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Shapes of Fire

[First published in PhotoStatic #34, February, 1989.]

Certain tribes in Central Africa foretell the future by reading the cracks in the dried shoulder blade of a sheep. The ancient Romans used a system of divination called Myomancy, the study of the damage caused by rats. Other peoples have divined the future by interpreting the patterns made by smoke in the air, or by dancing flames, or by the flight of birds in the sky.

All of these divinatory systems have one thing in common: each attempts to find a meaningful pattern in something that is essentially random and meaningless. And each, too, avows that such a pattern will have a definite relationship to the future course of human events. "Course" is the primary word here. It exposes the underlying assumption of all the divinatory sciences-that life is a kind of journey down a time/space road, a road that reveals itself to those who are properly trained in detecting its subtle presence in the most unlikely of places.

Art fosters a similar belief. Just as a meaningful pattern can be found in the tea leaf configurations in the bottom of a cup or in the star patterns twinkling in the night sky above, so the nature and purpose of our paradoxical existence is laid bare in the image of a painting or a phrase in a poem or the sequence of events in a story, to those who study such things carefully. Works of art-like the random actions of the world around us-can be, if examined in the proper way, sources of personal enlightenment.

Art and the occult are inseparable. Those who practice astrology find meaning in the myriad relationships between the stars and planets much as a television viewer can, by observing the myriad points of light on a screen and listening to the sounds from a speaker, discern a "story." The process is virtually the same.

Of course, one major difference between the patterns of the stars and those found on the television screen is that one is not intended to convey meaning and the other is. Or so we believe. But perhaps there is a logical reason behind the placement of the stars and planets in our sky. A Creator, or aliens, or an unknown physical force may have positioned them just so for a definite purpose. If so, then the astrologers may be on to something. We are all agnostics in such matters.

Since we do not know for certain whether the patterns of stars or of tea leaves or of smoke in the air are truly random, truly without meaning, we must keep an open mind. We must withhold our judgment. We must allow that, yes, there is a faint possibility that the cracks in the sidewalk may hold the key to our future lives. We must keep the door open to the chance that the clouds rolling across the heavens may be speaking to us in a language we have not yet suspected or deciphered.

Perhaps even this simple text, so easy to read and to understand, may reveal to us, if scrutinized properly and with sufficient gravity of purpose, chasms of hitherto concealed revelations.

--Thomas Wiloch