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In Harry Potter we know of at least one form of divination which is real and can make true predictions about the future, namely special prophecies made by true Seers. However, other forms of predicting the future are introduced, specifically the methods of the Centaurs, and the various techniques taught by Professor Trelawney.

Is there any indication in canon or the usual sources (Rowling, Pottermore, etc.) that any of these other forms of telling the future truly work?

The books seem to suggest that Centaurs can, in some instances, with little precision and only after years of training, glean some understanding of the future from the movement of stars. However, it is constantly repeated that such divination is extremely difficult, never precise, and that often even the best will misinterpret or make mistakes. It seems to me that the books never clarify whether the future is truly written in the stars, or if the Centaurs' divination is simply a sort of folk spirituality.

This question is motivated by two specific instances in the books. Firstly, when Harry and Hermione are doing detention with Hagrid in the Forbidden Forest in the first book they run into the centaurs Ronan and Bane. Both comment on the unusual brightness of Mars. Later in book five Firenze explains in one of his lessons that

"In the past decade, the indications have been that wizardkind is living through nothing more than a brief calm between two wars. Mars, bringer of battle, shines brightly above us, suggesting that the fight must soon break out again. How soon, centaurs may attempt to divine by the burning of certain herbs and leaves."

This, as far as I know, is the only instance in the books of a correlation between the Centaurs predictions and actual events.

The second instance comes in book six, around Christmas, when Harry rushes to go to one of Dumbledore's private lessons.

"Harry proceeded through deserted corridors, though he had to step hastily behind a statue when Professor Trelawney appeared around a corner, muttering to herself as she shuffled a pack of dirty-looking playing cards, reading them as she walked. “Two of spades: conflict,” she murmured, as she passed the place where Harry crouched, hidden. “Seven of spades: an ill omen. Ten of spades: violence. Knave of spades: a dark young man, possibly troubled, one who dislikes the questioner —” She stopped dead, right on the other side of Harry’s statue. “Well, that can’t be right,” she said, annoyed, and Harry heard her reshuffling vigorously as she set off again, leaving nothing but a whiff of cooking sherry behind her.

Ever since Harry, Ron, and Hermione first sat in Professor Trelawney's classes the books have made it clear that the various methods Trelawney teaches have no predictive power. Even Dumbledore makes it clear at the end of book three that this is his view when he says to Harry:

"Do you know, Harry, I think she might have been," he said thoughtfully. "Who'd have thought it? That brings her total of real predictions up to two. I should offer her a pay rise...."

So I was very surprised by the passage above. Trelawney seems to be making her usual grave and general predictions: conflict, and ill-omen, and violence. Then she suddenly describes in fair detail and specificity, with perfect accuracy, the scene we are watching as viewers: "A dark young man, possibly troubled, one who dislikes the questioner." All (we are led to believe) from drawing a card!

Sorry about the long question. This has been nagging at me for a while, I'm very curious to see what people think!

  • Welcome to the site. I see at least three questions here. They're all basically asking the same thing, but you should probably edit the sub-questions out so that the main question can be answered properly. – Wad Cheber Sep 10 '15 at 5:10
  • Much better. I hope you find the answer you're looking for! – Wad Cheber Sep 10 '15 at 5:16
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    I don’t know if this counts, but there was once a popular fan theory that Harry and/or Ron had some Seer blood, because all the predictions they made up for homework eventually came true. – alexwlchan Sep 10 '15 at 6:09
  • I know it's not what you're looking for, but Time Turners would work nicely. Technically you'd know very well what is going to happen, and that's not going to change. – Voldemort Sep 10 '15 at 7:13
  • A related question is scifi.stackexchange.com/q/24567/4918 "Was there any example of Centaurs legitimately divinating some true information?" – b_jonas Sep 10 '15 at 12:43
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That depends on what you mean by "work".

Clearly, some predictions come true.

However, there's no canon indication that it was a causal/predictive effect, and not merely a "broken clock being right twice a day" case. E.g. predicting someone leaving class is a fairly safe prediction to make with or without magical talent. So does predicting a misfortune to Harry Potter.

This is really how most real-world tarot readers and other con people work - they make predictions that are (1) vague enough that the client can easily pattern-match to something real happening in the past/future; (2) gifted psychologists telling people what they want to hear. Humans are extremely good at convincing themselves to strengthen pre-existing or desired belief.

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A fan theory explains that Harry nightmares were real predictions except those from his link with Voldemort.

For example, during his third year at Hogwarts, he dreamed that Neville takes his place in the match against Slytherin, and we know two years later that the Trelawney prediction could have referred to Neville, born the same day as Harry.

He also dreamed about Slytherin flying on dragons when he had forgotten his broomstick and during the Goblet of Fire he need his broomstick to face a dragon.

I don’t know if this counts but it's an idea.

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    Harry's nightmares were more literary foreshadowing than in-universe predictions. The Dark Lord and I both discussed this on a different question here, and that was the conclusion that we came to. You might find it interesting. Here's the link: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/156412/… (Is this dream about Quirrell's turban talking to Harry prophetic?) – Bellatrix Apr 18 '17 at 1:45
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Arithmancy, which is using numbers to predict the future, most probably works.

Although we never see Arithmancy used explicitly in the books, we do know from JK Rowling that it's a form of divination:

Stephen Fry:What is Arithmancy?

JK Rowling: Well your guess is as good as mine Stephen. Arithmancy is predicting the future using numbers. I’ve decided there’s a bit of numerology in there as well but how you do it I really don’t know.

Considering it's Hermione's favorite subject, and considering that Hermione hates divination, I think that alone is strong enough circumstantial evidence that Arithmency works.

protected by Community May 9 '17 at 10:48

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