Once upon a time… The Metaphysics of Divination

Once upon a time there was a powerful king who wanted to know when he would die. So, he called his fortune teller to him and asked him.

 

The fortune teller was obviously very reluctant to tell his king and master when he would die, but the king pressed him and eventually the fortune teller gave him a date and a time. So, the king, being a man of means, ordered his masons to build a fortress in the desert, with high, thick walls, miles from anywhere, where death would not be able to reach him.

Time passed and on the day the fortune teller had predicted, the king went to the fortress and locked himself in the special safe room deep within the building. Then, as he sat there, he realised that there were still doors and windows where death could enter so he instructed his masons to block them up. And, at the time predicted by the fortune teller, the king suffocated and died.

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This story illustrates a number of problems involved in “telling the future”. Fortune like death is the great leveller, even kings are subject to it and even kings (and presidents) are apt to call upon the skills of the prescient to find the answer to the question “What’s going to happen?” or if it is something inevitable “When will it happen?” So, the fortune teller bends to the will of the king (kings can be quite persuasive when they want to be) and gives him the information he requests. And what happens? The king, through his actions, creates the very situation he was afraid of and wanted to avoid. Sort of sad and ironic really.

This story exposes a number of assumptions that underpin this business of telling the future. The first is that life is somehow predestined. That’s a bit hard to take. Takes all the fun out of things. Results in endless tedious philosophical and theological arguments about free-will and an omnipotent God and predestination.

From the standpoint of the Western Monotheistic Religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), if the world has been created by an omnipotent God then my life is already mapped out – ‘maktoub’ (It is written) as they say in Arabic – ‘bashert’ (predestined) in Yiddish -and everything I do is God’s will. However, what follows logically from that is that if everything is God’s will and God being of course ultimate good, then there is no sin. But if everyone thought like that, life would be chaos. So we have to grant the human being free will so that he can choose between the path of evil and the path of good and if you choose the first you go to hell when you die and if you choose the second you go to heaven.

That placed the Churches with their emphasis on free will and salvation in opposition to those who followed a more mystical path and maybe did have some sort of psychic ability. The superior fire power of the church meant that psychic ability became identified with heresy and devil worship. Still this is not the place to bitch about 2000 years of Christian history. Suffice it to say that the debate between free-will and destiny rattles on beneath the surface even today. (The question of whether criminals are mad or bad and if they are mad they are not responsible for their actions and need therapy or if they are bad then they are responsible for their actions and need to be punished.)

The second assumption behind ideas of prediction and divination is that time is linear. That it sort of goes in a straight line like a journey from somewhere to somewhere else. Our language supports this view. All our verbs with their past, present and future tenses. All our adverbs of time – before, during and after – are based on this assumption. Science Fiction writers have been playing with the paradoxes involved in the concept of linear time. You know the sort of scenario: I travel back to the past before my conception and, imitating the manner of Oedipus, murder my father. Hey but if my father is dead that means that I couldn’t have been born and travelled back in time and murdered him which means that I was born, did travel back in time …

Allied to this is the assumption about the nature of the individual: the identification of the individual with this physical body and this life. From the point of view of the ego, this is a useful way of handling most bits of physical reality. But it is rather limiting to one’s greater being to accept only the physical as real. In this way, linear time can be understood as a fiction of the ego. Metaphysically (in the sense of beyond physical reality), time is simultaneous, there is no before and after. Only an eternal now. This is what mystical experience tells us. And mystical experience is notoriously difficult to cram into the shoe box of the ego with its attachment to physical reality and its experience of time as linear. It is coming from a “higher” place.

Here is example to illustrate what that can mean:

It is generally appreciated that the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. And many people would accept this as an undisputed fact. But if you watch the earth from space, you will see that the earth turns and that the shadow of the sun moves across the earth. If you are at a point on the earth’s surface where it is moving from light into shadow, you are seeing a sunset. If you are at a point where it is moving from shadow into light, you are experiencing a sun rise. But the reality is that different parts of the turning earth are illuminated by the sun.

By crude analogy the “facts” of One Life, Destiny and Linear Time when seen from higher reality can be seen as phenomena like the rising and setting of the sun. In another higher reality we talk about simultaneous time, many physical existences and multidimensionality of being.

