(SIDE NOTE: This is in place of a Divination Journal today)
I don’t divine. Even though I have taught others divination techniques and written about their use and possible method of operation I haven’t tried to use any divination technique for over 15 years. Why? Well not because I don’t believe it works anymore! In fact quite the opposite – it is because I do believe that it is possible to divine the future that I do not do it.
This reluctance is part of my general reluctance to use Magic at all, and yes I do see divination as operating in generally the same arena that Magic operates. The same questions we need to ask before working Magic need to be asked before divination:
- Do we fully understand the situation? Generally we are asked to look into the future for somebody because they wish to know the outcome of a current situation of to see if a particular desire or fear will happen. Do we understand why they are asking well enough to know how the knowledge will impact them?
- Is divination the right tool? Even if we were to divine the future, is doing so the right or best response to the question? It might be much better to suggest relationship counselling to solve the current issues.
- Do we understand the possible outcomes of performing the divination? Even with a great deal of thought our interference may well have unforeseen consequences.
All of these questions parallel the sort of questions we ask, or at least should be asking, when we plan a Magical working.
However with divination there are a couple of other issues that we need to consider. These questions have to do with the fact that what we are doing with divination is working not just with the present but with the future and past. Our future and past.
When we divine the future we do so in the hope that we can profit from the knowledge. This involves, in some part, changing the future. If the answer we get from the divination indicates that something unpleasant is going to happen then quite naturally we will work to try and either avoid the event or mitigate the impact. Even if we don’t actively try to change things the very fact that we do have this knowledge will impact on our behaviour thereby changing the future to a lesser or greater extent.
If the future is malleable, and we will see that potentially this is the case, rather than static and preordained then in gaining knowledge of the future we need to ask not only whether we understand the consequences of the actions we take to change this situation, just like in Magical working, but do we understand the consequences of even having that knowledge? But how can knowing something change what is and what is going to be? Surly if we don’t act on that knowledge then no damage can happen? Well having that knowledge will impact on our decisions whether or not we want it to. That knowledge will tune our subconscious and therefore our intuition and decision making.
Additionally prophecies tend to become self-fulfilling. If you believe that you are going to have good luck then you will tend to. This has been shown to be true even in scientifically tested situations. It is thought that believing that you are lucky makes you more likely to take chances and have a positive outlook.
Equally believing that things will be bad for you tends to produce a negative outlook on life and subsequently things then tend to go wrong.
Even believing that you have knowledge of the future can have a massive impact so imagine what impact having the knowledge for real – and if divination is real then that’s the case – will have.
But surely changing the future isn’t a problem? After all every time we make a decision the future changes, it moves in one direction or another based on our choices. So what is the problem with divination and acting on the information it gives? Well time has been compared in the past to a river, flowing from the past to the future with eddies, rapids and periods of smooth calm flow. The general direction of the flow is stable, maybe changing slowly in response to major events, just as a river changes its course due to a rock fall, but even then the general direction is usually unchanged, just a small diversion.
However with divination we are taking information from the future and using it to affect the present and hence the future itself. We are setting up what is often called a feedback loop. One example of such a feedback loop is when a microphone is places too close to a speaker. Most of you who have been to concerts will have heard the loud screech caused by that sort of feedback loop. What is happening is that the sound from the speakers is picked up by the mic, amplified and played out thorough the speaker to be picked up again by the mic and back through the loop.
These loops can, and as we have seen do, cause large changes in the output. One of the dangers that we face when using divination is that we will be setting up a temporal feedback loop causing a large change in the course of the future. Now I suspect that this change will tend to be localized, that is to say only impact on the person for who the divination has been done. Again we can see this effect when considering rivers.
When a change is made the local impact can be devastating; local conditions can change dramatically, for example where the river becomes blocked it will tend to find a new route possibly causing massive erosion locally and devastating the local landscape.
However the long term course of the river tends to be unaffected by these local events; this we would see perhaps as a dramatic change in an individual’s future but with only limited impact on the general flow of history. Now sometimes this dramatic change is what is desired but more often only a small more controlled change is wished for. Few people would accept their lives being turned totally upside down when all they wished for was an improvement in their financial situation.
This effect is well known in the practice of Magic, in that a spell will work in often unexpected ways, where a spell to draw money may well lead to, for example, the person loosing his job through injury but receiving a lump compensation sum. Not what was intended at all! The difference here is that Magic allows the spell to be focused to try and prevent such unintended outcomes whereas divination has no such focusing mechanism
There is another type of effect that taking the output of an event and feeding it back into the system can have. This time not only is the outcome potentially vast but it is also inherently unpredictable. When we use divination we are in danger of setting up a chaotic system.
