Divination by the book

There is an ancient art of divination known as bibliomancy…divination by books. It has been around a long time…the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes, has been in use for at least three thousand years, and who knows how much further back the practice began. The idea was to take a book that is considered to hold truth and allow it to point the way in random fashion.

In more recent centuries, the most common method of bibliomancy in his country used the Bible and, during our visits to churches, following the trail that led us on our adventures, Stuart and I have made a habit of consulting those Bibles we have found on the lecterns.

It isn’t true bibliomancy… we are not exactly doing it by the book…that would require us to let the closed book balance upon its spine and fall open at a random page. Many of these church bibles are old and fragile, so we content ourselves with looking at the open pages, or seeing where the bookmark is placed. The intent is not quite the same either…we do not ascribe magical powers to the printed page..at least not in that particular way… but we have found that the first verse or passage to which the eye is drawn will usually hold something pertinent to where we are on the quest.

A psychologist might suggest that the eye selects what is relevant…I wouldn’t argue with that. What is odd though, is it how frequently the selected verse will shed light on a current problem or clue on the quest. It is as if the mind knows what is needed at some deep level and uses the printed page as an interface through which the deeper levels of mind can communicate with the surface, effectively spelling out for you what you already know but do not realise or understand.

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Acts 10:47

That was the verse that caught my eye in the little church in Blore. I pondered it as I wandered the church, taking photographs and studying the mosaic of glass in the window. There were many ways to interpret the phrase beyond the obvious or literal, but, for this to have any relevance, there is usually another clue…and I found it in the window. The largest fragments show the story of St Anne teaching the Virgin to read.

It is a common motif in medieval art and the legends of Mary’s early life and the origins of those stories make interesting reading in themselves. But, spiritual and biblical interpretations aside, the verse and image combined made perfect sense. It is odd, because depending upon which translation or version of the Bible you read, the sense of this verse may be completely changed by the addition of a comma or a slight change of phrasing. In this version, the interpretation is equivocal, but I read it as saying, “What right has anyone to judge another’s readiness when we are all equal.”

Along with the image of St Anne teaching her daughter, I took that to mean that what we know, we should share…not withhold because it makes someone feel superior to have knowledge others do not possess or because we might think another is not ready to hear it. At worse, unreadiness will not have the understanding to know what to do with what it learns, at best, it will take a leap forward and grow.

It is something seen all too often, that knowledge becomes a weapon of superiority, serving nothing but the ego of the player who keeps their cards to their chest. Knowledge alone serves no purpose without the experience that brings understanding… and the verse had a point; by what right do we judge another’s worth in the bigger picture? What we see in any man or woman is no more than the tip of the iceberg; what lies beyond our vision may be far greater than we realise. We are all recipients of the Holy Spirit… our kinship with each other goes beyond the chemical and physical matter of our bodies.

Does that mean we should give every scrap of knowledge to everyone we meet, robbing them of the chance to learn it for themselves? There is another pertinent verse from the same tome that comes to mind, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. I think that therein lies the clue.

I always believed in answering the questions that my children put to me as honestly and fully as I could. I might speak in terms I knew they would understand, language relevant to their age, but I told them the truth as I understood it. Because that is another problem with exclusivity where knowledge is concerned…regardless of any personal certainties, we could be wrong.

In the Mysteries, it has always been the maxim that if a student can formulate the question, they should be answered. In practical terms, we always have the inner self to whom we can carry those questions even when there is no-one else… and such questions are always answered. Even though you may have to open a book or look at the world in order to find them.

The churches have been off the menu for a while as we have put the books aside to work on more pressing tasks. It is odd that in this, the first new church we have visited in a long time, the message should hit home so directly. Perhaps this bit of bibliomancy was also a nudge to take up our staffs and pens and get back to work.

24 thoughts on “Divination by the book

  1. I follow your train of thought completely. While you do not make judgements, you ask questions and prompt thinking. You are absolutely right. As I started to read your post, the first thought that popped into my head was Hugh Lofting, author of The Story of Doctor Dolittle. He was way ahead of his time, too. He used bibliomancy by playing a game of Blind Travel. Later in your post I could not help but think of my favorite quote by John Phillips in the 1700’s: “Goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and both united form the noblest character and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.” The mysteries and the inner self, indeed. Thank you for a great post. Apologies for rambling.

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    1. Not rambling, Jennie. Anything can become a tool for divination…it is not the properties of the object, but the engagement of the mind that holds the key. True divination is not about ‘tall, dark strangers, but about the inner journey, and anything that can help clarify and answer those questions has value. Nien times out of ten, it does so my posing more questions and bringing the attention to a focus… so we are answering the questions oiurselves.

      (I will have to dig out my copy of Doctor Doolittle…haven’t read that for many years).

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      1. Questions take the mind and the voice to many places. A tool for divination, for sure. Thank you for being a patient reader and a good listener. More importantly, thank you for planting questions.

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  2. Hi Sue, As a former librarian, I had an experience of bibliomancy with an encyclopedia. It was at a time in my life when I was in a sort of parallel universe. In any case, I had the distinct feeling of a prickly scalp and I wanted to do what I called “readings” which meant basically opening a book randomly to anything looking for messages from God. So I did just that and opened to a page with a picture of Christ and His crown of thorns. I can’t remember how I interpreted it but I knew I was “connected” to something way bigger than my mind. Still a mystery to this day. xx ellen P.S. Hope Any is okay, my love to her.

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    1. I know what you mean, Ellen, and I think that, in those moments, we touch a far deeper part of ourselves than that in which we usually live and get a glimpse into its knowing… far wider than ours.
      Ani has her head on my knee, reminding me it is her dinnertime in two minutes 😉 How that dog knows….x

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  3. I always like telling people everything I know, but it seems that most people find that stuff … um … dull. That’s the difference between real friends and other people. My real friends find all those ramblings interesting, or at least they pretend to find them interesting. The rest? Don’t.

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  4. I am reminded of the conclusion/caution from Robert A. Johnson in ‘Balancing Heaven and Earth’ – “Don’t teach an old man’s lesson to young men.” A big aha! when I read it long ago, it has proven to be a handy litmus test repeatedly.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

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