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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Fortune-telling is the practice of predicting the life, usually of a group, through mystical or natural means, and often for commercial gain. It is often conflated with the religious practice known as divination.


European and American fortune telling

Image:Gipsies Fortune telling Fac simile of a Woodcut in the Cosmographie Universelle of Munster in folio Basle 1552.png
Gypsies fortune-telling. Facsimile of a woodcut in the "Cosmographie Universelle" of Sebastian Münster: in folio, Basel, 1552


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), lithomancy (reading of stones or gems), and chiromancy (palmistry, reading of the palms). The latter three have traditional associations in the popular mind with the Roma and Sinti people (often called "gypsie")

Another form of fortune-telling, sometimes called "reading" or "spiritual consultation" does not rely on the use of specific devices or methods, but consists of the practitioner transmitting to the client advice and predictions which are said to have come from spirits or in visions. This form of fortune-telling is particularly popular in the African-American community.

The following methods of fortune telling either developed in Europe and America or they are currently popular in Western culture. Note that some of these methods originated in Asia and elsewhere, but all of those listed are practiced by people of European, Euro-American, Afro-American, and Asican-American ethnicity.


In Europe and America, fortune-telling has sometimes been considered a religious sin and both religious proscriptions and civil laws have, in certain times and places, forbidden the practice. For these reasons, many mainstream urban Europeans and Americans are unaware of how popular fortune-telling remains with the public and are surprised when they learn of a celebrity or politician who consults a fortune-teller for the purpose of making decisions.

Typical topics that Western fortune-tellers make predictions on include future romantic, financial, and childbearing prospects. They may also be called upon to aid in decision-making regarding job opportunities, the outcome of illnesses, and plans for marriage or divorce.

In addition to divining the future, many fortune-tellers will also give "character readings." These are short analyses of the character of a person and do not necessarily involve specific predictions about future events. Methods used in character analysis readings include numerology, graphology, palmistry (if the subject is present), and astrology. The subject of a character reading may be the client, who seeks self-knowledge, but it is quite common for the fortune-teller to perform a character reading on the client's prospective mate. In the latter case, when a third party is being assessed for marital compatibility with the client, an element of fore-telling does occur, as the practitioner explores the future of the relationship based on the characters of the two parties.

In contemporary Western culture, it appears that women consult fortune-tellers more than men: some indication of this comes from the profusion of advertisements for commercial fortune-telling services in magazines aimed at women, while such advertisements appear virtually unknown in magazines aimed specifically at men.

It is quite common for young women to seek out fortune tellers as they embark on adulthood, and many women maintain decades-long relationships with their personal readers or fortune-tellers. Telephone consultations with psychics (charged to the caller's telephone account at very high rates) grew in popularity through the 1990s but they have not replaced - and may never replace - the traditional card readers, tea leaf readers, palmists, and spiritual readers who see their clients in small storefronts or occult shops.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Fortune-telling" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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