LAWS RESTRICTING DIVINATION,
FORTUNE TELLING, ETC.
What is divination?
Divination is defined by Webster's New World Dictionary as:
||The art or practice of trying to foretell the future or explore the
unknown by occult means.
||A Prophecy; an augury.
There are an enormous variety of techniques for attempting to foretell the future.
||Astrology: This is the concept that one's future is
dependent upon the location of the sun, moon and planets at
the precise time of a person's birth.
||Bird organs: The ancient Romans would prophecy the future on the basis of the internal organs
of birds that had been sacrificed for the purpose.
||I Ching: This is an ancient Chinese oracle book which can
be used to foretell the future, answer questions, etc. The
practitioner generates a number from 1 to 64 by selecting sticks, or
casting dice or coins. The oracle book assigns different meanings to
each of the numbers.
||Numerology: This is the practice of assigning a digit to
each letter in a person's name, and deriving a series of numbers which
have special significance to the person.
||Palm reading: A person's future is foretold by
creases in their palm and shape of their fingers.
||Runes: These are a group of from 16 to 31 (typically 26)
letters of an ancient Northern European alphabet. The letters are
inscribed on small rocks or pieces of paper or plastic. The runes are cast, and the future foretold from the runes that land
inverted and not inverted, as well as from their location.
||Scrying: This is a technique of producing visions of the
future by gazing into a crystal ball, black mirror, bowl of water, hot
coals from a fire, etc.
||Tarot cards: This involves fortune telling through the use of a
pack of 78 Tarot cards. 1 The cards are shuffled; a few are dealt
and laid in a specific formation (circle, cross, square, etc.). The
cards are interpreted according to their intrinsic meaning, as modified
by the significance of their location.
||Teacup reading: The future is predicted by the
shapes formed by tea leaves after a cup of tea has been consumed
||Other methods: Future events have been predicted
through the use of dice, dominos, dream interpretation, pendulum
movements, playing cards, various trance techniques, etc.
Christian response to divination:
As in just about every other activity or belief, there are widely divergent
teachings within Christianity about the nature of divination and foretelling
||Conservative denominations generally condemn all divination techniques
which use any of the above techniques; i.e. methods which involve
mechanical aids or the interpretation of natural signs.
||Some faith groups, particularly Pentecostals, expect Christians to receive
gifts from God which confirm their salvation. One
of these is prophecy, as described in 1 Corinthians 12:10. This gift
of foretelling the future comes through the person's mind and does not
involve mechanical devices.
||Religious liberals tend to treat divination as harmless activity -- an
amusing pastime without any religious significance.
There are a number of instances in the Bible where respected leaders were
involved in divining the future, apparently without
any condemnations by God. Some are:
||In Genesis 44:5, Joseph's household manager refers to a
silver drinking cup "...in which my lord drinketh and whereby indeed
he devineth". Later, Joseph accuses his brothers of stealing the
cup, saying "that such a man as I can certainly divine [the identity
of the thieves]". These passages show that Joseph engaged in
scrying. This technique of foretelling the future was used by Nostradamus
and is still used today.
||The Urim and Thummim were two objects mentioned in Numbers 27:21
and 1 Samuel 28:6 of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were
apparently devices (perhaps in the form of flat stones) that the high priest
consulted to determine the will of God. They might have worked something
like a pair of dice.
||The prophet Daniel was employed for many years in Babylon as the chief
occultist to the king. He was supervisor "of the magicians,
astrologers, Chaldeans and soothsayers". See Daniel 5:11.
On the other hand, there are numerous passages in the Bible that condemn
techniques. These include Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 19:26-26; 19:31; 20:6;
Deuteronomy 18:10-11; Isaiah 8:19 and Malachai 3:5.
The passage in Deuteronomy is perhaps the most important. They forbade the Israelites from
engaging in eight specific practices. One translation is:
"There shall not be found among you anyone that...useth divination, or an observer of
times, or an enchanter or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar
spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.(KJV)
Various other translations of the Bible use the following terms or phrases
augur, black magic, calls up the dead, charm, consults with spirits, fortune
teller, interpret omens, look for omens, magician, medium, sorcerer, soothsayer,
spiritist, weaves or casts spells, witchcraft, and wizard.
Clearly, translators have had a great deal of difficulty selecting unique
English words or short phrases to match the 8 original Hebrew words:
yid'oni Making contact with spirits (not of God)
sho'el 'ov Making contact with the dead
qosem q'samim Foretelling the future by using lots or a similar
m'onen Predicting the future by interpreting signs in nature
m'nachesh Enchanting (perhaps related to nachash, a snake)
chover chavar Casting spells by magical knot tying
m'khaseph evil sorcery; using spoken spells to harm other people
doresh 'el hametim "One who asks the dead", probably via
another method than sho'el 'ov
Of these 8 prohibitions, most appear to refer to contacting the spirits of
dead people, or to perform evil sorcery which harms others. Two (#3 and 4) seem to relate to divination:
||qosem q'samim: Casting stones or sticks and predicting the future by
their position. This would seem to condemn I Ching, runes, tarot cards, and
||m'onen: Foretelling the future by looking for signs in nature (e.g.
predicting the harshness of a winter by looking at moss on trees, or fur
thickness on animals in the wild, or whether the groundhog sees his shadow)
Other currently used methods of foretelling the future, such as tea cup
reading, palm reading, tarot cards, runes etc. are not
The Biblical passages appear to apply to persons who are directly engaged in
the various practices (e.g. mediums, channelers, astrologers, etc.); they do not
seem to refer to people who simply observe the activity.
