Concerning the Taking of Omens

(Note: This article is an excerpt, copied with permission, from the author's book Sacred Fire, Holy Well.)

One of the core skills of the sorcerer's art is divination - the use of magic to discover that which is unknown. We divine to determine what is unseen in the present and past, and what the pattern of Dan may hold for our future. In the work of sorcery we also often divine to determine whether the spirits are pleased with our work, whether our offerings have been accepted, whether our work is headed for a good outcome, and what kind of power is being offered by the spirits.

In this work we will not attempt to teach the sort of divination that allows us to do complex 'readings' of the patterns of Dan. While the simple techniques given here can be used for that sort of 'telling', there are many books from which you can better gain those skills. Here we will address methods of taking the sorts of simpler omens that are required for the work.

Sortilege

Sortilege is the taking of omens by the drawing of lots. One takes a bag or bowl of symbols on identical pieces of wood or stone, or on a deck of cards, and randomly draws a few symbols The meaning of those symbols provides the omen or answer to an inquiry.

In order to divine by sortilege you will need to draw the letters of the alphabet or symbol system which you are using on identical lots. There is a traditional account that suggests that the lots should be prepared fresh each time you wish to take an omen. There is value in that approach but practicality suggests the creation of a permanent, personal set of divination lots. Our work will focus on two traditional alphabets - the Ogham and the Runes.

The Ogham

The Ogham alphabet originated in Ireland in the first few centuries of the common era. It was used primarily as a simple way of carving inscriptions on grave and memorial stones and border markers. In later Irish lore the Ogham becomes a kind of bardic and poetic code, which modern Celtic Pagans have taken up as a set of symbols for divination and spell-work. The Ogham is commonly thought of as the 'alphabet of trees'. The most famous of the Ogham lists gives ancient tree-names for each of the letters. The Irish Ogham lists go on to list Oghams of birds, ships, cities and many other kinds.

It would be a mistake to assume that the Irish bards meant these lists to be 'correspondences' in the sense of the lists used by some kinds of modern magicians. While there is certainly some degree of associative connection between the various Ogham lists it would be an error to put them in the same class with 'planetary correspondences'. Nevertheless, they offer a net of symbols that can be useful in the sorcerer's art, both for divination and other work.

Ogham lots might best be made of bits of square dowel. We can imagine a perfect set made with each dowel cut from the proper sort of wood. This is a worthwhile long-term project, but to get started you will probably need to use commercial dowel. A square dowel allows you to use one corner as the center-line of the Ogham letter. That leaves two sides on which you might write the Irish and English names of the tree-letter.

Here we offer the Tree Ogham with simple divinatory meanings to enable you to begin taking simple omens immediately. The focus of this work does not allow us to spend as much time on the meaning and use of the Oghams as it deserves. Students are encouraged to take the Ogham into mind and heart - memorize the symbols and contemplate their meanings. The Ogham is one of the most systematic views we have of the early Celtic mind - it is a link to the Celtic core of the magic we seek.

(For more information on the Ogham, see also The Druids' Alphabet by ADF Archdruid Skip Ellison.)

The Runes

The Runes are the magical alphabet of the Norse peoples, a Germanic folks with close blood and cultural ties to the Celts. Both on the European continent and in the British Isles Norse clans mingled with Celts, to the enrichment of both peoples. The Runes are not a Celtic system, but their meanings and context so closely match those of Celtic cultures that they can properly be a part of the Celtic sorcerer's tools.

Rune lots can be made of wooden disks, or of disks of a tree-branch, carefully cut to even thickness and size. Each disk is then graven with one Rune. The most traditional means is o actually carve the Rune into the wood, then to stain it red. Tradition suggests the use of blood for that staining, but a small drop of your own blood in red paint would surely be sufficient.

Again, there are many resources for learning the Runes. If they call to you, there are many references available. Here we will offer only a simple chart of names and divinatory meanings.

Whether making Ogham or runic lots, the wood should be cut to size, then purified with the Fire and Water Consecration charm, along with any ink, paint or tool that you mean to use. The process of inscribing the symbols will place a layer of bua onto them, so do not cleanse and purify them after they have been carved. Your omen tool should be kept on your shrine and treated as an important hallow.

