Each one of us has an experience of being human that is particular to who we are at our core and what we’ve lived over time. But we also share with each other the peculiar experience of being human, of being a unique consciousness that exists within (and, arguably, without) a body on this planet and in three-dimensional space. Becoming aware of ourselves as existing with a body that is separate from the body within which we were gestated is one common aspect of being human. And once we find ourselves inhabiting a body of our own, we are tasked with learning how to care for and feed that body, which is another commonality of the human condition that we all share.
Another persistent aspect of the human condition is a need for stability; a desire to keep things running smoothly with as few disruptions to our “normal” life as possible. Or, more accurately, no disruptions at all, ever! If you’ve lived as a human for any amount of time, you know that this ideal is far from the reality of everyday life. Most of us live through times of disorder and disarray in our personal lives. And most of us have thought, Wow, if only I’d seen that coming! Because if we had seen it coming, we could have been better prepared and being better prepared would have cut down on the chaos and confusion that resulted from not being prepared and then we could have sailed right through whatever it was like a champ!
Let the Dust Settle!
One method for getting a heads up on what’s coming our way is divination. Divination has been used by humans all over the globe and as far back as we have evidence for human life. There are countless forms of divination, ranging from Abacomancy (through studying dust) to Zygomancy (through studying weights). Consulting an oracle—someone or something that can connect with the deity(ies) or spirits—has a long history in human culture. You’ve probably heard of the Oracle at Delphi, even if you’re not sure of what exactly it was. Delphi was a location in ancient Greece where a priestess would go into trance and receive messages from the god Apollo. Those messages were interpreted by the priests of Delphi and delivered as prophecies to those seeking answers.
The Oracle at Delphi is probably the most well-known oracle system in western culture, but there are many other oracle systems from many other parts of the world. Some oracles weren’t people, but statues. Typically a representation of a god or goddess, the statue would move or speak or make some kind of sound that could then be interpreted by the experts in such things. In some oracle systems, like incubation, it was the person seeking the prophecy who was the oracle. They would sleep in a section of a temple or other sacred place (sometimes wrapped in a fresh sacrificial animal skin) and receive their answer in dream form.
One of the most ancient oracle methods comes from China and requires that a turtle shell or shoulder blade of an ox be inscribed with a question and then burned until it cracked. The cracks were then interpreted and an answer transcribed. Many African cultures see the oracle as someone with a strong connection to their own spirit double. The diviner and their client may hold hands or both hold a stick and the movement of the hands or stick are interpreted for messages. Some diviners in certain African oracle systems work as pairs, using chains of seed shells cast on the ground, each interpreting the other’s chain and effectively “doubling” the answer. Some indigenous cultures in the Americas used grains of corn for divination, which were thrown onto a white cloth or into water. The kernels were then interpreted based on where and how they landed. This was actually a pretty common method in many cultures, with variations in what was thrown: sand, beads, shells, stones, bones, dice, and so on.
What’s Your Oracle?
Many of these oracle systems are still practiced today. The stars and celestial events (such as eclipses and comets) have been looked to for information about the past, present, and future by just about every known culture for thousands of years and is still widely accepted as valid or, at the very least, intriguing. Free of the stigma usually attached to tarot cards, oracle cards have become a very popular way of gaining insight into a situation or circumstance. The ever-increasing numbers of oracle card decks, featuring themes from a nearly countless number of inclinations and belief systems, speak to our enduring conviction that there is some way to know what’s happening next. And also to our boundless optimism that we can be, somehow, better prepared for it when it comes.
To hear more about oracle cards and how they can work for you, check out the latest Tarot Talk podcast.
If you want to learn more about the types of oracles discussed above, try these places:
Oracles and Divination
The Oracle at Delphi
Ancient Chinese Divination
South American Divination