On Divining versus Counseling

Seems like I’m in a big mood for posting.  Lots of ideas keep popping up for writing, and so many ideas get shelved in my drafts folder.  Here’s one that I think really deserves some talking about.

A while back on the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook, someone made a thread about stopping their studies of divination.  It wasn’t that they weren’t getting good results with divination generally or geomancy specifically—they were!—but rather that they were worried about people misusing the information obtained from readings one for them.  It’s easiest to simply quote the original post, with the permission of the author:

Do you often feel bad by the misuse people make from your readings and inputs?  That’s certainly my case.

People generally ask me if they will get pretty difficult long-term things in life and get disappointed when the reading says “no”.

Even when the answer is a short-term “yeah what you’re feeling will get a lot worse, seek a treatment ASAP”, people often won’t do this and that gets me angry sometimes.

A third situation is when they get good purely materialistic answers, which makes their mind go deeper in search of 100% materialistic stuff—that is, makes them avoid psychological growth

That’s why having spent a great deal of time and effort to have accuracy in divination I probably won’t follow this further…and that’s somewhat sad.

The conversation was continued by excellent friend and colleagues, and I joined in as well, but I’d like to flesh out some of my thoughts more fully here, because this touches on a really vital point for us all to understand, whether as diviners specifically or as any sort of spiritually-abled person generally.

First, let’s be clear about our topic here.  Divining is the act of divination, and divination is the process of uncovering or obtaining knowledge through occult or spiritual means.  How it does this is up for debate, but the fact that it does this is uncontroversial, and anyone who is a diviner can do it.  Some people do divination for others, some people only do divination only for themselves.  Whether you do divination for others or not is a choice that’s entirely up to you, as is whether you do it for a fee or not.   That’s all fine, well, and good, but always remember that divination is not counseling.  Not only is counseling inherently an act that involves two parties, the counselor and the counseled, but divination is simply obtaining information and relaying it to the one who requested it; counseling is taking that information and applying it in context to a person’s life.  The two are completely different sets of skills with entirely different purposes, and not all diviners can be counselors.  The issue is that this distinction is not always made clear to people who learn divination, and the notion of what a “reading” is tends to blur such distinctions, especially in many cases where a client or querent has an honest issue on their hands and needs both information and counseling.

The problem of the original post is that of getting stuck in the pull between divination and counseling, and also seeing how people react to your best attempts at guiding and counseling them through divination.  The original poster points out that he gets discouraged from doing divination because of three types of people:

  1. People who get disappointed with the answers of divination because it doesn’t confirm their hopes.
  2. People who disregard the advice given to them in a reading against the hopes of the reader.
  3. People who use spiritual means for strictly material ends against the hopes of the reader.

Before discussing any of these, it’s important to note that all these situations take place in the context of doing readings for other people.  If the original poster is getting discouraged to the point where he might not “follow [divinatory studies] any further”, then it really should be emphasized that divination can always be done for yourself or for people you trust explicitly; you don’t have to do divination for anyone but yourself, if you don’t want to.  There’s no requirement that, having learned divination, you must provide it for others as a service.  If you only want to study divination for your own benefit, that’s great!  Keep doing that.  You don’t owe others something you cultivate for your own benefit.

So, let’s talk about these situations.  Let’s say that we have a client who’s coming to a reader for a reading.  We can say that, for the sake of this post, either the client has paid or bartered with the reader in an acceptable way and the reader is obliged to give the client a reading, or that the reader is giving a reading to the client free of any charge but as a gift that the reader earnestly wants to give.  In either case, it’s understood that the reader is doing readings for other people as their own choice, and once the reading begins, the reader is obliged to give the reading to the best of their ability

