Caught in yet another moment of 'research rapture' while working on my dissertation I came across two new (to me) divinatory methods that were both equally interesting and surprising. Firstly, after watching a number of videos on the Maori traditional haka (like this) it occurred to me that I knew nothing about ritual, shamanism, or divination in Oceania and after doing some preliminary research I found some information about Maori kite divination. It is believed that the Maori would create very large, detailed kites, typically in the shape of a bird, made from natural grasses and twigs foraged at auspicious moments from their immediate surroundings. The assembly of the kites was a sacred act, tended to by a shaman practitioner and those close to him while they all adhered to strict regulations regarding diet and acceptable activities. These kites were invariably used during times of battle and the shaman had a detailed method of analysis for discovering whether the battle would result in success or catastrophe. From the swiftness or smoothness of the kite as it was raised into the air, to the directions it tended to lean toward, the kite's flight was indicative of the outcome of the battle.
In my pursuit to understand the relationship between ecology and divination there are a few things that I find especially interesting in regards to this divinatory method. Firstly, as with the vast majority of divinatory methods around the world, the kite is made of seemingly innocuous materials that can easily be collected and that are, more or less, abundantly available. The Maori are not unique in their ritualized gathering of materials but the sanctity of the act of building the kite is an especially unique characteristic indicating a genuine spiritual relationship with the act of divination, and thus likely points to a world view that is rich in religiosity and/or sacredness. I would have to be scholar of the religious traditions of Oceania and the Antipodes to say more which alas, I am not (yet). The second thing that struck me about Maori kite divination was that it was decidedly used to discern the outcome of battles which historically speaking figured largely into the development of Oceanic culture on the whole. This raises interesting questions regarding the ecological effects (and perhaps even causes) of the persistent battlefield status of Polynesian and South Indian Ocean islands. I can't help but wonder whether there is a connection between the sacred act of divining the outcome of a war and the overall attitude toward battle that we see exemplified, passionately and quite beautifully, in the haka ritual. And last, as any student of divination can attest to, the figure of the bird is associated with divinatory methods around the globe and augury (divination of the flight, paths, and activity of birds) is one of the oldest forms of divination. The Maori war kites present an interesting case-example for one of my personal theories about the dawning of early human (and religious) consciousness being related to animals of flight due the fact that air and sea animals would have been the most likely to survive varied climactic disturbances (such as the last ice-age) and could have somehow carried prehistoric knowledge, likely in the form of myth and lore, through ages when humanity might have otherwise lost access to ancestral wisdom.
Here is a link to a bit more information on the kites. Also, I recommend watching the subtitled version of the wedding haka after first taking it in without the need to understand it. Once you've had a chance to soak up the power of the action, the literal message can be appreciated with even more respect and awe.
Ten-thousand miles from New Zealand and Maori territory, in the Cameroons in West Africa, there is another very interesting divinatory method that is likewise related to an innocuous natural material that I am frankly terrified by: the west African earth spider! West Africa is home to varied and vast mythological lore, rich divination traditions, and of course vibrant cultural identity that is uniquely related to the land, or bush, of the African continent. While Ifa divination dominates the psychic field in Cotes du Ivoire and Yorubaland, in the Cameroons there is a specific tradition of allowing a spider to be the being who manipulates the divinatory oracle (in this case a deck of cards made from imprinting patterns on leaves), bestowing the process of interpretation to the diviner-shaman.
Heebie-jeebies aside, the spider is an especially interesting character in West Africa mythology known as Anansi. A trickster figure who's antics are often the root cause of various natural phenomena (such as why the lizard nods his head or how the world was formed), Anansi is a critical figure in the spirituality and ecology of West Africa. Here is a great example of how the natural world is imbued with divinity and thereby provides humanity with an access point to the transcendent. However, transcendent is not exactly the right way to think about the world view of African spirituality. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be that the spider is the access point for the divine to become manifest, incarnate, in the natural world and therefore accessible to the other inhabitants of the earthly realm, namely, humans. Philip Peek explains that "Among a number of peoples in Cameroon, the ground-dwelling spider is the main agent of divination primarily because it lives near the ancestors in the earth." Spider divination in West Africa is a unique, albeit unsavory for some people, method of divination which combines the deep wisdom of mythological lore with the nuts and bolts of the physical world. In Cameroon, people would never kill a spider because of the creature's special relationship to ancestral wisdom and wisdom of the future. Yet another example of how divination can influence environmental sustainability and ecological stewardship, even for the smallest of the small.