Utilitarian Artifacts | Divination Objects

The word divination is derived from the Latin word, "divinare," which means "to foresee, to be inspired by a god." It is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of ritual prayer. An array of interesting objects are used by diviners to summon benevolent spirits in the quest to seek answers.


Our spiRITUAL exhibit showcased diverse and complex sacred divination objects.
Divination rituals vary greatly from one culture to another, as do the methods and tools used to communicate with the spirit world.

Divination, the time-honored practice of using signs or artifacts to gain knowledge or insight into human dilemmas, has been around for millennia with rituals and techniques varying widely from region to region, culture to culture.
Much African artwork is steeped in divination’s tradition of healing, crisis management, and maintaining the well-being of the community. Our exhibit “Sacred Objects: Sacred Wisdom” showcases seventy-five objects from more than a dozen tribes across eight countries in West Central and Southern Africa.
Just as spirit entities can speak through a diviner, they can also communicate through designated inanimate objects. The range and breadth of the pieces in the exhibit—made primarily of wood, beads, bronze, and iron—attest to their importance in daily living and the diversity of the divination process. From hakata (dice) and oracles to divination trays, spirit figures, and abodes for ancestral spirits, the objects are the vehicles through which insight, interpretation, and mediation flow.

Divination encompasses some of the most important aspects of daily life. When divination is carried out, the diviner relies heavily on the aesthetics of an object to bring about changes in fortune, improved health, conflict resolution, etc. This is form and function taken to a higher level; an object’s design is often the reflection of a shared effort between artists and ritual practitioners. The result is nothing short of spectacular. Sadly, the sacred wisdom, among the younger generations, is not being maintained.

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