It must be noted that, of the three situations above, it’s only the first one that deals with divination strictly and not counseling.  In the first situation, we have a querent who comes to a diviner asking about the outcome or possibility for a certain thing in their lives; the divination gives a negative answer, and the querent becomes disappointed and put off.  As a reader and diviner, being the bearer of bad news is never fun, and I’ve sometimes had to take a moment to myself after particularly difficult readings to regain my composure.  That said, as a reader, I am obliged to give whatever information is in the reading to the client; if it’s there, I must give it to the client because that’s what they’re paying me for (or what I feel obliged to give, in any case).  I know there are some people who might take issue with that rule of honesty, but as I see it, for me to be aware of something and preventing someone from also being aware of it, especially when they’re specifically directing me to help them be aware of it, is immoral and unethical.  Beyond that, just like how I can’t force someone to be happy when I make them dinner, I can’t force them to be happy when I tell them what I read.  This is especially a problem (for the client, I should say, not for me) when someone comes to me for a reading that only confirms what they already think and hope for; they don’t actually care about getting new information, they just want to make a mockery of the sacred practices of divination to make themselves feel better, and when they find out that they don’t actually know everything, they get put out.  Tough for them, I suppose, but that’s none of my concern.

Regardless of the type of news, news is news, and my only job in a reading as a diviner is to give information to the client.  How they react to it is up to them; I have no control over that, nor is it any of my concern.  They wanted information, I gave them information.  They now know what they did not know, and that’s the end of my role in the situation.  Read that again: once the reading is done, the role of the reader is complete.  As a diviner, counselor, reader, or whatever term you want to use, it’s important to know your role in a reading and what the reader-client relationship consists of, because that’s what defines your responsibilities, obligations, and level of involvement in the situation.  As a reader, your roles can be divvied up into two sets: as diviner, that of intelligence-gatherer, information-compiler, and contextualizer; as counselor, that of adviser, therapist, and listener.  All of these roles last for the duration of the reading, after which you’re not beholden to the client for any reason, nor should you be.  To stay attached is a matter of emotional over-involvement, and you can’t afford that level of attachment as a reader.  Down that way lies bias, which is an inhibition that effectively prevents you from performing divination and counseling.  Bias prevents you from seeing things accurately and evaluating the information coming to you critically and objectively, whether it’s the symbols in a chart or the words from your client’s mouth.  Getting too attached also gets you also gets you riled up when they’re riled up, or depressed when they’re depressed, and in either case prevents your own equanimity that can spiritually ensure your ability to divine at all.

So, one of the biggest rules to divination in general, no matter the system: if you cannot significantly reduce bias or entirely eliminate it from the reading at hand, you should not do the reading.  This works in either direction, whether you’re biased towards or against the situation of the reading or the client requesting it.  Regardless whether they’re your friend, husband, or a stranger, if you can’t extract yourself from hopes or fears or hates about the situation or the people involved, then you’re not the right person to do the reading.  Divination and counseling requires levelheadedness and objectivity so that you can not only see the information given to you but also communicate it effectively and accurately, and bias disrupts that ability.  It’s much like when you’re faced with a situation you’re incredibly anxious about; if you can’t calm yourself or if you’re fixated on the worst possible outcomes, you can’t do divination for yourself because you’re neither mentally fit nor objectively-minded enough to read whatever symbols and information might come through.  The same thing also goes for when you’re doing divination or counseling for other people.  Yes, bias in counseling matters, too; after all, it’s hard to avoid revulsion and spite if your client is someone you hate, and as hard to avoid enabling and sugarcoating if your client is someone you have affection for.  We can minimize these things, sure, but being critical and fair to our client is hard if we lean too far in either direction.

