The Art and Science of Divination: An Opinion

Aleister Crowley stated it succinctly and perversely in the front-piece to “A Description of the Cards of the Tarot” from The Equinox, Volume 1, Number 8:

“All divination resembles an attempt by a man born blind to obtain sight by getting blind drunk.”

In his 1907 motto for the Astrum Argenteum, while also taking an oblique swipe at both Christianity and A.E. Waite, Crowley said:

“We place no reliance on Virgin or pidgeon, Our method is Science, Our aim is Religion.”

Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, the father of pantheism, proposed that God is immanent in all things (a belief for which Italian monk Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition), and that there is no dualism of body and spirit as posited by Rene Descartes. The assumption that the existence of God can be apprehended through rational rather than purely mystical means was an important influence on the Enlightenment. Modern descendants of Spinoza hold some interesting views of the “We Are All One” variety that aren’t antithetical to the practice of divination.

“Panpsychism is the philosophical view held by many pantheists that consciousness, mind, or soul is a universal feature of all things. Some pantheists also subscribe to the distinct philosophical views hylozoism (or panvitalism), the view that everything is alive, and its close neighbor animism, the view that everything has a soul or spirit.”

In terms relevant to the present subject, all existence is a matrix of interpenetrating energy and there is no fundamental difference between one person’s consciousness and another’s, only local distinctions. It’s basically an argument for the efficacy of psychism or mind-reading as the root of cartomantic divination. This is the first of the Seven Hermetic Principles espoused in The Kybalion, the Principle of Mentalism: “The ALL is MIND; the Universe is Mental.”

There are also numerous countervailing opinions on the matter. Shakespeare’s Hamlet famously said “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” On the other hand, entrepreneur David Hannum reportedly said of rival P.T. Barnum’s credulous customers “There’s a sucker born every minute.” I sometimes use the slightly imprecise forum signature “Hamlet was right. But so was P.T. Barnum.”

Omar Khayyam wrote in The Rubaiyat (which every serious student of esoteric philosophy should read – and re-read, it’s not just about mindless inebriation; it seems to speak more directly and certainly more eloquently to Crowley’s clearly satirical “blind drunkenness”):

“Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door where in I went”

Omar was clearly not much impressed by the theoreticians of Science and Religion.

My long-standing personal belief is that the motivating principle behind divination is a form of cognitive physics or “mentation” that we don’t yet have the ability to measure or quantify. Of course, this is a safe position to take because empirical proof of its existence or non-existence is lacking; the bulk of the evidence both for and against it is anecdotal. In keeping with an opinion attributed to physicist Wolfgang Pauli, it could be considered entirely suspect “pseudoscience:”

“Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch!”
(That is not only not correct, it isn’t even false!)

Omar Khayyam touched on this in his elegant quatrains as well:

“A hair perhaps divides the False and True
Yes, and a single Alif were the Clue –
Could you but find it – to the Treasure-house,
And peradventure to the Master too;
Whose secret Presence, through Creation’s veins
Running Quicksilver-like, eludes your pains.”

I’m placing my money on Omar.

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