Intuitive vs. inductive divination: Which are you using?

Posted by Michelle Gruben on

Open almost any occult reference work, and you're likely to find a list of divination methods ranging from the familiar to the chuckle-worthy:

acultomancy    divination using needles
aeromancy    divination by means of the weather
ailuromancy    divination by watching cats’ movements
alectormancy    divination by sacrificing a rooster
alectryomancy    divination by watching a rooster gather corn kernels
aleuromancy    divination using flour or meal
alomancy    divination using salt
alphitomancy    divination using loaves of barley
alveromancy    divination using sounds
ambulomancy    divination by taking a walk
amniomancy    divination by examining afterbirth

And so on. The word "divination" connotes communication with the divine, but it's rarely as simple as a two-way communication between the seeker and the Big Guy. Rather, the practice of divination infers that the divine communicates with us through obscure and densely coded signs--hence the proliferation of methods around the world, based on the tools that are available and traditional.

I was interested to learn recently that anthropologists who study divination in past and present cultures divide the mantic arts into two broad categrories.  Intuitive divination involves the direct reception of information (from spirits, visions, or dreams).  Inductive divination is the process of observing signs (from objects, generally) and extrapolating meaning from them. 

Divination methods may be placed on a sliding scale between these two points.  Shamanic trance work, for instance is strongly intuitive, and only incidentally inductive.  Observing the flight of birds or the arrangement of entrails, is mostly inductive with a minimal intuitive component.  The former method is thought to require some special skill or natural ability, while the latter can be done by anyone, once they learn the system and standard meanings.

This dichotomy describes two fundamentally different (though not mutually exclusive) assumptions about how divination works.  One centers on the ability of the human mind or spirit to go out into the ether and find the information it seeks; the other focuses on the tendency organize itself in an orderly fashion, in which reflections of events are noted by the observant diviner, and missed by everyone else.

Now, some may argue that we're describing two sides of the same coin, if we say the intuitive approach relies on the power of the individual to receive knowledge, and that the inductive approach relies on the universe (or Gods) to communicate knowledge.  In any case, it's clear that the divination practices cannot neatly be divided into two discrete categories, which is why some posit a third category, which is really an intermediary to the two and which is called interpretive divination.

Some of the most popular forms of divination fall into this interpretive category.  A Tarot reader, for instance, generally uses a combination of inductive and intuitive abilities to produce a reading.  He will shuffle the cards until he feels that it's time to stop (intuition).  He will then lay the cards out in a prearranged pattern, and accept the dealt cards as a message relevant to the matter at hand (induction).  A good reader will also be able to choose the most accurate among the many possible meanings for each card (intuition again) and relate the basic card meanings to the question in an expansive way (more induction).

Now for a little discussion on the relative strengths and weaknesses of each approach:

I've come to believe that inductive divination practices can be useful problem-solving tools even if the diviner's psychic senses are weak or non-existent.  This is because induction is a form of creative thinking that can trigger new and unexpected ideas. 

I'll show you what I mean.  Let's suppose, for the sake, of argument, that you live in a universe where psychic abilities do not exist.  There are no supernatural or synchronistic forces at work, and complete randomness is the law.  Nevertheless, you're having a relationship problem, and you decide to do a divination by drawing a rune from a sack.

The rune you draw is Berkana, "Birth."  It's totally random, remember, but you believe that it has significance--that it carries some encoded message about your relationship--so you turn it this way and that in your mind, you look up some different definitions and try to apply them.  Does it herald a new beginning for the relationship or does it mean someone's being a big baby?  Maybe it points to something that you need to bring forth or develop, but what could that be?  And so on. 

And at the end of this exercise, you know more about the relationship than you did before--not because the divination gave you real information (it didn't), but because it coaxed you into focusing on your issue and thinking about it in a creative manner. 

I've noticed this phenomenon with beginning Tarot readers.  Often they haven't developed their intuitive faculties and the cards they draw seem (to me) to be pretty much a mishmash of random cards.  But in the process of scanning the scattered cards for meaning, believe that they contain profound and personal messages from the universe--surprise! They find some.  (I know this sounds cynical, but I mean it in the least cynical way possible.  It is truly marvelous what kind of practical information beginners can come up with when they give themselves permission to think magically.)

 Of course, there are times when the inductive approach falls apart--like when you need specific information that isn't easily expressed by the more mechanical systems of divination.  Another example:  Let's say you left your wallet out on the kitchen table, and while you were at work your adorable basset hound mistook it for a chew toy and dragged it off somewhere. 

Well, you can throw the I-Ching until your brain is swimming in broken and unbroken lines, and still not get any usable information about the location of your wallet.  Is the answer there within all the noise?  Maybe--but that's a philosophical question.  It doesn't matter to you if you can't parse the signal, and there is no trigram for "under the chaise lounge."  It would be much easier if you could just lie down for a nap and have a psychic dream in which you see Buttercup depositing the wallet in its hiding place.  You need an intuitive method.

Different methods can also provide us with different information about the same situation.  For the sake of the example, we'll say the "target", the thing the is reading about, is the movie When Harry Met Sally.  We ask a talented scryer, and we might get something like this:

I see a woman...she's blonde, pretty.  She's smiling, but I feel that she's deeply lonely.  Smell of Aquanet hairspray.  There's a crowd of people walking, like an airport or bus terminal.  A yellow car...older.  Tables in a restaurant--why is everyone laughing?

In other words, we have images, impressions--but not the plot of the movie.  Now let's ask a talented Tarot reader:

The reading concern a young man and a young woman--both have very busy lives.  They're friends, but there's a lot of sexual tension.  There's the potential for travel in the future?  The Wheel of Fortune here indicates the forces of karma and destiny, the Two of Cups, marriage.  It is very likely that after experiencing various ups and downs, these two will wind up together.

One more point of comparison.  There's a long tradition of using inductive methods for here-and-now information, and intuitive methods for spiritual development and exploration--and I think there's something to that.  Again, I'm not trying to draw a false dichotomy here--you can talk to your Holy Guardian Angel with casino dice and you can scry for lost socks if you want to.  But we bliss junkies and space cadets know that visionary practices can impress upon you the full magnificence, beauty, and terror of your situation in a way that regular ole fortune-telling does not.  For me, the most profound Tarot reading is about as immersive as getting absorbed in a good book, while intuitive experiences can seem, for the moment, more real than anything else.

So, let's bring all this divination theory back around, shall we?  How does it help the practitioner?  If you're clairvoyant at will, then you can probably just dispense with this divination stuff altogether. But for the rest of us, learning to use our intuitive and inductive talents in tandem (with a good measure of savvy interpretation) is offers the surest chance at success.  You should know how to choose the method best suited to your question and to your particular talents--which, of course, will vary from day to day.  So, the next time you have a vision that you don't understand, why not throw a couple of bones to try and clarify it?  Or when you notice the Empress staring seductively from the center of your Celtic Cross, how about taking a journey to her realm to see what she has to tell you?

Hope your divinations are both transcendent and enlightening.  And I hope you find those socks!

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