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reading is a divine interaction between souls in a search for
Reclaiming the Hidden Worlds
By Shekhinah Mountainwater
what a Mstake
Painting: "Priestess at Delphi" by Hon John Collier
Divination, or the art of finding what is hidden, is a mystery practice that goes hand in hand with many religious or spiritual systems. Through the ages it has appeared in many forms, from the Gypsy fortuneteller's pasteboard cards, to the shaman's journey into the lower world, to the intoxicated babbling of the sibyls as they breathed the mind-altering vapors of Earth.
There are so many forms of divination that one comes to realize almost anything can be its medium. Cloud formations can be read for meaning, the sounds of wind and stream, the appearance of wild animals, the shape and color of stone, the lines of our hands and feet, the hypnotic movement of flame, the dance of the stars or the tiny variations in the human eye. It seems that the medium is secondary, whether it be stones or stars, whether it be merely sensing vibrations. It is the mind of the seer that makes the difference between ordinary and extraordinary perception, right-brain or left-brain awareness.
In the process of seeking, the diviner or Wise One enters a magical realm. Psychiatry calls it the subconscious mind or the collective unconscious. Shamanism calls it the Lower World, Christians Heaven, Hell, or the forbidden domains of "evil." Occultists call it the Archetypal Plane, the Astral or Inward Planes, the higher self or super-consciousness. Science fiction has named it the "outer limits, the Dark Side or the Twilight Zone. Kabbalists refer to the Supernal Worlds. Witches call it the Deep Mind, the Other Side, Land of the Dead and of Spirit- Summerland and Avalon- the place where we go when we leave our bodies. Practitioners of the Faery Tradition speak of the Faery Realm, below the surface of the earth, as the "mind of the planet." Australian native peoples call it the Dreamtime. Many call it the Land of Make Believe. Some believe that this world is as real as our ordinary waking world, that in fact it is more permanent and more powerful. They say that it is in these hidden realms that the physical realm is actually created.
There are a number of purposes that motivate the seeker to journey into the Hidden Worlds, divination being but one. We can also go there for healing, for learning, for retrieving parts of ourselves that we may have lost. We might go there on a vision quest, to gain growth and power, or to communicate with forces or entities encountered there. We might simply go there to commune, to connect and recharge.
The Wise One opens herself to the possibilities. She becomes an inward gypsy, a cosmic traveler on the ultimate frontier. She gathers information as she goes, knowing she may have use for it later. She may find demons here, goddesses or gods, magickal animals or plant spirits. She may encounter beings who have passed over, or someone traveling like herself, or souls of the yet-to-be-born. She may experience dreams or visions, find symbols or messages and their interpretations, glimpses of the future or past, insight into the present.
There can be dangers in the nether worlds. One can be "devoured" by monsters, swept away by elemental tides, lose one's center of gravity or sanity. It is necessary to have roadmaps and plenty of protection, to bring tools and shields of magick. Such tools are provided by many mystical teachings. There are medicine wheels, cubes and pictographs, charts and correlations, runes and remedies that can assist one on a chosen course.
Every culture has "official" ways of dealing with the hidden side. In our white-dominated left-brain European-based society the mainstream religious institutions stand guard at its gates. Instead of priestesses, sibyls and shamans, we have clergy, doctors and psychiatrists to intermediate for us, tell us what goes on there, and whether or not we have a part to play there. We are told that a male father god is ruler there as well as in this world, and given a myth of his death and birth to live by. We are otherwise discouraged from entering the psychic realms overmuch. Christian/Catholic thought has created an abhorrence of the Other Side, assuming that it is peopled by devils who mean us harm, who will tempt us to commit unnamable crimes.
Occasionally our media offer books and films that give us horrifying glimpses of psychic reality. We see demonic creatures devouring or tearing innocents apart. We are shown evil-looking tarot readers, predicting doom. We see all the terrors and frightening images we can imagine, and the unspoken message remains imprinted; stay away from those worlds. They are evil, they are ugly, they are dangerous.
And most people do stay away. They concentrate solely on the everyday manifestations of normal waking consciousness. They keep their noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel, go to work every day, come home, go to worship on appointed socially approved days, and keep their minds safely shut. The realm of magick and mystery is off limits for them.
As a result today's world is sadly lacking in magick. Environments are uninspiring, buildings are dull and linear, the natural landscape is receding and in some places entirely replaced by concrete and bad air. We are told that the views of mechanistic "science" are the only valid ones and that everything is basically a mechanism without soul, without meaning. Money is the only god worth worshipping and living for; money, the "root of all evil" rules. Gradually cynicism has replaced avoidance, and the Other Side's very existence is obliterated.
