The Oracle of Kwan Yin

The root of ‘divination’ is in the divine. Once upon a time, in the ancient world, it was not unusual to find divinatory services offered at temples and shrines. In other words, to put it plainly, you could expect to find some sort of fortune-teller within those sacred premises. Many journeyed to shrines to pay tribute to the resident sacred being, but also to receive advice and have their fortunes told. Oracles provide the voice of the divine.

The most famous example is, of course, the Oracle of Delphi. Although Delphi’s temple precinct was dedicated at various times to Gaia, Apollo, and Dionysus, regardless of which deity was currently in residence, the shrine was consistently served by oracular priestesses, the Pythonesses. Oracles were also offered at shrines dedicated to Hermes, Ceres, Daphne, and Ammon, among many, many others. Such sacred oracles are not relegated to the past nor are they lost and forgotten. This tradition remains vital and accessible in temples and saints’ shrines throughout East Asia, most especially those dedicated to Kwan Yin.

Kwan Yin (her name is spelled in many ways including Kuan Yin, Quan Yin, Quan Am, and Kannon) ranks among the most beloved of all sacred beings. Depending on perspective, she may be considered a goddess, a bodhisattva, a saint, or any combination of those categories. Some perceive Kwan Yin to be an emanation or somehow otherwise linked to Mary, Isis, or the Shekhina. Adored by Buddhists, Taoists, goddess-devotees, and Neo-Pagans, just to name a few, shrines and temples dedicated to Kwan Yin are found throughout East Asia and wherever Chinese people have traveled or settled. (A list of some of her most sacred sites may be found in my book, The Encyclopedia of Mystics, Saints, and Sages.)

Kwan Yin offers protection against all harm, whether physical or spiritual. She rescues people from danger on every plane of existence, Earthly realms and hell realms alike, as well as any shamanic or spiritual dimension where you may find yourself. If you can get there, so can she. Kwan Yin heals illness, bestows fertility, and dispels demons. Kwan Yin has the power to change the course of fate. She also gives good advice and is believed to speak through the oracle named in her honor.

The Oracle of Kwan Yin, also known as Kwan Yin’s Book of Divination, is a centuries-old Chinese oracular system, based on one-hundred short poems attributed to the goddess. In other words, legend says that Kwan Yin herself composed these poems, although historians disagree. Each poem is numbered. The Oracle of Kwan Yin bears some resemblance to a more famous Chinese divinatory system, the I-Ching or Book of Changes. As opposed to the I-Ching’s hexagrams, however, the Oracle of Kwan Yin—-essentially the voice of the goddess– is delivered via those one-hundred quatrains (four line poems, with seven characters per line in the original Chinese). Kwan Yin has powerful associations with the moon and each poem is also associated with a lunar phase, although these are frequently omitted in published translations. A very traditional oracle, Kwan Yin’s Book of Divination is mysterious and sometimes oblique. Answers may or may not be very explicit—-meditation may be required in order to grasp the oracle’s full meaning.

The poems have been gathered into books that are frequently found within Kwan Yin temples. English language versions are available. Translations and interpretations vary greatly, so it is worth looking at different books to determine which you find most resonant. The Oracle of Kwan Yin is now also found on-line and as an app for your phone.

How do you know which poem illuminates your destiny? The traditional method of discovering the applicable poem is via the Sticks of Fate (Chien Tung): long, thin, wooden slats–traditionally, but not exclusively, bamboo– that are tipped with red on one end and numbered on the other. They look a little like long fireplace matches. Like fireplace matches, these long sticks are sold and stored in tube-shaped containers. They are typically marketed under the name of Chinese Fortune Sticks or something similar. Warning: the Sticks of Fate are not always sold in sets of one-hundred. Packs containing approximately sixty or seventy sticks are more common. These may be suitable for games or other systems of divination, but one-hundred sticks are required for full utilization of the Kwan Yin Oracle, one numbered stick per numbered poem. If you seek sticks specifically for this oracle, make sure to double-check quantity prior to purchasing. A functional, if inelegant, set of 100 Sticks of Fate is easily constructed from Popsicle sticks, if necessary, but you will also need an appropriate container.

The tube-like container, once created from hollow bamboo shafts, is part of the divination process.
1. Hold the tube in your hands
2. Focus intently on your query or whisper it into the container
3. If desired, offer a prayer to Kwan Yin or request her guidance and assistance
4. Shake the container gently, until at least one stick falls out.
5. The number on this stick indicates the poem that serves as your oracle.

The Oracle of Kwan Yin is frequently offered within or just outside Buddhist or Taoist shrines. Fortune tellers may be on hand to offer interpretations. However, over the centuries, the Oracle of Kwan Yin has also been adapted for individual or home use. Different methods for accessing the oracle exist. Some are complex and require special ritual tools, like moon blocks to confirm the oracle’s meaning. Alternatively, the system may be simplified, eliminating the sticks and simply thinking of a number from 1-100, although this is not recommended if you access the Oracle on a regular basis. There is a tendency to consistently choose your favorite number, especially if you know from previous experience that it’s linked to an auspicious poem and thus a lucky fortune. If sticks are unavailable or prove frustrating, number one-hundred small squares of paper that can be then drawn from a box or hat.

• Information on divination as well as many home oracles may be found in the Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells.
• Information on Kwan Yin, Daphne, Ammon, the Oracle of Delphi and its various resident deities may be found in the Encyclopedia of Spirits.
• Information about Kwan Yin and other saints of Asia associated with divination may be found in the Encyclopedia of Mystics, Saints, and Sages.