Note: This essay originally appeared in the February 1999 issue of IRIDIS, the newsletter of the California Society for Psychical Study.
I am always curious to hear from people in the divinatory arts. My background in college was in Cultural Anthropology, and I focused quite a bit on supernatural folklore and magical beliefs in a number of cultures. The various forms of divination were of great interest to me, since so many of them can provide useful information.
Or can they?
As a parapsychologist, and as a magician/mentalist, I have looked at various divinatory practices over the years, from Tarot to Astrology, and to the claims behind those practices. My personal conclusion is that the practices themselves are only as good as the person doing the work, as with so many other things in life. If they don’t know the “rules,” they might as well be making things up (as many do).
However, I also believe that the “power” in an divination practice is in the practitioner, not in the art itself. In other words, it is the psychic and intuitive abilities of the individual doing the reading or creating the chart that provide any sort of beyond-generalization information.
What divinatory practices do is two-fold: they provide a focal point for people’s psi talents, and they alleviate the ownership resistance issues that many people have around being psychic. Here I am excluding situations in which the practitioner is utilizing fraud, making up things to say regardless of what the practice — and the rules of how that form of divination works — is, simply telling the client what the practitioner thinks he/she wants to hear, or faking it in any other way.
Ownership resistance is a concept brought to the forefront of parapsychological research a number of years ago by the late British researcher Kenneth Batcheldor. This concept pointed to the culturally programmed resistance to having psi abilities (he also noted something called “witness inhibition,” relating to mind-set and fear issues related to even witnessing something paranormal). People with psi are, let’s face it, often ostracized or treated as very different kinds of folks by the general public. There is often a stigma attached to disclosing psychic abilities.
But when using Tarot, or reading palms or throwing rune stones or charting a horoscope, the popular knowledge is that anyone can do these things once they know how, and anything that comes from the chart or the cards spread or the hand or a throw of the stones is more about the divinatory items and calculations than about the person doing it. After all, one can read what the Tarot cards mean in dozens of books.
The problem, though, is that those books and many of the methods used to divine the past, present, future or personality of an individual deal in generalizations about behavior, personality, and activities. While Astrology done by trained individuals brings in more factors (the more planets, moons and constellations involved in the calculations), any specific accuracy, from the parapsychological view, is a function of the psychic (and perceptual observation) talents of the astrologer.
Does this viewpoint mean I don’t think people should pay any attention to divinatory practices?
Absolutely not. They seem to be among the best ways to facilitate innate psychic abilities, through the alleviation of ownership resistance.
However, there is a point at which the practitioner must realize that no matter what the cards or the chart or the stones say about a person’s future, the future is open to interpretation and change. Learning the future is, after all, why most people go to see psychics. It is also the least accurate focus of psychic perception.
The future changes as human beings change and make different decisions based on the information they receive. No matter how truly precognitive a psychic is, once the future is predicted, the client can take that information (knowledge is power) and alter the future through different choices. I have heard a number of readers and astrologers over the years make statements about the future that it cannot be changed … that the cards [stones, stars, numbers, palm] never lie.
In reading the future, the interpretation of the horoscope or card spread is up to the practitioner. Therein lies his/her power. How the future for the client moves on from that point is up to the client to make or break those predictions.
Of course, you may believe in predestination. However, I believe in my Future being at least somewhat in my hands, affected by my own decisions, actions, indecisions and inaction. Or, as the great Jedi Master Yoda says, the Future is always in motion.