(A geomancer or sand diviner from Mali traces geomantic figures in a prepared bed of sand)
A few days ago a member of a Geomancy study group that I am a part of on Facebook posted some interesting links to 19th century material that mentions geomancy. Many of the links this person posted included accounts of geomantic procedures that European colonial explorers like Sir Richard Burton had observed during their travels through parts of Africa. One of the links was a little different however: it was a facsimile of Voyage au Darfour (Journey to Darfur), the 1845 translation into French of a travelogue written in Arabic by Sheikh Mohammed Ibn Omar El-Tounsy (Al-Tunisi), who served as chief reviewer of translations of medical texts translated from European languages into Arabic at the School of Medicine in Cairo. This particular source thus jumped out at me, not only for its content but because rather than yet another white colonist’s account of native culture, it represented the reflections of a colonized non-white foreigner observing cultural practices that were both different from and cognate with his own.
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I have performed divinatory services for clients since I was about eleven years old. As both a scholar and a practitioner, I am deeply fascinated by the incredible range of – but also significant similarities between – forms of divination as practiced across the centuries and the globe, and I know that readers of this blog – many of whom also practice some kind of divination – are too. With that in mind, I thought I’d offer some casual thoughts and a few original rough translations relating to Tibetan divination practices here, with a focus on one type of prognostication in particular: ‘phreng mo (pronounced treng moh), or divination through the use of a prayer beads or rosaries (‘phreng ba). Continue reading →
(The author of this blog, probably age 11, divining for a client at an outdoor flea-market in South Africa in the late 90s. Clock the middle parting and regrettable dream-catcher necklace – a gift from a friend, honest!)
Readers of this blog who have listened to some of the interviews I have done will know that in addition to my work as a cultural anthropologist I have spent over two decades working as a diviner for clients as well.
I began reading Tarot cards for querents (an old-fashioned word for divination clients) in South Africa when I was about ten years old. My family was not really spiritually inclined at all, and I was raised without religion at home. From very early on, however, I was drawn to religion, and to occult and esoteric matters. From a young age I had a number of dreams, intimations and experiences which fuelled this interest. Although my parents did not have the personal expertise to explain these or to guide me directly, they were thankfully open-minded and accommodating enough to encourage me to do my own research and exploration. My maternal grandmother, who had a passing interest in things like astrology and other forms of divination Continue reading →
I realized that I forgot to post a link to the interview I did with Gordon White for his Rune Soup podcast a few months ago here on the blog. Gordon and I had some trouble finding a strong enough internet connection when I was in South Africa to do the interview and I eventually ended up having to sneak into an empty lecture theatre late at night at the University of Cape Town with the help of an old friend and plug my laptop into a stray Ethernet cable to get good enough wifi to proceed (my thanks to said friend for the help and for getting a bemused pizza guy to show up at one point halfway through the interview).
When I was a kid growing up in pre- and post-Apartheid South Africa it wasn’t easy to study occultism.
To be sure, South Africa is a country filled with professional and semi-professional sorcerers, but it is also a nation whose white supremacist government for a long time directly funded a special ‘Occult-Related Crimes Unit’ attached to the national police force. This unit, which was founded in 1992 and which was supposedly officially disbanded/absorbed in 2006 (but which is in fact still operating in various capacities) was guided for the most part by the expertise and priorities of white, Afrikaner Christian investigators. Working under the auspices of the state, pastors with police training, criminology degrees and a measure of knowledge about local black South African ‘customs and traditions’ investigated South Africa’s dark and criminal occult underbelly. While the existence of witch-lynching and so-called ‘muthi killings’ – ritual murders conducted to ostensibly secure human parts for sale in criminal magical economies and use in rituals – served as the primary justification for state-spending on the Unit, the majority of the Unit’s time appears to have been spent on locating and routing out ‘cells’ of adult and teenage Satanists, and assisting especially young South Africans who had been afflicted by demons and other Satanic forces. Continue reading →
(I originally made the following post on my Facebook page on April 7th. I reproduce it here, along with some clarifications and further reflections at the end. This picture collage shows the Nechung kuten in trance at the top, the Tsering Chenga goddesses possessing their medium on the bottom left, and Security and Welfare minister Mr Ngodup Drongchung is on the right, during an interview with Tibetan exile media immediately following his resignation)
Tibetan social media and exile society have been alive of late with commentary about the recent pronouncements and actions made by some of the Tibetan state oracles here in India. The state oracles, who are known in Tibetan as ཆོས་སྐྱོང ༼chökyong༽ or བསྟན་སྲུང་ ༼tensoong༽, i.e. ‘dharma-protectors’, are powerful and ferocious spirits – supernatural bouncers or ‘fixers’ – who are oath-bound to serve the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government and the Tibetan people by providing prophetic advice on religious issues and affairs of state. Continue reading →
Looking on Tumblr I realized I made a blog years ago, but made it private and only ever made one post. The post was an essay I wrote in 2008 in Cape Town that I called “Some Thoughts on the Ominous, and Magical Consciousness”. I think I wrote it for my photographer friend Jarred Figgins for some weird reason. I never did anything with it, and I don’t think anyone ever read it. I’m not sure I still stand by it all, but I figure people interested in magic and divination, or in how boringly consistent my long-sentence writing style has been, might enjoy reading it. Continue reading →
This morning, I had a dream in which a young Tibetan refugee woman was doing mo for clients. To ‘do mo’, ༼མོ་རྒྱག་པ་༽ ‘moh gyap pa’, means to tell the future, and over the centuries various divinatory systems, such as throwing dice, counting rosary beads, observing animal auguries, consulting spirit oracles, reading the pattern of rice on a drum skin, interpreting dreams, and scrying with brass mirrors to see visions, have played an important role in Tibetan civilization. In my dream I did not initially realize I was in a མོ་རྒྱག་ས་, a place of divination. I was in a dimly lit, low-ceiling-ed room – a number of individual computers stations were set up with chairs like in an Internet cafe and there were booths and tables dispersed around the screens padded in cheap blue, orange, and black imitation-leather like in some kind of diner (there was indeed a kitchen of sorts, that was serving food to customers). Continue reading →