Before digging into hearth cultus it occured to me that writing on divination first would be ideal. Given how often I referenced its use in previous posts and how much it is coming up in the hearth cultus section as I write it, divination needs some exploration. This post will dig into what divination is, divination’s place in Heathenry and the Northern Tradition, some simple methods of how to perform it, and how to put divination into practice.
Divination is a form of active engagement, of ongoing conversations and development of relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. It is how we come to know the will of the Holy Powers in a given matter, how we affirm whether an offering is acceptable or not, and how we should proceed at times in our lives. In this, we are not altogether different from the ancient cultures we relate to.
The way that modern divination is done spans a gamut of arts and techniques, among them sortilege, omens, dreams, trance states, meditation, and the use of books, poems, and songs. Again, as with ancient polytheist cultures, we are not so different here. Ancient polytheist cultures engaged in all of these things and more, including some divination methods our modern societies would find illegal.
What information we have indicates that, according to Tacitus, ancient German cultures had many ways of divining, including using twigs and/or strips of wood marked with signs, cups and dice, and divination by omens such as how a sacred horse raced. Ancient Icelandic cultures would have used what was called a blotspann or sacrifice chip among their forms of divination. Scholars are uncertain as to whether this indicates that either ancient German or Icelandic cultures used Runes in divination. For at least the ancient Icelandics there was also spá, a form of ritual prophesy. It is unknown if Tacitus’ sources point to spá being performed by women in ancient German society, though in both cultures women were renowned for their arts of prophecy and magic. Dr. Jackson Crawford gives an excellent, brief overview of this here.
Ancient cultures valued divination for the same reason we do, and performed them for the same reasons. Whether or not our modern divination methods match theirs, what I believe to be more important is that it works. In this, I set aside whether or not reading the Runes is historically attested. What matters for my Kindred and I is that it works. Likewise, tarot may have started as a card game but the use of games for divination is historically attested to, namely in terms of cups and dice as mentioned above. Again, in the end, we use what works.
The Place of Divination
A member of the Kindred asked a powerful question: if we have the Nornir who weave Wyrd, then what is the point of acting? If all things have their stories written in the web of Wyrd then isn’t doing one thing vs another pointless? My response was that we are weaving Wyrd along with all the other threads in the warp and weft of Wyrd together, including with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Divination directed towards the future gives us a look at how the threads are coming together, and gives us information that we might act in anticipation of, or in reaction to those threads. Divination directed to our Holy Powers invites conversation with Them, giving Them a way for us to hear Their response. Divination directed to ourselves gives us insight into how our Wyrd may be weaving, its direction, or how we can act to better the way we weave.
Rather than in a singular place, divination sits at many crossroads. In crafting a rite, divination can provide guidance on how it is to be done. Before a ritual, divination may guide us in the selection of offerings for a Holy Power. During a ritual, divination may instruct those gathered as to the acceptance of an offering. After a ritual, divination may guide those gathered to the next steps to deepen a relationship with the Holy Powers. On and on, divination provides ongoing conversation and interaction with the Holy Powers.
It is important to note we humans are not the only ones who do divination. It is noteworthy that in the lore our Gods also divine. In taking up divination a Rune reader is not only following Odin in His journey in taking up the Runes, but also in His work as a diviner. Likewise, we are also taking up following our human Ancestors who divined. Divination’s function, cosmologically, keys us into the active weavings of Wyrd. It indicates where we may move the threads in our power to affect change, and it may show us some of the effect that change can make.
Divination does not replace our need to know what is ours to know. Lore and archaeology are maps, not territories, but they can give us indications on what roads to take. It would be foolish to take a road trip without checking the maps, developing familiarity with the route, and planning for stops and needs along the way. Before one does a rite to a Holy Power, getting to know that Holy Power is paramount. Before one asks a question before a life event, possessing as much information as one can is paramount. When asking a question in divination phrasing the question carefully, and really getting to the heart of what you want and/or need to know is paramount.
The place of divination is to help us live our religions well. It helps us to know the will of the Holy Powers. When we are stuck, it can help us find a way forward, or what to do.
Divination engages us in active communication with our Holy Powers. Its place is to help us develop, keep, and further our orthodoxy and orthopraxy, as divination provides some of the places we can hear Them the clearest on these things. It helps us to do our best in weaving Wyrd together with our Holy Powers. Divination helps us to establish and keep right relationship with the Holy Powers. Divination’s place is at the crossroads of our lives, the events within our communities, and our relationships, communally and individually, with the Holy Powers. Divination’s places lies in all the between spaces where we can seek guidance if we just reach out and work with it.
Learning is Doing
There is an Estonian proverb: “The work will teach you how to do it.”
