Other Names:

Fortune telling is the fraudulent practice of predicting information about a person's life. The scope of fortune telling is in principle identical with the practice of divination. The difference is that divination is the term used for predictions considered part of a religious ritual, invoking deities or spirits, while the term fortune telling implies a less serious or formal setting, even one of popular culture, where belief in occult workings behind the prediction is less prominent than the concept of suggestion, spiritual or practical advisory or affirmation.

Historically, Pliny the Elder describes use of the crystal ball in the 1st century CE by soothsayers ("crystallum orbis", later written in Medieval Latin by scribes as orbuculum). Contemporary Western images of fortune telling grow out of folkloristic reception of Renaissance magic, specifically associated with Romani people. During the 19th and 20th century, methods of divination from non-Western cultures, such as the I Ching, were also adopted as methods of fortune telling in western popular culture.

An example of divination or fortune telling as purely an item of pop culture, with little or no vestiges of belief in the occult, would be the Magic 8-Ball sold as a toy by Mattel, or Paul the Octopus, an octopus at the Sea Life Aquarium at Oberhausen used to predict the outcome of matches played by the Germany national football team. There is opposition to fortune telling in Christianity, Islam, Baháʼísm and Judaism based on scriptural prohibitions against divination. Terms for one who claims to see into the future include fortune teller, crystal-gazer, spaewife, seer, soothsayer, sibyl, clairvoyant, and prophet; related terms which might include this among other abilities are oracle, augur, and visionary. Fortune telling is dismissed by skeptics as being based on pseudoscience, magical thinking and superstition.

It has been estimated that in France there are 30,000 people offering the fortune-telling services with an annual turnover of 5 billion francs.
Broader Problems:
Narrower Problems:
Horological superstition
Divining the future
Religious Practice Divination
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
18.12.2020 – 10:32 CET