Divination & The Symbolic Universe

While tarot cards, astrology and the I-Ching have grown more popular in the past decade, they still retain an aura of taboo. Talking to my conservative friends about my use of these tools isn’t something I have much attempted. Closed-mindedness and assumptions persist around what they’re really for, and what it means if you gravitate towards divinatory practices.

Meanwhile, amongst the people who have embraced these tools, there is often a swing just as wide towards overzealousness and misuse. Some people become completely taken over by divination, to the point where real personal growth is hampered by their displacement of their agency and power to the tool.

I want to talk today about the happy middle — tapping into the incredible gifts that these tools offer, and how to stay that path. Let’s take the Tarot as an example. Why would you — a rational, upstanding person — need to use it?


The most superficial reason is strategy. When done right, regular tarot readings — either done for you by someone you trust, or where you read for yourself — are strategy sessions for life.

The cliché that has attached itself to the Tarot is of a purple-robed psychic lady telling you the future — or that tarot cards are somehow a touchstone for “the new age.” This is all wrong for many reasons, but the critical one is the idea that “the future” is being “told.”

Instead, it’s more like a weather report. It’s a “reading” on the barometric pressure of the particular issue that’s at hand — which could be something as specific as a business decision, or as wide as a person’s general life direction.

The reading is a set of symbols, a collection of archetypes which comprise a language. And this language describes the issue at hand through metaphor, juxtaposition, images, feelings, and patterns.

That’s really the same as looking at the physical weather. When a person looks at a weather report, it’ll say “sunny” or “rain, with wind increasing to 40kms/hr in the evening.” The only reason any of that makes sense is that “sunny” is a culturally agreed-upon state. The little image on the screen is of a nice, golden sun — you somehow know what that means.

If you showed The Weather Network to a person from 5000 years ago, they’d also have no trouble figuring it out by those little symbols. The temperature bit might take another step to explain, but any human could immediately see the difference between sun and rain. And at the speed of light, an association would be made. And association is the key here.

Association runs the world. It’s the only way we can convey meaning. There’s really no way to talk about and explain anything without referring to something else as a stand-in. How’s the weather? It’s sunny. What does that even mean? It means all of the times in your life when you experienced the warmth of the sun, collected into this amorphous blob of experience and memory, and then instantly accessed by the trigger of “sunny,” the button the weather person pushed when trying to convey what’s happening outside today.

The weather is a set of associations, symbols, images, feelings, metaphors — a language that everybody speaks. It’s a language you have to learn (what is centigrade, what is a season, what is a blizzard), but once you do, you’ve got access to this divine information — you know to pack your raincoat tomorrow.

Same Same

There’s really no difference when we do a tarot reading or look at astrological transits. On the most superficial level, the knowledge and practice of this language offers the same strategic value as checking the weather. You can plan with greater confidence, knowing your decisions have a greater probability than pure chance at working out.

In the realm of human life, which prizes convenience and non-friction, this is very valuable. That’s why people check the weather. So you won’t be caught out in the rain, or get sunburned. Getting ambushed by the physical world is, at best, uncomfortable. Why not avoid that if you can?

Rational, conscious decision-making is only half the iceberg. The fact that businesspeople base their decisions and strategy on only rational, logical processes is a tremendous disadvantage. Why have courts of royals always employed an astrologer? Or why keep a shaman outside the village, a person tasked with being a psychopomp — the mercurial go-between for this world and the other? Because there is a deep intimation that is necessary for the culture to continue to run correctly — the intimation of the archetypal, symbolic matrix of meaning surrounding material existence.

You don’t need to know how the weather is predicted to make use of it. The same with divination. Why not get the strategic edge if you can? If you can find out where the game are going to be for the hunt in 2 weeks, wouldn’t you? If you could play out in symbolic form the cascade of probabilities branching from a fork-in-the-road, wouldn’t you? If you’re thinking that job or this job, why spend all your time logic-ing it out, when that’s only half the conversation? If you can open a window to your psyche’s deeper opinion on the matter, that knowledge can be a terrific advantage.

A Symbolic Universe

You could say — “well, science has proven that meteorology works. It hasn’t proven that divination works.” Actually it has. But to me it’s more interesting to think about how skeptics and scientific materialists still have dreams at night, just like the rest of us. Whereas they may chalk them up to the random “defragging” of the brain’s daily experiences, the greater mass of people have understood for thousands of years that dreams are an extension of a unconscious, symbolic universe, which our individual consciousness dabbles in nightly.

Dreams are a literal hotbed of archetypal, metaphorical phenomena. It’s convenient for skeptics to ignore the archetypal content of dreams, because to really get in there would be to uncover the fact that this world runs on the fuel of symbols. To claim they are just static or random chaos going on when the brain is asleep is to disclaim what has been obvious to humanity for…well, ever.

