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Divination and Hermetics, History and Bias

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,alt.tarot,alt.divination,alt.occult,talk.religion.misc,alt.pagan.magick,talk.religion.newage
From: tyagi@houseofkaos.abyss.com (nagasiva)
Subject: Divination and Hermetics, History and Bias (was GD, Waite...)
Date: 12 Jan 1998 15:25:11 -0800

49980104 aa2 Hail Satan!

nagasiva re Waite's claim that the 'true meaning' of the Higher Cards
  has to do with an ineffable mystical union rather than "divination":
---------------------------------------------------------------------
# >I'd like to hear more about what any think he means by 'divination'.
# >this argument has come up many times in alt.tarot with people who
# >didn't make a great deal of sense to me or obscured their rhetoric
# >with so much banter and flammage that they were unintelligible or
# >seemed intentionally vague.

re the possibility AEW meant 'fortune-telling' as in prognostication:
-------------------------------------------------------------------
this makes a good deal of sense to me, as it would fit with what I
remembered as his Christian education and the proscriptions from
such activities within the various churches.  my dictionary
(American Heritage, Second College Edition) DEFINES divination
(1.) as foretelling the future.  it contains numerous other
biased definitions also, but these conform to what I understand is
a rather common Christian repulsion from prognostication and the
dealing with spirits for the purposes of obtaining future knowledge.

many American (possibly also European) laws go so far as to
prohibit such 'fortune-telling' by professional diviners (requiring
they be characterized and appear as a form of entertainment, amateur
counselling or therapy.  now WHY this has been prohibited is what
intrigues me, especially since prophesy and revelation as regards
the future are so very important to Western religious traditions
(and I think that fortune-telling may constitute competition).


re connecting tarot to events and thus losing symbolic significance:
I can understand the desire to avoid this if it isn't successful or
if one has a very particular objective (mystical) in mind.  what I
don't understand is why it should be so strongly dissuaded,
especially if it can be discerned through scientific analysis and
objective reflection to be a form of charlatanry or precognition,
comparable to something as what has been done with astrology.


# >so far what I've understood is that from Case and probably before
# >him (possibly Golden Dawn and maybe general Hermetics) there is
# >a religious bias against using tarot cards as a divinatory device
# >because it tends to lead to a redefinition of favored symbolic
# >significance, thereby obscuring a supposed implied communication
# >which might otherwise be assimilated through meditation and study.

here I was being kind to Waite, allowing the arguments of those in
alt.tarot to provide the support for Waite's antagonism to divination.


# >I would call this a kind of tarot fundamentalism, and yet I'm
# >not sure I completely understand the logic of the argument.  it
# >seems to include many presumptions about how symbols are used
# >by the mind to mature and what graphic presentation and process
# >of tarot use are best for transformation of consciousness.
# >
# >I'd suggest that these biases not only present an undue DIS-
# >respect toward divination (by whatever its meaning), but
# >blatantly exhibit the ignorance and naivete of those who
# >go about arguing them, and I'd love to hear response to this.

note that my comment is about those who argue this in a CATEGORICAL
sense: those who maintain that theirs is the only correct position
on the matter and reject the arguments and positions of others
based on their preferred understanding (rather than identifying
the various significances of 'divination' and detailing their
specific objections to each).


re deviation of attention from meaning to manifestation:
where this becomes a problem I understand avoiding it.  where it
is either the objective (as when someone uses divination or
dowsing or whatever to assist in practical affairs), I don't see
any hard and fast truths.  it seems to me a matter of preference
and one's decision as to the reliability of the device for the
purposes of assessing the course of future events.

what I'm calling the 'tarot fundamentalism' is the unswerving
condemnation of 'divination' (outright, without regard to the
way the term is used and how this varies) across the boards,
as if everyone has or should have mystical objectives in mind.
given that there are many who do NOT have such objectives when
seeing diviners, this position is untenable and illogical.

I'm unsure if A.E. Waite and Case did this on the basis of
their occult or religious training, since both the Roman
Catholic church and (if memory serves) Eliphas Levi (who was
heavily influenced by said religious organization) seemed to
have similar attitudes.  the only way to ascertain this is
through quotation and exegesis.   here is the best I can
come up with to illustrate my point from the Haus library:

        This method [detailed in this text] of divination
        is not intended for fortune-telling.  If you debase
        it to that purpose, you will cripple yourself
        spiritually.  Its proper application is to the
        solution of serious questions, for yourself or others.

        Before attempting to divine, learn the divinatory
        meanings of the 78 cards.  Do not try divination
        until you have committed these meanings to memory,
        because the subconscious response and control of
        shuffling required for divination necessitate
        thorough knowledge of the meaning of every picture.

