Scrying: What is it?
Divination is a useful discipline for most occultists, witches, and magicians, but as most of us know, it can take many forms. Today, I would like to discuss scrying, and what makes that particular technique what it is, how it differs from other methods, because there’s been some discussion recently about what it really means to scry.
The term “scry” merely means “to see.” The word is a shortening to the 16th century term “descry,” which had the connotation of seeing something distantly, in a difficult manner, yet having the discernment to realize its nature. Oddly, the word is related to an Old French term “crïer,” which implied a proclamation of what one saw. Either way, though, in the modern lexicon, scrying is generally understood as a method of divination wherein one invites clairvoyant visions, usually via gazing at a translucent or semi-translucent medium (like the ubiquitous crystal ball), though other methods exist.
Authors often disagree, though, on what exactly constitutes scrying as opposed to another means of divination. Most would agree that using Tarot cards, runes, or another similar system of sortilege does not constitute scrying, whereas staring into a still pool of water and inducing visions would indeed be such. Donald Tyson, in his book, Scrying for Beginners, succinctly defines scrying as follows:
Scrying is the deliberate act of perceiving events that lie beyond the range of the physical senses by using the agents of the unconscious mind. The scryer is separated from the things scried by distance, by time, or by levels of consciousness. Usually visual images are scried, but it is possible to scry sounds, scents, sensations, and flavors. Any impression you can pick up with the senses of your body can also be received at a distance by your mind alone through scrying.
Donald Tyson. Scrying For Beginners (p. 3). Llewellyn - A. Kindle Edition.
This definition differs considerably from that either given or implied by other authors. For example, by Tyson’s definition, a witch who stares into flames and interprets the popping and crackling of branches thrown in as a favorable omen would be divining, but would not be scrying. Cassandra Eason, Dixie Deerman, and others, though, describe such activities specifically as scrying. Thus, there’s some lowkey controversy as to what it really means to scry.
I personally hold to the definition utilized by Tyson, just because it makes the most sense to me and is most helpful in separating what I do when I scry from what I do as a diviner in other contexts. Essentially, I argue that one is only scrying if and only if the images/symbols/impressions one receives “lie beyond the range of the physical sense.” In other words, if I’m gazing at clouds and one looks like a sheep, it may have divinatory implications, but I would not have scryed a sheep, because the sheep (or at least that which resembles it) is physically present and thus received by my normal senses, just as I might glance at a Tarot card.
The test, for me, in determining whether something is “scrying” or not would be whether others present during the process perceive the same thing. If I’m with friends and we’re all scrying in a balefire, we’re likely to all receive different visions, whereas if we’re practicing normal divinatory pyromancy, we’ll perceive the same phenomena and bursts of light, though perhaps interpret them differently.
With this, too, is the question of whether one “reads” or “sees.” If you’re reading (as I do with Tarot and Lenormand, and other systems), the symbols you’re interpreting are physically present and arrive in your mind via your normal senses. If you’re seeing, as you do when scrying, you’re receiving clairvoyant information and physicality is taken out of the equation. This definition may irk some folks, though, who might realize that, within it, things like automatic writing and closed-eye visions would be considered scrying, though there’s nary a crystal ball in sight.
To further illustrate the distinction I’m making, let’s consider two hypothetical diviners. Mary scries, whereas Amelia does not. They use similar methods/mediums and may even receive very similar information via their divination, but the techniques they’re using are quite different.
Mary and Amelia light a balefire, and Amelia reads the patterns formed by the flames, their crackling sound, and the bursts of light in search of signs for the year ahead. Mary, however, stares at the center of the flame and sees images of herself as she might be in the future. Later, the twosome burns some incense, and Amelia interprets omens within the whorls and smoke, while Mary is inundated with images arising from the smoke. In short, Mary sees what isn’t physically there, while Amelia reads what is. Both can and often do get similar impressions, but the technique is different.
In my experience, both “reading” (cards, shells, etc) and “seeing” (i.e., scrying) can be equally effective, but may not be so for everyone. Some folks will just naturally be better at one rather than the other, and this may shift over time depending on your level of practice and experience with a given method. I used to be quite adept at scrying, but my focus has shifted many times and I’m only recently regaining what I was capable of seeing before, whereas my cartomancy skills have remained steady over time just by virtue of constant practice.