Thursday, September 22, 2011

Divination in a secular age

The other day I was noodling on the net and came across a blog post by a well-respected colleague. This individual was commenting on the difference between a predictive approach to divination versus a more philosophical approach. In concrete terms any reader or intuitive counselor will recognize this in the 2 different types of clients that we experience--there is one type of client who wants a nuts to bolts description of what will happen next in their lives as opposed to the client who wants an overarching reading that will most likely give them insight into their spiritual gifts and/or purpose. The former is the predictive case and the latter the philosophical (or probably in more correct terminology, the metaphysical). I have read similar articles in the past stating the same dichotomy and experienced how from this dichotomy springs another idea which is gaining currency--that working with an oracular system (whether its tarot, runes, tea leaves or what have you) for the purposes of prediction is "low" or less-than while working with the same system for meditative or contemplative purposes is "high" and the mark of an enlightened soul. So. This is wrong. But let's talk about why its wrong.

There are 2 issues at hand--the first is that the split between a predictive approach to divination and a metaphysical approach to divination rests on a false dichotomy. The greater spiritual questions are essential to correct prediction and correct prediction touches upon the greater spiritual questions. The false dichotomy comes out of the enlightenment period of history and the subsequent age of secularism that the enlightenment ushered in. Divination is one of the oldest arts and professions. One need look no further than the ancient texts that both encourage and prohibit certain forms of divination to understand that it has been around, in one form or another for a long, long, time. And of course it has! One of the most fundamental questions that we humans ask is…what's next? What will happen if…What will happen if I don't…voila the need for divination and diviners is born!

Because divination is such an ancient art we know it was practiced when our sense of the world and our place in the world was a different animal than it is now. Please note: I do not actually think much changes about our experiences-but I do think that our perception and explanation of why we experience what we do has changed, and not necessarily for the better always. To continue, I often explain to my students and clients that when we work with my preferred system of divination-the tarot--we need to place ourselves in what I refer to, somewhat incorrectly, as a "middle-age" mind set. Tarot cards have been documented as arriving in Europe in the early 1400's--although I and many other readers suspect the cards were worked with much earlier but unless my client is a history scholar (of which I do have a few!) they mostly know what I am talking about. I am using the example of tarot here because it is the system of divination that I work with, but the same thing applies to any system of divination that has ancient roots as well as the general art of divination itself. When I ask a client to enter the medieval mind set I am asking them to envision a world where the day is bracketed by rituals celebrating what is divine, unseen, and mysterious. We can say a lot of negative things about this period of history-the social and economic structures, the role of women and minorities, etc, etc, BUT one thing that the pre-Enlightenment folks had over us moderns hands down is a deep sense of the sacred. This sense was communal and participated in by the greater community. Belief in things that cannot be seen and touched-only felt or intuited did not mark you out as insane or weird or woo-woo-it was something that you most likely shared with your friends and neighbors. The sense of the sacred-of God, of the Divine was a part of daily life. A sense of wonder at the mystery of nature and the world was ingrained in individuals. So it is with any system of divination. For you see, divination is a system, as well as an art, and like all art and systems it does rest on certain presuppositions. For instance, if you are a fatalist it doesn't really make sense for you to have your cards read as the whole point of divination is to learn what is most likely to happen--and then if need be, take actions to encourage or stop certain events from taking place to the best of your ability. And among these presuppositions is the belief that our daily lives, thoughts, actions, and behaviors are touched and influenced in every possible way by our sense of the sacred, the world and our place in it, the questions that really matter--in short, our philosophy. Wonder-at ourselves, at the grandness of the word, the greatness of the Divine, the mystery of it all--undergirded our sense of philosophy until the Enlightenment. Now, don't get me wrong--we needed the Enlightenment to happen. It brought us physics, the scientific method, vaccines, and all kinds of goodies that make modern life possible. BUT one thing that gave way in the onslaught of this new approach to wisdom was that sense of wonder. No more would nature hide her secrets from us-brave and strong men were going to come, ravish her, and empty her skirts of any remaining mysteries.  (Thats not a fancy analogy by the way-that is Sir Francis Bacon, the father of the Enlightenment who says it more elegantly: "My only earthly wish is... to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man's dominion over the universe to their promised bounds... nature will be bound into service, hounded in her wanderings and put on the rack and tortured for her secrets.")

Yes--its the knowledge that in some way led to the machine that I am typing this on right now-yet there was a price, and it was steep. We can see it in many areas but the area I am interested in is divination. As we lost our sense of wonder and the sacred we also started to buy into the false dichotomy I mentioned earlier and a schism grew between the art of prediction and an individual's philosophy. And so we have today the situation of clients and readers who think of these aspects as separate in the best case and at odds with one another in the worst case. In theory philosophy is for the academy and divination is for woo-woo mystics or wannabes. In practice, as any reader knows, its much more complicated and people from ALL walks of life seek divination now just as they always have. And any truly useful+insightful divination is going to place prediction and philosophy in relationship to one another--because what you think about yourself and the world around you influences the direction your life goes in today as it always has. Or to put it more plainly--whether or not you and your boyfriend are going to take it to the next level has everything to do with "big questions" like how you think about yourself, commitment, relationships, faithfulness, honesty, and hard work. If we want answers we gotta delve into your philosophy--its the way that we get clarity! I was talking to my husband about this idea this morning and he reminded me that the same principle can be seen in the Chinese character of the Tao (which of course translates to Way or in some translations "way-making" to capture the progressive sense of the idea). Originally this character was understood to be an eye with legs--because you have to both see (understand) where you are headed and have the practical ability to go there. That is what we strive for in divination-as client or reader-you shouldn't settle for less.

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