Sand paintings are essential to the Navaho healing ceremonies, which are done today in the traditional way of long ago. The medicine man creates one or more paintings with coloured sand on the ground. He may set others to help work on the designs because their complexity often requires many hours of labour. The sand pictures, properly called "dry paintings," are often elaborate and always symbolic. The patient must sit within the main sand painting during the long ceremony, which in some cases can last for several days4. At the very beginning of the ritual cure, some of the sand from painting is rubbed on the sick person's body. This is done to draw the spirits' attention directly to the patient and his or her illness.
People who are fascinated by numbers, as thousands are, may be inclined to choose the centuries-old system of reading dominoes to tell them of happenings to come. In the Western way of reading dominoes, all blanks are removed, and the remainder spread faced down on a table. All ones refer to finance, twos to social affairs, threes to romance, fours to finance, fives to work, and sixes to good luck. Using their left hand alternately draw three pieces each. The two numbers on each domino are read together. A six and a one for example, means a fortunate voyage; and a double four, a large windfall. The two pieces that no one wants to draw are the three-one, which foretells bad news, and the four-two, a sign that a disappointment is due. The Eastern method of reading dominoes is somewhat more complicated. It employs the full domino set , and has 27 different and fuller meanings. It is thought to be unlucky to consult the dominoes more than once every seven days.
Reading pictures from the fire, or pyromancy, is the most personal of all the many different forms of divination. The formations of the coals project such different pictures and images to each person that it becomes impossible to tell any fortune but your own. To get the best results from the flames - and the clearest pictures - it is necessary to have a lively, roaring fire. This can be produced by throwing salt or sugar onto coals that may have burned down. Settled before the fire, you start by gazing into the flames for five minutes or so. If during this scene setting a piece of coal should leap out of the grate and land at your feet, the next 12 months will bring good luck and happiness. The pictures do not necessarily have to be of shoes (which foretell of good news coming reasonably soon), or hatchets (meaning that disaster looms ahead), or anything as distinctive as that. Large circles or rings indicate a happy marriage, and double rings a hasty marriage that may fail. A shape like a three-leafed clover denotes greatest prosperity, well-being, and success.
Another common household implement that has long been a tool for telling fortunes is the mirror, the use of which goes back to the Iron Age. The so-called "magic of the mirror" was known both to the early Chinese sages and to the wise men and prophets of Greece, all of whom considered it an omen of death to dream of seeing your own reflection in water, copper, glass or any other shiny surface. Extending this to waking hours, it was felt that gazing at one's reflection in water was forbidden by the "spirits of the lake." These spirits would, in fact, drag the gazer's soul down into the depths, and leave the physical body to die on the bank. The threat of a watery grave if one defied the water spirits was carried over as a threat if one gazed at oneself too much in any reflecting surface. Yet men and women defied the threat in the early practice of hydromancy, divination by water. They read their future fate by peering at their reflection in water. If the image was clear and remained undisturbed, it was an omen of serene and hopeful days to come. If the image was broken or got ruffled, it foretold of trouble - and perhaps even death. The idea of seeing into the future by studying reflections was transferred to the use of mirrors. Health matters could be foretold by the mirrors, and it was not uncommon for them to be used to show the whereabouts of missing treasures of people, and the fate of nobles, leaders, and kings. In Europe in the Middle Ages, mirrors were used as a positive deterrent against wickedness, being said to protect their owners from the baleful influence of the Evil Eye. Among the Chinese of former times, small mirrors were placed about the house to frighten off evil spirits, which were thought to be terrified at the sight of their own reflections. For the young girls of old, however, mirrors had a more romantic and optimistic purpose: they were employed to reveal at what moment in the future love would come.
Another example of the shaman's power became part of American Indian folklore in 1811. Tecumseh, the chief medicine man of the Shawnees, was greatly displeased when some 5000 Creeks refused to join his campaign to stem the US government's conquest of Indian lands. "You do not believe the Great Spirit has sent me. You shall know," he is quoted as saying. "I shall stamp my foot and the earth will tremble." This prophecy was realised two months later. On December 16, 1811, Tecumseh stamped his foot - and the first three shocks tore through some 50,000 square miles of territory, including where the offending Creeks lived. Indians called it "the greatest earthquake in the history of man." It has been cited as an awesome example of the power of the shaman - who can not only foresee the future but, in some cases, make it come about through what magic no one else knows.