On Divination

I think I understand now why divination can be useful as a source of guidance on one’s own path.

It’s more sensational than just random chance, but less sensational than pulling moonbeams out of thin air.

Imagine for a moment you’re standing before a mirror. Do you see the whole of yourself? Probably not. You see only as much of yourself as a person standing in front of you could see. There are outward parts of the body that are just not easily visible without at least two mirrors and a lot of awkward posturing. We have to go out of our way, sometimes, to see every part of ourselves.

Consider that our minds must after some fashion be ten thousand times more complicated than our bodies. Getting at everything we know, when you really think about it, is really impossible and quite often we discover we knew things we didn’t know. This is why things like reincarnation are so difficult to prove on the strength of memories, because the person experiencing the memories will often find themselves asking how they knew certain things. But whether the mind is tuned into something supernatural or merely regurgitating something it saw in a documentary or film is unimportant for our purposes: my point is we have ways of knowing things that are difficult to grasp.

These ways of knowing are fallible, but not worthless; our minds were honed by about 800,000 years of learning to survive without claws or teeth, and a keen student of human behavior will note that our instincts continue to rule us even when we presume to be above them. It’s not merely a stub of our evolution but a part of who we are, a part of the human experience, and if we brush it off as primitive superstition without understanding the value of the insights we might gain from it, we discard a part of ourselves.

At some point, this enormous capacity for insight became too much for us, and we developed inhibitory mechanisms, both mechanical and psychological, to deal with sorting and filing all that information. The limbic system helps us on a chemical and neurological or “hardware” level. On an internal level- a “software level” if you will- we have a file system sociologists call schema that directs us to group things based on similarity and rank them in order of importance. This can be very useful, as it helps us invent solutions to problems we face. However, it can also be limiting because ruthless optimization of schema after some “ism” quite often destroys our capacity for things like empathy, creativity, and abstract reasoning. We are taught- by religion and irreligion alike- that we cannot trust the whole set of schema we would develop naturally on our own. Almost from birth, we are constantly being prescribed some manner of thought that deliberately limits our options for exploration and understanding by either denouncing the mystical or denouncing the rational. We’re channeled into a narrower band of expressions and experiences and become less than what we’re capable of being.

What every good system of divination has in common is this: it is a schema for understanding things about ourselves and our environment we didn’t realize we knew and probably wouldn’t realize we knew if we limited ourselves entirely to what we can readily observe and measure about life.  They typically rely on archetypes of a broad and universal type, a language representing all of the important aspects of relationships, choices, people, and events that we might care about. The meanings are specific enough to give us a general direction of where to look, but vague enough that broad categories fitting a wide range of possible readings are there.  But the important thing about divination is this: you will not find answers there that you didn’t already have, but it’s nice to have a tool for getting at those hard-to-reach spots of your cognition.  I believe that the true adept is canny of this secret and uses this as a tool to hack into parts of their consciousness that otherwise remain off limits or cloaked or garbed in falsehoods.

Should you bet your farm on a tarot reading, or decide whether or not to circumcise your infant son by casting bones? Of course not. That probably wouldn’t be a good idea. But if the cards tell you not to trust someone and you suddenly realize you’ve had a bad feeling about them that you had tried to ignore until now, you might want to think twice about dealing with them.  Your intuition could be wrong, but quite often you’ll find you were right.

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