Some churches read the zillions of verses in the Bible the way psychics read tea leaves. If those church goers compared how astrologers read horoscopes or the way ancient priests compared the entrails of a sheep with the political issues of the state, they would have to admit that despite the difference in their tools, the methods of divining the sacred will are identical.
- The first step in all three is that there has to exist a belief that there is a divine or paranormal architecture underlying the seemingly disparate signs and clues and that this divine or paranormal structure reaches out to embrace even the mind and insights of the reader.
- Secondly, the tools of the trade (the words between the black covers of a bible or the carvings on rune-stones or the planetary symbols and their positions in houses and angular relationships) contain meanings that are hidden by default.
- Thirdly, and naturally, the reader has to undergo some prior esoteric training to learn how to properly understand the otherwise hidden meanings of the supra-normal symbols and words and how they tie in with each other. While it is sometimes claimed that only the truly child-like open-minded can truly understand, this state of mind must usually be accompanied by a process that involves a certain suspicion of established non-esoteric education and research.
- Fourth, there is a strong element of “proving all things”, of reconfirming faith in the whole process. This is sometimes framed in terms of the practitioner’s “attitude”. The discovery of hitherto hidden meanings and relationships between signs and words is often so astounding or impressive enough to blind practitioners to the circularity of the underlying logic.
- Fifthly, unless there is a guild of some sort of which the reader is a part, she will be nothing better than a lone nutter. Some occultists like being lone nutters. But being accepted as a member of a guild or church or profession that has a common set of understandings of those signs and words bestows respectability, and most people opt for respectability especially among peers.
Tarot readers and a psychologist
I once had fun with a Tarot card reader and a trained psychologist. When I told the psychologist that she told me nothing more than a tarot card reader had said, she laughed and said that many of those people (tarot readers, fortune tellers of various kinds) have a special sensitivity to reading people’s body language and sussing them out from many clues are not normally aware we are expressing. I decided to test that out and went back to another tarot reader. I paid my $20 and sat there like a stone. As he flipped through the cards and made opening comments he looked me in the eye to get feedback as he spoke. I gave none. He was completely floundering and made the bare minimum of pronouncements none of which came anywhere near “the real me”. It was a real lark.
The psychologist was right. Tarot card readers don’t read their cards: they read their clients. Or more correctly, they use their clients to interpret their cards. They are interpreting their cards through their knowledge of their clients.
(But if I got no more out of a trained psychologist then surely I would have been just as well of talking to a trusted friend from the beginning. But that’s another story.)
The more one studies the finer points of “star charts” the more one can impress the naive. Here’s how it works. There is enough overlap of personality attributes with each of the sun signs to make matching them up to individuals impossible — unless one has some objective criteria like matching birth dates. Take away the dates from each of the 12 sets of descriptions of personality types, and remove their headings (Pisces, Taurus, Gemini, whatever), shuffle the pack, then ask people to pick the one (one only!) that best describes them and they will have a hell of a time trying to settle on just one.
In other words, astrology “works” because people read meanings (or their beliefs and likes about themselves) into the sun signs. But there will always be sticking points when trying to match just 12 types to the infinite variety of personality types. So the more one can master the language of the nodes and aspects and houses and retrograde motions and lunar and planetary meanings and ascendants etc then the more one finds enough information to explain almost any and every personal detail about a person. Mistakes (or rather, incomplete or insufficient claims!) made in the interpretation of one aspect can be explained by discovering a countervailing aspect somewhere else!
The point is this. The astrologer needs an objective starting point. And he also needs feedback and other information about his client. From there, normal human intuition, ongoing body language feedback and other verbal clues, and falling back on not always acknowledged characteristics most people share to some extent, will inform the astrologer as to the “correct” interpretation of a chart.
Divining the bible’s hidden (= occult) truths
Fundamentalists who pride themselves on believing they are letting scripture interpret scripture are following the same circular methods of the tarot readers and astrologers. And all three claim to be privy to hidden wisdom to which they have been given the keys to understanding.
A word or passage in one book in the bible is said to be interpreted through another word or passage in another book in the bible. It is irrelevant if the two books were separated by centuries and cultures and different purposes and audiences. The same divine mind is behind them both. The political history of how those two books came to be bound within those black covers in the first place is also irrelevant, since whatever the details of the process and the identities and beliefs and agendas of those finalizing them as one collected volume, all was done under the hidden hand of God.
Here’s how it works:
One reads a passage in the bible that raises a question. “Hey, that doesn’t sound quite the way my guild expresses a certain belief” or “I wonder what that expression means in prophecy”. Like the astrologer seeing a geometric relationship between two planets and an ascendant in a horoscope and wondering how to divine their meaning.
Both the bible reader and astrologer have certain basic guidelines. They are not totally in the dark. They do have enough training and understanding of the field and a set of teachings that helps them know the directions in which to apply their enquiries. They know the final answer will conform to this basic foundation. But questions of detail remain.
They both turn to an anchoring external starting point. With the astrologer it is his client, with the bible reader it is her foundational belief system. They each search these anchors thoroughly to find the link between the anchor and the question. Sometimes some extra guidance from a more experienced guild member or more advanced written guide will be necessary.
But to avoid the impression that they are reading their own beliefs and interpretations into the scriptures (or horoscope signs) they will search the assigned field (the bible, the star chart) to find a third party word or sign that they can join up to the problematic passage in a way that “explains” it. Or at least modifies or “contextualizes” its meaning.
