Wednesday, October 30, 2013

To Divine the Divine

This is the last in a series of posts regarding some of the basics of pagan practice. These are slightly tidied-up versions of the handouts I used to give my students during some of the classes I taught, once upon a time, in a prior geologic era. I hope you find them useful. Find all the posts in this series here.

* * * * * * *

What is divination?

Basically, divination is a way of discovering information not normally available to us in our everyday lives.  It is a way of getting in touch with the divine, that which is beyond our normal reach; some people conceptualize this as our higher selves or the ultimate source of all.  The divine, being ‘bigger’ than we are, has access to greater information than we do - information about possible futures, about other people and times.  Thus, if we can access the divine, we can ask for information which we cannot normally obtain on our own.

Under what circumstances might you want to use divination?  Under what circumstances would you be willing to perform a divination for another person?  Under what circumstances would you not be willing?  Do you think divination for self or divination for others is more accurate, and why?

Why do we use divination?

There are a number of different methods of divination.  They vary from culture to culture and age to age, but they have one thing in common - the transformation of randomness into pattern.  In each method, the tools are arranged apparently randomly while the user concentrates on his/her connection to the divine and the question at hand.  Once the tools are arranged, the user focuses on them in a meditative state of mind, concentrating on being open to whatever message the divine might send.  If the divination is successful, the user will discover a meaningful pattern in the arrangement of the tools.  This pattern is then interpreted according to the rules, if any, associated with that particular method of divination.

The explanation of how this works is that the arrangement of the tools is not actually random, just apparently so.  The user opens his/her mind to the divine, allowing information to flow into his/her actions as the tools are arranged.  The user does not purposely arrange the tools in a pattern, but rather attempts to arrange them randomly.  The information flowing from the divine subconsciously alters the user’s actions, integrating pattern where there was none.

Peasant girls using chicken for divination (no kidding). Russian lubok, 19th century.

Could you be a little more specific, please?

Let’s look at some of the more common forms of divination and how they are used.  The first two methods involve interpretations based on a fixed set of rules.  While some use of intuition is allowed, for the most part the interpretations are fixed.

Tarot: This divination tool consists of a deck of cards, usually 56 cards in 4 suits much like our modern playing cards (the Minor Arcana) and another 22 face cards with various archetypal meanings and symbology (the Major Arcana).  The origin of the Tarot deck is unclear.  Some texts trace the Tarot back to Egypt.  Although some of the symbology may have originated there, the cards certainly did not since, although Egyptians made paper, they did not make playing cards.  The Tarot is probably a medieval European invention incorporating beliefs and symbology from the Middle East and Egypt.

To use the Tarot, the person asking the question shuffles the cards (the randomizing part of the divination) and the diviner lays them out in set designs.  The placements of the various cards is interpreted according to a set collection of meanings.  There are versions of Tarot divination using a modern deck of playing cards, without the Major Arcana.  In this case the meanings of the cards match the meanings of the corresponding Minor Arcana cards in the Tarot deck.  There are numerous versions of the classic Tarot deck, each with a different symbol set.  In most cases, the symbols and artwork represent the same archetypes from deck to deck. There are even electronic Tarot programs in which the virtual cards are displayed on the computer screen. Presumably, the forces of the divine or higher self influence the random generator within the software to provide meaningful card spreads.

Originally, Tarot cards incorporated a great deal of Judeo-Christian symbology. In recent years many decks have come onto the market that center around pagan or non-Christian symbol sets. Though anyone can learn to read Tarot with any deck, it is helpful to choose a deck whose symbology feels comfortable to you and fits with your worldview. For instance, I am in the process of creating a Minoan-themed Tarot deck to accompany Ariadne's Thread.

Runes: Originating in Scandinavia and Germany, runes are a form of alphabet used to write magical content and inscriptions.  Each symbol also carries deeper meanings associated with its sound and shape.  To divine with runes, the user holds them in his/her hands while concentrating on the subject in question.  Then he or she casts the runes, scattering them on a flat surface (the randomization part of the divination).  The meaning of the divination is interpreted according to the placement of the runes: which ones are adjacent or on top of each other, which ones are turned upside down, and so forth.  Each version of runes (there are at least 5 known alphabets) has its own set of rules for interpretation.

The set of runes I made for myself from hazel wood

Interpretation of the following divination methods involves the intuition and impressions of the user rather than a set of rules for interpretation.

Scrying: In this method of divination, the user employs a reflective or random surface (water, a mirror, flames, the end grain of wood) as a focal point.  Focusing his or her gaze on the surface, the user concentrates on the subject in question.  There is no active randomization on the part of the user since the tool itself provides a random image.  As the user gazes at the focal point, the random pattern may resolve into a specific image or series of images which can then be interpreted in terms of the subject of the divination.  Can you think of any more tools for scrying besides the ones I have listed? How about smoke or clouds? What else?

Rorschach method: The reading of tea leaves, entrails, birds in flight and other such divination methods rely on the impression of the user to interpret the sight.  In the case of tea leaves and entrails, the user provides the randomization him or herself.  This is similar to the Druidic method of picking up a handful of stones and casting them down again, then reading the pattern.  In the case of natural formations - flocks of birds, schools of fish - nature provides the randomization and it is up to the user to interpret what is presented.

Why might you choose a divination method with set rules of interpretation?  Why might you choose an intuitive method?  Would you phrase your question differently for different methods?

What other methods of divination have you used or heard of? How about crystal ball gazing or I Ching? If you had to make up your own divination method rather than use one of the above, how would you do it?

What are the effects of divination?

We most often use divination to see into the future, to discover what might be.  This raises a set of philosophical questions.  Is the future set?  Is there only one path or are there many possibilities?  If there is only one path, then divination allows us to see our fate but not to change it.  If there are many possible paths, then divination allows us to see them and choose among them.  What are the implications of this question in terms of free will and fate?  Do you think there is one best or right path for each person or does that change over time?

If you believe we can change the path of the future, then what criteria would you use to determine any changes?  Does the end justify the means, or the other way around?  What are the karmic implications of changing your path, since everything you do affects those around you?  Exactly who are you responsible for and at what level?

In addition to discovering possible future paths, all divination methods can be used as focuses for meditation and reflection. This type of contemplation, while focusing on a particular life situation, allows us to access deeper levels of our own intuition as well as higher self and the divine. It can offer greater insight into current circumstances and allow us to clarify our own desires, fears and biases. It can show us how we got to the place we are currently in, and thus offer opportunities for improvement as we move forward. I find this use of divination tools to be far more profound than simple see-the-probable-future divination.