By Alice O. Howell

Originally printed in the January-February 2005 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Howell, Alice O. "Divination." Quest  93.1 (JULY-AUGUST 2005):8-12


In August 1938 I was fifteen and visiting San Diego, California, with my mother. We were invited to dinner by Dr. Anita Muehl, a psychiatrist who specialized in investigating the paranormal. She wanted us to meet a psychic friend of hers. After the meal, the woman closed her eyes and asked my mother if she had a brother living in New England. Yes, my mother answered, "Is he in the lumber business?" Good heavens, no! came the reply. "Well, I see this large country house surrounded by stacks and stacks of lumber." We left baffled, and I returned to boarding school in Providence, Rhode Island. On September 18, one of the worst hurricanes ever to strike the United States devastated New England, reaching as far inland as New Hampshire. The woods around my uncle's house were leveled, and indeed stacks of lumber surrounded it.

This was my first but not my last experience of the future being present in the past. Such things can and do happen, and this raises a serious question concerning our notions of time. The explanation would seem to be that there are two levels possible to our perception of time/space. One is that perceived by the conscious ego, which functions through duality, separating past and future and incapable of grasping infinity, and the other the potential rare peak experience from the center of our psyche—the atman, Christ Within, Jung's Self—which I call our Divine Guest.

As we identify with our ego or who we think we are, the temptation to know the future arises for various reasons: curiosity, fear, or the need for power and control. If we place the ego at the circumference of the circle, we experience "going around in circles" and the passage of time through space,

but our inner sun at the centerpoint transcends time/space and offers us at least a logical glimpse into the unus mundus, that other world hidden in this one. Another analogy is that time is like a phonograph record and we are limited in our consciousness to the point of the needle in the present.

Nicholas of Cusa's "God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere" could also be expressed as "God is a now whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is always!"

There certainly has been a fascination with forecasting* the future throughout human history. The earliest evidence for this is the throwing of bones in ancient China, which eventually led to throwing yarrow sticks to consult the I Ching and the emergence of astrology in Sumeria and Egypt, more than four thousand years ago.

Divination* (notice the reference to the gods in the word) falls mainly into four categories: those types based on psychic interpretation of synchronistic events; those relying on the gifts of clairvoyance of a specific person; human attempts by magical means to force change in the future; and those based on objective criteria. All four, of course, are subject to human fallibility and errors in interpretation.


Carl Jung gave us the term synchronicity to describe an outer event coinciding spontaneously with a significant inner meaning. I call these fortuitous flukes Sophia's winks! They offer a glimpse into the unus mundus. Oddly, these events seem to increase the more we progress on the path. By far the greatest variety of pinations fall into this category, and many are still concealed in the words we use today.

The most familiar example is the reading of tea leaves or cocoa left in a cup. But in the old days the flight of birds this way or that gave rise to auguries and auspicious prognostications (from the Latin aves, birds). Reading oil film on water is the origin of speculate, (Latin specula, mirror). Omen yields ominous. Bibliomancy refers to the random selection of a verse in a sacred text such as the Bible. The weirdest is haruspicy, which was the study of livers and entrails in search of patterns. Scrying, crystal ball gazing, is often lampooned today. Interpretation in all of these methods involves a passive intuitive response.

A more proactive approach is that of the sortilege, the caster of lots. Runes, an ancient Norse system, involved throwing down twiglike figures, said to be the gift of the god Odin. Others include the dropping of those yarrow sticks or coins (heads up/down) of the highly sophisticated Chinese I Ching, the shuffling of tarot, or the playing cards of gypsies. All these are forms of forecasting, because they depend on the ways things fall. It is easy to see that the projections of the persons involved play an immense and risky role. Yet the results are often uncanny. What we see is who we are at that moment. My own personal favorite is the I Ching, not only because of its accuracy but because even if the hexagram denoted gives a warning, it always offers the wise way to proceed.

Twenty-five years ago, I longed for some real Chinese coins. A professor from Penn State College happened to visit me on Long Island, bringing as a house gift a bookmark embroidered by his wife with two hexagrams. The very next day, my daughter came in from a walk in a field with my five year-old grandson. "Look what I found for you," he said. Opening his hand, he offered me seven genuine Chinese coins! They were lying deep in the grass. I keep three of them in the bookmark pouch to this day.


