Here is a well-reasoned 2003 editorial by “Frater P.A.L.” from the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition, No. 4. Vol. 1 titled “Why Study the Divinatory Arts?” (Forgive me if I’ve posted this article before, either here or in the tarot forums, but I wanted to expand upon its subject matter with a few personal observations).
The good Frater makes a compelling case for the value of the three major branches of Western divination to the magical practitioner in the Hermetic arts: tarot (which I would generalize to include other forms of cartomancy), geomancy and astrology. Although my days of practicing ceremonial magic are far behind me, and I never went beyond talismanic magic, the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and a small amount of pathworking, the study and practice of these forms of divination – in both their practical and philosophical modes – have continued to sustain me with their sheer intellectual stimulation and emotional gratification.
The practical mode is obviously the performance of “fortune telling,” which is ideally focused on future actions and events rather than psychological profiling (aka “mind-reading”), and the philosophical mode is aimed at forging a subconscious link with higher realms of awareness (the Superconscious or Collective Unconscious) through the medium of the divinatory arts, with the goal of attaining enhanced self-understanding. Solitary work with any of them is generally more useful for the latter although, of the three, predictive astrology has a broader scope that shows the unfolding of the individual’s life over a longer period of time and across a wider spectrum of eventualities as symbolized by the evolving interaction of the planets, houses and signs. When attempting to explore my own future, I find astrology to be the least subjective but also the most complex.
I practice all three of these methods, but cartomancy is my first choice. Card-reading is easier to learn but harder to master because it is less “rule-based” than the other two. At it’s best it is an evocative melding of acquired knowledge and intuitive supposition that paints precise narrative vignettes illuminating the seeker’s present and future circumstances. Despite a widespread modern aversion to “book-learning,” its magic is neither wholly intuitive nor entirely analytical, but an inspired, imaginative and ingenious amalgam of both.
Geomancy reached its apex in the Middle Ages but has since declined in popularity. Its basic form has narrow guidelines for interpretation that can be found in the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, attributed to “the pseudo-Agrippa,” in the Golden Dawn “knowledge papers” compiled by Israel Regardie, and in more recent works by Aleister Crowley, Stephen Skinner and John Michael Greer. The traditional method is to poke rows of random points with a wand in a field of earth and determine whether each row contains an odd or even number of points; the sixteen geomantic “figures” are erected using one dot for an odd total and two dots for an even one. The judgment passes through several permutations to arrive at a final verdict, which is read literally from a fixed set of meanings with little room for improvisation. After this, though, the reading expands into an astrologically formulated interpretation that offers a much fuller and less rigid perspective. Rather than the “box-of-dirt-and-a-stick” approach, I use Regardie’s method of drawing a random number of stones from a large population in a bowl.
Astrology – the oldest of the three – is the main event, but modern natal astrology has been “hijacked” by the high-brow proponents of Jungian psychology and its use for divination is dismissed as rather benighted. In its horary and electional forms, however, it draws on traditional techniques that are more event-based and effective for forecasting developments in suitably pragmatic terms. I use horary frequently, with generally good results, for helping people find lost items. Its electional mode comes into its own when planning the kick-off of important activities. Synastry – the comparison of natal chart features between two or more “natives” – is useful for assessing compatibility between the participating parties.
Even if you have no intention of investing the time and effort to delve deeply into the Western Mystery Tradition, working with any of these methods of prediction will give you an appreciation for the inner workings of the metaphysical Universe.