Fortune Tellers: Background, History Across Cultures, and Present Day
Fortune Telling in History
Telling someone's fortune is a practice that dates back centuries and permeates cultures all around the world. Usually when we hear the words "fortune teller" we think of a gypsy in a caravan, which is to some degree a correct image; however, fortune tellers are not of just one ethnic or cultural background. The practice of divination or fortune telling spans countries, even continents, and has even stuck around in today's mainstream media with horoscopes and more.
Take a little journey with me into the past, and let us learn about the various ways of fortune telling in various countries. We will learn about some of the most famous fortune tellers in history, and we will even explore fortune tellers in today's society. Are you ready to gaze into the crystal ball, my dear?
The Ways of the Fortune Tellers & Their Craft
Depending on the country and century we explore, there are numerous ways that fortune tellers would tell a person's future. Other than "fortune telling", this means of asking the supernatural for answers to difficult questions is also called divination. Divination means simply to predict the future. To read the Divine's will, or what some refer to as the will of God. Whatever their religious beliefs, divination is a practice that knows no religious barriers or boundaries just as it knows no cultural limitations. The way in which a fortune teller would tell a person's future varies with the culture and period in time...
For instance, when you hear the words fortune teller spoken...what do you think of? Most people think of a gypsy fortune teller - a wild and gorgeous woman in a caravan of gypsies sitting enchantingly behind a large, gleaming crystal ball or a set of cards splayed out on a velvet-covered table. This image that pops up so often in our minds when hearing these words is a correct image but does not make up the entirety of the fortune tellers' history. That being said, we will be discussing the gypsies and their fortune tellers, as well as some possibly unexpected fortune tellers from other parts of the world. We will also take a look at some of the various ways a fortune teller could predict the future, pull up memories from the past, and call someone's bluff in the present!
Fortune Tellers Across Cultures
Chinese fortune telling is what some people might call an art-form...or better yet, a necessity in the business and financial world. Yes, you read it right. Chinese fortune tellers are consulted on a daily basis by businessmen, businesswomen, and all manner of professionals in order to gain hidden knowledge into a business decision, financial investment, etc. If you were to visit the busy cities in China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan today, you might very well see a few Chinese fortune tellers lining the streets with a businessperson sitting in front of them. This is a practice that is not new to the Chinese, in fact it dates back many centuries to some of the oldest dynastic periods.
They call it Suan Ming or "fate calculating", and Chinese fortune tellers are able to calculate someone's fate by many methods. Some of those methods include but are not limited to practices such as: the Four Pillars method called Bazi (the most popular), Face Reading (where the fortune teller interprets the person's facial features for answers), I Ching, Kau Cim (incense stick/bamboo reading), palm reading, and of course the interpreting of the Chinese astrological calendar. These are just a few of the methods that the Chinese fortune tellers employ to gain their answers from the universe.
In addition to advising business professionals in the decisions of career and finances, these Chinese fortune tellers are still sought out to aid the everyday person in matters of the heart - love, family, friendships, mood, health, etc. This is a practice that has been upheld and respected for many centuries in China and has spread to other countries in Asia.
Fortune tellers can also be found on the continent of Africa in almost every village and/or tribe throughout the various countries and regions. The traditional African method of fortune telling is known as the "casting of bones". Most of these fortune tellers have other means of making a living which include counseling to their clientele as well as healing by herbs and other forms of folk medicine. The casting of bones consists of the fortune teller throwing a set of animal bones, stones, sticks, pieces of fabric, shells, and any other small objects and reading what the "bones" show. This could be a pattern, a marking on the objects, or the meaning of particular objects that are dropped.
Going back to the Dark Ages and beyond, almost every country in Europe has a history of fortune tellers too. In England, there were those known as the "cunning folk" who not only used herbs to heal their townsfolk, but also were consulted to find lost objects or to aid in decision-making in business and home-life. It was said that many of these cunning folk were given their abilities by the "good folk" or what we might call the fairies today. But whatever their means of acquiring these talents, the cunning folk were fortune tellers in every sense of the words. Scrying was one method of divination which meant that the fortune teller would gaze into some reflective surface (i.e. a crystal ball or mirror) and allow a picture to show itself. This picture would give the fortune teller the answer to the question being asked. The ancient Celtic Druids were said to have "read the flight pattern of birds" or what is also known as augury.
What about the gypsies, you say? Well, of course the Romani gypsies also had those amongst them who would also be considered fortune tellers. These were individuals who traveled and lived in caravans with their Romani families and communities. Sometimes they were thought to have used the method of scrying with a crystal ball, but this is a common stereotype that is not thoroughly correct. The gypsies were also thought to have been the first to use cards as a means of divination.
This is not an all-inclusive list by any means. Fortune tellers could also have been found amongst Native American tribes in some aspect, as well as in Australia, South America, the Pacific Islands, etc.
Fortune Tellers: Alive Today!
Being that most people today are analytical and logical, would you believe that fortune tellers are still going strong in many countries all over the world? It is true! For instance, in the United States you can drive down a busy street and usually see a storefront shop lit-up with the words "Psychic" or "Palm Reading" or even "Tarot Card Readings Here!" This is because many people still believe in the idea of fortune telling. People still seek to know what lies in their future, and what of their future might be effected by decisions in the past and present.
Believe it or not, there are fortune tellers that can be contacted online. If you go on Etsy.com, you will find that many fortune tellers offer over-the-internet digital and video readings. They don't even have to see you in person in order to tell you your future! How is this possible? If you ask one of them, they might answer something to the effect of "the Divine knows all and speaks through the cards/mirror/crystal/etc. to me."
While some of these fortune tellers have been known to commit fraud, there are still those who seem rather legitimate. Some of these "psychics" or fortune tellers have even been employed by the police in order to help solve mysterious crimes. Don't believe me? Do a little research and you will find this to be truth. Perhaps fortune telling is not such a ridiculous pastime or career as we might have once thought. Perhaps there is some truth to this ancient practice. After all, how would something span countries and ages if it didn't ring with some kind of truth to it?
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© 2013 Nicole Canfield