I love divination. Admittedly, the amount of my love varies from one kind of divination to the next. But behind all that, I love the act of divination itself: asking a question, then doing something random (toss coins, shuffle cards) and finding a meaningful interpretation in the results. In Pagan Spirituality, authors River and Joyce Higginbotham describe divination as a magical practice for receiving information. I was intrigued as I read that because magic as most of us think of it hasn’t been my strong point. But maybe it’s just that I’m better suited temperamentally for divination rather than standard magic—more interested in getting information and insight rather than other things that we often use magic for.
As I started writing this, I checked the dictionary’s definition of divination for inspiration. It talked about auguries and omens, of predicting the future. This isn’t wrong, but it’s so unlike my experience as to be almost unrecognizable. I usually read for myself, and most of the time I’m trying to understand my present rather than my future. Think about this: the popular Celtic Cross tarot spread uses ten cards. Only two of them tell you about the future: Near Future and Outcome. Leaving aside the one card that deals with the past (Recent Past), that leaves seven cards—70% of the spread—concerned with the present. Sure, you could do a one-card reading that basically asks “What will happen next?” but I suspect that most people wouldn’t find that satisfactory. Many of us not only want to know what happens next, but what’s going on now, and how it’s all connected.
My taste in divinatory systems runs to the classic: well-established systems with some history and resources behind them. Not only do I like the tarot, the I Ching, runes, and so on in their own right, but each of these systems has inspired a library’s worth of books that I can refer to. Not that I’m immune to the temptations of contemporary oracle decks, but I have to remind myself that unless I’m in love with the art and am buying it for its beauty, don’t bother. Usually there’s only one book that goes with that deck, and no matter how much effort the writer put into it, it only reflects one person’s experience. I lack the patience and the motivation to come up with meanings on my own.
That said, I figure you can divine with anything, as long as there’s something random about it and you can find meaning in it. Having a random element is crucial. If everything is under your control, you may get a valid answer, but I don’t think it would be divination. The random part is where the gods—the “divine” in “divination”—act, and that’s where you can get an answer different than what you would have consciously come up with on your own. The chance to get that different answer is the reason I do divination in the first place.
Having just said how much I love divination, it may seem strange that I rarely do readings for others, nor get readings from them. And oddly, I haven’t done much divining in any system for the past couple of years. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just life experience: what I needed to ask about when I was 20-something is now stuff I recognize from my own experience nowadays. (Oh, maturity!) This means my divination has basically slowed to a trickle. I miss it, but haven’t figured out how to get more of it in my life. I can’t fake questions, not and have emotional involvement, but I’m not interested in turning professional and doing it for others either. It’s like growing apart from an old friend, missing them, but not being sure how to bridge the gap—or maybe it’s not even appropriate right now to resurrect this connection.