Divination - Di Taola

The anthropologist Richard Werbner describes diviners as
‘masters of the poetically contoured almost said’.

The divinatory praise poem or cantor is by its nature able to encompass the enigmatic and the paradox in a kind of lyrical shifting and dancing counterpoint. The diviner is at once the singer, the bard, the utterer of mysterious and sacred words, and the apprehender of the almost invisible, barely audible wisp-like fragments from “those of the depths”, those of that precinct from which the essence of existence itself emanates. For surely if we want to glean anything about this strange phenomenon called existence it would be prudent to find a way of getting as close to the source as possible.

We are called to Di Taola by the ancestors at critical moments in our personal psycho-spiritual evolution. Called to divination of the depths in order to be facilitated in the breaking through to higher. more expanded levels of awareness.

Those which point the way and/or give the lore, commonly referred to by westerners as ‘the bones’, have since time immemorial been, for the indigenous peoples of Southern Africa, accepted as the most potent way of conversing with and finding commune with ‘those of the depths.

And the séance, the session, the rendezvous, that place in time and space wherein a meeting between the seeker and “those of the depths”, the ancestors, the spirits who care to offer a word on the life-passage of the one who visits, is both facilitated and mediated by the diviner. Why do we come to this place, to this person? What do we hope to find or hear? Mostly it would seem we have absolutely no idea. Rather, we awaken either suddenly or gradually to a feeling that draws us to seek counsel with something or someone seemingly greater or somehow larger than ourselves. Who are “those of the depths,” we might ponder, our ancestors, our grandmothers or great grandfathers, spirits of the dead, or of the land, animal, bird or fish spirits, dead sages and mystic masters, or perhaps even God?

Divination is something that has and continues to happen all over the world in just about every human culture that has ever existed. When this question is asked of a diviner the answer will depend on who the diviner is, where they come from, to which tradition they belong and to what cosmology they subscribe. Simply put, it depends very much on who you ask.

Where divination is concerned in its most general sense then, the nature of the source is less important than what arises as a result of it being invoked. The manner in which we choose to identify the source of the information will depend on the particular world-view we subscribe to. For an individual from a collectivist, ancestral culture the source of guidance is the ancestors. For an individualist from modern western culture the source of guidance might be synchronicity, the collective unconscious, the quantum field, a religious master, the holy guardian angel or the higher-self to name a few of the possibilities in current circulation. Whatever the source, what remains of prime importance is the quality, resonance and potency of what is received. For perhaps as long as we have been human it has been in quest of this potent commune with the depths that diviners have always been sought and consulted. As many a mythic tale, and for that matter experience itself, will likely attest, going to a diviner may result in the seeker receiving more than they bargained for or wanted to hear. As it is said among traditional diviners in Southern Africa, “it will be for the ancestors to decide what is told.” In other words, the source will reveal what the source chooses and we mere mortals must make do with that. If the diviner is worth their salt we will, we are assured by traditional diviners in Southern Africa, get what it is the source/ancestors deem we need.

So divination is a mysterious, often enigmatic business filled with riddles, paradoxes and conundrums that only the verses of poetry and the non-dualistic reaches of the unconscious can truly house.

Traditionally the falls of the divination tablets are delivered to the seeker in poems. Poems that are deeply rooted in the mysterious metaphorical depths of the cosmology to which they belong. To make rational sense of what the poem is saying is inevitably to distort what is being said. Yet for the divination to hold sway in the day-to-dayness if life, it is incumbent on the diviner to offer such rationalisation and translation of the poems as an important part of the divination séance. Simultaneously however, the séance is a portal through which the spirit of the seeker can pass.

A portal the other side of which commune with the depths, the soul or the source may take place. Such commune, far beyond the mere rationalisations of information received, is where the real potency and transformative power of the divination séance lies. It is for this potency, as the diviners of Botswana might say, that the seeker is called to “Di Taola” by the ancestors. The information is a side-show, a little entertainment to keep the rational neurotic mind occupied while the real work is happening beyond the portal threshold. As we were so often reminded when we were training in divination back in those old and wild days:

Whatever you may think, you did not choose to come for a divination of your own will, you were brought to the divination because it was deemed important by the ancestors (those of the depths). You come to be told, not to receive answers to your questions.