        ...

        Finally, let me reiterate the thought that this
        is not to be used for vulgar fortune-telling, or
        to amuse a party of friends.  If you yield to the
        temptation so to abuse this information, you will
        pay for it in the loss of all power of true
        divination, and probably in the loss of ability
        to control the higher rates of psychic vibration.
        Thus the ultimate result of abuse of this
        divinatory practice will be to make you more
        negative, more the slave of circumstance, more
        liable to evil of every kind.
        ------------------------------------------------------
        _The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages_, by
           Paul Foster Case, Macoy Pub., 1947; pp. 204-214
        ______________________________________________________


it can be seen from the above that Case asserts a very
specific meaning for the term 'divination'.  this he
would like to distinguish absolutely from fortune-telling
of any sort, presumably because asking about the future
does not constitute a 'serious question'.  his warnings
about the repercussions of taking too lightly his
instructions are reminiscent of the various hazards
supposed to surround that associated with many esoteric
'secrets' or 'mysteries'.  they have as much an ethical
as a cosmological justification in his text regardless
of any underlying motivations he may have.

the Ciceros have an interesting comment on fortune-
telling and the history of tarot upon which I'd like to
hear comment as to its accuracy:

        To our knowledge, the Tarot was invented in
        the early 14th century and was used as a
        tool of instruction for those who did not
        know how to read.  It was also used for
        gambling.  However, by the 1800's the cards
        were almost entirely used for fortunetelling. [sic]
        ---------------------------------------------
        _The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot_, by Chic
           and Sandra Tabatha Cicero, Llewellyn
           Pub., 1991; p. xi.
        _____________________________________________

perhaps they refer to the gypsies' use of the cards,
as is commonly related in many attempts at historical
overview.

as I often find to be the case where tarot matters are
concerned, there is value to be found in the text of
Rachel Pollack.  here she points out the precise problem
I have been mentioning and argues persuasively:

        The use of Tarot cards for doing readings --
        'divination', to give the practice its proper
        name -- has been controversial for at least
        as long as the occult, 'serious' study of the
        cards began in the eighteenth century.
        Paradoxically, while many occultists will
        sneer at divination, most people know of no
        other purpose for the Tarot.

        ...

        The long association of Tarot reading with
        cheap theatricals probably explains at least
        in part, the contempt or lack of interest
        many Tarot students have shown toward
        divination.  Seeing the Tarot as both a
        diagram and a tool of conscious evolution,
        occultists and esotericists will automatically
        dismiss the use of the cards to usher in
        'tall dark strangers' or mysterious inheri-
        tances.  And yet, by seeing only the abuse
        and not the deeper possibilities in readings,
        these occultists have themselves limited the
        Tarot's true value.

        Here is Arthur Edward Waite commenting on
        divination in his book _The Pictorial Key
        to the Tarot_ [London, 1910]:

                The allocation of a fortune-telling
                aspect to these cards is the story
                of a prolonged impertinence.

        This brings us to an interesting paradox.
        Because they looked down on fortune-telling,
        Waite and others have extended the misuse
        of readings.  The derogatory way in which they
        wrote about it has fixed in many people's minds
        the image of trivial attempts to predict the
        future.  As to why they wrote of it at all, we
        can only guess that they or their publishers
        assumed the public demanded such an approach.
        After all, even today most people who pick up a
        book on Tarot care more about mysterious messages
        than they do about achieving psychic transformation.
        Certainly the best-selling Tarot books give the
        simplest formulas for the cards meanings -- and
        at the same time promise all knowledge.

        More important than why they bothered to write
        about it is the simple fact that few esotericts
        have done much to dispel the image of divination
        as trivial.  This disregard has even extended to
        the entire Minor Arcana.  Because the Minor cards
        are associated with readings many serious books
        on Tarot treat them very lightly, if at all (Waite's
        remark applied only to the Major cards).  Paul
        Foster Case's book _The Tarot_ [quoted above] gives
        only the barest formulas in a kind of appendix
        at the back.  Many others treat only the Major
        cards.  Almost alone of modern esoteric studies
        Crowley's _The Book of Thoth_ [London, 1944] goes
        deeply into the Minor cards, linking them to a
        complex astrological system.

        As for methods of doing readings, the most important
        esoteric studies have given only the barest
        information, a few 'spreads' or designs for laying
        out the cards, with formula explanations for the
        different positions.  Again, Crowley is the
        exception, presenting a characteristically compli-
        cated system of readings via an astrological 'clock'.

