Transcript of Disc I, Chapter VIIIb: Diviners
© 2013 Max Dashu

Women approached the Sacred for guidance, foreknowledge, clarity of vision, as shown in these seals of the Shang dynasty priestess Fu Hao. [ca 1300 bce. Some think she may have been an oracle bone diviner.]

Moche Diviner
A common form of divination was by casting lots, as this owl-beaked Moche diviner did in ancient Peru.

Moche diviner 2
The diviner spread out a special cloth or mat, made ceremony and entered a focused state, casting her  colored corn kernels, or beans, cowries, knucklebones, or sticks. Each culture had its ways of reading the  patterns and meanings.

Casting lots, Mexico
An Aztec diviner listens to the questions people bring, as her helping spirit looks on. Then she casts shells  on a divination cloth, and explains what they reveal.

Dragonfly Canyon, Utah
Other kinds of knowing proceed from observing the wind, or omens of birds and animals. Maybe by listening to dragonflies talk, in this Utah canyon.

Inland Niger ceramic sculptures
These woman of old Mali may have practiced inner ways of knowing, foreknowing, of hearing and seeing. [medieval]

A 500 year old figure from Bankoni, Mali, makes offering and watches the skies, opening up to receive understanding.

Maltese Dreamer
Another way of seeking guidance was by dream-incubation, as with the famous Sleeping Women of Malta. The seeker went to a sanctuary, here the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni, but often in Nature,

Maltese Dreamer 2
performed a rite of asking with intention, and slept there, awaiting illuminating dreams. This is a second, lesser-known sleeping woman from the Hypogeum of Malta.

The same underground temple, cut from the living rock, had an oracular chamber that amplified sound so much that it could be heard throughout the Hypogeum. A place of incantation and prophecy...

Korykian Cave
Another very old dreaming sanctuary was the enormous Korykian cave on Mount Parnassus (Latin spelling Corycian).

It lay above the renowned oracular sanctuary of Delphi, whose entranced prophetesses were called Pythia, “Snake.”

Eastern Mediterranean Oracles
Long lines of oracular women prophesied in Mediterranean caves with sacred springs, or in groves, or underground sanctuaries. [text: the Black Doves of Dodona: Peleia Melaina, Peleae; Female orables at Aegira, Larisa, and Thalamai (Greece); Oracular women of Didyma, Claros, and Patara (western Asia Minor]

The Sibyl of Cumae, near Naples, was famous for conducting Aeneas to the underworld, and as the source of the Sibylline Books. 

Irish diviners talked to the ravens, listened to their cries and watched their flight.  Anti-pagan proverbs warned, “Do not believe the scald-crow or the raven, nor any false deity of the women.”

Long ago, the Lorica of Patrick took aim at “the spells of women, smiths, and druids.” [Lorica means "breastplate," metaphorically a protection]

Crystal Balls
Women in late pagan Europe were buried with crystal balls and sieves, commonly used as divining pendulums.

Khalimat of Saba'
In ancient Yemen, the Sabaeans had priestesses called khalimat, “dreamer,” who invoked the goddess Dhat Ba’dan in her temple

Nakrah Temple
shown is an image of a musician from the temple of Naqrah, in Barqish, Yemen.

The Bible names Serakh among the Hebrews who went to Egypt, and again in the exodus to Moab. Oral tradition adds midrashim calling her a wisewoman who prophetically identified Moses. [Genesis 46:17; Numbers 26:46; another tradition has her playing a lyre while revealing to his father that Joseph was still alive.]

The Bible shows that early Hebrews recognized prophetesses like Miriam, Dvorah and Hulda.

Ezekiel 11:17
But later scriptures show repression of female prophecy. This passage in Ezekiel treats them as illegitimate, and the Book of Samuel refers to persecutions of soothsayers.

Sometimes we might not recognize that an image represents a prophetic woman. This fierce maternal bronze shows the N’kamsi, women who were royal counselors, diviners and healers of the Bankim in Cameroon.

Mandeo figures
In West Africa, diviners often use twin figures of bush spirits. These mandeo figures are used by female Sandogo diviners of the Senufo in Ivory Coast.

But the sandogo act as healers as well as diviners, uncovering causes and remedies and solutions. It all goes together, full circle.


Woman Shaman: the Ancients © 2013 Max Dashu

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