All About African Fortune Telling

Reading fortunes in Africa comes in several forms,depending on the region of Africa and the belief system.

In many cultures divination has played, and continues to play a significant part in religious life. While popular religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, look down upon and even preach against divination, African fortune telling has a particularly rich tradition that still thrives today.

The bulk of African fortune telling revolves around the culture's desire to not only decipher personal destiny, but beyond this, to discover meaning in life. For most African cultures the two central figures in the divination process are the Nature Spirits and the diviners. Nature Spirits are powers that are not seen, but can be interpreted by the diviners to tell the future. The main Spirit Gods are represented by weather patterns, naturals formations found on the earth, and animals. The ability of a diviner to interpret the signs given by the Nature Spirits is the foundation of African fortune telling.

Human Diviners vary from culture to culture; in some locations only males can be diviners, in others mostly females assume the role. There are also cultures that allow the practice to be shared by both males and females.

A diviner may predict the future in a number of ways. The methods diviners use vary throughout the continent and in different tribes, however, there are some similarity which all cultures share. The use of oracles, for instance, is widespread. Oracles are small pieces of wood sculpted to take the shape of a god, animal, or natural structure. Each oracle is used for a different purpose, according to shape and symbolic significance. The most common oracles are friction oracles used to address ancestral spirits when an individual is facing a personal crisis or uncertainty. The wooden sculpture often takes the form of the Creator God, who is the central divine figure for African cultures. Often times the an icon will resemble a pregnant or obese woman, particularly if the reason an individual seeks council pertains to questions on fertility and the prospect of birth in the near future. Other oracles take the shape of animals. One particular oracle, called the itombwa, is carved in the shape of an alligator and used to answer yes and no questions. A diviner uses this piece when questioning the gods and depending on which side of the wooden sculpture is exposed, the answer is revealed.

A cousin of the oracle is a mini model of the human. These psuedo-oracles are used in the art of "Vodou", which is a popular religious practice in Haiti and elsewhere. While they are used mainly as a means of inflicting or cursing pain on another being, they can be used in the divination process as well. Observing the configuration of a Vodou doll after spells have been cast on it or after it has been tossed on the ground can help indicate future events to the eyes of a seasoned diviner.

In addition to oracles and Vodou dolls, several cultures use the configuration of tossed stones, sticks, or most popularly, gourds as a mode of interpreting the future. Other patterns can be used as an indicator of the future""from the movements of a mouse over a pile of bones to the pattern of fox tracks over a field of grass to the random movements of a spider casting a web. The trend of diviners seeking meaning in seemingly everyday occurrences is widespread in the African culture.

If the diviner is still having trouble seeing the future even with the use of oracles, configurations, or natural patterns, then he or she may consult the deceased. The deceased are sometimes called upon to guide the diviners in their quest to interpret the gods, but are in most cases, eager to assist. Since it is believed the deceased are closer to the gods they can see more clearly the events they wield for humans. The deceased, as relatives of the living, are interested in helping the diviners. The deceased may be invoked by the use of charms, potions, or spells, but often come to an individual willingly, either through dreams of manifesting themselves as pains in the shoulders and back area.

Some diviners, called Baule trance diviners, can only contact the deceased or make predications when they are in a deep state of trance. The trance, it is believed, sends the human form into a temporary state whereby he or she can more clearly see the signals the gods are sending.

Once the diviner""trance or no trance""sees the future, he or she forecasts it to the interested party. If there is a problem in the future that the diviner sees, he or she will likely provide a prescription. Prescriptions can take the form of spells, prayers, charms, mini-statues, herbs, or other oral ingestions. Regardless of the form the prescription takes, it is referred to as medicine for its general healing intention and power.

Not all divinations result in the administration of medicine, however. Many divinations produce joyful and happy results. In these instances the diviner will offer a prayer or words of encouragement for the recipient, and in some cases the entire village will be congregated to share the good news. It is during these celebrations that one can fully appreciate the power of the diviner in the role of everyday life in African culture and how divination can influence a person, a family, and even an entire village of people.

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