Book Review – Secrets of Chinese Divination: A Beginner’s Guide to 11 Oracle Systems by Sasha Fenton

April, 2018

Review of Sasha Fenton’s Secrets of Chinese divination: A Beginner’s Guide to 11 Oracle Systems

As readers of this column know, I have been a fan of Sasha Fenton’s for years so it was with great delight that I opened this new (to me) book about Chinese divination.

Just under an inch in thickness, this richly colored volume is filled with the wisdom of the ages. As Fenton explains in the first chapter, there are links between the various divinations – they share common ideas, such as the “root concepts” of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements (page 2). In addition to this, many of the major divination systems cross-reference each other in many ways. As I read the book, I would become confused and have to refer back to this or that chapter and refresh my memory – sometimes I would have to skip ahead to some other chapter to find some other reference! But as the Buddha said: “Confusion is good!”

The first divination system Fenton covers is the Ming Shu or what we know as Chinese Astrology. If you are aware that you are born in the year of the Horse or the year of the Rabbit, then you know a little about this complicated system. And it is complicated! If it was just a question of the year you were born and whether you were born in a Yang (Active) Year or Yin (Receptive) Year and the Element of your year – that would be enough. For instance, I was born in 1960 – that makes me an Active Metal Rat. In general, Rats are intelligent, tenacious, artistic and they hate to be rushed – much like the Taurus sign under which I am also born. A Metal Rat is “idealistic, deeply emotional, clever with money…they suffer from jealousy and envy.” (page 16) She continues to explore the influences of the elements. Metal Rat women are “very demanding. They pursue the man they fancy, and the guy must toe the line or suffer the consequences.” (page 52). And how!

Fenton says there are ways to forecast with Chinese Astrology, but again, it’s a different concept than how it’s done in the West. There are “Active” years, “Harmonious” years, and “Difficult” years, and these depend on the element of your sign as opposed to your animal. So as a Metal person, I am active in Metal year. My harmonious years are Earth and Waters years. Alas! This year, 2018, is a difficult year – it is a wood year! Fire years are also difficult for Metal people. But I would imagine that going through fire would make metal stronger, wouldn’t it? Like molten steel?

This chapter is filled with charts and lists, all designed to help the beginner diviner become adept at drawing up a horoscope for her- or himself or for anyone. If you take your time and read carefully, any confusion you may have will soon be gone.

The next chapter is about Face Reading. This was quite interesting. I liked the concept of the “Three Zones” of the face, as well as the “Thirteen Divisions”.

Each zone and each division of the face has a name and a meaning – as well as the eyes, the nose, the jaw, the ears, the forehead – every part of the face! I have admit, though – as I was reading this chapter – it seemed to me that much of the information here was medical in nature. The meaning of moles and brown spots on the skin and yellow eyes and so on. But – in the East as in the West – the witches in any village were the original doctors, so this makes sense. You’d find divination was often just medical advice.

Chapter Five is about Feng Shui, which I personally never thought was about divination. But if you want to create harmony and balance so that you are able to properly meditate and use your divinatory gifts, Feng Shui is all-important. One thing I read that I hadn’t heard before was: “a straight path that leads directly to the front door is simply asking for bad spirits to zoom in.” I had never thought of that before. This is not an issue where I now live but if it is an issue where you live, Fenton suggests breaking up the path with some tubs of plants that tumble over the path – anything that breaks up the straight line. (page 80).

The next chapter is about Hand Reading. Fenton reports that the Chinese categorize types of hands by element. Apparently, they also link it to the I-Ching, as seen by this diagram:

In her explanation of each section of the hand, she links back to Western hand interpretation but that really doesn’t make much sense to the reader, unless they’re already acquainted with Western Palmistry. Looking at the diagrams of both systems, I personally think the Chinese system is much simpler and easier to use.

Quite naturally, a chapter about the I-Ching follows the chapter about Hand Reading. I have written about the I-Ching before – it is one of my favorite methods of divination and I use it quite often. I throw pennies, as opposed to yarrow sticks (I always have pennies on hand). I like the simplicity of her explanations of the trigrams – I think I will be using this book as a reference the next time I throw the I-Ching.

Next comes a chapter called the Lunar Oracle. I am not sure at all if this is any use at all. But at the end she mentions that the Lunar Oracle “seems to show particularly strong links to the Tarot” although she personally “would opt for ancient Egypt” as the source of the Tarot (page 151). I have to add my own two cents – given the names of the days of the Oracle – they could easily be an influence for the Lenormand as well!

