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Fortune-Telling vs. Divination: What’s the difference?

fortune telling vs. divination

Short Answer

Fortune-telling and divination are both occult practices which seek to gain information or knowledge. Fortune-telling is a subset of divination which specifically seeks information about future-events. Divination is a more general category which seeks information about anything which is unknown.

Is there a difference between fortune-telling and divination?

The difference between “fortune telling” and “divination” is a common point of confusion, and more than one reader has raised the question.

While there’s certainly some similarity between the two concepts, they are in fact subtly different things.

  • Divination” is the use of occult or psychic techniques to acquire information about that which is unknown or difficult to know.
  • Fortune telling” is a subset of divination, and pertains specifically to understanding future events or outcomes.

Where the two categories differ is in the types of questions which are being asked.

Both fortune-telling and divination share many similar techniques. These techniques include dozens of well-known occult practices including tarot reading, pendulum reading, I Ching, astrology, rune casting and more.  Where the two categories differ is in the types of questions which are being asked.

What is divination?

Divination is a broad category of occult techniques designed to gain information about the unknowable. While divination may involve questions about the future, it does not necessarily have to.

Put another way, divination is the use of occult practices to “divine” knowledge which is unknown to the person asking the question. As A.E. Waite, creator of the Rider-Waite tarot wrote, divination is a means to see “behind the veil” — a general allusion to that which is hidden to our normal senses.

Example divination questions

(The following are examples of questions which are divination but not fortune-telling)

  • Is my ex still thinking about me?
  • Why didn’t I get the job I interviewed for?
  • Did my cat die or run away?

NOTE: Divination can also include questions about the future, and very often does. Divination is a broad category which includes fortune-telling.

What is fortune-telling?

Fortune-telling is a subset of divination which specifically involves questions about future events or future outcomes. If a divination question involves a future date, it’s fortune-telling.

Likewise, if a question involves the outcome of a current trend, relationship or endeavor, it’s fortune-telling.

Example fortune-telling questions

  • Will we get married one day?
  • Is next month a good time to travel?
  • What can you tell me about next week? (See example)

Are all questions either divination or fortune-telling?

It’s important to note that not all questions directed to tarot cards, the I Ching or other oracles are necessarily fortune-telling or divination. A large third-category is self-analysis questions.

Many non-occult thinkers have appreciated this aspect of tarot reading, including the famed psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Jung saw tarot as a reflection of the subconscious mind, and even went so far as to say that its ability to unlock the past and the present could form the basis for making very educated guesses about future events.

You don’t need to be psychic to read your own tarot cards. Try a free online tarot reading now and see how tarot can be a fascinating tool for self-analysis and self-discovery.

Many tarot-readers today use tarot as a primary means of self-discovery and personal insight. Questions which ask about ones’ own feelings or social dynamics are often not intended to gain knowledge through occult means, but through meditation and psychological insight.

Example self-analysis questions

Some examples of questions which are not necessarily divination might include:

  • Help me understand my feelings for (someone).
  • How can I do better at work and avoid conflict?
  • What’s the source of my current stress levels?

Many fans of tarot cards and other oracles prefer to use tarot as a means of self-discovery because it doesn’t require a belief in the occult or the presumption that one has psychic ability. Many of the best online psychics openly admit that a small percentage of their readings are based on non-psychic inputs, and may at times include elements of psychoanalysis and empathic reading.


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