Friday Lore Post: Soothsaying

Soothsaying is often considered to be one of the most important longstanding Enjoni cultural traditions. Unlike itinerant shamans who travel around attempting to commune with the gods to pass their messages onto people, or temple-bound caretakers who are tasked with overseeing ritual observances and festivals dedicated to the different gods, soothsayers have no responsibilities to anyone but the ordinary people who come to them for advice and aid.

The soothsayer is generally understood as one who has the ability to see the future. In different parts of Enjon and in different time periods the mechanism by which this is possible is different; some believe it to be a gift from the gods, some an innate ability that some humans have. In some regions soothsaying is considered hereditary and in some it is a taught skill passed from a master to an apprentice. In modern Yassar, soothsayers are identified from birth and raised to the life, but in most of Enjon, it is a career one discovers an aptitude for in adolescence.

The vast majority of soothsaying is not supernaturally empowered. Soothsayers read omens and signs and interpret them for ordinary people to tell them the truth. This truth isn’t always necessarily about the future, though many people come to soothsayers for such advice, but is often about the present. Soothsayers have been known to have input on whether or not people should get married, what they should name their child, what career they should pursue, and so on.

Most often, the answers to these questions are determined through reading omens. Many soothsayers use a series of stones that are thrown or placed on a table, and they then interpret the patterns of the stones to give advice. In many places, ink is blotted onto a paper and read, or an offering will be burned and omens determined in the ashes. The specific mechanism by which signs are determined tends to vary regionally, but all soothsayers use some form of omen reading to help give advice to the people who come seeking their counsel.

Oracular power is (correctly) said to be strengthened by mild inebriation and sexual energy. Soothsayers typically will use some mind-altering substance, generally an inhalable drug, to induce the correct frame of mind for intuiting the future. The potency of this substance will vary from person to person, with some soothsayers preferring only very mild inebriation and some taking powerful hallucinogenics before every reading. It is commonly accepted that soothsayers require sexual favours to strengthen their powers and though not all soothsayers will ask this of the people who come to see them, many will at the very least masturbate while reading omens. Performing sexual favours for a soothsayer is almost as common as paying to see one, and is generally considered part of the cost of getting advice and wisdom.

It is thought that the adjacency of soothsaying and sexual activity is the reason why soothsayers traditionally practice in the nude, wearing only a ritual cloak and body paint in spiritual patterns, as well as some jewellery made from bones, but in fact this traditional garb stems from an old tradition in which a soothsayer was expected to kill a large animal and spend a night in the woods wearing nothing but the animal’s remains, which they would also read omens from. This tradition fell out of favour many centuries ago when soothsayers got tired of freezing to death in the woods, but the traditional garb remained.

Soothsaying is a typically human profession; mystics and fortune tellers exist in werewolf cultures as well, but the way they go about their mysticism tends to be different, as werewolf mystics tend to commune directly with their gods, which soothsayers do not. That said, it is not uncommon for human soothsayers and certain werewolf mystics to interact, as they often have more in common with each other than they do with non-mystical members of their own communities. Because human soothsayers also give practical advice and tell the future in ways that werewolf mystics often don’t, it is also not uncommon for werewolves to occasionally consult a human soothsayer for advice about something mundane instead of a mystic.

Though soothsayers are understood as people who can see the future, and though most people with oracular talent in Enjon do end up as soothsayers, the vast majority of soothsayers are not oracles in truth. They use a combination of compassion and common sense to predict the future of the people they help, and frequently let those people help themselves, as most soothsayers learn quite quickly that the majority of people who come to them looking for answers already know the answer and are only looking to have it confirmed. It is also for this reason that soothsayers prefer to give advice about the present or the near future rather than the distant future, as they prefer to stick to thinks they can talk about with some accuracy.

