Tag: oracles

The Secrets of Afro-Cuban Divination, by Ocha’ni Lele

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The Secrets of Afro-Cuban Divination: How to Cast the Diloggún, the Oracle of the Orishas, by Ocha’ni Lele (B. Stuart Myers)
Destiny Books, 0892818107, 2000

This is an extremely specialized book on an extremely specialized topic. The Diloggun is a divination method which, until the publication of this book (as far as I know), was handed down only within the Santeria community, and even then with restrictions firmly in place.

Although I have had readings done for me in the past, this book has helped to open up the experience. Had it been available twenty years ago, I’m sure I would have gotten even more from my first readings. I’m not sure about the wisdom of providing this depth of information to those not associated with the religion. One needs to be immersed in the culture, in my opinion.

The author intends this book as the introductory volume in what must ultimately be a much larger exploration of the subject. No one volume can truly give the information, background, stories and accessory data which make the reading of the shells such an intense experience. He speaks from experience, rather than theory, which is the only way to explain this complex system.

This book is aimed at followers of the Lucumi faith. While it is possible for others to use this method of divination, it seems to me that an immersion in the culture and belief system is an integral part of the experience. There is much more to this system of divination than the mere words on paper.

It is important to realize that this system of divination relies not on psychic ability, but upon a set of living, growing traditions. This way of communicating with the universe relies on proper forms of address, proper attitudes of respect, and proper interpretation of the responses received. Pronunciation of the invocations and prayers is expected to be correct; rhythm is important; reverence is paramount. This is not a system to be used in a frivolous manner. If you want to know if your lover is true to you, get out your Tarot cards. If you want an overview of the major influences in your life, this may be the system for you.

The prayers are given in the traditional language of the Lucumi, as is proper and traditional. Some of the information contained in them needed to be fine-tuned (assuming you know which orisha is your parent). If that is unknown, generic prayers are given.

Those who never been exposed to the Lucumi religion, and specifically to diloggun, will probably find the procedure confusing. It is far more involved than most commonly used system, takes far more preparation for the readings, and is far more exacting in the procedures to be followed, and the sequence to be adhered to. Do not even consider learning this system if you are at all impatient. There is much to be memorized, and perfected, before one is competent to use this system.

This book is best used as an adjunct to learning at the knees of an experienced practitioner. I would go so far as to say that this is the only practical way to learn this system.

The first 54 pages of this work lay out the groundwork which needs to be carried out for each reading. This is the smallest part of the book, yet it is vitally important. There are no shortcuts in the diloggun system. Once this section has been absorbed, it is time to move on to the possible results.

There would be little point to discussing this part of the book, as it makes far more sense to see it as a teaching tool (which it is), and not as something to simply read.

This book concludes with samples of readings; a short list of mail order sources of supply (unnecessary if you live in or near a large city); a thirty page glossary which, while not extensive covers all the basics; three pages of suggested reading (with comments on some of the more “popular” treatments); and an index.

This book should be considered as a start of a library devoted to the divinatory systems used by the Lucumi. There are several other volumes which should be included in such a library, and this author has promised to produce at least some of them.

This is not a book intended for the general reader, who might find themselves either confused, or bored, or both. Rather, it is intended for a relatively specialized audience. For that audience, however, it is one of the best, clearest, explanations of that divinatory system I have ever been exposed to. If you are very interested in learning about the diloggun system of divination, this book will provide you with an excellent start on the path.


Witching Stones, by M. A. Madigan & P. M. Richards

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Witching Stones: For Divination, Magic & Spells, by M. A. Madigan & P. M. Richards
Kit: Llewellyn Worldwide, 0738701947, 157 pp. + 35 stones and pouch, 2003

The Witching Stones kit includes a book, small velvet pouch, and thirty-five divination ‘stones’ painted with symbols familiar to neo-pagan witchcraft. In the preface Madigan and Richards explain that the kit is intended for novices, or those new to the Craft. They use the words ‘witch’ and ‘pagan’ interchangeably, while at the same time acknowledging that not everyone may see it that way (I don’t). But as they note, ‘no one tradition can be said to be more correct than any other’ and mention that they have ‘tried to draw from as many sources as possible’, further stating that ‘in cases where conflicting information was gathered, [they] attempted to provide as many differing viewpoints as seemed appropriate, without becoming overly confusing’.

The book contains a purification/banishing ritual to cleanse the ritual space, as well as a blessing for the stones. Several different divination layouts are presented ranging from simple to more complex draws.

Each symbol is discussed in alphabetical order of the symbol name, with a bit of history detailing what each symbol represents and its divinatory meaning. There are no reverse meanings, and there is no blank or ‘wyrd’ stone, as the authors point out ‘these stones are not just are not just another set of rune stones’. Instead each symbol has a past, present, and future meaning associated with it, depending on where it falls in the layouts offered in the book.

While the ideas represented in the symbols are explained in a neo-pagan paradigm, neo-paganism is not explained or discussed in much detail outside of a brief description of the Threefold law, and the Wiccan Rede. As noted, there are numerous books that do this already. The history of the symbols themselves is rarely discussed and it would have been interesting to see when and where each symbol originated from.

