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Magic and Magical Theory

Divination

Lots of OG "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

"(O)bserve the heavens. Here is written, for those who can see, the fortune of our races."
     -- Firenze the centaur

"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

On this page: Related Information:

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 follows:
S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D.
Dark Lord and (?)Harry Potter

fortunetelling techniques

tea leaf symbols

From Unfogging the Future, pages five and six:

astrology
"Mars causes accidents and burns and things like that, and when it makes an angle to Saturn, that means people need to be extra careful when handling hot things--"
     -- Parvati Patil (OP27)

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).

Centaur Divination
Firenze's class - click for full image (107k) Firenze explains the kind of Seeing his race practices as follows:

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.

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Primary editor: Michele L. Worley.
original artwork of Ron and the crystal ball © 1999 Tealin Raintree, used by permission
original artwork of Firenze's Divination class © 2003 Marta T., used by permission
Original page date 29-January-2001; Last page update 28-July-2007 MLW