Raphael’s Handbook of Divination

Raphael had a particular fondness for publishing little handbooks full of tables used for divination. In his Raphael’s Book of Fate: Whereby all Questions may be Answered Respecting the Present and Future he offered handful of different methods of divining the future, most of which used a standard playing deck, some reckoning, and some cross-referencing in the tables. Of these different methods, the ones he preferred were “The Grand Oracle of Fate” and “The Grand Oracle of Human Destiny.”

The title of Raphael’s The Book of Fate: Whereby all Questions may be Answered Respecting the Present and Future seems rather promising.

Despite his frequent reference to fate and destiny, Raphael seemed to have an odd relationship to divination. He claimed that divination did not reveal our fate but rather allowed us to know the future, which we could somehow shape. Just like astrology might show us a future misfortune or evil, that knowledge “creates as it were, a loophole for us to escape from the evil.” It seems he thinks that if we did or did not like the divined answer, we could use this foreknowledge to influence to some extent whether or not it happened. How we might go about shaping our future he does not say.

Raphael’s “The Grand Oracle of Fate” was a simple technique that required a deck of cards and consulting his tables. First, the enquirer had to determine which domain of life was important and then select the question from that domain. There is remarkably little choice here. The twelve signs of the zodiac influenced twelve domains of life. Each sign therefore governed a question.

Signs of the zodiac influence different aspect of life, and govern different questions.

Suppose, for example, the enquirer wanted to know something about the future promotions, wealth, or fortune. Those topics are controlled by Libra, which governs the question: “Inform me whether I shall ever be Promoted, Wealthy, or Fortunate?” At this point, the inquirer would shuffle the deck three times, then cut the deck, and look at the bottom card. Suppose the inquirer cut to a 7 of Diamonds. The next step was to find the number that corresponded to that card by looking in “The Mystic Table of the Numbers of the Cards,” where the inquirer finds that the 7 of Diamonds is number 31.

The Mystical Table of the Numbers of the Cards is the key to Raphael’s Book of Fate.

Then, turning to Oracle 31 (i.e., table 31), the inquirer looks down the table to Libra, since that is the sign that governed the question, and finds “After marriage, want will not come near thee.” I guess that is reassuring, if vague.

Oracle XXXI, the table that corresponds to the number assigned to the 7 of Diamonds.

Looking across some of the other possible answers to that question, they range from the vague to the very specific. Cut to the 9 of Clubs and you can look forward to a rich relative leaving you a bunch of money. Cut to the Jack of Hearts and you’ll have “more wealth than brains to know how to use it.” Cut to the 4 of Hearts and “be contented with thy lot, and seek not after this world’s goods.” That doesn’t sound too promising.

These little books don’t in themselves indicate how seriously we should take them. On the surface, it seems the late 19th-century was rather easily duped. Who would take these seriously? They seem like parlor games, diversions more than divinations. The line between game and divination might not have been all that clearly drawn. The late 19th century also witnessed the advent of talking boards, at times used by mediums to communicate with the spirit world, which in the 1890s became the ouija boards. Raphael’s divination by cards and tables fits nicely into a world that accepts the intervention of spirits and power of the omniscient soul to guide the passive mind, whether it moves a hand holding a planchette or guides a hand to cut the deck in a particular spot.