Some soothsayers can see the future, of course, and these have been known to provide more accurate readings of omens and visions of the future through use of their powers. These soothsayers are generally aware that their oracular powers are not entirely linked to the reading of omens through stones or ashes, but continue to use these anyway as an aid, and because it’s what people expect. Soothsayers who just sit there and recite the future are harder to trust in the short term, and the relationship between a soothsayer and the people they are helping is based entirely on trust.

Even in soothsayers without oracular or magical power, spirit communication is a possible if uncommon facet of their powers. Many soothsayers use mild mind-altering drugs as part of their practice, which renders a person more susceptible to spirit interference. Spirits have been known to temporarily possess or speak through soothsayers, often delivering nonsense messages about things that only they care about. The interpretation of these messages falls on the soothsayer, who may or may not have any memory of the event.

Because most soothsayers do not have oracular powers and because those who do not tend to act as though they do (and often themselves believe that they do) because it is a hallmark of their profession, soothsaying is sometimes seen as an easy thing to do for con artists who want to take advantage of people and earn some quick money. This rarely works out in the long term, as a good soothsayer gives good advice, and a soothsayer who gives bad advice will get a bad reputation and people won’t go to see them.

A soothsayer who has practiced long enough will become a mainstay of their community and will know and be known by most members of the community, which of course makes their work easier in that they know what people are likely to ask of them, and harder in that they are more likely to feel responsible for the decisions their community members make. Most soothsayers also double as folk healers, knowledgeable about herb lore and able to dispense basic first aid and make basic medicines for sick people who would rather not seek out a doctor.

In smaller communities, a local soothsayer will have a powerful voice in local politics, and depending on the place and the government, maybe be heeded over and above more official leadership. It is not unheard of for a soothsayer to be involved in the deposition of an unfit leader, and it is very common for a soothsayer to be involved in the selection of a new leader. Soothsayers are prohibited from themselves seeking a formal leadership position, but it is very common to a local soothsayer affiliated with a local government—or standing in complete opposition to it and serving as a voice against the total authority of the government. Many soothsayers in the colonized parts of Enjon and especially Narwhal Junction have begun to be vocal against the Imperial government especially, and are frequently revealed to be behind efforts to mobilize resistance to the Imperial presence. The Imperials have already learned that arresting important community figures like soothsayers is not a good way to engender positive feelings from the locals, and often have to act less officially to quell these movements.

Though there are now quiet Imperial efforts to stamp the practice out, soothsaying is an important Enjoni tradition that isn’t likely going anywhere anytime soon. The services soothsayers provide simply aren’t provided by anyone else and are therefore irreplaceable to most people, and soothsaying has started to be seen as a traditional anchor that must be kept around in the face of rising Imperial power. Whether or not it will stay anchored in Enjoni society or if the Imperials will be successful in rooting it out remains to be seen.

From “The Definitive Atlas of the World, Vol. 2: Peoples and Cultures,” by Pascal Tiberius Naoton Quimbell Haeverine anNatalie, published in White Cape in DN 1997.

4 thoughts on “Friday Lore Post: Soothsaying

  1. So Mads isn’t nearly as bad a soothsayer as he thinks he is: the vast majority of them do exactly what he does.

    Was his brother an oracle, or was he just really good at the non-supernatural side of soothsaying?


    1. Yes! He’s actually quite good compared to a lot of soothsayers–he has the trust of the people and he does generally try to help them, even if he thinks he’s conning them. In many ways, he’s more honest than a lot of them because he’s very aware that he has no powers and that he’s only pretending to.

      Morten claimed to have had real powers and most people accepted that he did. It’s impossible to know if he actually did, but he did frequently have foreknowledge of events and claimed to have dreams that told him the future. 😀



  2. Sounds kind of like how Tarot readings are often used. It’s not that the cards control or reveal the future, but that their symbolism can be a useful lens through which to consider one’s situation.


    1. It’s very similar to that! Mads said himself in the opening of his story that the stones don’t do anything, they just give a bunch of pictures that let people interpret what’s happening to them with a new perspective. He phrased it a little more negatively than that, but that’s all that’s going on. 😀



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