Fortune telling was once seen as a way to bring home messages from the Gods. It’s time to restore that definition.
Divination — often called “fortune-telling” — was once a core skill of many ancient priesthoods, especially those of women. But as the modern emphasis in reading has shifted into psychology and intuitive psychic counsel, the beauty and profound magic of these old ways has eroded from our understanding. It’s time to change that.
When we perform divination, we use a light trance to seek direct advice from outside ourselves, with the assistance of a tool such as runes or tarot. To go into a deeper trance, without tools to interpret the signs, is the work of an oracle or seer. That is a skill which holds hands with, but is not necessary for the purposes of, divination. Rather than relying solely upon our own intuitive skills and egos to navigate the shimmering web of history and causality, in divination we look at what is (Verdandi), that which is becoming or what may be (Skuld) and what the underlying causes of a situation are (Urd.) Often as a result, we bring up unconscious or unspoken possibilities and challenges that were never part of the original question, a process that helps us to forge a much stronger wyrd.
What Is Wyrd?
Wyrd, like space-time and gravity, is a force of the universe. All things are governed by wyrd. The gods. You. Me. This Earth. Existence. Wyrd is not some inescapable fate pattern written down by infallible gods micro-managing your life, or payback for your previous existences, but that which is set in motion and can be actively worked with in both the future and the past.
The set of circumstances you are born under help to determine the possibilities within your wyrd, as do your family’s emotional, spiritual, financial and, yes, genetic inheritance.
Even the gods do not govern wyrd, but must at times yield to the weavings of the Norns, vastly ancient beings whose power and existence stand outside divinity and possibly beyond the universe itself. According to Norse lore, they predate some of the gods and belong to another class of beings entirely.
The Norns are not human-oriented in their workings, but are tied to the maintenance of existence itself. As such, They are not as approachable as most deities, but They can be met by us.
The three most famous Norns — Urd, Verdandi and Skuld — are named for time tied to existence. Known to the Greeks as the Moirae, this triad was depicted as female beings who spun, measured out, and cut the cords of our lifetimes. Each of these seemingly separate life-threads then wove the pattern of existence. But all beings have their own lesser and greater Norns, shaping and recording their causality, and so do lineages and countries. Every time we divine the future, we investigate their work.
In trance vision, a powerful wyrd looks like a smooth, pulsing web of light that dips and flows. Major choices radiate out like a river delta or forest of branches arching out from a trunk of decision, the World Tree which flows through all things. A messed-up, so-called “ill-fated” wyrd shows snags, tangles and dull or misty spots where momentous choices were blocked and paths delayed or destroyed. (Premature death can destroy entire branches of wyrd, cascading out over multiple lives and lifetimes.) But this tangled web does not have to remain as it appears, or be overly massaged through magic. This is where using divination, asking the Gods’ guidance, comes into play. We cannot see the whole picture from within our own lives, and so we ask for Their sweeping viewpoint.
Wyrd is not something to be meekly accepted, but a force to be engaged. Odhin works constantly to delay the onset of Ragnarok or the Götterdämarung, the climax of a cycle; the goddesses also fight to ameliorate untenable circumstances (such as Sigyn holding a bowl above the bound Loki to mitigate his pain) and delay destruction of loved ones (Frigg seeks to make her son Baldr immune to physical harm.) The Norse Gods are perfectly willing to help us wisely engage with our own destiny and welcome our efforts to improve ourselves within it.
Like seidhr trance — in which spirits are met with through journey work for wisdom and healing — divination is powerful soul-magic. The very act of inquiry triggers shifts in wyrd. Once you receive a response, you are no longer acting in blind ignorance but have taken ownership over your choices going forward.
