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Some people use the words divination and prophecy interchangeably, but they are not the same.


Divination and Prophecy: How Do They Differ?

Divination and prophecy are both attempts to reveal the future, but otherwise they are quite different.


Divination is a private act, usually performed for an individual client. It often includes the use of tools such as Tarot cards, crystal balls, bones, or other objects. It starts with the client’s questions and concerns.


Prediction has to do only with foretelling the future, and is not necessarily a magical act. A weather report is a prediction; so is a scientific hypothesis. Prediction is often a feature of both divination and prophecy. Whether materialist or magical, divination and prediction can both involve tools; tarot cards, crystal balls, a trained intuition; rain gauges, thermometers, barometers.


A prophet is an emissary of the divine sent to a community, church or nation. His message is addressed to a group or its leaders — whether a community or a nation. The prophet often calls to purity, cultural renewal or reform, a return to ancient wisdom and morality, and criticizes the institutions of his culture and time.

Ordained Prophets and Spontaneous Prophets

  • Ordination of prophets
  • School of the prophets, sons of the prophets

Prophecy in Ancient Times

Some of the most famous prophets of ancient times are:

  • Elijah was a renowned prophet whose name means "Yahweh is my God." Many miracles are attributed to him including calling fire down from the sky and raising the dead. He defeated death when he was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, and is honored during Passover. (Read More ...)
  • Elisha lived from about 700 to 663 BCE; without any warning or training, he was suddenly appointed the successor to the prophet and miracle-worker Elijah when Elijah threw his garment onto him. (Read More ...)
  • Isaiah, the son of Amoz, was the prophet who wrote the Book of Isaiah during the 8th century BCE; his text concerns the restoration of the nation of Israel from the era of Babylonian captivity.
  • Jeremiah was a major Jewish prophet who wrote the Book of Jeremiah, the Books of Kings and the Book of Lamentations, and predicted, the Baylonian Captiivity, the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 BCE and the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. (Read More ...)
  • Moses or Moishe was the lawgiver and prophet recognized in Judaism, Christianity and Islam who went up to Mount Sinai and emerged with the 10 Commandments. (Read More ...)
  • There are also many other Jewish Prophets whose works have been preserved in the Tanakh. Their predominant themes were religious purity and reform, justice, and warnings of disaster and divine abandonment if these conditions were not met.
  • Jesus Christ, whose teachings were passed on orally and preserved by the apostles and later disciples. He continued the themes of his Jewish predecessors, as well as performing miracles up to and including resurrection of the dead.
  • Saint John of Patmos, author of the Book of Revelation (also called Apocalypse), wrote a lengthy allegory which Christians are trying to interpret to this day.
  • The Seven Fires Prophecy of the Anishinaabe

Prophetic Reaction to Colonization and Political Pressure

In North America, a Native American prophetic tradition burgeoned when the indigenous nations were contacted by Christian missionaries. Their messages centered around the theme of resistance and cultural renewal and preservation, as well as the hope of liberty. Famous examples include:

  • Black Elk was a Native American Oglala Lakota visionary prophet and, later, a Catholic lay preacher who lived from 1863 to 1950. A second cousin to the war leader Crazy Horse, he was present at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, when he was 12 years old, and the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, when he was 27. Between these two encounters, he toured the United States and Europe with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, portraying the role of an insurgent "Indian warrior."
  • Crazy Horse
  • Handsome Lake, or Sganyodaiyo, was a Seneca leader and visionary prophet who lived from 1735-1815. He was the half-brother of Cornplanter, a Seneca chief who fought on the British side in the American Revolution and also worked, first to accommodate, and then to roll back, adaptation to European culture and life ways. They both encouraged the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer life to settled farming.
  • Tenskwatawa
  • Wovoka

Other Inspirations for Prophecy


Famous Fulfilled Prophecies

How Fulfillment is evaluated: Events play out as predicted or current events are projected backward.

Conflicting viewpoints about fulfillment: For example, Christians may say that Jesus fulfilled Jewish Bible prophecies, whereas Jews may say that the creation of Christian "type and antitype theology" -- in which past events and poetic tropes are identified as "echoes of the future" --represents a backwards projection of prophetic fulfillment amounting to a Christian attempt to overthrow the Jewish religion.

Famous Failed Prophecies

Given our varied relationships to a variety of religions, cultures, and prohetic beliefs, it is not always possible to distinguish who can be categorized as a failed prophet and who as a ungrounded zealot.

More remarkably, one person's "failed prophecy" may become another person's theological revelation. Historically speaking, it is not uncommon that a "failed prophet" is honoured as the founder of a religion which was riginally based on a failed prophecy but outlived its prophet and nevertheless thrived.

Great Wars, Natural Disasters, End of the World

Generally speaking, prophecy refers to a coming major change in the order of the world. Prophecies at this level of magnitude can preduict great wars, widespread natural disasters, the downfall of nations, and even the end of the world or the end of time. If a phophecy fails to materialize as predicted, the prophet may retreat from the prediction or recalibrate it.

