Have you ever held a problem in your mind and flipped through a book, newspaper, or magazine to see what it tells you? If so, you have consulted an oracle. Or perhaps you’ve explored one of the more traditional oracular traditions such as the I Ching (The Book of Changes), tarot cards, rune stones, tea leaf reading, or pendulum dowsing.
Many cultures and traditions have oracular or divination practices dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years, several of which are still in use today.
"Truth is always present; it only needs to lift the iron lids of the mind's eye to read its oracles." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
But exactly what are oracles? Are they tools for fortune-telling, quirky parlor games, or legitimate practices for self-discovery, spiritual growth, and transformation?
By definition, an oracle is:
1. in ancient Greece: a person (such as a priestess) through whom a god was believed to speak
2. the place (such as a shrine) where people went to ask questions of an oracle
3. an answer or message given by an oracle
4. an authoritative or wise expression or answer
In more modern terms, however, oracles are tools or practices to help us discover the universe within and without. They are visual metaphors based upon the intimate relationship between intention, interpretation, and what takes place in the material world.
Ralph Blum, in his book, The Book of Rune Cards, describes an oracle as an intuitive trainer, or a means to strengthen the brain’s right hemisphere – the part of the brain responsible for imaginative, creative, and nonlinear thoughts. One definition of intuition is “taught from within”, in this way, an oracle can be considered a bridge to a higher realm of intelligence.
Oracles are also a tool to cultivate synchronicities. Synchronicities are the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. When we consult an oracle and its commentary seems to align in an uncanny way with a situation going on in our lives, it gives us an opportunity to consider the deeper connection behind the scenes and ask ourselves, “what’s the meaning of this?”
But how do oracles work? In a strictly material worldview, oracles don’t seem to make much sense. If the universe is made up of separate chunks of matter that eventually learned to think, how could casting some stones, swinging a pendulum, or throwing coins have any meaning in your life whatsoever? The answer is clearly none.
However, as both modern science and the world’s wisdom traditions have shown, the material model of life is incomplete. Rather than being fragmented and isolated, the world is an interdependent continuum of energy and information – an infinite field of awareness that is unbounded in time or space.
This means that consulting an oracle is a way to plug yourself into the cosmic mind. Non-local intelligence is speaking to us all the time however, with the din of everyday activity, this intuitive guidance is often washed out and goes by unnoticed.
Oracles are an interface that allow us to interpret the non-local signal into a recognizable pattern of information. When we refer to an oracle, we’re using a methodical system to symbolically translate the infinite and abstract into the localized and familiar words and descriptions of our day to day lives. Like the Rosetta Stone, an oracle can be the translation key that help us unlock the divine mystery.
The underlying premise of oracular traditions is that we live in a meaningful universe. It is intelligent, interconnected, and interrelated and it is feeding us information every moment of our lives. Oracles are the tool that allows us to connect with that wisdom to help us better understand ourselves and follow a path of conscious evolution.
Prediction or Commentary?
The messages oracles provide us with can be interpreted in one of two ways. First, we could consider them to be a form of prediction. Since oracles tap into the field of non-local awareness and at that level everything is happening at once, there is no past, present, or future. It’s all now. When we ask a question, the oracle may give us a glimpse of a future possibility, or the way things might take place if we continue our current life trajectory.
However, just like when we practice meditation, what we experience when consulting an oracle reflects our current mind-body state. Thoughts, choices, actions, and our state of mind may influence the outcome of our reading in ways that change the likelihood of a given event. So, in this way, oracles don’t necessarily tell the future, they indicate the current trends of your life circumstances. With this knowledge, we can use mindf ul thought, speech, and actions to course-correct to a more nourishing outcome.
The second way we can interpret an oracle’s message is as a commentary on our life situation. Oracles can provide a perspective from a deeper level of awareness that reflect possible interpretations that we hadn’t considered. Like an old, ancient friend steeped in wisdom and awareness, an oracle allows us to tap into the deeper layers of our subconscious mind and the collective unconscious.
When we first look at an oracle’s interpretation of a situation, we may think, “Nah, that doesn’t apply to me as all.” But by looking deeper, we might ask, but what if it did? Would thinking about your life through the oracle’s lens free you to make more liberating choices, to step into new possibilities, to heal, and better understand yourself? An oracle’s interpretation isn’t absolute – you are always free to re-interpret the interpretation. This is what makes consulting an oracle a deeply personal and subjective experience.
Dharma and Karma
Dharma (our life purpose) and Karma (our actions and their consequences) are the unique starting point for consulting an oracle. An oracle responds to our unique life experience and the questions we ask are analogous to who we are as individuals. Dharma and Karma are like the cosmic computer’s security check, confirming who you are to ensure the message is tailored just for you. In the case of consulting an oracle on another’s behalf, it is helpful to both ask permission and have a specific intention to be the channel of nonlocal intelligence for that person, prior to the reading.
How to Consult an Oracle
Consulting an oracle is a ritual, what Ralph Blum calls sacred play. As such, the true purpose behind a ritual is to focus awareness. It’s not an activity that should be taken lightly. If you treat an oracle like a parlor game, that’s all it will be – a curiosity with little value for transformation. Therefore, the first step is to set a clear intention and ask your deeper self if this is an appropriate time to consult the oracle. If your intuition feels confident to proceed, continue with the following steps. If your mind-body push back, then come back to the oracle at another time.
1. Tune in.
Once you have your intuitive green light, I recommend sitting comfortably and meditating on the breath or a mantra until you begin to feel settled. Allow the daily grind to fall into the background as you establish yourself in the present moment. With your mind and body calm, you may release a short prayer or affirmation such as, I will to will Thy Will.
2. Bring to mind an issue you’d like to receive guidance on.
Notice the distinction between an issue and a question. An oracle doesn’t provide answers as much as it provides insight. Yes/No questions can often be problematic, especially if the oracle’s interpretation is deeply symbolic or metaphorical.
In this way, oracles help us become participants in the process, rather than the passive recipients of a reading. Giving a simple trite answer often robs us of the experience of interpreting the message for ourselves. With that being said though, if a specific issue doesn’t come to mind, you might ask, What do I need to know for my life at this time?
3. Now consult the oracle.
Different oracular traditions have different ways to tap into the oracle’s wisdom, so follow the method that suits you best, or if you feel comfortable, create your own method for consulting the oracle.
4. Reflect on the interpretation.
Rather than taking a quick cursory glance as a confirmation or disproof of your current situation, sit with the interpretation and consider its possible meanings. Don’t necessarily look for an immediate “Ah-Hah!” moment. Sometimes the meaning that is most appropriate to you shows up after the reading. Ask yourself the question, What am I to take away from this? and let the universe fill in the blanks.
Lastly, consider using a journal to record your readings. As you grow in proficiency and comfort with your oracle, you may begin to recognize patterns and repeating cycles that can provide further insight into your choices and behavior. You may also wish to consult another oracle to compare the two interpretations of the same situation.
Oftentimes the two messages are in harmony, other times, they conflict. But rather than concluding oracles don’t work, consider it an opportunity to gather yet another perspective.
"Nothing in excess was the second phrase written over the gateway to the temple at Delphi. The first counsel was Know thyself." - Ralph Blum, The Book of Runes
In the end, know that if you approach an oracle with intention, imagination, mindfulness, and reverence, it will provide you with a powerful means for self-reflection and deeper awareness. Oracles have always been tools for the Spiritual Warrior. May they serve you well on your path.