Discerning Divination

When it comes to practical spirituality, surely the search for guidance must rank as one of the most important topics for discussion.

Where can I find spiritual guidance for real life issues? Whom can I trust? What does quality guidance look like? How can I apply it? These questions are what drives people seek out gurus, psychic mediums, trance channellers, self-help books, angel guides, ascended masters and divinatory tools like astrology, runes, palmistry and tarot. It’s what drives Charismatics to seek words of knowledge and contemporary prophecies and what drives others to seek out what the scriptures have to say about discernment.

For the Christian, I think one of the immediate practical questions is: what do we ‘divine’ as divination? This is a practical question that has two dimensions.

Firstly, are Christians sometimes calling things divination which as not in fact divination? Most Christians would immediately recognise tarot as a divinatory tool. Yet tarot is used in non-divinatory ways as well. It can also be used for meditation. The potentiality exists, therefore, for Christians to mistake tarot use as divination when it is actually being used differently. In such cases, should tarot use be condemned as anathema for new disciples? Or might we be open to recognising such condemnations as a subtle form of gentile circumcision / cultural imperialism? I for one think the harder road of critical contextualisation needs to be considered.

Secondly, are Christians sometimes failing to recognise things as divination which actually are divination? Close to home, what do we have to say about stichomancy: the practice of throwing open a book and selecting a random passage for the purpose of divination? Or augury: the art of interpreting signs and omens. Are there any Christians who haven’t done this once or twice? Further afield, how do we interpret alternative health psycho-technologies such as iridology, enneagram profiling, energy based allergy testing, etc, etc, etc? Are they so different from palmistry? If so, in what way? If not, then what should we say to Christian dabblers? Widespread dabbling in enneagram use in Catholic and Emerging Church circles raises a number of thorny issues. Yet, on the other hand, there is a thin line between the enneagram and secular Myers-Briggs profiling, other esoteric tests and accepted scientific practice. Is the line between science and metaphysics always clear cut? In what ways is science a form of divination, when it is done without reference to God?

To talk about ‘divining divination’ sounds so self-referential. But I have deliberately worded it this way. I ask, in what ways are we blinded by our own circular thinking? In what ways should we be critically reassessing our own theology of guidance as we interact with the commodified spiritualities and new religious movements of post-modernity?

5 thoughts on “Discerning Divination

  1. Your post raises some interesting issues- firstly the instant response is that divination is a bad thing- to be avoided- I guess as you rightly point out that depends on what we see as divination and what is not seen as divination, it might be a good thing to pinpoint exactly what we are talking about.
    Your example of Tarot is a good one, as you know it is often used as a meditation aid -( I use it as such from time to time)..
    Secondly how do we go about stepping outside of the loop of circular thinking, can you suggest any sign posts that might stop us in our tracks…?


  2. It seems to me that we could do with adding in a further consideration. I think it might be to do with how insight is gained in relation to God’s purposes. I’ve blogged on that further at Nouslife. The real issue for Christians should be about whether ‘divination’ leads into bondage or freedom and I think that the kind of ethic that life coaches tend to use professionally is a good guide in that respect.
    I also find it interesting and amusing that the very word etymologically is about seeking God[‘s will].


  3. To get beyond the circular thinking I would deliberately like to mix up the terms discernment, divination, insight and prophecy to try and dig down below the semantics and approach the issues from a more phenomenological basis.
    Consider this: what is it about Daniel’s use of dreams, Joseph’s use of a cup, the Apostle’s use of lots and Gideon’s use of the fleece, that truly distinguished their ways of obtaining guidance and knowledge from ways of the pagans of their day?
    Phenomenologically their methods look remarcably similar, and yet we find clear injunctions from YHWH against imitating pagan practices. So what was it specifically about pagan practices that was so objectionable. I am inclined to think it was more a question of ‘who’ than of ‘how’. I am inclined to think it was not so much their use of symbolic actions, aids and images but their relationship with YHWH and consequent understanding that he was not someone you could manipulate … so watch out if you try.
    But if this is the case the it shows up many contemporary Christian ways of discerning divination to be extraordinarily deficient. The techniques of some deliverance ministers strike me as being remarcably animistic in the way they try to compell demons to give them information.
    I think the fruit of it has to be taken into consideration and following that I think Andii’s comments on bondage/freedom deserve further exploration.


  4. The OT’s passages that condemn divination do so with a specific emphasis, namely “which deity are you contacting”. There is far less interest in the specifics of the phenomena or technique than in the motives of those who “divine” and whether they seek YHWH or another deity.
    In a secular way today a lot of people engage in divination via the stock market which involves more than just assessing the state of the market but also predictive element. In some cultures stock market decisions are even guided by astrologers, feng shui consultants etc.
    The psychic and spiritual collapse of King Saul (1 Sam 28) is the culmination of a career spent in disobedience to YHWH. At the end the deceased Samuel does indeed appear (not an hallucination, not the medium doing ventriloquism, and not a demonic-facade). the text makes it clear it is the real Samuel, and it is the real Samuel who delivers the final word of judgment on Saul (he will die and his kingdom is forfeited). This is an instance of one who tried to manipulate circumstances and even resorted to condemned techniques precisely because YHWH had already abandoned him. This is a case study then in the bondage-freedom motif suggested by Andii


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