Before I discuss this topic, let me put my cards on the table and say that I believe unequivocally in divination. The two most powerful methods in my experience are Tarot readings, and I Ching consultations [see footnote 1]. Having said that, I have also had interesting experiences with the book Fortune Telling by Dice by David and Julia Line2. The Tarot and I Ching, whatever doubts you may have about them, at the very least are ancient traditions, and have survived the test of time. By contrast, throwing dice and looking up readings in a book may seem to those who have never tried it nothing more than an entertaining party game, but the results have each time been meaningful, and on one occasion very powerful, in my experience.
Such statements are obviously controversial, and are likely to attract ridicule. Divination is supposed to be something foolish that our ignorant, superstitious ancestors believed in, something impossible to contemplate in the modern scientific world. There is something to be said for this point of view, for it is hard to understand how, to take the Tarot as an example, a meaningful reading can be possible, if the questioner (querent) chooses the cards when they are face down. The I Ching is even harder to understand since coins are thrown into the air and land apparently randomly. How can that lead to something meaningful?
Professor Richard Wiseman devotes the first chapter of his book Paranormality, Why We Believe the Impossible3 to trying to explain why Tarot readings are illusory. He introduces us to a Mr. D., who has explained to him how he manages to achieve apparently successful psychic readings. There are six techniques which are collectively called “cold reading”; this can be summed up as a series of psychological techniques (con-tricks), which fool the querent into thinking the reader has psychic powers.
Prof. Wiseman says that any impression that a successful reading is achieved via psychic means is an illusion (p54). He wants us to conclude that because Mr. D., and others, are successful in deceiving their clients, that this is how all readers operate. Now, while I am more than willing to accept that such cheating exists and may be common practice, I can also testify that this is not always the case; I have given (apparently) successful Tarot readings, and have never used any of these cold reading techniques in the way described.
Here is a brief outline of my involvement with the Tarot. My first significant experience was at a friends’ annual barbecue party, where the hostess’s daughter was offering readings in a tent. Normally one would have to seek out a reading, but in these circumstances it was just there available, so anyone at the party could ask. I went in, had a reading, and was amazed by the accuracy and relevance of what she said (possible cold reading notwithstanding).
I was so impressed that I decided to explore and study the Tarot myself. I was lucky that, when I asked, this woman was willing to give me some lessons to get me started (I already knew her). I also studied the cards and read some books. I was then keen to try out reading, and therefore asked if I could become the resident reader at these annual barbecues, which was agreed. I had absolutely no idea how successful I would be. I understand that some more advanced readers supplement their understanding of the cards with clairvoyance, but I am unable to do this, relying completely on the meaning of the cards, and whatever comes to mind when I see their combinations. I am therefore at the mercy of whatever mysterious forces lie behind the Tarot; every time I did a reading, I took the risk of looking like a complete idiot.
Nevertheless, from the outset people were coming out, going to the host to say how impressed they were. He told me about all the “favourable reports” he was getting. Over the years people were using words like “spooky”, “uncanny”. One woman was so impressed that on a subsequent occasion she brought her daughter. So my experience was that “meaningful answers are the rule”, to use Jung’s words about the I Ching4. People consistently chose cards which accurately fitted their life-situation. I’ll give some examples:
a) A woman I had never met asked for a general reading (i.e. not a specific question). In such circumstances I use a spread called the Triangle, the first two cards of which refer to the current situation. For one of these she chose the Three of Cups. Some of the standard interpretations of this card are: a celebration, a joyful occasion, commitment in a relationship after the first phase of infatuation. So I asked “you haven’t by any chance just got engaged?” She told me she had in fact got engaged the previous week.
b) I gave a reading to a young man – I think he was somewhat unwilling, but was put up to it by some of his friends. It was a strange experience, since he was like a statue throughout, totally rigid, no bodily movements, no facial expressions. In the conversation that followed, he told me that he assumed that successful readings were achieved through picking up visual clues and so on (thus the cold-reading techniques mentioned above). He was therefore determined not to give anything away. He didn’t need to, however, because he gave it away in the cards he chose. In the same Triangle spread mentioned above, he chose as one of his current situation cards the Four of Swords. Some of the standard meanings are: calm after a storm, putting one’s life back together after a difficult time, a specific situation being a recovery after separation/divorce. He looked young (early twenties), so I said something along the lines of “You look too young to be divorced, but I’m guessing you are recovering from a painful separation”. He agreed that this was in fact the case.
c) At a time when my mother-in-law had been recently widowed, I gave her a reading using the Celtic Cross spread, which is used in response to a specific question. The fifth card (out of ten) chosen refers to the recent past. She chose the 10 of Swords, which refers to a death or a disaster, the only card of the 78 which has that meaning.
I hope it is clear from these examples that if a reading is accurate, it is not because of any trickery, but is a result of the querent’s choice of (I repeat face-down) cards. So what are the implications of this? If all this is not just coincidence, and readings are indeed meaningful, there must be a hidden, unconscious intelligence which knows which cards are which, and guides the querent to choose the appropriate ones to enable the reader to give a meaningful reading. If this is the case, I would suggest that this hidden intelligence is the higher, subliminal Self, as described in the previous article above. (When I offer suggestions to first-time people, I say that one of the face-down cards may suddenly seem appealing, stand out in some way. When I am being given a reading myself, I notice that this is in fact the case – something that I can only loosely call intuition makes one card stand out.)
Obviously this hypothesis will seem totally ridiculous to rationalists, and will be completely unacceptable to them. That’s just unfortunate; I’ll have to live with it!
The I Ching coin consultations do not require significant further discussion, since the principle is broadly similar to the Tarot. The interesting difference is that with the Tarot the querent does actually choose the cards, which allows the possibility of some involvement of the hidden self. When the coins are thrown, however, the person has no control of how they land, so it seems that one would have to ascribe this to “chance”. (Can the hidden self control how coins land?) Yet meaningful answers are the rule!
Some physicists assure us that everything can be explained by a combination of the four fundamental forces of the universe. The I Ching consultation suggests otherwise. Their assumption would be that if one took into account the starting-positions of the coins in the hand, and knew the exact force used when throwing them into the air, and so on, then one could predict how they would land. This is probably true. That the way they land leads to meaningful readings from an oracle book suggests that some mysterious intelligence is at work, that mind (of some kind) is another type of force to be taken into account. In this context, Jung notes, while offering his own alternative explanation, that the traditional Chinese view is that “spiritual agencies” are at work, “acting in a mysterious way”5. He also notes that the book “purports to be animated”6. Whether true or not, that is certainly how it seems. The latest, growing trend among contemporary physicists and philosophers is to consider consciousness/mind as more fundamental than matter. Here is some evidence that they might be right!
1. For my songs about the Tarot (called The Way), and the I Ching (called 6×3=?), check out my youtube
2. Parragon, 1997
3. Pan Books, 2012
4. Foreword to Routledge & Kegan Paul edition, 1968 (1978 reprint), Pxxix. The whole foreword is essential reading for anyone interested in the mystery of the I Ching.
5. Ibid. Pxxv