Tag Archives: divination

Magical Thinking

Rather a long time ago now, I went through some experiences that left me not only disenchanted, but feeling unsafe about allowing myself to think magically in any way at all. My universe was a cold, hostile place and I could not expect it to treat me kindly. Before that, I’d been a person who was not just into but really good at divination. I’d lived with intuition and awareness and felt open and alive. I lost it all. Those of you who have read my books will know that I’ve mostly been doing my Paganism from a maybeist/atheist kind of position.

For some years now, Tom and I have known that we could see no way to level up from our current arrangement. There are things we want to change in our lives – where we live, what we do creatively – but we’ve been unable to get there from here. We’re not affluent or prominent enough and we’ve not got the right connections. We’ve been in a processes of resigning ourselves to this being our lives, while habitually saying ‘and then the magic thing happens’ if we want to imagine something ambitious we can’t see how to achieve.

It was, with hindsight, something a lot like a prayer or a spell.

In the last few weeks, we have instead ended up looking at each other and saying ‘and then the magic thing happens’. Because it turns out that we have invited magic into our lives in a very real sort of way.

It’s been a strange few months, where I’ve had to depend on the intuition I’d stopped using and didn’t trust. With important stuff to do and nothing like enough information, it’s the only tool I’ve had. But every prompting from that has been right. Verifiable stuff with significant implications. I’ve started doing divination again and started paying attention to the world in very different ways – I have been re-enchanted, no two ways about that. Something I had not been able to see how to do for myself, but… the magic thing happens.

What I know right now is that there is magic coming into my life, and that what I need to do with that is trust the process. Let go, and be swept away by it all. So I’m going to trust that intuition, trust what’s happening, trust what will happen and be open to anything and everything changing.


The reality of omens

When looking for omens in the world around us, it is necessary to consider how reality works in the first place. One of the things I have rejected outright is that other autonomous beings could show up in my life as messages from spirit – because the idea that a hare, a sparrowhawk, or some other attention grabbing thing could have its day messed about purely to try and give me a sign, is profoundly uncomfortable to me. I have something of an animist outlook, and I do not think the universe is *that* into me.

At the same time, influenced by a number of spiritual traditions and myths, I have a sense of the universe as an unfolding thing – a river, a cloth – I don’t know. Something complex, flowing, and with the past informing the future. In that great flow, signs of the flow may emerge like ripples in the stream.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that the best place to look for such ripples is in random things that probably don’t have intent of their own. The behaviour of a moustache is a family favourite. The shape of a bird poo, the patterns made by random natural things, especially if they look a bit like something else. Clouds are great fun for this.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that an amazing encounter with nature can be read in other ways. I saw an otter in town recently. I think the otter was minding its own business, but I can read a number of things into the sighting. It tells me very clear things about the health of my local streams and rivers, it tells me I live in a good place, and that there are reasons to be hopeful. The otter was not bearing this message to me, it is simply what it means in this context, and anyone seeing it could infer the same.

I can however read something into my behaviour at this point. I was in the right place at the right time, and I think that tells me something about my relationship with the flow. I take exciting nature encounters as good omens not because I think nature is bringing me a special message, but because it means I was in just the right place, at exactly the right time, looking the right way and paying attention. That in turn means I am in tune, and would seem to bode well for anything else I’m doing


Divination lessons with Poe

I was listening to Omnia’s version of ‘The raven  a little while back, it struck me what a pertinent piece of writing this is for anyone engaged in symbol interpretation. It’s a bit of a crash course in things you really don’t want to do, and I thought it might be both entertaining and useful to poke around in that a bit. If you aren’t able to listen to Omnia, here’s the text version.

We start out with a chap in a state of angst and melancholy. Moods colour perceptions, and if you are depressed, pretty much everything has the potential to look like a harbinger of doom. He has a fair sense of his own mood, so has no excuse. If you know everything looks shitty and feels doomed, try to avoid reading messages into things because you will just see portents of everything going to hell in a handcart. Had a dancing rainbow unicorn turned up, he would probably have seen something terrible in its eyes.

Clearly he’s looking for something or hoping that something will come to him. Perhaps the ghost of dead Leonore, but he has both a mood of gloom, and an agenda, which informs how he understands everything. It’s easy to see omens when you are specifically looking for them, and the stronger desire is, the less reliable your interpretations will be, so at the very least you need to factor that in a bit and not get too carried away.

