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Reading without an oracle

Reading without an oracle

Here’s an interesting experiment you can play with: a reading without an oracle. That means setting out to receive guidance from the world without using anything intended for divination: no cards, runes, coins, stalks, charts or anything of the kind.

Instead, you might listen to the first few words you hear on the radio, or the first conversation you hear on the bus, or flip open a book at random, or go for an ‘omen walk’ and see what you notice.

A tiny example: I was delivering a ‘get well’ card locally, or trying to. It was dark, and I’d followed Google Maps’ directions to the end of a road, with footpaths leading right and left, and what looked like a couple of people’s drives in front of me. Now the nice Google lady was saying, ‘Continue on to such-and-such avenue.’

What do you mean, continue?

I tried one of the paths in front of me that looked like someone’s drive, and yes, sure enough, it was someone’s drive. The map suggested a left turn coming up, so I tried going left, but I really wasn’t sure.

Then a flock of geese flew overhead, honking loudly to one another. They came from ahead of me and flew back the way I’d come – and I could just see them against the last light of the sky, the flock forming a perfect arrow, pointing back. I had to laugh.

I stopped and asked the next passer-by, who turned out to live on the road I was looking for. (The other entrance that looked like someone’s drive, wasn’t.) Card delivered successfully.

The rabbit hole

Of course, there is a big potential problem with this way of engaging with the world: not everything is a sign, and trying to read signs everywhere can lead to paranoia, or feed an obsession.

‘The bus is late, so I’m not meant to go to the appointment.’

‘It was 11:11 when I looked at the clock, so I’m meant to leave my family to be with him.’

In short, there’s a form of insanity, of losing one’s grip on reality, that looks a lot like ‘readings without an oracle’.

…and how not to fall into it

First, it can help to have a real question or issue in mind: something you don’t know. ‘Which way to deliver the card?’ is a nice, trivial example. It doesn’t have to be trivial, but – as with any reading – you do have to be open to all possible answers.

(Oddly enough, one sign that someone’s lost down the rabbit hole is that their world becomes less meaningful: everything they see always has to mean the same thing, be it ‘they’re out to get me’ or ‘our relationship is written in the stars’.)

I think it’s also good to take the whole process lightly. If your answer makes you laugh (like my big honking arrow in the sky), that’s a good sign. Also, you can take it lightly, and with a pinch of common sense. (I didn’t jump on my bike to follow the geese.) You’re just inviting the world to play.

In fact, if you’re a worrier – someone who might start getting anxious about whether that was a sign – then it could help to draw boundaries within which you’ll receive your answer.

There could be a specific moment (the first conversation you overhear on the train) or a specific occasion (three things you notice on a morning walk) within which you’ll pay attention for your answer. Outside those boundaries, a late bus is a nuisance, not a portent.

And finally, a ‘sanity test’ that works for any reading works for this kind, too: would you be happy to discuss this sign with a trusted friend?

Two recommendations

If this kind of exploration intrigues you, I can strongly recommend Robert Moss’s books – Sidewalk Oracles is a good one.

And if – like me – you don’t have his gift for receiving profound and beautiful signs whenever you need them, or if what you need is not a light-hearted game of ‘catch’ with the cosmos, but an answer, I’d suggest turning to the Yi. That’s what it was made for, after all.

I Ching Community discussion

3 responses to Reading without an oracle

  1. Hi Hilary! I’ve been doing this method long before I got serious in doing Yijing – I either use words or objects atpund me that may reveal relevant ìnsight. What’s interesting is that I’m also using the same method it getting trigrams/hexagrams, and it’s always super accurate. (I suppose that’s the plum blossom technique sans numbers and math, isn’t it?) Amazing to see how everything and everywhere can be a source of clear and exact insights. Thanks for this post!

    • Hi Rem! I think synchronicity and reading signs naturally becomes part of readings for you, doesn’t it? Good to live in a talkative world 🙂 .

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