Choosing a Divination System

My top three recommendations

Once I get talking about divination I can’t stop. So I had to make another video that expands upon part one and goes deep into how this stuff works.

But buckle up — it’s a wild conceptual ride!

Divination in Theory & Practice: Part Two (YouTube)

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Maybe you’re interested in divination and just haven’t taken the plunge. Or you might be curious about adding a new system to your repertoire. There are so many options — from playing cards to tarot to I Ching to geomancy to runes — how can you find the perfect form of divination for you?

Here are three systems I love, have used extensively, and can highly recommend.

Tarot de Marseille from Pierre Madenié 1709 © Yves Reynaud

Unless you’re a hermit living atop a lonely mountain, you’ve probably noticed that tarot is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment. Years ago, I used to get maybe twenty people for my in-person tarot workshops for the Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program. The last time I taught in person (pre-pandemic), the university had to move me into the largest classroom on campus to accommodate the 60+ students who signed up.

And there was still a long waiting list! We literally could not fit all of the interested people into the largest classroom.

Tarot has never been more popular than it is now. So you can’t go wrong choosing tarot. People are familiar with cards — you can find readers to learn from and friends to read for. The wealth of information (books, videos, courses) is wonderful, but of course with the good information comes a lot of garbage (stay tuned for more about that in a future post).

Tarot is a good fit if you:

  • Are drawn to the deeply resonant and symbolically rich images on the cards
  • Are good with language and metaphor
  • Like telling stories
  • Are primarily visual and verbal
  • Want to be able to read for others (or even read professionally)
The 64 hexagrams of the I Ching

The ancient I Ching (or Book of Changes) is still incredibly popular, and with good reason — those who practice it liken it to having a wise friend who is always available for consultation. Many, including psychologist Carl Jung, considered it to have a very distinct “personality.”

I’ve used it for over 30 years, on and off, and agree. It’s my second favorite oracle after tarot.

The I Ching is a good fit if you:

  • Prefer more abstract symbols over complex pictures (the oracle generates one or two hexagrams (symbols made up of broken and unbroken lines) from a total of 64.
  • Like to have the meanings of the symbols clearly written and explained
  • Are more logical and prefer short, succinct answers (vs. fuzzy metaphors of tarot)
  • Are mostly interested in reading for yourself
The 16 Geomantic Figures

Geomancy (often confused with Feng Shui) is my most recent practice, but also one of my favorites. In the few years I have been using it intensively, for myself and for others, it has provided incredibly specific and concrete information and advice. Frankly, I’m surprised it is largely neglected among diviners.

I’ll be doing an introductory video on this ancient, powerful system, but if you’re intrigued I highly recommend the Digital Ambler website by my friend Sam Block for its wealth of geomancy resources — including a cool way to use polyhedral (aka D&D) dice to generate the symbolic figures (the method I, being a long-time RPG nerd, immediately embraced).

I’m convinced this system is poised for renewed popularity, so you can be a pioneer if you start now.

Geomancy is a good fit if you:

  • Prefer a logical, forthright, binary numerical system
  • Enjoy and have some familiarity with astrology (European geomancy incorporates astrology)
  • Like getting direct yes/no answers to questions
  • Don’t mind limited educational resources (as compared to tarot)
  • Are drawn to African and African diasporic traditions, like Sikidy and Ifa (which are related)
  • Want to provide unique, uncommon readings for yourself and others

But What About. . . .

You may wonder why I didn’t mention other popular systems—runes, bone throwing, palmistry, numerology, etc. The answer is short: because I have not practiced them extensively. I can recommend the above three systems because I have studied them rather intensively, have practiced them for a period of years or decades, and because I have used them to help other people.

And never forget— helping people is what divination is all about. Not becoming a see-all, know-all mystic, or discovering what lies in the future as if it’s already written, but in helping yourself and others live happier and fuller lives in the here-and-now.

P.S. This is something I wrote for my mailing list, The Art of Magical Living. If you’re into it, sign up here to get emails like these auto-magically every Wednesday.

Michael M. Hughes is a writer, speaker, and magical thinker. He is the author of Magic for the Resistance: Rituals and Spells for Change as well as numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction, and he speaks and teaches classes on magic, tarot, occultism, and more.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, CNN, The L.A. Times, Rolling Stone, Comedy Central, Wired, Elle, Vox, Cosmopolitan, and even the ultraconservative The American Spectator, which wrote: “He may play footsie with the devil, but at least the man has a sense of humor.”

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