A Witch's Book of Divination by Callia Underhill
Published by Llewellyn Publications 1996
Edited and shortened version of the introduction to the book – if you wish to read it all (which is recommended), get the book.
…THE ROLE OF DIVINATION
Exactly what role does divination play in the life of a Witch, particularly in the life of the modem practitioner of Wicca? Whether some of our ancestors actually participated in anything like the atrocities of which they were accused or not, the Wiccan religion today has evolved to the point where its devotees hold self-development and responsibility in high regard. Where does the practice of divination fit into this? Because our healing and spell work take place on the astral plane, and our particular veneration for the Moon leads us to naturally walk hand in hand with the psychic realms, could we say that the terms "Witch" and "diviner" are mutually exclusive? Does a Witch necessarily divine, and does practicing divination automatically make someone a Witch? People who dowse for water are commonly called "water witches," and the word "witch" itself conjures up (no pun intended) the image of someone who has extraordinary access to hidden knowledge and power. If we take into account the popular theory that the etymological derivation of the word "Wicca" comes from the Anglo-Saxon root word meaning "wise," we confirm the idea that Witches are somehow able to contact deeper sources of knowledge than the average person. Is this still true for modem Wiccans, many of whom have only recently come to the Craft for their inspiration?
In the end, one might have to conclude that there is no single method of divination that is better than all the others for Witches to use in their readings. The fact is that Witches have a bewilderingly long list of methods from which to choose, from aleuromancy (divination by flour) to haruspicy (the examination of entrails) to xylomancy (the aforementioned divination by sticks and twigs). The deciding factor will be which set of mechanics the particular person works with best.
INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL DIVINATION
Primarily, all forms of divination fall into two bask categories: external or internal. External methods of divination rely on sets of tools or representations of symbols that are manipulated by the divining force of the reader. Internal methods of divination rely on a set of symbols rising in the mind of the reader, contacted in clairvoyant and/or trance states.
Forms of external divination include Tarot, for you must have a deck of cards; astrology, with its charts and ephemerides; and rune casting, with its sticks and stones.
All of these involve a stone, set of stones, or seeds thrown onto a particular diagram and interpreted according to where they fall. These are all systems for which you will be able to make your own set of tools, so that they can become extraordinarily personalized and become your "divination companions," so to speak.
Examples of internal divination include water or crystal scrying, psychometry, and trance-induced prophecy. If you are good at visualization and/or internal dialogue, you may prefer to dig up answers to unknown questions with systems such as the Sword Trance or the Omen Walk. If you 're really good at trance work, and you think you've had enough experience with it, you might try the Dance of the Lame God.
Regardless of whether you prefer methods of external or internal divination, the actual divination process depends, as we have seen, on the patterning or setting in order of a particular set of symbols by the divining power of the reader, and the reader's further interpretation of these symbols into a comprehensive narrative. While it is true that many readers have one deck of cards or a favorite set of stones that they use for all their work and let no one else touch, a really expert diviner could tell your future with any old bag of rocks, your hairpins, a letter someone had written to you, or the remains of your dinner. It is the divining power within Witches that allows them to “see”...
In the old days, there were those who were said to possess "the Gift" or "the Sight." (Incidentally, they were not always spoken of or treated with respect.) However, this power, "the Second Sight," is not a special talent or domain of a certain select few. It is in all people, latent or manifested in differing degrees.
Some people, particularly in the days of old when people lived closer to Nature and their senses were not subject to overstimulation by the fast pace of today's living, had these powers develop naturally. This is referred to as psychism and is thought in some cases to be passed on genetically. Those who seemed to possess this "special" power would naturally fascinate their communities. The seer represented access to arealm ordinarily forbidden and refused to the normal person. Indeed, the first Witches may have been simply those who exhibited this power more strongly than others, having the ability to talk with animals, discem the hidden causes of illness, or commune with Nature spirits in order to relieve drought and famine. Their "powers" could have been used to help or could just as easily be used to harm if that Witch did not subscribe to a particularly high ethic. It is easy to see how these people could be greatly revered for their healing talents, or greatly feared for the advantage they had in being able to "see" hidden things.
Due to the evolution of humanity, marching necessarily along the spiral path of the Goddess, this trait would now be considered something of an anachronism. In some cases, if the possessor of these powers was not able to controi the intrusion of the unseen into everyday life, it would be considered apathology. However, this power is just waiting to be developed in modern people as intuition that can be controlled and used for good by the modern "Witch or Pagan.
However, divination is not exclusively the territory of the "Witch (ceremonial magicians are, stereotypically, famous for trying to wrest information from the freshly raised spirits of the dead), even though it has usually been connected, in mysticallanguage and hushed tones, with the general practice of "sorcery," "witchcraft," and (lower your voice to a whisper now) "the black arts."