There are collective prophecies and inpidual prophets who prophesy. Among the collective ones are those of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh, those of the Mayan and Hopi people, the biblical prophecies, and the long-range Hindu concept of yugas. It is quite extraordinary how accurate some of these prophecies can be, and how dangerous it is collectively to misinterpret them. As I write this, a great number of Christian fundamentalists are using biblical prophecies to foretell the end of the world and the imminence of a final Armageddon, a miraculous reappearance of Jesus Christ, and a rapture of all devout Christians into heaven. If only they realized that it is not the end of the world these prophecies portend but the end of the age of Pisces! This is an astronomical factor due to the point of the vernal equinox lining up with the first visible star in the constellation of Aquarius in January 2012. Anyone interested has only to look up the term "precession of the equinoxes" in an encyclopedia. This precession was discovered by Hipparchus circa 200 BCE and gives rise to the Platonic Year of more than 26,000 years. The so-called ages vary in length according to the width of each constellation, but they average around 2,000 years with an interface between them. The name of the constellation hosting the point of the vernal equinox gives its name to the age. This point establishes an imaginary line, using the position of the Sun and the Earth as two points, drawn out to the sidereal zodiac at the moment of spring. It moves 1 degree every 72 years. So if you hear anyone exclaim that they are sick and tired of all this "new age" stuff, you can tell them they had better get used to it because we have 2,000 years of it to come! This is a scientific fact.

Astrology enters into it when it points out that the religious and mythological symbolism of any age coincides with the nature of the sign governing it. For example, the bull was worshiped during the age of Taurus the Bull (Circa 4000–2000 BCE), and as the age of Aries the Ram (Circa 2000–5 BCE) succeeded it, bulls were out and rams were in. Heroes became bull slayers. And Jason went off to find the Golden Fleece. When one adds Jung's concept of the evolution of the collective unconscious, one can only see that there seems to be a menu of purpose to the unfolding of history. The great dichotomy of the age of Pisces has been between faith (Pisces) and reason (Virgo). As the age of Pisces passes, it will give way to a new dichotomy of the collective (Aquarius) versus the inpidual (Leo). And one could add the cosmos further on. Mother Teresa said it in a nutshell: "I believe in person to person [Leo] and that God is in everyone [Aquarius]." The trap will be that we may become too transpersonal and forget human love and connection. I once knew an Aquarian who was writing about the music of the spheres and his horse died because he forgot to water it! This describes the problem.

Prophets are gifted inpiduals. The great religious ones presumably were in touch with their Divine Guest. We can count every avatar among them. A lower rank would include the Druidic vates, the soothsayers, and people like Nostradamus and the Scottish Brahan Seer who, in the eighteenth century, looking through a hole in a white stone, foresaw sails going up and down the solid Great Glen (the Caledonia Canal) and iron horses (locomotives) crossing the land. On the distaff side, who can forget Cassandra or the Sybil of the Delphic Oracle. In the index of Jobe's Dictionary of Mythology and Folklore, 120 cross-cultural names of prophets are listed. These inpiduals are not relying on chance or outer instruments. Current psychics are often quite accurate except for the dating, which lends credence to that other level of time. One I know predicted a Mediterranean cruise ship being hijacked in 1980. This caused several people to cancel their trip. I was consulted for the astrological viewpoint and saw nothing amiss. The group director did not cancel and all went splendidly. A few years later the Achille Lauro was indeed seized by terrorists, resulting in the death of a man thrown overboard in his wheelchair. Edgar Cayce is probably one of the most exceptional psychics of our recent times, and certainly Madame Blavatsky falls into this category as well.


The sorcerer tries to affect the future by casting spells and curses. Circe and the Witch of Endor are archetypal examples. But witchcraft, black magic, voodoo, and the like have always lurked about. They represent the shadow side of pination. The Harry Potter books and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series are examples of the current retelling of the eternal struggle between good and evil.

On the positive side are the healers, shamans, medicine men, and all those trying to save the earth, animals, and fellow humanity using invisible sources of energy. The skills are akin but the goals very different. The general public seems just on the brink of understanding that invisible psychic energies are a reality, and hopefully that the gods and goddesses of old can now be understood to be archetypal processes that were personified as pine since they were universal.

