"Many witches and wizards, talented though they are in the
area of loud bangs and smells and sudden disappearings, are yet
unable to penetrate the veiled mysteries of the future."
-- Sibyll Trelawney
"Broaden your minds, my dears, and allow your eyes to see
past the mundane!"
-- Sibyll Trelawney
"I think Divination seems very woolly. A lot of guesswork,
if you ask me."
-- Hermione Granger
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Divination is magic which attempts to foresee future events. Many in the wizarding world consider this branch of magic to be imprecise at best. There are several types of Divination. The most imprecise is what is commonly known as "fortunetelling," and this is what Trelawney teaches at Hogwarts. The second kind of Divination is what is practiced by the centaurs. When Firenze started teaching Divination classes in the spring of 1996 [Y16], he taught these techniques, although they were mostly lost on the human students in his classes.
The third type of Divination is called Seeing. This is true Divination, although what the Seer reveals is usually in the form of a Prophecy which then itself requires some interpretation. A Seer, one who possesses the Inner Eye, doesn't seem to have control over their Seeing. Trelawney, for example, only made actual Prophecies twice, although she made plenty of claims about everything from troubles ahead for various students to Neville breaking a teacup. In each case when she made an actual Prophecy, Trelawney went into a trance and spoke in a completely different voice. Both times, after speaking the Prophecy, she didn't remember a thing about it.
True Seeing is very rare, but it has happened plenty of times over the
centuries. There is a huge cathedral-sized room of the
Department of Mysteries
where records of thousands of Prophecies are stored in glass spheres. Each
sphere is labeled with the initials of the
Seer who spoke the Prophecy
and the person it was spoken to and with the subject of the Prophecy. The
record of the first Prophecy Trelawney made, which was spoken to
Albus Dumbledore, was labelled as
S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D.
Dark Lord and (?)Harry Potter
- astrology (GF13)
- bird entrails (PA4)
- cartomancy (playing cards) (PA6)
- crystal ball (PA6, PA15, PA16)
- dream interpretation (OP12, OP15)
- fire omens (PA6)
- palmistry (PA6, PA12)
- reading tea leaves (PA6)
From Unfogging the Future, pages five and six:
- acorn - "windfall, unexpected gold"
- club - "an attack"
- cross - "trials and suffering"
- falcon - "a deadly enemy"
- the Grim - "death"
- skull - "danger in your path"
- sun - "great happiness"
The study of Astrology requires a careful study of star charts relating to the date of a person's birth. The students in Trelawney's Divination classes have to create complicated charts and determine which planets were where and how that all affects their lives. Based on astrological signs, Trelawney suggested that Harry must have been born in midwinter (GF13).
Firenze explains the kind of Seeing his race practices as follows:
"I know that you have learned the names of the planets and their moons in Astronomy, and that you have mapped the stars' progress through the heavens. Centaurs have unravelled the mysteries of these movements over centuries. Our findings teach us that the future may be glimpsed in the sky above us -"
"I...am here to explain the wisdom of centaurs, which is impersonal and impartial. We watch the skies for the great tides of evil or change that are sometimes marked there. It may take ten years to be sure of what we are seeing."
"In the past decade, the indications have been that wizardkind is living through nothing more than a brief calm between two wars. Mars, bringer of battle, shines brightly above us, suggesting that the fight must soon break out again. How soon, centaurs may attempt to divine by the burning of certain herbs and leaves, by the observation of fume and flame..."
In his class, the students burned sage and mallowsweet and looked for certain shapes and symbols in the fumes, but Firenze "seemed perfectly unconcerned that not one of them could see any of the signs he described, telling them that humans were hardly ever good at this, that it took centaurs years and years to become competent, and finished by telling them that it was foolish to put too much faith in such things, anyway, because even centaurs sometimes read them wrongly."
Firenze had little patience for what he called "fortunetelling," suggesting that to try to understand Divination in these terms was being "blinkered and fettered by the limitations" of being human.
The "real thing"?
While most of what Trelawney teaches seems to be just "lucky guesswork and a spooky manner," as Harry thinks (GF13), there are instances of actual prescience and prediction in the books.
Is this the real thing? Trelawney began the first class with a series of predictions. Did they come true? Here's the list:
(to Neville) "Is your grandmother well?...I wouldn't be so sure."
(to Parvati) "Beware a red-haired man."
"Classes will be disrupted in February by a nasty bout of flu. I myself will lose my voice."
"Around Easter, one of our number will leave us forever."
(to Lavender) "That thing you are dreading--it will happen on Friday, the sixteenth of October."
(to Neville) "After you've broken your first cup, would you be so kind as to select one of the blue patterned ones?"
(to Neville) "You'll be late next time, so mind you work extra-hard to catch up."