Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bibliomancy as divination

A friend of mine recently described using a common technique for reading the Holy Scriptures: opening the book to a random page and reading whatever catches the eye first. I've heard this called "fleecing the Bible." As authority for this practice we have no less a figure than St. Augustine, who understood the angelic command "Tolle, lege!" ("Take, and read!") in this way (Book VIII, Confessions). He even reports that at the time, his recollection of Abba Antonius "fleecing the Bible" led to his interpretation of the command.

All of this is perfectly traditional and orthodox. What struck me, though, about my friend's report, is that she called the practice "bibliomancy," using the same Greek suffix as other divination practices: geomancy, cartomancy, etc. This made me realize the common thread: seeking Divine inspiration by using chance to quiet the rational mind temporarily, allowing new conclusions to come forth.

Bibliomancy helped St. Augustine reach a decision he knew he needed to make, but did not want to. I've seen the practice abused as well, as a way of avoiding a necessary rational decision. If "original sin" darkens the will utterly, then we could never decide what to eat for breakfast without sinning! In any case, the point is that "bibliomancy" is really just another "-mancy": the only difference is the symbol set from which one picks.