Discover more from a sorcerer's notebook
A Sorcerer's Notebook: part 2
Divination and other ramblings
Greetings in the name of the Divine, Beloveds, and welcome back to probably a terrible idea that is at least a little out of control: A Sorcerer's Notebook. Each month until December 2022 I have committed to writing at least two of these a month. There is a glossary of categories, an intro to the format, and other important info here (which I heavily suggest you read):
I want to start today by addressing a common response I received, both privately and I think at least twice publicly. It can basically be summed up as my dear readers, peers, and friends saying: I am skeptical. I have liked what you have done so far. But then, most of them stayed subscribers–free or otherwise.
Creepy substack/Lenny Duncan fact: I see every sign up including free ones. Since I give it a once over and my weird, neurodiverse brain memorizes the emails (even when scrolling through a deluge of them, even with thousands of subscribers), I know who is here. And so like most writers in this digital world, I can see your discomfort and rejection in almost real-time.
I get the unsubscribes too. So I want to thank the skeptical for staying, and please continue to! In fact, for the love that all that is holy, please don’t leave me alone with some of these maniacs. First of all, I am skeptical of literally everything. Whether we exist, whether the Divine interacts with us in the prescribed ways the church has given us, whether white people actually want to change or if they are just finally feeling the pain of their own hatred, and so much more. I know that first realization; how utterly wrong you were about the universe and most of the people in it. I was there several times in my life. I think the scariest thing about walking a spiritual path is that it’s mostly discovering how wrong you were about something. Over and over.
And over, again. It’s actually awful and therefore I have no idea why anyone has an interest in the esoteric. But that’s the thing: many are looking for traditional means of reclaiming power, culture, and autonomy. I come from a different modality, I have spent most of my life searching for “traditional medicine”, or spiritual accompaniment and entourage effect to help address other problems throughout my life. Where others sought “ascended masters” I sought peace of mind. Relief from what I considered to be afflictions that, at the very least, could be helped by a spiritual component, if not could be eliminated almost totally, in my opinion. That was true all the way until the uprisings of 2020, at which point my undiagnosed neurodiversity locked into a death spiral with my PTSD. I had been in therapy for two years prior. Up until then, I was able to manage my symptoms with pharmacological intervention. Not so much anymore.
What I mean is: my pedagogy around this, or my path into esoterica, is that of a lot of seekers. It’s actually very characteristic of such seekers. For, I am a very sick person in need of help. Not an adept looking to usurp a master, or have a “house”, or “lodge”, or any of the terms you will learn over the next year or so. My point is that I was skeptical, and still am. You should be too. It was only years into my journey that I realized that I benefited ever so slightly from every step taken, every fork in the road, every misstep, as it took me closer to healing. When something didn’t work for me I cast it out. Sometimes in frustration, sometimes in despair, sometimes in good form and character because it was truly abhorrent to the natural order of things. I cast it out into the light. As I grew, I learned a few things pretty quickly to be true. First was the realization that just because something didn’t work for me does not mean it doesn’t work at all. “It never worked for me, thus it can’t work/be real, because look how awesome/smart/spiritual/powerful I am.” It’s the height of arrogance to not feel moved, or to be unable to access something in the experience of another and assume almost immediately the problem is not on your end, that this person, this phenomenon, this sense, this ability, or curse, it can't be real.
I have watched people try many things in this realm that I have tried, and I have watched them get completely different and sometimes powerful effects.
Secondly, I needed to adjust what my objectives were. There was not and is not a mythical golden city for me to arrive at, and that abstract was formed from a colonizer’s perspective. All I needed was either inside me or right in front of my eyes if I just was able to either see it or be taught to dance with it. By “it” I mean what most call magic or sorcery (which I defined in my last newsletter).
While teachers are needed for the deeper work, paths, traditions, and can be a surer way to go, there is something to be said about the voyager charting their own course. But the truth, is no matter which way you go, like every trade, craft, skill, and profession, it takes money, labor, and wading through a lot of bullshit. Truly, and even the kindest of masters or teachers may be companions and dear friends. Until they are not. Then some are truly everything but.
