Friday, May 28, 2010

Delving into Divination: A Long Story of Silliness

Temperance (XIV): Dressed in faded red, she perches perfectly balanced and at ease on the twisted limb of the old tree, suspended in air rippling, spiraling, tingling with the great powers that surround her. In her pale arms she cradles the pulsing sphere — wisps of energy, the tiny fey beings, drift and rise like steam, swirling and weaving, twining around each other as they climb until they blossom into full, solid forms. Watery blue, fiery gold, the great-talonned dragon and the frantic phoenix entwining, arching skyward, each with an orb of its own, pure color. The stony gargoyle makes offerings; the little songbird opens its wings wide, about to take flight. Her thoughts turn around them, seeking the power of their presence. She touches the sphere, undisturbed, her long fingers moving lovingly in contemplation — the perfect, pale-white glow of a halo exactly framed by the curve of her small, delicate wings, the light of it whispering to her, her thoughts turning around each other, dark and bright, water and fire, a sensual dance of power, duality, tension and life. The brown curls of her hair float as if caught up in a warm, rising current. She holds the churning forces of the world in her mind, between her hands, and every movement is poised here, utterly, in this moment, like a gulp of delicious air, like a quiet gasp in the center of a storm.

- excerpt from my tarot journal

For one reason or another the practice of divination has been something that, for a long time now, has given me trouble. I just never seemed to "get into" it. Perhaps because of the amount of study and memorization it seemed to require (though for other subjects and practices this has never stopped me). Or perhaps because my day-to-day life is often so exquisitely routine that daily readings hardly seemed relevant. Or maybe both. Though I consider myself a generally intuitive person, cultivating this aspect through my creative writing, divination as a regular practice seemed... unnecessary, one of those things people did to feel "occult" rather than taking the time to analyze their motivations and behaviors in more mundane ways, or maybe to wow their friends at parties. But I don't go to many parties, lovely readers, not many parties at all.

Like plenty of folks, I indulged in some Tarot deck impulse-buying on occasion, beginning with the classic and most popular Rider-Waite deck, with its images that seemed, frankly, pretty basic and uninspiring to my amateur eyes. Then I snuck the Mystic Faerie Tarot into my collection, before any Serious Pagans could chide me for enjoying the pastel-laden artwork so clearly based on na├»ve Victorian imaginings of tiny winged beings living in flowers in some misty English garden. I turned next to Brian Froud's amazing art and insight in his Faeries' Oracle deck (and more recently his Heart of Faerie oracle deck), and spent hours pouring over the sometimes mesmerizing, sometimes disturbing, sometimes merely confounding clutter of images and figures all jostling for attention around the edges of the cards. Not divining... just looking. I obtained a deck of the Druid Animal Oracle, only to find myself bothered by how none of the animals portrayed seemed to look anatomically correct but instead contrived to stand in awkward and sometimes painful looking poses. Not to mention, sometimes the cards of these decks were just too big for my small hands to shuffle comfortably. At times I would pull out a deck and muddle through mixing them, trying hard not to accidentally bend a corner, because some heart-wrenchingly Deep Question was on my mind — but the readings would come out more or less befuddling and ambiguous. More often I would choose a card whose symbolism and imagery evoked a season or sense, and then I would incorporate it into my altar to augment the relevant energies.

Meanwhile, I tried my hand at other forms of divination. Dreamwork seemed to be my most powerfully and obviously prescient skill, except that it was completely uncontrollable and often only made sense far after the fact, or about trivial matters. I dreamt about a Will Ferrel comedy sketch in great albeit confusing detail before he performed it for the Oscars one year; on another occasion, I dreamt about a mouse loose in my apartment the night before I first spotted the creature scurrying along under the sink. But for the most part, my dreams were the odd collection of zombies and bike trips and being caught naked at work. In an attempt to feel "witchy" (this was during my witchcraft phase early on), I created a scrying kit complete with a hand-picked black bowl and carefully hemmed cloth, as well as a tiny blue glass orb on a stand, all stored along with some blessed, oiled candles in a box I painted all over with sigils and occult symbols to augment my latent psychic powers. No doing. I hand-made my own Ogham set using a simple wood-burning pen and a collection of unfinished wooden discs, then spent a month or two drawing one daily from a small, drawstring bag. But despite reading up on the tree types and trying to make the obscure bits and snips of poetry make some kind of relevant sense, my eyes began to cross every time I had to squint and count, muttering is that four strokes, or five? As with the I-Ching, I found myself losing patience with a divination system that constantly required me to look up numerical sequences in a book, or memorize lines of verse that seemed to have little to do with the random jumble of hash-marks to which they were supposedly related.

