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1/ Although some diviners do tender conclusions purely on the basis of the rational symbolic significations of their divinatory system, any claim that this is the norm, let alone the only possibility, is ahistorical, culturally conditioned rasure the anthropological evidence.
2/ Historically and cross-culturally, divination is foremost a cultural-religious practice that becomes meaningful against a backdrop of cosmological beliefs. It is not, however, an irrational process, but a complex practice of meaning-making, rather than an abdication of reason.
3/ The Syrian philosopher Iamblichus distinguished inspired divination from inductive divination. Inspired divination encompasses dreams, oracles, visions, and mania/enthusiasm: forms of divination seen as direct communications from gods to human beings.
4/ Inductive divination, by contrast, encompasses practices involving acquired skills or technical knowledge such as knowing how to manipulate and interpret entrails or knowing the motions of stars and planets.
5/ The distinction between inspired and inductive divination was not rigid, but the division between natural or untechnical divination on the one hand, and artificial or technical divination on the other was widespread in the ancient world and medieval Europe.
6/ The longstanding and common division between inspired and inductive divination implies what etymology suggests: divination at least sometimes involves the divine.
7/ Indeed, the case can be made that divination was essentially a religious phenomenon in ancient Greece, and distinctions drawn by ancient authors suggest that the criterion of surety for divinatory conclusions was nearness to deity rather than fidelity to specific procedures.
8/ Ancient authors took care to distinguish mundane from divinatory phenomena, for example by distinguishing between normal and god-sent dreams and between genuinely divine madness and run-of-the-mill insanity. Divinity shows up even in cases of inductive divination...
9/ : Iamblichus and Plotinus both criticized some astrologers for taking a mechanistic, fatalistic approach to prediction, and Iamblichus held instead that divination was not the product of the human mind, but rather the comprehension of divine symbols.
10/ Indeed, for Iamblichus, true divination occurred only when one became purified enough to recognize symbolic images in nature.
11/ There's much to be said about the cognitive, hermeneutic, and semiotic rational processes that divination involves as well, and maybe I'll /thread that at some point, but cultures often grounded these rational processes in religious cultural understandings.
12/ Mesopotamian cultures, for example, viewed divination as a kind of semiology: the world was understood as the product of divine utterances, and thus nature was seen as a kind of symbolic script that could be read off to ascertain the divine will.
13/ Similarly, among ancient Greeks, the oracular pronouncements of the Pythia at Delphi represented one link in a chain of transmission that ran from Zeus to Apollo to the Pythia, and the meaning of the oracle’s speech was then subject to debate among the oracle’s recipients.
14/ The anthropologist Barbara Tedlock organizes different types of divination onto a cognitive continuum that is helpful to think about in this context.
15/ On the one end lies intuitive divination involving spontaneous, “irrational” (non-discursive) methods such as spirit communication, and on the other lies inductive divination involving technical procedures involving skillful manipulation of mechanisms (e.g., sticks, cards).
16/ Between the two, interpretive divination blends technique with inspiration: citing examples from many cultures, Tedlock observes that mechanical methods of technical divination often become interspersed with bursts of insight, intuition, or imagination.
17/ Now, there is a wide range of ways of thinking about what "inspiration" is, but it requires a very specific, narrow, western cultural mindset to believe, let alone insist, that all inspiration comes from oneself, owing nothing to anything beyond oneself.
18/ One *need* not have a divine framework for understanding divination. There is plenty of room, for example, to take the unconscious seriously (whether in a Jungian frame or otherwise) and view the self as bigger than the rational ego.
19/ So in conclusion, divination is a land of contrasts ;) But seriously, insisting on an atheistic, technical, or rationalistic framework erases vast swaths of history and culture, and adds ammunition to the colonialist mentality that regularly assaults divination's credibility.
20/ From an ethical perspective, of course the diviner is always ultimately responsible for their pronouncements. But we need not conflate ethical responsibility with the metaphysics or epistemology of divination, where claims to divinity cannot be ignored.
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