Victorian Divination and Tales of Horror by Jon O’Bergh


What do crystal balls, funeral parlors, haunted houses, and tarot cards have in common? The classic imagery we associate with these things comes to us courtesy of the Victorians. The people of that era were fascinated with the occult. Victorians threw Halloween parties at which they played divination games. Crystal ball gazing was a favorite pastime. Spiritualism—a religious belief that the living could communicate with spirits in the afterlife—arose and flourished between 1840 and the 1920s.

To celebrate the Victorian passion for divination, Horror Addicts recently published an anthology titled Dark Divinations, featuring stories by fourteen authors (including myself). It’s the height of Queen Victoria’s rule. Fog swirls in the gas-lit streets, while in the parlor, hands are linked. Pale and expectant faces gaze upon a woman, her eyes closed and shoulders slumped. The medium speaks, her tone hollow and inhuman. The séance has begun.

The anthology explores fourteen frightening tales of Victorian horror, each centered around a method of divination. Can the reading of tea leaves influence the future? Can dreams keep a soldier from death in the Crimea? Can a pocket watch foretell a deadly family curse? From entrail reading and fortune-telling machines to prophetic spiders and voodoo spells, sometimes the future is better-left unknown.

My own story, “The Bell,” concerns a man who awakens to find himself buried in a coffin. He has spent his life as a physical medium, exaggerating (and sometimes faking) his innate but humble abilities—communicating with spirits, performing feats of telekinesis, and foretelling the future. Now he must use his powers to find a way out of the coffin before it’s too late.

The story was inspired by tales of real-life characters such as Daniel Dunglas Home and the Victorian practice of burying bodies with “coffin bells.”

For a journey back to Victorian times, check out Dark Divinations, available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions.

About Jon O’Bergh: Jon O’Bergh is an author and musician who loves a good scare. He has published four books, including the horror novel The Shatter Point, and released over a dozen albums in a variety of styles. Several short stories appear in magazines and anthologies. After many years of living in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., he now spends his time with his husband in Toronto. You can find out more about him at

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