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Fortune-telling is the practice of predicting the future, usually of an individual, through mystical or supernatural means and often for commercial gain. It often conflates with the religious practice known as divination.

European and Euro-American fortune telling

In Europe, the fortune-telling has not been well-respected for the past several centuries. There have been religious proscriptions against it, as well as civil laws passed that forbid 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.


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), and cheiromancy (palmistry, reading of the palms). The latter three have traditional associations in the popular mind with the Roma and Sinti people (often called "gypsies").

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.

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 preditions 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.

Asian fortune telling

Chinese Fortune Telling better known as (Chinese: 算命, suan ming) has utilized many varying divination techniques throughout the dynastic periods. There are four major methods still in practice in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong today, and they remain in use due to their accuracy and popularity. Over time, some of these concepts have moved into Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese culture under other names. For example "Saju" in Korea is the same as the Chinese four pillar method.

Popular methods

  1. Face Reading (面相) - This is the interpretation of facial features of the nose, eyes, mouth and other criteria within one's face and the conversion of those criteria into predictions for the future. This usually covers one phase of the client's life, and reveals the type of luck associated with a certain age range. A positions map also refers to different points on the face. This represents the person’s luck at different ages. The upper region of the face represents youth, the middle region of the face represents middle age, and the lower region of the face represents old age.
  2. Palm reading (手相) - This analyzes the positioning of palm lines for love, personality, and other traits. It somewhat resembles Western palmistry in technique.
  3. Kau Cim (求籤) - This requires the shaking of a bamboo cylinder, which results in at least one modified incense stick leaving the cylinder. The Chinese characters inscribed on the stick are analyzed by an interpreter. The prediction is short range, as it covers one Chinese calendar year. In the West, this method has been popularized under the trade-name "Chi-Chi sticks."
  4. Zi wei dou shu (紫微斗數) - This procedure, sometimes loosely called (Chinese: 劈命, pik meng), involves the client seeking an advisor with a mastery of the Chinese calendar. Astrology is used in combination with the Chinese constellation, four pillars of destiny and the five elements methods of divination. The end result is a translation of one's destiny path, an interpretation of a pre-determined fate. The result of the details vary depending on the accuracy of the original four pillars information the client provides to the fortune-teller. This method can also verify unique events that have already happened in one's life.

Other methods

  1. Man Wong Gua (文王卦) -
  2. Mui Fa Yik Sou (梅花易數) - literally "Plum flower calculation"
  3. Kei Mun Tun Kap (奇門遁甲)
  4. Five Element Changes (五行易) - based on the five elements
  5. Yik Lam (易林)
  6. Yin Kam (演禽)
  7. Yin and Yang Bowl (陰陽杯) - based on Yin and yang
  8. Tik Pan San Sou (鐵板神數)
  9. Wong Kek Yin Sou (皇極易數)
  10. Seven Major and Four Minor Stars (七政四餘)
  11. Three Generation Life (三世書)
  12. Yin Kam Fa (演禽法)
  13. Chin Ting Sou (前定數)
  14. Leung Tou Kam (兩頭鉗) - literally "dual headed suppress"

Famous Chinese quote

Traditional Chinese: 一命二運三風水四積陰德五讀書 Simplified Chinese:一命二运三风水四积阴德五读书 Pinyin: yi1 ming4 er4 yun4 san1 feng1 shui3 si4 ji1 yin1 de2 wu3 du2 shu1 Jyutping: jat1 meng6 ji6 wan6 saam1 fung1 seoi2 sei3 zik1 jam1 dak1 ng5 duk6 syu1 English translation : one fate, two luck, three fengshui, four karma, five education

The above quote is culturally believed to have come from Su Shi of the Song dynasty. As the quote continue to remain wildly popular in Chinese culture today. The actual interpretation vary greatly depending on the individual as there is no classical text mentioning what Su Shi really meant. Some claims that your destiny is really in your control as the 5 components is mathematically 1 more than the four pillars of destiny. Meaning you are in control of your future on top of your born-fate. Other interpretations may suggest the order in which the components are important. For example education is not useful if fate does not put you in the proper place first. Other interpretations may suggest there is no order. Just a list of the 5 components.


In Chinese society, fortune telling is a respected and important part of social and business culture. Thus, fortune tellers often take on a role which is equivalent to management consultants and psychotherapists in Western society. As management consultants, they advise business people on business and investment decisions. Many major business decisions involve the input of fortune tellers. Their social role allows decision risks to be placed outside of the organization and provides a mechanism of quickly randomly deciding between several equally useful options. As psychotherapists, they help people discuss and resolve personal issues without the stigma of illness.

