African Guidance from Cowrie Shells
Adapted from The Book of African Divination, by Raymond Buckland and Kathleen Binger (Inner Traditions, 1992).
simple form of guidance has been practiced for millennia by the Yoruba
people living along the coastal areas of West Africa. The system uses
sixteen cowrie shells--oval-shaped shells available in many craft shops
or found in inexpensive jewelry at places like the Dollar Store.
Find out how these shells can help you to answer yes-or-no questions, here:
shells have two sides. One is flat and smooth with a narrow serrated
opening. This side is known as the “mouth.” The other side is rounded
but has been broken with a sharp, pointed object to leave a larger
opening. This side is known as the “eye.” Your yes or no answer depends
on the number of mouths you get, according to the chart below.
Draw a circle on the ground in front of you or on a piece of cloth or paper placed on the table.
sixteen prepared cowrie shells and hold them in your hands. Shake them
in your hands while you focus on the yes or no question you wish to
have answered. Now allow the shells to fall over the circle.
only the shells that fall within the circle, see how many “mouth” sides
fell facing upward. If you get 0 to 9 mouths, simply consult the chart
below. If you get ten or more mouths, you will need to total those
digits. For example, 15 mouths would be 1 plus 5 = 6. Find the
corresponding number below for your answer.
Freedom, spirit, creation, take charge now
Partnership, unity, uncontrolled energy, need for diplomacy
Frustration, caution, learning for happiness, hard work
4 Not Yet
Opportunities, talents, expansion, be with others
5 Yes, but use caution
Power to create or destroy, think before doing
6 Not yet
Sacrifices, compromises, caring, inner strength, victory
7 Yes, but use caution
Victory, love, women, uneasy relationships, intuition
8 Not yet
Learn to plan and communicate, think carefully
Very emotional, stressed out, need time to think, births
Delay necessary, absolutely no
you are dealing with a reduced number (the 15 that makes 1 plus 5 = 6,
for example), it is a “stronger” form than a single simple number. It
therefore gives more of a challenge, or is more strongly positive or
negative. Here is an example: in a question about love life, a simple 7
would indicate victory in love with somewhat uneasy relationships, but
16 reducing to 7 would indicate that a victory might well be hard won,
with some challenges along the way. In either case, the person involved
should listen to her or his inner voice