I purchased my first divination system — the Sacred Rose tarot deck — as a young man, and it mostly sat on an altar, or in a drawer. Much like the stock market, the number of divination systems I have owned at one time has risen and fallen, but has always gotten larger over the long haul. Divination was part of my preparation for serving as an oracle to my community, which in turn was training for deeper work Poseidon asked of me when I came of age (which, in this case, was half a century). One of my life goals is to finalize a custom divination system for talking with me once I’m dead, in the belief that my desire for conversation with not be diminished by my discorporation. I have two that I’m working on right now.
For the heck of it, I’ve put together a list of the systems in my possession right now.
- Three coins: these are large, identical, copper coins that have a zombie Hermes head on the obverse. I use them for quick questions of my ancestors.
- depression coins: these are three pennies minted in the year of my birth and attuned to the spirit of depression. I talk about them in my upcoming book. Did I mention that I wrote a book?
- Morgan’s tarot, which I have had longer than any other system; I bought it in the 1980s. I have built a strong rapport with this deck, and its odd sense of humor often cuts to the quick during a reading. I’ve also have taken to coloring my set, little by little. My relationship with these cards is solid enough that I offered readings for pay for a time, but I was dissatisfied with the platform I had selected and haven’t had a chance to find someplace where I won’t be at risk of violating site rules for providing “fortune-telling” services. For now, my readings-for-hire remain a low-key affair without online marketing.
- tellstones, a system chronicled by Adam Byrn Tritt, who also fashioned the set I won in the silent auction at Pagan Spirit Gathering, 2004. I didn’t remember bidding, and was quite surprised to learn I had won. It’s an easy system to learn and, while the book is probably necessary just to learn the symbols, I quickly got the hang of how it works. This was the first cleromantic system I owned, and the only reason I don’t read tellstones for money is because I haven’t gotten around to promoting it yet.
- Zombie tarot, a Rider-Smith-Waite variant with undead flair which was given to me as a Yule gift some years ago. It’s got a stronger sense of duality about it than many tarot decks (which may be why the creators offer no commentary on meanings of reversed cards), plus a book which is really funny. I tend to read the card descriptions to my client if only because someone took a lot of time crafting them and it seems a waste not to share. This deck is also a Fool’s Dog app, meaning I can easily create and email an image of the reading. I read with the physical cards, but the app is really useful for working with clients at a distance for that reason alone.
- Lymerian oracle, a system of divination using the ancient Greek alphabet. It’s either ancient, or just copying from runic divination, depending on the scholarship one reads. Each month of my life includes the presence of a different god, and I often use this to get a sense of what I should expect of our time together.
- “Greek I-Ching,” a system for astragaloi (knuckle bones) with a terrible name but excellent provenance. The book by Kostas Dervenis is a marvelous resource, the best compilation of ancient Hellenic oracular information I’ve found for such a system. It is derived in part from the same sources used in the Lymerian oracle, but there are far more messages from multiple documented sources. Due to the depth of the information I expect to be using the book for a long time, if not forever; memorization is implausible. I was fortunate enough to receive an actual set of knuckle bones to use for this; they spent some months under my midden heap for cleaning but popped up again just before Samhain, 2018 and are now quite ready for use. While it’s often quite direct, discernment is sometimes needed to place the message in context.
- my own coin system, an eclectic collection which I’ve put together over time. For these, I have been letting the coins themselves teach me their meanings, and it’s a slow process. Well, I’m also not terribly patient.
- Marseilles trumps, the older design of tarot cards; I find how they differ from the more modern systems to be instructive. Eventually I want to master the “fool’s mirror” spread, which uses the whole shebang, because that’s what large tables are made for.
- Rider-Smith-Waite tarot, which I study, but do not use for divination. The deck I own is small enough for a card to fit into my spell box, but that in turn makes it hard to see all the detail in the images. With most available tarot decks being based on Waite’s research and Smith’s art, it’s worthwhile to understand the original in any case.
- cunning stones, a set of semi-precious polished stones which I assembled according to the instructions in Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem, and Metal Magic. The answers given by the stones are interpreted not by the specific mineral, but the color of the stone.
- Oseanna’s bones] are a system I’m naming for its creator, who to my knowledge isn’t actually using that name any longer at all and also just called them “bones.” This is another cleromancy system which came into my life. Oseanna was given the selection of bones and design of the casting area by spirits, and it’s a very robust system within the broader range of bone-reading. This is an ancestor-focused system and mine are willing to participate, but only when they feel that I am giving them enough attention otherwise. I’m also collecting my own pieces that may be included in this flexible system.
- Buckland’s gold coins: this was really just an idea Raymond Buckland tossed into his book on coin divination as something which would be cool to try. Creating this “golden oracle” is one of those “hold my beer” moments when an author suggests something without doing it, making me want to do it. The set is comprised of about a dozen small coins with animals on them. Most are from Singapore and comprise the Chinese zodiac. I don’t yet read with these, because I’m still taking the time to listen to the coins and learn their meanings.
- Wigomancy is what I’m calling a system I’ve developed in conjunction with a local ancestor, Ludwig Montesa, which is comprised of a selection of things this person said during a too-brief life. In 2017 I performed a public ritual elevating Montesa as a community ancestor, and I was later asked to commission this system. Thus far I have only used it in here in my hometown, but Ludwig’s spirit is also strong around Lake George and in Manhattan.
- I also own the Lenormand-inspired Hermes oracle deck; appropriately, it can also be used as deck of playing cards. If you cannot use the system for gambling, it might not be suitable for use with Hermes. It was created by Robert Place, and was also money I spent as the result of a journalism assignment.
- One of the systems I obtained early on was the Gypsy Witch oracle deck. I lost it somewhere along the way, and led to obtain another copy more recently. It’s a dicey system, not only for its design—there’s a text blurb on each of these Lenormand-style cards describing its meaning, making it feel clunky to use—but due to the name. “Gypsy” is considered a slur by some, and I’m sure this deck wouldn’t have been named that if created in recent years. Well, not sure, but it likely would receive backlash for cultural insensitivity. I was a bit surprised to learn it’s still on the market. Thus far, it seems to be in my collection just as a reminder that this kind of thinking is just below the surface in our culture, and perhaps even in ourselves.
Sing through my voice
play through my hands
let the way be open.
— Abby Spinner McBride