So for a while, I gave up on the whole idea as generally rather silly. Meditation and ritual work, poetry and music, even the complicated workings of ceremonial magic that I had experimented with briefly — all of these had given me a sense of depth and complexity that challenged me and contributed in some meaningful way to my spiritual life. Like trigonometry, I could study these things and leave them feeling as though my soul-muscle had been exercised in some way, even if I wasn't going to go on to a stunning career as a brilliant mathematician. But divination just left me feeling like I was trying too hard. Or worse, projecting assumptions, prejudices and desires out into the world where I could feel they had been validated and justified. And this, to me, seemed dangerous. So I gave up on the notion that in order to be a Real Pagan™ I had to practice some kind of divination and demonstrate via phenomenal psychic powers my right to belong to the club.

And then, on a whim, I order the recently released Shadowscapes Tarot

It is interesting that I should draw this card today, when most of my work this morning and afternoon centered on a discussion of the dichotomy and balance between noise and quiet, violence and peace. In many ways, the larger issues of peace and violence are captured or expressed, rendered small enough to handle and examine, in questions about quiet and noise, and this is reflected by the smaller versions of the gargoyle and songbird perched at the feet of the angel Temperance as she contemplates her swirling orb of energy. The orb echoes and repeats the form of the halo around her head, and so again I see in some ways that it is a reflection of her mind and what it contains, more articulated, teased out into form, the colors separated and seen more clearly while in the pale white of her mind these forces merge and coalesce into a single shining light. My writing has served this purpose for me today, helping me move towards a clearer understanding of my own notions of peace and violence, helping me to articulate them and so in some ways both “harness” them for a particular purpose (in this case the purpose of communication) and so also release them or express them into form, giving them greater life (the purpose which communication here serves).

This is quite a specific reading of the card, but it seems to speak very clearly to my experiences today, and my sense of renewed energy and a moment of rest, as well as the obvious need to press on and continue to develop and explore and challenge myself. That it is a Major Arcana card is suitable, since in many ways I see my writing on peace and the soulful/spiritual as part of my life’s Great Work, something of utter importance tied up inherently with my sense of self-identity and purpose. Drawing this card today gives me hope that I am on the “right track,” so to speak, and engaging in expressing deep truths as best I can.

- excerpt from my tarot journal

I have never, in all my divination work, come across a deck or technique that so consistently gives me some meaningful insight or challenging reflection to turn over in my mind and heart alike. I think I'm in love... If this is because the breath-takingly beautiful artwork of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law possesses some strange and subtle power, or because I am at a point in my path where the regular discipline and intriguing Jungian analysis conducive to subtle Tarot reading is suddenly speaking to me, I don't know. Where this new practice might take me, I also do not know — for now, I am dancing the waltz of getting-to-know-you with daily one-card readings before bed each night, reflecting on the events of the previous day.

But, like anyone who has recently fallen in love, I wanted to share the story of my long-lasting silliness with others. After so many false starts and uncomfortable blind-dates, have I finally met my Mr. Right? We shall see, dear readers, we shall see. I may be wowing friends at parties yet....


  1. Oh I have been waiting for this to come out, and now it is! Thank you for your beautiful words on the Temperance card.

  2. Thanks. :) Honestly, I am so sleep-deprived today I'm not sure this post even makes sense, but the journal excerpts I wrote back on Monday, so hopefully they're coherent! I absolutely love this deck, and part of my daily work with it is to write up a "creative/intuitive description" of each image as I draw them, as a way to help me get better acquainted with the cards and what they mean not just in the context of the Tarot in general, but to me more specifically. It's been awesome working with them so far — well worth the purchase, I'd definitely say! :)

  3. Both this post and your previous one have dealt with issues that I find myself struggling with now: concepts related to deity and divination. I have tried using Ogham as well as the Druid Animal Oracle, but have not really felt that I have been successful with either. The lines and bars of Ogham often seem too abstract for me to connect with them. Perhaps I just need to put more effort in... I have not used Tarot, and have been overwhelmed by the numbers of decks available, some of them vastly different from each other. I'll certainly consider this deck.