So, with those three statements in bold we’ve got so far, the next situation described by the original poster becomes pretty clear to deal with.  In the second case, we have a client who disregards the information, advice, suggestions, and counseling given to them by the reader.  Just like how being the bearer of bad news can break my heart, being the bearer of ignored news is often worse, and I definitely sympathize with the frustration.  But remember, your role to play is complete once the reading is done.  Whether they paid you for a reading or whether they accepted your volunteering for giving them one, your role was only to give them any information they asked for and any advice or suggestions that would be pertinent to their situation.  Anything beyond that is uncalled for and, quite honestly, none of your business.  Whether or not they take your advice, or any advice at all, is not up to you, just like how their emotional reactions to a particular type of information isn’t up to you.  They were warned ahead of time of what would happen, and so they had no excuse to not act on that information, especially when provided with reasonable and applicable advice.  Is it frustrating to see people set themselves up for failure?  Absolutely.  Can I chastise them for it?  You bet!  But whether or not they sabotaged themselves by their own unwillingness to act doesn’t affect my role in the situation; after all, I’m not their caretaker, I’m just their diviner who does divination for them, their adviser who gives them advice, and their counselor who gives them counsel.  That’s all I can do; you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Typically, however, clients don’t usually just up and say “you’re giving me advice that I refuse to take” in the middle of a reading.  We commonly know about clients not taking our advice when they’re return clients, those with whom we have a stable reader-client relationship with that lasts over several interactions.  In these cases, the client comes back to inform us that something bad in the reading came to pass as you said, or something good didn’t come to pass as you predicted, and it turns out they never took your advice that would have prevented the bad thing or ensured the good thing.  That’s honestly not my fault; I told them what would happen or not happen under what circumstances, so they sabotaged themselves by not acting on that information in the prescribed way.  Hopefully, they learned from this, and would be more amenable to heeding advice.  However, there are cases where sometimes clients just don’t listen, don’t take advice, don’t carry things through to their end, and just aren’t…well, responsible people who take care of themselves.  If, after a certain point, you can’t help but get angry or frustrated with this client?  Well, that’s a type of bias, isn’t it?  And what do we do when we’ve got bias?  Not a damn thing, that’s for sure.  I know several highly-competent and reliable readers who have had to fire their clients—you read that right, the readers fired the clients and not the other way around.  The clients kept flailing for help and kept coming back for it, but never actually use what the reader gave them.  After a certain point, each reader has come to the conclusion with “Why am I wasting my time and breath on you? Why are you wasting your time and money on me? Good luck, good bye.”

So, those’re my thoughts on the first two situations: dealing with disappointment and frustration on the part of the client with the content of readings, and dealing with disappointment and frustration on the part of the reader with lazy clients who don’t take advice.  The third situation described by the original poster is perhaps the most interesting, and it’s not one that had occurred to me before: being disappointed with using divination for purposes that goes against spiritual or psychological development.  That’s…forgive me for being blunt, but that’s an incredibly prejudiced, judgy, holier-than-thou stance that I feel compelled to rebuke and refute.  To make it simple, this is an issue with bias on the part of the diviner, and again, if you feel biased against the client, it’s best that you don’t do readings for them.

Why do I feel so negatively about this stance?  Simply put, you’re not God.  You don’t get to establish the morals, ethics, and goals of other people according to your own, no more than you get to say what divinities I worship or what practices I perform.  If you think all spiritual work should be done in the name of elevation, development, and growth, then I would say that you’re wrong; people have been using magic for getting laid and getting paid since the first days of our awareness of spiritual dimensions of the cosmos and of human existence, and I find nothing wrong with doing so.  I don’t disagree one jot that spiritual development is a good thing, but I’m not going to knock the physical pleasures of the world, either, which are also good to have and to strive for.  And, quite simply, not everyone is going to be playing on the same playing field as you are, nor will they be playing the same games you play.  You don’t know the purpose of why someone acts the way they do, nor do you know their reasoning for it, nor do you know whether it’s fate or divinely ordained for them to do so.  All you know is that they’re coming to you for help with their purposes; if you find that you react so negatively to their aims, then you should simply decline the to do the reading and move on.

