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Divination & Jyotish

November 27, 2010

Jyotish, the Indian branch of astrology has a central importance in Hinduism. It is believed that stars and planets have a great effect on the destinies of individuals. The time and place of one’s birth affects his destiny.[1]

In the wizarding world, Divination is a subject which aims at telling the future by using various methods such as palmistry, crystal balls and bird entrails. The third year of Harry at Hogwarts introduces the Divination teacher who predicts Harry’s death by reading his fortune in the tea-cups and in the crystal balls.[2]

Though, from the character of the Divination teacher, Sybil Trelawney, we do not get a very good image of the subject. She is often wrong in her predictions and keeps changing them. Other teachers also do not have a very good opinion of her abilities, as is demonstrated by the rare caustic remark from the usually stern and composed Professor McGonagall in the Prisoner of Azkaban;

“Divination is one of the most imprecise branches of magic. I shall not conceal from you that I have very little patience with it. True Seers are very rare, and Professor Trelawney —”[3]

Dumbledore has also never studied Divination. The only two times when the prophesy of Sybil Trelawney has come true is when she predicts the death of Harry’s parents at the hands of Lord Voldemort, and that Lord Voldemort will rise again, more powerful than ever,

“It will happen tonight… The Dark Lord lies alone and friendless, abandoned by his followers. His servant has been chained these twelve years. Tonight, before midnight . . . the servant will break free and set out to rejoin his master. The Dark Lord will rise again with his servant’s aid, greater and more terrible than ever he was. Tonight . . . before midnight . . . the servant . . . will set out . . . to rejoin . . . his master. . . .”[4]

This even drew a subtle humorous remark from Dumbledore. When Harry asked him whether she was right in her prediction, he says,

“Do you know, Harry, I think she might have been. Who would have thought it? That brings her total of real predictions up to two. I should offer her a pay rise…”[5]

But both of the times, when she gave these real predictions she was not herself. While predicating the second coming of the Dark Lord she fell into a trance. Her voice changed and she was everything but herself. She did not even remember what she said. When Harry asked her to explain herself after she fell out of her trance, she could not remember anything.

The idea here is that it is not the individual who is important when it comes to predict the future. Individuals are helpless in predicting anything, as is proved by the case of Sybil Trelawney. When Harry blames himself for the release of Peter Pettigrew, Dumbledore says;

“Hasn’t your experience with the Time-Turner taught you anything, Harry? The consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed… Professor Trelawney, bless her, is living proof of that….”[6]

The idea of prophesies rather implies that individuals cannot discern the future by themselves. The helplessness of an individual in predicting the future becomes evident by the method of the new Divination teacher, Firenze, the centaur, in the fifth book of Harry Potter,

“His priority did not seem to be to teach them what he knew, but rather to impress upon them that nothing, not even centaurs’ knowledge was foolproof.”[7]

It is also stressed that this art cannot be learned. It is innate. Though Sybil was not herself a good fortune-teller, her grandfather was told to be a great seer. Fortune-telling is a gift which is bestowed upon some individuals rather than being developed by them.

The method is less important than the seer in the business of future prediction, which takes us again to similarities between Divination and Jyotish and subsequently between the wizarding world of Harry Potter and Sanatana Dharma.


[1] Abhisheki, Janaki. Religion as Knowledge. New Delhi: Voice of India. 1998. p. 358.

[2] Rowling, J K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Inc. 1999. p. 107.

[3] Ibid. 109.

[4] Ibid. 324.

[5] Ibid. 426.

[6] Ibid. 426.

[7] Rowling, J K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic Inc. 2003. P. 604.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tanmay permalink
    November 29, 2010 3:18 AM

    Jyotish is also the thought system which has been highly misinterpreted,isn’t it? So when a Jyotish says that I have a KaalSarp Yog and I should do this and this mumbo-jumbo to rectify it, I think I am justified to reserve my doubts. I think that indirectly astrology has helped a lot in development of astronomy- a more widely accepted system these days and also the one, due to my personal doubts against astrology, which is more revealing. But still it appears less logical to me.
    In short the empirical nature of my scientific mind abhors me if I hold belief in a thought that stellar phenomena and random lines of my palm can perhaps reveal about the most innate aspects of my personality and also perhaps the future. Stars can perhaps predict about weather but about something human??

    • December 7, 2010 12:16 PM

      It seldom matters what we believe. Facts are not dependent on the belief of its followers, ideologies are. No matter how inexplicable a phenomenon is, if it occurs in real there is no refuting it.

      So, it does not matter if I believe in astrology or not; if it happens, it does. My belief will not change a fact.

      I do not know Jyotish and am not crazy for it. But it has to be studied with other branches of Hinduism and eastern mysticism. It cannot be studied in isolation. It has to be studied with the karma-phal siddhanta and without reincarnation it will be mumbo-jumbo as you say…

      Just like the wrong image of Tantra, Jyotish is also understood very imperfectly by the ‘rational’ world. People think that it is a time-machine sort of thing through which we can change our future.

      The best astrologers will tell you that you can change nothing. It just predicts and nothing else, and seldom do they claim accuracy in their predictions…

      It is the fashion of these days to decry astrology, and Indians are very eager to call themselves rational. A scientific mind however never denies what hasn’t yet been discovered. It simply says that in science there is no evidence of it…

      • doodle permalink
        July 7, 2012 11:31 AM

        In science, history, and everything else, there’s no evidence for it. Perhaps an analogy might make it clearer: in Harry Potter’s world, Professor Trelawney was right twice in her life, and both times, an educated guess would’ve come to the same conclusion. In the world that you and I live in, no astrologer has been able to beat the odds, which you can think of as the answer you get from flipping a rupee coin, ever, in history, because if he did, the stock market… well, you get the gist 🙂

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