Friction Oracles, or Tugging on the Elephant

There is a family of oracles in Africa known as ‘friction oracles.’ The most common of these require that the client and diviner hold a sacred object between them and wait for subtle movements between them to indicate spiritual responses. (Yes, the Ouija Board is sort of a distant relative, though I hesitate to say that lest I see even more ads for that F***in’ movie).

The idea developed in these oracles is that the operation is cooperative. Other prominent oracles in Africa reflect variations on this idea. One of the reasons traditional Ifa and Diloggun diviners in Yorubaland have to have so many divinatory verses memorized is that, once they mark a geomantic sign, they are often expected to recite verses associated with that sign until the client recognizes one as applying to their situation. Once the client has recognized a verse, the diviner can bring to bear their subtle knowledge to help a client see their way through the problem manifesting in the verse.

Outlined in that way of thinking is the conviction that spiritual issues have many sides and that we can only come to a resolution of them by working together to see more sides of the issue. This is one way to appreciate the message of the near-ubiquitous story of Eleggua causing division between two friends by wearing a two-colored hat such that each friend could only see one color of it. Their failure, their feud, derives from not taking seriously that they each have a piece of the bigger picture. And that picture only becomes clear when they take seriously the possibility that someone else has another piece of it.

That’s a theme that shows up in the Yeats material, too, and William consciously compares it to the phenomenon of two psychics having a dream that relays part of the whole picture being asked after. We can look at the Yeats material itself as one piece of a bigger picture. Except, perhaps, that this picture is a living one, the elephant whose blind men forget that it can squirm and shift, mill and wander.

At its most expansive, the big picture includes everything; that really isn’t where we live. No, at our level, the slightly bigger picture includes just a little more than our own picture, and the connections that form that picture are difficult to establish. Some things don’t belong together except when viewed from a very great height, while others come together in the intimate recesses of a dark room.

The Yeats material easily finds a place against the broad horizon of spiritualist and spiritist work, but what lies more proximally to it? What perspective supplements it? In turn, what is it that the Yeats material supplements?

There are probably several somethings, each adjoining the Yeats material in its own fashion, but the Jungian material defines one of the most proximal cases. From Jung’s quadripartite account of the faculties to his conception of the self as a nest of dyads, Jungian psychology seems to run in tandem to the Yeats material. It, too, was born of intense spiritual contact. On top of all that, there is the parallelism to be had in examining the relationship of projection, transference, and counter-transference in Jungian psychology and the daemonic education that purifies us of pity and self-deceit.

That doesn’t mean that they are just saying the same thing in different registers, but rather that by examining complementary registers in the two materials we can develop a more encompassing account into which both can be integrated, the same way two ears and two eyes are integrated into a two-lobed brain.

I have some sense of how that should go, but like so much else, I won’t know for sure until I have tried to write it out.

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8 thoughts on “Friction Oracles, or Tugging on the Elephant

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