So whether one is predisposed to slavery or opposed to it, predisposed to the subordination of women or committed to their full equality, or predisposed to find a certain modern nation in prophecy or not, — these are the issues that will prompt the initial questions about a particular scripture. And one’s position on them will also decide what third-party scripture one chooses to tie together with the one in question in the first place. Scriptures are joined up to explain each other by one’s preconceived doctrine.
This should be obvious. It explains why different churches with different doctrines find themselves using different scriptures to explain differently the various verses in contention. Each one claims to be following the voice or explanation of God himself as he reveals his mind in the scriptures. A sense of being exclusively blessed with the (otherwise hidden = occult) truth is inevitable.
When two people independently follow this method and come up with the same answers, which of course those belonging to the same guild or set of core beliefs generally will do, that will be taken as further evidence of the truth of their esoteric “revelation”. They will identify with the core circularity of 1 John 4:6 —
We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Putting away mantic and occult Bible studies
There came a point in my bible study when I decided to try a fresh approach. Instead of studying this or that doctrine or prophecy I decided one day to study each book in the bible as a completely discrete entity. Instead of attempting to understand, say, a passage in Matthew according to a verse in, say, Paul’s letters or an Old Testament prophet, I would see how far I could go in understanding anything Matthew wrote solely within the framework of Matthew itself.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was moving from a position of letting the Bible interpret the Bible to one of letting Matthew interpret Matthew. The former is nonsensical. It assumes that the Bible had a single original author and a single original audience. The latter (using Matthew to interpret Matthew) makes sense. It is much more reasonable to begin with the assumption that a single book really did have a single author with a defined audience.
And bingo! When I came to a passage that I had long understood was “explained” by Paul or Nahum, I stopped and shelved that thought. I sought to try to use Matthew (and each book I studied this way) to enter the mind of the one who originally penned those words. That meant studying not just the immediate context, but understanding thoroughly the overall structure and thought-flow and argument or narrative of the book. And then placing “the immediate context” within that broader context of the entire composition. I was looking for coherence of argument and thought or narrative plot throughout in order to explain the whole. From this position the smaller parts would surely fall into their place. (It was not always possible to do this, and I had yet to come to terms with other issues such as allowing for the possibilities of letters being crafted artificially by later editors who sometimes joined different writings together. And I did later come to see some relationships between the different books, but those relationships had nothing to do with modern doctrines, but everything to do with literary, historical and theological dialogue.)
Suddenly bible study took on a whole new interest for me. I began to understand it in a way I had not before, and some of my former doctrinal beliefs began to fracture. I questioned my bible-college trained pastors. They knew the Bible from the church framework. They could explain it all by using scriptures here interpreting scriptures there. “Here a little, there a little”, it says in Isaiah. They knew no other way of “understanding” the Bible. The uncomfortable awareness that I knew more about what the Bible really did say than they did began to shadow me.
Soon I looked back at the way my church used scripture to explain scripture and saw their methods were no different from any other church, sect or cult. The only difference was the mediating doctrinal beliefs through which different scriptures were selected to link up with each other. Nor could I help recalling that it was the same sham method I had used to impress others with my talents as a reader of personal horoscopes!
Related post Fundamentalism defined as Occultism
Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)
- Varieties of Atheism #2 - 2023-05-21 02:18:55 GMT+0000
- Varieties of Atheism - 2023-05-20 07:10:56 GMT+0000
- The Troubled “Quiet” before the Jewish Diaspora’s Revolt against Rome: 116-117 C.E. - 2023-05-10 07:58:29 GMT+0000
If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!
3 thoughts on ““scripture interpreting scripture”, a branch of the mantic and the occult”
I enjoyed the read.
Truly a fine interpretation of interpretations and the methods these employ to communicate them to themselves and to others.
I would have liked this author to go deeper into the mechanism of the brain, suspension of disbelief, and how such suspension alters the beliefs that drive our choice of thought thus our actions.
A brilliant essay I’d say apart from the flaw in his description of what he calls his ‘sham’ stating he deliberately sought to ‘fool’ in order to prove his theory. quote”…so astounding or impressive enough to blind practitioners to the circularity of the underlying logic.” unquote
If this is correct this essay is in itself an excellent example of the same “circularity of thought.”
That said: I’d enjoy reading more from him if he goes deeper into cause and effect of these thought systems.
Thanks for the comments. I am still grappling with understanding the brain mechanisms you raise. Have read a little about the psychology of double-binds and fundamentalist/cultic thinking, denials, after-the-fact rationalisations, and am currently grappling with the evolution of what appears to be our default position of religious/spiritual belief systems. Why and how is something I’m still trying to understand.
I’m far from immune from the joys of spinning my brain around on circular rides, though I do feel some embarrassment and guilt when I am told to stop. But as for the specific example you cited here, I did not mean to suggest that at the time when I was seeking to impress others with my astrological skills that I was thinking it was a sham. I was impressed enough with the sincerity of my spurious talents at the time.
Thanks again for the comments. I wish I had remembered this post of mine when someone recently asserted the surety of some Psalms prefiguring the sufferings of Christ.
The truth is in all things.
The truth is in the simplicity of all things.
The truth is seen through the innocent one’s.
Babylon is the city….man built the tower.
The language was confused.
What a journey.