  4. Heather, I know exactly what you mean, and I'm starting to wonder if this isn't actually a more common experience than many of us realize. I have my own theories about what exactly divination is and how exactly it works, but I think part of it is definitely learning how to tap into our own unconscious and, through that, into our Deep Self or God-Self (or whatever you want to call it). If this is the case, then it seems to make sense to me that types of divination are about as varied and unique as are the people who practice it. For some people, the ogham or runes just "click," and for others (like me) they don't. Some people immediately "get" Tarot... for me, even though I've studied it on and off for almost a decade now, it's only finally starting to make sense to me in any significantly relevant way.

    With both divination and deity, I spent a lot of time reasoning out how things probably worked, following the logical arguments and coming to tentative conclusions that took the form of, "Well, given that I definitely believe a and b to be true, they imply that c is true, even though I've never experienced c personally." For a long time, this was about as certain as I could get. It took a long time to be okay with that, but eventually I got there. I figured, if an intellectual agreement that deities do likely exist, or that divination does likely work for some people, is all I'll ever get... I can deal with that, and choose to focus on those things that do immediately speak to me. It was only after I gave myself permission not to stress about it that things began to fall into place.

    So, yes, I definitely recommend this deck... but mostly because I think it's beautiful. Part of me is hesitant to recommend it because, like a jealous girlfriend, I'm afraid of what will happen to this sense of intimacy and "click"ingness if I know other people are out there using it too! :) I can't make any guarantees that it'll work for you... but if divination seems like something worthwhile for you, then just keep perusing and eventually something will jump up and say, yes! At least, that's been my experience. :)

  5. Well, it's been "clicking" for me ever since I discovered it as a work in progress.

    I had the same problem with tarot that both of you have. I bought the Legend: Arthurian tarot mainly because of most of the decks I saw, it seemed the most beautiful. I'll be honest and say that most tarot decks out there have only some aesthetic appeal to me. Sometimes, I'll love an entire deck, and then suddenly come upon a card which just *looks* all wrong, and it'll be a deal breaker. So when I saw the Legend deck, I thought I would buy it because it was, simply, the best thing I'd seen. And it started to "click", but I had no idea why: I thought it was just aesthetics.

    And then I began to think about tarot, and wondered if I was actually connecting to the deck not in terms of images, but in the *stories*. As an amateur Arthurian scholar, I actually had a context for the images in the Legend that I had never really had with any other tarot decks because of the stories they told, or, rather, didn't tell.

    I also own the Lord of the Rings deck. But the LotR deck told stories that clashed with the story I knew so well as an amateur Tolkien scholar and professional Tolkien geek. No wonder I could only enjoy playing with it, and not working with it like I do my Legend deck.

    So, I hope that the stories told in this deck, and my own story of waiting, watching it grow, and thinking about the images as they came online, may help me develop that deep connection I'm looking for. Also, this is probably the one deck in existence that I adore every single card of.

    Hopefully that was coherent.

  6. Great post. I would love to see more of that deck. I first met the Animal Medicine Card deck in college and really like it. It's not a traditional Tarot, but I feel strongly the animal metaphors for types of energy and experience. Mouse energy, Skunk energy, Coyote energy.. this makes sense to me. I bought the Druid Animal Oracle when I saw myself being pulled closer into northern european derived paganism and LOVE this deck. I love the beautiful images and the intricate renderings of symbols, plants and seasons. I like the stories and again really relate to the animal energies.

    The only Tarot deck I have or use is the Inner Child Cards by Mark and Isha Lerner. The major arcana and "face cards" are all images from fairy tales or other mythological stories (Big Bad Wolf, Hansel and Gretel, Peter Pan, Santa Clause, etc) and the number cards are equally whimsical and fun. I really love the deep meaning of tarot, but like the light hearted approach of the fairy tale stories. Makes so much sense to me. Maybe I'll get back into pulling a card a day :)