Divination is a form of work whose expertise cannot be taught out of a book. Divination is a profession of study and especially experience. As divination is a profession learned by doing, the best way to begin to do divination is to start small. Far better to start small, say with a Rune or card pulled a week, or starting with small-impact questions from friends before a big question comes.
In regards to Rune divination, knowing the Rune Poems, the Havamal, and what other lore and archaeology we have that tells us about Them is useful to have and know, but this is where scholarship leaves off and the work of religion begins. None of the Rune Poems, the Havamal, or our other sources of lore are religious texts and should not be treated as such. I keep referencing them as guideposts because that is what they are. How we relate to the Runes and divination, however much these are informed by the past, are a largely modern phenomenon and there is no problem in that.
It is controversial in many Heathen circles to suggest that folks read the Runes, to recommend modern Heathens’ books on working with the Runes and doing divination and/or magic with the Runes. As I mentioned above we have only suggestions in our sources that the ancient Germans read Runes for divination, and so anything we have extracted from this and other sources are based on people’s own exploration of the resources and with the Runes Themselves. The books I recommend are Runes: Theory and Practice by Galina Krasskova, and Taking Up the Runes by Diana Paxson. Both are books I have worked through and would recommend for those looking to get into working with the Runes.
No matter which divination system(s) one goes with, it takes time to develop competency and expertise. In time, even with relatively simple binary divination systems, i.e. yes/no, one can get a lot of information depending on how a question or series of questions are phrased. Certain divination systems may be able to be used at any point, whereas others may be restricted to certain settings for their usefulness, i.e. outdoor omens like the flight of birds. Certain divination systems may be tabooed for a diviner to be used only in certain rituals, or a divination tool may be dedicated to a single Holy Power, whereas other diviners may have free and open use for all the tools in their toolkit. What makes the difference is how each person walks their path, what taboos and tools become used during that walk, and if the diviner continues to develop their expertise.
Divination Systems Other than the Runes
Not everyone uses the Runes, and not everyone will find use in working with the Runes in divination. Going into all the ways one could learn to divine within a Heathen worldview would, I imagine, be a book unto itself. Rather than go through such an exhaustive process I am going to list three divination methods a Heathen might adopt that do not involve the Runes.
In reading Tacitus’ Germania it is noted that the Germans took their games of dice seriously, so much so that they would bet their freedom on the roll of a die. With contests such as horse-racing with sacred horses, and the nearby peoples actively practicing forms of astralogomancy, it is not a long stretch to imagine that dice could have held a similar place in German culture. In any case, simple dice divination can give quite a lot of information with the throw a single die.
Even ascribing simple meaning to the dice, such as odds being “Yes” and evens being “No” can yield a good deal of information if good questions are asked. Another method of dice-throwing may be having an individual meaning given to each number or pips on the die, such as a 6-sided die having the following:
1 = “Yes”
2 = “Unfavorable”
3 = “Neutral/Maybe”
4 = “Reconsider the subject/question”
5 = “Favorable”
6 = “No.”
It may be worth considering adopting a system besides the usual 1d6 and look at different dice, such as the 10-sided die in regards to representing the Nine Worlds. 0 could represent Yggdrasil Itself or Wyrd, with 1-9 representing each of the Nine Worlds. Questions would be asked, with relevant information coming out depending on which World, or if Yggdrasil/Wyrd is drawn, a second roll is made with the attributes of the World the die lands on being especially impactful or auspicious.
As with dice a great deal of information can be learned in a short amount of time by using dropping stones to divine. Tacitus’ Germania states that wood chips with “signs” marked on them were thrown onto a white cloth for divination. While this may work, one may also want to throw onto a printed image, such as a map of Yggdrasil or onto a cloth with words sewn, embroidered, or printed on it.
One method I have been taught that works well is a three stone divination which has a Yes stone, a No stone, and an indicator stone. These three stones are dropped onto bare dirt or onto a mat blessed for use in divination. It is simple, straightforward, and effective, and a great deal of information can be gained by being careful with a question, or series of questions.
Seeking an Omen
To seek an omen is to seek a phenomena of “Prophetic significance.” Seeking an omen has a long history with a lot of branching paths that can be taken. Among the long list of historical forms are looking at the flight of birds, astronomical events, disjointed chatter from a crowd forming a word or series of words or, as noted in Germania, the racing of sacred horses and noting the winner.
Of the ways we have explored so far, seeking an omen is the most subjective of them. As this is the case, seeking an omen needs to be specific enough that a sign can be accurately discerned. So, asking for an omen of a flight of birds may be far too broad, particularly if one has lots of birds in the area. If one is looking at the flight of birds then looking for a specific kind of bird associated with the God, Ancestor, or vaettr in question is ideal, and noting which way they are flying. While we could look at birds flying east as a good sign, as that is the direction of the rising sun, the meaning of each direction may depend on where one lives. If one lives near a body of water then a flock of specific birds flying towards or over those waters can carry different signficance than those flying towards. So, to an extent the usefulness of seeking an omen is dependent on how developed the symbol set one is working with, what lore one associates with a given sort of omen seeking, and how one integrates the knowledges one has about the subject of the omen, the object or being the omen is contingent on, and one’s expertise at discerning whether or not an omen has occured. As with the previous divination skills, I recommend starting small and working up to larger questions.
