On divination as relational praxis

Constellation Map, 2021 (digital) © Gabriela De Golia

This summer, I am taking a class with the organization Weaving Earth that blends ecology, astrology, earth stewardship, and more. One of the facets of this course is the practice of divination with and through nature, including but not limited to bird watching.

Divination is something I’ve long thought about and practiced. As a tarot reader, I am easily identifiable as a practitioner of at least one form of divination. But divination, for me, is not what many think of it. Namely, I do not use divination practices to foretell the future. At least, not directly.

I view divinatory practices as akin to mirrors. They reflect back that which is already present, but in a new way that “reveals” new insights and opens doorways we hadn’t previously noticed were there. It’s less about finding out what’s going to happen in order to prepare yourself for an outcome we can’t control, and more about discerning what is within our sphere of influence right now. That way, we can make better choices in this moment that will help us build a better future. I believe the seeds of the future are planted in the now, so to the extent divination is about predicting (and possibly influencing) the future, one must understand divination as a method for entering into a deeper relationship with this moment. We must get to know, understand, and relate to where we are now if we are to have any chance of co-creating a worthwhile tomorrow.

Something I’ve been thinking about lately, mostly as a result of something my summer course teacher brontë velez said, has to do with divination as a relational praxis. In a recorded conversation with water protectors, brontë brought up an alternative understanding of the Biblical story of Moses miraculously parting the seas, which they’d read in Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean by Jonathan White. In short: rather than engaging in impossible magic, Moses might have succeeded in bringing his people to safety by being so attuned to the tides that he would have known when the low tides could give him and his people safe passage (and when the high tides would return and swallow his pursuers whole). “When you give your attention to the land enough, Creator will work with you for your freedom,” brontë emphasized.

I’ve been turning these points over and over in my body, mind, and spirit, letting them work their magic on me. The idea that offering greater attention to something can be a doorway towards freedom hits home for me.

(A small side-note: obviously, the capitalist systems around us constantly grab at our attention, encouraging us to be fixated on things that often run counter to a liberated existence, such as social media algorithms. I believe such forms of attention is different from becoming attuned to something we can be in an active, co-generative relationship with, such as the land we reside on, the bodies we occupy, the divine, etc. I hope it’s clear that I am talking about the latter in this piece.)

As a result of this conversation, I’ve been thinking about various forms of divinatory practices and how they might, quite simply, be forms of relationship. Relationship that guides us on a path towards freedom. Whether the divinatory tool be nature, tarot or oracle cards, our body, the stars, or anything else that fills us with awe and helps us feel more enlivened, what strikes me is that the key ingredient to any form of divination is relationship. Before touching the freedom we seek (through divination or other means), we are first and foremost in relationship. Relationship is the precursor to freedom.

When I think about my tarot practice, it is very apt to understand the way I offer divinatory readings as relational. Namely, I am in a relationship with the cards I use and with the person I’m engaging with. I am also in relationship with the moment and space we are in, the circumstances that brought the encounter to bear, and much more. Even when I already know the person well, my tarot readings last ninety minutes for a reason: it takes time for the reasons someone sought out a reading to unfurl comfortably; it takes time for me to explain my methodology and help the person feel safe in the process; it takes time for the seeker and me to court each other and settle into a resonance that feels conducive to vulnerability; and it takes time to discern what the cards are communicating. I take my time with readings because relationships are built with time.

My relationships to the cards and my own intuition have been built with time. I believe I am a talented tarot reader not because I’ve memorized card meanings, but because I have become friends with the cards (which are vessels of meaning) and with my inner landscapes (which are the ground from which I offer meaning) over long stretches of time. My cards are my friends, and I am theirs.

To practice meaningful divination is first and foremost to be in a healthy relationship with ourselves, our tools, and the present moment. Rather than view the cards (or whatever our medium of choice is) as something to merely extract information from, what if we could relate to them as companions who are capable of — and interested in — being in relationship with us? Rather than view the future as something immovable and imposing, what if we approached it like a being we could relate to through the present moment with love and care? And how can we better understand that, whenever we offer readings to another person, we are forever changing them and ourselves through the act of relating with each other? How might all of these questions and the insights they illicit make our practices more magical, pleasurable, grounded, and healing? And might such attentive relationality be, as brontë suggests, a miraculous doorway to freedom?

Lunar Tarot Reading | Dec. 2020 Full Moon

The December Full Moon Tarot Spread, which includes at its center the Ace of Pentacles, Temperance to the left, and The Emperor to the right

My Lunar Tarot Readings are meant to nourish the collective. When shuffling the deck, I ask the Tarot cards to show me what the community of readers would benefit most from hearing at this moment to help us further collective liberation. As such, this reading is meant to be read by a wide array of people with varying experiences and needs. Some elements of this offering may speak to you and others less so. May you allow whatever resonates to shape how you move through the world; whatever doesn’t resonate, I invite you to leave it be. I am always open to feedback, though, so please feel free to share your thoughts with me. Thank you for reading this offering, and may you be well.