There is much more to the art of divination than crystal ball gazing, and there is much more to the science of divination than nefarious conjurations. First of all, although there are so many different forms of divination practice, the general theory behind all of themthe hows and whys of the way they work-is the same. It is also relatively simple. It is a logical, reasonable, and learnable procedure, based on contacting that latent power within ourselves, then becoming familiar with the Law of Correspondences and the language of symbols. Divining power is not something to be gained, but something to be developed. The language of symbols is something that is easily learned and developed as well.
Basically, the whole process of divination can be easily explained and understood by the old magical aphorism, "As above, so below; as below, so above." Those who recognize this phrase as a stock item of ceremonial magic might ask, "What does that have to do with "Wicca? I'm reading this book because it said it deals with divination for "Witches!" Even though our wise ancestors of old perhaps knew nothing of the specific precepts of magical practice as we know it nowadays (maybe they didn't, maybe they did), they received their intuition, as we still do today, from the book of Nature, the world of the Goddess' creation. This is most easily seen, for example, when we contemplate something the ancients have built, such as Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids, and ask ourselves: "How did they do that with no modern toois?" It is also seen when we are amazed at their ability to know which herbs and natural plants yielded exacdy the right medicine to heal their sick, or how ancient astronomers could construct calendars almost as accurate as the one we have today with all of our scientific knowledge. Ancient humans weren't really any wiser than we, but their consciousnesses were such that they could intuit more from the world around them (induding the more subcle non-material worlds thought of as "above" us). Modem humanity now lives in a state much more mired down in physical existence; we are denser now, both physically and psychically, and the fine-tuning of our physical and superphysical senses are dulled by the overstimulation of modem life.
Since, in the days of the ancients, people lived much doser to Nature, they were also more dosely in tune with Nature's counterpart in the human psyche-the subconscious mind. It is not arandom happenstance that the Goddess of the Moon (the sovereign Nature) is referred to as "the Queen of All Witcheries." It is by contacting her that connection with, and therefore knowledge of and influence over, all beings is accomplished.
THE LANGUAGE OF SYMBOL
The language of the subconscious mind-the "words" it understands-is the language of symbol. Symbols are also the basic language of divination. Many of the ancient methods of divination consisted of methods whereby pattems were observed in Nature (the flight ofbirds or the marks on the entrails of a sacrificial animal) and matched to a corresponding set of predetermined interpretations or meanings. This practice is generally referred to as augury (though this term is sometimes used specifically in reference to the flight ofbirds). The subconscious mind works by "linking" certain ideas in the mind with other ideas through the device of symbols. So, if the augur (the person who was divining) saw, for example, that birds in flight formed a cirde, and to him, a cirde represented home, hearth, and abundance, then his or her prediction would be one of gain and happiness.
Here we can see where the practice of divination by augury might have eventually become misinterpreted as superstition and "hocuspocus." Because the fundamental principle behind it is not understood, one could say, "Well, just because somebody sees a cirde in the sky, and his house also happens to be shaped like a cirde, that doesn't mean that there's any connection between the two. It could be merely a coincidence, nothing more. It's pure hogwash that one has anything to say about the other."
The point here is that they are connected, and in a Witch's universe, there are no such things as coincidences. This is because, as we discussed earlier, a Witch learns to "see" connections that are perhaps hidden from everyone else. Even though many people may not like to say it in these days when the word has negative connotations, Witches dealliterally with the occult (from the Latin word for "hidden") side of things. Because the subconscious mind, and with it, Nature (and our Great Goddess), works by linking things together, it (and she) produces an inner unity amongst all beings. All Witches, or modern practitioners ofWicca, know in their hearts that All is One; they work with the principle that all the Goddess' creation exists in a living, breathing cosmic web of interconnections and interdependencies. To the Witch, what is above is as what is below, and what is below is as what is above.
So, the first step in learning to divine properIy is to get in touch with and trust our subconscious minds. Wiccans are perhaps better acquainted with working with the energies of the subconscious, as we already hold the power of the Moon in veneration. We can also, perhaps, be helped by remembering part of the Charge of the Goddess: "If that which thou seeketh thou findeth not within thee, then thou shalt never find it without thee." If we rearrange the words of this sentence to read "That which thou findeth within thee, thou wilt also find without thee," we get a pretty good, simple explanation of the magician's creed "As above, so below." What we are talking about here is the macrocosm and the microcosm, which will help us to get a grasp on one of the three main aspects of the divining power-the Law of Correspondences.
Let's look at a picture of the planets revolving around the sun in our enormous solar system, then look at a picture of something on the extreme opposite of the size spectrum: electrons revolving around the nucleus of an atom. The principles underIying each system are the same (gravity, rotation, revolution), so what is true of the macrocosm will be true of the microcosm, though on a different scale. In fact all the planets (at least the seven planets known to the ancients) can be found within our bodies, corresponding to the chakras.
