On a Diviner’s Code of Ethics

Having this blog isn’t the first time I’ve ran a website, whether hosted by myself or another.  I’ve dealt with buying a domain and server space and setting up everything on my own before, and though sometimes it can make things more flexible, it can also be a big hassle.  It’s one of the reasons I like the convenience of using a service like WordPress to handle the back-end stuff for me, because let’s be honest, I don’t have the time or energy to deal with the nitty-gritty of website management on my own.

Back in college, shortly before I started the first iteration of this blog on Blogspot and before I got focused into actual magical practices, I had a small website of my own I managed.  It wasn’t for blogging or sharing occult information, no; it was a marketing website for my erstwhile spiritual consultation gig to bring in a little extra pocket money during college by doing geomancy readings for people.  I was reminded of it recently because there was something I know I had on it that I don’t have on this website, and I didn’t have the original files any longer (after several computer builds and platform changes, some loss is unfortunately to be expected), and it was something I wish I had at least for a reference for something I’ve been pondering as of late.  Much to my excited surprise, a single snapshot of that old website was available on the Internet Wayback Machine, and what I was looking for was right on that snapshot.

The thing I was looking for was my first attempt at a diviner’s code of ethics.

Without sharing the entire snapshot of my old website (which…while I’m excited I found an archived copy of it, I’m still embarrassed by it like how an accomplished artist might be embarrassed by their older submissions on their long-since-abandoned deviantart), here’s what I had on that old page relating to it:

I make a deep commitment to upholding the highest ethical and moral standards to dispel negative views and myths surrounding divination in our society. To that end, I endeavor to provide answers with clarity and utility, engage my clients in a relationship of trust and confidentiality, and interact with my community in charitable and beneficial ways. I donate a portion of all profit earned from [redacted consulting company name] to a local charity or use it for the betterment of the [redacted city name] Metropolitan Area.

To formally codify these aims, I have drawn up a “seer’s code of ethics” that I pledge to follow. I believe that all professional consultants should follow some ethical code, especially if they do so for profit. Further, it makes clear the intent I have as a psychic consultant: I work for the client’s benefit first, not my own.

  1. I will respect the confidentiality and privacy of the client, and will only release information with his or her explicit permission.
  2. I will respect the faith or the lack thereof of the client.
  3. I will refrain from judging the client on any grounds.
  4. I will inform the client of anything I can see and state from the reading, honestly and without malice, be it good or ill.
  5. I will inform the client of the manner of my technique upon request.
  6. I will inform the client of the meaning of any symbol in the reading to the best of my ability and understanding upon request.
  7. I will provide further resources to aid the client when I can no longer provide adequate or proper advice.
  8. I will make no claims as to knowing anything not knowable by strictly mundane methods with any assured level of precision or accuracy.

While I often agree to answer most types of queries, I reserve the right to refuse to answer any query I find objectionable. Such queries include, but are not limited to, those about death or violence, those violating the privacy of a third party, and those for the purpose of illegal gain. I will judge each query according to its merits once it is posed, and if I find it objectionable I may refuse to answer it.

I also reserve the right to refuse performing any reading for the client if the client acts in a dishonest or insincere way. I strive to help any client that comes my way, but since my time is valuable I choose to help only those clients with a real need and respect for me and my profession.

I warn any prospective or current client: caveat emptor! I do not claim that I provide completely accurate, precise, or correct readings, nor do I believe it possible to do so for many metaphysical reasons. The client should be aware that he or she asks for a reading at his or her own risk and out of his or her own free will; any answer or advice that derives from a reading must be evaluated by the client on the client’s own terms. I will refuse to take credit or blame for any result of a situation inquired about by the client, since it is my duty to inform and not to alter.

As a professional psychic consultant, I do not endorse any religion, spiritual tradition or philosophical school, and all such views I express are mine alone. I cannot be held responsible for any religious or spiritual matter as a result of consultation. If for some reason divination or esoteric arts are prohibited in the client’s locality or community, I cannot be held responsible for any ramification, legal or otherwise, which might result from receiving a reading.