Today we start defining what I call “schools”, or paths or types of sorcery or magic that are commonly taught in my meager experience.
Divination: Category- Seeing, Knowing, Teaching, and a thing I have Done.
The most common form of the esoteric arts is practiced by friends, foes, and apostles alike. I present to you one of many examples of divination from the Bible. It’s Acts 1:23-26. Divination is one of the first things the disciples do after the lynching of Christ and their teachers’ reported resurrection. Suggests it might be important to the writer since they put it in there almost first.
1:23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place[a] in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
So, in this verse, we have the 11 apostles casting lots to see who will replace Judas Iscariot. That's it. The apostles of Jesus Christ–in the first days or verses after the ascension, before the coming of the Holy Spirit–divined, or used a common form of divination to make their first major decision. Yes, they didn’t know which way to turn, and even though according to them God or God’s son had literally just left, it was more natural to them to use these esoteric tools to talk to the Divine.
In November 2012 the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt chose its Patriarch, Tawadros II, by drawing lots.
But you don't have to go to the Bible or loot the Jewish people's culture again. You will see that is a very popular theme in esoterica, by the way, if it isn’t straight-up culture vulturing and outright looting of the wisdom of the Kabbalah, it’s a twisting of their scripture or subversion of their messengers. I wish I could say this is a side of the world that isn’t full of white supremacy, but I would be lying. Radical evil exists and it is prepared to meet you anywhere.
But casting lots is a form of divination called cleromancy. Like throwing the bones. It is using symbols, like a marble or a cat's bone, where they fall when cast or thrown, either onto the ground or a board scribed with a symbol, and the combination of objects, to convey different meanings and interpretations.
Divination can be done through cartomancy or cards, geomancy or the binary number symbol, and more. The latter being the divination system of most indigenous cultures. Examples of this are the ikin of Ifa, the sand scratchers of the Sufi, and the I Ching of China, which is a combination of cleromancy and geomancy. There is dowsing, which is using a piece of wood as a divining rod. This was a very popular Black form of divination and was exploited by white protestants throughout almost all of slavery and well into the Antebellum years. It is the ability to find water, precious metals, mineral and oil deposits. Dowsing and many other forms of divination fall under rhabdomancy in ancient times, called water witching now. In fact, check out this Wikipedia on all the forms or methods of divination: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methods_of_divination
Hundreds to choose from.
The world is full of how-to guides for divination. But none of the most popular books, classes, or even most teachers really tell you what you are doing, just how. It’s not that there aren’t whole theological frameworks or stories and myths to accompany these ancient practices, it’s that they aren’t treated seriously. That is, until one finds oneself in a strange room with a practitioner sitting across from them telling them so much truth that their mind desperately creates rational explanations to send the power in that room, one by one. Then typically one does the deep dive, the research, the weighing of what feels real in a new and exciting world that deals mostly in the unreal and unseen.
I believe divination to be the highest form of magick or sorcery there is. That also makes it the most dangerous. I don't know how, or why these two facts somehow also make it the most popular, but it does.
It is the ability to peek into your immediate or long-term future, or destiny, as it is called by many, and change it to one’s liking, wishes, or needs. It is the ability to communicate with either one's self, or one's divinity, through time. It eliminates one of the fundamental experiences to the human senses as a detriment and starts to create a larger sense of one's place in time, or their own story, and empowers them to be an active participant in fate rather than a victim who blames the fickle world for their every misfortune or joy, or a distant divinity that one never fully understands or communicates within any active conversation about one's future or potential needs. Not only does it start to provide a working framework for the practitioner–their motives, their actions, interventions in loved ones, and community life–the occurrences of the strange or supernatural start to become less phenomenon or random, and more in a pattern that is discernible and one hopes, navigable. It is the ability to avoid an enemy before you even meet them, have medicine, eboo, charm, or ward prepared and in place to face any problems ahead of you, and to meet every moment of light and love the Creator weaves into your life prepared. Love is powerful when forewarned that it might meet Hope, already in a position to accentuate, increase, elevate, synchronize with, or transmute that moment. In other terms: the power to make an already dope moment even doper.
