Often, specific words and phrases are of the utmost interest to those practicing bibliomancy. They can be used to remove dangerous energies and entities and find solutions to any problem. It will depend on the person practicing bibliomancy as to which book they turn to.
Definition of Bibliomancy
Bibliomancy is the use of books to tell the future, provide answers, and give guidance. Usually, the book chosen is one that holds special significance. The Bible is the most common choice, but all sacred texts have been used at one time or another. It will vary depending on the culture. In the Middle Ages, Virgil’s Aeneid was often the book of choice. Sometimes, practitioners associated different methods of choosing pages with different books. For example, yarrow stalks with the I Ching.
The word “bibliomancy” was first used in 1753. It comes from the Greek meaning “book” and “divination by means of.” Historically, the practice dates back to Roman and Greek civilizations and perhaps even earlier. The Romans uses “sortes,” an early name for bibliomancy that included the selection of a single line or passage from a book. Sortes Vergilianae and Sortes Homericae used the works of Virgil and Homer. Later, Christian monks, as noted by Learn Religions, used the saints and the gospels for Sortes Sanctorum. Christians often turned to the Bible and Jews to the Torah as their source for bibliomancy.
How Does Bibliomancy Work?
The practice of bibliomancy changes depending on who is using it. But, most commonly, it follows these steps:
- A book is chosen that holds some significance for the predictor or the person whose fate is being foretold.
- The book is opened to a random page. Sometimes, it is balanced on its spine and allowed to fall open.
- With eyes closed, someone picks a random passage or line.
This line is determined to shed light on that person’s situation. It could provide an answer to a question, tell them something about their future, or give them direction.
Examples of Bibliomancy in Literature
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
In this famous science fiction novel, Dick provides readers with a great example of bibliomancy. Throughout the novel, readers will encounter references to the I Ching, or the Book of Changes, an ancient Chinese divination text. It’s used by characters, like Frank, Juliana, and Tagomi, in different times and plot lines. They receive different fortunes, some of which are hauntingly similar to one another. It’s even reported that Dick consulted the I Ching when he was writing the novel. Consider these lines from page 13 of the book:
Random, and yet rooted in the moment in which he lived, in which his life was bound up with all the other lives and particles in the universe. The necessary hexagram picturing in its pattern of broken and unbroken lines the situation. He, Juliana, the factory of Gough street, the Trade Missions that rules, the billion chemical heaps in Africa that were now not even corpses, the aspirations of the thousands around him in the shanty warrens of San Francisco.
Here, the character Frank is using the I Ching in order to figure out what his next moves are. He contemplates whether he’ll see Juliana again and is given a negative answer.
Michale Strogoff by Jules Verne
In Michale Strogoff by Jules Verne, there is an interesting passage in which bibliomancy is used to decide the main character’s fate. Towards the end of the book, Feofar points to the Koran at random, choosing a page that decides Michael’s fate. The passage she points to includes the quote:
And he will no more see the things of this earth.
It was with this random act that it was decided Michael should be condemned to blindness. Interestingly, this is not a fate that Michael actually has to suffer, although the reader is led to believe that’s the case.
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
In this 1868 epistolary novel, readers will find one of the first examples of a detective novel. When it was first published, it appeared in serialized form. It follows a young English woman who inherits a diamond of religious importance. The story follows the legend of the Hope Diamond. It is stolen from her home, and a series of tumultuous events follows. In this novel, there are numerous characters and themes related to another book, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. It was published in 1719 and was incredibly popular at the time. Consider these lines from The Moonstone:
When my spirits are bad—Robinson Crusoe. When I want advice Robinson Crusoe. In past times, when my wife plagued me; in present times, when I have had a drop too much—Robinson Crusoe. I have worn out six stout. Robinson Crusoe hard work in my service. On my lady’s last birthday she gave me a seventh. I took a drop too much on the strength of it; and Robinson Crusoe put me right again.
Here, Gabriel Betteredge is describing his appreciation for the novel and how, when he needs advice, he turns to it. This is a great example of bibliomancy. The novel provides him with guidance in his darker and more confusing moments.
Bibliomancy is a form of divination that uses books.
When you reference something in literature, it is known as an allusion. A writer could allude to a historical event, thing, person, another literary work, or anything else.
Logomancy is the use of words and discourse as a form of divination. It depends on the power of words and language.
To practice bibliomancy, the practitioner chooses a meaningful book, opens it to a random page, points (with eyes closed) to a passage, and uses it as a way to answer their questions or predict the future.
Bibliomancy was used similarly throughout history. It changed depending on the time period and which books were considered important. For example, in the Middle Ages, it was not unusual to see practitioners using Homer’s works or Virgil’s Aeneid.
Related Literary Terms
- Imagery: the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. These are the important sights, sounds, feelings, and smells.
- Foreshadowing: refers to the hints a writer gives a reader about what’s going to happen next. It’s a common literary device that’s used every day.
- Allegory: a narrative found in verse and prose in which a character or event is used to speak about a broader theme.
- Innuendo: an indirect observation of an event, person, thing, or idea. It is not stated clearly or obviously.
- Induction: a conclusion that’s reached after the analysis of facts. The conclusions might be right or wrong, but it depends strongly on the logic of the premises.
- Mythopoeia: a genre of modern literature (and film) that refers to the creation of artificial mythology.