Toward the end of the book a selection of spells, divided into two sections, one for ‘Simple Spells’ and another for ‘Advanced Spells’ using the stones.

However, the ‘stones’ themselves are not in fact made of rock or even clay, but plastic. I don’t equate the magickal properties of rock and oil myself. Those with a preference for tradition may like to simply buy the book, as it is available to purchase separately at a fraction of the cost, and simply make one’s own stones. It might be fun for someone who wants to try something a little different.


Cards of Alchemy, by Raymond Buckland

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Cards of Alchemy, by Raymond Buckland
Kit: Llewellyn Publications, 0738700533, 199 page book + 50 cards, 2003

Do not let the title fool you, or cause you to pass this deck by. You don’t need a working knowledge of alchemy for it to make sense (although that certainly wouldn’t hurt). Anyone, even someone with no knowledge of the subject of alchemy can find guidance within the contents of this deck and book combination. I would NOT recommend that you pick up the deck without the book, although you may simply want to get the book.

This is not a deck of cards for divining the future in the way of a standard Tarot. It is designed, by one of the more prominent figures (in my opinion) in the modern American Pagan/magickal community, to be a system of transformation for an individual.

The cards are unique in several ways. First, they are designed to be read horizontally, rather than vertically. Next, the symbolism on them is totally unlike any other deck. While still divided into “suits”, there are five suits of nine cards each, and five “Wild Cards”. Rather than elemental associations (which are reserved for the “Wild Cards”), the suits are assigned to various areas of human life (love, health, wealth, protection, and power). Each of the suits is divided into three sets of three, each set of which relates to a “degree” or level of experience. These levels are “Puffer” (Novice), “Initiate” (Experienced), and “Adept” (Master/Teacher)/. These grades are NOT related to magickal or Craft training, but are references to life experiences.

It is the intent of the creator of this deck to generate thought rather than to provide answers. In this it is more akin to the I-Ching than the Tarot. Because of the significant difference between the symbolism in this deck and that in a Tarot deck, of any design, I would recommend that you keep the book handy while working with this deck.

There are a number of layouts illustrated and explained: a four card spread called the “Star Cross”; a five card spread called “The Path”; and a seven card layout called the “Buckland Seven Star” spread. Each of these is thoroughly explained, as well as what the appearance of one (or more) “Wild Cards” in a reading means. The “Wild Cards” are similar to the Major Arcana cards in their influence.

There are a couple of paragraphs devoted to the use of this deck in standard Tarot layouts and as a divination tool for yourself or others; but this in the form, it appears to me, of an afterthought. The primary purpose of this deck is for inner development and knowledge and I would recommend that, at least in the beginning, that is what you restrict it to.

The major illustrations on each card are drawn from a wide variety of alchemical texts spanning nearly a millennium (from the tenth through the nineteenth Centuries), even though the additions by the author (the suits, grades, keyword, astrological balance, and stone of destiny) are modern. Each card is nicely illustrated, clearly drawn, and well laid out. The colors are pleasant and evocative.

The author has redrawn images from ancient texts. If he has modified them (an he does so), he tells you how they differ from the original illustrations. The major change he has introduced in many of them is in the use of colors and, occasionally, the deletion of some of the wording which appeared in the originals.

The designs on the “Wild Cards” is slightly different, as is to be expected. Each of them contains two separate illustrations, an elemental association, a keyword, and a ruling planet.

Also included are cards illustrating, and explaining. Each of the layouts (illustrations are on one side of the card, with the explanation on the reverse). There is also a card illustrating the “degrees” on one side (with a brief description of what each means) and the suits on the reverse side (identifying each and showing the area of life it is associated with.

If you are willing to experiment with the information contained in this set, and are willing to be honest with yourself, this set should help you towards a deeper understanding of yourself and your relationship to the external world.


Tarot of the Orishas, by Zolrak

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The Tarot of the Orishas: Complete Kit, by Zolak
Llewellyn Worldwide, 1567188345, 77 cards and booklet, 2003

The use of the name “Tarot” is a deliberate misnomer. The cards which make up this deck correspond only loosely with those in a conventional Tarot deck. Unfortunately, there is no other word to describe the function of these cards. They are not “fortune-telling cards,” they are not a “game;” nor are they runes. They are comprised, like a “standard” Tarot deck of two separate components: There are 25 “primary cards” which approximate the Major Arcana and 52 “secondary cards,” divided into the four elements which approximate the Minor Arcana. There the similarities end.

The “Majors” are not numbered – to do so might invoke associations of “superiority/ inferiority” in the relationships of the ideas which they bring forth. Five of them have no correspondence to the “standard” Tarot, while two of the “standard” cards are not to be found (The Heirophant and Strength).

The “secondary” cards are numbered from 1 through 10 of each element, and also include an “Element card” in each suit – these “give our place within the elements, considering periods of time and its peculiarities and particulars;” a “Message of the Element card” which produce(s) a thought and a piece of advice intended for the consultant;” and, finally, an “Elemental card” which links them with “professions and personalities.”

Two copies of the instruction book are provided with the deck – one in English and one in Spanish. Since the Orishas are a concept drawn from Santeria (and most followers are Spanish-speaking) this is a decided advantage.

