Almost every human ever born has, at one time or another, longed for a peek into the future, and many have thought that divination could provide that insight.
Divination can also be used to seek the answer to a question, from “Will I find love?” to information about the next winning lottery numbers.
Living in a fairly dangerous environment, it’s not unlikely that Paleolithic people depended upon some form of divination to give them an edge in survival. While divination and fortune telling are often grouped together, fortune telling is a more casual practice and divination generally uses ceremony to bolster the chances of success.
Roll Them Bones
Living a hand to mouth existence, cavemen might try to communicate with the spirit world to get some inside information to better their chances of survival. In most cases, only specific people would perform the rites associated with divination—what we nowadays call soothsayers or psychics.
Omens were among the earliest form of divination. Omens involve using the surrounding world or objects in it to tell the future. Paleo soothsayers probably relied heavily on such omens as:
- The flight of birds
- Animal entrails
- The fall of knucklebones
- Shooting stars
- Movement of clouds
- The motion of flames or smoke
Omens have been used by literally every culture on earth in an attempt to gain knowledge, and many people still rely on omens or “signs” today to try to bring some good luck or order into their lives.
The spirits of the dead also held a powerful fascination for early people and communicating with them has been considered important across all cultures (and still is by some). Using the dead in this capacity is called “necromancy.”
Because of their position in the Netherworld, the dead were thought to have the ability to see into the future and were either raised in their physical form or as a spirit entity. Not surprisingly, necromancy is associated with witchcraft and the black arts.
The Beginnings of Religion?
Divination can be looked upon as the start of religion with a specific class of persons trying to influence both current affairs and the future. Anyone who showed talent in divination would automatically have an exalted status in the clan or tribe, especially if some of the predictions came true.
The passing of time would lead to the development of castes that would be responsible for the wellbeing of the tribe or nation.
Druids provided guidance and predictions to the Celts, and the Romans depended upon the practices devised by the Etruscans not only for the most favorable way to arrange the furniture in a villa, but for such events as who, when and where to attack.
A good deal of Roman foreign policy depended upon the actions of sacred chickens or whether an eagle flew over the temple of Jupiter when the god had been appealed to.
The stars and planets have always fascinated mankind and some form of astrology is probably almost as old as the human race itself. Astrology is based on the assumption that the movement of the sun, moon, planets, stars and constellations can predict a person’s fate.
According to the beliefs of those who practice astrology, our course in life is basically set by the arrangement of the heavenly bodies when a person is born. Although horoscopes were obviously unavailable during Paleolithic times, there certainly were the predecessors of astrologers who would check the position of the stars whenever a child was born and make predictions about their coming life.
Perhaps the most successful of augers, haruspices, astrologers and soothsayers depend not only on man’s fear of the unknown and the future, but also a very good understanding and manipulation of human psychology.
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