There are cases where I will decline to do readings for people without it being a matter of bias, but because I find the question so offensive or troublesome that I can’t perform the reading in good conscience.  For instance, John Michael Greer recommends that, even though divinations to determine health issues or the time and place and conditions of death were hugely common in the historical literature, it would be unethical to do them nowadays.  I don’t hold those exact same views, but I have a few that I do hold: for instance, unless it’s for a very reasonable strategic cause, I don’t do third-party readings for the sake of spying on others, because I find that a person’s privacy is pretty much sacrosanct.  Likewise, I wouldn’t do a reading about how best to kill someone, how to start a sexual relationship with a child, or other illegal acts.  If you find that something is so immoral or unethical to ask about that you cannot answer it in good conscience, you have absolutely every right to decline to perform a reading.

However, I need to contrast “doing things that actively bring harm to the world” versus “doing things for ends I don’t think highly of”.  Just because you don’t think someone should only focus on finding material success doesn’t mean that they’re not meant to do that, nor does that mean that they should sit at your feet and learn how the world ought to work.  You’re a diviner, not a pastor, and (except in the illegal cases above) when someone comes to you for advice on their query, you don’t get to judge them on it.  The most you can do is decline to do the reading for them, but I’ll tell you this: a reputation for being judgy won’t get you many friends, and if you’re doing readings and divination as a business, then it’ll get you even fewer clients.  Just as our clients should have an open mind, we as diviners and readers should, too.  Besides, you don’t know that they’ll always be 100% materialistic, nor do you know whether the very act of reading for them could change that.

After all, there are indeed people whose jobs and roles in this incarnation aren’t to be spiritual, but still recognize that there’s power in it and want to employ those who interact with spiritual forces.  That’s pretty reasonable to me; while I’d like more people to be magicians or spirit-workers, some people have no interest in doing so, or some don’t care about it or just want me to handle the dirty work for them.  I cannot bring myself to judge others for where they are in their lives or what they’re doing with their life; as another commenter on Facebook said, “we all have our hoe to row”.  I’d recommend staying in your lane on this one; give your advice on being more respectful, worshipful, spiritual, or magical, but at the same time, don’t expect it of or force it onto your clients or querents.

So, those are my thoughts; a lot more words I expected to write on this, and a little impassioned at times.  Let me distill it into a quick TL;DR for my readers:

  1. You don’t have to learn divination for other people if you don’t want to do divination for other people.
  2. You don’t have to do divination for everyone who comes knocking; you can be as selective with your clients as you want, or you can be as open to all comes as you want.
  3. Divination is not counseling, but a reading may be both.  Be aware of when a client just needs divination or just needs counseling or needs both divination and counseling.
  4. As a diviner, your role is to give the information present in the reading to the querent who requested it.
  5. As a counselor, your role is to listen, contextualize information, and give helpful advice to the client.
  6. It’s not your problem how the client reacts to the information, so long as you were honest, clear, and tactful about it.
  7. Once the reading is done, the role of the reader is complete.
  8. If you cannot significantly reduce bias or entirely eliminate it from the reading at hand, you should not do the reading.  This applies to readings you do for yourself as well as those you do for others.
  9. All you can do as a reader is present information and give advice, where called for.  Beyond that, you can’t force the client to improve their situation or their life, though you can stop dealing with them if they keep wasting your time.
  10. Either don’t judge your clients for where they are or what they’re doing with their lives, or don’t do readings for them.
  11. If you’re going to help people, focus first on helping them as best you can, and less on the overall purpose they’re coming to you for help for.
  12. If you find a query to be morally, ethically, or legally reprehensible, you have every right as a reader to decline doing a reading for that query.

For me, deciding on ceasing learning and practicing divination because some people are stupid or because I don’t like why some people might use it is like ceasing to be a software engineer because some people don’t know how to use computers properly or use them for porn; I can’t control what other people use their computers for, and I can’t teach everyone the proper care and use of computers.  What I can do, however, is make things as best I can for those who can use them and who need my skills in making things work for them.  The net gain from doing so is far greater than not doing it at all.

