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Name and briefly describe one method of divination or seership technique common to three paleo-pagan Indo-European cultures. (minimum 100 words each)

While there are several different types of divination methods that could be discussed in response to this question (watching bird flight, for example, or dream interpretation, or the use of seers/oracles), the one that most intrigues me is the wrapping of a priest or seer in the hide of an animal and sleeping, to receive a vision in a dream (either from a God or from the Ancestors).

In the Aeneid, Latinus goes to the Oracle of Faunus for advice on the marriage of his daughter, especially in the light of several strange portents which had happened recently. While at the oracle, Latinus performs divination by sleeping on the hides of a hundred sacrificed sheep. In response, he hears a voice from the grove of Faunus not to marry his daughter to a Latin suitor, but instead that she should be married to a man from abroad (Virgil 7.80). While this doesn’t speak much to the agency that Latinus grants to his daughter in her choice in a husband, it rather clearly shows this type of divination being successful.

In Peter Ellis’ The Druids, Ellis speaks of a ritual known in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland as the taghairm (a word he says has Irish cognates). In particular, a seer is to wrap himself in the hide of a newly slain bull and lie down at a waterfall or at the foot of a precipice and meditate. The spirits would visit him and tell him what he needed to know. (Ellis 222) This method includes both the sacrifice of an animal (in this case the bull, which seems to have been sacred throughout the Celtic cultures) and then the meditation on a desired question or outcome. This particular iteration of this divination form says nothing about actually eating the ritual flesh of the bull, however. This is similar to the commonly told tale of an Irish seer wrapping himself in a bull’s hide, while Druids chant over him, so he may dream of the next king.

In the Chandogya Upanisad, there is a ritual to Savitr that a man should do if he desires to achieve greatness, which includes making offerings to a fire, reciting a Rg verse, and then going to sleep/rest on a skin by the fire, where if he sees a woman, he will know his rite is successful. “When a man sees a woman in his dreams/During a rite to obtain a wish;/ He should recognize its success,/In that dream vision” (5.2). While the exact content of the dream is specific (seeing a woman as a way to divine the success of the ritual), it is still a form of divination similar to the others in that the dream comes after eating in a particular way and then laying down on an animal skin near a fire to sleep/meditate.

These three examples are also very similar to Norse practice of outsitting (utiseta) – wrapping in a blanket or fur skin and sitting on an ancestral mound or crossroads to receive guidance from the ancestors (Sagas of the Icelanders 764). This is particularly noted in the conversion of Iceland to Christianity, where Thorgeirr stays on a mound under a skin for a day and a night to determine the fate of Iceland’s religious future. According to Ceisiwr Serith, “the seer, identified with the dead animal, goes where it goes – to the ancestors. From them the seer acquires knowledge to benefit the community” (Serith 262). While not all of the original texts make clear that it is from the ancestors that the seer receives the knowledge (and in fact, in the Aeneid it is Faunus who gives the information), the three (or four, if you count utiseta) different ritual forms all have enough in common to be counted as one form of divination.

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