In this blighted situation, even the exploration of patriarchal occultism becomes radical. It represents a deviation from the norm, a lifting of forbidden veils. Much of what we see as today's Pagan movement is an outgrowth of these explorations. Back in the 19th Century there was a rise of interest in the occult among white intellectuals. Groups such as the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society emerged. Names like Aleister Crowley, William Butler Yeats, Madame Blavatzky, Edgar Waite and Paul Case became well-known, and a rash of new esoteric literature appeared. It was a revolution of sorts, for it brought to light many hidden layers of the psyche and led to new spiritual movements and ideas, including the current renaissance of astrology, numerology, palmistry, and other psychic skills.
Who would have supposed that Goddess reality would be found in that hidden esoterica? And yet, She waits for us there, just as She does at the end of every road.
The esoteric roadmaps such as tarot decks, trees of life and knowledge, medicine wheels and runes contain many female power images: the Priestess, White Buffalo Woman, Sh'khinah, the Fates, the Norns, and many more. The truth is that female powers are actually the glue that supports the male powers there. Goddesses have become like the Caryatids, the pillars carved in the forms of women that hold up the rooftops of the temples of the gods.
But many of these grids and maps are patriarchal and lead one to patriarchal interpretations or adventures. What if we seek a female journey with female deities, symbols, protections, guides? What if we want to dive into that deep place to retrieve our own womanspirit, our womanly powers, or womanly mysteries? What if our purpose in divination is to find answers for women in our own context, in our own image? What if we know that communing with goddess-reality on the other side of the Veil is necessary in order to recreate women's reality on this side? What if men who love women and are concerned about these issues want to support this process? What of men who understand and love the feminine within themselves, and who seek a balance of power in society? Then we need whole new systems, female approaches to meditation, visualization, tasks and goals, pathways in and exits out. We must become radicals of the inward planes.
I have set myself to the task, as have a number of others of a mystical bent. Here in the reweaving of our psychic ways is the interface of radical feminism and women's spirituality. We are reworking the tarot, the runes, myths and legends, prayers and power images. We are unearthing ancient goddesses and traditions, and we are inventing new ones. We are searching out the mystical wisdoms of many cultures, reinstating what has been lost in Black, Brown, Yellow, Red and White spiritualities.
There are feminists who wonder why we bother with all of this. Spirituality in itself is questioned, let alone divination, let alone radical spirituality or radical divination. Revolutionary movements of the past have taught us that religions are oppressive, the "opiate of the people." Mystical pursuits such as divination are even more obscure, and can seem absurd. What is the point of mucking about with all this esoterica, when children are starving in Cambodia, women are being sterilized in South America, sisters are being raped everywhere, innocents are being slaughtered in Iraq? Isn't it merely escapism, a cowardly retreat from the practical horrors of the "real world" and the atrocities perpetrated by those in power? Or simply foolish dilletantism of a privileged few, who have the leisure to spend studying dusty tomes, rewriting ancient fairytales, and exploring the pattern of a few stones cast upon the carpet?
There are those who have embraced feminist spirituality who also question. Though they have found strength in womanspirit, in the image of a source of life that is female and of the earth, they still wonder about such things as reading auras, laying on of hands, retrieving power animals, communicating with spirits, or casting spells.
The scope of this article cannot fully answer all of these questions, important as they are. For myself, I have found that divination works; it is as simple as that. When nothing else would help me to understand a problem, find an answer to a question, guide me through the complexities of life, divination would provide. When women- and men too- come to me for these things, divination helps.
For example: A woman comes to me for a tarot reading. She tells me she feels blocked, dis-spirited. Her relationships frustrate her, her job feels like a trap. In the background position of my layout of cards she gets the Knight of Swords, reversed. I tell her she has repressed her power, her assertive energy... that she needs to find a creative channel for expressing this essential part of her personality.
Now suppose this woman had come to me a few years later with the same issue, after I had reworked the tarot. Instead of the Knight of Swords she might get Ngame, Maiden of Fire, the Radical Sister. "You are a transformer," I would tell her, "a latent revolutionary. It's time to go out into the world and make some changes."
This insight would be an outgrowth of many factors in combination, including: an understanding of current events, a knowledge of symbols and their meanings, a development of new female symbolism, a belief in feminism for world healing, and plain old intuition. Hopefully this woman would feel encouraged to release the pent-up energy within her, to go back into her life with a desire to involve herself in real changes. At the least she might have a better understanding of herself and why she has been depressed.
