Crystal balls... tea leaves... Seers... tarot cards... the art of Divination is a divisive one, both in the wizarding world, and in our real-life Muggle world. Today, gaze into the beyond with us as we look at the way Hogwarts teaches Divination – vs. the world of prophecy in history.

Wait a minute! This article will contain plot spoilers from the end of the Harry Potter series.

What is Divination anyway?

Put simply, Divination is the study of defining the future, and is an optional class that Hogwarts students can choose from their third year onwards. The practice involves a variety of techniques, from tea leaf reading to palmistry, to help determine upcoming events. However, it is hotly disputed amongst the wizarding community, in terms of its legitimacy.

If you were to ask Hermione Granger or Professor McGonagall (two very logical and intelligent witches) you might hear that it is a subject which is ‘woolly’ or ‘imprecise’… that’s if they were feeling polite. But if you asked the likes of students Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil, you would hear a completely different story. Those two were hardcore Divination fans and fully believed that their futures could be divined by gazing into the fog of a crystal ball. The truth? Well, it’s probably somewhere between the two.


Seers can predict prophecies, but they are few and far between

Firstly, those who are most likely to find success in this subject are Seers. Seers are witches and wizards that have gift of Sight or ‘Inner Eye’. They are able to predict the future and create prophecies, though they are a rare bunch. Professor Trelawney could arguably be considered one – she did make the infamous prediction about Harry and Voldemort. However, her power was incredibly watered-down in comparison to her great-great grandmother, the famous Seer, Cassandra Trelawney. In fact, Trelawney’s ‘talent’ was mainly smoke and mirrors with occasional flashes of clairvoyance. She never remembered her true predictions, as those were made when she entered a trance-like state, and the ‘predictions’ she would make in Divination lessons, in our opinion, were pure luck, guesswork and showmanship.

Did you know?

In real life, Seers have been thought to walk amongst us Muggles. Throughout history, there have been those who have appeared to accurately predict future events. William Lilly was one such person. He apparently correctly predicted the 1666 Great Fire of London in his book, published in 1651, Monarchy or No Monarchy. He was so on the nose with it, that he was even hauled in front of an investigative committee and accused of starting the blaze himself!


Centaurs rely on the stars

It’s not just some of the humans of the wizarding world that believe in the art of Divination (or teach it), the centaurs respect the importance of it too. Firenze, whom we first met in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone during Harry’s trip to the Forbidden Forest, even gave up his place in his herd to come and teach it at Hogwarts. For centaurs, Divination is mainly about the stars. They look up at the night sky and interpret their movements along with the planets. By doing so, they can see the future before them.

Though as Parvati Patil soon learnt, gazing at the stars is no trivial matter:

Did you know?

Many cultures have found reading the stars to be a handy tool, whether that’s using the constellations for navigation or using the stars and planets to tell the future. The Babylonians (specifically the priests) would interpret different astronomical events as omens. For example, a red-coloured Mars was widely seen as a sign that war and bloodshed were approaching. Whereas the Greeks believed that the proximity of the Sun god (the sun) to the other ‘gods’ (the planets) at the time of your birth would influence your personality.

Firenze Fact File Image firenze_1_1800x1248

Tea leaves, crystal balls and palmistry

Ok, so we know that Seers predict the future and centaurs read the night sky, but how do others learn how to master Divination? We doubt you’ll find even one genuine Seer in a Hogwarts year group, let alone a whole class of them. No need to worry though, there are several more practical techniques the students can try to master instead. There’s observing the symbols left in tea leaves – where Professor Trelawney saw the Grim and predicted Harry’s death. There’s reading palms, where Professor Trelawney would flinch when she saw Harry’s hands. And there is crystal ball gazing where Ron predicted fog… and Trelawney saw the Grim and therefore Harry’s death. You’ll notice a pattern emerging.

It's safe to say that these techniques might not be the most… accurate. However, we think that giving them a go could be rather fun (as long as you’re not Harry – or Ron’s Uncle Bilius). Who wouldn’t want to know what lay in store for them? Would great wealth be lurking in the leaves? Or great love visible on your palm? Or a vision of all your dreams coming true in the crystal ball? Nobody can know for definite – but we’d like to try and find out.

Did you know?

Tea leaf reading (or tasseography) is another technique that comes from our own history. In fact, it has been a common fortune-telling practice in the Muggle one for centuries. It was particularly popular in the Victorian era when there was a rise in interest in the occult and the idea of self-analysis – thanks to the works of people such as Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer.


We don’t think it’s too hard to predict that if you’re talking about how to unravel the mysteries of the future, prophecies might be involved. In fact, it was a prophecy (made by Sybill Trelawney) that led to Voldemort targeting Harry in the first place. It was that prophecy that led to the events of the Department of Mysteries and the death of Sirius. And it was that prophecy that ultimately led to Voldemort’s downfall. The power they hold cannot be underestimated.

However, prophecies are not foolproof. If you were to ask Firenze, he would readily admit that like many elements of Divination, they are not concrete facts. Take Trelawney’s first prophecy where she talked about ‘the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord’. Voldemort didn’t hear the prophecy in its entirety and assumed that it meant Harry. Though we know it could have also applied to Neville Longbottom. It was Voldemort’s interpretation that shaped the direction of the prophecy and therefore the entirety of his and Harry’s life. This idea stems back centuries – look at old Greek mythology. In the story of Oedipus, the titular character created his own fate in an act of trying to avoid it, making the prophecy self-fulfilling. Just like Voldemort!

Imagine how different the story could have been if Voldemort had chosen not to obsess over a snippet of a prophecy, overheard by one of his acolytes, made by the lesser-talented great-great granddaughter of a famous Seer during a job interview at the pub? Perhaps he would never have marked Harry as his equal? Maybe Harry’s parents would never have died? Or maybe Voldemort would never have been defeated. It certainly makes you think.

Did you know?

Many prophecies have been made about events in Muggle history and one very famous person who made such predictions was Nostradamus. A Seer from 16th century France, he has been said to have predicted numerous events – from the rise of Napoleon to the French revolution. Nostradamus’ prophecies still remain contentious today – there are those who believe in him completely and those who find the whole thing... a bit woolly.