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These old bones will tell your story
These old bones will never lie
These old bones will tell you surely
What you can't see with your eye
These old bones, I shake and rattle
These old bones, I toss and roll
And it's all in where they scatter
Tells you what the future holds

(from) These Old Bones Dolly Parton

Basic Information

Divination is the school of magic which specialises in information gathering. Common applications include predicting the future ("Fortune telling"), scrying (essentially remote viewing) and finding things, often by methods such as dowsing. Remote viewing by personal projection (typically astral projection) is not typically considered divination (any more than it would be divination to teleport yourself somewhere and then eavesdrop on whatever was going on).

Techniques vary - in correct usage, anything with "-mancy" on the end, is a form of divination (from the Greek manteia - "prophecy") - and there are many, many of these based on everything from watching the sky for omens, staring into a fire, casting lots or seeing which pieces of grain a chicken eats. Astrology and similar things are also considered forms of divination. Historically this was a mainstay of magical practice. The practice of Extiscpiy aka. Haruspicy deserves a special mention, being a particular favourite of the Romans - in this form of divination an appropriate animal was sacrificed and its innards examined, often with particular attention paid to the liver, looking for signs or messages from the gods. Other cultures took the process a step further and used human sacrifice in some way, a form of divination known as anthropomacy. More generally, a priest who specialises in divination may be referred to as an augur.

Some forms of divination may well overlap with invocation - especially things like necromancy that (by strict definition) involves calling up the spirits of the dead to grill them for information. Again, sacrifices which are used to pay

In the Abrahamic religions, divination magic (especially that related to telling the future) is classed as forbidden (assuming the position that any magic would be permissible), despite it not being obviously black magic. This prohibition may or may not include the sortes sanctorum, depending on who you ask and there are certainly some forms of permitted divination recorded as being practiced by the High Priests of Israel, including the casting of lots and whatever was done with the Urim and Thummin1. Other religions permit or even encourage divination. Indeed the word divination comes from a Roman concept which revolved directly around seeking divine inspiration and insight, either into the will of the gods or their understanding of the future - which would make it a branch of theurgy2. Using divination to locate missing objects or people sometimes sneaks in around the edge of the prohibition as a sort of "grey" divination and was amongst the things for which John Dee purported to communicate with angels and dowsing was, in some contexts barely regarded as supernatural at all…

Some fRPGs may also add remote communications to the school of divination, presumably on the assumption that if each school also encompasses its own spells with reversed effects, a school which specialises in gathering information at distance should also be able to distribute it.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Popular in games and, if based on historical precedent, should be a big part of the magical repertoire. Much less popular with GMs as it can be hard to adjudicate.
  • Scrying, dowsing and the like are far easier to handle.
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