Book Review

Listening to the Oracle
by Dianne Skafte, Ph.D.

reviewed by Edward Sublett

Have you ever had a dream that made all the difference in the world, been to a place that spoke to you, made you feel at home for the first time, locked eyes with an animal and sensed a presence, something spoken between yourself and that other being, ever sensed a meaning in a random word spoken by someone, perhaps a stranger in a crowd that had special relevance to your life?  Then you will find illuminating what Dr. Dianne Skafte has to say in her book, Listening to the Oracle.  The last of these occurrences, the discovery of personal meaning in a random spoken word was known in Greek as a cledon, an oracle upon which the ancient Greek historian Herodotus said even kings depended.  Information like this abounds in the historical overview that Dr. Skafte provides the reader in her new book, but is much more than that.

The book is also about Dr. Skafte's personal journey toward her own sensitive, oracular way of finding guidance in the signs and symbols of the world, and bringing to us the message delivered to her by an exploding flower that “Oracles are coming back into the world.”  And what is this oracular sense that Dr. Skafte is talking about?  She says it is “To receive… guidance, knowledge, or illumination from a mysterious source beyond the personal self”(3).  To do this she demonstrates in this book how we must be open to the signs and symbols around us in our everyday life.

Written in readable, graceful prose, the book abounds in interesting and illuminating stories, personal anecdotes, historical review, and contemporary experiences.  But she is not merely content with historical review, and the narration of intriguing stories of contemporary individuals illustrating her theme, it is a veritable “how-to” book on meditations and imaginable exercises to awaken an oracular sense in one's own life in order to, as Dr. Skafte says, “restore ancient bands with the matrix of life.”(235)

Her book provides an overview of methods of divinations throughout history, from Biblical times to contemporary Shamanic practices and contemporary uses of cards and the I Ching.  She provides advice as how to properly approach the use of various methods of divination.  In the chapter titled “Listening to the Oracles of the Earth” she writes about how we must attune ourselves to listening to the earth and its creatures for answers to modem dilemmas, observing that we live in an “ensouled world”and need to perceive “everything around us as truly alive”(193).  It is in this chapter that she deals with our modern society’s refusal to look at death and the oracles that come from reflection on, and relationship to, those who have gone before.  She notes how the news media is full of images of murder, but dead bodies are quickly whisked away.  As she says, “Killing is acceptable but the dead are off limits.  Our deepest terrors are revealed by peering into our taboos” (221).  People no longer honor their ancestors and commune with their loved ones in graveyards.  Once we experience and recognize this fear of death, terror follows but, if contained in a ritual framework, new vitality follows, and from “…a psychoanalytic perspective, we might say that the energy we had used to repress our fear of death is now liberated and can be used for living life.”

She writes about the Delphi Oracle and the Sibyls of Classical times, and sensitively about that Sibyl of our own time, Rachael Carson, and how “Sibylline figures live among us todaymen and women who raise their voices to warn that the green of earth is turning gray, that the nymph-infused waters are drying up (and with them our life's wellsprings).”

In the last chapter, “ Making a Place for Oracles in Everyday Life”, she observes that from this sense of an “ensouled” world, that “Oracles come to us abundantly when we notice how much soul everything has” (228).  She then goes on to provide a series of exercises or meditation to awaken an oracular consciousness of the world, making one sensitive to the messages of the signs and the symbols around us that can provide us with guidance in our daily lives.  Each exercise is simply explained with explanations of its purpose.

For those looking for logical explanations for the answers oracles provide, Dr. Skafte gives her thoughts regarding intellectual answers for oracles, such as when she relates the story of Annie who went to the beehives she tended and told the bees her problems and somehow found comfort and satisfaction.  Dr. Skafte provides rational explanations for this but as she observes “In any case, these communications gave Annie beneficial assistance and comfort all her life.”  Those familiar with C. G. Jung’s lifelong interest in what is frequently called the paranormal, and his interest in the I Ching, will recall how he maintained an open mind to the unexplainable which presented itself empirically to him.  Nor is Dr. Skafte unaware of the problems presented by na´ve acceptance of divination and other oracles.  Chapter 5, “The Shadow Side of Oracles” deals with this issue in depth, and throughout the book she provides thoughtful and critical advice concerning divination and oracles, even providing suggestions regarding consulting a psychic reader.

In summary, this is a thoroughly engaging book, lucidly written and communicating a deep passion for the transpersonal aspects of our lives.  Perhaps, to best express it in her own words, these oracles provide a sense of abiding companionship.  They know us, these uncanny ‘others’ who show themselves in dreams, signs, and wonders.  They are the strangers who are not strange… each time they make an appearance, I discover once again that something more intimate than a lover shares this life field with me” (255).

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