Readings don't always lead to political action, of course. The possibilities are as vast as life itself. Divination works on the principle of synchronicity; it is simply a reflection of the moment. It is as useful in times of social upheaval as in times of peace and health.
On a deeper level, the act of reclaiming all mystical practices is part of the rebuilding of our woman-culture. Though many have forgotten, it was the spiritual aspects of society that were the first to be taken over by the patriarchs. One might say that feminism is a creature of two legs; the practical and the psychic. To develop only one is to go about with a limp, to deny at least half or our power.
The first targets for attack were the temples, the priestesses, the rituals honoring the Goddess, the divinatory practices and healings done in Her name. Male conquerors were shrewd enough to understand that power resides in such things, that one could control a society by taking them over. As Robert Graves says:
Conquering gods their titles take
Somehow they knew; perhaps it was the priestesses themselves who taught them that outer reality grows from inner reality. It is like the connection between an embroidered design on the "front" of a fabric, and the knotted stitchery on the "back." One cannot exist without the other. Certain patterns or stitcheries can be introduced to that nether realm in order to bring about intentional designs and patterns. It is through this woven power of the hidden worlds that the present social order is maintained. If the social order is oppressive we must, at least in part, look to the inner weaving for causes. We can change that inner weaving and help to cause a better, more enlightened reality.
How is this done; where does one begin? Again, a vast question that will take many words and many writers to answer. For me, female images are the primary clue. I have found them in repositories of wisdom such as the tarot, folklore, mythology, fairy tales, in nature, in the arts, poetry, religion... in women's minds, in men's minds, in my own mind. In many cases I have had to ferret them out from the interstices of patriarchal symbolic systems where they were often buried.
For instance, when I first read of the sibyls I was told that they served the god Apollo, and that their babblings were interpreted by male priests for the benefit of male seekers of wealth and position. Instinct told me that they must have once served a Goddess and a woman-loving community. Sure enough, feminist researchers later corroborated what my heart had already taught me. The temple of Apollo at Delphi in old Greece where sibyls were consulted was originally the site of a much older deity, Gaiea, our Mother Earth. Oracles are female (in women as well as in men), and were first invented by women.
To divine is to make contact with the divine. Everywhere in the ancient world Goddesses were credited with the invention of the arts of prophesy, and women were the first channels of their wisdom. Destiny itself (from the Latin "destino"- that which is woven) is Goddess-born. In India the great Goddess Kali Ma is said to have invented the magical Sanskrit letters, used for Naming and Writing as well as Seeing. Fata Scribunda, "the Fate Who Writes," was the Roman Mother of Destiny. The Graeae or Moirae were the Fates of ancient Greece; weavers, spinners and cutters of the Thread of destiny. Spider Woman of Hopi tradition is another familiar Weaver of the Universe. The Scandinavian Iduna (who preceded Odin, and from whom he inherited his name) created the runes, also magical and prophetic letters.
Hand in hand with these legends are found the female oracular traditions. Druidesses read messages in the leaves and branches of their sacred trees. Deborah, a wise woman described in the Old Testament, gave judgment and prophesy beneath an almond tree. Witches and Wise Women of old Europe could read the future in moonlit water, or the pattern of stars in the night sky, or the fall of seeds upon the earth. African priestesses answered questions by tossing cowrie shells. Clearly divination is originally a woman's practice, an integral part of the powers we need to reclaim.
Today our most common oracle is the weather man on TV. Male biblical prophets are touted as our ancestral seers. Though Lady Luck receives some press (mainly at gambling casinos), She is trivialized. It's true that we are witnessing a renaissance of psychic practices, and there has been much progress. But sensationalism, competition, exploitation and marginalization still haunt the footsteps of today's readers and readees. Divination systems are still mainly patriarchal, and most readers avoid politics. Psychic readings are still employed in the service of patriarchal interests.
What's to be done? We need to de-mystify these skills and realize that they are as natural as breathing. We are fortunate today in that much information has been uncovered, and many have pioneered the hidden worlds. There are writers, teachers, priestesses and healers available now, who can help to get us started on the journey. And most of all, there is now a strong tradition of support for women's powers and abilities. We can find affirmation for listening to our inner voices and confirmation for the knowledge and potential that live within.
This is not to denigrate or exclude male practitioners. The Goddess loves all Her children, and favors all who channel Her mysteries with honor, regardless of gender. I believe it is the right brain and the feminine side of men that are activated when they truly practice the divinatory arts. In patriarchy male-oriented systems dominate, and female systems are either subordinated or wiped out. (And both women and men can be found participating here.) In a whole society egalitarian systems prevail and the female is liberated within us all.
Runes, Moonwood Artisans
article was first written in the 1980s