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:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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!