Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves- concerning oracles



Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves

I have taken the title of this post from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins though the content of the poem is actually not relevant to this post. The photo shows the leaves laid out on my dining room table this afternoon, drying so that they can be used during the prayers at church tomorrow, and because my winter tablecloth also sports leaves as its theme, I took some photos and it set in motion some thoughts.

Recently I had occasion to question whether my life might have taken radically different directions at various critical points and it made me ask why I made certain decisions. It’s seldom easy to see which way you should go when you stand at a crossroads; you often have no idea of where you want to go. Those who have had a game plan all along sometimes find themselves stymied when they find themselves at such points, because not one of the possible directions currently revealed resembles where they thought they wanted to go. For those of us(like me) who bumble along and take what comes, it is just as difficult. I don’t believe that we automatically will get where we were meant to go, but I do feel sure that certain things, certain themes or people or places are part of our life itinerary, and at some stage we meet with them. So you might say any direction will take you where you need to go. I’m not convinced. You’ll never know where the journey you didn’t make would have taken you.

There have been plenty of occasions where I have been given choices to make, many of them in effect Hobson’s choices, and I have found that even after long rational thought and study of the options, I still have no awareness of which is the course I should follow. In many cases, there has been insufficient information to make an informed choice. For example, in deciding which hall of residence I wanted to live at during my first year at university, I read through the brochure, was none the wiser and picked Rathbone Hall solely on the basis that a favourite Sherlock Holmes actor was called Basil Rathbone. It was far from an important decision, but others seemed to regard it as such.

But when it comes to deeper choices, my advice is always to follow what your heart tells you. We all have very fine instincts, usually hidden deep within our civilised souls, and often these still small voices of wisdom are drowned out by rational, logical thought, or by prejudice or other things. I have made certain decisions that to others looked insane. I remember the utter horror of an American student I knew at university when I told her I was getting married six weeks after graduating. At that stage, neither my intended nor I had a job or a home or really anything much, but by the time the wedding day came, he had a decent job, we’d got a home to go to and a future to look forward to. That was 23 years ago.

There are times when even the still small voice cannot help us; it is silent and that silence is deafening. You simply don’t know what to do or where to turn. It’s frightening.

This is where the Sibyl’s Leaves come in.

The Sibyl had a collection of leaves each having a single word or letter written upon it; the leaves were thrown into the air and allowed to land and each leaf with a word on the upside was collected and the Sibyl would read a message through whatever words were there. Of course, no one knows what words were written but you may imagine. As oracles go, it’s not as icky as some; reading entrails has always struck me as rather a strange one, possibly only foretelling a chicken dinner for the priest.

How oracles work is another matter, but my belief is that they do indeed work. Some feel they are a way for the gods, or spirits or angels or whatever to speak to us and still more believe that they work by accessing our deep subconscious by means of archetypical symbols and so on. Personally,I’m working on the assumption that any/all of the above are valid until I get evidence to the contrary. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’ve worked with Tarot for many years, as well as other oracle systems, both regular ones like runes and other ones that are less well known. I could never get the hang of the I-Ching and gave my set away to a friend; my head became fuzzy and baffled by it. None of these things is really about predicting the future, though sometimes it can seem like it. To some degree this is because a skilled reader of an oracle is accessing a very complex set of probabilities that make picking the winner of the Grand National look like child’s play; there are too many factors at play to really hope for accuracy. It’s about(putting it very simplistically) saying if you do X, then Y will happen, but only if you do Z first. It doesn’t take into account the infinite other factors that are at work.

However using an oracle system for yourself is a very good way of accessing and reawakening your own inner voices of wisdom. Tarot in particular is filled with mystical images and archetypes and with a set that suits your character you can find a great deal of hidden knowledge about your own self that can sometimes make deciding between one path in life and another a great deal simpler.

Of course, you might say you might as well just toss a coin, forgetting that throwing a coin is one of the oldest and simplest oracles in the world. There are times when the logical and rational have nothing more to offer, or their advice is somehow counter to what your instincts tell you.

Trust your instincts; they’ve been getting people out of trouble for a lot longer than Google.

11 thoughts on “Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves- concerning oracles

  1. Your post makes me think of Robert Frost’s poem, and I love the picture of the leaves.

    1. The Road Not Taken

    TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same, 10

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back. 15

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    More to follow, following reflection time.



    • The shame of this is that the poem, a superb one, has become so associated in my mind with a book that has become another way for people to follow rather than explore, that I almost dismissed it.
      This poem made me think of Kipling’s The Way through the Woods. Some paths are ancient and overgrown and somewhat ghostly. I rather like those too.


