Give Me That Old Time Divination

Look, we’ve been on this merry-go-round before. I’m a Tarot reader, through and through. Tarot is far and away the most useful, versatile, satisfying divination system I’ve ever tried. Part of that is on me; Tarot was the first system I learned, and it turns out it’s really hard to committing to learning a new divination system once you have one under your belt. When you have a question and you want answers, you default to the system you know, not the one you’re learning, because the former will definitely give you an answer and the latter will… Maybe? If you squint real hard? But most likely, a system you’re still in the process of learning will give you an answer that you don’t understand in the moment, that you write down in a journal somewhere, and that you then look back on six months after the fact and go “Oh, so that’s what that meant.” It’s really hard to commit to the hard work of learning a new divination system, when you know you could always ask your questions of Ol’ Reliable instead. Largely for this reason, I’ve dabbled in a lot of different divinatory techniques, but I always come back to Tarot.

But the other reason I always come back is that Tarot is damn good. Really and truly, it’s the best. It doesn’t always do well with really concrete questions like “Where are my car keys?” or “How many people are going to RSVP to my birthday party?” But beyond that, I’ve found Tarot to be the most adaptable, specific, insightful system of any divination method I’ve tried. Admittedly, I’m biased (see the paragraph above). But also, I think the structure of Tarot is particularly versatile and well adapted to divination. Horary astrology is well-suited to practical questions, but you also can’t ask a bunch of horary questions in a row the way you can for Tarot. I’ve found that things like runes or tasseography are often limited in the amount of information they give (although maybe that’s just me not giving them a fair shake). Tarot, by contrast, has so much information, and I find that the relevant stuff always jumps to the fore.

But sometimes, I just want to do something different. Sometimes I want to do divination that isn’t Tarot.

Part of this, I think, is just that I’m easily bored and I like having variety to keep myself entertained. Part of it is also aesthetic; Tarot, particularly RWS- or Thoth-based Tarot, is incredibly modern. There’s a part of me that has this old-world fantasy of doing Ye Olde Anciente Arte of Divinatione, interpreting fate and fortune the way that people hundreds (or hell, thousands) of years ago might have done. I have a decided distaste for invented divination systems;* I like things that feel old, authentic (what a tricky word), and like they derive from tradition rather than from the particular invention of one individual person. I sometimes lament that Wicca doesn’t have its own special divination system, and people ask me, “Why don’t you just make your own?” But that’s precisely the point. I don’t want to make my own. I want there to be one already, one that is somehow traditional and not just “some dude sat down and made this all up.”

Now, of course, there’s nothing wrong with some dude just sitting down and making a bunch of stuff up. I’ve done so myself on numerous occasions, and the results I’ve had were always interesting and enjoyable. But a lot of the time, when I’m feeling the itch to do something other than Tarot, what I want is old-world divination, something that precedes Tarot. I want something that fits my mental image of the early modern cunning man who divines for his clients when they come to visit. In my head, that man doesn’t go “Oh, of course, let me pull out the Tarot cards, which deck would you like us to use? I have this lovely Victorian Fairy Tarot that really speaks to me.” He throws the stones, or the bones, or scries in a bowl of water. He casts a geomantic chart or brews a pot of tea and reads the leaves. These are the kinds of divination I crave.

More often than not, my go-to divinatory methods to scratch that itch have been geomancy and favomancy. Geomancy is a fascinating, richly complex divination system that became popular during the Renaissance because it was available to people who lacked the expensive resources needed to do astrology. I’ve never studied it seriously enough to be any good at it, but my friend Sam is a master geomancer and I’m always deeply impressed by his ability to extract information from a geomantic chart. Favomancy (divination by beans) is something I’ve only ever mentioned in passing on the blog, and that’s intentional; I kind of like keeping this particular method to myself.** What I will say is that I need more practice if I’m to be any good at it, but also that it seems to lend itself to some questions better than others, and I’m still figuring out which ones those are.

I think that what I need to do is pick a divination system and commit to it. For some period of time, I need to commit myself to that system and only that system. (That is to say, no Tarot.) And I need to invest in actually learning that system, the same way I did when I was first learning Tarot. The goal is to become a serious reader with whatever my non-Tarot divination of choice is, not just a dabbler (which is what I am now). To be honest, I don’t know what system I’ll end up choosing.*** But I have this recurring itch for something other than Tarot, and I think it’s time I agreed to scratch it.


*In a certain sense, it’s odd that a Gardnerian Wiccan should have such a distaste for the invented; after all, my religion is a twentieth-century innovation. But on the other hand, if you look at what I do within the scope of Wicca, it’s fiercely traditional, much more about preserving a continuity greater than the individual practitioner, as opposed to being all about the individual’s license to (re)invent. There’s a reason I identify so strongly with the Hierophant.

**That’s not to say no one else is allowed to know it exists. If you’re curious, feel free to look up bacanje graha or falanje u grah. But my work with favomancy feels private somehow, and I don’t want to talk in detail about how I use it.

***Heh. Maybe I should ask my Tarot cards which one to choose.

2 thoughts on “Give Me That Old Time Divination

  1. I agree completely about the tarot–I know it, use tons of decks for diversity of readings, and yet I try other things, like the &^%$% lenormand which gives me very little although I just bought yet another called the paper oracle which is lenormand plus seven or so new cards devised by the artist–it’s written about at Bell Wen’s blog and I found it attractive and intriguing in its way. I’m not straught-old-predictive but more oriented towards what to do for the best outcome, so basic ‘prediction’ systems give me little of use. I am interested in favomancy, please, and I have bags of dried organic beans nearby even as I write, so–how do I start??? Thanks and best wishes


  2. I think my next project is to learn bone casting/charm casting. I’ve seen people use it in multi layered readings with tarot and it looks so complicated and satisfying. It’s putting a set together that seems to be the hardest part because I’d want pieces that mean something to me personally instead of a ready made kit. I’d also be intrigued to learn more about favomancy, I’ve never heard of it before?


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