While I haven’t laid eyes on this bit of text in literal years, much of it still stuck with me in one form or another and how I generally guide myself.  But, of course, times have changed, and I would gladly make changes to this to reflect those changes in my outlook, responsibilities, and what I consider ethical.  Since the time that old website was online, I went from a “oh no I just want to See and Predict things I could never be someone who actually meddles with magic I just want to help people figure out their lives” (I had such a phase once!) to…a not-totally-inexperienced magician, a scholar and teacher of geomancy, Hermetic and Neoplatonic theurgist, initiated priest of Ogun in Santería, craftsman, and author.  I’m familiar with quite a bit more than just geomancy nowadays, but divination is still one of the focuses of my Work; if anything, it’s only become more important as time’s gone on, because so much of what I do is guided by it and so many people come to me for that above any other spiritual service (so far).  Of course, there have been some changes in how I approach clients for divination as well as the topics they ask about, both for my own sense of ethics as well as for what I find works better when dealing with people.

The reason why I wanted to find my old website’s code of ethics was because I was thinking about a more modern version for myself to incorporate onto this website.  That, of course, got me to thinking, why don’t we hear about such codes of ethics for spiritual practitioners more often?  Sure, there are a handful of them here and there, but there’s so much variation and all seem tailored for particular practices or situations, or they rely on other ideas of centralization or authority.  While there are definite commonalities to be picked out between them, it’s sometimes hard to correlate them into something approximating a “common code”.

So, that led me to post on my Twitter/Facebook about perhaps writing another diviner’s code of ethics, perhaps getting my colleague’s collaboration and input on them, perhaps even getting other people to sign onto them as a show of solidarity or something to better enhance our art and our behavior when applying it.  On the whole, it seems like many of my colleagues and friends were enthusiastic about such an idea, but a few had their reservations, either about how such a thing might be developed or why such a thing shouldn’t be developed at all.  Upon pressing them for why, I think they have some good reasons that deserve definite thought.

From that discussion, probably the most salient point was that writing or adopting a code of ethics for diviners could easily lead to a form of accreditation or certification for diviners.  The idea goes like this: declaring a standard of any sort of competence, whether in terms of expertise in one’s art or of behavior when dealing with people coming to that art, and trying to get people to adopt or recognize that standard is a slippery slope to creating standards for other fields within one’s art.  With as few as one standard or code, one can create a codified “school” of diviners, which can end up being exclusive to those who are already on the fringes of society, difficult for people who have trouble adopting or studying such a standard, and even dangerous to those who commit themselves to a standard for the purposes of privacy, decentralization, and being hard to track by authorities in areas where it’s still necessary to do so.  While I was at first confused as to where this particular colleague of mine was coming from, I now completely understand his concerns, and I can easily agree with them as they are.

So, that point raises a question: why should I want to see a diviner’s code of ethics, anyway?  I know that I should hold myself to a standard of behavior for many reasons: ensuring my clients’ confidence in my skills as well as my trustworthiness, acting in an exemplary way for my community both mundane and spiritual, behaving right in the eyes of my gods and spirits to do them honor, and so forth.  Would I like to see others do the same?  Absolutely!  I think the world could definitely use more people of good moral character and ethical behavior, and to see people of righteousness carry out the office of diviner for their communities would do us all good in the end, I think, both in terms of visibility, eradicating stereotypes about us and our work, and helping people out as we can through our skills and arts.  This is especially important when we come across stories of particular occultists, priests, or other workers who abuse their powers or offices and end up as thieves, cheats, frauds, sexual offenders, or worse.

But…I also recognize that my way of right behavior is not the only way.  My ethics are informed by the way I was raised by my family, my studies of Hellenic tradition, Hermetic theurgy, and more recently Lukumí notions of iwa pele as well as more modern notions such as True Will; the path I walk is, truly, a path that only I can walk, no matter how similar it may be to other people’s paths.  What might seem abhorrent to me might be called for regularly by another; such a topic was brought up on that same discussion from earlier, and while I can see the reasons why someone might need to take such a stance, it’s definitely not a stance for me, as it runs antithetical to so much of what I believe and try to act upon.  And while I recognize the utility in breaking rules to achieve a particular end, I would rather have that rule to rely on and be known than otherwise.  Transgressive behavior only works when you’re going against expectations, so if you end up with a particular expectation as a standard, it no longer becomes transgressive.