For many, divination becomes a daily prayer and meditation practice where all potential and possibility meet you for morning devotion, and you both dream of shaping God’s future together. For some, it is the dreams that linger into the day and sometimes into a sermon.
For some seers and prophets–and the difference is doctrine not practice–it is the lingering visions they see floating over people's heads or behind their shoulders and they speak a “word” over them. This can be tricky because in most churches it is a combination of two of my categories of sorcery, it is a Hearing, or listening to the Sophia, or Holy Spirit the divine feminine in the Christian tradition, and then divination in the form of words of prophecy, which falls in the three categories above. This is actually one of the things the church gets right.
Divination that is just tuned into “whatever” comes along, or the “universe” is just straight-up fucking dangerous. Minor spirits, entities, and the dead themselves who can’t find their way to their respective ancestral realms, whether due to trauma or just straight up “I ain’t leaving”, even these spirits can affect cards, bones, and visions from crystal gazing. The church realized early on, particularly after the coming of the Holy Spirit and the ase or power passed to the apostles, that one cannot just listen to whatever spirit contacts you. They knew this because they lived in a world full of weirdness that they didn’t ever say wasn’t real. They basically just said they serve a different spirit, God, and story.
Paul never denies the power of the spirits he encounters, and there are two ways to read Paul's disrespect of the oracles of Delphi, and other “idol” worshipers as they are called at times. One is: Paul bravely evangelized in the face of constant pressure, and really through Socrative, Platonic, and emerging Christian philosophical positions he created what we call Christian ethics and apologetics. The other way to read his disrespect is: he’s an ex-cop, who claimed to be channeling his dead teacher and to have the same powers as him, endowed to him through a vision of that dead teacher, giving him a secret teaching only he knew, with which he messed with the Divine Feminine, and got his ass kicked. Over and over again. Until he eventually died at the hands of the empire he once served.
History is written by the winners. Constantine had a vision of a bloody Roman cross over a battlefield, which is now the popular symbol of the now-Christian church. He envisioned the bodies of all his enemies strewn across his “holy” vision at the mid to turn of the fourth century, which coincides with Christianity becoming the official religion of the “Western world” and the Roman Empire. The emperor was convinced with the Christian God he would kill, conquer, and colonize more of his enemies. That's the only reason Christianity survived historically, in my opinion.
It also became what murdered its teacher.
Divination is dangerous on an ethical level because if one looks into the future then one is now responsible for that future. If you read someone else or a client, your responsibility goes well beyond that reading and that is why I am cagey at best with Ifa divination for strangers. I put up prices to keep people from thinking they can get me to do 2-3 days worth of ceremony they marginally believe in for free, and to keep practitioners from figuring out if they ever did the math in the long run with my students, I am giving away most of what I have been given. But it’s all a smokescreen. Look, if you haven’t learned this lesson, particularly if you are white, esoterica will beat respect of other cultures and practices into you. That's what it did for me. It was only stumbling into a peyote journey that I realized that wasn’t for me, not the medicine, at the time I needed that desperately. Those visions have been a guiding force to this day. But the ceremony and the ability to pass that practice on to others in a very public way, it wasn’t for me. Culturally for sure, it wasn't mine in the first place, I was a guest. On a deeper level, I tried to take what I learned that day into all of my plant medicine journey. It didn’t work and going back to my first lesson, some shit ain’t for me. Some stuff is, and the greasy thing about this journey is you have to decide: to immerse yourself or leave it alone. For me, immersing myself in a cultural practice I was invited into, and now I have discovered so much here I want to offer devotion, perhaps a lifetime's worth. And do so with respect, love, care, and consideration. But maybe you will–and even at some point I will–just leave it alone. The ability to discern which is which as a Black queer in America is something esoterica gave me.