Seeking an Omen by Sortilege

The very simplest method of drawing on omen by sortilege is to draw a single lot. The symbol is then interpreted in light of the nature of the work at hand. The most reliably attested traditional method of sortilege involves drawing three lots. Depending on the apparent answer in the first three symbols, two more qualifying or clarifying questions may be asked.

In a public rite of worship the omen-question is always the same: 'What blessings do the spirits offer us in return for our offerings.' In works of sorcery you will need a larger variety of queries. When you are entering a place and seeking the welcome of the spirits, you might ask 'Is my magic welcome here?' If you are making a preliminary offering you might ask 'Will you be willing to join me in this work?' When you are working a specific rite, you will complete all the preparations and offerings, and then ask 'What will be the result if I proceed with this working?'

Neither Ogham nor Runes are likely to produce a simple yes or no answer. If the symbols plainly agree with the nature of the work at hand, the omen can be considered good, the answer a 'yes'. If it is plainly opposed to the work then the omen may be considered bad, or the answer a 'no'.

If you receive a bad omen you may choose to ask additional questions. A series of yes/no or qualitative questions may reveal how you can gain the goal you seek. If you receive a bad omen at a key point in a spell or working you will have the choice to attempt to improve the omen through additional sacrifices or other efforts, to shut down the rite and await a more auspicious day, or to go forward with the working despite the omens.

Augury

One of the most authentically Celtic means of seeking omens is through augury. The word augury is often used synonymously with divination, but it has a more specific meaning. Augury is divination by the observation of natural things. The flight of birds, the play of fire and smoke, the movement of beasts and humans are interpreted by a combination of personal intuition and by bodies of traditional lore. The details of the traditions of Gaelic augury have been lost to time and to the encroachments of modern culture. Yet some bits have been rescued by folklorists, preserved from the last century in the highlands of Scotland.

The rural Scottish folk referred to one kind of augury as the frith. In the frith seership the seer makes his charm, and then uses the door of a house as a sort of 'frame' through which he gazes in order to see what omens may be seen. The things of the world pass by, and they serve as the signs and symbols for the diviner's interpretation.

Such symbols are traditional divided into lucky - rathadach, in Gaelic - and unlucky - rosadach - signs. The lore lists that have been preserved are from a strictly rural culture. Some omens called rathadach are: a bird on the wing; a dog; a horse; a duck; sheep (for a journey); a man (especially brown-haired); a person coming toward you; a best rising; a rooster. Some rosadach signs include: a person going away; a person lieing down (sickness); a beast lying down (death); a red-haired person; hens without a rooster; a crow; a raven; a cat; a pig going away. It is said:

  • A white horse for land
  • A grey horse for sea
  • A bay horse for a grave
  • A brown horse for sorrow

Other traditions of augury use a variety of 'frames' for augury-vision. A Window, a fork in a branch, hands held before the face, a tube made with the fingers of the hand; and especially the hole in a hag-stone or holy-stone can serve as the window through which omens are sought. The hag stone has the special virtue of aiding the seer to scry the peoples of the Otherworld.

Another way of framing the search for natural omens is by Quartering the Sky. Using the Wand and a proper charm the bowl of the sky is divided by the four Airts, the directions understood with the meanings of the Four Provinces of Eire: The East for Bounty, the South for Song, the West for Wisdom, and the North for Battle. Omens can then be sought in each direction, according to the nature of the work at hand. This is also a good beginning to augury by the smoke and flame of the Fire.

Obviously, the countryside omens remembered in lore will have limited use for modern work. As we rebuild the work of Celtic sorcery we must depend upon our own Imbas, our own intuition and inspiration, to rightly interpret what we see. We should be careful and temperate in our interpretations, especially as we begin to develop the skill. It can be useful to experiment by using augury first to take omens for simple rites of blessing and worship, before moving on to more complex workings.

Charms for Seeking an Omen

Sortilege

When you wish to take an omen concerning your magic, or the aid of the spirits, or the fate of a person or venture, come to your shrine or Fire.