Ways to Divine with the Runes
If you are going to work with the Runes for divination then get to know as much about Them as possible. Do your research; read the Rune Poems, look at what the archaeology and lore in general has to say on Them. Look at what modern Runeworkers and diviners say about working with the Runes, and compare your understanding to theirs. It is important to point out that not every Northern Tradition Pagan or Heathen will work with the Runes, and not every one who does Runework does so to divine. The examples I have laid out here are just some of the ways in which the Runes can convey information or divination can be done with Them.
Drawing a Rune
Perhaps the simplest way to divine is drawing a single Rune out of a bag in response to a question, and exploring the answer with the knowledge and experience one has with that Rune. This method is deceptively simple. After all, the Runes represent and are a sound, a letter, and an extended meaning to the ancient Heathen cultures that They com from. There is a deep well of information that can be gathered out of a single Rune being drawn in response to a question if the person has the knowledge and understanding to get it and use it.
Drawing or dropping a series of Runes
This would be placing one or many Runes into a preset pattern with designated meanings. One method I have used is a simple North/South reading style, with the extreme North being representative of Niflheim and negative/slowing/death, while the South being representative of Muspelheim and positive/quickening/life. This is because the further North you go the colder it is, the colder it is the higher your chance of dying. The southlands of many of the ancient Heathen cultures were places where, even in the harsher climes, it was easier to grow food and raise animals. There are many nuances I found with this divination system, some of which comes from finding Runes associated with the opposite element in the two poles, or thinking on what a given Rune might mean if it is in the North vs the South.
This takes its cue right from Germania. The method may be either an appropriate number of sticks are marked with the Runes and dropped on a white sheet to see which turn up, or unmarked sticks are dropped on a white mat and it is seen if any Runes are seen in their pattern. Either way, the effect is rather random and the answer may be quite direct or hidden, depending on if the Runes are clear or not.
Seeking a Rune Omen
This method of divination engages with the Runes directly. Generally, when I am looking for a Rune omen I will make a small prayer to Runatýr (Odin’s heiti meaning God of the Runes) and the Runevaettir. Then, I do some cleansing work, and keep my eyes peeled for something that forms a Rune. Perhaps it will be a walk in the park and fallen branches form a Rune, or a fallen branch takes on the form of Fehu or Ansuz, both of which have happened to me when I was seeking an omen.
As with seeking an omen in general, this is more intuitive and requires you to know what you are looking for. Something that may be useful for discernment is asking the Runes to show you an omen three times. As with the previous example, the placement of the Rune, what the Rune is ‘made of’, i.e. branches, shadows, flight of animals, etc. may have its own part to play in your interpretation of the message.
For example: if I asked a question like “What is the next step?” and the shape of Uruz is the answer on the ground after I have picked up trash in a park, it may be strength is required in service to the goal or for the next step at hand. If the branch came from an oak tree, perhaps I need to seek out Thor and see if He has requests of me. If a birch tree, perhaps speak with or make offerings to Frigga. The oak may also mean finding strength in deep roots of service with community, or the birch may mean that service to those healing long term. Again, as before, context and one’s knowledge of the Runes, and the mediums the Runes come in, can profoundly affect the interpretation of the omen. Double checking the omen with other forms of divination would not hurt, particuarly if you are unsure.
Engaging in Divination
Since divination is an engaged conversation between the Holy Powers and us, I approach each divination session as I do ritual. This ritual discipline orders your internal headspace, orienting it towards the divination at hand, centering it as an engagement with the Holy Powers, and entering into a sacred headspace. This is the format I will generally follow:
Step 1: Cleanse the space and those present for the session.
Step 2: Make prayers to the Holy Powers inviting Them to engage in conversation.
Step 3: Lay down offerings to the Holy Powers.
Step 4: Do the divination.
Step 5: Make prayers of thanks for the attention of the Holy Powers and make any additional prayers and offerings as needed.
A Sample Rune Divination Ritual
This ritual is designed for a one-on-one divination rite, and should be able to be formatted to whatever the situation calls for, whether it is a group ritual or at the end of a rite to see if an offering was accepted. As with other rituals, I will modify as the Holy Powers and venue require. If I am doing divination in an open space where fires are unresitricted, I will likely work with fire to cleanse. Where fires are restricted I may work with water, song, and/or Runes to cleanse a space.
