Bibliomancy, stichomancy or libromancy is a form of divination that seeks to know the future by randomly selecting a passage from a book, frequently a sacred text.
The method of employing sacred books (especially specific words and verses) for 'magical medicine', for removing negative entities, or for divination is widespread in many religions of the world.
In the classical world the sortes Virgilianae and sortes Homerica (using the Iliad and Odyssey) were used. In the Middle Ages the use of Virgil's Aeneid was common in Europe and known as the sortes Virgilianae. Prayer and fasting were sometimes used as a preparation for a mode of consulting the divine oracles, than which nothing could be more contrary to their purpose and spirit, and which was in harmony only with the notions and practices of heathenism. Among Christians, the Bible is most commonly used (in the Sortes Sanctorum, sortes Biblicæ), and in Islamic cultures the Qur'an and Hafez. Bibliomancy was prohibited, under pain of excommunication, by the Council of Vannes, 465 a.d., and by the Councils of Agde and Orleans in the next century. It continued, however, to prevail for centuries thereafter, and is said to have been introduced into England at the Norman Conquest.
During the great witch hunt, a method of discovering whether or not a person was innocent of sorcery, was to weigh him against the great Bible in the Church. If the person weighed less than the Bible, he was innocent.
There is a prevalent practice among members of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidic movement to use the Igrot Kodesh, a thirty-volume collection of letters written by their leader Menachem Mendel Schneerson for guidance.
- A book is picked that is believed to hold truth.
- It is balanced on its spine and allowed to fall open.
- A passage is picked, with the eyes closed.
Allow your intuition to direct your choice of book. Close your eyes, concentrate on your question, and open the book at random. Open your eyes: the first words you read should form an answer to your question. You may prefer to use some form of pointer - your finger will do - to indicate the words of your omen before you open your eyes to read them.
Because book owners frequently have favorite passages that the books open themselves to, some practitioners use dice or another randomiser to choose the page to be opened. This practice was formalized by the use of coins or yarrow stalks in consulting the I Ching. Tarot divination can also be considered a form of bibliomancy, with the main difference that the cards (pages) are unbound.
Another variant requires the selection of a random book from a library before selecting the random passage from that book. This also holds if a book has fallen down from a shelf on its own. English poet Robert Browning used this method to ask about the fate of his enchantment to Elizabeth Barret (later known as Elizabeth Barret Browning). He was at first disappointed to choose the book "Cerutti’s Italian Grammar", but on randomly opening it his eyes fell on the following sentence: ‘if we love in the other world as we do in this, I shall love thee to eternity' (which was a translation exercise).
In Iran, bibliomancy using the divan of Hafez is the most popular for this kind of divination, but by no means the only kind. The Qur'an, as well as the Masnawi of Rumi may also be used. In group bibliomancy, the divan will be opened at random, and beginning with the ode of the page that one chances upon, each ode will be read in the name of one of the individuals in the group. The ode is the individual’s fal. Assigning of the odes to individuals depends on the order in which the individuals are seated and is never random. One or three verses from the ode following each person’s fal is called the šahed, which is read after the recitation of the fal. According to another tradition the šahed is the first or the seventh verse from the ode following the fal . An ode which had already been used for one individual in the group is disqualified from serving as the fal for a second time.
Divination with the Bible
Because the Bible is a sacred book, the querent is instructed to approach it with reverence and respect. Questions regarding frivolous matters are discouraged. The questioner begins the divination with a short prayer, either recited silently or spoken aloud. A clear question is then stated, again either out loud or internally. The Bible is then opened at random to find an answer on the page selected. Many practitioners open the Bible not once but three times, on the principle that "the third time is a charm." Often the eyes are kept closed while the Bible is opened. Once the page is selected, the querent allows his or her index finger to move in slow circles or figure eights until Spirit indicates the time to stop. The eyes are then opened and the portion is read.
Generally speaking, if the verse selected is positive, the answer to the question is considered to be positive, and if the verse is negative, the answer is in the negative.
Divination with the I Chin
When using the I Ching for bibliomancy, the question is asked and the eyes are closed as usual, and the book is opened either once or three times, according to the fortune-teller's preference. If the finger lands on either the Image or Judgement of a hexagram, the reading is said to consist of that hexagram with no moving lines. If the finger lands on a changing line, note is made of it, but before reading the change itself, the consultant moves backward in the book to the Image and Judgement for the hexagram indicated. After this, the selected changing line is read, and then the consultant proceeds to the final or transformed hexagram to conclude the reading.
It will be noted that when using I Ching bibliomancy, every selected hexagram will have either no changing lines or one changing line, which is not the case with traditional Chinese coin or yarrow stalk I Ching divination, in which up to six moving lines can be developed. However, despite this serious structural limitation, bibliomancy with the I Ching is quite popular in the United States of America among practitioners who have previously been habituated to Biblical bibliomancy.