  2. Me again. I like the sound of Sibyl’s leaves as a living oracle – leaves feel more alive than yarrow stalks (i-ching) or cards (tarot). Having said that, I have been on a wonderful course learning how to read the i-ching in a Jungian context, and I used it to prompt my thoughts for awhile. And I refer to the tarot intermittently, can recommend Seventy eight degrees of wisdom by Rachel Pollack as a good book that brings deeper meaning to the images. I love the Rider Waite Tarot deck, its images are very evocative and I have a particular penchant for Pentacles. The tarot is a good way of getting beyond the logical and rational. So is psychological astrology as opposed to the newspaper variety (I recommend Liz Green). But I have found I turn to these ‘tools’ when I am in particular quandaries or places/spaces. And now I am finding that just paying attention to life’s little coincidences or suggestions can be as powerful. For example, my computer suffered a ‘major systems failure’ the other night when I was just clicking on the website of someone who is a walking ‘major systems failure’ but whose silence I was perplexed and perturbed by – I wondered if there was a message in the coincidence, chose to think there was, and have stayed safely away from that website ever since.

    I liked this post, lots in it – and my day has been nicely framed by your autumn leaves and another lovely picture of a centrepiece of leaves that someone else sent me which I will put on my blog sometime soon.


    • “And now I am finding that just paying attention to life’s little coincidences or suggestions can be as powerful. For example, my computer suffered a ‘major systems failure’ the other night when I was just clicking on the website of someone who is a walking ‘major systems failure’ but whose silence I was perplexed and perturbed by – I wondered if there was a message in the coincidence, chose to think there was, and have stayed safely away from that website ever since. ”
      be sure there is indeed power in such coincidences.


  3. I’ve always loved the images on Tarot cards. My first husband used to read them, not as predictive exactly, but as a source of psychological information. There’s a book by a writer – can’t remember the name – called The Castle of Crossed Destinies, in which the characters tell their stories with Tarot cards.


    • I have always loved Tarot, Karen, and I have a fairly extensive collection now, including one that has become very rare and rather shockingly valuable because a dispute between the artist and the writer means it can’t be reprinted.
      I usually pass on a set that simply doesn’t cut it for me with the images; the pictures are full of symbols and of archetypes and if the art doesn’t resonate, or the art and the ‘meanings’ dont mesh for me, I let it go.
      I have been working on an idea of a book/pamphlet that sets out how to design your own personal oracle system, and have also been working on a system for myself using 6 inch length twigs of different trees; I suspect from the workshops I took the twig set to I could have sold them umpteen times but part of the point of the set is of the quest to collect the twigs yourself and people don’t seem to ‘get’ that.


  4. Hi Viv. A lovely post. Oracles have always interested me. My proud ancestry having a long line of peasants, superstition was around as a child, usually joked about (and then quietly followed). Maybe becoming a scientist was a way of keeping all these anxiety-making intangibles at bay? I have played (in the proper sense) with the I-Ching and with runes, the latter not with the standard layouts, but with the shapes and relationships of a full cast. I had/have a dear friend, female of course, who has laid out the Tarot for me on several occasions. She, like most, took ages to find the right pack!
    Karen’s post about Jungian stuff resonates with me. Like you, I am careless of the source of the “message”, but I do find that the “outside–me” source, being independent of what I regard as my concerns, can draw attention to that inner quiet voice. I think a need to retain some sort of control gets in the way of that messenger-from-wherever – and an oracle can give it a forum to speak. Thanks again and a big hug for the post.


  5. Oh this is SO wonderful…Thank you SO much for leading me here…(see, oracles are working!). You put it beautifully, unlike my rabid scrabblings. I have used oracles all my life really – started reading tarot when I was about eight, got into the I Ching and runes in my teens. Use all three now though not usually to back one another up, as you suggested…will try that.
    I also studied shamanism and love the idea of the messages that nature shows us – the medicine walk idea…and then again, Arnie Mindell’s “flirts”….
    Is the universe really talking to us? Is it our subconscious? I don’t know, don’t really care – just love the conversation.



    • heyhey!
      I was considering writing a book on how to create your own oracle- Richard Bach (of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull fame) suggested it to me. That isn’t to say I know him, but I follow him on Twitter and one thing led to another.
      I daren’t add up the number of sets of tarot or other oracles I possess but it’s well over thirty if you include the various rune sets I have made myself.
      I do really find that using three different oracles for the same question rules out the whole only seeing what you want to see issue.
      And yes, I do believe that the connections we form are very real, even when we don’t know it at the time. I also believe that kindness is one of the greatest goods there is and taking time to be kind(as you have today, to me) makes the world a better place.
      Jung(dear old Jung) showed many examples of synchronity and it’s something I work with.
      Of course, this does mean my life takes odd courses and turns but it’s a journey not many take and so worth taking.
      GOOD to meet you.


  6. Pingback: “Life feels better when you have a plan” ~ on plans and oracles | Zen and the art of tightrope walking

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