A good example in the ‘natural’ world is the weather. Everybody knows how unpredictable the weather can be; one day may start very much like another but how the weather develops during the day may well be totally different.
From experience we all know that even the professional weather forecasters with all of their experience, knowledge and expensive machinery and computers can’t always get it right.
The reason for this is that the weather is an example of a different type of system, what is known as a chaotic system. One of the main properties of chaotic systems is that very small changes in the starting situation can lead to very large and totally unpredictable differences in the outcome. This is why the weather on one day develops totally differently to a previous day even though they seemed to start out the same; somewhere there was a small difference that caused the sun we had been expecting to turn into rain and thunder!
These chaotic systems tend to have a large number of factors contributing to their initial state as well as having the result of one situation being fed back into the system at the start of the next. With the weather for example we find that many hundreds of thousands of factors influence how the weather will develop including how the weather developed the previous day.
Divination is similar to a weather system in that it too has many, many factors contributing to the initial situation and that as time passes the outputs of each day feed into the next.
When the divination changes some of the initial conditions, as it by its very nature will, then we can expect to see large changes in the outcome and in a totally unpredictable way. As with the other impact of divination we do not have any way to focus the ‘Magic’ but in this case even if we did the very nature of the system would still mean that the outcome would be unpredictable.
Do Not Touch?
So does this mean that all forms of divination should be avoided? Well surprisingly no. Only those forms of divination that actively use information from the future to provide insights would cause the effects mentioned. If there was a divination method that worked by revealing the current state of the system, that is to say provided knowledge of the situation now rather than how it will develop into the future, then no change to the present will be made and the large unpredictable results should be avoided.
So what is needed is some way to determine what the method of choice is actually doing. Is it retrieving information from the future or simply revealing the current state of the system? Well I feel that there is such a way and it quite neatly splits divination methods into two groups. The way we differentiate the divination types is based on how the process is done.
The first group, the future knowledge techniques, all seem to have a common thread in that they all rely on random chance being present. It is, some would say, the existence of chance that allows the future to act in the present. For example the following techniques all seem to rely on the existence of some form of chance in their operation:
- Ogham Sticks
- Tea Leaves
The tarot for example relies on the fall of the cards and the Ogham the selection of sticks. Both introduce the element of chance for the future, through the person doing the divination, to act on the present.
A good example of a type of divination that provides information about the present and allows the diviner to work with that is Palmistry. Here the information is build up throughout the life of the person whose palm is being read and can offer insights into the present as well as the person in question.
Interestingly the fact that the palm of the person who is having the reading is by definition personal it allows for a degree of focusing in very much the same way as sympathetic Magic operates.
The future in this case isn’t ‘read’ but inferred. A simple example can illustrate this. Knowledge of the present, say a large and frequent intake of alcohol, can and probably will lead to unfortunate circumstances in the future. This knowledge is inferred, projected from the now, and probabilistic; it gives a likelihood of what may happen, and so wouldn’t seem to be having the same direct impact on the past, present, future system that other direct divination techniques have.
The Bible, as we all know, has something of a downer on Magic in general and divination in particular:
“There shall not be found among you anyone that…useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter or a Witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” Deuteronomy 18:10-11 (KJV)
However the original Hebrew words mainly refer to contacting the spirits of dead people, or to performing evil sorcery which harms others; only two actually refer to divination and only two forms of divination are proscribed. Casting stones or sticks and predicting the future by their position and foretelling the future by looking for signs in nature. Is it possible that the writers of this passage understood the danger of certain forms of divination? Is that why only those two types are banned but others allowed?
In My View!
Now obviously I can’t say for sure that this is how the past, present, and future system operates but it does show all the hallmarks of such a system and many people do report the sort of effects – large changes in future events in a very unpredictable way from those seen in the divination or expectations.
Like many forms of Magic it is inherently difficult to show conclusively how, or indeed if, divination actually works and most of us operate by feel and experience. My feel is that most forms of divination have inherent risks and produce results that are far from our control. That is not to say that they don’t have their uses but that most of them shouldn’t be used in a cavalier way. Like all works of Magic divination should only be used when it is the most appropriate method and then only after you have considered the consequences and what you can do to try and ensure that there are no unexpected results.
Divination puts a great responsibility on us, perhaps more so than other forms of Magic. We need to rise to that responsibility.