What Next? Methods of Divination
Divination by birds. Practiced by the Greeks and Romans, among others, this method examines the flight patterns, types, colors, and songs of birds. Birds flying up or toward you signify success in your future; a bird flying against the wind means someone in your life is being dishonest. Blue birds mean happiness, of course, and seeing a gull means travel in your future. On Valentine’s Day, birds can signify your future mate: a swan means you’ll fall for an artist. More ominously, a rooster crowing at night means a death in the family.
Some winged prompts:
- Baring your soul. In an alternate universe, what if birds were not animals, but souls of the dead, who could now see the future? Would they give false predictions or true? Would they communicate in pre-arranged bird-code to still-living family members so no one else could understand? Would some birds disagree with each other, leaving the living bewildered? What if each bird could give only one message before passing into the next world?
- It’s a bird cage. How about a dystopian universe where birds are nearly extinct, but people are fighting to save them as the only chance they have to know the future. Perhaps there’s an aviary housing the last living birds, and people pay large sums of money to visit or watch a video feed, trying to find a way out of the mess society has become. Who would own the aviary, and can they be trusted?
Divination by key. You can use the basic pendulum method with a key on a string, suspended from a finger. Ask yes/no questions and see how the key moves (first test it by asking questions you know the answer to), or you can write out the alphabet in a circle and have they key spell (pun intended) answers. Or put the key into a Bible at a certain passage, tie the Bible shut to hold the key in place, and suspend the whole thing from your string.
I’ve seen the pendulum method done at a baby shower with a wedding ring on a string over the woman’s belly: the ring moving in a circle means a girl is expected. Another key (pun intended again) gender reveal method is to conceal a key in one of your two fists; a pregnant woman who guesses the location of the key correctly will have a girl.
Some key prompts:
- Oh, baby. What if someone figured out some valid magical reason for the gender reveal key-pendulum bit? Let’s say in this universe developing babies give off their own magic, which affects metal, like keys. Let’s start with gender reveal: what would a key do in the case of a nonbinary child, or twins? And what if the key was part of good medical practice, because it could also diagnose trouble with the pregnancy? Would metal-magic be used in treatment?
- Whither thou goest. What if instead of phone tracking, you could use a random key to figure out where your friends and loved ones are? How would you zero in on specific people? Would they need to carry something you can sense (like a cell phone now), or could you use a tracking spell? What about someone who wanted to hide: how would they make themselves invisible to the key trick?
No, this isn’t getting drunk enough to prophesy. Margarita is Latin for pearl. One method is a common divination practice of casting objects over a table: in this case, white and black pearls and sea shells. Shells landing near the black pearl, concave-side-up means good luck, but convex-side-up means bad luck. Shells landing in a circle by the white pearl means money or travel coming your way. You can also catch a criminal: pearls placed in a pot or under an upturned vase are said to jump audibly when the person who committed a crime walks by.
Some pearly prompts:
- There ought to be a law. What if pearls were admissible as evidence in a court of law? Would they jump in their vase anytime anybody who’d ever committed any crime walked by, or would there be a way to focus on the crime in question? And what’s the definition of crime? People could be using pearls at home to investigate awful stuff that’s technically legal, like infidelity or breaking promises.
- There is a law. Let’s say divination by pearls is actually illegal, because it’s too powerful, or uses forbidden magic, or They don’t want you to know the truth about the future. Would pearl jewelry be outlawed, and thus hidden and passed down in secret? Maybe you’d need to find a jeweler who actually works with pearls and shells who could get them for you…for a price.
If you’re thinking gyroscope, you’re right: this is divination by dizziness. A person spins or dances inside a magic circle outlined with the alphabet or other symbols, and the future is foretold by their fall. The dizziness may also induce a confused state from which the dancer can prophesy. You can also do it by spinning a coin, but that’s not as much fun. (Seriously, don’t do this at home, you’ll probably fall on H for hospital.)
Some dizzy prompts:
- Do a little dance. Let’s say you have to do a specific magical dance for this to work. People have to train in a dance school to perform it properly…or do they? Maybe there’s an uprising of dancers following another tradition, with competing prophecies. It’s half about divining the future and half about artistry and dance technique.
- Round and round you go. Let’s say somebody goes to a party with a piñata. They get blindfolded and spun around until they are dizzy. Everyone is shocked when, instead of busting open the piñata to get candy (or walking into a wall) the guest starts to prophesy, accurately. It could be anything from giving the weather forecast, predicting the other guests’ future love lives, warning against imminent disaster, or revealing lottery numbers. What would this person do when they discover they have this odd and rather uncomfortable talent?
All right, now we’re getting serious. This is the big one— divination by the dead. The least invasive method for the dearly departed is to simply ask them questions about the future, via a Ouija board or during a seance. Darker methods summon spirits to actually appear before you (like the Witch of Endor did in the Bible), or actually reanimate their bodies. This gets icky quick: be prepared to visit a graveyard wearing the clothing of the dead and possibly even engage in a little cannibalism. Perhaps it’s no surprise that necromancy is thought to be very dangerous, because spirits are, ironically, unpredictable.
Some deadly prompts:
- Smoke and mirrors. What if a necromancer was a fraud? He’s got a whole set-up where his partners impersonate dead people and give fake predictions that just play the odds. Pretty lucrative, as long as you don’t get caught. There are a few ways to go with this plot: fraud encounters real ghost who just hangs out in a graveyard waiting for someone to talk to him, fraud discovers he’s not a fraud and has real powers and that’s terrifying, fraud meets someone who has real powers who wants to drive him out of business, fraud has one ghost who will speak to him and the ghost is the partner who fakes being other ghosts, or fraud meets debunker, who gives him a run for his money. You can spice up the plot by having any or all of the supposedly living characters be dead themselves. (I did a take on this in my story You Don’t Say, a romance between rival fake psychic investigators, who discover one of them is not a fake.)
- The past is present. What if necromancy could be used to solve crimes? People with talent for necromancy do it as a job, and produce ghosts who testify in court or advise investigators. Pretty simple: ask the dead guy who killed him. But what about stranger or older mysteries? Take the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Maybe her ghost is also missing: tied to her resting place, which no one can find. So the search for her would include necromancers flying over the ocean, performing rituals in a hired jet. History professors could hire necromancers to interview people who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. What if necromancers could raise dinosaurs?
Want to chat about the blog? Did you use one of the prompts? Hit me up on social media.
If you like legends with birds, you can read my story Branwen and the Three Ravens in Clamour and Mischief. The creepy adventures of a woman seeking to free her brothers from a curse. And of course, there’s my free queer romance You Don’t Say: When two fake psychic con men who secretly pine for each other are forced to work together to solve a disappearance, they discover that one of them is actually psychic. But which one?
Sources & further reading:
Margaritomancy from Divination Lessons
Necromancy from Wikipedia
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. “Necromancy.” The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. Facts on File, 1992. On Goodreads