Divination is not Intuition

Divination should not be confused with Intuition, even though Intuition is involved in successful divination

1) The occasional conflation of the idea of ‘intuition’ with that of ‘divination’ reminds us that our terminology needs careful discrimination. Divination, especially in its more sophisticated manifestations, may require intuition, but the reverse is not the case since intuition has a much broader scope.

2) This becomes apparent in the role of speculation and conjecture in many disciplines and crafts that are understood to have a theoretical basis in causal processes, or causal matrices of processes; it is the theoretical basis that legitimises the practice, even if the processes themselves are obscure and not well understood.

3) As an example, orthodox modern medicine takes its validation and legitimacy from the scientifically-determined or scientifically-hypothesised properties of organic and inorganic matter. The fact that an experienced doctor may then decide between one of two equally plausible medical strategies on an educated hunch or intuition does not turn that practice into ‘divination’. This remains the case even if the conjecture involves subliminal mental processes.

4) However, if the choice were to be referred to the toss of a coin or the drawing of a Tarot card, medicine would have decamped into the territory of divination, and this remains the case even if he or she decamps carrying the baggage of scientific medicine. The reason for this territorial demarcation is obvious. In weighing and balancing the several factors that might decide a choice medically, the doctor considers the known or supposed causal effects of the medicine. These effects include correlations observed from statistical trials.

5) Digitalis and its modern derivative digoxin are known by experiment and estimated through statistical analysis to have definite effects on the heart, and this finding entails an empirically-established relationship between the drug and its effects. The doctor’s intuition that here and now for this particular patient this may be the better treatment than either a similar medicine or no medicine at all, remains bound within the parameters of the known physical effects of the medicines.

6) But what of a Tarot experiment? From the viewpoint of logic and science a Tarot card drawn in this situation has a contingent and but not a direct relationship with the situation it is called upon to depict; it stands outside the tests and procedures of scientific medicine and has no more ‘effect’ on the heart than does a small beetle coming into the room, unless indeed the sight of a doctor with a Tarot deck gives the patient a nasty fright.

7) Contingency goes back in its etymological roots to the idea of ‘what happens together’, what falls out. The beetle flying round the room, the Tarot card drawn, and a decision to prescribe digoxin may all fall out together, but their relationships are of different orders. The beetle is a contingent and inconsequential factor, one of a myriad of such factors in the situation. For doctor and patient the beetle is non-significant, that is non-significatory. Once we enter the territory of divination, the Tarot card is equally contingent but unlike the beetle it has been rendered significatory, since the doctor has in advance assigned its potential significance to the patient’s treatment. By virtue of the doctor deciding to be informed by this signification, the Tarot image becomes consequential in the patient’s treatment.

8) The analysis of contingency also enables us to distinguish two different meanings for the word ‘sign’, since a sign that arises from a necessary or causal relationship of factors is itself related to those factors consequentially as cause or effect. Smoke is a sign of fire, and dark clouds are a sign of rain. In our medical example, a restored heart rhythm is a sign or symptom of the efficacy of the medicine. The English word ‘sign’ is ambiguous, since we need to distinguish cause-signs (and symptoms) from omen-signs. This has immediate relevance to astrology. Concerning the logic of astrological interpretation, there is a telling passage in Augustine:

Now it could be said that the stars indicate those [human actions] rather than bring them about, so that their position is some kind of speech which foretells the future, and not an active power (for this has been the view of persons of no ordinary learning), but the astrologers do not usually say, for example, ‘Mars in this position indicates a murderer’, but ‘brings about a murderer’. However, let us concede that they do not express themselves as they should, and that they ought to take from the philosophers the rule of how to formulate their predictions…

(De Civitate V 1 trans. Dombart and Kalb).

9) Properly the astrologers should use significare (to indicate) instead of facere (to bring about, to effect). By allowing flexibility in their naming, the astrologers imply a stronger causal relation than is actually the case. Although astrology throughout the tradition has been studiedly vague on this issue, I suggest that when pressed many educated astrologers from antiquity to the present day will follow Augustine’s hint and revert to the rhetoric of signification rather than that of causation, and the regular use of the term ‘significator’ in craft horoscopy certainly suggests this usage. Against a naive causal understanding we may also cite William Lilly’s statement that the stars are non cogunt, not pushing.

10) It is important to take the distinction between significatory omen-signs and symptomatic cause-signs one step further to dispel the ambiguity that may arise when instead of seeing the planets as direct ‘causes’ they are seen as indicators of some less obvious but equally determinative and causal matrix, such as Ptolemy’s ambient or ether, odylic force (a 19th century favourite), electromagnetic and gravitational fields, or some harmonic pattern. Under such an hypothesis there is a consequential relation between the causal or corresponding matrix and life events, and equally there is a consequential relation between this matrix and astrological configurations. Since the underlying matrix is to some degree predictable in principle, then the capacity to determine the effects or correspondence of the matrix on life events through observation of correlated astrological factors would be indirectly but still in essence a bringing-about, producing, pushing, and effecting – facere in Augustine’s terms.

11) The distinctions brought out above enable us to better describe ‘inductive divination’, which is the usual term for an interpretation derived from omens. The classical formulation, going back to Plato and given an enduring analysis by Cicero, remains effective as a starting point in the phenomenology of divination. This approach is grounded in the fundamental distinction between divination-by-art (en-technos, employing techne or ‘art’), in contrast to divination-by-nature. ‘Artificial’ divination is the category commonly named inductive, and it refers to the interpreting of signs, omens and prodigies. ‘Natural’ divination, counterintuitively named for modern ears, refers to inspired or enthused (en-theos, god-filled) divination requiring no human art, as in trance possession.

12) Plato, and following him a strand in Platonism down to modern times, regards inductive divination as subject to the failings of ordinary human reason and an untrustworthy substitute for the divine inspiration of those in communion with a god.

13) The classical distinction leads to the possibility that we might class some manifestations of clairvoyance as inspired or natural divination, in that the medium has direct experience unmediated by any faculty of reasoning. Whether ordinary clairvoyance properly belongs to the level that Plato regards as divine is open to question. Clearly, however, if the interpretation of astrological significations is regarded as a divinatory process, then its process of reasoning, its logos, places it in the category of inductive divination, and this is how its divinatory nature has commonly been characterised, from the time of Cicero.

14) The blanket overlay of the concept of intuition may obscure these distinctions. It seems certain that an intuitive or subliminal component is a constitutive element in the successful reading of omen-signs, even where this is founded on a rational and orderly process of interpretation. But equally an intuitive component enters into many arts and crafts, just as must sometimes be the case in the application of medical science to the particular circumstance of a patient. To say that astrology involves intuition, or ‘divination’ where this latter word is confusingly used as a synonym for ‘intuition’, does not allow us to discriminate whether interpretive astrology belongs to science, or to divination, or to both.


v2 GC/ Discussed in ‘Symbol & Sacred’ 31st Aug 18 (above text v2 is slightly amended)

Comments are closed.