BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Books speak to us, create worlds for us, and conjure both the questions and answers that reside within us. When we turn to books and written texts for some greater message, a message from beyond the page, we become literary witches — or bibliomancers. Bibliomancy (which goes by many other names) is the use of books in acts of divination. The goal here is to find greater wisdom, to lean into that Force or Spirit beyond and yet within the page.
Like the ancient practice of sortes (also a form of cleromancy, the use of lots for divination), the practice of divination from drawing a card or other object, bibliomancy has long had a place across cultures and in many folk traditions. Bibliomancers traditionally used the bible for divination, although grimoires and other sacred texts were also used.
According to the University of Michigan’s Romance Languages and Literatures, poetry — how delicious! — was consulted as well. The Dīvān of Ḥāfeẓ, a collection of ghazals written by the great Persian poet Hafiz, was used to seek “Tongue of the Unseen,” or messages via the poet after his death. Today, it’s still common for people to use sacred texts, like the I-Ching or the Bible to divine wisdom.
When we use poetry, of course, there is a technical term for that: Rhapsodomancy. However, bibliomancy seems to cover it for most people.
There’s even a fun intersection of the modern and the ancient over at the Bibliomancy Oracle, a simple webpage that offers up lines of poetry after concentrating and opening a “book” by clicking a button on the site. My poetry has even been included! The site says, “This Oracle selects passages from its database using a random generator. The idea being that meaningful texts are offered via synchronicity. The relevant message finds you. You only need to be open to receiving it.”
I’ve been consulting books for wisdom long before I knew what I was doing. I’d thumb through Bluets by Maggie Nelson or Rumi’s work — seeking wisdom, motivation, a message — and poetry never failed me. I’m sure you’ve done this, too, perhaps subconsciously. Not reading, per se, but seeking. Stumbling upon a stanza. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began intentionally meditating on a question before selecting a passage and journaling about the line or stanza I’d be directed to upon asking it.
Like tarot or astrology, bibliomancy asks us to lean into the mystery and examine what we’ve been told. What is revealed? What does this revelation ask of us? What sings out when we see the words before us?
In this practice, the reader opens a book, whatever book calls out to them. As a poet, I prefer poetry. The reader then may call out to a guide or spirit to direct them to passage. Then, with eyes closed, the reader selects a page and then selects a line ( at least this is how I do it; although I am secular, so I work with no entity or deity). From there, the given line can be taken as wisdom, an omen, or a sign. Intuit this. Sometimes, people place the book on its spine and let it fall open (this was traditionally done with the bible, according to some research).
Although there are many approaches to bibliomancy, it is best that you create your own approach. Poems offer the most beautiful and mysterious answers to those questions we hold quiet and deep within us, I believe. In their ability to span the liminal parts of the self — the unsaid, the almost-said, the said-between-the-lines — poems offer great wisdom. Perhaps the spirit of the poet is there to direct you as well.
Poems are little written oceans, in which we dive deep, hungry to reach the bottom. Perhaps there is no bottom and that is the answer. Perhaps it’s the journey that matters.
When you let the book fall open, investigate what a line could mean in the context of your life. What images does it bring to mind? How does it make you feel? What does it force you to think about that perhaps you had not before?
Here, I’ll be doing that for you — for each of the sun signs.
The method: I’ll be opening a poetry book every two weeks and asking for wisdom for each every sign. I will put myself into a receptive, trance-like state (I believe being loose, open, and connected yields the most accurate answers), close my eyes, call out the sign I’m asking about, thumb through the pages of a book, and let my fingers guide me to a line.
It is up to you to reflect the line assigned to your sun sign. Journal about it, meditate on it and listen to the way it reverberates through your mind. Let it stay with you. Write it down and carry it with you.
And at the very least, you’ll discover a new poet.
Our poet is Etel Adnan, and we draw on her book, NIGHT.
My breathing is a tide. Love doesn’t die.
Memory is intelligent. It’s a knowledge seated neighter in the senses, nor the spirit, but in collective memory. It is communal….it helps us rampage through the old self, hang on the certitude that it has to be.
What we mean by “God” is that He is night. Reality is night too. From the same night.
Words trace their way to the ocean. From the ridge facing this house, signals take off, scaring us, but a large stride, a deep breath, restores tranquility.
Love creates sand-storms and loosens reality’s building stones. Its feverish energy takes us into the heart of mountains.
One day, the sun will not rise at its hour, therefore that won’t be a day. And without a day, there won’t be a night either.
Are the rockets shooting for the moon killing invisible animals on their way?
Everything I do is memory. Even everything I am.
Sometimes the sea catches fire.
We create reality by just being. This is also true for the owl who right now is dozing on a branch.
Our mind has a border line with the universe, there, where we promenade, and where tragedy resides.
Memory is within us and reaches out, sometimes missing the connection with reality, it's neighbor, its substance.
For more on poetry, divination and magical writing, preorder my forthcoming book, THE MAGICAL WRITING GRIMOIRE.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine--a digital diary of literature and magical living. She is the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times," a modern collection of inspired rituals and daily practices, as well as the forthcoming book, "The Magical Writing Grimoire: Use the Word as Your Wand for Magic, Manifestation & Ritual." She's written for Refinery 29, The New York Times, Self, Chakrubs, Marie Claire, Narratively, Catapult, Sabat Magazine, Healthline, Bust, Hello Giggles, Grimoire Magazine, and more. Lisa Marie has taught writing and ritual workshops at HausWitch in Salem, MA, Manhattanville College, and Pace University. She earned a Masters's degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University.