On Divination.

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine recently on the nature of divination. It’s a subject that interests him, I know, but I also know that he doesn’t practice it regularly – in fact, he practices it far less even than I do.* So after a little chatter about Tarot cards (in particular about matching them up with scenes and characters from Star Wars and Harry Potter), I asked him: what do you really think about divination?

He told me that it “has its merits,” but that it’s also “very hazy”. It interests him as a theoretical concept, but he doesn’t put much stock into its practical application. I agreed with the point he was getting at, but I sensed that he held a different attitude about it than I did (i.e., that divination might be a foolish magical endeavor because of its haziness), so I began to explain to him why divination is hazy.

You see, divination is necessarily an inexact science (I said to him). If you could divine with any significant degree of clarity, then the cards aren’t really showing you what the future may hold; they are instead telling you what you are going to do. It’s a subtle difference. Your will counts for nothing in a world in which the future is easily and clearly deciphered. Divination as it actually is only suggests the most likely outcome based on the moment of asking. Because the future isn’t written in stone, only suggested at a moment in time, we get hazy answers.

This of course raises that sticky issue of whether or not the future is written in stone – do we humans have Free Will? After all, can free will really exist simultaneously with a pack of cards that can show the future? Wouldn’t accurate divination prove free will to be an illusion? Well, maybe. Me, I have my own views on the role free will plays in our lives, but I want to try to steer this post away from that lengthy philosophical digression.** For the purposes of the discussion at hand, all I really think I need to say is that hazy answers in divination do allow for the existence of free will, if its existence is something you need to believe.

With hazy divination you may, for example, see a potentially negative outcome. It won’t be clearly spelled out for you, but you can see some ominous signs. Because of free will, you (supposedly) have some capacity to act and avoid that outcome. But if you do so successfully, it negates the divination. Forget hazy, now it’s totally inaccurate! Can you really put any stock into divination if you can change it? What’s the point?

Of course, we want to be able to change the course of the future if a bad reading is given to us. I’m pretty sure that is the point of divination, at least for many folks, and that point assumes at least some degree of free will on the part of the querent.

As you can probably see, it becomes very easy to unravel the idea of divination once the initial thread of doubt is grasped. We want to see the future, even though knowing what the future holds deprives us of our sense of free will. When we see what we don’t like, we want to exercise that free will that we’ve just let go of in order to change that which has already been written. Assuming that you can change it after all, it means only that the divination never truly worked in the first place, and you’re right back to square one. It all becomes a big fat paradox, and the clearer the information given in the cards, the more absurdly pronounced this paradox becomes. With “haze”, it becomes easier for us to gloss over quandaries like this and chalk it up to forces beyond our comprehension.

I do not think haziness is a bad thing at all. It allows for the illusion of free will, and anyway, it keeps the Tarot interesting. It’s all about interpretation, and it’s a mental exercise. It’s not supposed to be easy; if it was, everyone would do it and there would be no skeptics. The paradox I spoke of in the previous paragraph is a little unsettling, but I don’t think it’s damning (I’ll get to why I feel this way later). There is, however, an issue I have with the implications of divination that has nothing to do with my friend’s reservations concerning haziness.

Reading the future necessarily takes your awareness away from the present. Considering that, more often than not, people approach divination with some hope of achieving eventual happiness, the very act of divining denies them that happiness by placing it somewhere in the future (or possibly the past). Happiness is abstract, and it is transitory. It’s not a “thing” that can ever be “achieved”. I believe the only way to truly be happy is to just be happy, right now.*** In other words, if you are unhappy, all divination ultimately does for you is keep the happiness you seek forever just beyond your reach.

And that is the great conundrum, at least for me: here I am, a man with a fairly extensive Tarot blog, and divination – admittedly not the only use for the cards, but easily the most prevalent – is nothing but a paradoxical, nonsensical notion that, whether it’s accurate or not, only serves to deprive me of the present moment. What gives? Am I just wasting my time? Is divination really just bullshit?

All this brings me around to a question with which I probably should have led: I’ve been using the word “divination” pretty freely, especially in the context of asking about the future, but is divination the same thing as reading the future? This question was not one I posed to my friend that evening, and it really only occurred to me later on that I should have asked it. When I mentioned divination to him, it seemed pretty obvious that he assumed I was talking about seeing the future, and so that premise was taken for granted for the remainder of the conversation. Clearly defining the word makes all the difference in the world, though, and when I continue this post, I intend to show that, while gazing into the future may indeed be a fruitless endeavor, divination doesn’t have to be.

~~~

*And for all the time I spend contemplating Tarot cards, only a relatively small portion of that is actually spent “divining”.

**At any rate, I don’t know how clearly I could communicate my thoughts on the matter of fate v. free will, because they aren’t exactly linear. I may make an attempt at some point to write a post about it in the future, because I do think it’s an important dilemma any diviner must face at some point.

***Easier said than done, to be sure.

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