Encyclopaedia Arcana #53: Advanced Divination (Part Six)

Dionysian divination tends to have a bad reputation amongst Light and independent mages.  This hasn’t always been the case – according to mage historians, until as recently as the Late Middle Ages, Dionysian methods were still seen as the ‘standard’ approach to divination.  Only within the last few hundred years have they fallen into obscurity.

The reputation is understandable – even to the initiated, Dionysian divination can be frightening.  Apollonian divination tends to be distant and detached, almost clinical, and rarely uses any focuses except for the mage himself.  An Apollonian diviner at work just looks like someone sitting around doing nothing.  By contrast, Dionysian divination is passionate and primal, and some of its rituals aren’t for the squeamish.  Haruspicy (divination through examination of the entrails of a ritually sacrificed creature) is Dionysian in origin, and it isn’t the only one of their techniques that involves blood.  However, it probably isn’t the blood in Dionysian rituals that really disturbs mages – it’s the hints of irrationality and madness that lie beneath.

Despite its suppression, however, Dionysian divination has never quite gone away.  Perhaps it’s because it can do things that Apollonian divination can’t, or perhaps it’s because it speaks to something that’s too fundamental in human nature to be so easily discarded.

Cross My Palm With Silver

The most iconic technique of Dionysian divination is fortune telling.  Through studying a subject’s palm or looking into their eyes, a diviner can predict their short, medium, or long-term future . . . sometimes.  The futures that the spell reveals are vague, and always portrayed in terms of their relation to the person in question.  Events of no personal significance to the receiver of the spell are never foretold – everything is seen through the lens of their personal experience.

Fortune telling is one of the most imprecise of all divination methods.  Many mages have attacked it over the years, calling it unreliable, dishonest, and an exercise in manipulative psychology.  There’s some truth to these claims – the vagueness of fortune telling makes it a fertile ground for liars and confidence tricksters, and certainly the number of fake fortune tellers is vastly greater than the number of real ones.  There have been several famous cases of fortune telling ‘diviners’ being revealed to be just sensitives who were very good at fooling people (in some cases to the great embarrassment of their mage clients, who you really would have thought should have known better).

Even a genuine fortune reading does not guarantee success.  The information gathered from this spell tends to be in terms of omens, items of symbolic significance, or images of a person or situation.  It can provide guidance, but that guidance is by no means easy to interpret, and it’s very likely that the recipient won’t fully understand the omen until after it’s come to pass.  Worse, the futures it predicts aren’t always accurate – fortune telling is a ‘best guess’ rather than a precise prediction.  The fortunes of a genuine diviner do come true far more often than random chance would indicate, but whether they come true often enough to be genuinely useful is another question.

A less well-known aspect to fortune telling is that it doesn’t necessarily require the subject’s co-operation.  Dark mages sometimes employ Dionysian diviners for exactly this purpose, extracting information about a target’s future movements that even they might not have known . . . though as always, the futures are subject to change.

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