There is divination, like all esoterica, a form of it in purity culture. People looking for the “pure”, “ancient”, “untouched”, or “original” methods. I wish you well on your endeavors. In my own personal “lineage” journey I have traced my teachers, or Baba’s, to the 1890s, and while there are some people who would hang their hats on that, to me it was about the act of honoring, loving, and singing songs and prayers to my spiritual ancestors. But the truth is, the beautiful thing about esoterica or sorcery in America is the big pile of gumbo it has become.
Where some see Babylon or fear the loss of all they have known, and with the current climate crisis this is very possible that whole cultures may just disappear, I see something else.
I believe the Creator abhors false paradigms of attempts at oneness or assimilation and delights in our individuating, diversity, and expression of creation and life in each and every one of us. I believe this applies to spiritual practice as well as the full ramifications of this thought on a more cosmological level.
Magick is wild, it is untamable, and it is resistance. It has always been the thing that those in power feared, and divination is the form of which rulers, in particular, have feared the most. From Herod to Roosevelt, they have all listened to those who interpreted messages from on high.
If you are interested in a low-risk, low-cost way to dip your hands I always recommend cartomancy. Everyone has a tarot deck at home. If you have a playing card deck you have a tarot kids!
Reading playing cards and tea leaves was one of the first things I noticed my great aunt and others doing around me every day. But tarot is an easy to master (with time and effort, of course), low-risk form of playing with the energies I am talking about. I would start with the Rider Waite deck as made by AE Waite and Rider, as this was really the first re-systemization of the Tarot system and is the one locked into the collective consciousness or minds of most practitioners, whether they know it or not. Developed at the dawn of the 20th century like so many other things in “modern” esoterica, every other deck is based on it. All of them. The Major Arcana, and minor arcana, no matter the symbols to represent earth, water, fire, or air, it is in the mathematical system when exposed to chance, prayer, and intuition of the practitioner that allows them to peek into the short term future, or in the really accomplished reader, long term future. I believe that Tarot is good for the average practitioner and most can learn that fairly easily, to tap into the ability to improve the short-term future possibilities in front of them. There are unquestionably, extremely powerful practitioners of cartomancy who can read decades, if not more, into the future or the past.
But all the decks in some way follow the AE Waite pattern, which means it is the one that is running around the subconscious of most of us, thus making it the most powerful. Magick is a lot about belief, energy, and what archetypes most of us believe in. What powerful combination of symbols brings certain feelings, thoughts, emotions, thus energies out of you to get a desired effect. Evangelical churches have truly mastered a modern form of this, but I digress.
My final thought on Divination is that it is the first time it runs into what some call the paradox of esoterica. It is what I call the “observer effect”. It is the most dangerous thing to the practitioner personally, and perhaps why so many traditions warn against divination by just anyone. Or at all.
By peering into a future one can never truly be headed towards that future. In other terms, if I am headed to a destination unknown, in the course of a series of destinations unknown, which by very definition is fate, then in my attempts to “course correct” I am causing myself to become further off course. Or worse yet, lose track of where one started and one's destination, lost in an obsessive attempt to use ancient means to change your future, falling down endless rabbit holes of your own design.
In philosophy the observer effect is simply by seeing a thing or observing an event, I have actually changed the very nature of it. Making what I am seeing an illusion and not truly what it is. Look: quantum physics and smarter folks than me have wrestled with this, I am just acknowledging it is very real in my experience with divination. Magick in general. It is why only fools attack someone with this stuff. It is the essence of a pyrrhic victory. Look, we will talk a lot about the power of the observer effect, and its dangers throughout this series. I believe it is the essence of modern sorcery, which is about perception and the ability to invite people into wider fields of it.
The idea that by observing different events or phenomena in the universe one changes the nature of it, or at the least their own experience of it, which one cannot prove nor disprove, isn’t existence itself.
Next week: Alchemy