What is bibliomancy? To put it simply, it’s a form of divination that uses a book or set of books instead of tarot cards, runes, crystals, tea leaves, animal entrails, and so forth.
Why use bibliomancy? Bibliomancy can help reveal that which is hidden, just as can any form of divination. Therefore, in a general sense, we use bibliomancy for the same reasons we use any form of divination. More specifically, however, let’s regard the place of bibliomancy along a continuum of divination methods. On one end of the continuum, we find what I think of as closed, or tight, methods of divination - runes, tarot, oracle decks, and other systems that involve learning a finite number of symbols. When doing a tight-style reading, you’ll likely encounter the same symbols over and over again - what will be most significant will be their context in terms of one another and the querant/s (or, as I like to call them, seekers). The more symbols there are to perceive, the more the method will be an open, or loose, system; and completely open systems include scrying, astral travel, many types of music or image divination, and bibliomancy. When engaging in these types of divination, a practitioner rarely encounters the same symbol or pattern more than once. Interpretation is still essential, but is isn’t as context-based as reading with the more closed styles of divination - or, one could say, it’s more rooted in the context of the seeker’s life than in other symbols relating to the seeker’s life.
Bibliomancy obviously belongs with the open types of divination because of the great number of possible passages that one might obtain, especially from a large set of texts. For that reason, it’s often one of the best forms of divination to select for more open, less typical questions and seekers. However, it can sometimes provide answers that are a little more cryptic, or which require more work to understand, than those given by closed-style readings.
Please note that, while it can be used by itself or with other texts for a general bibliomancy reading, most people learn a special type of divination for use with the I Ching (the Book of Changes). This typically involves the usage of coins or yarrow sticks to augment the practice of reading the book with a type of geomancy. The practice is a fascinating and meritorious one; however, since it involves much more than basic bibliomancy techniques, I have not separately addressed it elsewhere in this article.
Please also note that, despite popular belief, the Christian Bible isn’t the only book that can be used for bibliomancy. The prefix “biblio-“ is an ancestor of both “bibliomancy” and “Bible” which simply means “book” in a general sense.
Finally, please don’t assume that my choice of the terms “open” and “closed” for divination styles indicates anything either ameliorative or pejorative about said styles. I think that reading the runes or the tarot is just as valid and can offer just as much wisdom as, say, engaging in scrying or bibliomancy. To me, the chief factors in choosing a style are the type of seeker/s and the type of question/s being brought to me.
Preparation consists of two main phases - that of selecting the sources of knowledge and that of cleansing these sources and the other energies involved.
Our sources of knowledge are books, yes - but which books ought we to employ? Well, to begin with, we need a wide selection and range of content. If we’re using a book - or collection of books - that is too small, we won’t have enough content available for our guiding energies and spirits to be as specific as they need to be. This is, in fact, why I recommend using several books (I use a library of more than 5,000, but I know that isn’t an option for many) unless you’ve got a dense anthology.
But having a large amount of material isn’t the only consideration when selecting sources for bibliomancy. I might have a library of 10,000 books - but, if they’re all about botany or Catholicism or logical positivism, or if they’re all horror novels or instruction manuals or late-18th-century romances, I’ve still got a problem with range. We should ensure that our sources represent a wide range of thoughts and emotions so that our reading can.
After the proper number and range of texts has been chosen, we still need to cleanse them - and ourselves and our sacred space. You will have your own strategies and preferences for cleansing. There are entire articles on the topic in its own right, with options including anything from white light to incense to chants. For the pursuit of bibliomancy, I recommend you consider adding elements to your cleansing that reflect this practice. You may wish to consecrate magical bookmarks for the purpose of cleansing books and helping you find the passages you or your seeker/s need. You may want to call upon deities associated with writing or storytelling or learning, such as Odin or Oghma or Apollo or Thoth or Sarasvati - or deities (or, if you prefer, quasi-deities/demigods) selected from works of literature, such as Bottom the Weaver (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), the Cheshire Cat (from Alice in Wonderland) or Gandalf the White (from the Lord of the Rings novels). You may, furthermore, wish to employ a color (like yellow) or a stone (like clear quartz) or a scent (like that of frankincense) or other symbol that can heighten one or more of the aspects of reading, storytelling, studying, meditation or divination.
Locating Texts for Interpretation
For most, the process of locating texts will be a highly personal one. You might use the aid of any number of spirit guides (although you should choose your guide/s with care). You might employ mystical objects, such as bookmarks, incense, a pendulum, etc. You will also have your own process of atunement with your seeker, even if that's yourself.
One concern that most, if not all, diviners should consider presents itself in the nature of the media being utilized. I much prefer using my library of traditional, paper books to using online libraries - but others may prefer non-traditional methods. In either situation, you should consider the psychometric impressions attendant upon your books, your computer, your reading tablet, and anything else you might be using. These are objects that you likely use, or at least see, on a regular basis. They will pick up impressions from the people and events around them, and those impressions often require cleansing in order to establish a way of selecting passages that ignores the captured energy of the tool; without this cleansing, non-relevant events may intercede with your divination.
I also highly recommend that diviners find all the relevant passages first and then read them. I’ve found that my mind sometimes hijacks the divination attempt if I read each message as I receive it - it tries to tell me what I ought to be looking for instead of just letting me intuit this with assistance from my spirit guides. In addition, the act of reading can pull the diviner out of the trance that is often necessary for choosing texts; it may pull the mind up to a low beta state - or into a high alpha state from a low alpha, or lower, brainwave pattern.
A diviner can approach passages of text based on one of two general interpretative methods (or, at times, a combination of both). These are the context- and non-context-based approaches. Context-based bibliomancy juxtaposes the passages chosen with the larger texts from which they’re taken (and therefore requires a knowledge of those texts), while non-context-based bibliomancy ignores the larger context and looks only at the images that are directly relevant to the reading.
Let’s discuss a commonly known story for the sake of demonstrating both types of bibliomancy. Let’s say that a spirit guide directs us to a passage about starving children finding a treasure trove of candy. In a non-context-based reading, this passage might indicate the end of hardship, an unexpected treat, perhaps a renewal of child-like qualities. But, if we applied a context-based approach and read this passage in the context of the story of Hansel and Gretel, we might make a very different interpretation. In this latter case, we might see the passage as representative of danger in disguise or something that’s too good to be true. Obviously, whether we choose a context- or non-context-based approach makes a great impact on the outcome of a reading.
I generally find that bibliomancy can be used by itself due to the great range of possible answers one can receive to questions or other prompts (which is, for all practical purposes, limited only by the size of the library to which one has access). Therefore, I seldom find myself resorting to another means of divination when bibliomancy is the primary method. I do find, however, that sometimes bibliomancy can augment a symbol from a different sort of reading - usually when the primary divination method has fewer available symbols (that is, a system that utilizes a closed-end symbol-set such as tarot, runes or ogam).