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Rick Shenkman discusses Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth about the American Voter. He is the editor and founder of George Mason University’s History News Network, a website that features articles by historians on current events. An associate professor of history at George Mason University, he can regularly be seen on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.
Excerpted and adapted from the book Divination: Sacred Tools for Reading the Mind of God by Paul O’Brien
Most people whose religious faith relies on biblical scripture believe that divination of any kind is a sin condemned by God. Fundamentalists claim that astrologers and diviners are agents of the devil leading the weak to eternal damnation. They selectively quote the Bible to back up their condemnation of divination systems and intuitive powers. Fundamentalists ignore the fact that the Bible, also contains numerous verses that reveal their God approving the use of divination as a way to decipher His will and make enlightened decisions.
In the research for my book on divination, my editor and I reviewed everything the Old and New Testaments have to say about divination and psychic arts—including the divination technique known as “Urim and Thummim” that was actually mandated by God, as well as omen reading, channeling, psychics and prophecy. For review purpposes, we used the New King James version.
Prophets and Diviners
Religious condemnation of intuitive powers is especially ironic considering that the Bible itself is considered to have been merely transcribed by its human authors through what St. Paul referred to as “the gift of prophecy,” which was originally considered available to all who believed in orthodox doctrine. In fact, it is an article of faith in scripture’s authority that God spoke through prophets, who received His message using what we now call ‘channeling.’ The Bible describes such channeling in several places, including the following:
I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. (Deuteronomy 18:18)
I have also spoken by the prophets, And have multiplied visions; I have given symbols through the witness of the prophets. (Hosea 12:10)
The prophets, therefore, are psychic mediums who received wisdom in the form of voices and visions from a higher power, which they then conveyed to others, sometimes to make a decision or offer advice. The prophets served as guardians of the people, and were important precisely because they could foresee coming dangers. Prophets were also known to interpret events that were happening in the present, providing insights into God’s reasons for creating certain conditions. Diviners and prophets were classed together. In Isaiah 3:2-3, for instance, diviners are ranked with judges, warriors and prophets as pillars of the state.
The mighty man and the man of war, The judge and the prophet, And the diviner and the elder; The captain of fifty and the honorable man, The counselor and the skillful artisan, And the expert enchanter. (Isaiah 3:2-3)
The story of Moses is a classic example of a mystical experience in the Bible. Moses repeatedly ascended Mt. Sinai to communicate directly with God. Not only did he listen to God’s instructions, he also was able to ask questions of God in order to confirm His commands. Moses also used the Israelite’s Urim method of divination described below. It only makes sense that he would do so, because communicating with divinity is what the word “divination” means, what divination systems are meant to facilitate.
The High Priest’s Divination System
The reading of omens are used in the Bible when it comes to deciding all sorts of issues. The prophet Elisha directed King Joash to throw two arrows through the window in order to find out whether the king would be victorious or not (2 Kings 13:14-19). God used omens to signal Gideon’s victory over the Midianites. If the fleece of the sheep was wet and the ground was dry it was a sign of ensuing success (Judges 6:36-40). In 1 Samuel 14:9, Jonathan decides whether or not he should attack the Philistines by the words the Lord has them speak. There is nothing in the Bible disapproving of the reading of signs sent from God.
But the Israelites did not have to rely on external signs alone. They had a sacred divination system, known as Urim and Thummim, given to them by Jahweh (Esther 3: 21-28). Several verses of the Old Testament mention the use of this sacred tool. Today, the exact composition of the Urim and Thummim is not known, but most scholars believe there were two sacred stone dice, perhaps made of precious gems. They were stored in a pouch inside the high priest’s “breastplate of judgment,” which he wore whenever seeking divine guidance with regard to important issues or strategic decisions of state. However it worked exactly, the Bible does make it clear that God had granted the people this divination system, and that He controlled the answers it produced.
Abraham used Urim and Thummim, as did Aaron and the priests of Israel.
He shall stand before Eleazer the priest, who shall inquire before the Lord for him by the judgment of the Urim. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, he and all the children of Israel with him—all the congregation. (Numbers 27:21)
As noted, Moses used the Urim and Thummim. Joshua was named as his successor using this divination system (Numbers 27:21). After Joshua died, the Israelites used it to determine who would continue to lead them into victory over the Canaanites. (Judges 1:1) When David was considering whether or not to pursue the marauding Amalekites, the divination tool confirmed for him that it was advisable to do so (1 Samuel 30: 7-8). There are many more examples of the divinatory use of the Urim and Thummim, which can be easily looked up in any Bible concordance. In most cases, God explicitly tells the Israelites to use it to divine His will.
Since there are so many times in the Bible in which God provides answers to his followers through divination—either Urim and Thummim or the casting of lots (i.e. used in the New Testament to pick Matthias as the replacement for Judas)—we ask ourselves how divination came to be portrayed as just plain evil by fundamentalist religions and sects.
The biblical case against divination
Considering that God sanctioned and recommended divination in more passages than otherwise, it is a travesty that the organized western religions condemned divination systems. In spite of all the passages noted herein (and listed on Divination.com), it is incredible that Christian fundamentalists continue to cite the Bible as proof that God condemns diviners.
The most commonly quoted verse in the Bible that is used to assert that divination is a transgression against God’s will is Deuteronomy 18:10-12.