African fortune telling


One of the most traditional methods of telling fortunes in Africa is called casting (or throwing) the bones. Because Africa is a large continent with many tribes and cultures, there is not one single technique. Not all of the "bones" are actually bones, small objects may include cowrie shells, stones, strips of leather, or flat pieces of wood. In general, most casting or throwing methods are performed on the ground (often within a circle) and they fall into one of two categories:

  • Casting marked bones, flat pieces of wood, shells, or leather strips and numerically counting up how they fall -- either according to their markings or whether they do or do not touch one another -- with mathematically-based readings delivered as memorized results based on the chosen criteria.
  • Casting a special set of symbolic bones or an array of selected symbolic articles -- as, for instance, using a bird's wing bone to symbolize travel, a round stone to symbolize a pregnant womb, and a bird foot to symbolize feeling.


In African society, many people seek out diviners on a regular basis. There are no prohibitions against the practice. Those who tell fortunes for a living are also sought out for their wisdom as counselors and for their knowledge of herbal medicine.

Opposing theories

Those who believe that it is possible for a practitioner to tell fortunes or predict the future for clients may have religious objections to the practice. For instance, there are Christians who believe that fortune telling is forbidden in the Bible.

Those who do not believe that fortune tellers can actually read the future may believe that several other factors explain the popularity and anecdotal accuracy of fortune-telling:

  1. Fortune-telling in the context of an individual's belief system has a good chance of being believed.
  2. A person who performs a divination for himself or herself may be using his or her reactions to the arbitrary stimuli (such as tarot cards or a pendulum) as a way of mentally organizing his or her own thoughts.
  3. The predictions themselves can cause the subject to alter his or her behaviour in a way that makes the predictions become true, see self-fulfilling prophecy.
  4. Predictions can be a source of amusement and diversion.
  5. Predictions can reduce anxiety about the uncertain future.
  6. When making a decision based on incomplete information, the fortune teller or oracle can reduce the anxiety associated with guessing.
  7. The fotune-teller can be an external source of authority to invoke in support of a decision to be made, or in defense of a decision that was made.
  8. Fortune-tellers usually exhibit skills at reading people and telling them what they wish to hear (and they may heighten this effect using the technique of "cold reading").
  9. Predictions almost always use vague terms and do not lend themselves to falsification. Therefore, the prediction is never wrong, but a person's interpretation of it can always be wrong.
  10. Confirmation bias predisposes people to look for cases where predictions can be interpreted as accurate more than they look to find inaccurate ones.
  11. Clients of fortune-telling services may fail to realise that statements made about them might reflect reality, but would equally apply to most other people (for instance, the statement "you fought with your parents sometimes as a teenager" applies to a large majority of people). This is the Forer effect.


In the United States, a variety of local and state laws restrict fortune-telling, require the licensing or bonding of fortune-tellers, or make necessary the use of terminology that avoids the term "fortune-teller" in favour of terms such as "spiritual advisor" or "psychic consultant." There are also laws that forbid the practice ouright in certain districts.

For instance, fortune telling is a class B misdemeanor in the state of New York. Under New York State law, S 165.35:

A person is guilty of fortune telling when, for a fee or compensation which he directly or indirectly solicits or receives, he claims or pretends to tell fortunes, or holds himself out as being able, by claimed or pretended use of occult powers, to answer questions or give advice on personal matters or to exorcise, influence or affect evil spirits or curses; except that this section does not apply to a person who engages in the aforedescribed conduct as part of a show or exhibition solely for the purpose of entertainment or amusement. However one should use his intelligence and wisdom while visiting fortune tellers.

By mentioning that "one should use his intelligence and wisdom while visiting fortune tellers," the law-makers who wrote this statute acknowledged that fortune-tellers do not restrict themselves to "a show or exhibition solely for the purpose of entertainment or amusement" and that people will continue to seek out fortune-tellers even though fortune-tellers operate in violation of the law.