Diviner’s Syndromes: Prometheus, Tithonos, Teireisias

Recently in the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook, there were a few discussions about how long one should study and practice before charging for their services.  As always, these conversations are enlightening, and occasionally entertaining; I’m also pleased to note that such conversations never seem to get overheated or rage-inducing anymore, neither for myself nor others.  This conversation did take an interesting turn, however; someone brought up an interesting view, apparently common in some Asian worldviews, which is another argument for why diviners ought to charge at all:

…diviners tend to have “shortened” lifespans due to their profession of revealing the heavenly secrets to others. Therefore, it’s only right to charge a fee, in return for revealing the heavenly secrets. This resulted in people charging, regardless in the level of skills…

…There’s often a belief that diviners often suffer some sort of disability or misfortune, as a result of being in a profession that goes against the Will of the Heavens.

It’s a fascinating viewpoint, and I immediately chimed in with two points from ancient Greece as a sort of circumlocuitous approach to my answers and thoughts:

  1. There’s a division of these arts between the gods Apollo and Hermes, according to that fun classical read the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. They both deal with foresight, sure, but they do so in different ways: Apollo is, properly speaking, the divinity of prophecy, while Hermes is the god of divination. The two are not the same. Prophecy is actually knowing the mind and will of Zeus (i.e. true and unadulterated knowledge of fate), while divination is simply reading and extrapolating from patterns in natural things or randomly generated patterns aided and assisted by the gods, which may or may not necessarily match up with the will of Zeus. Only Apollo could grant prophecy, but Hermes was given divination because Apollo (the previous “owner” of the art) had no need for it once he had prophecy as his Thing. Going to Apollo was a hard time indeed, but anyone could easily approach Hermes.
  2. It was commonly known that the Pythia, the sacred oracle and prophetess of Delphi under Apollo, would tend to lead shorter lives than other women of the same area due to her sacred work. Whether this can be attributed to the potentially psychotropic gases that inhabited her sacred cave or to the nature of her spiritual work is unknown, but it was believed to be the latter, not as retribution for speaking the will of heaven but because of how hard it is on a mortal body to contain the spirit of an immortal, especially repeatedly as a kind of career.

Eventually, after a bunch of other people put in their excellent points and I had some time to actually think and write out my thoughts, this is what I replied with:

… [regarding how money is passed from client to diviner in] divination in Santeria, there’s a lot more going on than just an exchange of money for getting the tools familiarized with the energy of the client; there’s a whole process to sanctify the area for the divination, and there are protocols involved for if the reading gets too “hot”, or energetically excited to the point of danger, or just to ward off negative omens so that they can be more effectively dealt with and so that nothing “sticks” to the diviner. Plus, for some priests, they need to undergo a light purification ahead of the reading to make sure they’re clean and focused enough to do the reading properly, and it’s almost always considered good practice to do a cleansing afterwards of the space and reader themselves to make sure no “ick” was left behind. In other words, we clean up after ourselves.

Plus, in the first year of being initiated in Santeria, there’s generally a blanket ban on…quite a lot, but that also includes spiritual works such as divination for oneself or others. This is because the new initiate requires a year of isolation from anything that could pose physical or spiritual danger, and this includes tapping into the energies, lives, and minds of others, which may not be always so pure or kind as we’d otherwise like them to be. When we perform divination for someone, we get at least a little mixed up in their life, a little entangled in their energies, which can rub off on us or leave us “stained” with their spiritual activities. If other spiritual hygiene isn’t implemented, those effects build up over time into a spiritual miasma that can really put us under.

There’s also the idea that, when we do divination, we’re using a little of our own spiritual power to fuel the act, even if it’s not “us” doing the real Talking. Just how a day of investigating papers and books to do research can leave us with a headache and eyesores, prolonged divination or doing lots of successive divinations in short order can leave us drained, which is a state of weakness, which can make us more vulnerable to spiritual miasma or other negative afflictions, which can lead very well to encountering physical dangers.