This December full moon (also known as the Cold Moon) comes to us at 10:28 PM ET on Tuesday, December 29. It meets us right before the close of an intense year in which innumerable losses were suffered, especially in communities that were already socially disenfranchised to begin with. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, a vitriolic American election cycle, a surge in white supremacist violence, and more, 2020 witnessed the killings of countless people at the hands of violent systems that fail to protect and honor life. In the midst of so much tragedy, suffering, and death, many of us are wondering how we pick up the pieces and figure out where to go from here.

This spread includes both Minor and Major Arcana cards, which means it is calling us to look at both the bigger themes of our circumstances along with the smaller details that make them up. In particular, this spread invites us to get in touch with our relationship to the material realm, including how we cultivate abundance for the collective (Ace of Pentacles). We are being encouraged to find ways to transmute blockages to said abundance (Temperance) and create structures that encourage its continued presence (Emperor). 

At the center of the reading lies the Ace of Pentacles. Like all Aces, it signals a new beginning, a promise, and an offering, which is fitting for the upcoming new year. Given that it falls within the suit of Pentacles, it relates to all things material, including but not limited to our possessions, our finances, our career or job, nature, and our bodies and physical health. As we approach the close of 2020, this Ace tells us we are on the cusp of a new leg in our collective journey that promises newfound abundance if we approach it in the right ways. Are we going to take up its invitation, start on a new course, and help build a world in which material abundance is accessible to all and collectively shared (rather than hoarded by a select few)? Or will we continue down the same paths that have brought about such destruction to date? While the choice might be clear for many of us, to chart a new course does not mean the going will be easy. Notice how the hand holding the pentacle is leading us out of the garden towards distant mountains that promise challenging terrain. Building a new world takes work, but this Ace suggests we are up for the challenge. It’s time to shed our innocence/ignorance and walk out into the wilderness so we can collaboratively build the world anew.

But how do we go about this journey of cultivating communal abundance? What resources and skills might we bring with us? The majors surrounding the Ace offer some guidance here. Temperance, to the left of the Ace, is an alchemical card, meaning it signals a process of transformation and creation that incorporates seemingly disparate elements into an entirely new and unified whole. The angel itself, who is conventionally viewed as androgynous or gender-non-conforming, embodies this process. Rather than keep dissonant elements separate, how can they be brought together and symbiotically transformed? What parts of your self, your life, your community, your country, are at odds with each other? How can they be brought into conversation with one another to come up with unexpected ideas about how to build the abundant community hinted at in the Ace of Pentacles? What role is appropriate for you to play in this task based on your identities and levels of privilege? (Hint: those of us who are white, cisgender, straight, financially stable, and/or citizens have a greater responsibility for doing this bridge-building work because of the protections our privileges offer us.) With one foot on solid ground (which represents conscious thought) and the other in water (which represents our subconscious world), the angel reminds us that we must be in touch with our internal and external realms. To the best of our abilities, we must seek to ensure that our internal values reflect our external actions. If you claim to support Black Lives Matter, how can you behaviorally show this through your financial choices, your parenting style, your day-to-day actions, even more than you already have? As we enter into 2021, think about how you can more boldly act on your internal values and what sort of bridge-building work you’re suited to take on.

Last, but not least, we have the Emperor. Number IV (4) in the Majors, it was the card of 2020 (2+0+2+0=4), so it is only fitting that it makes an appearance here. Sometimes associated with fatherhood and masculinity, it is more suitable to understand this card as the card of structure, order, and foundation-building. When taken to unhealthy extremes, it can be stifling and/or point to the ways social structures oppress us by valuing order over care. Indeed, 2020 made clear that our current social systems are not working and showed us the extent to which American capitalism is a death-dealing enterprise. When manifested in a balanced manner, though, the Emperor can point to structures and foundations that support our flourishing. Similarly to how a body cannot stand upright without a solid skeleton around which the muscles can take shape, a community without any structure to support itself with is prone to flail and fall. Physical motion is about finding the right balance between flexibility and solidity, between muscular movement and skeletal stability; social motion towards a new reality is no different. While we work to dismantle harmful structures, we must also create new foundations and structures that can support us in sustainable ways and are built on the ideals of love (over fear), care (over profit), and interdependence (over independence). For those of us in the activist realm (and anyone else who is actively invested in creating a new social paradigm), how can we maintain a vision of what we’re building whenever we work to dismantle the systems we know must go? How can we be visionary creators who not only break systems down but also build new, beautiful, loving ones in their place simultaneously? And how can we listen more closely to the prophets of our time, those who have thoughtful ideas about where we are going and how to get there (I am thinking here of the numerous BIPOC, trans, immigrant, and other resilient change-agents in our midst)? How can we support their work and follow their leads?

In short: to create the abundance that is promised in the Ace of Pentacles, we must transmute old systems and habits (Temperance) into new, more holistic ones that offer both care and stability (Emperor). How we do this individually will depend on a number of factors, but the more we work together with others, the greater and more sustainable our impact will be.