The future in the past : belief in magical divination and other methods of prophecy among the archiac and classical Greeks and among the Zulu of South Africa during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Kirby-Hirst, Mark Anthony.
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Magic and the supernatural have always been fascinating topics for investigation, none more so than the belief in prophecy. Actually being able to predict future occurrences, sometimes long before they take place, is certainly a desirable ability, and so naturally it was something that was much sought after in ancient Greece and amongst the Zulu people of South Africa. This is the domain of this dissertationbelief in the power of divination and how this belief could appear to be interrelated between two distinct peoples who are separated not only by the passage of time and their geographical locations, but also by socio-economic changes like industrialization and globalisation. The beliefs of both societies in this particular area are sometimes strikingly similar, especially in how each group understood such esoteric notions as the human soul and the afterlife or underworld. The function of magic in these cultures is also of -importance, since divination is almost always classed as a magical activity. The relative closeness to each other of their metaphysical knowledge allows a closer study of the figure of the diviner or prophet, more specifically who it was that could become a diviner and the reasons for this 'calling'. Several examples like Teiresias, the blind seer, are also useful in demonstrating certain beliefs and patterns. The major part of this dissertation deals with certain ritual practices of diviniilg. Although there exist many variations on a theme, the most important forms studied here are dreams, oracles, oionomancy (divining by understanding the song or flight of birds) and necromancy' (divining with the aid of the spirits of the dead). The method of divining by studying one's dreams is a universal constant and seems to take place in all cultures, making the practice useful for the purposes of comparative study. In terms of oracles, I contend that oracular divination is not a uniquely ancient fonn,but can be clearly seen in certain elements of the practice of Zulu divining, especially in the work of the abemilozi (diviners working with familiar spirits) Because of these similarities it is quite difficult to maintain that oracular divination· as occurred in ancient Greece, is not also practiced among the Zulu to some extent. Birds have always held a certain fascination for people and so it is not surprising that they are also used for divining. For the Greeks they could herald the favour of the gods, while the Zulu made use of them mostly for foretelling changes in the weather. Finally, necromancy because of its connection with ghosts and the dead was often frowned upon, but for both the Greeks and the Zulu it was one of the most powerful methods of divining because it was the spirits, who had already crossed to the other side and so were believed to have access to supernatural knowledge, that were thought to be able to answer the questions posed by the diviner. Most importantly I conclude that there is an indication that the souls of these two peoples were close to each other. The beliefs and the manner in which they go about establishing, using and confirming them are much the same for the ancient Greeks and the Zulu, despite the fact that they are separated by time, space and socio-economic context. In all, the only real difference is that the Greeks came to later explore science as another knowledge system. For the Zulu, one system was enough.