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Divination 101: A Welcome

Hello, my good friends, I am so happy to welcome you to this column. Here we will be taking a moment to meditate upon what’s to come while grounding ourselves in the present. Practices of divination exist in many cultures, so many that anthropologists and academics have often claimed it to be a universal practice. Peering into the future has become something that we see as deeply human and a condition predicated upon our mortality. That is to say, the future matters when we only have so much of it left.

Divination, both as a practice and a concept, has been seen on Tumblr and tattooed onto bodies at Coachella, yet practices like astrology, tarot, numerology, geomancy and bibliomancy have often been practices of the marginal and the “outsider within.” The unique vantage point of the village wise-woman (or witch, if you are of a certain persuasion) gifts these practices with a tradition that is aware of itself as external to typical ways of understanding the world, such as science, philosophy and organized religion. In the words of Toni Morrison, the position of the sage acts as both “the rule and its transgression.” Whether it is called fortune telling, divination or witchcraft, these attempts to peer into the future exemplify this ideal of observing the natural cadence of life and attempting to upend it by offering a perspective on what is supposed to remain always just out of reach.

Indulgent or meditative, heretical or orthodox, esoteric or mundane, divination offers what nothing else can. It offers something that the modern world desperately needs: A bit of magic. It is my hope that, for both the believer and the skeptic, this column can offer a moment of repose and some confidence as you follow your own unique and exciting path.

This week, I am constraining us to a one-card tarot reading, amazing for its simplicity and brevity. Tarot has been used in a variety of ways and is the source of constant innovation even today. Typically associated with women, although not exclusively so, it was a widespread practice in Europe. Variants of tarot cards from the Middle Ages can be found all across the Silk Road, and Chinese printers would begin producing them long before Portuguese traders plundered their way to East Asia. Interestingly,  some linguistics departments use them today as an example of complex semiological systems, or more simply, a way of communicating that is in contact with and draws from a variety of different cultural phenomena. 

This week’s card is the Nine of Swords, a card traditionally associated with deception. The suit of swords is deeply connected to the intellect and the ways in which we transmit the resources of the mind into reality. Physical and violent, like real swords, there is always a degree of disfigurement attached to the suit of swords. Like Plato’s cave, it points us toward the ways in which our ideas never fully come to fruition and can be mangled by their forceful adherence to the structures and rules of reality. The card advises us to turn away from distrust and suspicion, but it also encourages us to avoid rumination and being overly reflective. It commands us to turn away from our internal reality, which frequently deceives us into believing life is one way when, in this moment, it may be something else entirely. While deception can be seen as an external danger or threat, I want to remind you that we deceive ourselves every day and that this week may be the week to confront that fact.

How do you interpret the Nine of Swords? What did you think of this week’s reading? Did something resonate with you? Please let me know at [email protected]

One Comment

  1. Anna DeBraber Anna DeBraber January 26, 2023

    Excellent, Dawson, thank you for sharing. That reading is perfect for this time of year especially, when there’s such a cultural focus on individualistic self-improvement and the internal state at the expense of other, more connected ways of being. You certainly brought a little magic into my day.

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