  • Nostradamus
  • William Miller predicted the return of Jesus Christ and the end of the world in 1844; his followers, the Millerites, became the 7th-day Adventists, a form of evangelical Protestant Christianity.
  • Charles Taze Russell broke with the Seventh-Day Adventists and formed the International Bible Students Association, a religious movement which published a seven-volume series, Studies in the Scriptures, which diverged sharply in many respects from the traditional doctrines of Christianity. He predicted the return of Jesus Christ and the end of the world in 1914.
  • Joseph F. Rutherford, Russell's successor, predicted the return of Jesus Christ in 1918, later maintaining that it had happened invisibly in heaven. He then predicted the resurrection of the biblical patriarchs in 1925, later abandoning the date but not the prophecy itself. In 1931 he renamed the Internaational Bible Students Association, who are now known as Jehovah's Witnesses.
  • Edgar Cayce
  • Harold Camping
  • Jeanne Dixon

Explaining and Reclaiming Failed Prophecies

  • Renouncing the Formerly Acclaimed Prophet (False Messiah Syndwom)
  • Reattribution of the Inspiration from Divine to "Over-Zealous Members"
  • Recalculation of he Predicted Date
  • Stating That the Events Came True but in Another Dimension

Messianic identity

Although the term "messiah" is now used generically, it also has a specific meaning, and there are other terms for such a predicted leader-to-be in other religions.

Messiahs Within Various Religous Cultures

  • The Messaiah ("anointed one") is a Jewish concept that originated in the Hebrew Bible; the word refers to a king or high priest who has been anointed with Holy Oil.
  • The Christ ("anointed one") is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah; it is also the root of the word Christianity, named after Jesus of Nazareth, also known as Jesus Christ.
  • The Mahdi ("guided one") is a predicted redeemer in Islam who will rule for a certain number of years until the Day of Judgment and Ressurection, and will rid the world of evil.
  • The Kalki Avatar ("empowering voice") or coming tenth avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu is revered as the one who will bring about the end of the Kali Yuga or current world age.
  • Cakrin is a coming leader who is predicted to end civilization's degeneration by assembling an army to eradicate Islam, and inaugurat a new era of righteusness and long life, accrding to he Kalachakra Tantra, a sacred text of Buddhism.

While claimants to messianic identity may not make great prophecies themselves, the accession of such a claimant to worldly power is frequently associated with prophecies of widespread politival or natural upheaval followed by a Messianic Age during which the Messiah will rule the world.

A List of Proc;iamed and Sef-Proclaimed Messiahs

The following list of claimants to the role of Messiah, Christos, Mahdi, or Kalki Avatar is slective and incomplete, but should serve to give some idea of the widespread nature of personal prophetic aspirations.

  • Jesus of Nazareth (1 - 32) was widely cnsidered to be a Messiah by Jews under Roman occupation, but with his death by crucifixion, his followers for the most part abandoned their hope that he was the Christos; however a small remmant congregation of faithful believers eventually went on to form the major religion of Christianity.
  • Simon Magus was a Samaritan sorcerer abd religious figure who lived during the 1st century.
  • Simon bar Kokhba, (? - 135), also known as Simeon bar Kosevah, led the Jewish Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Roman Empire in 132; he established an independent nation and his admirers proclaimed him to be the Messiah, but he was killed, along with 580,000 of his followers, by the time the Romans put down the rebellion in 136.
  • Sabbatai Zevi (1626 - 1676) was a Jewish rabbi and kabbalist born in Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey); in 1648 he claimed to be the Jewish Messiah who would lead the return of Jews to Jerusalem, but he converted to Islam in 1666 under Ottoman Tukish governmental pressure of torture or death, abandoning his many followers, the Sabbateans.
  • Muhammad Jaunpuri (1443 - 1505) was born in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, India and claimed to be the Mahdi; he was the founder of the Mahdavia sect, also known as the Zikri sect in Islam.
  • Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shírází, the Báb ("the Gate") (1819 - 1850) claimed to be the Mahdi, was the founder of Bábism, and was executed, along with thousands of his followers, by the Persian government; after his death he came to be a central figure in the Bahá'í religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh.
  • Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí, known as Bahá'u'lláh, (1817 - 1892) was a Persian follower of the Báb; in 1863 he claimed to be the Mahdi and founded the Bahá'í religion.
  • Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908) claimed to be the Mahdi and was the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam.
  • Muhammad Ahmad (1844 - 1885), known as Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah or Muhammad al-Mahdi, was a Nubian Sufi sheikh born in Sudan; in 1881 he was proclaimed to be the Mahdi, after which he overthrew the region's Turkish-Egyption administration, and established the Mahdist State; the new nation was obliterated by combined English and Egyptian forces in 1898.
  • Ann Lee (founded the Christian Shakers)
  • Bernhard Müller announced himself to be "The Lion of Judah" in 1829, in a letter to a number of religious communes in the United States. He also claimed to be a prophet who possessed the Philospher's Stone, and awarded himself a number of fictitious titles of nobility. These actions seemed to fulfill prophecies believed by the Harmony Society, so Müller joined their commune in Pennsylvania. After a schism, Muller and 250 of the Harmonites split off to found a new colony, and later ended up in Louisiana, where they established the Germantown Colony. By 1834, Müller had died and the colony was dwindling away. The Civil War effaced the colony. Today, nothing is left but the Germantown Colony and Museum.
  • Hong Xiuquan (Taiping Rebellion)
  • Father Divine (1876 - 1965), also known as George Baker, was an African-American Baptist preacher who became a member of the New Thought Movement, prophesied under the name "The Messenger", and by 1914 proclaimed himself to be God; in later years his religious Peace Mission Movement was notably allied with the wider Civil Rights Movement.
  • Wallace D. Fard (1877 - 1934), also known as Wallie Dodd Ford, Wallace Fard Muhammad, and W.D. Fard, is described as "Allah," "God in Person", the Messiah, and the Mahdi by leaders of the Nation of Islam.
  • Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi (1941 - ) was proclaimed to be the Messiah, the Mahdi, and the Kalki Avatar in 1985; he is the leader of the Messiah Foundation International.

See Also:

Category:Divination Fortune Telling Oracles

Category:Jewish Spiritual Figures

Category:Working Within the Islamic Tradition

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