One very common practice in witchcraft, paganism, and most pagan-tangential traditions is divination. It is found worldwide, in every culture, in some form or another, throughout history, and is one of the few fundamentally human activities found anywhere and anywhen. Even when divination is vilified and outlawed, it is still present, practiced in the shadows. Just about anything can be used as a vehicle for divination, but tarot is fabulously popular currently, even in mundane circles. But why do we do it? What exactly do we get out of it?
Peeking into the Unknown
It is a natural thing for humans to fear the unknown. Even when excited by the prospect of new and surprising things, there is still usually an undertone of fear that it might go badly. Divination can provide a means of peeking behind the veil and achieving knowledge that was otherwise unavailable, and for those who greatly fear the unknown or are making false assumptions, it can provide some solace and direction to help calm those fears.
But there are lots of things that are unknown to us as individuals, not just the future. Most of us wonder about things all the time, what is influencing events, what other people are thinking and feeling, what is going on in other places or to other people, and so on. Divination has the potential to provide insight into any of those things and more, and so peek we do, but what does that mean? Why do we need to know those things, and what do we do with that knowledge once we have it?
It is rare that divination gives extremely specific information. More often, it is rather vague or general, and we must use intuition and experience to interpret that information and turn it into something useful. When the information being given is contrary to our expectations, it can mean that we are still blindsided by things that in retrospect were available to be seen in the divination. But, just because it is there, does not mean we will see it or be willing to accept it as a possibility.
As any professional tarot reader can tell you, sometimes querants do not like the answers that they are given, and so they dismiss them as impossible. Cassandra may have been cursed to never be believed, but any reader of fortunes experiences this, no matter how true their words are. It is even possible to do a self-reading and incredulously disbelieve what you are seeing. I have done it to myself, and I would wager that everyone else has too, at the very least when they were starting out and unsure of their ability to accurately see things.
Denying the things I saw which I could not comprehend happening did not change the fact that they happened. All it did was prevent me from taking steps to prepare or deal with it.
Even when the message is clear, sometimes it tells us about things that are unavoidable. This might be because they are already happening, because the chain of events already in motion are inevitably leading there, or because those things should happen even if they are difficult. There is often a perception that if you learn about future events you do not like, it should be so you can control the situation and avoid bad things, but that is not always possible or realistic or even a good idea.
Expecting to be able to avert things every time you do not like them is a way to set yourself up for failure and disappointment, just as much as if you entirely deny uncomfortable possibilities from the moment you receive a reading. So, if some things are unavoidable, or should not be avoided, what is the point of divining them? What benefit can that have?
The Further Out You Look
The further out you look from the querant, or into the future, the harder it is to get accurate answers. That is because the further out you look, the more variables are involved in determining what will happen. It might be possible to get a clear answer, but more often than not, if you are asking about something that will happen months or years in the future, the answer will be correspondingly vague.
If you are looking to get a job at a specific place this week, it is not hard to do a reading on the subject and find some relevant answers. If you are looking to get a specific job, but it is going to require years of schooling, training, and experience before you qualify, and then you must wait for a job opening, the ultimate outcome is likely to be anything but certain. Far more likely, the reading will focus on the nearer events and ignore the long-term question, or it will provide vague possibilities that may or may not eventually come to pass.
Sometimes those long-seeing questions can be helpful, but in a more general and less specific way. For example, it is completely reasonable to do a reading hoping to confirm that your long term goals and plans are solid, and will lead to a positive outcome. It is likely you can even get general answers about how to approach a couple obstacles you are likely to encounter. What is not likely, is that you will get a detailed accounting of every stumbling block and happy situation that will happen along the way. Even under the best of circumstances, life is usually too unpredictable for that, and the future is not set in stone. Free will, both yours and other peoples’ figure into it as well.
Sometimes things are not unavoidable, but it is possible to create the exact situation you wanted to avoid in attempting to avoid it. Other times it only seems that way because the situation was unavoidable from the start, and working to avoid the situation inadvertently made it even worse.
Both can drift into the domain of self-fulfilling prophecies, where it is natural to wonder if divination was a bad idea from the start, but I believe that is a false conclusion. The problem is not with the fact that divination happened. The problem is that the divination was either incomplete, or the querant refused to understand or take good advice that was offered. No matter how profoundly good a reading is, a querant has free will to misinterpret, take, or leave any or all of the information they are provided. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.
The Importance of Understanding
Sometimes it is incredibly helpful to simply demystify a situation, regardless of whether or not there is anything you can do about it. By understanding what is going on, it is easier to deal with the specters of fear and anxiety. It is easier to formulate plans to handle the situation, or to find acceptance and ride out the storm. If things are not as bad as the querant thinks they might be, understanding can provide solace and peace with the overall situation. Understanding allows you to consciously navigate what is at hand, without being overwhelmed with why’s and what’s and what if’s, so you can focus on the things that really matter.
A lot of tarot readings are based simply in understanding, whether the spread is large or small, and I always pull cards to create that foundation of understanding before asking for advice. By understanding the context of the advice, it becomes that much easier to understand what the reading is telling us we can or should do. In many situations, understanding can even allow the querant to formulate a plan without the need for divinatory advice.