An even better way to think of this magical maxim might be "As within, so without; as without, so within." If we look "without" of ourselves, we see an order in the Universe, which can be found within that Universe as a recurring theme, thereby linking things by correspondence. So, here we have two concepts upon which a sound approach to divination should be based: order and correspondence.
ORDER AND CORRESPONDENCE
What do we need to know about order? Some of us (I might even venture to say many of us) have a slight problem when it comes to this concept. H, when I mentioned the word "order," you had horrifying visions of "to do" lists and monthly bank statements all neatly balanced and chronologically filed away, or if you had to fight the urge to run screaming from the room, you might qualify for membership in this club. The concept of order has somehow picked up a connotation of patriarchy, controi, and stultifying linear thought processes that are distasteful to many Wieeans. Order seems to smack of the nine-to-five world, desk jobs, neckties, and anything else that would threaten to drain away the glorious flow of creativity that is the gift of the Mother.
As lovers of Nature, we want to run free with the wild wind; to laugh, cry, and sing with the joy of the rushing waters; and to feel the limitless life energy flow through us. We think of the Goddess as free, boundless, chaotic, wild, and, in her greatest aspeet, the Abyss beyond all Light and Creation-the Unknowable in her Uncreated Glory. The thought of order, routine, and rules seems to damp en this spirit. It is unfortunate, however, that this has come to be so, for the bare truth is that the Goddess' great cosmos and everything in it must be based on the concept of order to exist. Order-beautiful, pristine, perfeet order-has become confused with stagnation, avarice, and inertia. Order is the pure simplicity of abstract mathematical formulas, the drum song that beats out the swirling plan of rhythm to which the Dancer of the Universe whirls.
We might even associate order more with the God, and in the next chapter we will explore the role of the God in his Mercurial aspect in connection with order. Certainly, our lovely Goddess of the Moon, and our generous Mother Earth both operate within the order of their cycles. If their rotations and revolutions are governed by order, then the tiny universes that compose our bodies and consciousnesses must be also. The Creator is always present in the Created. The cycles of the moon, sun, and seasons; the perpetual orbits of the planets; the alternation of night and day, life and death; and the progression of youth to decay, all keep their time on the spinning Wheel of F ortune, the Wheel of Life, the Sacred Circle upon which all our Craft is founded.
This, too, is why all acts of love and joy are rituals of the Goddess. Dancing, music, merrymaking, and lovemaking are all based on rhythm. Without perfect order and harmony (another extremely important concept we will come to next), our bodies would fall apart. We could not think or speak because these acts are dependent on the stringing together of thoughts and words in a specific order. We would have no music, no chants, no dancing, no eating of sumptuous feasts. It stands to reason that the better order something is in, the better it works. In my years of experience as a Tarot reader, I've seen the same phenomenon borne out again and again: the better order one's own personal consciousness is in, the better the cards are laid out and interpreted by that person. Here we might remember the old Tarot reader's adage "Ask a vague question, get a vague answer." We might extend this idea to say "Have a vague personal consciousness, get a vague answer."
This is the real problem when a divination comes out mushy and unreadable. It's not usually that the cards will not "speak to you," it's that the lines of mental and psychic force along which they align themselves are crossed and confused. The best card readings that I've ever done were always for the High Priestess under whom I originally trained. She is also a Hermetic magician and Qabalist. When she shuftled the cards, and I laid them out, they felllike clockwork into an order so crystal clear that I could see straight through to the bottom of the matter at hand.
Now, of cours e rm not recommending that you go out and join a Hermetic school before attempting to learn divination. However, I will present to you in the next chapter some meditations and exercises to help you, the diviner, contact the source of inner harmony that will make your readings come out clearer and allow you to divine more correctly and precisely.
This brings us to our last point in this chapter: the necessary blossoming of harmony. I mentioned before that you will need to contact the source of harmony within yourself in order to become a good diviner. The harmony that we are talking about is that precise conjunction of order and correspondence. In the next chapter we will be working with these concepts and relating them to some appropriate cards from the Tarot. For our purposes correspondence is represented by the High Priestess, and order is represented by the Magician.
This third concept, harmony, is perhaps best illustrated in the Lovers card, where subconsciousness and self-consciousness, female and male, Moon and Sun, are in perfect balance. The angel in this card, therefore, is harmony, which is the joining together of God and Goddess in perfect love-the Great Rite from which is bom the Child of Light and Promise. When this Child is bom within you, that is, when your subconscious and self-conscious minds are working together to correlate and set in order the various components related to your divination system, then you will hear the Voice of Prophecy speak for you as truly as did the fume-inhaling prophetesses of Delphi.