The images contained within this set are primitive. That is not to say that they are crude or unappealing, but they are more in the line of a Grant Wood rather than a Michelangelo. There is a sense of “real” versus “ideal.” The human images in this deck are not the idealized “David” style, but are much more representative of the carved African figures you occasionally find in resale shops – simple, basic, and easy to relate to.

I look forward to working with these cards for a long time, and, I expect that they, like the other decks I use, will continue to reveal more secrets the longer I use them. They will not replace a visit to a babalawo when needed, but they are certainly a system to provide guidance when needed.

There are layouts illustrated in the back of the booklet, including some of the “traditional” layouts used by most card readers. Each position is carefully explained for what it is, and how it relates to the other positions.

Some folks may have trouble relating to these cards, but if you give yourself the opportunity to work with them, I think you will find your time and effort well rewarded.


The Forest of Souls, by Rachel Pollack

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Detail from Six of Birds, Shining Tribe TarotThe Forest of Souls, by Rachel PollackThe Forest of Souls: A Walk Through the Tarot, by Rachel Pollack
Llewellyn Worldwide, 1567185339, 278 pp. (incl. recommended reading and index), 2003

This is the first book by Rachel Pollack I’ve read, though she’s written a few others which have been highly acclaimed — and after reading this excellent book, I can understand why. She is perhaps best known for 78 Degrees of Wisdom, one of the most comprehensive books on tarot published.

Pollack opens with a description of the various histories and mythological guesses at the origins of the tarot, combining it with its known history, and personal experience. Spirituality, symbols, myths and archetypes are common themes explored in this book as Pollack approaches the decks in a more spiritual rather than divinatory light. Continue reading


Drugs and Religion: Snakebite Trips?

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In Merlin Stone’s book When God Was a Woman, about early goddesses, there is a strange hypothesis about the importance of snakes in the early Middle East. MS notes that snakes are associated with prophecy and wisdom – and goddesses – in several places, such as Egypt, Sumer, Crete, and Greece. In Egypt, the female deity of pre-dynastic northern (Lower) Egypt was the cobra goddess Ua Zit. Egyptian deities and royalty has a uraeus emblem – a head and hood of a cobra. Some Sumerian goddesses, such as Inanna, were associated with snakes. In Minoan-era Crete, we find some statuettes of goddesses or priestesses with snakes. In one case, the snakes are cobras. In Greece, in what is most likely a Minoan legacy, Hera and Athena were associated with snakes, and the shrines of Delphi, Olympia, and Dodona were originally associated with goddesses. However, they were taken over by the followers of the male gods Zeus and Apollo, who were depicted as snake-killers. Even then, the greatest wisdom was associated with priestesses. Serpenticidal male gods also include Marduk, who killed Tiamat, and Yahweh himself, who killed Leviathan.

MS suggests a connection to the Adam and Eve legend. The Philistines had “snake tubes” nearly identical to some found on Crete, which is consistent with them being Cretan refugees. So some “snake priestesses” may have set up shop in Palestine when the Israelites showed up. The Adam and Eve legend may have been an effort to discredit these women, for it suggests that snakes are wicked, and women who listen to snakes are wicked. This is all in keeping with the Yahvist effort to discredit religions other than the worship of Yahweh, which is a sordid story of religious persecution. This persecution involved going so far as destroying a bronze snake kept in the Temple, the Nehushtan, which could supposedly cure snakebite. This snake was probably associated with an earlier acceptance of this snake cult.

But how did this snake cult actually work? It is difficult to say, but MS offers a strange hypothesis. She notes that we are told that Cassandra and Melampus had acquired prophetic powers from having their ears licked with snakes. So is there some snakebite connection? MS suggests that there was, and tells of someone who had been immunized against krait venom, but who had been bitten by a krait [Cobras in the Garden, H. Kursh]

He had developed a sense of enhanced awareness and he had visions. He reported himself making up verses, and said “My mind had extraordinary powers.”

This is evidently much like mescaline [from peyote] or psilocybin [in certain mushrooms], used by some Native Americans for similar purposes; those who take these two or LSD often feel as if they are in touch with the basic forces of existence and a sensation of perceiving the events and meaning of the past, present, and future with great clarity and comprehension. It could well be that some snake venom has components with similar effects.

So could it be that early snake prophetesses (and male prophets) were going on snakebite trips?

Oracles connected with snakes were consulted in Greece and elsewhere for important decisions, which seems very trustworthy of people with “highs”.

One does have to ask the question on how this type of prophesying got associated with women instead of men or both sexes equally in the ancient Middle East.

This only adds to the riddle of Minoan Crete. Since the priestesses there were important citizens, and since they are associated with snakes, then could some of the leaders of Crete back then have been snakebite-tripping priestesses? The possibility of a “feminist theocracy”, rule by a largely female priesthood, seems awesome enough (no prominent “kings”), but this is truly wild.

I confess I don’t have much taste for theocracy, but I would certainly prefer a Minoan-type theocracy (if that was what it was) to the more familiar kinds – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – which I find absolutely disgusting.


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