“All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.” — Max Planck, theoretical physicist and father of quantum mechanics
In metaphysical terms, Planck’s last sentence is entirely consistent with the first tenet of esoteric philosophy: “The ALL is MIND; the Universe is Mental.” The Kybalion, that great Hermetic treatise first published in 1912, goes on to say “This principle explains the true nature of ‘Energy,’ ‘Power’ and ‘Matter’ and why and how all these are subordinate to the Mastery of the Mind. Modern science has proven that all we call Matter and Energy are but ‘modes of vibratory motion,’ and some of the more advanced scientists are rapidly moving toward the positions of the occultists who hold that the phenomena of Mind are likewise modes of vibration or motion. Science teaches that Light, Heat, Magnetism and Electricity are but forms of vibratory motion connected in some way with, and probably emanating from, the Ether. Science does not as yet attempt to explain the nature of the phenomena known as Cohesion, which is the principle of Molecular Attraction; nor Chemical Affinity, which is the principle of Atomic Attraction; nor Gravitation (the greatest mystery of the three), which is the principle of attraction by which every particle or mass of Matter is bound to every other particle or mass.”
All of these arcane precepts (some of which have been surpassed by more recent scientific thinking, e.g. particle physics and the debunking of the “luminiferous aether” by Einstein and others) are prefatory to my point that the Universe (or, if you prefer, “Cosmic Consciousness”) vibrates at an attenuated mental and ethical “octave,” free from any sense of moral obligation to those it harbors, and doesn’t really have a vested interest in our personal welfare. There is a commonly-held assumption among practitioners of the mystic arts that the spiritual objectives of the Cosmos are driven by some kind of uncritical and unconditional “love” of humanity that pervades every level of existence as an all-embracing, benign compassion. All we have to do is open ourselves to it without reservation and align our hearts with what we are offered; it will permeate us with a torrent of merciful good will, making everything right with the world.
Beyond the religious patriarchs who obviously bank on this same naive optimism in their congregations, matching that vibratory pulse seems to be the holy grail of matchmakers and self-help gurus, whether in finding one’s “twin flame” (formerly called “soulmate”) or wishing one’s way into health, wealth and happiness (e.g. Law of Attraction). I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told “I don’t need to know how divination works, its source is benevolent energy that anyone can tap into and obtain guidance.” The unspoken corollary is that we will invariably receive encouraging input that can be turned to positive ends (or, to truncate a Benjamin Franklin quote, “God loves us and wants us to be happy”). To that I say “Yeah, right, show me the money.” I’m more partial to the “box of chocolates” theory of Forrest Gump.
I sometimes wonder how those of us who embrace divination — especially those for whom “faith” is not the normal mode of approach to all things spiritual — reconcile what we believe to be true about our pursuits and what we’re able to confirm as truth. The gap between what we believe — what we must believe if we are to take ourselves seriously and aspire to deliver more than “entertainment value” — and the hard evidence of our effectiveness is usually glossed over. Accuracy of the anecdotal (informal) type is as far as many of us go since the scientific method of fact-checking has made few inroads into the realm of non-statistical prognostication, at least at the social level where most of us operate. (Efforts by self-proclaimed impartial researchers — whom I suspect are really “stealth debunkers” — have been scarce of late.) The rise of on-line reading has complicated the picture because feedback, if it occurs at all, is frequently not instantaneous. So we strive to “feel good” about our pronouncements and want our sitters to “feel good” about their experience, which can lead to claiming a success rate that is weakly substantiated at best and imaginary at worst. If the querent leaves happy, “all is right with the world.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer that there is much more to the Universe than what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch, even if I don’t accept that it’s a graciously forgiving arbiter of our foibles. But I’m not persuaded that most divination as practiced today does more than scratch the surface of what is knowable in more than a speculative way by the human mind. I like to say that the ultimate state of the divinatory arts is to mature into a reliable form of mental physics or “mentation” that we don’t yet have the ability to measure or quantify, much as surmised in The Kybalion. Predictive astrology, with its long history of verifiable data, is farther along the path to credibility (scientifically described as “repeatability”) than the more purely internal means of prediction, whether or not augmented by tools such as cards, crystals, pendulums and the like. Although my case file is still rather slender, I can claim a confirmed success rate of better than 70% when using horary astrology to find lost items; as astrological writer John Frawley says in The Horary Textbook, a lost item either is where the chart says it is, or it isn’t — there is zero ambiguity and the results of the divination are incontestable
My divinatory interests beyond the tarot are generally more literal in nature. Tarot, because it has been swept up in the psychological groundswell of Jungian character analysis that overwhelmed astrology in the ’70s, can be more susceptible to anecdotal fuzziness than other systems. Consequently, those of us who think critically about such things resort to what I call “weasel words:” language that imparts a sense of probability rather than certainty to our readings. For example, when I encounter high-risk cards in a spread, rather than saying “You will be run over by a bus on Saturday,” I will suggest “Be careful where you walk when you go downtown next week-end.” Some of the most-used (and potentially over-used) terms and phrases are “suggests, implies, indicates, seems like, makes me think, could mean,” and other indefinite expressions of relative likelihood. On the other hand, Lenormand cards have a less fluid interpretive range that does not lend itself to the same kind of squishy psychological “binning,” and they therefore afford a much more concrete perspective on almost any situation. This assumes, of course, that the question is asked in a particular rather than generally inclusive manner. As you can probably guess, Lenormand has become my system of choice for most cartomantic purposes.