Divination can even be used to greatly enhance shadow work, and provide greater understanding of our inner workings and the hidden parts of our psyches. This allows us to better understand ourselves, and come to embrace our truest selves.
The Importance of Advice
Even if something is unavoidable, divination can provide advice about how to navigate the situation. When the path forward is unclear, or the outcome of different options unknown, the ability of divination to provide advice can be invaluable. It can indicate what will happen if you follow different scenarios, to help with decisions regarding actions.
At times, divination can even give invaluable advice when the querant did not know they needed it. This is especially true when the reading provides information that seems unbelievable or impossible, because the advice can tell us how to approach those unexpected things and how to navigate them when they happen. It means that when those unexpected things happen, we are at least slightly prepared, and will not be completely blindsided by them.
Asking for Clarification
Sometimes the information given in an initial reading is unclear, and more clarification is needed. In tarot, it can be hard to know what spread will work best, because if we already knew the answers we would probably not be asking. When you do not know the answers, it can be hard to predict what questions will most clearly illuminate the situation. That is why most of the time I start with a small-ish spread, usually no more than six cards, with each card describing a different aspect of the situation.
Sometimes I initially ask about influences, past situation, current situation, and future situation. Sometimes I ask about challenges and positive influences. Other times I ask about the overall situation, and the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects around that situation. I ask about different aspects individually because a situation can have profoundly different impacts in different areas of life. For example, something can be physically dangerous, but emotionally and mentally beneficial. Other situations might be physically beneficial, but emotionally draining.
Having an understanding of a situation means understanding the layers of the effects of that situation on a person or community. It allows you to genuinely weigh the pros and cons of what is going on and arrive at a solid plan which uplifts the benefits and mitigates the drawbacks. Most things in life will have drawbacks, even if they are very much worth doing.
When I look at the cards, I may receive clear answers in one area, but another is confusing. This is especially true if the reading is referring to things which I am not expecting, so I ask for clarification. I will draw further cards (sometimes reshuffling, and other times not, as intuition dictates), setting them by the card I need clarification on. Exactly what questions will provide clarification depends greatly on what the subject of the reading is, and what aspect needs clarification. In my experience, though, most of the time it relates to wanting to know what exactly is going on there, what exactly needs to be dealt with, what strengths can be leaned on and what shortcomings will be problematic, how best to deal with it, and what the ultimate outcome will be.
I am not one for limiting the number of cards I draw. If I need more clarification, I will shuffle and ask. Usually this results in a clearer answer, or the deck repeating itself because I am either not getting the message or the cards really cannot provide clearer answers. The latter result may be frustrating, but it is also valuable in its own way.
Often, I approach seeking advice in the same way I ask for situational clarification. If having understanding means that I can determine for myself what I should do, I might pull a single card just to confirm my consciously determined plan. If part of the reading is troubling, I will ask for advice directly at that location in the reading. This is especially helpful when a situation is difficult, but either unavoidable or worth doing anyway. For example, if the cards are telling me I will end up emotionally burnt out, but overall the situation is a positive thing, I can ask how to reduce and manage that burnout so I can be less battered and worn when all is said and done. If the cards are saying that I am going to be betrayed in a mental arena, I can ask how to mitigate the damage. If the cards are saying that I will find achievement physically, I can ask how to best support that outcome.
If I want a yes-no-maybe answer for clarification, especially to confirm whether or not my intuition is correct, I will pull in a pendulum. This is because different forms of divination can provide different types of information, and drawing upon those differences strengthens the quality of information available.
Divination is a Tool, Not a Bastion
No matter the form of divination, the help it provides is only as good as the reader and the querant. If the reader is unable to intuit and interpret clearly, it will not provide as much help as it would coming from someone who is more skilled, but only experience provides that ability. We all have to start as novices and gain skill over time through a combination of study and experience. A reading from an inexperienced reader is not necessarily bad. In fact, more often then not, it will simply not provide the depth of information, especially in situations where the outcome is unexpected.
It is important to be discerning about the reader you go to, especially for important things, because there are charlatans and poorly skilled readers out there, but there is a huge difference between discernment and denial. It does not matter how skilled a reader is, it is unlikely to go well if the querant cherry-picks what they accept, ignores the advice, or misinterprets the situation. Denial can easily negate any benefits which could be received from divination, even if you are reading for yourself. After all, you cannot act reasonably in regards to things you disbelieve, and believing things does not preclude the possibility of taking actions that make the situation worse.
All that means that divination is an incredibly powerful tool which can illuminate situations and guide the way forward, but it is not infallible. It is not like plugging a “how to” question into Google and landing on a good tutorial that tells you step-by-step how to do a crafting project. It does not have all the answers, and nor should it, for how we choose to navigate our lives is an affirmation of free will and self-determination.
Instead, divination is a means by which to achieve greater understanding than you currently have, and through that understanding, either make peace with a situation, or be able to better navigate your way through it. The manner of how to proceed is on you, just as it always has been, but with more information and confidence.
That, my friends, is an amazing and wonderful thing.