Divination within other religions:
Various methods of foretelling the future are widely practiced within Wicca
and other Neopagan religions. Divination does
not form part of the theology of Neopagan religions; it is simply a practice
that many Pagans are involved with. Probably the most popular methods used by
Pagans to foretell the future are tarot cards, scrying and runes. 2,3
The New Age, is a free-flowing spiritual movement -
a network of believers and practitioners who share somewhat similar beliefs and
practices. Their book publishers take the place of a central organization;
seminars, conventions, books and informal groups replace of sermons and
religious services. Divination techniques are commonly used. 4
North Carolina Law
The Ancient Arts Freedom Association (AAFA) stated in a 1999-AUG
"Magick and those that delve into the ancient arts have been a force on this
planet of ours since before recorded history. And, as history has proven,
people fear, persecute and sometimes even kill traditions and cultures they
do not understand."
"On the verge of a new millennium, you would think we could move past these
old ways of thinking and embrace the differences of other cultures,
especially in the U.S...North Carolina is proving otherwise..."
"All across the state...mediums, spiritual advisors and psychics, etc. are being forced to close up their shops or risk paying up to a
$500 fine, six months in prison or both. Divination (fortune-telling) is an
inherent part of many religions and cultures, like Wiccans, Buddhists and
Native Americans..." 6
In North Carolina's General Statutes, sandwiched between a law on
defacing identifying marks on motor vehicles and another on the unlawful
possession of tear gas, is statute 14 - 201.5: "Practice of phrenology, palmistry,
fortune-telling or clairvoyance prohibited." (Pnrenology is the art of
analyzing the character of a person by examining the shape of their skull). It was placed on the books
in 1951, It states, in part:
"It shall be unlawful for any person to practice the
phrenology, palmistry, clairvoyance, fortune-telling and other
crafts of a similar kind in the counties named herein. Any person
violating any provision of this section shall be guilty of a
Class 2 misdemeanor."
"This section shall not prohibit the amateur practice of
phrenology, palmistry, fortune-telling or clairvoyance in
connection with school or church socials, provided such socials
are held in school or church buildings."
"Provided that the provisions of this section shall
only to the Counties of Alexander, ...Transylvania, Union, Wake and Wayne."
Yes. Believe it or not, North Carolina does have a Transylvania county!
Note that this statute does not merely prohibit the commercial use of
divination techniques. It is a general prohibition of these techniques, even in
private or in non-commercial settings. It criminalizes:
||a person using tarot cards or casting runes in their own home for their
||a person using any divination technique to help a friend.
||a coven of Wiccans scrying as part of their religious rituals.
||a divination demonstration at a school or church social if it is held in a
community hall, park or conservation area. (it would be legal if held in a
school or church building).
||a divination demonstration on school grounds during a Masonic picnic or
photography club corn roast. (It would be legal if the sponsoring
organization was a church or school group).
The 1st Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution prohibits laws that:
||Give special privileges to religious groups, or
||Restrict religious expression, or
||Abridge the freedom of speech of individuals. Freedom of speech has been
interpreted widely by the courts to include many forms of personal
This North Carolina law violates all three 1st Amendment guarantees.
It grants special privileges to church groups; it criminalizes religious
expression of some Neopagans and others; it prohibits personal freedom of
expression. It is a bad law; it is obviously unconstitutional. Yet it was
presumably passed by the North Carolina legislature whose members have all sworn
to uphold the Constitution of the United States. It is obviously a law passed to
criminalize practices that the legislators personally found to be socially or
theological unacceptable to them.
The Ancient Arts Freedom Association prepared a petition and made it
available for signature in many places in Asheville NC. On 1999-AUG-13, they
held a "Diana's Day Demonstration." They asked that
interested individuals meet at 3 PM in Pack Square of Asheville NC, and to bring
"signs, instruments [divination tools] and a peaceful mind."
The meeting was held; it was peaceful. Many of the approximately 50 people at
the demonstration engaged in
divination. The 15 police who were present at the scene were faced with a problem. They could not ignore a clear
violation of the state law by so many people. At the same time, they would look ridiculous
if they arrested all of the peaceful demonstrators. They realized that a
constitutional issue was at stake. They compromised by issuing a ticket to
Kindra Rajaniemi, a Wiccan priestess, who had openly read Tarot cards. Rajaniemi commented: "I hope the end
result is the law is repealed and people are free to practice as they should."
She appeared in court on 1999-OCT-14, with an ACLU attorney. She had
hoped to be declared guilty so that she could appeal to a higher court and have
the law wiped off the state's books. But the judge agreed with the defense and
declared the law unconstitutional. John Rubin, a professor at the University of
North Carolina-Chapel Hill's School of Law said the judge's decision does not
establish precedent. "I don't think it's binding on the rest of the
state. A district court judge is not going to be controlling precedent in
another county, in another district. ... But it may have persuasive value, it
might be persuasive to prosecutors and other judges."
Solandia has many pages showing the great variety of Tarot Cards
that are currently available. See: http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/
Divination at: http://www.premier1.net/~shagrat/wicca/divination.htm
Wild Wolf Women of the Web contains a listing of Wicca-Divination
links. See: http://www.wildwolfwomen.com/soul.html
Spiritweb has a listing of non-profit groups, spiritual movements,
commercial outlets, non-commercial sites and and personal home pages which
involve divination at: http://www.au.spiritweb.org/Spirit/networks-divination.html
Chapter 14, Criminal law, North Carolina, at: http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/statutes/statutes_in_html/chp0140.html
Ancient Arts Freedom Association (AAFA), PO Box 543, Marshall, NC 28805.
Telephone: (828) 649-0024 days and
(828) 281-3122 nights. E-mail:
[email protected] Web page at:
Susan Dryman, "Witches, psychics hold peaceful protest
downtown," Asheville Citizen-Times,
Copyright © 1999, 2000 & 2002 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2002-AUG-1
Author: B.A. Robinson