He asks the bird its name, it answers ‘Nevermore’ and he instantly rejects that as the name the bird goes by, because it does not suit him to accept. If we are led by our assumptions, we are going to get things wrong. We should not assume otherworldly beings will have the same conventions and habits as we do.

He says a few other doleful things, the raven repeats ‘Nevermore’ and he at once assumes there must be innate meaning in its saying that. The more logical conclusion is that the bird knows one word, and this is it. Again the agenda is allowed to inform the interpretation even when other possibilities are clearly present. He then proceeds to ask an array of questions to which ‘nevermore’ would be the least helpful answer he could hear. He’s setting himself up to get the depressing answers that on some level, he evidently wants. Gloomy man confirms his gloom.

The bird stays. Never once does he consider that the bird might be benevolent, a guardian, or connected to Leonore in some way. He assumes it is there to torture him because he is busy torturing himself. Had he asked ‘how long must I suffer?’ the raven’s ‘Nevermore,’ might have sounded like a blessing, not a curse.

“Will they make me eat tapioca again?”

“Nevermore.”

Without an open mind, any form of divination can be a lot like seeing what you were looking for.


Interpreting the cranes

Poke about online and you’ll find a lot of references to the ancient Druids using ogham for divination, and as a consequence being described as having ‘Crane knowledge’. There is much to be cautious about here. Firstly the ogham itself, which might well not be ancient, and the relationship between Druids and cranes. The idea of the crane bag – a tiny bag of wisdom items carried by Druids, may be something derived wholly from Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. The idea of ogham as ancient, sacred, mystical language of the Druids, and as method for divination, probably comes from there too.

I’ve read The White Goddess. I’ve also read a Peter Beresford Ellis essay on the subject of Graves’ ogham fabrications, and I’ve read Mark Carter’s Stalking the Goddess, which flags up many issues around Graves’ work, including the ancientness of ogham. The trouble with Graves is that his influence is widespread, and his ideas are touted around the Pagan community as ancient truth in ways that are bloody difficult to unpick.

It is therefore entirely possible that Druids did not spend any time at all reading mystical ogham messages in the flight of cranes.

However, of all the birds a person might look to for mystical signs in flight, cranes strike me as the most interesting. I’ve spent a lot of time sat in hides and windows watching birds. The thing about most birds, is that once you get to know them, there’s plenty of logic to what they do. They have methods for flying that suit their purposes. Little birds, vulnerable to predation, fall like leaves out of branches. Large winged buzzards soar on the thermals, because they can. Crows attack falcons, not to proclaim coming revolution, but to defend nests and territory. Fishing birds get active when the fish do. They have patterns that repeat over days, habits, preferences, tastes. Spend enough time watching, and the mysterious behaviour of birds resolves into something wholly intelligible.

Except for the flight of cranes, that is. I’ve seen cranes in flight a few times now. They have huge wingspans, long, delicate legs, long necks, and are capable of making a lot of shapes in the sky. Most birds tuck their feet in when in flight, but crane legs seem to get all over the place. The shapes they make are many. They also like posing when on the ground and court with a crane dance that offers all kinds of interesting moves. I would bet that what cranes do makes perfect sense to cranes, but for the observer it’s not too easy to match the shapes they make with obvious intentions. The bigger a flock of cranes, the more complex things they may seem to write across the sky. With their otherworldly calls, and their rather glamorous presence, they really do stand out as birds that might be embodying messages from the divine.

A scatter of wings and legs across a wintery sky. A flash and arc of cranes in flight as they move between feeding places. The human temptation to see a message, written in bird form. What did it say? What did it mean? To the cranes, it meant they were shifting field, for whatever reason. Did the universe pick the moment of their flight to have a little conversation with itself?

Then there were the great flocks of lapwings, weaving across the sky – an act of alarm at the possible presence of a predator, but those swirling bird forms paint the sky in ways that suggest meaning. Crows and lapwings flying across each other in the high wind, a tapestry of bird forms. Does it mean something?

The human mind is predisposed to look for patterns and meanings. That’s one of the features that has turned us into what we now are. We see meaning in randomness – as the Rorschach ink blots have taught us. We find it reassuring to have meanings, and we have a collective obsession with the idea that patterns can be interpreted to give us some control over the future. Be that patterns in currency markets, education outcomes, political policies or the flight of cranes. We really don’t want to believe that the world is a random place that has nothing to say to us. However, in our desire to impose a meaning, I wonder if we miss the subtle things that might be actually there. A lack of meaning would sometimes do a lot more to comfortably explain life, and even more critically, death, than this desire to interpret.


