magic. Kindle ed., Weiser Books, 2005.

Plowright, Sweyn. The Rune Primer: a down-to-Earth Guide to the Runes. Kindle ed., MacKaos Consulting for Rune-Net Press, 2006.

“Runic Alphabet.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 Mar. 2008, www.britannica.com/topic/runic-alphabet.

Spence, Lewis. The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain. Dorset Press, 1992.

Tacitus. “Germania.” Translated by A J Church et al., Internet Medieval Source Book, Jan. 1996, sourcebooks.fordham.edu/halsall/source/tacitus1.html. Accessed 30 Mar. 2018.