Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: divination

Aims of Magic: Benign Magic

November 2, 2022

Much magic involves attempts to do good in the world, or to avert bad outcomes. Benign magic is more common than its malign twin.

Relationship work. This is a very broad category, as people have multiple relationships with significant others, which can include the land on which people live, plants, animals, artefacts, houses, fellow humans and so on. Each relationship might have its own magic, so that if relationships have gone wrong in some way, or need to be rebalanced or readjusted, effective action can be taken….

Apotropaic/protective magic. This is linked to relationship work above and seeks to protect people, animals, plants, landscape or ancestors from harm, and involves practices such as those found in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (immuring cats or shoes in walls) or symbols, such as those used to keep out the devil.

Foretelling the future. This can often concern relatively local or personal issues—the health of a child, personal career prospects and so on. Here local fortune-telling or divination may take place, which we think of colloquially as reading the tea leaves. More learned forms of prediction came into being through astrology. Scrying the future can be even grander and more cosmic, through inspired prophecy, often of momentous events such as war or even the end of the world….

Understanding the past. Looking at the causes of things is also very important, with oracles a powerful technology for finding out the cause of an accident, a death or another misfortune. People want both to diagnose the cause of what happened and then to take appropriate remedial action. The classical anthropological case is the Azande poison oracle, although looking for past causes takes many forms.

Dying, death and the dead. Notions of how to die, what happens immediately after death and becoming more stably dead in the form of being an ancestor are all of great interest—the Ancient Egyptians created very elaborate means of dealing with dying and the dead, although this is a theme relevant to all humans. In addition to becoming an ancestor, widespread preoccupations include talking to the dead and making sure they do not bother the living.

Medicine, sickness, health and possession (mental and physical). Prior to the existence of germ theory (and even after its rise) people’s ideas of health often involved relationships with a range of spirits, demons or bad human relations that needed to be counteracted. Frequently, as in the case of Ancient Mesopotamia, dealing with relationships involved herbal remedies but also a series of spells or practices to negate the effects of demons or other malign forces. In most cases, little distinction is made between mind and body, something found increasingly in “Western whole-body approaches to well-being.

Understanding and effecting transformation. This involves activities such as craft production, with concerns about the practices of the smith, who is able to wield and control powerful forces, being common. Craft production often involved a series of magical practices vital to its efficacy. Alchemy was a series of varied attempts to transform base metals into gold, giving rise to more recent chemistry. People also worry about monsters and hybrids (griffins, sphinxes, etc.) or more usual transformations, such as a predator eating its prey. The arts shared between the Steppe and Europe in the first millennium BCE exhibit an obsession with transformation and ambiguity.

Manipulating desire. Siberian hunters feel they have to make reindeer desire them so that they will give themselves up during the hunt. People have ancient relationships with reindeer, going back to the Last Glaciation, and it is possible ideas of physical closeness have developed over millennia. Similar notions of sexual desire are also found in Aztec contexts. Many other cultures, such as those of Ancient Greece and Rome, concentrated efforts on love magic, with occasionally comic outcomes.

Magic: A History, pp. 19-24

On Divination

March 7, 2022

If I’ve learned anything about divination in the succeeding years, it’s that divination doesn’t do a very good job of telling you what you should do. Divination will show you where a given path or course of action is likely to take you, but it’s up to you to figure out if that’s a good thing or not.

A Need For Divination – John Beckett

Babylonian Divination

March 7, 2003

Divination was undoubtedly the most important of the disciplines that a Mesopotamian would have categorized as “scientific,” and should be viewed not as some primitive magical or occult activity but as one of the most basic features of Babylonian life. Indeed its senior practitioners were men of influence, held in high esteem in the own society. They were consulted on all important occasions both by private individuals and officers of state. The army was always accompanied by a diviner who in the Old Babylonian period seems to have acted also as general….

Divination represented, basically, a technique of communication with the gods who, according to Babylonian religious thought, shaped the destinies of all mankind, individually and collectively. Its purpose was to ascertain the will of the gods, to the Babylonian synonymous with the prediction of future events. Its philosophy, of course, presupposes supernatural cause and effect in all perceived phenomena and assumes the cooperation of the gods in their willingness to reveal the future intentions. Evil portended was not inevitable; there existed a variety of purification rituals…and other means of averting unwelcome predictions…. A clear distinction was made between provoked and unprovoked or natural omens. Preference for these various techniques differed markedly from one period and area to another. Although there exists some literature pertaining to the interpretation of dreams, Mesopotamian philosophy was curiously reluctant to admit that the gods made use of man himself for the expression of divine intention—and indeed a dream was significant only when “interpreted” by an expert. Thus shamanistic concepts, often considered universal in primitive religion, are absent in Mesopotamia.

Joan Oates, Babylon, p. 178

Emphasis mine.

Divination Practices

March 7, 2003

The practices of divination may seem puerile or at least so primitive in character as to appear irreconcilable with the elaborate Chaldean cosmogony. However, such reasoning does not take into account the world concept of the Chaldeans, which was essentially magical, akin to that of the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. We find similiar “superstititions” among all these peoples, where divination is the logical application of their theory of magic. To the magus, there exists no accidental happenings; everything obeys one law, which is not resented as a coercion but rather welcomed as a liberation from the tyranny of chance. The world and its gods submit to this law, which binds together all things and all events. Certa stant omnia lege: everything is established solidly by that law which the wise man discerns in happenings that appear accidental to the profane. The curve observed in the flight of birds, the barking of a dog, the shape of a cloud, are occult manifestations of that omnipotent coordinator, the source of unity and harmony.

Kurt Seligmann, The History of Magic and the Occult, p. 5