Signs from nature

I recently read a rather new agey book, which talked a lot about the presence of angels (author William Bloom, if anyone was wondering). It included such notions as nature being the face of spirit and that if we pay attention to nature, it will give messages to us. I’ve also recently read a Ross Heaven book on shamanic healing, and that too offered the idea of messages from nature. Now, on one hand I do divination and the idea of simple things that give inspiration and prompt insight works fine for me. But on the other hand…

I spend a lot of time close to nature. I’m living on a small boat on a large canal, there’s a lot of water, trees and wildlife right outside my window and I’m out there in it every day. I see a lot of nature. I’ve watched the grebes diving at twilight, and seen them enough to know perfectly well that they aren’t there for me; they are there for the spot they like to fish in at sunset. I know when the bats and badgers are likely to come out, which bit of towpath the toads favour, where the owls like to perch, and where to hear a cuckoo in the spring.

Encountering any of these things as a one off, they might feel mystical and magical in the sense of conveying specific meaning to me. Living with them every day, I can’t take them as personal omens. I can see how the weather impacts on some of them, seasons, times of day. I see that all the living things around me have their own needs, communities, habits. I will gasp with the sheer pleasure of seeing a tern, I am delighted by the badgers. I know where to find them, and I know I won’t see any of them so much in really bad weather, or at the season when they are elsewhere. There is a magic in experiencing nature.

It seems a touch arrogant, to me, to imagine that the natural world has nothing better to do than run round bringing us messages about whether to apply for that job, or whether to ditch a lover. My honest impression is that unless I am directly interacting with it in some way, the rest of nature couldn’t care less whether I live or die, succeed or fail. If I have bread crusts, the swans will love me, for a little while. If I am noisy, the birds will fly away from me. The more time I spend with them, the less able I am to see patterns of meaning in nature that do not pertain to the other living entities. I am also ever more conscious that these are spirits too, all of them from the tiniest bug on my finger tip to the big fish that occasionally leap at dusk. They are all spirits. They all have their own paths to follow. Do any of them taking my coming and going for an omen?


Druidry and divination

What historical writing there is about the druids tends to mention divination including reading death throws and entrails, and other less than lovely activities. I for one have never been tempted. There are lots of uncertainties about the insights we get from Roman writers, which doesn’t help. So, having swept all of ancient history aside with an insufficient overview…. How does divination fit into modern druidic practice?

There are plenty of divination tools out there. I started with runes, having purloined my father’s set. There are ogham inspired systems of divination, but, when you consider the academic uncertainties around ogham, this won’t be ancient as a method either. There are modern druid oracle cards too. I think the question of whether a system is old or not, is far less relevant than whether it works. Different people tend to feel comfortable with different tools, and will use them in different ways and for different reasons. What works for one may not, therefore, work for another and it pays to try various mthods.
Divination is not something to do just for fun or as a party trick. You need to know what you want and why you are doing it. Asking yourself not only what you want to know about, but why, is very important and should happen before you start questing after insight. In times of fear and uncertainty, reaching for reassurance can be tempting. What we want then is often a comfort blanket, and a divination tool that gives a truthfully bleak outlook might do more harm than good.

We also need to consider how we think reality works. Is the future a certain thing that can be known in advance? If not, what do we hope to gain? Who are we appealing to when we ask our questions? To the cards or stones themselves? To the gods? To fate? Or something inside ourselves? You can undertake divination without being clear about this, but it should be considered. Sometimes the answers can be informative about what we really want from the process.

I use divination methods to divine the present. This is because I do not believe the future is all laid out before me. I also believe that the present does a lot to shape the future, and if you can spot the influential threads in the now, you can make good guesses at what might be coming. This is not much different from all the other forms of speculative thinking that governments, financial bodies and whatnot do. Their methods are not any more reliable than any others. I use divination to help me clarify my own mind, and be clear about my feelings and intentions. I find this helps me to then pick my own path forwards and to shape the future I want, rather than being buffeted by events.