As a business

Over thousands of years, fortune-telling has transformed from a prestigious position to a heretical practice to an advertised business. Ronald H. Isaacs, a Jewish rabbi and author, states “Since time immemorial humans have longed to learn that which the future holds for them. Thus, in ancient civilization, and even today with fortune telling as a true profession, humankind continues to be curious about its future, both out of sheer curiosity as well as out of desire to better prepare for it." 5000 years ago, soothsayers were prized advisers to the Assyrians, but they lost respect and reverence during the rise of Reason in the 17th and 18th centuries. With the rise of commercialism, “the sale of occult practices [adapted to survive] in the larger society” and fortune-telling became “a private service, a commodity within the marketplace” . Ken Feingold, writer of "Interactive Art as Divination as a Vending Machine" states, “as the fundamental economic medium of exchange required by and used by all, money brought with it the possibility that one could purchase knowledge of the future” because with money as “an arbitrary symbolic designation of ‘value,’ ... one can buy anything.” Today there are countless print, televised and online advertisements for fortune-tellers: “whether it’s 3 P.M. or 3 A.M., there’s Dionne Warwick and her psychic friends selling advice on love, money and success. In a nation where the power of crystals and the likelihood that angels hover nearby prompt more contemplation than ridicule, it may not be surprising that one million people a year call Ms. Warwick’s friends.”


Psychic Rosanna Rogers of Cleveland explains the variety and the scope of people who visit fortune tellers: “couch potatoes aren’t the only people seeking the counsel of psychics and astrologers. Clairvoyants have a booming business advising Philadelphia bankers, Hollywood lawyers and CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies... If people knew how many people, especially the very rich and powerful ones, went to psychics, their jaws would drop through the floor.” Ms. Rogers “claims to have 4,000 names in her rolodex.”

People seek fortune-tellers for a myriad of reasons:

Canadian Clairvoyant Mrs. Jane Welbourn “says [her clients’] need to see her and hear what the future holds for them is often born out of stress and worry about a problem and the need for direction in their lives.” Mrs. Welbourn states, “about 90% of the people I see are experiencing some stress, or something is bothering them. Whether it’s drink, drug, illness, financial, infidelity or marital problems, there is usually something.”

Ken Feingold explains, “We desire to know other people’s actions and to resolve our own conflicts regarding decisions to be made and our participation in social groups and economies. The Other of our day-to-day reality is the chance to gain an advantage, to go around the fact that the future is unknown, and to influence the outcome of events--and it is in this interval that divination is active… Divination seems to have emerged from our knowing the inevitability of death. The idea is clear--we know that our time is limited and that we want things in our lives to happen in accord with our wishes. Realizing that our wishes have little power, we have sought technologies for gaining knowledge of the future...gain power over our own [lives].”

Danny Jorgensen, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida explains that people visit psychics or fortune-tellers to gain self-understanding and knowledge which will lead to personal power or success in some aspect of life.


Fortune-tellers vary in areas of expertise—their methods are discussed above. Here I will focus on the information they provide to clients.

Peder Zane explains “Psychics... act like human radios, tuning in to the clients’ karmic wavelengths to divine their lives. They claim to “read” almost anything including financial markets, corporations and entire nations. Zane further states, “In these increasingly complex and economically uncertain times, where bet-hedging and fence-straddling are considered wisdom, devotees say soothsayers are one of the last groups that provide simple answers. Call it pragmatic spiritualism. Rather than focus on a client’s soul, these clairvoyants say point blank whether a business deal is good or bad, or predict precisely when the market will rise or fall or pinpoint the exact day love will walk through the front door or sneak out the back.”

Californian Denise Laine, owner of American Transitech, which refills toner cartridges, says, “My psychic tells me the truth as she sees it, as opposed to what I want to hear…She makes specific suggestions about what I should do.” Canadian Clairvoyant Mrs. Jane Wellbourn works along those lines of Laine’s psychic: “I work with their palm, tell them what’s going on at the time and obviously pick up on the problem and see where that’s leading and what’s going to happen in the next couple of years. Others take a more spiritual approach to fortune-telling. An American clairvoyant by the name of Catherine Adams says, “My philosophy is to teach and practice spiritual freedom, which means you have your own spiritual guidance, which I can help you get in touch with. Many people tell me my predictions come true or that my healings work wonders, but that is only because they allowed me to fully see their spirits and then followed through with what was true for them at the time. Any session is better when you feel somewhat balanced and spiritually open. If you are upset, a healing may help, but it is best to wait until you are calm before you ask for a reading.” In addition to sharing and explaining their visions, fortune-tellers can also act like counselors by discussing and offering advice about their clients’ problems. Mrs. Welbourn explains how she interacts with a client: “I talk through the situation that is the problem at the time and I tell them what’s going to happen and I will be bluntly honest and tell them in that reading what I think they should do, to bring them the most happiness.