Modern heathens may use rune-casting to seek guidance on smoothing out their wyrd. There’s even a rune, naudhiz (need), carrying the energy of “wyrd/The Norns/ what’s needful.” Whether or not the ancient Germanic tribes used the runes or another system for divination is unclear from accounts by the first century Roman historian Tacitus:
Augury and divination by lot no people practise (sic) more diligently. The use of the lots is simple. A little bough is lopped off a fruit-bearing tree, and cut into small pieces; these are distinguished by certain marks, and thrown carelessly and at random over a white garment…1
Runes work excellently for casting lots. However, I find that other systems of divination are easier for beginners to learn. The nature of tarot and oracle cards as images to focus upon allows us to connect with them in a similar way to deity icons, and thus invite the presence of helpful spirits. These spirits can provide messages that are specific to the person and circumstances of the reading. The human-like imagery of most decks provides a starting point for light trance visualization, working as a bridge to connect with other minds more easily than with the personality of a letter or sigil.
How to Read Wyrd: Preparation
Here’s how to make a reading an active conversation with the Gods and other spirits about a person’s wyrd.
- Choose the deck or system carefully. Vehicles for divination all have their own “personality”, and many have specific spirits or gods depicted in them. The mood of the artwork, the maker of a tool, and its past all influence a tool.
- Treat every reading as a ritual. Most people need time to center, focus and relax to go into a light trance. Ritual helps with this, and also sends the signal that you’re interested in contacting spirit help.
- Hallow (purify and bless) the space, the tools and yourself. Don’t assume a space is cleared and blessed just because you’re in a sacred setting or previously protected space. Divination raises a great deal of energy and attracts attention from spirits: either one of which may attach to you, the reader. When I worked as a professional reader, I learned to start the day by lighting a candle to Thor and going around the room to clean any leftover connections or energies from the previous readings or visitors.
- Ask for divine presence and aid. Invite the gods, the ancestors, guardians, etc. and ask them to send messages in a way you will easily understand. It helps to have an icon of a deity you have a close relationship with visible during the reading, especially if you choose a non-pictorial system like runes. (Odhin, Freyja, Frau Holle and Frey are excellent rune advisors.) Take a few seconds to look at the image of your chosen deity and thank Them for coming before you read.
- Light incense and leave a candle burning as an offering during your reading. This helps to raise the energy in the room and “fuels” the reading rather than drawing on your own life force. This also sets up an atmosphere of sacredness and appreciation for Whoever appears to give guidance.
How to Read Wyrd: As You Read
- Open your mind to the possibility that you will receive messages coming from outside of yourself. Allow yourself the opportunity for this experience by not discounting it as your own ego or imagination. When it flows, you will receive images, insight and messages that you have no prior knowledge of. If this doesn’t happen the first time, you may just need to build more of a connection over time to the spirits.
- Follow your intuition. Focus on whatever pulls your eye in a spread, rather than whatever meanings you’ve memorized for that tool. You may feel a tug or pull at your attention, sense motion, or “hear” something. Let these cues become guides to the path of a reading. For me, conversations with specific cards during a reading are common now. Often one or two cards — especially deity cards — actively help interpret the entire spread for me.
- Periodically glance at any icon you’ve set out before you started. If you feel some sort of “tug” or pull at your attention, the icon may be trying to help! I often just look straight at an icon and receive messages about the issue at hand even before any cards are pulled. At other times, spirits will interject key information as I’m reading or directly contact the person I‘m advising.
- Follow the spirits’ instructions. They may ask you questions, tell you to ask another question, guide you to pull a certain number of cards or symbols or provide information for your benefit about the situation or person while telling you not to repeat this. Be open, but go with your instinct above all.
How to Read Wyrd: After You Finish
- Thank the spirits and the tool (runes, Tarot, etc) that you’ve used for their help. Many divinatory systems have spirits linked into them directly. So, even if a God was guiding your reading, the vehicle also assisted. Also, thank the querent (the person who you read for) for their trust. It’s valuable.
- Blow out the candles and incense and put away the tools you read with. This signifies that the reading is over; tools left out continue to pull energy over time, so do this promptly. If you have to leave while you are doing a reading, cover it with a clean cloth and come back to it as soon as possible.
- Take time to ground yourself. Go outside. Move around. Eat something, change the subject and take care of yourself. Above all, relax and enjoy doing the reading. Don’t stress out about your skills, and let your ability to attune to messages develop over time. `
1Tacitus’ Germania, section 10. Translated by Alfred John Church and Willian Jackson Brodribb, 1864-1877, courtesy of Sacred Texts.com: http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/tac/#section_002