Take a clean white cloth and lay it before you, then hold your bag of lots in your hands. Make your link with the Two Powers, and extend your awareness into the Water and the Light.

Make a small offering into the Fire, and say:

Dan of the Gift, Dan of the Song, Dan of Destiny
My gift I give to you.
Give me the gift, let me hear the song
Of the Turning of the Worlds
(name and nature of the beings one is asking)
I have offered to you, as I seek (restate intention of the work)
Now let the true sight be in me, the true speech be mine,
Answer me now, O spirits,
(State question)

Shake the bag of lots and let it fall into your lap or onto the cloth. Close your eyes and clear your mind as you reach into the bag and draw three lots.

Place the three lots in a row before you on the cloth. Carefully identify each symbol, and contemplate the meanings of the signs. Open your heart and listen to your own inspiration or the voices of the spirits to help you understand the traditional meaning in relation to your question.

If the omen seems good then you should record or clearly remember the omen and pick up the lots. You may then proceed to the next phase of your work.

If the omen seems ill or uncertain, or if you wish to clarify some point in the first draw, you may frame a second question and draw a second triad of symbols. Some sorcerers choose to replace the first three lots in the bag before drawing the second three, others leave the first three before them.

If there is a need you may go so far as to frame a third question and draw a third triad. A nine-symbol reading of this sort should provide sufficient detail to reach a conclusion even in complex questions. Omens taken early in training, especially during active magical working, may well be kept to one or three symbols. New students might experiment with the full nine-fold reading in the Welcoming charm, or in divining for yourself or your folk.

The Frith

To seek an augury in the manner of the Frith, you will need a frame of some kind for your vision. If you are divining for a household you might set your Hallows in the center of their house. The easternmost door will then serve as the frame of seeing.

If you are working outdoors you will set you Hallows where you deem proper, being certain to know where the Airts lie. Outdoor work requires that you have an augoryframe, such as a holey-stone, through which to gaze.

Hold your seeing frame in one hand, and make a small offering into the Fire, saying:

Dan of the Gift, Dan of the Song, Dan of Destiny
My gift I give to you.
Give me the gift, let me hear the song
Of the Turning of the Worlds
Vision before me, vision behind me
Vision over me, vision beneath me
Vision within me, vision without me
The Power of Magic leading me to true seeing, without falsehood,
To all that I wish to see.

Walk three times around your Fire, desil, and go to the east of your space. Gaze through your frame, find your center and allow your connection to the deeps and the heights to open. Be patient, and calm.

When omens appear it is best to speak them aloud, along with whatever meaning or interpretation seems proper. If the omens are good then you proceed to further work. If it is ill or uncertain, it is, perhaps, less easy to ask additional questions through augury. You must rely on your own wisdom, perhaos seeking clarification through sortilege.

Quartering the Sky

If you wish to work by Quartering the Sky, you should prepare in the same way as for the frith, but have your Slat rather than a vision-frame.

Face east, and raise your wand overhead. With the wand, draw a cross that divines the sky into the Four Airts, as you say:

Dan of the Gift, Dan of the Song, Dan of Destiny
My gift I give to you.
Give me the gift, let me hear the song
Of the Turning of the Worlds
By the Four Airts I quarter the sky
East wind blow bountiful, South wind blow song
West wind blow wisdom, North wind blow strong
The Power of Magic leading me to true seeing, without falsehood,
To all that I wish to see.

Make three circuits of the Fire, deisil, carefully observing in each direction.

Stand in the center and face the quarter that is most relevant to your question. Turn slowly to each quarter and make note of the omens. Speak your judgement aloud.

(For more of this material please see Ian Corrigan's newly-revised book Sacred Fire, Holy Well.)

Autor Information

Rev. Jeffrey Wyndham (Ian Corrigan)

Author's Bio:

About the Author - Ian Corrigan is a past ADF Archdruid as well as recipient of the Distinguished Service award for his time as Bard Laureate. He is deeply involved in developing and implementing a modern Druidic occultism, creating rites and training to enhance our growing spiritual work. His druid books are available at Lulu.com

Articles by Rev. Jeffrey Wyndham (Ian Corrigan)

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