Some fortune-tellers encounter difficulty in “getting the client to interpret the information in the appropriate way” because they are attempting to “describe upon the physical plane what [they have] seen upon the astral. When they do get their message across, trustworthy fortune-tellers (and there are crooks and scam-artists out there) let their clients make their own choices and take the consequences for those choices. They want their clients to exercise their own willpower.

What science says

Scientific minds have many explanations and theories concerning clairvoyance. Generally, they split concerning the possibility of emotional or psychic knowledge. Dr. Paul Kurtz, a chairman of the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, in Buffalo, New York is one of the many who believe it is all a hoax; he refers to predictions as “cheap carnival tricks.” “His committee, which includes several Nobel laureates, has investigated hundreds of clairvoyants and has yet to find a system or individual capable of telling the future. What it has found is that fortune tellers are experts at reading body language, listening closely and making general statements that seem specific. Many people, he added, are so suggestible they make their fortunes come true.” Kurtz further explains, “At heart I think the problem is that Americans are so scientifically illiterate that they do not understand that these things are impossible…and they want to believe in it, so they will.” Others share a less dismissive view. Danny Jorgensen in his article in the Sociological Quarterly believes there are “many possible paths to addressing recurrent problems, seeking solutions, creating identities, and associating on the basis of common beliefs. While some people are inclined to do this on a casual basis or as a matter of entertainment, other people make it a career or a way of life.” He further states, “The paramount sociological issue is not whether or not beliefs and practices (religious, scientific or occult) are verifiable scientifically but what it is that members hold to be real and what the social consequences of these convictions and resulting actions are.”

Full-time jobs

Fortune-tellers generally cannot support themselves entirely on their fortune-telling business. “While there is considerable variation among occupations, they are over-represented in human service fields: counseling, social work, teaching, health care.” Fortune tellers are normal people--they are involved in other activities, the majority are married with children, and a few claim graduate degrees. “Differences between occultists and the larger society have been exaggerated, however. These people generally participate intensively and extensively in the larger society and its basic institutions: They attend movies, watch television, work at regular jobs, shop at K-Mart, sometimes eat at McDonald’s, and go to the hospital when they are seriously ill.”

Some combine their full-time job with these gifts:

Arch Crawford, a New York City financial astrologer who predicted the 1987 stock market crash in his newsletter, Crawford Perspectives, began using sunspot activity and astrology to chart the stock and commodities markets while working as an analyst at Merrill Lynch because he found traditional econometric models frustrating. “While markets have become extremely complex in recent years, statistical tools for tracking them have not become equally sophisticated,” Mr. Crawford said. So why not try magic instead? “Astrology, along with a lot of technical analysis, gives me an edge over those people who simply rely on numbers.

Others prefer to keep them separate--

Mrs. Welbourn: “It isn’t something spooky or weird, it’s just there. You can’t really say what it is, it is just something that’s with me and works with the client. I am able to keep my life and the clairvoyance separate, and I can shut off, or I would never rest.


As far as legal certification is concerned, fortune-tellers will, “when it is reasonable, comply with local laws and purchase a business license.”

Amongst fortune-tellers, certification is determined by ability and experience, rather than official documentation of training--

Psychic Clairvoyant Medium Rose Schwab believes, “no one person has the authority or the expertise to give out such certification or degrees. Each individual must master his or her own gifts and abilities through various exercise, workshops and classes.Each individual has gifts and abilities that we are all born with. We can choose to develop and use them or not, but if we choose to develop and use them, to do so with understanding, responsibility and wisdom.” Similarly, C. W. Leadbeater, author of Clairvoyance, states that an accurate reading requires “years of ceaseless labor and rigid self-discipline.”

A professional fortune-teller “is determined by formal codes of ethics, lists of approved practitioners, and a variety of informal norms.” One such code is this “Spiritual code” found in a participant-observational study done by professors at the University of Florida:

  1. I will approach counseling with respect, reverence, and responsibility
  2. I will seek higher guidance.
  3. I will keep the welfare of my client uppermost at all times.
  4. I will respect the trust of my client.
  5. I will keep all confidences.
  6. I will strive for greater competence.
  7. My advertising will reflect my integrity.
  8. I will strive to give full value.
  9. I will respect all who adhere to this code.

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