Divination by Jan Engels-Smith
A shaman conceptualizes and relates to life from a perspective that is different from ordinary reality. The shaman sees life in all things—even those things we consider as inanimate—and perceives that all things are closely interrelated and interdependent. This view of unity and wholeness in existence defines the web of life with which the shaman interacts. The shaman learns to read the signs of life and understands how every action, every word, and every emotion reverberate through the web and influence all of existence. This metaphysical understanding of reality allows the shaman to see deeper and more profound meaning in what others might fail to see.
What does the future hold for me? From the dawn of time people have asked themselves that question. They sought answers from shamans, seers, or oracles. They scanned the clouds, watched birds, weather patterns, moon or sun anomalies for significant patterns or messages seeking guidance for what is to come.
The shaman’s unique abilities of insight underlie the art and practice of divination. Divination has been practiced in all cultures and has been a component of all religions for thousands of years—especially in indigenous cultures. The earliest known forms of divination are still used today: the casting of bones and the casting of tea leaves. Other popular forms of divination are Ogam, Numerology, Runes, IChing, Astrology, Feng Shui, and Dowsing. Western society, through its fragmentation of vision and perception of life as separate entities, has diminished the opportunities of divination to communicate with unseen forces, foretell the probable future, or find the unknown potentials that exist just below the surface of logical thought. The modern practice of shamanism is focused on restoring this metaphysical power and tapping into cosmic forces that can make the world whole again.
In this new millennium, we can access all kinds of methods to rediscover the art of divination. One of the more common is a tool from ancient times—the Tarot deck. There are many versions of Tarot cards and all are accompanied by explicit instructions on how to use and interpret the cards. These mystical images and symbols are often beautifully illustrated and are readily available for purchase. The success of one’s use of the cards for divining a question is dependent on a number of factors. Some decks come with elaborate descriptions of how to lay out a spread and how to read the resulting array. The results may be surprisingly accurate and useful to an individual’s need even with inexperienced limitations. Real accuracy is dependent on the reader’s ability to interpret meaning and whether the medium speaks specifically to the user’s particular issue—for example, there may be no card that speaks to particular questions.
The Tarot has been around for centuries and decks usually consist of 75 to 78 cards. The concept that underlies this number is that there are basically 75 different scenarios of life expressions and there is a card that relates to each of these life situations and energetically expresses the situation. The belief in divination associated with the Tarot focuses on the prospect that whatever cards are dealt to the participant will be revelatory and predictive of one’s fate or circumstance. During various religious inquisitions, tarot reading, as with all metaphysical divination, was condemned as a crime. Practitioners were punished and even executed. The Tarot went underground but decks of cards continued to be produced and used surreptitiously. The standard deck of cards used in games today was derived from the underground Tarot and still consists of four suits and face cards similar to the arcana in the original Tarot. Some diviners even use a standard deck of cards and interpret meaning from the numbered, face cards and suits. Contemporary divination cards have taken many forms and many popular decks have modified the traditional symbolism to reflect a particular esoteric belief of their creators. There are new pictograms and titles that represent certain concepts and many still use elaborate illustrations.
Another form of divination involves the interpretation of omens. An omen is a sign that relates to a future event. The omen may or may not provide a time frame as to when this event will occur. Some omens are signs of good fortune while others might be indicators of impending misfortune. Some famous superstitions have their roots in omens. Walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, spilling salt, or having a black cat cross your path are traditional signs of bad luck. Finding a four-leaf clover, a horseshoe, or a rabbit’s foot are omens that portend good things happening. For the shaman omens are most often found in nature and the shaman sees the omen as nature communicating and assisting humankind. The communication is non-verbal and telepathic and comes through an intuitive understanding. The source of the omen can be from any form in nature such as an experience I had in Nepal during a climb in the Himalayas. The event was early in my spiritual quest and long before I had developed a full understanding of the vast interaction we share with nature. Here is an excerpt from my book Becoming Yourself:
After I had summited an exhausting climb up Calla Patar I noticed that a redbilled chough had landed about four feet from me. A redbilled chough is a bird that resembles a raven. It is large, black, and strong. The chough is striking in appearance with its massive black body and scarlet red bill. I kept glancing over at the bird, slightly aware of the oddity of its closeness, but would then float back to my blissful gaze of the magnificent Everest. It was several minutes before I questioned why the bird was at this altitude and was so close to me. There was no animal or plant life noticeable in any direction. Just rocks, glaciers, and mountain peaks…not at all the environment for a bird. In fact, the bird was the only other life form besides Nima (my Sherpa) and myself. I turned my head and focused intently on the bird. Everything became surreal. My head throbbed from the lack of oxygen, I was exhausted from the climb, and I was still stunned by the miracle of Everest’s sudden and glorious appearance. I sat motionless watching the bird so out of place in this bleak environment, and close enough to touch.
Finally, I said out loud, “What do you want?
What do you need to say to me?”
I don’t know the source of my questions. They seemed to emanate from some place deep within. Until that moment, I had never spoken a question directly to any animal, and certainly not with the expectation of communication. Yet some part of me, some cellular memory tucked away in my core, knew to ask and to expect an answer. The bird told me that I had been brought to this place by Spirit to help me understand my purpose and my worth. Much of the dialogue I had with this bird was extremely personal and I do not choose to divulge the details. However, the epiphany led me to dedicate myself to follow Spirit’s call. After the bird finished speaking, he spread his massive wings and flew away.
Communication such as this can be obtained by anyone, as long as one is open and receptive to nature’s messages. We must recognize the reality of our connectedness to the entire web of life, if we are to receive the benefits of the universe’s messages to us.
The universe is filled with a simplicity that sometimes eludes us because we are so accustomed to looking for the dramatic and the startling revelations that accompany cataclysmic events. Messages often come in the least-expected images that we encounter in nature. While walking among trees in the stillness of a peaceful day, I have been attracted to the movement of a single leaf that seems unnatural to the setting. While all else is motionless, the leaf will dance, wave, and spin. The sight is fascinating and in its singularity attracts one’s attention. The small leaf in its unusual movement becomes a message from nature—a welcoming as pleasant and uplifting as the sudden appearance of a rainbow or the sun breaking through a cloudy sky. Our reaction is one of imagination; for imagination is the means by which we escape from the bonds of limited thinking that prevents us from connecting to the greater universe and the sources of our greatest empowerment. Imagination has often been suppressed by religion, science, and culture when these entities have perceived threats to their dominance and we have often succumbed to our personal doubts in our ability see beyond our immediate reality. The rational side of our brain, the left side, seeks out immediate empirical evidence of reality, but it is in the right hemisphere that imagination and creativity reveal greater possibilities of truth—the realm of the artist, the visionary, and the clairvoyant. Divination must, of necessity, access all of the brain’s functions, for it seeks to connect with cosmic forces that cannot be defined by a limited defined reality that sees the universe as one-dimensional. Shamanic practice depends on the effective use of the right hemisphere of the brain because it seeks to access other dimensions and non-rational concepts.
Divination is a way of seeing that is practiced by the shaman, the oracle, and the clairvoyant. In truth, these are all one and the same. Clairvoyance means simply “clear vision” and the diviner, in envisioning the future, seeks to clarify future possibilities prior to their occurrence. The French writer Gustave Flaubert wrote, “The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.” Divination may offer a vision of the future but the true wonder of it is in what you choose make of it.