Nobody appreciates the idea that they might be wrong, especially not those of us who are inclined towards the divinatory arts. We’re supposed to know the unknowable, after all. And it’s not just a matter of pride, either – our society puts a great emphasis on scientific materialism. If our divinations are wrong, it becomes difficult to shake the idea that the entire corpus of work is wrong. When we accurately predict an event or divine the nuances of a situation, we feel vindicated in our belief that what we’re doing works. When, however, we make a mistake, we feel that we’ve let the whole field down; that somehow our “miss” has invalidated the entire tradition from time immemorial. This places tremendous pressure to perform on the modern diviner; and that is not to mention that there is of course also an element of pride in our pursuits.
The thing is, though, that by fearing being wrong, we end up sabotaging our own efforts at being right. Our work is undermined when our fear of being wrong leads us towards being vague in order to obfuscate our own uncertainty, or when we make attempts to fill in the gaps with “cold reading,” looking at the information we cognitively know to avoid the possibility of saying something inapplicable. We forsake our methods in favor of what we can observe conventionally, but in so doing we compromise the entirety of the work. We go from diviner, one who brings the unknown into the light and the known into clarity, to a glorified stater of the obvious, or an obfuscator of the clear and present. A fear of being wrong compromises all that we would seek to do.
When divining using a method, I think it’s important that we look at what it actually means to be wrong. We have to be realistic about what we are looking at. The diviner is an intuitive operator of a system, but the system is the critical element. The oracle does not read the future – they read signs about the future. From the Oracle of Delphi staring into the mists, to the mirror reader, to the Tarotist, the soothsayer’s task is not to look at the future or the present as such, but to look at what their medium tells them about those things. We do not read a person’s future, we read the cards. The astrologer does not read a person’s fate, they read the stars, or in modernity, more commonly a chart of the stars.
In actuality, the lack of correspondence of the cards or stars or dice to the event at hand can indicate any number of things, but so long as the reader stays true to the methods of the system they are inclined to use, they cannot really err. Mistakes in divination comes from three sources: misapplication, which is choosing the wrong tool for the job, and common when a diviner only has one method they work with; technical errors, which result from making a mistake in the actual performance of an aspect of the technique (a tea leaf reader looking at the outside of the cup instead of the inside, I guess?); and procedural errors, where the reader deviates from the accepted procedure of their method, and in so doing, makes mistakes. Because all divination is intuitive by nature, it can be difficult to avoid these kinds of mistakes, but consistency in practice is the key. Your own method does not have to be identical to the methods of others. Intuitional methods vary the same as symbol sets from person to person and culture to culture. But the method must be internally consistent. There must be a method.
If divination is the language of birds, we must have a lexicon and syntax of birds. Even if my dialect is not the same as yours, the language comes from the consistent use of symbols and meanings. When, out of a fear of being wrong, we deviate from our method, we compromise the work and at that time make the greatest mistake. A native speaker of a language cannot really be wrong about how they speak that language. They are, after all, an authority on the usage of the language. Linguistic prescriptivists may say that the native speaker is deviating from the accepted norms, and perhaps that kind of language will not fly in the elitist echelons of academic writing, but ultimately if a native speaker says something in their native language, that is tautologically how the language is spoken. If the card reader speaks of what the cards are telling him or her, then they can make no error so long as they truly and accurately communicate what the cards are saying. If, however, the fear of being wrong – the fear that what the cards are saying does not correspond with actual reality – if this drives the card reader to compromise what the cards are saying, to report what they want to be true or what they have observed is true about the situation rather than about the cards, then the reading itself is false. Even if the result, the thing the reader tells his clients, is more reflective of reality – it is less reflective of the cards. And it is not necessarily the reader’s job to tell the client about reality, it’s the reader’s job to read the cards.
This is not to say that we need make no effort to make the interpretation correspondent to the client’s reality. We should very much hope and prefer to be “right” in the sense of correspondence. In fact, we want to be right so we can be helpful. We do this job, ultimately, to shine light where there is darkness; to replace confusion with clarity; to pull back the veil of ignorance and replace this with knowledge and insight. But we must not compromise our method to do this. The astrologer can only report on what the chart indicates. If it is factually incorrect, then we can investigate what that means. But first we must accurately report the chart. To do anything else, to give into the fear of being wrong and compromise the directness of our observation, is far worse than simply being wrong. At that point, out of our fear of possibly being wrong, we have guaranteed that even if “right,” we’ve not come by that honestly.
Being Wrong is Okay
It is far better to be wrong than to be right for the wrong reasons. Cold reading and guess work can get people very far, but at best a cold reading will do little more than convince the client of our skill. It’s important to look at what is the purpose of divination! Sometimes the task is very concrete. If we’re asked to remote view for an object, and we do not find the location of the object, that cannot in any way be interpreted as being correct. So be it! Professionals of all sorts make mistakes, no matter how legitimate the profession. Professional hockey players miss shots. Professional engineers make miscalculations. Professional physicians make wrong diagnoses. What kind of lunacy to hold ourselves as practitioners of the esoteric to higher standards? But we should not pad our numbers by resorting to vaguery, this would be like a physician resorting to a diagnosis of “illness.” It’s probably true, but it’s in no way useful. If the physician instead says “it’s flu, take this medicine,” even if the physician is wrong, and it’s something else, they’ve at least ruled out flu! If the oracle says something will come to pass, and it does not, then the oracle was wrong. But that happens!
And that of course is only applicable when we are looking for exact things! Few divinations are really about that. Of course finding an object is very clear, it’s there or it isn’t. But that’s not always the point. In fact, magic generally is about narratives and our search for meaning. If what the stars or cards or so on tell us is meaningful, even if it’s factually incorrect, it informs the event and accomplishes the goal of the divination. Astrology is not causal, Tarot is not causal. We believe there is correlation or correspondence based on any number of theories of how these things work, but ultimately, the star-crossed lovers can still have a happy marriage. And if they do, then that’s great! They have happiness that defies the stars, and how beautiful that is! And if they come back to the astrologer and say, “you idiot, you were wrong, see our happy marriage!” then what is the point of being upset? The only proclamation the astrologer can accurately make is what the chart tells her. If the astrologer says “these charts are not good together, there will be problems,” and in fact that is what the charts say, then what was the mistake? Where was the error?
Being wrong sucks, and nobody wants to be wrong. But the fear of being wrong is much more harmful, and compromises what we do, much more than actually being wrong. If the cards come up and point to something that doesn’t come to pass, then the cards were wrong. That happens! Sometimes it’s not the flu, it’s something else. But just as the physician must work with the best of their medical knowledge and training, the diviner must work with the best of their knowledge of the system and method they use. To be wrong is to be wrong, it is simply an indication that divination is not a substitute for omniscience. To be afraid of being wrong, and to compromise our method out of that fear, through vaguery or hedging statements or abandoning convention or so on? That’s the real mistake.