In ancient times Druids used many methods of divination: from simple weather-witching to the sophisticated interpretation of bird flight, from the observation of animal behaviour to the interpretation of planetary configurations. Almost certainly each of the four elements was used for augury, as they were used for healing. It is likely that the signs and associated feelings conveyed by earth cast on a sheet or drum-skin were read as a fortune teller might read the tea-leaves, and the shapes of passing clouds or of the images found in the fire or in gazing into pools of water were undoubtedly further sources of inspiration. We know the term the Irish Druids used for cloud divination – Neldoracht – and we know too of more complex methods of divining used in Ireland, including Tarbhfeis, which involved the diviner being wrapped in a bull’s hide to aid their clairvoyance.
Divination, though, need not be simple fortune-telling. It can be an effective means of revealing hidden dynamics – whether they are within oneself or within a relationship, or within a group. Divination then becomes a means of gaining self-knowledge and a deeper understanding of the hidden causes behind appearances. Seen in this way it becomes yet another way that we can try to go beyond the surface, to plumb the depths, to look at causes rather than effects.
Modern day Druids are able to turn in this quest to a number of distinctly Druidic methods of divination, including working with the sacred animals and plants of the Celtic and Druid tradition and working with Ogham, which has come to be known as the sacred tree-alphabet of the Druids. It is claimed that the Druids used Ogham for divination. Medieval Irish stories, such as the Tochmarc Etaine suggest that this was so, even though actual inscriptions in Ogham, found on stones, have only been dated to the fourth and fifth centuries. Although from the historian’s point of view we cannot be certain that the ancient Druids used Ogham, it certainly provides us today with an evocative means of understanding hidden dynamics and future events, and has become an integral part of modern Ovate training in the Order.
To explore different methods of divination, see:
Ogam: The Celtic Oracle of the Trees: Understanding, Casting, and Interpreting the Ancient Druidic Alphabet by Paul Rhys Mountfort, Destiny, 2003