I mean, my friends and follows lists, to say nothing of my friends and colleagues generally, are on the whole highly educated and technologically adept; I have many friends who are academics, many of whom hold advanced degrees, and no few number of other friends who are priests or deacons trained in seminaries or other formal settings.  It wouldn’t be a stretch by any means to call ourselves elite, Apollonian, or ivory-tower occultists, but at the end of the day, that’s still what we are: occultists.  Occultists, witches, herbalists, and the like have always been pariahs and outcasts in our culture going back centuries and millennia, and no matter how lofty and highbrow we take things, we’re still going to be at the knife’s edge of acceptable behavior (at best). Only good academics who report on magical practices while disavowing any sort of involvement in them get a pass, and even then, those who dwell too long on discussions about it get talked about behind closed doors.  While those of us living the good life in a first-world setting and culture like the conveniences and comforts of standards and rules, we necessarily deal with forces that not only bend and break those very things, but we still must be aware of how Weird we live our lives in the world.  Being still outcasts, fringefolk, or pariahs forces us to be aware of how much the rules of society don’t apply to us, not just for our benefit but also to our detriment, and how, in the end, the only rule we truly have is that there are no rules when it’s a matter of our survival and self-protection.

So where does that leave me?

I think it’s a good practice for people to consider their ethics and what their guiding rules should be in general; after all, these are rules to live by, but aren’t absolute moral commandments held on high (unless they are, but you’d know about them better than I would for yourself).  Not being moral commandments (unless they are), rules can be bent or broken in times of need, but limiting those times to truly matters of expedient means where the destination really does justify the road you take to get there.  And even then, there are always ways of evaluating ethical rules to give a higher-level view of what the rule is supposed to accomplish, and whether or not that goal is even worthy of being held.  Sometimes, the rules you want to live by are getting you to a place that you really don’t want to go to.  Consider, also, whether your rules are more method-focused or goal-focused; are you instituting a rule to conduct your behavior by, or are you instituting a rule to guide you to a particular outcome and steer you away from other ones?  That sort of ethics vs. morals distinction is crucial for this sort of thing.

I also think it would be good for people who do client work in a public way to put up a code of ethics, just for themselves in their public practice, because they’re trying to put on a public face and want business.  This may not be the case for truly back-alley, in-the-shadows workers who prefer anonymity and secrecy, which are also valuable things in their own rights.  Plus, depending on the methods used, not only would most ethical or moral codes fail to be held to, but any public knowledge at all about such methods would probably be as harmful for the client as it might be for the practitioner.  After all, while I would prefer to avoid acts of murder, I find poison a perfectly valid tool to be used when such a thing is called for, but you won’t see me hawking that service publicly, nor will you see me write a poisoner’s code of ethics.  No, codes of ethics are for people who are trying to keep a pretty face on their business and work, and if that’s one of your goals, then I think you’d be better off than not at least suggesting to your clients that you have some ethical bones that support your interactions.

As for the terms of such a code of ethics, I think it would be best to follow two principles: keep it simple, and keep it high-level.  You don’t need to go into detail about how you’re going to conduct every single reading or client interaction in a series of if-then-else conditions, nor do you need to expound on your magnum opus of morality and philosophy.  Do you value truth in your work?  Say so, simply and plainly.  Do you value correctness in beliefs?  Say that you’ll act as a mentor and guide when needed, and depending on how far you want to take it, you may want to avoid saying that you’ll judge the client for their own beliefs, because if you think yours are correct and theirs are different, you’re probably gonna come into an internal conflict.  It’s up to you to decide the actual ethical bones that make up your body of behavior, both in terms of how and what you need for your own conduct, as well as how and what is needed by your clients and community for your office and how you fill it.

I would like to see more occultists who do public work or take on client cases show their code of ethics, but it’s not something I’m going to expect or demand.  As in so many other things, putting up posters about how awesome we are falls far short of actual interactions and personal evaluations we make; no code of ethics we write for ourselves, after all, can be enforced by anyone but ourselves, and if someone’s not the type of person to act right when they need to, then perhaps that code of ethics they have plastered on their website may not be anything else but a waste of bits and bytes.  After all, codes of ethics and whatnot are there to help us become good people, at least in some public notion of it, but if you’re not going to be a good person, it’s going to show, and no amount of electronic make-up can fix it.