I see... a relationship in your future. It will not end well, however. I see a big decision coming your way; you should choose the red one. I see... hm... I see that you are a penniless bastard not planning to pay for this reading and will have to leave immediately.
In a world where fate holds sway, it only stands to reason that those who can read it and give you a peek would be greatly valued. Diviners are found in every country, and every culture has their own spin on them. This article discusses secular diviners as found in Europe.
Principle of Divination
The most important thing about diviners is that they do not have magical powers. A diviner could be compared to a musician: everyone has the ability to play an instrument, but without training, the result will be meaningless and messy. Natural talent can allow someone to become exceptionally skilled, but there is no magical ability that one must be born with to have any hope of divination. Hard work and practice can make someone better at seeing the future than a lazy natural. If the magic doesn't come from the reader, then, how do they see the future? The understanding of how divination works differs by culture. In Europe, with the prevailing metaphor of fate being a tapestry, it's understood that everything that happens in the world is interconnected. All threads of life weave in and out of each other, pulling, tugging, pushing, surrounding. The actions you take today are pulling the threads of yesterday in your direction, just as actions taken in the future are pulling you toward them. Everything is interconnected, and, thus, events that will happen in the future are already casting their shadows on the present. These shadows emerge throughout nature and throughout chance events. It takes a trained eye to be able to spot these shadows and interpret what they mean. They do not believe that God, or any other entity, consciously guides the appearance of symbols. The hints are a natural consequence of fate, and it is akin to tracking an animal by traces it leaves behind.
The only thing a person needs is to be a member of a Guild of Diviners and ability to read the Grand Tapestry. Being able to read it is not an innate ability. Anyone could be trained in the art, though some have more natural talent than others. Technically, one doesn't have to be a member of a guild to operate independently, but in most major cities, guilds disallow the practice of any diviners not int he guild. It hurts the profession as a whole, they claim, if people can just start claiming to know what will happen in the future without proper training. It might lead to people doubting the word of all diviners, even formally trained ones.
A potential diviner typically begins training as a child. Guilds take in children as young as 7 and begin to teach them the art of telling the future. Children are also expected to do chores around the guildhall in return for their keep. Around the age of 14 or so, a potential diviner is taken on as an apprentice by a master. They leave the guild hall to shadow their master and assist them. An apprentice diviner is responsible for purchasing supplies, cleaning up the shop, organizing materials, brewing tea - any menial job that needs to be done. As they get older, they will slowly be given more responsibilities in the actual reading of the Tapestry. They are do the readings for clients wanting simpler answers: yes/no questions, or questions about the very near future, for instance. An apprentice is usually granted the full title of Master Diviner sometime in the mid 20s. They will be given a badge by the guild to indicate their approval to practice independently and open up a practice of their own. Most diviners stay at this level of the career, but some who are particularly talented at it might rise in the ranks to take a leadership role in the guild, or even be offered a position in a noble household as a diviner on staff.
Payment & Reimbursement
Diviners are paid for each reading they do. The price is based on the complexity of the information desired. The farther into the future a piece of information is, or the more complex details asked for, the higher the price. For example, "Who will come to my wedding next week?" is fairly simple. A question like, "What will be the long term consequences of making this financial decision?" is more elaborate and would cost more for a thorough answer. The technique of reading also impacts the price. Someone requesting tea-leaf reading will also pay for the cup of tea, for example. Any technique that requires more effort, offers more complex answers, or needs more training to do well, costs more. Thus, the reading of spider webs is more expensive than tarot. Diviners employed in a noble household typically have a yearly salary in addition to food and board.
The perception of diviners depends on the country. In Arbitrist countries, where the church encourages frequent consultations with the future, being a diviner is a proud profession that is highly revered in society. In Catholic or Orthodox countries, where looking into the future is considered a weakness and displays poor trust in God's plan for you, diviners are looked down upon and are sometimes prohibited from operating within certain urban areas. They are still popular, however. If workers who provided a sinful indulgence stopped getting business just because society frowned on what they did, prostitution would have vanished centuries ago.
The tools needed depend on what divination techniques the diviner offers. Most diviners practice a small handful of methods, and usually have a preferred one. They might require items like tea leaves, reflective surfaces, sets of lots, wood for a fire, or cages of small animals.
Most diviners have a small shop which they operate out of. These shops are notoriously cluttered with materials and have odd smells from the various incenses animals used. The diviner usually has a front room, where they meet with clients let them wait if it's busy, and a back room to do their actual work. Since clients often ask for sensitive or personal information, doing a reading in front of someone else is very rude. Some diviners travel around, setting up a tent on the edge of town and providing their services for a few weeks before moving on. Their tents are usually similarly adorned as a shop, but smaller and without the front waiting room. In locations where divining is illegal, diviners sometimes collaborate with houses of ill repute. Male diviners are especially welcome here, where ladies of negotiable affection often enjoy having a male friend and coworker living and working on the premises.
Types of Diviners
There are many ways to read the future in Europe alone, let alone methods practiced further abroad. Diviners can describe themselves with specific words for their specialty, and 'diviner' is the general term for anyone who practices foresight. It is also used because most diviners practice multiple forms of divination. For example, a diviner might say, "I'm a tasseomancer, but I also practice tarot and augury." There are hundreds of ways to divine. Shadows of the future appear throughout the world in different ways, and diviners throughout the ages have tried just about anything to see more clearly. This covers a few of the most popular types of diviners.
