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Knowing what is unknown

Published April 28. 2012 09:02AM

Some professions trace themselves back to obscurity. While we joke the world's oldest profession is prostitution, magic and divination probably are as old if not older than the former less noble occupation in the history of humanity. Since humans have first began to communicate with each other, I think we have all had a desire to know what is unknown, to learn that which is hidden from view.

The first diviner probably was a human who through instinct or observation was able to tell the rest of his or her tribe where the best hunting would be. Of course as we became more civilized and learned to speak and especially write, magicians and fortune-tellers became more important to society. The magician that we know today is a descendant of ancient priests and shaman whose position in their tribes or societies were to intercede with the gods or God depending on the civilization. Oracles are also descendants of the priesthoods of ancient civilizations.

One of the most famous oracles is the Oracle of Delphi of ancient Greece. The origin of the Oracle began when a shepherd near a crevasse on Mount Parnassus discovered his sheep acting strangely. Upon investigating the fissure, he noticed the gas vapors emanating from it created quite a bit of disorientation and euphoria. Soon it was learned that the altered state of mind it produced could prove to be useful for divining the future and the Oracle's temple was constructed to protect people from falling into the deep cavern.

The priestess originally a virgin but then later replaced by women over the age of 50 would sit in this temple's chamber inhaling the gases from the fissures in the ground and drinking from the spring. This exposure created a sense of euphoria and an altered state that supposedly allowed these soothsayers to predict the future although I believe they also were quite aware of the results of their divinations so they learned to speak in vague, ambiguous terms.

One of the most famous predictions made by the Oracle was to Croesus of Lydia who consulted the seer to determine whether or not he should make war on the Persian Empire. The Oracle told him that if he attacked he would destroy a mighty empire. Assuming this meant that the Persians would fall under his aggression, Croesus attacked only to discover much too late that the empire that was destroyed was his.

In 67AD, Roman Emperor Nero consulted the Oracle at Delphi to find out his fortunes and was told: "Your presence here outrages the god you seek. Go back, matricide! The number 73 marks the hour of your downfall!" This affront outraged Nero who had murdered his mother years earlier and he executed the Oracle. Of course with regard to the prediction he interpreted it to mean he would have a long reign, but unfortunately for him a revolt led by Galba ended Nero's tyrannical reign. The interesting fact is that Galba was 73 years old.

These are just two of the Oracle's predictions that shaped the political and social futures of Greece and Rome before the expansion of the Roman Empire and Christianity silenced the Oracle forever.

In the case of the oracle, the predictions were produced in part from the cleverness of the fortune teller along with the altered states of consciousness from the vapors. There are other methods of divination that do not require chasms of gas vapors to attempt to predict the future. One of the most popular forms of divination that is commonly accepted in today's society is astrology. Horoscopes exist in every major newspaper and in numerous books and magazines.

Listed below are several methods of divination. Can you match the terms to their explanations following the list?

A) Cheiromancy, B) Numerology, C) Tasseography, D) Lithomancy, E) Pyromancy, F) Oneiromancy, G) Geomancy, H) Astrology, I) Cartomancy, J) Scrying

1. The use of playing cards to predict the future.

2. Interpreting and reading patterns of flames.

3. Interpreting the relationships of stars and planets in relation to dates.

4. The interpretation of the shapes of hands and the lines on them.

5. The study of numbers and how they predict character.

6. The interpretation of gems and stones.

7. The interpretation of markings in the earth, on sand and soil.

8. Studying reflective objects.

9. Interpreting dreams

10. Interpreting tea leaves and coffee grounds.

Try matching the terms without looking them up on the Internet and see how well you do. Next week I will provide the answers and you can see what you know about these methods many of which are commonly known in our culture.

Til next time …

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