Scrying is one of the most informative – if not least understood – methods of divination. When most people hear the word, they picture a woman waving her hands over a crystal ball, conjuring up images as vividly as a TV screen.
In reality, scrying is much more versatile and less spectacular. While some experienced diviners are able to see images the way you would on a screen, most capture snippets and snatches of colors, shapes, or symbols that they must then interpret.
What is Scrying?
Scrying is way to obtain hidden information by looking into an object or field. This can be an unchanging object, like a crystal ball, mirror, or pool of water, or a shifting object, like smoke, flame, or clouds. The diviner either watches for the emergence of symbols in the object, or triggers an altered state that begins to produce images.
After the diviner sees these symbols, they then interpret them as they relate to their original question.
How Does Scrying Work?
Scrying works in a few different ways. In methods like smoke scrying, the diviner watches the behavior of candle, bonfire, or incense smoke for signs. These signs can be the shape of the smoke, how it billows, if the source crackles or pops, the color of the smoke, or the direction in which it drifts.
While they take more subjective interpretation than, say, a tarot reading, these signs can yield a lot of information to an experienced diviner.
In methods like crystal, mirror, or water scrying, the diviner uses the plain, uniform appearance of the scrying object to cause an altered mental state. If you’ve ever had to stare at a flat wall or ceiling for a long time, and experienced your vision darkening at the edges, you’ve felt the beginnings of this.
As your brain begins to realize that it isn’t receiving any visual input, it starts to divert its resources away from your eyes.
As a result, your vision changes — it darkens, and you may begin seeing shapes, flashes of color, or even images. This is called the Ganzfeld effect, and occurs as your brain increases its sensitivity to internal and external stimuli as a response to a lack of visual input.
When an experienced diviner enters this state with intention, this heightened sensitivity allows them to get information from the ether. The answer to their question then arises in the form of the images they see.
Crystal ball scrying is divination using a crystal ball. The diviner places the crystal ball on a flat surface roughly a foot in front of them, and watches it with an unmoving, relax gaze until the Ganzfeld effect sets in.
At this point, shapes, colors and images appear in the depths of the crystal. For this reason, clear crystal balls without internal flaws or inclusions are particularly prized.
Famous mathematician, astronomer, alchemist, astrologer, and court advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee, used a crystal ball that’s now housed in The British Museum.
Interestingly, though crystal balls are stereotypically clear quartz, historical balls were cut and polished from a variety of minerals. Today, they may be made of clear crystal, obsidian, leaded crystal, or even glass.
Water scrying uses a bowl of water as the divinatory focus. Like crystal ball scrying, the diviner places their bowl of water on a surface roughly a foot in front of them, positioned so it doesn’t reflect objects in the room.
After focusing on the surface of the water for a time, the Ganzfeld effect sets in, allowing the diviner the heightened sensitivity to see images in the surface.
For more information on Water Scrying, check out our article Water Scrying: How Water Divination Works.
Mirror scrying works just like water scrying, only the diviner uses a mirror in lieu of a bowl of water.
Not just any mirror will do — scrying mirrors are typically black in color, made of either painted glass, or a dark, uniform material like obsidian.
For more information on Mirror Scrying, check out our article Mirror Scrying: How Mirror Divination Works.
Mind scrying relies on a trancelike, semi-meditative state. The diviner relaxes with their eyes closed, looking into the darkness of their own mind. They may experience the Ganzfeld effect, watching images play out across the dark field of their eyelids.
They may also hear sounds, or experience other sensations. All of these are interpreted together to yield an answer to the diviner’s question.
Fire scrying operates a bit differently from the above methods. Instead of the images arising in the diviner’s mind’s eye, the diviner reads the flames themselves.
These can be from a large bonfire, a small candle, or anything in between. The diviner might establish a sort of “code” with their divinatory fire — asking it to flicker left for a “no,” and right for a “yes,” for example.
This scrying method is often employed by witches during candle spells. The way the flame rises, falls, flickers, or appears to dance can tell the witch a lot about the energies impacting their spell, and how likely it is to have the intended effect.
