Defining Divination

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Defining Divination

The Mantic Arts -- a term derived from the Greek word mantis, meaning a prophet or seer -- is a collective descriptor of various methods of prediction. If it sounds familiar, that is because its suffix form, -mancy, is found in words like cartomancy, tasseomancy, crystallomancy, and bibliomancy that refer to divination by means of specific tools or methodologies. The mantic arts include prognostication, soothsaying, prophesy, fortune telling, character reading, and answers to questions. These loosely defined terms may seem almost interchangeable, but since they form the core of Your Wate and Fate, a short sortilege is in order:

Hand-painted British herald for a carnival fortune teller and psychic reader, 1980s

  • Answers to Questions: Making use of the tools and techniques of fortune telling to reply to a querent's stated inquiry about people who are not present or events which have not yet come to pass.
  • Character Analysis: Insightful statements about the sitter's personality or emotions; not a form of fortune telling.
  • Clairvoyance: The ability to see or visualize unusual realms, such as the future, distant lands, or the afterlife.
  • Divination: Consulting the Divine (a spirit, deity, or the Universe) to gain information about the future.
  • Fortune Telling: Giving information about a person's future luck, misfortune, career, or love life; the subject is an individual.
  • Prediction: Fore-speech; telling someone what will happen before it happens; a prediction can be mundane or spiritual.
  • Prognostication: Fore-knowledge; awareness of what will happen before it happens; a prognostication can be mundane or spiritual.
  • Prophesy: To say that a specific event will occur in the future, generally for a group or nation. Prophets prophesy prophecies.
  • Psychic: A reader or fortune teller who receives and transmits information from spiritual sources, with or without tools.
  • Querent: Someone who asks one or more specific questions of a reader, diviner, or fortune teller.
  • Reader: A person who uses tools such as cards or tea leaves to tell fortunes, or delivers messages from the spiritual realm to a seeker.
  • Seer. A seer is one who sees, so seership refers to clairvoyance, but it is also a general term for one who makes predictions.
  • Seeker: A person in search of knowledge, fortune, love, or other life goal; a seeker may or may not be a querent or a sitter.
  • Soothsayer: A person who speaks the truth; the truth may not be a prediction, but the word is often used to refer to a seer or prognosticator.
  • Sitter: Someone who sits down to receive a reading; payment may or may not be involved in the sitting.

"Prognotication," oil painting by Pierre Roy, 1937

Pierre Roy's "Prognostication" painting from summarizes many methods of divining by visual reference to the tools employed: a crystal gazing ball, tarot cards, playing cards, soothsayer's lead figures; quicksilver; sheep knuckle bones; fortune-telling dice; an astronomer's tower, lunar phases, a bibliomantic book with a hatpin, and a silk scarf depicting the signs of the zodiac.

Roy (1880 - 1950) was a famous French Surrealist painter. During the 1930s, his art appeared often on the covers of Vogue Magazine. For the issue of August 1, 1937, the American edition of Vogue used this image on the cover, albeit in a highly modified version, in which the small lead figure of the witch at left was removed (although her blue ribbon remained) and the zodiacal figures on the scarf at top left were painted out and replaced with the word "Vogue" in red lettering.

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catherine yronwode
curator, historian, and docent
Your Wate and Fate