J is for Junk Oracle


This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the second one for the letter J. While I certainly don’t want to stop the discussion that is going on at the last PBP post I wrote, I still want to get almost back on schedule with the project. This one is going to be a bit more light-hearted. It will also have more colorful pictures.

About two years ago, a member of the Aeclectic Tarot forum suggested doing an exchange of what she called “Flotsam and Jetsam oracle items.” Which of course begs the question: what on earth is a “Flotsam and Jetsam” oracle? They are more commonly known as Found Oracles or Junk Oracles. They are a bunch of things that were found/randomly acquired and that often would otherwise be considered worthless trash, used for oracular purposes. These things can be anything that’s fairly small which can be kept in a bag and dropped on a surface without breaking. Things like shells, old buttons, Lego minifigs, bones, marbles, small pieces of wood, Barbie accessories, broken pendants, crystals, plastic animals, stones, single earrings, badges, and so on (there’s a longer list in the link above). You need a fair amount of them to make up a good Junk Oracle, about as many as there are cards in an oracle or tarot deck (which means something between 35 and 80, although there really is no upper limit).

So where does the idea of a Junk Oracle come from? As far as I know, it has been inspired by divination practices like lithomancy (using stones/crystals), osteomancy (using bones), garoche (“tossing”),  Angolan/Chokwe divination baskets and other personal oracles/divination tools. What these methods have in common is that they use a collection of (usually differently-shaped) items that are then cast and read. Other than that, there are great variations in content and reading methods depending on the culture they come from.

How do you read with a Junk Oracle? We have come up with a variety of drawing and reading methods for our own Junk Oracles. You can draw a set number of items unseen from the container you keep them in. You can cast the items you drew (or even all of them) on a reading surface and then read any patterns you see (clusters, lines, groups, shapes…). You can use a reading cloth with marked areas that add meaning to the items that land there. You can let someone pick a number of items deliberately and then read them. You can assign set meanings to each item (here‘s an example for that), or you can read completely intuitively and go with whatever comes up during a specific reading. I’m pretty sure there are many other methods that also work.

At any rate, I ended up participating in the exchange, which was a lot of fun. Basically, we split into a handful of groups made up by a handful of people each (to keep overseas shipping costs down). Everyone then sent a little package of about five items to every other member of their group and in return got something from each of them. We were able to give some pointers such as “no plastic,” “no Christian symbology,” or “no animal parts” to each other, of course, so that no one got something they found seriously problematic and/or useless. I got an interesting selection of oracular items from my group (together with notes about the background stories of each item) and have used the resulting oracle with success. Here’s what I got, from four people from three different continents.

But I want to talk about another Junk Oracle today. It happened as something like a side effect of that exchange. You see, when we were sharing what items we would and wouldn’t like, several people mentioned they’d rather not have any plastic items as parts of their oracles. There seemed to be the underlying idea that plastic was a less worthy material than wood, glass, bone, or crystal because plastic wasn’t “natural” and that it therefore would be less useful as an oracle piece. There also were unspoken suggestions that an oracle like this should best consist of old and mysterious items laden with history. Of course that immediately made me want to create an oracle of the most plastic-y, trashy, pop-cultural items I could find.*

After some digging through some of my boxes and drawers with random stuff, nicking a few things from my nephew’s Lego collection (hey, it used to be at least half my Lego collection until I moved out of my parents’ house!), and buying more Kinder Surprise eggs than I usually would, I ended up with my Plastic Junk Oracle of 41 items (so far). I keep them in a bag made out of two really ugly fabrics (it was meant to be nothing but a test of the sewing pattern). The whole thing still feels very provisional, but that doesn’t keep me from using it every now and then.

This is how it looks. (I only just now noticed that the lining of the bag makes it look like a trash bag – how appropriate!)

Here’s an example reading, to give you an idea of how these things could work. I asked what I needed to know about my first few months of being deliberately jobless (which will start the first of July).

I reached into the bag of well-mixed items and grabbed a small handful of them unseen. I then dropped them onto a piece of folded-up fabric that provided a nondistracting background and a bit of padding. Six items are part of the reading, one of which landed next to the reading area (that’s the table of my sewing machine in the background).

The first two that draw my attention are the roof-down plastic ski hut and the owl right next to it. To me, these suggest a friend of mine who lives in a wooden house and has a special relationship to owls. Seems like she will play a role during that time – hopefully not by turning her house upside-down for me! The owl also symbolizes wisdom to me, so maybe this friend will have some valuable advice for me. Then again, the owl is also turned upside-down, so maybe I have to twist and turn round what she says in my mind a bit until it makes sense to me.

Then there is a Lego minifig of a red-haired female warrior with two axes. In this reading, she represents me (I picked her hair when I assembled her in the local Lego shop because it is most similar to my own, although my shade is more rust than tomato). For some reason, one of the axes looks like a shovel to me today, suggesting I may have to dig deeply. She’s also lying flat on her face, so I hope that doesn’t mean I’ll fall flat on mine! If I do, however, I will have to dig out myself. What’s more, the reason could just as well be my wanting to “go with my head through the wall” (a German idiom suggesting stubbornness to the point of hurting oneself).