        The impact of depth psychology and humanistic
        astrology has led many contemporary writers to seek
        a more serious use of divination.  Unfortunately,
        by treating readings in such an offhand manner,
        the earlier writers have created a tradition of
        formulas which modern writers have found hard to
        shake off.  Thus we still find the same sorts of
        explanations for the Minor cards, such as 'All
        is not yet lost; good fortune is still possible'
        (Douglas [also quoted below]); and the same brief
        descriptions of spreads with explanations such as
        'best possible outcome' for the positions.
        Following Crowley and others, several contemporary
        books have attempted to widen the meaning of the
        cards by linking them not only to astrology and
        the Qabalah but to the I Ching, Jungian psychology,
        Tantra, even Central American mythology.  Such
        linking aids understanding, particularly for those
        people with a previous knowledge of the other
        system (it would be interesting to see a book
        about, say, gestalt psychology which explains its
        subject in terms of Tarot correspondence rather
        than the other way around).
        -----------------------------------------------------
        _Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom_ (Vol. 2), by
           Rachel Pollack, Aquarian Press, 1983; pp. 123-5.
        _____________________________________________________

Pollack respectfully avoids the discussion of religion,
despite the fact that the writers she mentions had very
different religious backgrounds and attitudes which may
have influenced their approach to divination and tarot.

the last text I found valuable in a quick peruse was
the following by Douglas, since he actually begins to
address the cosmological theories which might underly
the function of tarot (something Crowley also does well,
in a mystical style, though I refrain from quoting him):

        Whether the persistent belief in Tarot cards
        as a reliable oracle has any foundation in
        fact is a subject which is not open to
        rational argument.  Present-day science does
        not recognize any physical laws which could
        account for a correlation between a sequence
        of cards shuffled at random, and the
        occurrence of events in the future.

        But intelligent and responsible people have
        asserted that in their experience such a thing
        is possible.  Jung, for example, researched
        several methods of divination, including
        astrology [an interesting categorization - tn]
        and the Chinese I Ching, and his findings led
        him to develop his "theory of synchronicity"
        which, stated briefly, claims that all events
        occurring in a certain moment of time exhibit
        the unique qualities of that moment in time.

        This means that the moment of a person's birth
        is meaningfully linked with all other natural
        phenomena occurring at that moment, including
        the positions of sun, moon and planets in the
        sky.  Therefore a horoscope -- a map of the
        Heavens as viewed from a particular point on
        the surface of the earth -- erected for the
        time and place of this birth, will give the
        trained astrologer insights into the character
        and destiny of that person.

        In the same way, when the I Ching is consulted
        by manipulating yarrow stalks as a question is
        being asked, the parts of the texts which are
        arrived at as a result [a complicated form of
        bibliomancy -- tn] will give a relevant answer
        to the question.

        Jung's theory can be applied equally well to
        Tarot cards.  In Tarot divination the cards are
        first shuffled, then laid out in various spreads,
        and interpreted by the reader.

        Whether one accepts or rejects the theory of
        synchronicity is purely a matter of personal
        inclination and experience, though it would
        perhaps be unwise to reject anything so poten-
        tially useful without first giving it a fair trial.

        When Sir Isaac Newton was upbraided by the then
        Astronomer Royal for his professed belief in
        astrology, Newton's reply was: "I, Sir, have
        studied the subject -- you have not."
        ---------------------------------------------------
        _The Tarot_, by Alfred Douglas, Penguin Books,
           1986; pp. 201-2.
        ___________________________________________________

I have some suspicion that Douglas is taking a liberty where
Jung's usage of 'synchronicity' is concerned, but will have
to forego direct criticism until I revisit that subject.  it
seems to me that Jung categorized 'synchronistic phenomena',
which would seem to be at odds with Douglas's categorizations.

in any case, the subject of divination and its process as
reading and fortune-telling has been given short-shift by
Hermetic tarot writers, usually without explanation.  this
much is clear from my brief study and previous conversations.
Crowley has gone some distance to redressing this, but he
did not really take the bull by the horns and dispute the
criticisms leveled by Waite and Case after him (who were
both quite possibly inspired by the Victorian attitude of
Levi toward the 'debased remnants of an ancient world' --
the 'gipsies' who were supposed to practice the travesty).

blessed beast!
__________________________________________________________________________
nagasiva -- tyagi@houseofkaos.abyss.com -- http://www.hollyfeld.org/~tyagi/
-- 
(emailed replies may be posted); http://www.hollyfeld.org/~tyagi; 408/2-666-SLUG
  join the esoteric syncretism in alt.magick.tyagi; http://www.abyss.com/tokus 

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