Do I think we’re revealing some cosmic secrets which are not to be known by mere mortals and which which the gods jealously guard? Not necessarily. Do I think there are other risks and dangers inherent to the act of divination? Absolutely! Having an active spiritual practice that includes proper rest, recharging, cleansing, hygiene, and spiritual upkeep is important for everyone, but especially so for diviners, who can often end up facing some real pieces of work out there which can really leave us a mess as we try to help others with theirs.

For the supplies we consume and the time we take preparing and maintaining our own well-being, I think that alone deserves compensation, for sure! And that’s not including the cost of tapping into and expending our spiritual power for the reading, the years of training and expertise we’re calling on, travel expenses, and so on, all of which deserve at least an attempt to pay for.

This led me to think of three “diviner’s syndromes” to tack onto my older notions of divinaddiction and divinaversion, the latter two affecting the person receiving divination and the new three affecting the person doing divination.  For the sake of art and whimsy, I’m naming these three diviner’s syndromes after three figures from Greek mythology:

  • Prometheus (Προμηθεύς) was the Titan god of forethought who, after sculpting humanity out of clay, wanted to make their lives better and thus tricked the gods out of meat for their sacrifices and stole the secret of fire from the gods, both for the sake of humanity.  As punishment for this, the theoi bound him to Mount Kaukasos, condemned to have his ever-regenerating liver plucked out by an eagle for the rest of time…at least until Herakles rescued him.
  • Tithonos (Τιθωνός) was a prince of Troy, and beloved of the goddess of dawn Eos.  Eos wanted to take Tithonos as her lover, and wanted to make him immortal.  However, she could not do this herself, and so asked Zeus to do this.  Zeus did so, but it only became apparent later that Eos made a critical misstep and forgot to ask for eternal youth along with immortality.  Tithonos grew old and older, never dying, but losing all his strength and sense and sanity.
  • Teireisias (Τειρεσίας) was one of the most famous seers in ancient Greece.  Having lived life as both a man and woman due to some incidents involving snakes, Zeus and Hera decided to use him as a judge in one of their debates regarding who had more pleasure during sex, the man or the woman; Zeus said that the woman did, and Hera argued that the man did.  Teireisias agreed with Zeus, giving him victory; Hera, in her rage, blinded Teireisias.  Zeus, unable to undo another god’s actions, gave Teireisias the power of perfect foresight to make up for his being deprived of eyesight.

I think you can see where I’m going with this, dear reader, if you’re at all familiar with how adopting the signs and symbols of myth can play out in our real lived lives.

  • Prometheus syndrome is an affliction of the diviner that comes about as an honest-to-god theft of secrets and revealing of information that cannot be known, causing offense to the gods or other spirits and which causes them to act upon you offensively.
  • Tithonos syndrome is an affliction of the diviner that results in decreased vitality, strength, intellect, health, and overall well-being due to being neglectful of one’s own physical and spiritual hygiene and maintenance.
  • Teireisias syndrome doesn’t really fit in with either of the two above; it indicates that a physical handicap of some sort allows for a greater spiritual strength, sort of how like those who are blind often have increased senses of hearing.  Like Teireisias, who gave up physical sight for spiritual foresight, those who are often outcast make the best of their situation and rise above their mundane problems through spiritual development.

Of these three, I think Tithonos syndrome is probably the most hazardous, and also the most likely we as diviners encounter.  I know that from my own experience and from the reported experience of others, doing a string of divination readings in a row can often tire me out and wear me down, causing me headaches, fatigue, light-headedness, or just making me more predisposed to being hangry.  And that’s the ideal case, too; if I do readings for people who have some really heavy shit going on, or who are being meddled with on a spiritual level by people throwing curses at them or by spirits obsessing over them, or if mental illness comes out in the reading or in their behaviors that play out on a spiritual level, then the problems ramp up real quickly.  And that’s all on top of the actual personal interactions I have to work with to act, not just as seer, but as counselor to make sure the person can integrate my advice in a healthy, productive way that isn’t threatened by fear, jealousy, anxiety, mental illness, or the like.  Between the energy I’m putting out, the energy I have to put up with, and the constant personal investment I have to make to accomplish the reading, it’s truly no small matter.