Chapter Nine is entitled Mah Jong Reading. As someone who has played numerous games of “Mah Jong Solitaire” on my I-Phone, I was instantly curious to know how Mah Jong could be used in a divinatory fashion. But of course – the tiles have suits, just like cards, and those suits have meaning. There are also “Honors” tiles – Winds, corresponding to the four directions, and Dragons, also four in number – and the Guardians – Flowers and Seasons – also four apiece. Like the Tarot, you think of a question as you shuffled the tiles and then you pick out thirteen tiles. You place them into a spread:

Naturally, each direction has a meaning and which tiles land on which direction determines the outcome of the reading.

This is really interesting and I am definitely going to look for a Mah Jong set so I can actually do a reading and report back to all of you about this.

The next divinatory system she reviews is called The Four Pillars of Destiny and she admits that it is so complicated that she didn’t think she could “only get it across in person” but she included it in the book because a book about Chinese divination wouldn’t be complete without it. (pages 169-70). I read through this chapter and I have to admit that it made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. I knew what the basic concepts were about but that was IT. It made me think of that first day in calculus and opening up the text book and seeing all those numbers and letters and symbols and knowing that I knew what they were – because I’d had algebra and trig – but beyond that, I was lost. The Four Pillars of Destiny are just like that.

Lo Shu is a numerology system based on the magic square. It’s also known as the Nine Star Ki but apparently that name is Japanese.

Like so many of the Chinese divinatory systems, this looks easy at first but then it opens up into a roomful of mirrors and suddenly – it’s all confusion. I have to say – this chapter – like the Mah Jong chapter – deserves a posting all of its own. I am going to definitely look into finding out more about this system of divination. Just for my own edification! But of course – whatever I find out, I will share with you!

Weighing the Bones is something completely different. I am not even sure where the name comes from. It has nothing to do with bones or weight. You have to look up your date of birth – year, month, day and time – on a series of charts and then add up the corresponding numbers. Mine all added up to a “3” which meant “A life a hard work and much travel” (page 219). Well – I can’t argue with that!

The last chapter is called The Chien Tung: Yarrow Stick divination and I always thought that yarrow sticks were used for the I-Ching – you used yarrow sticks or you used coins. But although Fenton concedes that yarrow sticks are used in I-Ching divination, she says she would “like to take yarrow stick divination into a unique direction” – she suggests connecting Yarrow Stick divination and the Tarot. For this, of course, you have to have seventy-eight sticks, numbered 1 to 78, each one meaning a card of the Tarot. There’s a chart for the correspondences:

Personally, I think this is a stretch. Ok – on one hand, I admit it’s cool, connecting the two divinatory systems – but on the other hand, the whole point of Tarot cards are the pictures on the cards. What are you supposed to do here – imagine the picture? Or just be so adept at the Tarot that you just know the concept when you draw the yarrow stick or sticks? Honestly – it really doesn’t make all that much sense to me. But to each their own!

At the very end of the book, there is a glossary.

All in all, I think Secrets of Chinese divination: a Beginner’s Guide to 11 Ancient Oracle Systems is a very fine book and I am glad to own it. I plan to use it quite often and I guarantee you that some of the topics reviewed here today we will be revisiting in the near future!

Until next month, happy divining! Brightest Blessings!

Click Image for Amazon Information


Fenton, Sasha. Secrets of Chinese divination: A Beginner’s Guide to 11 Ancient Oracle Systems. Charlottesville, Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc., 2003, 2018.


About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

Notes from the Apothecary

July, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Yarrow




One of my favourite wild plants, yarrow is found right across North America, Europe and even as far east as China. The feathery leaves give way to clusters of beautiful, tiny flowers that are loved by bees and other pollinators. Most commonly they are cream or white, but there are many coloured varieties too, including some incredible bright red species that are currently adorning my local park.

The plant’s formal name is achillea millefolium. The first part refers to the association with Achilles, who was taught by the centaur Chiron to use the herb to staunch the bleeding of his soldiers. The second part refers to the thousands of tiny leaves which make up each soft, green arm of the plant.

The Kitchen Garden

Eat The Weeds tells us that the leaves can be enjoyed in salads, cooked as a vegetable and added to soups and stews. A tea made from leaves or flowers of yarrow is refreshing and has a unique, pleasant fragrance, as well as having some medicinal benefits which we will look at later. Apparently, the plant can also be used in beer brewing, which is something I would love to experiment with! Here is a recipe for a beer which includes yarrow, however be cautious with any recipes you find online. For example, with this particular one, I would leave out the wormwood, as wormwood can cause convulsions and kidney failure. Be cautious with the ground ivy mentioned too, as it contains an oil which is an abortifacient. It’s important to know about your herbs (and who you might be giving them to!) before you start cooking and brewing with them.

