The divinatory arts are many and a broad understanding of them can only emerge from a survey of actual practices in various cultural settings. Men all over the world practice divination and device various methods of doing this.
The Assyro-Babylonians have their Bam (seer and diviner) who employs hapatoacopy-divination by observing the liver of sheep which had been used for sacrifice. The Buddhists in India practice astrology and they use lots and oracles as means of divination.
The Greeks had their oracular shrinks of Jupiter at Dodona and Apollo at Delphi. The Romans used the Sortes and the Japanese use Ornoplatoscopy. In Roman society, auspices (auspicia) are the means by which the Romans seek to ascertain the support of the gods.
Other forms of divination are palmistry, cream interpretation and astrology. Diviners of similar kinds include the many types of media who may communicate with the dead (necromancy process) as well as-crystal gazers, dream interpreters and diviners by automatic writing.
Like the other peoples of the world, the Yoruba employ various systems. Of all the methods of divination employed by the Yoruba, Ifa divination is considered the most reliable, and the most popular means of divination.
Ifa divination is both a body of knowledge and a system of social, emotional, pathological control, employing relevant historical and mythological precedents contained in the special divinatory verses to be recited, chanted or song by the Babalawo. lfa divination is the most complex system of divination both in its repertoire of verses and in its range of applications. To the Yoruba, divination or consultation with the supreme divinity (Orunmila) is of crucial spiritual importance. The oral tradition emphasizes the part played by Orunmila is guiding the destiny of man and divinities. One reason given for his intimate knowledge of matters affecting man’s destiny is that Orunmila is present when man is being created. Therefore he knows all the secrets of human beings and thus he can reveal what one has destined and if the destiny is an unfortunate one, Orunmila can prescribe remedies to avert the misfortune. This is why Orunmila is being described as Elerii-ipin (the witness of destiny or lot), ‘Obirikiti A-pa-ojo-iku-da’ (the great one, who alters the date of death).
Ifa divination is operated by means of the configuration called Odu. In the Ifa corpus are as many as 256 possibilities (16 principal and 240 minor Odu) each containing mythological stories which the Babalawo narrates in the process of divination.