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The art of divining like a torero

Vinatge photographs of a bullfight
Vintage photographs of a bullfight.

The weekly auguries have recently taken up most of the content in this space. I wanted to come back now, outside of the auguries, sharing a bit about my impressions and experiences on divination and seeing.


Vintgae Tiffany & Co. Playings Cards
Vintage Tiffany and Co. Playing Cards.

While expanding my daily practice and mapping my own spiritual landscape, I have been working with several forms of divination. Divination as a way of sliding in medias res, rising from the tabula rasa (in the fully Latin sense as literally a ‘scraped tablet,’ which denotes a tablet with the writing erased), and from there generating a bouquet of words and symbols.

Which coincidentally, reminds me of the finale of Monkey: A Folktale or Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en (the abridged translation by Arthur Waley). A couple months ago I found this book for sale at a used bookshop, and I purchased it knowing nothing of the story. (I highly recommend the book, an enjoyable ride steeped in folklore, comedic moments, religious insights, and adventure.) The point I want to get to is towards the end, once Tripitaka has reached the end of his quest, to reach India to get the scriptures from the Buddha and then bring them back to China, the Buddha makes a fleeting statement that caught my eye. He says that the summation of all wisdom is encapsulated in the blank scroll/page. This is in my words of course, but the depth of the assertion is valid nonetheless. As if in diving into the blank page all borders are gone, one and the other is no longer divisible. That moment has really stuck with me as I have been trying my hand at divination methods. (Also, this exploration inevitably bleeds into journeying, but that is a subject for another day).

Moreover, this statement highlights what fascinates me about divination. Wherein I strive to refine the practice of divining, from the instance of the scraped tablet foremost, and letting my eyes journey towards the point of contact, of understanding, of knowing. This inevitably ties back to my, apparently constant, theme of being present, and seeing, and how -mantic approaches to seeing and experiencing life allows for a much more fluid and genuine interaction with the affair of living. Positioning oneself in the middle, the empty space, and recognizing the landscape unfolding, enables an embodied experience.

Vintage photograph of bullfight.
Vintage photograph of bullfight.

I think now of the Torero or bullfighter, the symbolic portent and nature behind his performance as he enters the plaza or the center. It is a diving into the space, coordinated and clear, to commence a dialogue with his surroundings and the other. The art of being precise at its most vital, as it is a deadly performance with many risks involved. While it might be quite a stretch to think about divination along the lines of a controlled performative art, there are, in my opinion, aspects of the performance of the torero that are useful to consider.

Vintage photograph of a bullfight
Vintage photograph of a bullfight.

Firstly, set and setting. In this sense it is a controlled environment. I add that not all of my personal readings get this sort of immersive performance and setting, generally, I shuffle, throw some cards down, and read. But, when I really want to make a connection, with the cards, with an other, when I really want to squeeze the juice out of the art, there are clear advantages to taking the time to set the area, the mind, the body, the heart, and the cards (or tools), with purpose. This is especially true if I am divining for more magical purposes, as in a more séance sort of way (spirit contact).

Some things to consider in set and setting:

  • candles (lighting).
  • incense (frankincense or myrrh).
  • astrological timing of the reading, planetary hour and day aligned with purpose and question.
  • short centering meditation (preparation) prior to the reading.

Afterwards, the real meat resides in the approach and clarity with which one approaches the reading. Herein enters the tabula rasa, as one slides into the moment, letting the surroundings, the cards (or divination tool), take precedence. This equates, in my experience, to the embodied experience.

I share this for two reasons. First, it is to further add that this approach to divination, by extrapolating from the method as well, enhances one’s engagement with  life. It allows for a flow to prevail over whatever might be occurring around us and influencing our thoughts. Such a great amount of what we feel and consequently create with our thoughts are constructs, social, cultural, political, and everything else in between. When you practice being in the moment, your surroundings and the construction of your landscape, vis-à-vis your self, becomes clearer and you are better equipped to sift through these constructs, yours and those of others. In this case, with the precision of a torero.

Secondly, I would like to share two forms of divination I greatly enjoy improving upon through practice, water vessel divination (hydromancy), and augury in one of its ancient forms, taking omens by watching the flight of birds.

Hydromancy. This is an old -mantic art, and different approaches can be found, for example, in the Hygromanteia or The Magical Treatise of Solomon. I will give you my current layman approach.


  • a black or darkly colored vessel (an iron cauldron, a black lacquer bowl, or in my case, a dark stone mortar)
  • conducive resin, ground herb(s): frankincense, myrrh, mugwort, among others.
  • water
  • a couple drops of oil

Personally, I used what I had on hand, what was accessible at the moment. A stone mortar, ground frankincense and myrrh, just prior to adding the water, a few drops of oil. I also cleansed the materia with specific prayers before putting it all together. The goal was specific, as it always should be in, in this case, a Cyprianic journey inspired by Saint Cyprian. Of course set and setting was arranged, along with centering and prayers. Once all the materia is set and put together, I look down upon the water, and let my eyes slide into the moment, beginning from the tabula rasa and from there letting the words and symbols take shape. If you would like to explore hydromancy, set a purpose for the act, select the tools to use, and the timing desired. Some points I want to add are, including astrological timing for the performance, and, if you resonate with crystals and stones, dropping into the water one or two appropriate stones.

Augury. This is a much simpler art, and there is also an element of spontaneity as the purpose or question plays out in the landscape. While you are outside, in a park, with trees, or somewhere overlooking a river or a body of water, or it could be in a city as well. Somewhere you can stand or sit, relaxed, without being obtrusive to others, where you are able to be calm and aware. Have a specific question in mind, maybe even whisper it (you might look odd if there are people around), and designate a space where the answer will take place. Directionality can come into play here, north, south, east, west. After having posed the question, chosen the space, sit, and watch. Of course, timing is important as well, choose a rough time you are willing to wait for the answer. Afterward, watch for the flight of birds as they enter the designated space. The color of the bird, and quantity of birds. Your answer will be received through them. Darker birds can be a no, and lighter colored birds a yes, or visa versa. Other animals can come into play of course. An augury can take on more forms. This is evidently a subtler art, but it has its benefits. It enhances your connection to the landscape and your surroundings.

If any of these two divination techniques interest you, give it a try. Stay sharp and present.


Conjureman Ali.  Saint Cyprian: Saint of Necromancers. Guides to the Underworld. Hadean Press, 2011.

Jim Baker. The Cunning Man’s Handbook: The Practice of English Folk Magic 1550-1900. London, Avalonia Books, 2013.

The Magical Treatise of Solomon or the Hygromanteia. Ioannis Marathakis trans. and ed. Singapore, Golden Hoard Press, 2011.

La Maga Tarot

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