“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
It’s important to note that the book of Deuteronomy, so preoccupied with “abominations,” contains countless laws that are in themselves abominable — laws that are no longer respected or practiced by anyone, let alone used as grounds for persecution. For instance, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts.” (Deuteronomy 15:1) There would be countless people in a much better financial position if this law were in effect! Women might be interested to know that they are “an abomination to the Lord” if they wear men’s clothes (Deuteronomy 22:5). Also according to this law, any bride who is not a virgin on her wedding night shall be stoned to death on her father’s porch (Deuteronomy 22:21). Nice laws!
Over the centuries, churches, temples and mosques have always been extremely selective about which parts of their scriptures to cite, and which to ignore. But in this modern age we are free to look at ancient scriptures with fresh eyes. In doing so, we need to remember that the true value of scriptures does not lie in lists of ancient laws and “shalt-nots,” but in parables of virtue and timeless principles that are relevant to the cultivation of wisdom.
Based on a balanced look at the biblical record, it is safe to conclude that God intended us to use divination systems to better interpret our pathway to realization. In ancient times, only the high priest had the power of direct access. Fortunately today, all spiritually inclined people have access to even better divination systems—like the I Ching, Astrology and Tarot. We are now able to ‘go direct’ for guidance on our own, bypassing religious and political hierarchies altogether.
In the first century of the common era, as he was defining orthodox Christian beliefs, St. Paul labeled the ability to decipher the mind of God as “the Gift of Prophecy”—one of the Holy Spirit’s gifts to true believers. It was a form of channeling. Nowadays, thanks to universal access to authentic divination tools, everyone—Christian and non-Christian alike—who approaches the process with sincerity can derive the benefits, without being expected to channel (or speak in tongues :-). When it comes to communicating with the divine, the open minded are truly the chosen people.
Excerpted and adapted from the book Divination: Sacred Tools for Reading the Mind of God by Paul O’Brien
Human beings have always looked for the answers to life’s great mysteries. Why are we here? Who controls our destiny? How does life work? What does the future hold? There is archeological evidence that a need to know and deep spiritual seeking are universal human traits, and that some form of divination has been used since the earliest times, to support this quest.
Many cultures, including Chinese, Mayan, Mesopotamian and Indian, looked upwards to heavenly bodies— stars, planets, constellations, eclipses, and comets—not only to tell time and understand the seasons, but also for signs of portent or to decipher changes attributable to divine action. Others paid special attention to terrestrial omens such as animal migrations and weather patterns, as well as patterns of tossed sticks, bones, amulets, or rocks. African tribes have used bones in divination rituals for hundreds of thousands of years.
Chinese Taoists read patterns on tortoise shells, which evolved into the hexagrams of the I Ching. Vikings consulted the runestones. Ancient Roman shamans observed the entrails of slaughtered animals and grains that hens pecked at and formed messages (alectryomancy).
Other cultures have looked to inner space (such as the Australian aborigines with their dreamtime), or have used entheogenic plants for vision quests (such as the Mazatec Indians of Mexico who use Salvia divinorum for spiritual rituals and divination). There are also numerous passages in the Old Testament documenting Jahweh’s instructions for using a sacred set of dice called Urim and Thummim to make decisions in His name.
Even though various forms of divination have been used in all societies, the widespread use of sophisticated divination systems across all classes of people is a recent development. The spread of divination systems had depended on oral transmission, which in preliterate times was largely the exclusive domain of the rulers, chieftains, official soothsayers, priests, sages, prophets and shamans. Although belief in magic was practically universal up to and through the Middle Ages, including primitive divinatory practices of folk magic, knowledge of divination systems and what Tarot scholar Bob O’Neill calls learned magic, could not spread until the invention of printing.
The Chinese invented paper more than two thousand years ago, and by 1045 a printer named Bi Sheng had created the first primitive moveable type, which served to increase the production of reading material. His method was used to reproduce the oldest book of wisdom—the I Ching, which is also the world’s oldest and most venerated divination system. Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the Western printing press in the 1450s gave rise to printing of books in Europe, and the reproduction of card decks, including Tarot cards.
As literacy increased, more translations of ancient texts were made and knowledge of divination systems was able to spread over time. Today people around the world can experiment with all kinds of divination systems, including those from other cultures. There are five systems in particular that are rooted in history and are widely used throughout the world today: Astrology, Numerology, I Ching, Tarot and Runes. Because they have stood the test of time and each of them incorporates a sufficiently complex and balanced set of archetypes, I refer to these five as the world’s classical divination systems.
Given the distances the world’s classical divination systems have had to travel—through time and space—not to mention the intense persecution their practitioners endured in Western society for hundreds of years—it is a miracle that they are still with us. Even though divination systems arise from the collective unconscious, totalitarian governments and fundamentalist religions seem to consider the profound insights that divination can stimulate as some vague threat to a social order based on wealth, status and power. In their fearfulness, proponents of the status quo fail to realize that higher aspirations never threaten lower ones.
Authentic divination systems passed down by our ancestors are a special heritage. From a practical point of view, their ability to provide fresh perspective on the changes of our lives and world is to our collective advantage. They help us satisfy a primordial need to better understand life and our place in the Universe. Their usefulness has allowed Astrology, Numerology, the I Ching, Runes and Tarot not only to survive, but also to thrive in the face of all odds.