The Apothecary

The first century botanist, Pedanius Dioscorides, described yarrow in his Materia Medica as being “excellent for an excessive discharge of blood, old and new ulcers, and for fistulas [ulcers].” This connection with staunching blood is repeated in many tomes, and throughout mythology and folklore. Culpeper concurs that it is ‘an healing herb for wounds’ but also states it can cause a nosebleed if taken like snuff… as most things can!



There is much more detailed information in the reliable Mrs Grieve’s Modern herbal, which tells us first and foremost some of the astonishing common names for achillea: Old Man’s Pepper, Nose Bleed, Bad Man’s Plaything, Sanguinary and Devil’s Nettle, to name but a few. Mrs Grieve tells us that the whole plant may be used, but other sources say only the parts above ground.

Grieve covers other attributes including the herb being a diaphoretic, astringent, tonic, stimulant and mild aromatic. She notes that the tea of the plant is good for colds and fevers, and a decoction of the whole plant may be helpful with bleeding piles. The plant is even indicated for reducing baldness!

The plant is also widely used in Native American medicine. The Zuni chew the flowers and roots, and apply the juice prior to fire-walking, presumably to reduce or prevent burns. The Navajo people use yarrow for toothache and earache, while the Cherokee use it to aid sleep.

The Lab

A 2014 study indicated that achillea may be effective at delaying the onset and severity of auto-immune diseases. However, this was only indicated in mice, and no human testing has been completed as far as I am aware.

The Witch’s Kitchen



The Chinese form of divination, I Ching, is often thought of as a toss of three coins, but traditionally the hexagrams were (and still are) formed by tossing yarrow stalks. The practitioner would ideally pick their own yarrow, close to their home or a place special to them, as this makes the ch’i of the plant more in tune with the practitioner. Even if you don’t feel that Eastern philosophies particularly align with your path, it’s useful to note the association with divination and prophecy.

The association with divination is noted in older herbals, such as the aforementioned Mrs Grieve’s, and she also notes an association with ‘The Devil’ which, with more enlightened minds, we can translate as an association with the supernatural and the magical.

These two spells appear in her herbal:

“…there is a curious mode of divination with its serrated leaf, with which the inside of the nose is tickled while the following lines are spoken. If the operation causes the nose to bleed, it is a certain omen of success:

‘Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow,

If my love love me, my nose will bleed now.’

An ounce of Yarrow sewed up in flannel and placed under the pillow before going to bed, having repeated the following words, brought a vision of the future husband or wife:

‘Thou pretty herb of Venus’ tree,

Thy true name it is Yarrow;

Now who my bosom friend must be,

Pray tell thou me to-morrow.’

—(Halliwell’s Popular Rhymes)”

A piece of Scottish folklore holds that pressing the leaves to your eyes would give you second sight, yet another indication of the plant’s prophetic powers.

In some parts of Ireland, yarrow is thought to be protective against the fair folk, however in other parts the plant is said to be loved by them. I guess it’s worth remembering that all the fae are different with their own likes and dislikes! I always loved Terry Pratchett’s image of the elves riding yarrow stalks like broomsticks. Like the elf, the plant is delicate looking and beautiful, yet actually very strong and full of mysterious power.

Home and Hearth

Strew yarrow stalks or flowers around the threshold of your home or sacred place for protection. Sweep the surfaces of your altar with yarrow leaves to ritually cleanse and imbue your space with magic. Place yarrow at the eastern corner of your altar or sacred space to represent the element of air, through its aroma and pale colour. Fragrant plants such as yarrow can even replace incense if you like.

Place a sprig of yarrow blossom under your pillow before sleep, and write down any dreams you have. You may be surprised how many of them are related to events which occur over the coming days!

I Never Knew…

The Anglo-Saxons made amulets out of yarrow to protect against, amongst other things, robbers and dogs.

All images via Wikimedia Commons.




Mabh Savage is a Pagan author and musician, as well as a freelance journalist. She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft. Follow Mabh on Twitter, Facebook and her blog.


