BIBLIOMANCY [BIB-lee-oh-man-see]: the act of opening a book at random and seeking knowledge at random on the page revealed

People bibliohave been fascinated with the future for many centuries.  At some point in the past humans began to understand that there was such a thing as the future.  After all,it is a complex thought, and it took the human brain some level of development before such a complex idea could take shape.

But once it took shape, the fascination with the future blossomed.  Among a number of civilations there arose “wise ones” who were seen to have been gifted with the ability we have come to know as divination.  It is the ability to read the future and identify it to others.   They came to be known as seers, prophets, and fortune tellers.    They are all practicioners of that which we have identified as divination.   In some civilizations divination took on a spiritual quality and became merged with religious practice.

In mainline religious communities, however, the practice of divination  has been scorned, placing it firmly within the practice of what we call magic.   It is within this context that we stumble upon the practice known as bibliomancy.   It is a form of divination  in which the person is instructed to  select a book, preferably a holy book such as a Bible, Koran, or other religious book.  A thought (or prayer) is offered seeking inspiration about a specific topic.  The person places the book on its spine and lets it fall open and, sometimes with eyes closed, allows the finger to point to a random place on the page.   What is written there is supposed to be a divine message answering the question.

If this sounds a little spooky to you, let me share another scenario with you.   A pastor is prepared to select the scripture for the day’s worship service.   He does the same thing, believing that God will lead him to the words that he is to speak in his sermon that day.  Bibliomancy is alive and well in today’s world, as this is exactly what occurs in many religious communities on a regular basis.   It is most common in independent church settings where fundamentalism and other simplistic teaching methods are practiced.

Bibliomancy is a non-scholarly and superstitious practice which is about as relevant to theology as the Ouija Board, dice-throwing, and snake-handling.   In most cases it is harmless when a person uses it as a way of reading a religious text, but when employed by a spiritual leader as a method of teaching and preaching, it is a careless and lazy way of approaching the important task of preaching.   In mainline Christian communities, for instance, the ordained leadership employs a lectionary, a scholarly collection of assigned lessons to be read and depended upon for preaching.   It is based upon a system of teaching which is systematic and is not dependent upon the personal whims of the preacher.  This is not a specifically Christian method; it is employed in Judaism and Islam, for instance, in which specific lessons from scripture are assigned for specific days of the year.

Bibliomancy is a word which is derived from Latin, in which biblio refers to “book” and “manteia” makes reference to “divination.”   While the word is first found in the 18th century, the practice is as old as the eras of the Greek philosophers Homer and Virgil.  I have to admit that I had never heard of the word until it was suggested to me through a colleague of my daughter.   I don’t think I’ve had as much energy about pursuing a word as I have this one, however.  It struck a nerve with me!

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Illustration Credit:  word info

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