Divination as Intel

One of my favorite webcomics (which is ending this year at 10+ years old, alas!) is Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire.  In addition to being a painfully/punfully witty and action-packed high-fantasy webcomic, it also centers around the young Dominic Deegan, a career seer, an oracle who receives visions, and occasional savior of the world.  Given my own divinatory inclinations, this shouldn’t surprise anyone that I like the comic so much.

Despite my guesses that DD’s artist Mookie isn’t an occultist or seer himself (though I could be wrong), he does hit the mark fairly close when it comes to certain topics and problems that come to divination.  Among my most favorite comics is the one from January 5, 2007, where Dominic says a bit about the nature of divination to his students in a class for second sight.  His students are shocked, shocked to know that part of their required reading involves the massive “A Brief History of Everything (Unabridged Version)” :

When a seer looks into a crystal ball and spouts some cryptic message, it’s not because second sight is inherently mysterious.  It’s because the seer doesn’t know what he’s looking at and he’s probably disguising his ignorance with cliché mysticism.  To master second sight you must have knowledge, which is found in books, which is why we have so much required reading for this class.

Later on, his students complain about the amount of homework he assigns on the first day of class, and assume that Dominic used his own second sight to find out that no other teachers had assigned them homework.  Dominic himself then pops by, having overheard the students, and says that he had actually looked at their other teachers’ syllabi in the teacher’s lounge.  After all, Dominic remarks, “knowledge is power”.  A few days later, while discussing how uncool of a teacher he’ll be with his girlfriend and his archmage-school dean mother, he explains why he sadly guesses most of his students will drop the class:

Second sight is hard.  It requires a solid knowledge of history, politics, religion, arcane theory and even geography to really be of any use.  Otherwise it’s just looking at pictures.

When I do a divination for someone, I often ask them what’s on their mind, what brings them to the shop, what problems they might have going on.  They might bring up a specific problem or a concrete, pointed query, which is awesome, but more often than not they’ll try to cover a broad swathe of their lives with something like “I wanna know what’ll happen in my love life” or something equally vague.  I’ll help guide them to specific questions, because geomancy really shines when given something like that, but also because I need a working context for a chart in order to understand what it’s telling me.  Knowing that Puella falls in the 7th house is all well and good, but without knowing how it specifically relates to the query and the other circumstances in the querent’s life, I don’t really have a way to understand what it means.

Unlike some traditions of diviners and seers who’re trained to be clairvoyant or mystic enough to not require knowledge of the query or its context, I need context.  It’s why I read so much on current events and why I read up on other practices, beliefs, cultures, sciences, histories, and the like.  It’s why I engage the querent in conversation first and see what’s generally going on in their life from their perspective.  It’s why I ask questions probing into their life during the reading to clarify some of the symbols (with only 16 geomantic figures to represent all the infinity of the cosmos, I use any and all help I can get to whittle down the possibilities).  Context matters in divination, and it helps me be more specific and, thus, more helpful to the querent than if I worked without it.

Some diviners and readers often work with vague queries and, through skill and mastery with no small amount of intuition, can delivery fairly specific answers relevant to the querent though the querent may not have said anything about them.  Some divination systems like Tarot can cultivate such an intuition, but more often than not it’s a talent.  Still, when one works with vague questions, much more often than not one is going to get vague answers.  It’s a result of having a limited number of symbols that can mean any number of things without knowing how to whittle it down.  This lack of context can take a potentially meaningful message and water it down into uselessness, effectively turning it into a Forer effect-style blurb (consider how general newspaper horoscopes can be).  It sucks when this happens, because it gives divination and diviners of all kinds, including astrologers, a bad name.

Divination is probably best seen as a form of intelligence gathering, in which one draws a distinction between data and information.  Data is a Latin word literally meaning “that which is given”, or things that one has at their disposal.  Information comes from Latin as well, originally meaning “to shape” but figuratively meaning “to instruct” (which has similar etymology and figurative meanings).  One can define information as “data that makes a difference”; if data tells us nothing new, it’s not really helping us to inform ourselves.  Not all data is information; some data is just noise or is erroneous.  Not all information is data; sometimes information can be obtained through patterns of the data or through an analysis of other analyses.  Divination helps one obtain data or to make sense of patterns in data, but it’s only one method.  To produce truly useful information, one should correlate divination and divined answers with historical research, official expertise, and other sources of information.  Although it’s good to trust divination, it shouldn’t be the only thing one goes by.

Marie Laveau, the queen of voodoo in New Orleans, was a renowned seer and reader, but she also worked as a hair stylist for professional high-class clientele.  Working in that kind of environment exposed her to a wealth of gossip, hearsay, and rumors that she was able to verify or refute on her own or with the help of others, which helped her be seen as much more intuitive to her occult clients.  Likewise, Jason Miller takes a dim view of just relying on divination.  Even as far back as ancient Greece, prophecies from the Oracle at Delphi were debated, tweaked, and analyzed in order to be made of use by the groups who received them (cf. the “wooden walls” that protected the Athenians).  Unless it’s really the only thing one has to go by (which is damn-near never in our modern information-based culture), divination needs to be correlated and buffed out with any and all other information out there.

Specificity and a refining of data matters in order to obtain useful information, especially in an occult art like divination.  No matter how real or vivid a vision may appear, or how explicit a Tarot reading may seem, any divined answer should always be reflected upon, backed up with other information, and analyzed in order to clear out any ambiguity, solve any riddles, and reduce any metaphors to their concrete basis.  Much of this can be fixed by having a wide breadth of knowledge, and many gaps can be filled simply by phrasing one’s query specifically and clearly to the diviner.  Still, as awesome as divination may be, it’s a flaw of any system that works with a finite number of symbols that one needs backup and thought to whittle down the infinite to the finite.

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

4 Responses to Divination as Intel

  1. I’m torn on this for one big reason. Some people come to a reader wanting what they perceive to be a genuinely psychic experience. If I’m giving readings qua readings, then I deliberately ask them not to give me any information beyond the question and try to use my skills as best as I can to tease out the themes. This avoids accusations of cold reading a client.

    Once that is done and if they want to share more information, then I’ll be glad to find the links in the chart through questioning and context.

    • polyphanes says:

      See, that’s one kind of experience, but not one I advertise. I’m not clairvoyant, but even then, visions and the like need to be grounded out somehow lest you be accused of just making stuff up (the other extreme from being accused of cold readings). I separate out “psychic experiences” from divination, though even I find the distinction hard to draw.

  2. MrBlack says:

    Ah, I remember this webcomic – I used to read this when I was really into webcomics. Too bad it’s going to be cancelled.

  3. Pingback: Problems with “-mancy” | The Digital Ambler

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