The Divine In Divination


Recently I have been asked about the wisdom, and the appropriateness, of doing readings for oneself. Few of us have not at one time or another been confronted by sage admonishments regarding the dangers of doing so, to the degree that some authorities seem quite certain that it should never be done. For some, the injunction “you should not read for yourself” becomes one of those peculiar tarot superstitions that rank alongside other such bon mots as “you should have your Tarot deck given to you.”

Such conventional wisdoms are easily digestible, and sometimes they even make sense. Some are simply parodies of wisdom that are best disregarded. But one should always consider why conventional wisdom is, indeed, conventional (from what shared experience of value does it derive?), and also why sometimes it can be gainfully set aside.

One does not need to be terribly wise to appreciate the unique difficulties that may arise when doing readings for oneself; immediately obvious is the fact that we are necessarily invested in the outcome, and wish to eke out as much approval or positive augury from the cards as we possibly can. We tend not, in this situation, to read the cards but rather we read into the cards the meanings we want to see.

Further, we are prone to the natural human tendency to confirmation bias. Psychologists are quite familiar with this concept, and historians, scholars and apologists for causes and beliefs are particularly susceptible to its allure. Simply, confirmation bias is the process whereby we project onto our observations all those factors which tend to confirm what we are already looking for or believe, whilst we disregard all information that does not. It also means we don’t even look for information which may challenge our beliefs. It goes without saying that concepts such as confirmation bias give us fair warning regarding reading for our self.

In short, wishful thinking devils our best efforts to read accurately and dispassionately about our own circumstances.

That being said, is that sufficient reason to avoid doing readings for ourselves? I would say no, for two particular reasons. Firstly, the degree to which one is disciplined and self-aware heavily modifies any tendency to wishful thinking, confirmation bias and projection onto a reading. But secondly, and most importantly, the fact the concern even arises in the first place implies a narrow understanding of what a reading is and, implicitly, what divination itself is.

Depending on what the individual actually thinks they are doing in a reading determines how they approach, and what they understand of, divination. Cicero wrote that divination “is a power that foresees and explains those signs which the gods throw his way.” Consider the two Latin terms from which our common “divination” is said to derive: “divinatio” meaning “the power of foreseeing”, and “divinare”, meaning “to be inspired by a god.” It is important, however, to recognise the etymology and the substance of both terms suggest the former itself derives from the latter.

One could validly say then that divination means to be in communion with, and inspired by, a god/the gods from which the power of foreseeing may be one of the associated powers/blessings.

Primarily it can be reasonably asserted that the essential function of the diviner is to access the wisdom of the Divine. Now, of course, in our post-modern world with our decidedly secular sensibilities, the concept of the Divine is typically fraught with potential complication and resistance, but no matter: the Divine, for all intents and purposes, can be seen as representing any “higher” source of information or wisdom, be it guardian angels, higher selves or simple intuition.

On that basis, let us re-examine the initial problem: should we do readings for ourselves? Should we, fundamentally, divine for ourselves? The question becomes a simple one. Do we or do we not think it a good idea to open a channel of communication between our rational selves and our intuitive selves? Or, depending on our beliefs and sensibilities, we may rephrase that as our gods, or God, or angels, or higher selves. Asked in such a manner, we can generally assume that our answer would be yes.

From both the psychological and the spiritual perspective, developing the habit of regular consultation of the Tarot oracle is a practice to be highly commended. In the terms used by pioneering psychiatrist Carl Jung, the four functions of the human psyche can be referred to as the intuitive, the mental/rational, the emotional, and the physical/sensible. The ancient Greeks referred to these functions as the choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic. Readers of Tarot, of course, recognise them in the classic nomenclature of modern occultism: fire, air, water, and earth. The development of the intuition is a task vital to a (literally) inspired life, one in touch with the most enlightened elements of our own psyche, and there can be few better practices than daily readings for oneself to promote this development.

Equally, one’s personal spiritual life can only be enhanced by developing intimate familiarity with the Tarot as an oracle. The meaning of ”oracle” was an utterance of a god, in the Greek tradition usually taken to be from a priest or priestess possessed by that god, but always the concept involved the principle of divine communication. Inasmuch as prayer can be seen as the human speaking to the divine, the oracle should be understood as the divine communication to humanity.

Indeed, what is the spiritual life if not the ability to hear and understand the promptings of the Higher, whether it is called God, Gods, Higher Self, Overself, etc, and acting upon it? The Tarot, as oracle, can be enlisted into the spiritual service of the individual wishing to understand the messages always ready to be accessed by the earnest inquirer. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, that venerable Order which has vouchsafed to us much of the wisdom and information we now have of the Tarot, has as one of its initiatory vows, ”I will interpret every phenomenon as a particular dealing of God with my soul.” In this task set to initiates of a high grade in both the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley’s A.A., do we see the skill and the perception required in developing an intimate understanding of our own spiritual evolution.

The Tarot, read for ourselves, regularly and with devotion, provides us with just such skill and perception.

So the question remains: should one read for oneself? I hope it is clear that the question can be better rephrased. If to “divine” means to open ourselves to the promptings of God/Higher Self, if it means to establish a practice whereby we learn ever deeper methods of learning the language of intuition, if it means to attune oneself to the messages of the unseen forces that give the Tarot the true power of the oracle – if, in short, it means to truly learn to “Know Thyself”, – then one can with great confidence and enthusiasm, answer with a resounding YES.

Artwork: The Divine by Katia Honour


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