The phrase “moral failure of imagination” is especially apt — I ponder it often when considering the disease that skeptics have caught. — A “failure of imagination” is easy to see. As imagination IS archetypal, is the literal human ability to access the symbolic underpinnings of life, the denial of that reality is a failure of the innate capacity. But “moral” is the key — moral because superficial, scientific-materialist frameworks are bankrupt in the 21st century — completely falsified (explain consciousness…using..consciousness?). To continue asserting the worldview which has led us into the quagmire of our current world’s issues is ethically weak, diminutive, and cowardly.

Interior Weather

The content of dreams are much like the weather — the weather of the interior. Except that this language isn’t spoken with the symbols of meteorology. Rather, dreams run on the same lines as that which we access with divination. Symbols for something else — metaphors, images, feelings and intuitive clues pointing to situations and dynamics in life.

In waking hours, our minds like to stay on a track we consider rational — we think things through a lot, assuming we’re being logical. But like I mentioned, it’s only half the conversation. At night, the conscious mind goes offline, leaving only the subconscious to speak in its language. To the waking mind, these utterances seem nonsensical — until you start to dig a little bit.

Dreaming of a person from your past seems confusing, until you remember how they made you feel. That feeling is being brought up for a reason by your subconscious. Working patiently and humbly with dreams, you start to be able to understand this language. You begin recognizing that something inside you is trying to communicate important observations to your ego. Again, like the weather, in order to leverage this information, you don’t need to understand how dreams work, or why they occur. You just need to pay attention.

When you use Tarot to ask the question of whether you should get involved in a relationship with someone new, you are accessing that same elevator shaft down to your psyche. Only that the symbols aren’t being played out upon the canvas of your dreaming mind — they’re being shuffled as cards in your hands. This spooks the materialists more than dreams, because they can’t control what happens when they fall asleep. But little cards? Come on.

It Gets Weirder

Carl Jung recognized that our reality is governed by extremely strange rules — hinted at by the phenomena of dreams, but also by the regular occurrence of wild synchronicities in ordinary people’s lives. In what world, other than a magical, symbolically-fueled one, would we encounter stories such as the following?

A young woman of high education and serious demeanour entered Jung’s office. Jung could see that her quest for psychological change was doomed unless he was able succeed in softening her rationalist shell with “a somewhat more human understanding.” He needed the magic of coincidence. He asked for it, searched his surroundings for it.

He remained attentive to the young woman, while hoping something unexpected and irrational would turn up. As she described a golden scarab-a costly piece of jewelry-she had received in a dream the night before, he heard a tapping on the window.

He looked and saw a gold-green glint…He plucked a scarabaeid beetle out of the air. The beetle, closely resembling the golden scarab, was just what he needed-or just what she needed. “Here is your scarab,” he said to the woman, as he handed her a link between her dreams and the real world.

-Psychology Today, “Jung’s Scarab As A Psychotherapeutic Technique”

Of course, Jung’s synchronicity is not the wildest thing to have ever happened. Not by a mile. Crazier things happen everyday. What is fascinating is that his excavation of the phenomena, along with many other aspects of our symbolic reality, have now completely infiltrated our culture, thanks to the long-tail nature of the internet. It seems like the publication of Jung’s Red Book in 2009 finally busted the dam on the symbolic universe, and with it finally flowed all the good things. Dreams, astrology, tarot, magic, witches, etc — haven’t been as intriguing to the greater gestalt — across the globe — for probable millennia. Jung himself is enjoying a massive renaissance.

Even the hardiest of scientific materialists would have trouble holding onto his breath while beholding the above image — it’s real art. And what is real art? A beautifully executed symbol, a totem, a signpost, saying, “look there.” When you see a work such as this, there’s an unconscious, automatic response — something says “yes, that is it. That is it.” Jung’s mandala is IT.

Art, music, great theatre, great movies — even the tragedies of our time, such as the recent Notre Dame fire — they haunt us at a level beyond logic. The image of an ancient temple burning down is hard to shake — it embeds itself in our mind below the locus of control. That’s because our psyche eats these powerful images for breakfast — archetypal information is the ATP of the world. What does it mean? Indeed — what does it mean, if the collective has a waking dream of one of the old world’s most sacred temples burning down? What does it mean? It is a symbol for our times.

One of Jung’s many Red Book mandalas

WAIT BUT WHY (and how)

Returning to divination. Astrologer Adam Elenbaas brilliantly described the practice of astrology and other forms of “pulse-checking” as visiting a pool where images from your own subconscious bubble up, which can be interpreted using a system of rules and norms. This is basically Tarot cards.

In the language of Tarot, each card is an archetype — a collection of feelings, images, ideas, values, forms. As I explored with The King of Swords, each card is rich in symbolism — a series of “idea rivers” whose confluence forms the central idea of a certain card.