So, to prepare myself for a divination (and especially any string of divinations, like for a psychic fair or if I have multiple appointments lined up on the same day), I’ll be sure to take a special bath to protect myself while enhancing my sight and quickening my tongue, warding the reading space to make sure the information comes out clear without spiritual interference, and wear my preferred diviner’s charms and recite my prayers to make sure all goes well; to wrap things up, even if I’m dead tired from doing everything above, I’ll make myself cleanse the area of the divinations along with myself, lock everything down, cut all loose threads that didn’t want to be tied up earlier, and then get a good meal and a good night’s rest.  It’s a lot to handle, but it’s absolutely necessary, because without such precautions and postactions, it’s almost laughably easy to get so tired you get vertigo, faint, pass out, fall sick, or come to some other bad end that results in physical illness or injury.  It’s not worth it to ignore these ameliorating actions, because the cost will always be higher in the end.  Over time, with practice, your spiritual stamina can be lengthened, your focus sharpened, your defenses strengthened, and so forth through routine meditation, warding, energy work, prayer, and so forth, but this only lessens the harm because you can deflect more of it at a time; it doesn’t eliminate the threat or effects of it entirely.  Tithonos syndrome is no joke, dear reader; if you engage with divination, this is a real risk you bring upon yourself.  Take care of yourself.

Then there’s Prometheus syndrome, which…I’ll be honest, I don’t think it plays out like this.  If the gods didn’t want us to speak about the future, they wouldn’t let us know it to begin with.  Consider what Apollo says in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, where Hermes tries to strike a bargain with Apollo so that he could get in on the sweet, sweet gift of prophecy (emphasis mine):

But as for sooth-saying, noble, heaven-born child, of which you ask, it is not lawful for you to learn it, nor for any other of the deathless gods: only the mind of Zeus knows that. I am pledged and have vowed and sworn a strong oath that no other of the eternal gods save I should know the wise-hearted counsel of Zeus. And do not you, my brother, bearer of the golden wand, bid me tell those decrees which all-seeing Zeus intends. As for men, I will harm one and profit another, sorely perplexing the tribes of unenviable men. Whosoever shall come guided by the call and flight of birds of sure omen, that man shall have advantage through my voice, and I will not deceive him. But whoso shall trust to idly-chattering birds and shall seek to invoke my prophetic art contrary to my will, and to understand more than the eternal gods, I declare that he shall come on an idle journey; yet his gifts I would take.

In other words, Apollo cannot give prophecy to Hermes because Zeus has ordained that prophecy belongs only to Apollo, and that all those who seek to trespass on prophetic powers or augury or other omens without the proper license do so in vain, no matter what they try to bribe or tempt Apollo with.  Only those who are true and truly guided by the proper channels can obtain such truth from Apollo; all others will fail in the attempt.  In this light, I find it less likely that one suffers the fate of Prometheus in stealing fire from the gods for speaking what ought not be spoken, and more likely that one just says wrong things; at best, such a bad prediction is useless and without effect, but at worst, it can truly mislead someone into ruin of their own doing for paying heed to the wrong people.