Ask as you please and there may or may not be a satisfactory rational answer. But that is not important, that is not the prime work that must happen in the séance. The diviner, through their initiatory process, training and exhaustive self-preparation, becomes not so much the conduit itself, but the keeper of the portal and the invoker of those beyond it, those of the depths. “Come to the gate, the diviner might say,“ and for a fee I will see if I can get you audience with those within.”

Traditionally in most parts of the world the fee is payable up front and there is no guarantee that such audience will be granted despite the understanding that you were called to the gate in the first place by those within. Who can say why this is. No diviner has ever been able to satisfactorily answer this question when I have asked it of them. Scribbled in one of my notebooks is a quote I found once in a book. I didn’t record the name of the book or the author. In the opening pages, the author asks a Nepalese shaman/diviner how you know if the diviner you plan to visit is good or not. He answered something like this: “If the shaman has done the work with the right teacher, and if he is truly called to this work, then there is a good chance that you will meet with the spirits, at least on most occasions. If not, then you will be disappointed and not return to the services of that shaman a second time. You will tell your friends and relatives that he is not a shaman but an imposter who steals the money of foolish people, a shaman who preys by the spilling of chickens’ blood and no more. Of what use is the spectacle of a dead chicken if there are no spirits present?”

So customarily, the seeker approaches the appointed time of the séance filled with hope and expectation. Yet if they are accustomed to visiting diviners, there will be a willingness to accept that perhaps little of what is expected will be received. Hopefully however, what is received will be of far greater worth and benefit than that which might have been consciously desired. Though relatively informal, the traditional divination séance is considered deeply sacred. This does not mean that it should be approached without a healthy portion of scepticism. Whether or not the diviner is a mere imposter can only be decided once the session is complete, and perhaps even only months or even years after that when what is received has had time to prove out. For the seeker in these modern western cultural times, I suggest, the question of prime importance is whether the session was transformative or not. Did it have potency?

Potency is a quality that can less be described than felt. The seeker might be asked after a session how it was. What was it like? The answers are often frustratingly vague and the final resort by way of description, if it went well, is to sum up by saying “it was potent.” If it didn’t go well then the response will of course be the lament of wasted time and money. Often too, the seeker may visit the diviner in the hopes of resolving their conflicts amid the struggle and toil of their daily lives both domestic and professional. Yet if alchemists are right, all transformation happens through the agency of heat. Conflict generated amid the gristle and grind of daily experience results in what might be imaged as metaphorical “heat.” Such raised psychological temperature, Carl Jung offers, is the agent of psychological evolution, or individuation as he refers to it. The degree to which the individual, or collective for that matter, is willing or able to maintain a non-polarised stance within conflicting polarities results in a third and consciously raised position of awareness. Here, at a higher level of consciousness that inevitably results, the opposing polarities may be united.

Simply put then, the conflict of opposing polarities represents the psychic “heat” that is crucial to the growth of consciousness. The willingness to stay in the heat facilitates psychological and psycho-spiritual development or evolution. I was so often perplexed in the early days of training in divination. More often than not, I would leave a divination session feeling greatly more confused and filled with conflict than when I went in. Surely the propose of divination must be to resolve conflict, open and clarify the road ahead not cloud it in confusion and sear it with even deeper feelings of internal conflict?

Over time I have come to realise that divination has little to do with trying to figure out the conundrums and challenges of every-day life, and much to do with psychological and psycho-spiritual development.

That said, we come to understand that “those of the depths” are really only interested in such evolution, though advice and help in relation to the affairs of our everyday live might at times be included in what is offered. Of course this does not mean that all divination sessions result in greater confusion and conflict, merely that if they do that is all par for the course when it comes to psycho-spiritual evolution. In fact, over the years of both divining for myself and receiving sessions from other diviners I have increasingly found that there is, ironically through its intensification, a kind of resolution to the conflict that emerges with me from the divination session. Or, perhaps more accurately, rather than a resolution to the conflict a new and more encompassing perspective is created,I somehow find myself enlarged with more capacity to contain and creatively incorporate what seemed before to be a sheer rock-wall blocking any further progress.

In a certain sense then, we might say that the the greatest potential benefit of divination is realised in its capacity to add alchemical, transformative heat where and when it is most needed during the course of life.

Written by Colin Campbell

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