Musings From the Mossy Trail

June, 2012

Yarrow: For Health, Love and Wisdom

To bring to me my true loves’ name

To heal my wounds and ease my pain

For courage and protection spells

Divining rights at ancient wells

For all this favor I beseech,

Tis’ yarrow’s powers that I seek


Yarrow, a perennial herb, has lovely fernlike foliage containing soft wisps of hair- type follicles. It flowers from mid-summer to autumn, displaying clusters of white, yellow, lilac or deep burgundy petals resembling tiny daisies.

A prolific plant, yarrow has the ability to spread underground shoots as well as seed itself, often leaving some gardeners to consider it a weed. If one is willing to spend a little time controlling its spread, when planted in conjunction with other herbs, yarrow actually increases the essential oil content of those herbs, while enhancing their growth and health in general.


History –

Having discovered fossils of yarrow pollen along with other herbs in Neanderthal burial caves, Archeologists have linked yarrow with the human race some 60,000 years ago. From ancient Roman wars to the American Civil war, yarrow is documented as having been used in healing wounds and preventing inflammation.  In first century A.D, the Greek Physician Dioscorides smeared yarrow on ulcers to prevent inflammation.  Herbalist John Gerard (1545 – 1611), recommended it for “swelling of those secret parts”, and Nicholas Culpeper, a 17th century British herbalist, used it for healing wounds, inflammation and bleeding. Yarrow was prescribed often enough to be included in the US Pharmacopoeia from 1836 – 1882, and was still in the Pharmacopoeias of Austria, Hungary, Poland and Switzerland in 1982.


Harvest and Uses –

It is best to harvest yarrow early in the day after the dew has dried. Gather stems when flower heads have just opened and are in full bloom and then hang upside down to dry. Once dried, the flower heads can be added to sachets for love, courage, communication and psychic ability among many other things.


  1. Medical


  • Yarrow tea is excellent to treat a cold and cleanse the urinary system. It can be made by using one ounce of dried leaves to one pint of boiling water


  • It is also said that drinking yarrow tea can remedy the blues and restlessness, especially during menopause


  • Fresh leaves can be chewed to relieve toothaches.
  • In India, yarrow was put into medicated steam baths for fever; and the Chippewa used it very similarly for headache
  1. Cosmetics
  • Yarrow is wonderful when used for cleansing and as an astringent. Use 1 cup dried flower heads to two cups boiling water. Let steep 10 minutes covered. Pat onto the skin with a clean cloth.


  1. Divination


  • The ancient forecasting of the Chinese I Ching was originally performed using yarrow stems


  • Yarrow tea (see recipe above) can also be drunk prior to divination, and to help the mind focus on a specific issue or to avoid distractions


  • Rubbing your eyelids with yarrow is said to enhance your psychic abilities


  • Yarrow can be used in incense or oil to cleanse the aura and for divination, as it is very useful for psychic communication


  1. Magical Lore
  • Placed under a doormat, yarrow can deter unwanted callers
  • When strewn across a threshold, it will keep out evil and protect against hexes
  • Hang a bunch of yarrow over the bed on the wedding night to ensure lasting love for seven years.  Adding it to the bouquet or garlands worn by the bride or groom has the same effect.
  • Saxons packed yarrow into their amulets for protection against all manner of ills


  • Yarrow has long been associated with witches, hence sometimes called Devil’s Nettle, Devil’s plaything and bad man’s plaything


  • When sewn up into pillows, it will give the dreamer a vision of their true love


  • Make leaves into a smudge stick to cleanse negativity from your home


  1. Spells


  • Wish Spell – The very first blooming yarrow you see is magical. Hold the bloom in one hand and make a wish. That night sleep with the plant beneath your pillow.


  • Fertility Spell – Basil boughs over the bed are a Middle Eastern recommendation to promote fertility. European magical tradition suggests hanging boughs of fresh yarrow over the bed to enhance romance, sex and conception. Hedge your bets by weaving garlands of both basil and yarrow, and hang them over your bed. A really super charged version adds mistletoe and mugwort too


  • Happy Home Spell – Decorate your home with boughs of fresh yarrow to banish sadness and negativity


  • Infants Protection Spell – Tie yarrow to the baby crib to protect from fairies, malevolent magic and negative spirits


  • Bridal Bouquet Spell – Incorporate yarrow into a bridal bouquet for 7 years of happiness


  • Courage spell – Hold yarrow stalk in both hands and focus on your goals and desires to magically stimulate courage and relieve fear


May the gifts of yarrow serve you well in your Summer Solstice celebrations and beyond. Happy Summer!