Something for the Skeptics...

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

Hello, yes, it's me! I am also skeptical of a lot of things!

It's a healthy quality in this "post truth" world.


But that's a whole other conversation... I'll get back to definitions of truth at the end, hang tight.

Moving on!

I encountered this essay by Will Buckingham about the I Ching and appreciated the changes the author identified in their perspective. Initially they dismiss divination as the work of "armies of crazies" or those seduced by "unfettered lunacies" (their words, not mine) but they evolve to accepting that there is something there... and acknowledging that engaging in a divination practice can make space for imagining new possibilities.


I (mostly) delight in the final paragraph which concludes:


"And if I still use this weird, ancient divination manual, it is not because I want to flee from reason into the comforts of irrationality, nor is it because I believe the book contains a deep ancestral wisdom. Instead, it is because the I Ching repeatedly prompts me to go beyond false certainties and to create new and unexpected possibilities. In this way, divination might not be the enemy of rational thought but could be a means to its fuller flourishing" (Buckingham).

Yes to divination and rational thought working in tandem!!

My tendency, like Buckingham's, is to put the rational ahead of the esoteric in terms of seeking truth. (Or in Tarot terms: we need Earth energy to balance us out and keep us grounded in reality while our minds and spirits dance around in Air, Water, Fire, and Ether.)


However, while I tend to favor empirical evidence over metaphysical assumptions, I do firmly believe that mind, body, and spirit influence one another, and often in ways that are invisible to us humans; inquisitive, intelligent, and ever-gathering more knowledge though we may be.

Here's a bit of my philosophy:


Even though most things in life don't fit neatly into one category, the act of comparing via categorization is often illuminating.


In dividing up all of the things that are... there are so many ways to categorize:

  • Secular vs. Spiritual

  • Active vs. Receptive

  • Introverted vs. Extroverted

  • Having the qualities of Fire, Water, Earth, Air, or Ether.

And on and on and on...


For human concerns we can categorize by:

  • Mind, Body, & Spirit

  • Root, Sacral, Solar Plexus, Heart, Throat, Third Eye, & Crown Centers (The 7 Chakra system as translated from their original Sanskrit names: Muladhara, Svadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishudda, Ajna, & Sahasrara)

And on and on and on...


Rationality is vital, yes. But it is not the only piece of the puzzle. And as long as we keep our feet safely planted in reality, why not imagine other possibilities?


This is why I delighted in that skeptical author agreeing that divination can be useful.


And yet, I cannot help but be massively turned off by a handful of other assumptions and statements in the essay...


First an assumption in the subtitle: "Forget prophecy and wisdom. Using the I Ching is a weirdly useful way to open your mind to life's unexpected twists." What if prophecy and wisdom is a matter of opening the mind to life's unexpected twists?


Next, I'm hung up on this sentence:


"In the West, the I Ching is mainly known as a divination manual, found on shelves alongside books about tarot cards, crystal healing, reiki, and contacting your angels, a part of the wild carnival of spurious notions that is New Age spirituality, that great tide of unreason against which the prophets of scientific rationality protest in vain" (Buckingham).

Okay... so. How about we extend that thinking of, "Oh I judged this thing as 'crazy' until I got to know it better" to tarot cards, crystal healing, reiki, contacting angels, etc. etc. etc. Hmm??


As one of my favorite college professors often said about various practices we studied in Anthropology classes: "It doesn't matter if it's true, it matters that it works."


If a placebo works just as well as a medicine... well, wasn't the goal to heal all along?


Even while I find comfort in that sentence, "it doesn't matter if it's true, it matters that it works" in a lot of contexts--specifically when it comes to whatever gets us through the sticky life situations, rationality does creep back in and remind me that this kind of thinking could be dangerous when applied to other situations--specifically those where there is one true answer and one false one. Such as, the results of an election. (Again, whole other conversation.)


And now, back to attempting to define truth.


I'm currently delving into this Ancient Philosophy textbook as research for a theatre project. (Massive thanks to whoever left it in a little free library in my neighborhood!)

Some things that struck me in the intro about how all of these ideas have stacked and culminated into present-day understandings include:


  • Philosophy is essentially a matter of asking big questions and suggesting answers.

  • As time goes on and philosophies shift, when it comes to the unanswerable questions: there is no way to prove a suggestion as true (outside of a firm conviction of belief), but we can prove a suggestion as untenable, or false. Thus, through weeding out what turned out not to be so (like other supposed shapes of the earth, or thinking the sun is revolving around us), we get closer and closer to truths about the universe.

  • There is often a fine, and debated, line between giving Ancient People the title of "Philosopher" or "Poet".


Poetry, Tarot, and Philosophy are practices which are so much smaller than Universal Truths.

But they are capable of pointing out new avenues to get there... or at least get closer.



And when it comes to the danger of a post-truth society...


My hot take is that it's not so much an issue that we can't all agree on the same truth (because I do believe multiple truths can exist at once, or to phrase it another way: looking through different lenses will lead to different articulations of truth) but perhaps our problem as a nation is that we cannot agree on what's false.


Evidence can prove a theory untenable. We must have the courage to embrace a new truth when what we had previously touted as tenable encounters a counter argument that it cannot refute.


So for the skeptics ready to dismiss the Tarot (I doubt that's you if you've read this far, but maybe you'll encounter one in the wild), I will offer this:


Tarot is not a truth definer. It is a guide to point you towards uncovering your own.



 

Works Referenced:


Baird, Forrest E., and Walter Kaufmann. Ancient Philosophy. fifth ed., I, Prentice Hall, 2008.


Buckingham, Will. “Forget Prophecy: the I Ching Is an Uncertainty Machine – Will Buckingham: Aeon Essays.” Aeon, Aeon, 27 Nov. 2020, aeon.co/essays/forget-prophecy-the-i-ching-is-an-uncertainty-machine.


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