That said, I think that there are three cases where Prometheus syndrome could actually take place:

  1. One has a pact with a particular spirit who acts as a familiar or tutelary divinity of divination, and that pact allows the diviner to rely on that entity for divination in exchange for honoring that spirit through sacrifice and payment, and relying on that entity only as much as that entity agrees to share.  To press that entity further than what they agree to can end up angering that spirit to the point of causing punishment, just as neglecting one’s own end of the deal by ignoring or foregoing sacrifice and payment to them.  Still, this would less be a case of “speaking what ought not be spoken” and more a matter of “violating spiritual vows”.  If you rely on such a spirit for aid in divination, work such boundaries out for yourself, then stick to them; if you have a taboo or prohibition on divining for a particular topic (e.g. one’s eventual date of death), don’t try to pry into those secrets.
  2. While all the above makes sense to me from my Western perspective, I can’t discount that there may very well be cultures and traditions where divination is truly seen as a means of theft from the gods, and the methods they use actually work out in that way.  I can’t speak to this, but it may well be that any such form of divination is truly like Prometheus stealing fire from Olympos, which would them open them up to punishment.  I can’t say for sure, but it’s not something I can discount.  To avoid this, try a different system of divination and cosmological worldview that doesn’t see it this way, I guess?
  3. The last case would technically be considered an inverted Prometheus syndrome; rather than suffering punishment for speaking what ought not be spoken, I find it a very real threat to not speak what ought to be spoken.  In other words, if you see something in a divination, you as the diviner are obliged to inform the client about it, especially if it’s about a danger or risk to their well-being.  The idea goes that whatever you don’t inform the client of comes back to hurt you instead; it’s thus in your best interest to speak everything that you see and can correlate into a cohesive story (and the once-off “just popped into my mind” bits, too) to the client.  That way, the client has as complete and thorough understanding as can be given to them at the time, and the diviner can say that they did their best to help the client.  After all, knowing is half the battle, but if the diviner withholds knowledge that they’re privy to from a client that the client is paying for, not only is it dishonest, it also opens up the diviner to either punishment or “taking the hit” for the client simply from whatever is coming for the client.  Of these three cases, it’s this inverted Prometheus syndrome I’m most concerned about, but that can be resolved pretty easily: don’t lie in divination, don’t hide in divination, don’t mislead in divination.  If you speak what you see and all that you see as best as you can, then not only do you uphold your own professionalism in divination, you also hold yourself clean and free from the repercussions of problems that you’d otherwise stand in the way of.

So much for Prometheus syndrome and Tithonos syndrome.  Then there’s Teireisias syndrome, which…I dunno.  Like, I know plenty of diviners of all kinds: male, female, trans, nonbinary, straight, gay, queer, old, young, abled, disabled, of every race and every socioeconomic class and every attractive quality (or lack thereof).  I haven’t really noticed much of a pattern in seeing whether “disabled people make better diviners” or “gay men make better prophets” or whatnot, so for me, I’d probably chalk Teireisias syndrome up to more of a myth than something to actually consider as a thing.  I suppose it’s more like self-selection or selection bias; consider, after all, that many people who get involved in the occult arts and sciences tend to already be outcasts, and being different in some way (queer, nonbinary, disabled, poor, neuro-atypical, etc.) is a big cause of being considered outcasts.  I guess it’s like how many men think women talk more than they do; if they see queer/nonbinary/otherwise-different people doing divination, then it’d be a matter of overrepresentation becoming rumour becoming fable rather than something mystically inherent in different people.  But, hey, if it helps us with getting more business, you can bet I’ll play my asthma, bad knee, and gayness up for as much as it’d be worth, and I’d encourage everyone else to do the same with whatever makes them different (so long as they’re also, yanno, competent enough to be worth it).

Those are my thoughts on diviner’s syndromes that we might encounter, along with some of the dangers and problems we face and how we might begin to rectify them.  What about you, dear reader?  If you’re a diviner yourself, have you noticed any problems that you encounter with divination that affect you on a spiritual or physical level?  Do you know of any tales, cultures, or myths where divination is taken as a last resort out of fear of divine punishment (besides the whole Witch of Endor thing from the Book of Samuel)?  How do you try to keep yourself in as good a condition as you can before, during, and after divination?  Let us know down in the comments!

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.