Words for Telling the Future

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Even as scientists explore Quantum Theory, ancient practices for divining the future continue to flourish.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan regularly consulted astrologers, and many newspaper readers check the astrology column before looking at anything else. Tarot readers and palm readers make a living at it.

Here are some words writers might want to use in describing some of these practices.

Divination is the practice of foreseeing the future or finding out hidden knowledge by some means or other.

Ancient Romans studied the flight of birds to determine whether or not the day was favorable for some action. This method of divination is called augury. The verb to augur means “to predict or indicate the future.” One could say, missing a step on the way out of the house, That does not augur well!

Romans had a specialized diviner called a haruspex who cut open animals and examined their entrails. This practice is called haruspicy.

Several words that end in -mancy refer to methods of divination.

Geomancy interprets markings on the ground, or the piles or patterns made by dirt when it is tossed. The geo comes from the word for “earth.”
Necromancy involves summoning up the dead, the way King Saul did when he called on the Witch of Endor. The necro comes from the Greek word for “dead.”
Sometimes necromancy is used to refer to any kind of black magic that involves the summoning of demons.
Oneiromancy is divination by dreams.
Bibliomancy is divining by opening a book at random and reading the first phrase that one’s eyes light upon. Although the Bible is often the book used for this form of divination, other books are used. The biblio comes from Greek and Latin words for “paper” or “scroll.” The Bible is literally “the Book.” Another word for this practice is sortes.

Some other familiar types of divination:

Palmistry is divination by reading the lines on the palm of the hand.
Phrenology is divination by feeling the bumps on a person’s head. This practice was really popular in Victorian times. Many novelists have their characters talk about it.
Astrology predicts a person’s future according to alignment of the stars and planets.
Dowsing is a method of finding the location of water or other underground substances with the use of a forked stick or wire.
Clairvoyance is divination by “second sight”.
Numerology is divination with numbers
Sortilege is divination by casting lots. Priests do it in the Old Testament.

Finally, two practices that you know about, but probably don’t know the words for, are those of reading tea leaves and gazing into a crystal ball.

Tasseography is the word for reading the future in tea leaves at the bottom of a cup.
Scrying is what the gypsy does when she looks into her crystal ball and tells you that you are going to come into a large sum of money.

If you ever doubted that English has a word for everything, take a look at these sites that feature lists of divination of every kind:

Online etymology dictionary

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6 thoughts on “Words for Telling the Future”

  1. Thanks for these. I knew all of them but “tasseography”. For the record, it’s possible to scry with/in more than just a crystal ball. Smoke, water, for example. Candle flame. I know a woman who does this with spaghetti. 😉

  2. online entomology dictionary…!

    >>>>>If you ever doubted that English has a word for everything, take a look at these sites that feature lists of divination of every kind:

    Online entomology dictionary
    The White Goddess.

  3. I’ve opened a book a bunch of times and it was deep spirtual guidence. Apparently I have so much to say that I should write a book. That’s probably why I’m still here. The world turns truer and better if I’m left aside peacfully. For now I was terrerized but I’m still stong. Do you believe me?

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