Reading the future from tea leaves. During a tasseomancy reading, the diviner prepares a cup of tea for the client. The client drinks it at a natural pace; the best tasseomancers prepare one for themselves as well and have a pleasant chat with the client to encourage them to drink it naturally and not chug it in eagerness. Reading the future is delicate, and trying to force a look is like splashing into a pond to see the fish and wondering why they all vanished.
After the drink is done, the tasseomancer interprets the shapes and patterns of the clumps of leaves left behind. They are not looking only at the shape of the leaves, but also the shape of the negative space left behind. Symbols formed by the dark tea leaves indicate a negative connotation to the symbol, while negative space shapes formed from the porcelain showing through are positive. The position also has meaning: the deeper in the cup the shape is positioned, the farther in the future it will occur.
Cups and Leaves
Tasseomancers are notoriously finicky about tea and cups. Some swear by patterned cups and say they can get more detailed readings by noticing the position of shapes around certain pictures (such as constellations or playing card suites) painted within the cup. Others claim this is nonsense, and that the images clutter the reading and you need solid white porcelain for a pure glimpse of the future. Debates over which variety of tea to use are just as heated. A guildhall meeting in Bonnyrigg, Scotland, in 1703 famously came to blows when the resident tasseomancers got into a heated argument about the merits of Ceylon tea vs Nepalese tea.
Tasseomancers are especially popular in the British Isles, but has its roots in Chosun. It's one of the more recent forms of divination in Europe, having only begun in the 17th century when tea was first brought over from Asia. As such, some traditionalists scoff at the art and consider it unreliable and untested. The long chats master tasseomancers have with their clients while draining the cups, skeptics claim, are just an opportunity to learn about the client's life and make informed guesses from that.
Although most tasseomancers use tea, tasseomancers in the Turkish Empire and nearby lands such as Venice or Wallachia read coffee grounds rather than tea leaves. This is uncommon in Europe, where coffee is still relatively uncommon, but diviners from abroad who offer coffee readings are always popular for the exoticism of the reading.
Cartomancy is the practice of reading playing cards, most popularly tarot. Tarot is one of the newest methods, becoming popular only in the past 20 years. It is very popular with clients due to the number of details that can be gleaned from the variety of cards, but scoffed at by others for the same reason as tasseomancy.
A Tarot Reading
During a tarot reading, the cartomancer asks the client to shuffle the cards. Physically handling them will help make sure the future they hint it is related to the client and not just general. The client then take three cards from the top of the pile and spreads them on the table. It is up to the cartomancer to interpret what the cards are hinting at based on their position. Every card has multiple meanings, and they can mean different things depending on if they are in the position for the past, the present, or the future. Further, the cards impact each other, and a card's meaning changes based on the cards around it.
A standard set of playing cards is the older and more respected form of cartomancy. Reading a deck of playing cards is more difficult, as the numbers and suites are less distinct and have more subtle variation. A reading with playing cards is performed much the same was as tarot. Skeptics of tarot believe that playing cards give a deeper, more nuanced view of the future. Tarot's proponents say that just because the old method is more difficult, it isn't actually more reliable and tarot is better because it gives the same information in a more legible way. Tarot readers tend to be younger, while older, established cartomancers stick to the playing cards.
Tarot is primarily popular in France, where it originated. Cartomancy in general is found across Europe, but is especially popular in Italian states or eastern Europe.
Scrying is any divination that involves looking into reflective surfaces. Scrying is one of the oldest and most respected forms of divination. Scryers use a wide variety of reflective surfaces, but popular choices are crystals or polished metal chalices. Which surface is the best is a matter of debate. Traditionalists, or low-income diviners serving rural communities - often use nothing but a simple basin of water. A mirror is actually a very uncommon tool for scrying, and not just because they are so expensive. Scrying involves looking past the mundane reflection and glimpsing the shadows and distortions from future influence. A mirror provides too clear and crisp an image of the present to easily see past that to the future.
There is a sterotype that scryers tend to be a little loopy, and this is thought to be a sign that they spend so much time looking at the future that they become disconnected from reality. The loopier the scryer, then, the more reliable they are thought to be. The main reason for this is a popular trend of using a cup of liquid mercury as a scrying material.
Scrying is widespread across Europe. It's the preferred method through the Holy Roman Empire. Mercury-based scrying is especially popular in the Iberian peninsula and France, while in the east, scryers are more likely to use crystal.
Fortune tellers, Tapestry readers, soothsayers
The only place with state-level restrictions against divining are the Papal States, but some more Catholic communities have local ordinances against it. These are mostly scattered throughout the Holy Roman Empire and depend on the whim and tolerance of the local lord.
Methods of DivinationDiviners have tried just about anything to glimpse the future over the centuries. Some forms of divination include:
- Looking for patterns in fire or smoke
- Reading tea leaves
- Inspecting spider webs
- Scrying through reflective surfaces
- Examining the entrails of a sacrificed animal
- Charting the stars and movements of the planets
- Palm reading
- Reading playing cards, such as tarot
- Looking at the flight patterns of birds
- Watching where a pendulum swings