I begin by making the Fire Prayer before I light a candle: “Hail Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim! Hail to Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Ves ðu heil Eldest Ancestor!”
I then pass the candle flame over the divination area, saying “Thank you for cleansing this space, Holy One.” I repeat this prayer for myself, the client, and over the divination tool(s) and any sacred items present. Generally I pass the flame three times in a clockwise circle over whatever it is I am cleansing.
I will then make offerings appropriate to the Holy Powers present. In the case of a Rune reading I generally make offerings of whiskey, vodka, and/or clean water. Other offerings I have made include food, coffee, and mugwort.
I then make prayers to the Holy Powers of the divination ritual. If it is a Rune divination session I pray to Runatýr and the Runevaettir:
“Hail Runatýr! Hail Runevaettir! Hail Disir! Hail Väter! Hail Ergi! Hail Ancestors all! Hail to the Holy Ones! Hail to the Holy Ones! Hail to the Holy Ones!” I will usually repeat “Hail to the Holy Ones!” as a mantra in 3s, 6s, or 9s, until I am in a semi-trance or full trance headspace.
Then I will address the Holy Powers and ask Them for me to divine well. “Hail Runatýr! Hail Runevaettir! Help me to know well, to speak clearly and true!”
Even if the client has already made the question known to me I still ask them to repeat it, usually three times. This serves two functions. One, is if the question needs clarification or refinement we can do it before the question is ‘locked in’. Two, is that the querant understands the question they are asking and is accepting responsibility for the answer.
I will then engage in divination itself and as the answers come up and as need arises I may repreat the steps above to reestablish good headspace, the sacred space, the making of new offerings, and the introduction of new questions.
Once the divination session is over then prayers are made the Holy Powers asked to be present. In this case:
“Thank You Runatýr! Thank You Runevaettir! Thank you for providing us [answers/wisdom/insight/etc.]! Hail Disir! Hail Väter! Hail Ergi! Hail Ancestors! Hail to the Holy Ones! Thank You for being present, for helping us to find [answers/wisdom/insight/etc.]! Ves ðu heil!”
The Sacred space and all people and items within it are cleansed with the fire of the candle. “Thank you, Eldest Ancestor, for cleansing us within and without. Thank You to the Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim! Thank You Loki! Thank You Glut! Thank You Logi! Thank You Surt! Thank You Sinmora! Ves ðu heil!”
I will then make prayers to the assembled Holy Powers otherwise, saying “Thank You Runatýr! Thank You Runevaettir! Thank You Disir! Thank You Väter! Thank You Ergi! Thank You Ancestors all! Thank You Holy Ones! Thank You for this time to divine, to know Your messages, to experience Your wisdom. We make these offerings in Gebo!” Then the offerings are usually taken to a holy tree representing Yggdrasil, and laid down there.
Divination is Change in Action
Divination is change in action because divination opens ourselves, and our communities to Wyrd’s weaving. It is direct engagement with weaving Wyrd itself. We can come into better or worse alignment in right relationship with our Holy Powers. Done well, engaging in divination enters us into a better co-creation of Wyrd, of ties of hamingja with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.
Divination is engagement with our Holy Powers. Just by engaging in it divination will cause change. Incorporating the results of divination session, whether a ritual unto itself or as part of a ritual, requires us to be open to change and challenge. More to the point, it reqires us to be committed to action in accordance with the message divination gives us. This can be quite challenging, especially with a divination result that upends one’s life. This can also be quite easy, especially if good relationship with the Gods is consistently being sought and maintained. The change could be something minor, but important, such as confirming the wine you intuited the Gods might like is actually deeply appreciated. From that comes change: you trust your intuition and dialogue with the Gods deeper, and can gain a more refined sense of our intuition in this way over time and experience with this small, disciplined work. The change coul be something major, such as undertaking an initiation, sacred journey, or letting go of a dream you had your heart set on seeing through.
Divination is part and parcel of ongoing dialogue with the Holy Powers. It has the power to utterly change how our rituals are structured, how we engages with the Holy Powers, our relationships with one another, and how we live in this world. It has the power to bring insight and wisdom if done well, and if done poorly, a lack of good connection to the Holy Powers and confusion where there should be clarity. Even for seemingly minor things, divination is a holy rite of engagement and needs to be respected for the powerful place it holds not only in our own religions, but for anyone of any religion that seeks it.
As with worship, divination is understood and expressed in doing it well. As with worship, the work of divination is in doing it. As written previously: “Divination is done to establish and/or confirm that rituals, offerings, and so on are done well in accordance with the Holy Powers.” With worship, divination is the foundation of polytheism. It informs how we may live in good reciprocity with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. It is how the foundation of worship may be formed and maintained, in what ways it grows and changes, and what we do to establish and maintain right relationship with the Holy Powers.
With this understanding of worship and divination we can now turn to hearth culture.