Ancient Divination

Merry Meet All,

As promised, I am going to talk here about divination. I have been busy and have not been able to post here. If I had more hours of daylight, it would be a different story.

There are different methods of divination. They share a long history and varying techniques. Divination is a way of seeing into the future. Some methods you may be quite familiar with already, such as pendulums and tarot cards. I enjoy research though and finding out about the methods that are not often heard of. I read a fascinating book about the methods of divination practiced by our Celtic ancestors. It may come as a surprise.

The seers and prophets of the Celts were highly favored by the people. The way they performed divination was by literally putting their thumb in their mouth. I am not referring to Cerridwen and Taliesin here.

In the Netherlands, the space between thumb and finger was called Wodenspanne, a link with the Germanic God Wodan. Sometimes the seers and prophets bit their tongues to gain knowledge. I do not recommend you all try that.

The Tale of Sigurd the Volsung tells of how he put his thumb in his mouth and gained knowledge. The tale is a fourteenth-century saga. He slayed a dragon. Sigurd was taught by Regin, a smith bearing supernatural powers. His mother married again and saved the broken pieces of the sword (makes me think of the Shards of Narsil from LOTR.)Regin’s brother shape shifted into a dragon Fanfir, and guarded a great treasure, which Regin coveted for himself. Odin favored Sigurd and gifted him with a great horse. Regin reforged the sword and egged Sigurd on to kill the dragon and get the gold. Regin intended for Sigurd to die. Odin intervened, and instructed Sigurd to build deep pits so the dragon blood would flow in them, which Sigurd did. Regin drank some of the blood and Sigurd cooked the heart of the dragon, checking to see if the dragon heart was ready. As soon as he did, he burnt his thumb and gained knowledge from the speech of birds who warned him of Regin’s true intentions. Sigurd drew his sword and chopped off Regin’s head. He claimed the treasure and went on to many adventures.

The tale above is one of many tales of ancient seers and prophets. Sigurd was not perceived as a seer but the tale is still popular. Christian monuments from the Isle of Man depicted a man roasting a dragon in a pit and eating the dragon meat. A stone from a Viking cemetery showed a seated figure with his hand to his mouth standing near the slain body of a dragon. He was shown as the victorious slayer of the dragon and owner of the treasure.

The Irish story of a man named Finn Mac Cumaill. He was a warrior and a poet and seer. His teacher was named Finn, who desired to eat the flesh of a special salmon, that would gift him to knowledge where nothing would be hidden from him. He instructed Demne, the boy, to cook the salmon. Demne brought the salmon to him, and Finn asked if he ate any of it. Demne replied that he had burnt his thumb and put it in his mouth. So Finn realized that Demne was the one meant to gain sacred knowledge and gave him the name Finn. The boy ate the salmon and “whenever he would put his thumb in his mouth and sing through teinm laida (chewing of the pith),” hidden knowledge would be granted to him.

The two tales above show two different methods of gaining arcane knowledge but they show how secret knowledge was gained. Today we may not even consider burning our thumbs on the slain heart of a dragon as a method of divination, but that was common then. The God Odin sacrificed his eye to gain knowledge from the well of wisdom. There are likely many tales of how secret knowledge was gained. Tolkien includes a sword that was reforged in his book The Lord of the Rings. It is highly possible that the tale above may be where he found the inspiration. He heavily borrowed from ancient mythology from different cultures such as the Celts and the Vikings.

The gods of the Celts and Vikings played important roles in the mythology as well as the idea of shape shifting in the tales here and the tale of Cerridwen and Taliesin.

Today the practice of divination continues and while there are no dragons to slay or dragon blood to drink, or special sacred potions in cauldrons, we still seek answers to hidden knowledge. It is a tradition that has never and will never die. I am listening to a song called The Celts by Enya. I wear Celtic jewelry and I have a Celtic cat keychain. The Celts art and mythology survived the test of time.

Lady Spiderwitch

“The Seer” by Hilda Ellis Davidson, 1989.


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