This question was asked on Yahoo Answers:
Fortune-telling is to Divination as Reality Television is to Documentary.
Divination is a practice of using tools (tarot, runes, scrying, pig guts, whathaveyou) to allow the super-conscious mind discover information that may be hidden (occult) to the conscious mind of the querent. This information can be used to extrapolate the possible and/or likely course of future events. The accuracy of the information can only be tested by using the information, and in so doing one becomes as part of the experiment rather than an independent observer, therefore it is not a testable phenomenon by empirical standards and largely classified as bunko.
Fortune Telling is using the trappings of divination (tools, mysticism) combined with showmanship, pop psychology and cold reading to create an entertaining extrapolation of possible future events. Because many people confuse the two practices, self-fulfilling prophesies may arise from fortune tellers.
Some diviners (often called readers or psychics) cross the line between the two practices and further confuse the matter; others resort to cold reading without realizing it.
Is divination a psychic ability, communing with spirits, a learned skill? Is it hereditary or inborn or acquired? Where does psychic ability end and Wicca-consciousness begin — or do they have a common root?
One of the primary skills of the Witch, Wiccan or otherwise, is to be aware. We accomplish this through a number of practices: including journaling, meditation, sensitivity training, celebration of seasonal and lunar changes, and observation of totems or familiars. Divination is a method that allows us to develop our awareness while sharpening and focusing it; precognition and clairsentience are also side effects of a sharpened awareness, but without practice and focus can be less reliable and lack control.
I use the term “divination” to refer to any method that uses a tool or prescribed practice to arrive at the accumulation of information. Thus, I could be referring to spirit communication as a Spiritualist medium might do, or reading of Tarot cards, interpretation of tea leaves, or even Technical Remote Viewing. The divinatory tool or method is merely the grease in the wheels — it helps the practitioner get the info out into the open. We all already know everything we need to know, we just don’t KNOW we know it. The tools allow us to focus on the information that we need, and move it into the realm of conscious understanding.
Of course, one does not need to be a Witch to develop a divinatory skill. The degree of awareness that one maintains naturally has more to do with personality than with any mystical force. Quiet, observant types tend to be more aware to begin with than drama queens and life-of-the-party types. But anyone can learn to be more aware by putting himself “out of his element”.
Lord Odin is certainly not a shy and retiring type. He’s very much larger than life. But by hanging himself from Yygdrassil, He re-trained his awareness and came away with great wisdom. It is like this with us as well. Someone who has difficulty focusing awareness may simply need to create a situation that challenges his comfort zones and allows him to open his awareness.
Many people wonder if these skills are inborn or hereditary. I maintain that they are like any other talent or skill: some are born with talent, some inherit talent from parents, and others learn the skills despite lack of innate talent. Someone with natural talent who never practices or hones the art isn’t likely to become as accomplished a diviner as someone with no natural talent who practices regularly, however, a naturally talented reader who practices will be a force to be reckoned with!
Some people are “gifted” (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with a natural ability beyond their control. I am related to a precog of this type — she dreams dreams, and they come to pass. Over the years, she has developed a fear of her own apparent ability, and rather than harnessing it and training it to work under her control, she attempts to ignore it, and it continues to haunt her. Many people with clairscentience are in a similar situation, whether they fear the gift or fear losing it, and therefore do not learn to control it. This state of hyper-awareness is no more useful than a lack of awareness, and is most beneficial when it can be called on as needed or understood as useful information.
Obviously, this kind of unbidden information overload is not a trained ability, but the practices used by many to expand awareness may be used to retract over-awareness to a manageable phenomenon.
Divinatory practices are a good way to touch the divine in all, as well as one method of focusing and sharpening that special awareness that is Wicca-consiousness. The tools can also provide insight, entertainment and reflection to those who have little interest in magic, ritual or the Gods. Start with a Tarot deck, a coin, a dream diary or a pen and paper — you’re bound to learn something.