When Oracles Speak - Opening yourself to messages found in dreams, signs and the voices of nature
by Dianne Skafte
Harper Collins, ISBN 0062514458, 271 pages. Publication date 31st March 2007. Price TBC.
Reviewed by Garry Phillipson
I was fully prepared to dislike this book. I picked it up second-hand whilst rummaging through the second-hand bookshops of Glastonbury, thinking it would probably turn out to be a bit silly but that I might get a couple of useful quotations out of it. Maybe I'm just a bit of a curmudgeon; although I believe that divination is a real phenomenon, I'm generally wary of people who hold forth about it. Hence my low expectations for this particular book.
Well, it's a large serving of humble pie for me because the book is really excellent. I'd recommend it to anyone, particularly to astrologers who believe their art involves an element of divination. Because although there is hardly anything about astrology per se in the book, it fills a huge gap in our current thinking about astrology, namely: if astrology is (to a greater or lesser extent) a divinatory art, then how should we practise? What, apart from the pure technique of astrology, do we need to bring to the table, to give our readings the best chance of success? I suggest that these are questions which astrologers, at least in the West, have barely begun to acknowledge.
Dianne Skafte pulls together a brilliant array of resources in articulating strategies for relating in a creative and fruitful way with the forces behind the diviner, the anima mundi (cf p.183). One of her great strengths is that she commands a vast swathe of cross-cultural examples - all properly referenced - but also with a common-sensical understanding of the material based on personal practice. And - how rare is this - she retains a sense of humour about the whole endeavour, so that she does not succumb to the inflation which spoils the work of so many writers on the subject.
Let me just describe some of the topics that are covered:
Appian of Alexandria and bird-oracles (p.9); the King of Sparta and significant words, heard in a crowd (p.13); healing divination from Nepal (p.36); divination from a Scandinavian saga (p.42); origins of the Delphic oracle (p.66); a Tibetan oracle (p.93); Synesius on dreams as oracles (p.103); King Saul consulting an oracle (p.214); Aboriginal divining through body-parts (p.239).
It would be possible to run up a considerably longer list of references, but the most significant thing, for me, is that all the examples, both historical and from Skafte's own experience, are marshalled in order to address the question of how one should approach an oracle. Consider this for instance, a propos a computer-based oracle:
…the oracle did not respond to every enquiry with clear answers. There seemed to be a connection between the sincerity of the inquirer and the quality of material that appeared on the screen. Those who asked flippant questions often got incoherent results. (p.42)
I think the astrologer will be able to map this, and so much else in the book, directly onto their own practice. Dianne Skafte describes how we can approach all kinds of oracle in the right spirit and, so far as I am able to judge, she is absolutely on the money in what she says. So that although the book may not ostensibly be about astrology, it would enable most of us to become better astrologers.
The book seems to have gone through two editions, one printed by Harper Collins in 1997 and one by Quest in 2000, both of which are now out of print, but with plenty of secondhand copies available. It looks as if Harper Collins plan to reissue it at the end of March 2007, which is good news as this book deserves to be much better-known.