It is most closely to a small padlock, with the keyhole side down. So maybe the approach of digging my way towards it through the ground/wall isn’t so bad after all! Sometimes, the best way is not the shortest one. The padlock once locked a diary of mine, which reminds me to journal about this process of digging.

The final item on the reading surface is a woman with a snake wrapped around her. She has a fierce expression and a fish necklace. I think she originally was some kind of sea monster. Clearly, she is not to be messed with. I read the snake both as a symbol of her power and as something that confines her like the swords in the Rider-Waite-Smith version of the Eight of Swords card do. So she is limiting herself with what she thinks about her own power. Looks like she may need a nudge to unleash it, even if doing so may not make her everybody’s friend (and even make her seem “dangerous” to some). Luckily, this figure makes a triangle with the Lego minifig and padlock, so I’d say that the digging and journaling may just end up helping me unlock my own power.

And then there is the item that landed next to the fabric. It’s a tiger in a blue sweater with a question mark logo and something like a diving mask. He stands with his arms and legs akimbo. He looks a bit like a superhero who forgot his cape (and pants). To me, this suggests that there will be no one waiting to save me, but that I need to dig out myself on my own (wise advice nonewithstanding). Since this figure landed to the top/north of the reading area, it could also mean that there is someone (like a guardian spirit or ancestor) watching over me although they won’t directly interfere with what’s going to happen.

To sum things up: The central item of the reading is the padlock, so I’m apparently meant to unlock something. I may have to go about it in a somewhat circuitous way, but that’s what will make the most sense to me. If I’m successful, it will help unleash a part of my power that I’m not accessing right now. My friend with the wooden house and owl connection may offer advice or something like a touching point or launchpad (the house originally could shoot out a skier), but the work will still all be mine to do.

I hope I have been able to give you an idea of how reading a Junk Oracle could work. Maybe you even feel inspired to create your own? Here’s another picture of mine, spread out in all its plastic-y, trashy, pop-cultural glory.

* (By the way, elf has written a great article about the “naturalness” of plastic. I found it through a mention in the comments of A Changing Altar’s recent post about synthetic things in Pagan practice.)


Edited to add (24 May 2012):

Juniper from Walking the Hedge also has a really good post about her ‘collection’ (as she calls it), complete with a description, picture and drawing (great idea!) of a reading she did with it.


9 responses »

  1. I have a lot of Kinder Surprise stuff somewhere…. that would be a neat idea… hah, I think I dig the stuff out and give it a try. Cool blog, Cat!

  2. Thank you for this fantastic post, and the example is so concrete. I used to do something similar as a child but I forgot. It’s fascinating, I wish I could try again.

  3. My brain I guess ;) I feel like this period is over, since I did it naturally and it was great. It seems (brain?) to be out of my reach… I feel like I have less imagination, less natural “sight” for these things. But maybe it’s false ? I have written down on a post it that I should work on this question, gathering pieces of junk or anything (wood, whatever) to constitute a new kind of game.

  4. In my experience, a playful approach often works wonders in making things happen. May I suggest picking a bunch of objects you find a little silly (so they don’t weigh you down with a heavy burden of meaning before you’ve even started) and then trying to come up with silly and exaggerated ideas of what they could mean as a way to ease back into things? I know someone who read with animal crackers once… ;-)

  5. My first experience with divination of any kind was a “divination box” that my kindergarten teacher put together. (She didn’t call it that, and the divination aspect happened almost by accident, but after all these years I still think that was the intent, and it’s almost the only thing I remember about the class). Anyway, she would walk around the room with the box (we weren’t allowed to look in it) and each person would pull something out. We were supposed to identify the object, spell its name, and say something about it (whether we liked the color, what we thought it was for, or whatever). Everyone’s attention was riveted, wondering what each person would choose and whate they’d say, and what it meant. Of course it was all just toys and plastic junk, but I loved the whole exercise.

    When I was a child, I stayed with my grandparents for a week or two each summer. Grandma and I never went anywhere or did anything without consulting the infallible Magic 8 Ball.

    I have several little collections of stones and other natural objects that I “throw” once in awhile, but I’ve never posted pictures of them.

  6. Thank you for coming over and taking the time to share your stories!

    I once did bibliomancy-as-writing-prompts as part of a presentation I did in a creative writing class I took at university – the effects were strikingly similar to the ones you describe for your kindergarten class. Even though not everyone loved it, no one was left cold by it.

    I’d love to see your “object oracle” if you ever feel like showing it to the public!

    As I was thinking about “object oracles” again today when I read the post by Juniper about hers (link is added to the bottom of this post), I’m now thinking of making another one. One that is all “mine,” slowly and lovingly put together. I especially enjoy the tactile aspect of such oracles (although the Plastic Junk Oracle isn’t a big winner in that department if my fingers do the judging).

  7. I love this! I have always been a collector of little objects and bringing some together in this way greatly appeals to me. I am totally doing this tomorrow….thank you for the wonderful post and oracle idea.

  8. Pingback: Junk Oracle | The World According to ChinaCat

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