There is no question that I love and trust the tarot cards, but I do so with my eyes wide open and my “bullshit detector” set to a low threshold. As John Houseman might have said had he been a fortune-teller and not a spokesman for Smith Barney: “We make our credibility the old-fashioned way. We earn it.” Sloppy approximations, especially of the vague “feel good” sort, are of no use to anybody unless the goal is self-hypnosis. (I can hear Law of Attraction fans grumbling.) Equally dubious are mind-reading forays into the intentions of another person, which may unjustifiably raise or dash a sitter’s hopes with little basis in reality. Professionalism demands a more solid footing in the domain of reason than intuitive guesswork supported by anecdotal evidence can provide.
I generally prefer decks that hand out unvarnished truth rather than affirmative pleasantries (which excludes many oracle decks, and especially “angel cards”). The Thoth is the granddaddy of them all in that regard, and each of its various clones is no slouch either. For example, unlike the ambivalent 8 of Cups in the Waite-Smith deck, the gloomy Thoth version reeks of apathy and is in fact titled “Indolence,” with an appropriately morbid vista. Lenrormand decks, by their very nature, have no such compunction; they aren’t afraid to call “a spade a spade,” or more accurately, “a club a club” in light of their meanest suit.
There is a modern tendency to seek the best in every negative situation, no matter how unlikely its appearance. Granted that the goal is to empower our clients and not dismay or discourage them, there is something to be said in favor of a sober warning delivered in time to be of help in heading off calamity. It doesn’t benefit our sitter to hype the inspiring post-disaster “rebuilding” potential of the Tower when the collapse of the structure is still looming on the horizon. “It’s all good” is weak encouragement when our client is looking for a “magic bullet.” My impression is that the psychological tidal wave that swamped all manner of divination beginning in the 1970s pretty much neutered any “balls” the old-time prognosticators may have bequeathed us. Of course, it didn’t help our cause that astrologer Alan Leo was convicted of “fortune telling,” casting a pall on all such divinatory pursuits and spawning a bumper-crop of “for entertainment only” ordinances.
Shortly after I returned to professional practice a few years ago, I had a client who sat down at the table and said briskly “Don’t tell me any bad stuff!” I assured her that even the less agreeable insights that may arise in a tarot reading can be worked with creatively and constructively to produce useful guidance, even if they may not be entirely avoidable. Fortunately for both of us, her cards were instructive but not at all dire. Since that time, I’ve been intrigued by the wide gulf that seems to exist between those readers who choose to speak the unvarnished truth, no matter how unpalatable, and those who always try to find inspiration for personal growth in even the worst scenario. Say “Good day” to the first group and they will grumble “What’s good about it?” while the second will respond cheerfully “Well, at least it isn’t raining.” Another good analogy is the “glass-half-empty/glass-half-full” dichotomy.
I’m of the opinion that serious seekers submit to a reading because they want help in understanding their circumstances, hopefully of the kind that will aid them in making a decision or charting a course of action. Setting aside those who are idly curious, anyone who goes to the trouble of searching for a competent reader is looking for more than a kick in the teeth from the Universe (even if the reading seems to show that’s what they deserve at the time). Telling them “Your life is crap right now and in the foreseeable future, and you just have to suck it up” may be entirely justified, but it doesn’t do anything to stimulate finding a path through the wreckage. While I’m not in the business of “soft-peddling” an ugly wart on the face of my clients’ private reality, I’m not going to rub their noses in it either, since I see no point in adding insult to injury.
That’s not to say I will mince words when the message appears to have some urgency, but as the Wicked Witch of the West observed when trying to remove the Ruby Slippers in The Wizard of Oz, “These things must be done DEL-i-cately!” When that proverbial bus is scheduled to come ‘round the corner on Saturday, I will advise my sitter to watch their step and cross the street with care. The bus will still be there at the appointed time, but its intended target doesn’t have to be in the line of fire. A near miss is better than a road-kill, and it might even teach a valuable lesson. Any method of divination that attempts to shed light on future events is much like a metaphysical weather forecast; you don’t necessarily have to cancel the garden party, but you might want to take precautions like renting a party tent.
Life goes on, and the best use of our gifts is to assist our sitters in making the most of it with their eyes wide open. However, while empathy in dealing with their dilemmas is a noble thing, bending over backwards to make them “feel good” is quite another. It’s both a disservice and in some cases an outright lie to withhold unpleasant details that make themselves known in no uncertain terms. If the cards are shouting at me, I don’t try to throttle them down to a whisper, although I will deliver their message in the most sensitive and supportive way possible. I’m not Glinda, the kindly Witch of the East, I just read the cards and, even if I believe that its much-touted affinity for us is just a gravitational accident after all, I think the Universe is on my side.