Divination for the New Year: What Tarot, King Cake, and Vergil Have in Common

The new year is often a time for divination. And people from different times and places have used certain forms of divination specifically to gain insight into their fortunes for the coming year.

Most forms of divination are a form of Cleromancy, or the casting of lots. This method has often been used to determine a god’s will, or to gain insight into something one should do. Everything from casting runes to watching the shapes of smoke are forms of Cleromancy.

Even with modern cultural practices we cast lots. Many people roll dice to make decisions, especially D&D aficionados. But even modern practices like shuffling songs on your iPod or doing a tarot spread are modern forms of divination via chance. The point is that you are not determining your own questions, ergo some other force (be it fate, the gods, the ancestors, etc) is answering your questions.

New Year’s Divinations

If you want to glean some insight for your fortunes in the coming year, you can look to several traditional modern practices. My personal favorite is Bleigießen, which is still practiced at New Year’s parties in Germany. However, this form of fortune telling can be found from Finland to Turkey. Essentially, you melt wax, tin, or lead and pour the material into a bowl of cold water. The shape it takes is your fortune for the coming year. You can find a list of shape meanings here.

Bleigiessen from Wikipedia

We have a lot of practices of new years divination that are nowadays associated with Halloween, because the Celtic new year was around Samhain. Most divination at this time centered around dreams, future spouses, and good luck in the coming year.

Apples and hazelnuts were often used for divination. A young person would throw two hazelnuts or walnuts into a fire and say a specific person’s name to see if they were a good match. If one hazelnut cracked or bounced away from the other, it was a bad match. If the hazelnuts stayed together calmly in the fire, the match was good.

Children were given apples to place under their pillows. Whatever dreams they had that night were supposed to predict the future. This is also true of eating a salty oat bannock before going to bed.

Similar to pouring wax or tin, several cultures had a special cake or bread with items hidden within them that told the fortunes for the coming year. Hiding items in an Irish Barmbrack is still a popular custom. You can find the meanings of the hidden items here.

King Cake From Wikipedia

The custom of hiding items in a cake or a bread is still popular across several cultures. Greek Vasilopita is a common Christmas bread throughout central Europe that often contains coins or trinkets signifying good luck. In France and even the United States, the King Cake is a similar dessert custom, with a baby to signify future luck. Originally, the King Cake was celebrated either around Christmas or before Lent, as per regional custom.

Ergo, all of these good-fortune pastries have examples in which people ate them around the new year. It’s possible these kinds of custom dates as far back as the ancient Roman Saturnalia, where one lucky person found a bean in their cake, and became King or Queen of the household for the day.

Simple Divinations

Considering most people will not be gathering for New Year’s parties this year, you may prefer to do more solitary forms of divination.

A simple method to predict the future, or even auger the wills of the gods, would be do draw runes, ogham, oracle cards, or similar tools. You can simply ask “What does the next year hold for me” and draw one or maybe three tokens from your set.

Photo by Lucas Pezeta on Pexels.com

You can also do more in-depth divination with tarot cards. Again, you can draw one, three, or several cards. One of the most common tarot spread is the Celtic Cross, but that is best used for a specific query.

Alternatively, you could do as the Romans did with one of their more interesting forms of sortes. The Sortes Vergilianae was a divination method via randomly choosing lines from the works of Vergil. While one could do this for any question, and indeed with any book, you could certainly try this for your New Year’s predictions.

Asking the Kindreds for Wisdom at the New Year

If you don’t believe that divination tells you the future, but rather the wills of numinous beings, then your question can be what wisdom do the gods, spirits, and/or ancestors give you for the coming year.

If you are asking a specific being for this wisdom, pulling one symbol or card would be appropriate. If you are asking the gods, the spirits, and the ancestors, you can pull one symbol/card for each type of being (which is what we commonly do in ADF).

I’m sure D&D fans will be happy to know that they could even roll a dice.

Magic 8 Ball from Wikipedia


If you’re new to divination, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. That’s why I think New Year’s divination is a fun way to dip your toes into this practice. While people today argue about whether divination actually tells the future, there’s no doubt that ancient polytheists believed it.

Cleromancy is an exceptionally common form of divination, and it’s often easy to learn or has modern day applications. Perhaps you can bake a barmbrack, pour wax into water, or read some well-loved book to glean a little knowledge for the upcoming year.


All articles accessed December 2020.

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