By Eileen Moyer
University of Amsterdam (formerly University of Iowa)

Fon people, Benin, diviner with client. Photo by Dana Rush.


Throughout the world the intermediary between God and humankind may be known as a ritual specialist, priest, minister, rabbi, shaman, or diviner.  Regardless of the title, the same purpose is served. Acting as the essential link in the chain of communication between the spirit world and the natural world, it is the ritual specialist who offers hope when people have a problem, when disasters befall them, or when they need answers to unanswerable problems. To accomplish this they may use any of hundreds of techniques to open the lines of communication, including prayer, sacrifices, offerings and divination. Divination is often recognized as the first step in problem solving. If someone has a problem, such a child who has become seriously ill, the cause of the illness must be determined before a course of action can be taken.  The cause may be an angry nature or ancestral spirit, or it may be a witch that hopes to maim or kill the child for some as yet unknown reason.  Here a Fon diviner from the Republic of Benin casts divination chains to communicate with the spirit world.