What We Believe

It goes without saying that belief in the validity of divination is key to being able to do it with conviction. But what, exactly, is the object of our faith? Does our certainty have to be unalloyed and unsalted with skepticism or is there room for healthy doubt? I often contemplate what it means to be a diviner, and what my goal should be. On one hand I fully agree with Shakespeare and the words he put in the mouth of Hamlet: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy;” on the other hand, I suspect that the quip by rival entrepreneur David Gannon about the gullible customers of P.T. Barnum has equal traction in the realm of prognostication: “There’s a sucker born every minute” (and I’m not talking about our clients). Personally, as a card-carrying skeptic and occasional cynic about the state of the human condition, I try to keep some distance between my appreciation for the divinatory arts as a meaningful way to navigate the Unknown and the popular culture that has grown up around them in the last couple of decades. What we do has been dismissed as a pseudo-science by detractors, and my private aim has been to legitimize it to my own satisfaction, while not making it a public crusade and not bowing to the mystical assumption that “anything goes” when embarking on the study and practice of the soothsayer’s craft.

Although I try to keep a lid on the gleefully malicious skewering of undercooked conclusions (aka “bullshit”) that has marked me as a curmudgeon in the past, this attitude often pushes me reluctantly into the role of critic when I repeatedly encounter the cherished fantasies entertained by so many who think they have found the “whole truth” in a highly relativistic field of thought and its underlying form of consciousness. The targets of my “poison pen” have run the gamut from the fanciful myths that never seem to go away ( e.g. inanimate objects like cards can hold onto psychic energy to the detriment of their objectivity) to the quasi-scientific idea that the psychological dimensions of an individual’s life or a particular situation can be revealed with great precision by shuffling and dealing a deck of cards (but if you want to talk natal astrology, I’m on-board). I like to think that there are rational ground rules to all of this that can serve as a touchstone for its effectiveness, and in their application I often take a more analytical than freestyle approach to interpreting what I discover. Thus, I strive mightily to keep my subjective bias out of the equation.

This doesn’t mean there is no opportunity for inspired narrative forays when performing a reading, just that my “BS filter” has a low activation threshold and anything I admit into the forecast has to “pass the giggle test” (by which I mean that if I can’t countenance it with a straight face it’s probably unreliable – “tarot timing” is a perfect example of this flaw). Such a disciplined posture may seem counterproductive in what many people embrace as an entirely fluid, intuitive mode of inquiry that is largely rooted in psychic principles, but as “half mad scientist and half mystic” I’ve made it work quite well in my own way. I try to climb onto the shoulders of past thinkers as a “launch pad” for my own imaginative exploratory flights and not just wing it on the basis of subconscious insights that may have no credible foothold in reality; in practical terms, my internalized knowledge-base kicks in at the same time as the more orphic aspects begin to emerge, serving as a kind of “litmus test” for the divination. Even if I don’t get a perfect match, at least I have a previously-mapped landscape across which I can travel with some confidence as I symbolically turn over rocks looking for hidden treasure (while keeping firmly in mind semanticist Alfred Korzybski’s admonition that “the map is not the territory”).

Back in early 2018 I wrote an essay that covered this subject in greater (curmudgeonly) detail, and I thought it would be instructive to repost it here:

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