Reading The Bible For A Sign
(c) Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2007

Bibliomancy, Sortilege, Sortes Biblicae or Stichomancy is a very old form of divination involving asking a question and randomly flipping open the pages of a book, any book, and placing your finger randomly on the page. The answer to your question, the outcome of a matter, or an insight into your problem will be clarified (or further confused) by the text you have chosen. The Tarot is viewed by some as a form of Bibliomancy as Tarot is a book with no cover that contains the wisdom of the ages.

Bibliomancy is a form of divination which is common to many religions. Sacred texts, or specific words and verses, were used for healing, removing negative spirits and for trying to ascertain the future. The Hindus used the Vedas, the ancient Greeks used the works of Homer, the ancient Romans relied on the works of Ovid and Virgil. The Jews used the Old Testament, the Christians used the Old and New Testaments and the Muslims used the Koran and the Hafiz. Sometimes a book wasn't used but several pieces of paper with passages written from a particular book were randomly selected from. Early Christians used the Bible to divine their destiny using "sacred lots" - they randomly opened the Bible, selected their line and consided the passage as a Divine message to be applied to their particular problem. The widespread practice was repeatedly condemned by the Church and ordinances were passed calling for excommunication of anyone using this practice or teaching it. John Wesley and the early Methodists took this form of consulting the scriptures very seriously and it was commonly practiced.

St. Francis of Assissi is said to have sought Divine Guindance in this way in the church of St. Nicholas. Three times he opened the Bible to a random page of the Gospels and he opened to the passage in which Christ directed his Apostles to leave all of their possessions and follow him.

When Martin of Tours was named the Bishop of Tours, he was not a popular choice because he lacked charisma and a large crowd gathered to protest and cast aspersions. The following is documented in the Vita by Sulpicius Severus.

"it so happened that the reader, whose duty it was to read in public that day, being blocked out by the people, failed to appear, the officials falling into confusion, while they waited for him who never came, one of those standing by, laying hold of the Psalter, seized upon the first verse which presented itself to him. Now, the Psalm ran thus: "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise because of thine enemies, that thou mightest destroy the enemy and the avenger."

On these words being read, a shout was raised by the people, and the opposite party were confounded. It was believed that this Psalm had been chosen by Divine ordination.

In St. Augustine's Confessions he discussed his conversion to Catholicism which he stated was prompted by a voice insisting he "take up and read". The first verse he saw was Romans 13:13-14.

" I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. For I had heard of Antony, that coming in during the reading of the Gospel, he received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him: Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me: and by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee. Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence. No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away."

St. Augustine later condemned the practice totally in Epistle 55.20.37. "As to those who read futurity by taking a random text from the pages of the Gospels, it is better that they should do this than go to consult spirits of divination; nevertheless I am displeased with this custom, which turns the divine oracles, which were intended to teach us concerning the higher life, to the business of the world and the vanities of the present life."

There is also a system of Divination based on the Gospel of Mark which is contained in the Codex Bezae from the 5th Century. This copy has 69 comments written in the margins statings such things as "You will be saved from danger.", "Expect a great miracle.". "Seek something else.". "What you seek will be found." 'You will receive joy from God." These same types of interpretations are found on 8 Greek manuscript copies of the Gospel of John from the 3rd Century until the 8th Century. Another old Latin Codex from the 8th Century also has a Gospel of John with similar sayings inscribed in its' margins. Sometimes dice were case to determine page numbers as well. The Lot was used to choose Matthias as the new 12th disciple after the death of Judas Iscariot in Acts 1:26.

To utilize this form of divination you need to choose a sacred text you trust to contain the truth, be it the Bible or whatever has appeal to you and your religious belief system. Close your eyes, ask you question and balance the book in your left hand by the spine, letting it fall open naturally. Use your right index finger to randomly in a circle, move over both of the pages until you find a place that feels "right". Close the book. Do it again, asking your quesiton again, and close the book again. The third time, open your eyes and read the passage you have chosen. Three times is the charm after all.


This page was created February 2, 2007 and updated 2010-02-14.