If time is simultaneous, that means that all time is now and it is possible, with a certain consciousness, to access any part of it including what could be called “the future”. But there are many probable futures (and by extension many probable nows and probable pasts). So we can only talk about different futures coexisting with different nows (and different pasts).

The fortune teller in our little story accessed one of many probable futures for his king. Hearing this as a definite prediction of an inevitable event, created in the king a certain mind set. He could have acquiesced to what he saw as his “fate” and thereby paradoxically he would have escaped it. But instead, his vision was limited to the constraints of physical reality. He was motivated by fear of death and the wish to assert himself over what he saw as his “fate”.

The king could be said to have created what happened by his beliefs and actions. In effect, he made his reality.

If I grant that I make my reality by my beliefs and attitudes, then I cannot accept that I am a victim of external circumstances beyond my control. If I can admit that I have created those circumstances for myself, then I can do something about my life. If I see myself as a victim of what happens to me then I have lost my power.

Now this is no easy statement to make. Who, for example, consciously creates a debilitating illness for themselves? Well, to a great extent every tobacco smoker is consciously laying themselves open to the possibility of a shorter life and a painful death. It is also becoming more and more recognised that other illnesses like stomach ulcers, originate in the emotional body as stress before manifesting in the physical body. It has even been suggested that cancer, multiple sclerosis, asthma and so on are given more of a chance if certain emotions like anger or fear are not processed clearly. If somewhere in me is an attitude that I hate my life and my body, I may create for myself a debilitating illness which may show me the value of life.

We come to this life with an agenda of issues to be dealt with. Maybe to learn to love ourselves. Maybe to really accept physical reality. Maybe to learn compassion. Maybe to deal with deep rooted sexual guilt. Maybe to accept death. These are issues that we – at some level of our being – have chosen to work with. And if we know this, then we are powerful. We do not look at life like victims wanting to know what will happen to us.

From this world view, it doesn’t make sense to use these divination techniques to tell “the future”. What is more useful is use them to contact inner reality – or greater reality – to look at how we can become more conscious in our lives and create better futures for ourselves. If you get that from a Tarot reading, or by using the I Ching or from a visit to an astrological consultant then you have gained a tool for taking control of your life. You have been empowered.

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You still, of course, can choose to give your power away if you want. That’s what you do when you let someone else like a tarot reader or an astrologer make the decisions for you. Then if things go wrong because you actually didn’t want to take that path, you’ve got someone to blame, because you never took responsibility for the decision in the first place.

Counsellors who use divination techniques learn pretty quickly not to fall into that one, believe me.

The opposite scenario is even more dangerous. You go to a psychic and they get it right. They advise you on a decision or they make a prediction and it’s spot on, it happens. Now, from the point of view of the psychic, he or she starts to feel powerful. They got it right. Pretty soon their ego takes over and the very things that enabled them to consciously connect with a greater reality or a probable future, their humility, receptiveness and ability to listen are out of the window. From the point of view of the client, they are on the road to becoming dependent on the person with the psychic skill. And being dependent means that they are disempowered. Empowerment in this situation would mean showing the client the validity and truth of their own inner reality and their own psychic abilities.

The use of such as Tarot, Runes, Astrology and I Ching, rather than being techniques for fortune telling and prediction, then become aids to counselling. Rather than focusing attention on the outer world of events, they relate to the psychology of the individual and the meaning that the individual invests in his or her life. Rather than disempowering you by turning you into a victim of a predestined future, these techniques can be used in an empowering way to enable you to create your future more consciously, to show you that you are in control and you have a choice.

In my opinion and experience, the only extent that these techniques can and should be used for prediction is to give the querent more choice. Often, those who come for a reading feel trapped in a situation and see only limited options. A clear practitioner helps the querent to see the current situation more clearly: how they got into it, how they created it for themselves, what sort of learnings are going on and what choices they have.

If the king in our story had had less fear and a more positive mental attitude and if the fortune teller had told the king what he needed to hear rather than what he wanted to hear then it may have turned out differently.

Ben Belinsky

2011

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Featured image by Linda Gibbons. See her blog here.

 

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