Divination as Counseling
by Judy HarrowZ Budapest is a Dianic Wiccan priestess who reads the Tarot for clients. Back in 1971, she was also a cause celebré. The local cops busted her for "fortune telling" in violation of a town ordinance. Although it would have been cheaper and easier simply to pay the fine, Z fought the case. Nine years later, the California Supreme Court struck down the law under which she had been arrested. Z resisted because she believed Tarot reading and all other forms of divination are, for Wiccans, forms of spiritual counseling, an intrinsic part of the work of a priest/ess.
Do you believe that? I do. But what do we mean when we say we believe it? We mean, I think, that we are doing some thing other than pandering to querent desires for cheap thrills or easy answers, or to our own desire for a quick buck. We mean specifically to separate ourselves from the common stereotype of "fortune tellers." But if we really mean that, our behavior ought to show it. As users of magic, we know the need to "act in accordance" with whatever we profess. or. in plain English, to practice what we preach.
If divination is priestly work, a form of spiritual counseling for Wiccans, then it has to be both good counseling and good Craft. Because we read in our role as priest/esses, our working assumptions should be consistent with the values of our religion. Because we read for the purpose of spiritual counseling, we should use good general counseling techniques with our querents.
The secular counseling profession has a professional philosophy of its own. That could create complications. but it doesn't. The core values of Wiccan spirituality and the counseling profession are completely consistent, even though the vocabulary is often quite different.
But I often see or hear of readings being done using both methods and assumptions completely discordant with both Wiccan values and counseling methods, It's possible that, for those readers. divination is simply not a form of Wiccan spiritual counseling. Certainly there are plenty of non-Wiccan readers. In fact, an entire separate network of "secular psychics" exists out there. But some of them are Wiccans who just haven't thought through the behavioral implications of their professed beliefs, and it is for them that I write this.
Does the contemporary Craft have a sacred scripture, a text that defines our Path? We like to think we don't, but we really do, It's drastically shorter, more succinct and far more poetic than anybody else's Bible, but it's there. We call it the Charge of the Goddess. Think about how truly trans-Traditional that one text is. Do you know any Wiccan, anywhere, who is not moved by it?
Although there are no wasted words in the Charge, it does clearly build to a climax. As I read it, the most important statement comes at the end, and says, "You who think to seek me, know that your seeking and yearning will avail you not unless you know the mystery: That if what you seek you find not within you, you will never find it without you." So, at the very heart of our religion lies the teaching that ultimate value and authority rests within each of us. Whatever detracts from that concept conflicts with our religion. Any behavior that models an alienation of power is not appropriate behavior for a priest/ess of the Wicca.
The counseling profession is based on exactly the same assumption: that the client is fully capable of making and implementing appropriate decisions about his or her own life. All a counselor does is provide safe and supportive conditions in which the client can examine her situation and come to her own conclusions. A counselor who disempowers a client, narrows her range of choice, tells her what to do, fails as a counselor.
What does this have to do with divination? To begin with, there are two ways of understanding exactly what it is we do when we read. Some diviners of the old school believe that they actually foretell the future. A future that can be read is a predestined future, one that cannot be changed. In this pessimistic world view, the querent has no choices, Fate cannot be avoided. The best we can do is prepare ourselves to accept what must come with some dignity.
The belief in a fixed future discourages querents from taking responsibility for decision and effort in their own lives. It provides an easy, comfortable excuse for the lazy and dependent. How often have you heard people use their sun sign as an alibi for various kinds of self-destructive or mean behavior? Wiccan priest/esses reinforce such attitudes only by closing their eyes to the celebration of personal freedom that is central to our Path.
As magic users, we know that magic is the art of changing consciousness in accordance with will. That knowledge makes us especially responsible for the messages we give to others, especially querents who come to us for help. If a reader uses the props of special insight and spiritual authority to tell a querent the future is inevitable, that reader has changed the querent's consciousness in the direction of ignoring options, denying choices. To drain our querent's power that way is evil magic indeed -- for who can act on choices they do not believe they have? Thus the prophecies of a fixed future become self-fulfilling.