For more information on Fire Divination, check out our article Pyromancy: How Fire Divination Works.
Smoke scrying uses the rising smoke from incense or fire for divinatory purposes. As in fire scrying, the diviner asks a question and then watches the smoke to see how it behaves. The speed, shape, direction, and color of the smoke all offer clues for the diviner to interpret.
Any source of smoke can be used for smoke scrying, but most diviners have some preferred herbs, incenses, and methods.
Some may change their medium based on the question they’re asked — burning rose petals for a question about love, for example — while others stick to divinatory herbs like mugwort.
Have you ever watched for shapes in the clouds? If so, you were almost cloud scrying.
In this method, the diviner asks a question, then looks to the sky. As the clouds shift and change, symbols and images emerge.
The diviner interprets these as they relate to their original question. A heart shape may be a positive omen for love, for example, while a dog may indicate loyalty.
This is a great method for beginners because it’s relaxing, doesn’t require an altered state of consciousness, and needs no special tools.
Oil scrying goes back as far as ancient Babylon. In ancient texts, oil scrying could refer to a number of different practices.
In some, the diviners used oil (or a combination of oil and soot) to anoint a surface, making it reflective and turning it into a temporary scrying mirror.
The diviner could also fill a dish with oil, or use it to coat a cup or bowl. This coating would make the vessel reflect light, and the diviner would interpret the resulting patterns.
Getting Started With Scrying
No matter which method you choose to use, your biggest scrying assets are a strong mind’s eye and solid observational skills.
Start by practicing first — close your eyes and picture a shape (a red ball for example), then see if you can hold that image in front of you as you open your eyes. Try making the color and shape change. Interact with the imaginary object. The more real you can make it feel and look to you, the better quality images you’ll be able to experience while scrying.
Observation is equally important. There may be subtle signs that are easy to miss, in something as small as the crackle of a wick or the shifting of a cloud.
When you first attempt scrying, keep a journal of everything you experience. If possible, do this as you scry so you don’t forget anything. If this isn’t possible, consider recording a stream-of-consciousness narration of what you’re seeing. The more detail, the better.
When you feel ready for your first scrying session, you can start. You’ll need:
- A safe, quiet place.
- Your preferred scrying method.
- Any divinatory incense, candles, crystals, or other tools you wish to use.
Begin by preparing your space. Make sure there’s a comfortable place for you to sit and observe your scrying tool. Cleanse the space according to your tradition, and place any necessary protective wards.
Many diviners prefer to cast a circle around their scrying space, in order to keep out any unwanted energies or influences.
When you and your space are ready, sit down in your designated spot with your scrying tool in front of you. If you’re fire or smoke scrying, begin to watch the way the flames or smoke move. Don’t fix your eyes in one spot — move as much as you need to.
If you’re water, mirror, or crystal scrying, watch your scrying surface with an alert, but relaxed gaze. Don’t stare hard, as this can make your eyes water. Just naturally allow your gaze to rest and your eyes to relax, half-lidded.
Ask a question. You can do this out loud, or simply by keeping the question held in your mind as you scry.
After some time, patterns, colors, and shapes may emerge. If you’re using a moving object, you may notice changes in its size or intensity that indicate positive or negative omens. It might pop or crackle to give an affirmative response, or flicker away for a negative. If you’re using a still object, you may start to see mist, colors, or scenes play out.
When the session is over, express your gratitude for the answers you’ve received. Write down everything you saw, heard, and felt. Interpret these signs for an answer to your question. Open the protective circle, if necessary, and place your scrying tools in a safe, respectful place.
Ever since humans have had questions that needed answering, they’ve looked to divination for information. Scrying is one of the most ancient divination methods, and by far the most detailed and versatile. Like any other skill, it takes time and effort to perfect.
Dedicate yourself to learning one scrying method, and stick with it as long as you can — you’ll develop a deep appreciation and robust skillset for uncovering hidden knowledge.