Cold Reading

Fortune-telling is the practice of predicting information about a person’s life. The scope of fortune-telling is in principle identical with the practice of divination. The difference is that divination is the term used for predictions considered part of a religious ritual, invoking deities or spirits, while the term fortune-telling implies a less serious or formal setting, even one of popular culture, where belief in occult workings behind the prediction is less prominent than the concept of suggestion, spiritual or practical advisory or affirmation.

Historically, fortune-telling grows out of folkloristic reception of Renaissance magic, specifically associated with Romani people. During the 19th and 20th century, methods of divination from non-Western cultures, such as the I Ching, were also adopted as methods of fortune-telling in western popular culture.

An example of divination or fortune-telling as purely an item of pop culture, with little or no vestiges of belief in the occult, would be the Magic 8-Ball sold as a toy by Mattel, or Paul II, an octopus at the Sea Life Aquarium at Oberhausen used to predict the outcome of matches played by the German national football team.

There is opposition to fortune-telling in Christianity, Islam and Judaism based on biblical prohibitions against divination. This sometimes causes discord in the Jewish community due to their views on mysticism.

Terms for one who sees into the future include fortune-teller, crystal-gazer, spaewife, seer, soothsayer, sibyl, clairvoyant, and prophet; related terms which might include this among other abilities are oracle, augur, and visionary.

METHODS

Common methods used for fortune telling in Europe and the Americas include astromancy, horary astrology, pendulum reading, spirit board reading, tasseography (reading tea leaves in a cup), cartomancy (fortune telling with cards), tarot reading, crystallomancy (reading of a crystal sphere), and chiromancy (palmistry, reading of the palms). The last three have traditional associations in the popular mind with the Roma and Sinti people (often called ‘gypsies’).

Another form of fortune-telling, sometimes called ‘reading’ or ‘spiritual consultation’, does not rely on specific devices or methods, but rather the practitioner gives the client advice and predictions which are said to have come from spirits or in visions.

SOCIOLOGY

Western fortune-tellers typically attempt predictions on matters such as future romantic, financial, and childbearing prospects. Many fortune-tellers will also give ‘character readings’. These may use numerology, graphology, palmistry (if the subject is present) and astrology.

Discussing the role of fortune-telling in society, Ronald H. Isaacs, an American rabbi and author, opined, “Since time immemorial humans have longed to learn that which the future holds for them. Thus, in ancient civilization, and even today with fortune telling as a true profession, humankind continues to be curious about its future, both out of sheer curiosity as well as out of desire to better prepare for it”.

Popular media outlets like the New York Times have explained to their American readers that although 5000 years ago, soothsayers were prized advisers to the Assyrians, they lost respect and reverence during the rise of Reason in the 17th and 18th centuries.

With the rise of commercialism, “the sale of occult practices adapted to survive in the larger society”, according to sociologists Danny L. and Lin Jorgensen. Ken Feingold, writer of ‘Interactive Art as Divination as a Vending Machine’, stated that with the invention of money, fortune-telling became “a private service, a commodity within the marketplace”.

CLIENTELE

In 1994, the psychic counsellor Rosanna Rogers of Cleveland, Ohio explained to J. Peder Zane that a wide variety of people consulted her: “Couch potatoes aren’t the only people seeking the counsel of psychics and astrologers. Clairvoyants have a booming business advising Philadelphia bankers, Hollywood lawyers and CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies… If people knew how many people, especially the very rich and powerful ones, went to psychics, their jaws would drop through the floor”. Ms. Rogers “claims to have 4,000 names in her rolodex”.

In 1982, Danny Jorgensen, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida offered a spiritual explanation for the popularity of fortune-telling. He said that people visit psychics or fortune-tellers to gain self-understanding. and knowledge which will lead to personal power or success in some aspect of life.

In 1995, Ken Feingold offered a different explanation for why people seek out fortune-tellers: “We desire to know other people’s actions and to resolve our own conflicts, regarding decisions to be made and our participation in social groups and economies.… Divination seems to have emerged from our knowing the inevitability of death. The idea is clear – we know that our time is limited and that we want things in our lives to happen in accord with our wishes”.

CONSULTATION

Ultimately, the reasons a person consults a diviner or fortune teller are mediated by cultural expectations and by personal desires, and until a statistically rigorous study of the phenomenon have been conducted, the question of why people consult fortune-tellers is wide open for opinion-making.

Traditional fortune-tellers vary in methodology, generally using techniques long established in their cultures and thus meeting the cultural expectations of their clientele.

In the United States and Canada, among clients of European ancestry, palmistry is popular and, as with astrology and tarot card reading, advice is generally given about specific problems besetting the client.

Some fortune-tellers support themselves entirely on their divination business, others hold down one or more jobs, and their second jobs may or may not relate to the occupation of divining. In 1982, Danny L., and Lin Jorgensen found that “while there is considerable variation among these secondary occupations, part-time fortune-tellers are over-represented in human service fields: counseling, social work, teaching, health care”.

LEGALITY

In 1982, the sociologists Danny L., and Lin Jorgensen found that, “when it is reasonable, fortune -tellers comply with local laws and purchase a business license”. However, in the United States, a variety of local and state laws restrict fortune-telling, require the licensing or bonding of fortune-tellers, or make necessary the use of terminology that avoids the term ‘fortune-teller’ in favour of terms such as ‘spiritual advisor’ or ‘psychic consultant’.

There are also laws that forbid the practice outright in certain districts. For instance, fortune telling is a class B misdemeanor in the state of New York. A person is guilty of fortune telling when, for a fee or compensation which they directly or indirectly solicits or receives, he claims or pretends to tell fortunes, or holds himself out as being able, by claimed or pretended use of occult powers, to answer questions or give advice on personal matters.