To see a range of possible futuresBut there is a very different way of understanding divination, one that is no less traditional. For example. the I Ching says:
"King Wen and his son then added the interpretations; from these it could be ascertained whether the course of action indicated by the images augured good or ill. This marked the beginning of freedom of choice. From that time on, one could see, in the representation of events, not only what might be expected to happen, but also where it might lead. With the complex of events immediately before one in image form, one could follow the courses that promised good fortune and avoid those that promised misfortune, before the train of events had actually begun....
"If a trend has been wrong, and we feel sorrow in time, we can avoid misfortune: if we turn back we can still achieve good fortune."
The phrase "freedom of choice" sounds completely modern. But this quotation does not come from any rationalistic modern translator or commentator. It comes from a section of the I Ching called the Great Commentary, which some believe may contain the words of Confucius or one of his immediate students. It reveals an optimistic, empowering view of divination, in which we can understand reading as a way to look very deeply into the present, where the seeds of all possible futures can be seen.
By using traditional symbols and practices to reach into the most intuitive and insightful parts of ourselves. we can identify trends and make extrapolations, bring to light both ignored perceptions and gut-level integrations of information. We read to increase our querents freedom of choice, and to allow them to make the best possible choices. We help them see where present trends will probably lead and experience how they will probably feel about the outcomes. If they are unhappy, they can make changes in time. We do not see the future, but a range of possible futures. Power, authority, choice and responsibility lie within each of us, exactly where our religion says they belong.
How we do our readingsOur belief that divinatory work is for us the practice of spiritual counseling manifests not just in the attitude from which we read. but in the nitty-gritty ways of how we do our readings.
If it's counseling, and not some form of fraud or entertainment. we will insist on a dignified and private setting. Our self-respect as priestesses means far more to us than attractive marketing. We won't get ourselves up in hokey costumes for dramatic effect. We won't consider reading a party gig, won't do it for tips in bars.
We'll keep it out of the tourist traps and the carnie atmospheres created to attract the bored to the shopping malls. We'll give each reading the same sort of time as any other kind of counseling session. and we'll do no more in a day than we can do with full attention and energy.
Some readers prefer the querent to be as silent as possible during a reading, so that it's clear they are not "cueing" the psychic. This makes it obvious that whatever is learned came from the reader's "special powers". Great for fattening the reader's ego. and for fostering dependency in the querent to ensure return business. But those who believe that dominating others is against this religion won't work that way -- at least not for long.
Because we understand that clarifying the question is the most important part of finding the answer, even before laying out a single card we will work with the querent to express the question at hand as clearly as possible. Often a major life problem has many interrelated aspects. We'll work to identify as many of these as possible, then use a spread that takes them into account. As specialists, we will be familiar with many spreads and understand how they can apply to different kinds of questions. We may even custom design a spread on the spot, but we won't try to force all human situations into a Celtic Cross pattern.
If we believe our job is to help our querents make their own best choices about their own lives, our behavior will show it. We won't expect the querent to sit in silence while we show off our "powers". The perceptions, integrations and feelings that will help lie in the querent's deep mind. We will filter them as little as possible through our own. Instead, the querent will do most of the talking in a session, while we supply some information about traditional interpretations, or use normal counseling techniques to help the querent hear what s/he is saying and understand how s/he is feeling about the situation at hand. We will know that the ultimate choices rest with the querent. and we will act on that knowledge. Our pleasure will be in their freedom.
If we are Wiccan priest/esses and counselors, how can we do any less?
originally published in Enchante #8 (January, 1991)
The address of this page is http://proteuscoven.com/counsel/divination.htm
Contents of this page are copyright © 1996, 1999 by Judy Harrow.