Occasionally the processes of the natural world appear to respond to human intention in quite specific ways. This beautifully weathered gravestone in the cliff top cemetery at Whitby would seem to be a case in point. From within-and-beyond the immediate material (geochemical, microclimatic) processes of Nature, a voice seems to be speaking. I find the resultant image as open-endedly evocative as any piece of human art. Yet mainstream Western culture has no conception of other-than-animal agency, mind, or sentience, in nature. Describing Koyukon sensibility, David Abram (drawing on the work of Richard Nelson) writes ‘Rather like the trickster, the Raven, who first gave it its current form, the sensuous world is a spontaneous, playful, and dangerous mystery in which we participate, an animate and articulate field of powers ever responsive to human actions and spoken words’. Although Abram could almost be describing my own perspective here, I want to resist the assumption that the implications of such a world-view are obvious, readily generalisable, and even necessarily benign.(1)
The following notes were prompted by Patrick Curry’s discussion of animist divination, which (hard as it is for me as an ‘insider’ to make the point) could also be read as romanticising contact with Nature. I found myself wondering whether I had become set in my ways, and wanted to consider the relevance of categories such as bidden and unbidden omens, and inductive or ‘rational’ versus direct or inspired divination, to my own practice.
When I’m concerned about a particular situation I tend to turn to astrology, or to dowsing with a pendulum. These happen to be the media that work for me. Astrology is a complex subject that I’d prefer to discuss elsewhere. It is worth noting, however, that traditional ‘horary’ astrology, where a horoscope is cast for the time a meaningful question is asked, has an in-built safeguard against casual or inappropriate use. There are various ‘considerations before judgement’ that, if present, prevent a reading from going ahead. These include a check on the condition of the astrologer. This significant step may not be entirely foolproof, but it does foreground a crucial issue common to all modes of divination.
In an individualistic culture where anxiety and despair is endemic -one in five of the population in some parts of the U.K are now on anti-depressants!- there’s an understandable temptation to resort to divination either out of desperation, as an antidote to alienation, or instead of doing the necessary preparatory work on an issue, or looking for/setting up networks of mutual support. Where someone is prone to anxiety, depression, or mental disorientation, astrology may make matters worse, though even in these circumstances, in the right hands (and with good back-up support) it can be a useful general guide to what’s going on, not least in terms of timing.
If I, or someone I’m concerned about, is faced with several specific options, I may dowse with a pendulum. When I do this I am ‘bidding an omen’, eliciting a response from other-than-human persons. I’m not sure, though, how applicable the term omen is in relation to such a direct method. Provided that I’ve done some research, that the question I’m asking matters, is timely and appropriate, I seem to get a clear and unambiguous response.* This, for instance, is how I decided between two possible options when I was about to embark upon a PhD as a mature student. In this case I suspect that I was helped because my health challenges were a significant factor. I was on the horns of a dilemma and needed to be in the right environment. As things turned out I got a good answer.
A pendulum reading may leave me with much to think about, but the message is not encrypted as a sign that needs to be deciphered or interpreted. Either the pendulum stalls, indicating that my question may not be appropriate, or that there’s nothing I can do about the situation, or I receive a fairly immediate response to a particular statement (occasionally after an arm-aching few minutes!). The method I use is blind and ‘randomised’, though again, the latter term, with its scientific connotations (randomised double blind pharmaceutical trials come to mind) doesn’t feel right. This kind of dowsing happens within the protected enclosure of simple heartfelt ritual, and is a subtle meditative process involving careful mental and emotional attunement. I have a vivid sense of intimate contact with one or more other-than-human-persons who can ‘see’ the matter at hand, and somehow move the pendulum using my receptive body-mind as a conduit in order to reply. My act of ‘randomisation’ simply works to prevent my conscious/rational mind from interfering with reception. This would also be the case if I were using cards, or throwing the I-Ching.
A crucial difference with the pendulum for me, however, is that the feeling tone that comes through is either a sufficient answer in itself, or is what confirms the validity of the reading. This can sometimes give a good indication of how someone I may know little about is getting on, or what a person I’ve not (yet) met, and couldn’t have picked up subliminal signals from, is like. This is why I find the method so powerful, and think that explanations involving my own ‘subconscious’ mind are inadequate. I also find that the pendulum moves eloquently -detecting, conducting, and expressing psychic-emotional energy- in response to my ongoing questions or suggestions. This can feel very much like a conversation with a close and trusted friend. The process is, therefore, dialogical. Another key element in the method of pendulum dowsing I use involves visualisation, often of a permeable membrane of some kind (curtains, a screen, a water surface) which helps me to distinguish received from internally generated imagery and feelings. Once again, there is nothing casual about this kind of enquiry. I doubt that anything would ‘come through’ unless the question I asked mattered in terms of someone’s wellbeing.
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