Our world is made from a literal fabric of these symbols. Even the way our eyes process information is at best a rendering, not necessarily the “actual” thing that’s there:

Light, reflected from an object, enters the eye, gets focused, is converted into electrochemical signals, delivered to the brain, and is interpreted, or “seen,” as an image.


What you do in a Tarot reading is give a structure to how these symbols are being interpreted. You define basic perimeters — places for past, present, future — and for things which need to be focused on, or which are not being seen and need to be. Then you work with the meaning of the symbols to draw associations — a skill you’ve already developed through the basic necessity of learning and speaking life’s various languages.

These associations are made to situations in your life, where a pattern of meaning begins to make itself evident. The image you receive is meaningful — it translates for you. There is an instruction given, which you can hear and then apply.

Some people call this intuition, but that’s just a fancy name for the combination of pattern recognition and meditative concentration. Anyone with a semi-intact imagination can do this — it’s not a talent only special people have. Imagination is one of the key traits of our species — applied archetypal systems such as the Tarot put it to work for a practical end.

The One Card Draw

Three of Coins from The Fountain Tarot

Let’s take the simplest possible example — the one card draw. There’s lots of ways to frame a question around one card, but let’s say you’ve been reading business books lately, and you go with, “What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

In other words, “What’s the most important thing in my life I need to focus on now?”

The very idea that you can hold this question in your mind, and then interrogate a symbolic system — and that you might receive a comprehensible, meaningful answer — this is very magical, very human. To live symbolically IS to be human, as we have discussed.

Let’s say in response to this question you draw the 3 of Coins:

Some of the keywords for this card are: working with others, collaboration, learning and teaching, mastery, expertise, professional alliances, organization. When I see this card, I always think of being on a well-oiled team — that feeling of everyone working well together toward a common aim.

This would be a fantastic card to pull in response to the above question. Your psyche is saying, “be more like this man in the image. He steps forth, he’s upright, proud, professionally dressed — and holds up the bottom half of his work, his effort — and is supported and augmented by these helpful others.” Those mysterious helping hands remind of angels, which is how we can feel about the help we receive from competent and caring teammates.

The message would be to emphasize the idea of becoming a part of a tribe, especially one with a professional, service oriented goal. The Coins are the suit of Earth, and The Fountain’s Three of Coins feels distinctly Virgoan to me — the crisp, beautiful, solid wood floor upon which the work stands. Virgo’s need to serve, to be a part of something which improves upon, which edits and recalibrates, which renovates and freshens up — is all linked to this Three of Coins.

Any activity which is focused upon working professionally (or domestically, with a serious, focused energy) with others — biz dev, workshops, consulting, teaching, brainstorming, etc — this is the direction to pursue.

You can see how receiving such an image could be very encouraging, but also highly directional. The elegance of this process is in how precisely accurate the message is attuned, but also how little needs to be said. Once you’ve learned the meaning of the image, you only have to receive it, and immediately a certain feeling is sparked. “Ah, that’s the way to go.”

The benefits continue to accrue long after pulling the card. If you left this beautiful card out somewhere where you could LARP it, over the coming days, your subconscious would continue to meditate upon it, feeding you new ideas for how to pursue its direction. Leaning into the image, you could begin embodying it, and making the suggested moves. That’s where the practical, strategic value of using Tarot becomes clear.

A Hotline to God

A divinatory practice is really a resetting of your understanding that you are existing and making power plays within a larger framework of other agencies making similar power plays — and some of them are non-human, non-worldly. It humbles you, making you aware of how huge forces interact with your life, while also informing you of how to best sail those winds.

A divinatory practice opens up the conversation about fate vs. free will. It makes you question where your psyche could be gleaning such relevant and timely information for your personal navigation. While a divinatory practice is meant to provide answers, what it really does is open up more questions. This is good. Very good.

You can see how materialists wouldn’t like all this, but it’s funny when religious people are put on guard by the mention of divination — it’s like having a direct hotline to God is actually too threatening. A divinatory practice IS just that — a hotline to God — assuming of course that God is conceptualized not as some person in the sky but instead a direction.

The idea that life and the universe HAS a direction — that life springs out of the earth every April, on cue, as if by command; or that the hearts of 8 billion humans continue beating with sublime electricity. What powers that? What’s behind this will, this drive to Life?

The same force which has the power to randomly array in front of you a series of symbols printed on pieces of paper that somehow can have great synchronous meaning for your individual life. Divination acknowledges this force, praises it, humbles us before it, and then harnesses it.

Haul your sails up. Turn into the wind.

Originally published at https://www.thisflameicarry.com on April 28, 2019.

Astrology, culture, life. www.thenadir.ca

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