Seeking guidance from a higher power-a deity, ancestors, or spirits- and communicating with them has been a part of human culture since its inception. Throughout history, these traditional methods have been passed down from generation to generation, allowing historians a peek into their respective cultures and religious practices. From the Fuji of China to the Medicine Man and Woman of Native Americans, from Renaissance Astrology to the Buda of Ethiopian Folk Religion, our kind has been fascinated with connecting with the divine and learning valuable insights from the cosmos.
Fuji: Spirit Writing of China
In Chinese folk religion, communicating with deities, spirits, and ancestors are reached during what is called the Fuji. Fuji is a method of spirit writing that involves many individuals, one of whom is controlled by the entity being communicated to and will hold a suspended tray with a stick attached at end. This stick would then write down messages from the entity in the sand for another person to interpret and then another one to record. For every new question, the sand would be smoothed out for the process to be repeated.
While spirit communication as a medium has been around since the Song dynasty (960CE – 1279CE), Fuji was criminalized during the Qing Dynasty (1644CE – 1912CE). As a result, a lot of the history and knowledge involving Fuji has been lost in time, but you can still find Taoist monks practicing Fuji in temples in Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Theyyam, Ancestor Dance Worship of India
In the southern Indian state of Kerala, a popular ritual in the form of dance worship is practiced to communicate with and channel their deities. This is known as Theyyam, and there are over four hundred types of this dance, which has been practiced for over thousands of years. It is commonly performed with drums, with the dancers painting their faces and wearing elaborate costumes. During the dance, an individual invites a specific Hindu god or goddess into their body as a vessel to ask for protection. Upon possession, everyone would begin to dance as a form of celebration and appeasement to the god, and if the god or goddess is satisfied, it is believed that they will grant peace and prosperity to the society.
Today, this dance is performed at village shrines and other places of ancestor worship and is traditionally performed once a year, drawing large crowds to watch the ceremony and to also take part.
Planchettes of America
Starting in the Victorian era planchettes grew increasingly popular as a method of communicating with spirits. They are usually triangle shaped with wheels and included a hole to hold a pencil to facilitate writing. Normally done in groups, participants would speak to the spirit by placing their hand on the planchette and asking a question. The planchette would then write down the answer to the question that was asked, seeming to move of its own accord. These planchettes made their way across the Atlantic Ocean where American spiritualists would use them to help people communicate with their deceased loved ones, and became a very popular practice in the spiritual community.
In the late 1800’s businessman Elijah Bond commercialized the planchette by creating the Ouija Board. Like the planchette, the Ouija board included a small triangle-shaped plank and a wooden board containing the alphabet. Rather than writing down the answer, the wooden plank would answer questions by moving across the board. This came just in time for World War I and exploded in popularity when families of lost soldiers began using the board to connect with them.
Shamanism: Native America
The Indigenous people have a rich history of divination. Many communities share a similarity in that most have a spiritual healer, which was known as a shaman. These individuals were associated with spiritual healing and would connect to the spirit world through shamanistic drumming or dreaming.
Astrology: Renaissance Period
Since the dawn of mankind, we have been fascinated with the stars above. We created astrology to try to explain the impact of these celestial bodies on us and how we live. Based upon the date of your birth, horoscopes are created, which are charts that tries to distinguish personalities and characteristics uniquely associated with each sign.
During the Renaissance period, astrology was considered a form of science. Astrologers would combine their use of horoscopes with any celestial observations at the time. It was believed that planets and the cosmos were linked with human life and thus astronomy was used to predict the future.
However, the use of astrology began to go downwards by the end of the period. This was mainly due to a combination of being condemned by the Catholic Church and advancements in science. In addition to the Church calling to reject all forms of divination, the discovery of planets revolving around the sun rather than earth, which was one of the fundamental foundations of Renaissance astrology, called its legitimacy into question.
Fortune Telling: Romania
For many years, women of Romania have been known to be highly associated with spirituality and clairvoyance, or fortune telling. These women would tell the futures of others by reading palms, tea leaves, tarot, and crystal balls, all to interpret signs or symbols found in these mediums. Spiritualism and fortune telling is so ingrained in Romani culture that there are some accounts that attribute the invention of tarot cards with the Romani people.
In Ethiopa, Sudan, Tanzania, and Morocco there is a heavily-held belief that one who possesses the evil eye, or buda can curse others from their envious natures and are themselves possessed by evil spirits. It is thought that individuals who hold the power of the evil eye belong to different social groups or castes, like metal or iron workers, and there are some who even believe that these people can shape-shift into hyenas.
For those who are affected by the power of the evil eye, prayer meetings are conducted where Ethiopian priests would perform exorcisms and these rituals would involve singing, praying, and reading passages from the scripture and forcing the spirit to confront another, good higher-power.
Lobi People of Burkina Faso
In Burkina Faso, an ethnic group called Lobi who believe that their creator, Thangba Yu, is responsible for maintaining harmony in the world by acting through spirits in nature. They believe any form of improper behaviour creates imbalance in society and would be punished by illness and death amongst their community.
The belief is that in the beginning, all people lived happily together. There was no need for work as Thangba Yu provides all the food and shelter. As the population increased, discord amongst people grew and wars began. Seeing this, Thangba Yu decides to take back everything gifted to humans. However, rather than leaving humans to their own devices, Thangba Yu sends a helper, “Wathil,” to help guide humans. The village diviner, “Thildaar” interprets these messages from Wathil and communicates it to the rest of the village. The Thildaar is not only responsible for interpreting the messages of Wathil but also alleviating the punishments imposed by Thangba Yu on civilians. The Thildaar is only responsible for divination related tasks and cannot refuse anyone unless they want to be punished by Wathil.
Connecting to the divine, no matter which way you choose, can be a powerful and life-changing experience. When we open ourselves to the possibilities of the universe, and to accept its guidance and wisdom however we can, we leave room for great spiritual growth and development. Identify what action steps can be taken from your experience and the guidance that you receives, because really, what good is universe advice if you don’t put it into action? Be open to what the boards are trying to tell you and welcome the answers that you find!
The Shankara Experience and Shri Krishna
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