Finally, I use divination for inspiration. I find the aforementioned Druid oracles very helpful for this. I have The Druid animal oracle, and the plant oracle – both the work of the Carr Gomms and illustrated by Will Worthington. They have beautiful, rich images, and a supporting book full of folklore, natural history and insight. Using them I find insight into my own state of mind, and it helps me create a calm space from which to consider whatever events are unfolding, or anticipated.
In stories of ancient divination acts, the theme seems to be wanting to know that your side will win, or how to get the favour of the gods in order to win, or which day would give you the best chance at winning. Much of divination can be seen to be about harnessing good luck and avoiding ill. This is a world view that just does not fit will my own personal philosophy. We get what we get, as far as I am concerned. Most of my questions therefore tend to be about how to survive, how to nourish my own strength and imagination to help me continue, and how to do the best I can with whatever comes to me.

I have done a lot of work at various times, divining for others. Experience suggests that many people either want to be reassured, or they want someone else to tell them what to do. Armed with a pack of cards, some incense and a bit of background music, a person can have far more authority than they might at other times. A friend who would not listen to the suggestion that she’s chasing the wrong bloke if I just said it, might be far more open to the idea if I ‘divined’ it for her. This raises all kinds of interesting questions about truth, integrity, power, and what power does to people. This is one of the reasons I’ve stopped divining for other people very much.

One of the things I like about the druid oracle cards is that they don’t give answers. It’s nigh on impossible to get simple ‘do it this way’ instructions in answer to problems. Instead, they offer kinds of energy to explore and work with. How to do it rests with the individual, but sometimes it’s nice to have a place to start from.


Almost a teen witch

On with the tale of how I got to where I am currently…

Aged about, 12 I read The Way of Weird, and purloined the rune set and instruction book my father had. It was the Ralph Blume book, which I later heard bad things about, but by then I’d got so used to, and adept at doing it that way, I couldn’t face trying to relearn. Through school fetes I discovered a knack for fortune telling.

In my early teens, I also started having premonitions. This did not come as a total surprise. Mother, grandmother and great grandmother all have their uncanny moments, with intuition being a big part of it. Nevertheless, it did scare me and took some adapting to.

Having had the wiccan influence in my childhood and not knowing about any other kinds of paganism, I assumed I was a witch. I had enough sense not to go round announcing this, however. During my teens I explored other forms of divination, including scrying. I had a few days of automatic writing, and then whatever had wanted to use me, moved on. I was grateful. I think her name was Harriet, and she’d been through some stuff. She taught me that interacting with the spirit world is hard, draining, mind bending and I never deliberately sought it as a consequence. No Ouija boards for me!

At fourteen, I started sitting out overnight in the hills with other less than perfectly sober teenagers. I discovered the joys of wild fire making, of nights under the stars, storytelling, waking up covered in dew, seeing the sunrise. I also learned that sleep deprivation causes me to hallucinate. Why buy drugs when your brain chemistry will get there all by itself? So while others did drop acid, I didn’t, and I still saw things. Although I wasn’t entirely conscious of it at the time, those hilltop nights went on to become part of my druidry. I think I was reaching for it even then, I just didn’t know what it was called.

In just the same way, I started exploring the trance potential of dance and drumming. Things that from the outside probably looked like normal teen excess, were taking me on spiritual journeys and opening my mind.

My father introduced me to the idea of astral projection, so I spent a lot of nights trying to do it, and getting nowhere. I had no formal teaching, and not much access to books. A school friend developed an enthusiasm for hypnotism. I learned that I could shape my voice in ways that encourage people into different levels of consciousness. A tool I later learned to use for guided meditation work. I also discovered that I’m really good at entering trance states. I could go quickly and easily. The problem has always been in finding someone calm and together enough to lead and guide me, and bring me back. The teenage explorers around me baulked at the heavier stuff, and I was on my own again.

My early teens also brought me into contact with ideas about lucid dreaming, and dream interpretation. I kept dream diaries, and tried to get a bit of control over my dreaming mind. I had a lot of very dark nightmares during several intense periods, and a desire to not be at the mercy of those. I still haven’t got that entirely sussed.

It was a strange time for me. Outside of school I devoted a lot of time to bands, boys, and general teen stuff. I knew I wanted more, and different. ‘Witch’ was the best word I had, and even then I knew it didn’t fit. At 18, I came into contact with some wiccans, went to a couple of their workshops – tarot, meditation, Quabala, and on some day trips. They put me in touch with The Pagan Federation and for the first time I started to realise how little I knew and how much there was to learn. It all seemed big, impressive and intimidating, but I read my Pagan Dawns each quarter, and became more conscious within my own life. College loomed, and with it the first hints of druidry crept into my life.