Objective Criteria

Astrology, palmistry, and numerology depend on outer observable factors: The planets do exist, and their movements are measured astronomically and tabulated in ephemerides; the lines in our palms are visible; and numbers are certainly valid, dependable concepts. All three come built into the system, as it were.

An astrologer for sixty years and a lifelong student of Jungian psychology, I have great reservations about making predictions. I view the chart as a description of the way a person is likely to process experience. I cannot foretell if a person is going to wear blue or yellow socks on Tuesday, but I can tell if the color of socks is important to the person. It is only when an inpidual chooses to resist becoming conscious that things are destined to be acted out as fate. The chart offers us that option if interpreted psychologically. So in looking at transits (the current position of the planets), it is wiser to offer a "weather report," pointing out the focus or emphasis of the time in question. Striking aspects will work out but instead of an alarming accident, the person may drop a saucer. For example, a client of mine was recently undergoing a Saturn return in Pisces, highlighting a number of alarming squares in his natal chart. But during the week in question, the man went out and bought a huge, heavy (Saturn) fish tank (Pisces) and, oblivious of anything else, spent his time setting up a habitat for the exotic fish he purchased. The aspects will always play out, but at what level is not always predictable. The word consider refers to the Latin sider meaning star. So it is a huge consideration of any counselor not to instill a negative prophecy in a client , which could become self-fulfilling.

Astrology for me is a sacred science, not to be used for personal profit in gambling or ever in manipulating people. During the Age of Reason in the eighteenth century, both religion and science rejected it, and when this happened religion lost its proof and science its sense of the sacred. It suffered ridicule (and still does), but in the last century astrology began regaining serious respect. It truly is the golden key to symbolic insight, not only psychologically but also to decode scripture and, mythology, and to see the solar system as an immense hologram and the human body as a psychosomatic miracle. The greatest gift of all is that it bridges the visible and invisible aspects of reality, functioning simultaneously in both our inner and outer worlds. I define astrology as a symbolic language of archetypal processes.

Palmistry, or chiromancy, is another discipline, and just as no two charts are alike, each person's hands are unique. The lines on them are subject to quite sophisticated interpretation. When I had my palms read for a lark in Lausanne at age seventeen, I was told that I would almost die at twenty-seven. This indeed happened to me: I had a miscarriage, severe hemorrhage, blood pressure down to nil, resulting in an out-of-body experience that changed my life.

Numerology seems to specialize more in general trends and is based on gematria, or the assigning of numbers to letters of the alphabet. Many do not realize that in ancient times the two were interchangeable. Biblical names and terms adding up to the same number are believed to resonate in meaning. The ancient Greeks did not use numerals in the beginning. These were the subsequent gift of the Arabs. A quick look in any good dictionary will yield the numerical value of the various ancient alphabets. The trap for me is how much time can be consumed in calculations. But I know it is a valid and meaningful discipline.

In conclusion, we need to ask ourselves what the fear and fascination of knowing the future really means. Are we fated or do we have free will? Where does karma fit in? I can only quote Arnold Toynbee's remark about history: "It's not what happens to a nation but how it reacts to it that determines its destiny." This applies to each of us as inpiduals as well. There are certain unalterable givens in every life; what we do with them determines our future. As we humbly become more conscious of our shortcomings inwardly, we may be spared acting them out as fate. Therein lies the power of Charles Dickens's message in A Christmas Carol. No inpidual effort is wasted in the collective, which is the theme of Rupert Sheldrake's morphic resonance, and perhaps that is the best hope for our future. Because so much depends on the fallibility of personal interpretation, I honestly believe that the best pination offers us pine options.

Alice O. Howell is a Jungian and has been an astrologer for sixty years. Her books include The Dove in the Stone: Finding the Sacred in the Commonplace; Jungian Symbolism in Astrology; Jungian Synchronicity in Astrological Signs and Ages; The Web in the Sea: Jung, Sophia, and the Geometry of the Soul (all Quest Books); and her latest book, The Beejum Book, a delightful wisdom book, reviewed in the November-December 2002 issue of Quest.