Except that this section does not apply to a person who engages in the aforedescribed conduct as part of a show or exhibition solely for the purpose of entertainment or amusement.

LEGISLATION

Law-makers who wrote this statute acknowledged that fortune-tellers do not restrict themselves to “a show or exhibition solely for the purpose of entertainment or amusement” and that people will continue to seek out fortune-tellers even though fortune-tellers operate in violation of the law.

Similarly, in New Zealand, Section 16 of the Summary Offences Act 1981 provides a one thousand dollar penalty for anyone who sets out to “deceive or pretend” for financial recompense that they possess telepathy or clairvoyance or acts as a medium for money through use of “fraudulent devices.”

As with the New York legislation cited above, however, it is not a criminal offence if it is solely intended for purposes of entertainment.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also bans the practice outright, considering fortune-telling to be sorcery and thus contrary to Islamic teaching and jurisprudence. It has been punishable by death.

PROPHECY

Prophecy involves a process in which one or more messages allegedly communicated to a prophet are then communicated to other people. Such messages typically involve inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of events to come (compare divine knowledge).

The Hebrew term for prophet Navi literally means ‘spokesperson’, he speaks to the people as a mouthpiece of God, and to God on behalf of the people. Prophecy is not accessible to the scientific method, therefore it is no object of science.

The English word ‘prophecy’ (noun) in the sense of ‘function of a prophet’ appeared in Europe from about 1225, from Old French profecie (12th century) and from Late Latin prophetia, Greek prophetia ‘gift of interpreting the will of God’, from Greek prophetes.

The word ‘prophecy’ comes from the Greek verb, (prophemi) which means ‘to say beforehand, foretell’. The Greek also means ‘before’, ‘in front of’, so etymologically means to speak in front of, as a spokesperson.

LATTER DAY SAINT MOVEMENT

The Latter Day Saint movement maintains that its first prophet, Joseph Smith, was visited by God and Jesus Christ in 1820. The Latter Day Saints further claims that God communicated directly with Joseph Smith on many subsequent occasions, and that following the death of Joseph Smith, God has continued to speak through subsequent prophets.

Joseph Smith claims to have been led by an angel to a large hill in upstate New York, where he was shown an ancient manuscript engraved on plates of gold metal. Joseph Smith claimed to have translated this manuscript into modern English under divine inspiration by the gift and power of God, and the publication of this translation are known as the Book of Mormon.

Following Smith’s murder, there was a succession crisis that resulted in a great schism. The majority of Latter-day Saints believing Brigham Young to be the next prophet and following him out to Utah, while a minority returned to Missouri with Emma Smith, believing Joseph Smith Junior’s son, Joseph Smith III, to be the next legitimate prophet (forming the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now the Community of Christ).

Since even before the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, there have been numerous separatist Latter Day Saint sects that have splintered from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. To this day, there are an unknown number of organizations within the Latter Day Saint Movement, each with their own proposed prophet.

JUDAISM

In the Torah, prophecy often consisted of a conditioned warning by God of the consequences should the society, specific communities, or their leaders not adhere to Torah’s instructions in the time contemporary with the prophet’s life. Prophecies sometimes included conditioned promises of blessing for obeying God, and returning to behaviors and laws as written in the Torah. Conditioned warning prophecies feature in all Jewish works of the Tanakh.

Notably Maimunides (Rambam), philosophically suggested there once were many levels of prophecy, from the highest such as those experienced by Moses, to the lowest where the individuals were able to apprehend the Divine Will, but not respond or even describe this experience to others, citing in example, Shem, Eber and most notably, Noah, who, in biblical narrative, does not issue prophetic declarations.

The Tanakh contains prophecies from various Hebrew prophets (55 in total) who communicated messages from God to the nation of Israel, and later the population of Judea and elsewhere. Experience of prophecy in the Torah and the rest of Tanakh was not restricted to Jews. Nor was the prophetic experience restricted to the Hebrew language.

SKEPTICISM

According to skeptics, many apparently fulfilled prophecies can be explained as coincidences (possibly aided by the prophecy’s own vagueness), or that some prophecies were actually invented after the fact to match the circumstances of a past event (“postdiction”).

Bill Whitcomb in The Magician’s Companion observes, “One point to remember is that the probability of an event changes as soon as a prophecy (or divination) exists. . . . The accuracy or outcome of any prophecy is altered by the desires and attachments of the seer and those who hear the prophecy”.

The phenomenon of prophecy is not well understood in psychology research literature. Psychiatrist and neurologist Arthur Deikman describes the phenomenon as an ‘intuitive knowing, a type of perception that bypasses the usual sensory channels and rational intellect’.

MYSTICAL

“Prophecy can be likened to a bridge between the individual ‘mystical self’ and the communal mystical body”, writes religious sociologist Margaret Poloma. Prophecy seems to involve “the free association that occurred through the workings of the right brain”.

Psychologist Julian Jaynes proposed that this is a temporary accessing of the bicameral mind; that is, a temporary separating of functions, such that the authoritarian part of the mind seems to literally be speaking to the person as if a separate (and external) voice. Jaynes posits that the gods heard as voices in the head were and are organizations of the central nervous system.

God speaking through man, according to Jaynes, is a more recent vestige of God speaking to man; the product of a more integrated higher self. When the bicameral mind speaks, there is no introspection. We simply experience the Lord telling us what to do. In earlier times, posits Jaynes, there was additionally a visual component, now lost.

 

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