Desire and the Stars

by Darby Costello

In the 1970s I was living in Southern Africa and practising astrology in Johannesburg. The people who called to consult me came with their desires and questions, which I attempted to answer through the medium of their astrological charts, as every astrologer has done since the beginning of time. However, again and again I felt another longing beneath the desires they were voicing when they came to consult me. I found myself listening, as if with an inner ear, while I tried to divine exactly what these deeper longings and desires might be. During those years my life in Johannesburg was balanced with equal time in the African bush. Especially when travelling through deserts and other uninhabited places, deep in starry nights, I wondered what was the unspoken desire contained within the question I was so often asked, “What do the stars say?”

During those years of my apprenticeship to astrology I was fortunate to be working with Adrian Boshier at the Museum of Man and Science in Johnanesburg on a project which involved sangomas; the tribal healer-diviners of southern Africa. We travelled all over African recording and transcribing the arts and practices of different tribal ways of healing and divining. During the course of this work I became close to one or two of the female sangomas who taught me a great deal about what it was to be a diviner. They saw me as a diviner too, one who “works with the spirits” as they did, but my spirits were different to theirs. Most of the women I got to know used a method of divination which was known as “throwing the bones”. The “bones” were all sorts of small objects – bones, stones, shells, beads, engraved pieces of wood or ivory – which were gathered over a period of time and kept in a special bag. When someone arrived for a divination they were taken out and “thrown” on a mat. The subsequent pattern told the sangoma not only why the seeker had come, what they wanted, but all sorts of details about the inner and outer life of the querent.

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