It may surprise you to see an admission of skepticism in a post by the author of a divination blog, but anyone who follows me knows that I have no shortage of inflammatory opinions on the more socially fashionable oracular topics. In fact I’m doubtful about the legitimacy of much that currently passes for truth in the metaphysical scripture of the unseen. For example, I’m a non-believer in the “Law of Attraction,” which as far as I can tell is merely a glitzy retread of the ideas of Franz Mesmer by way of the New Thought movement, filtered through the lens of Norman Vincent Peale (in other words, a stale and previously discredited concept tarted up with a fresh coat of paint). I just don’t think the Universe works that way, although there are plenty of people who are willing to pay a lot of money for the privilege of finding out that it doesn’t.
Similarly, psychic pretensions can readily degenerate into self-delusion, in which the psychic, rather than talking to the “dearly departed” or to an angel or a deity, is holding a conversation with his or her own “shadow” side or engaging in a dialogue with one of the less savory forms of dissociated consciousness (assuming, that is, they aren’t simply working a scam). The “lucky number” form of numerology leaves me cold, as does any method of fortune-telling that purports to deliver a high degree of accuracy with no evidence other than the claims of its practitioners. In contrast, consider the art of finding lost items with horary astrology, about which astrologer John Frawley says “When locating a lost object, we must be exactly right. Explaining to your client, ‘You almost found it,’ is unlikely to impress.” Either the item is where the chart says it is, or it isn’t; there is no middle ground for creative maneuvering. The proof is in the finding, as it should be, whereas aiming to sway potential sitters with fluffy testimonials rather than proven ability is just so much posturing.
What we’re about isn’t a science, it’s “looking through a glass darkly,” and if we’re able to spot emerging trends or probabilities in the lives of our clients with some verifiable degree of certainty, I think we’ve accomplished our mission. If we can give them details that are useful and practical to work with going forward, so much the better. The sad thing is that, unless we have an ongoing personal or professional relationship with our clients, we so seldom receive any kind of post-reading confirmation of the validity of our observations. Our sitters may walk away feeling “empowered” by our input and actually accomplish something remarkable, but how often do we get feedback on whether our insights actually paralleled anything occurring in their lives?
This unfortunate situation is enough to make me rethink my aversion to psychological profiling with the tarot, since its vague generalities are so universal that they can mean almost anything to — or about — anyone (to steal a phrase from Captain Beefheart, it’s “safe as milk”). Maybe I should just stick with handling comfortable questions like “Is that good-looking guy at work thinking about me?” (“The cards say YES!” — or maybe “Yeah, he’s thinking how much he dislikes you”), rather than trying to answer “What are my chances of getting that new job I so desperately want?” I can walk away from the first case without feeling any kind of emotional investment in the outcome, while the second one moves me to work hard at sifting through the possibilities. But I don’t think I could live with myself if I always took the easy way out; I may be a cynic about human nature, but I’m not made of stone.
Where there is doubt, there is room for growth, and I’m not prepared to dismiss any mode of divination out-of-hand that has even a glimmer of honest inquiry about it (which excludes anything that looks like a shameless money grab). If the goal is to give clients the right ammunition to more accurately hit their target (or, conversely, the armor or strategic agility to avoid being nailed by said target in return), count me in. All I require is the time and energy to learn the ropes. But — and it’s a big “but” — mastering even one technique to the point that it demonstrates consistent reliability can be a lifetime proposition. I’m still working on my tarot and Lenormand chops after 48 years, and probably always will be. I like to say I learn something new almost every time I do a reading, and that’s not far from the truth. Hopefully my sitters do too whenever they receive one.
I’ve long believed that the Age of Enlightenment (aka the Age of Reason) that arose out of Renaissance “humanism” between the 17th and early 19th Centuries did more damage to the credibility of divination than any other philosophical and cultural development short of religious fundamentalism, leading as it did to modern scientific materialism and its denial of the existence of anything that can’t be detected by the five senses (the pinnacle of hubris, as I see it). As a thinking person and serious student of the occult, I’m unwilling to dismiss something out-of-hand simply because I can’t see, hear, smell, touch or taste it. Visible effects without apparent causes fall into the broad category of unexplained phenomena that presently remain outside the reach of the scientific method. Attempts to “prove” them empirically have failed simply because the cause-and-effect metrics and the (perhaps psychosomatic) devices to record and analyze their mechanics are still too crude, inevitably yielding prima facie repudiation.
I recently encountered the comment — it may have been in the Enrique Enriquez documentary Tarology — that divination is fundamentally an irrational act, relying as it does on assumptions that do not proceed directly from observable and measurable facts (although it ideally produces them when a prediction is accurately resolved). I have no real quarrel with this opinion (actually, I prefer the term “extra-rational”), although I do think that our frame-of-reference has been skewed and clouded by narrow-minded rationalism to the point that we as a species can’t admit that there may be more to reality than we can literally “put a finger on.” I once characterized my response to this lamentable situation as “the Hamlet Defense,” alluding to his admonishment of Horatio on the nature of “heaven and earth.” (I should add that religion is viewed as similarly indefensible by the materialists.)
On that last point I must side with the metaphysical naysayers, not that I deny the presence of an overarching (or, if you prefer, immanent) spiritual realm but that I reject what has been done to the concept by religious orthodoxy, itself an attempt to filter and denature direct mystical experience in order to make it easily (that is, unthinkingly) digestible by the trusting but credulous masses — in other words, a form of populist mind-control. In a broader sense, I personally believe that the art of divination isn’t rooted in the purported “Divine” at all, but rather in a kind of subtle and pervasive “mental matrix” or attenuated, psychogenic energy field of which both the Collective Unconscious and the personal subconscious partake (in fact, one of the principal tenets of Hermeticism is “The Universe is Mental”). In addition to harboring the Collective Unconscious, this numinous data-source has variously been called the Astral Plane, the Akashic Record, Plato’s “soul of eternity” or anima mundi, racial memory and the “hive mind,” among other things, and the diviner’s skills and tools are intended to tap into it. Our main challenge as practitioners is that our “sixth sense” may not be developed to the point that we can reliably discern truth from illusion in our contacts with the supernatural.
There is a cliche that “the cards are always right but the diviner may not have the wisdom or sensitivity to read them correctly.” However, I’m not convinced that the cards aren’t as vulnerable to picking up dubious hints from the “cosmic memory-bank” as the diviner is to misinterpreting them. (What, “heresy,” you say?) I realize that such skepticism comes down to hair-splitting, but it’s the key deterrent to making statements of an unequivocal nature when offering predictions. This speaks to the other platitude that strikes me as an inarguable truism: “Nothing is carved in stone.” This caveat applies not only to the querent’s handling of the information received, but equally to the diviner’s formulation of it. It’s not so much a matter of downplaying the assumed infallibility of our pronouncements, but rather of embracing the humility to accept that we may be imperfect conduits for that which passes through us. “Reader’s bias” is always a risk when we let our own opinions and experiences intrude into the sitter’s private communion with the cards, complicating rather than clarifying the communication as we try to translate it for them. If we “just read the cards” instead of trying to provide context-specific advice or counsel for what we see, that liability can be minimized. In addition, this is why I always operate under the strategy of “dialogue, not monologue;” the sitter is more subconsciously aware of his or her personal reality than we as readers can ever hope to be, and just needs to be encouraged and empowered to share it during the reading.
For a thorough explanation of the “root of all evil” as it pertains to the decline of the diviner’s art (although it never mentions esoteric pursuits), here is an excellent wiki article on the Age of Enlightenment: