Bibliomancy: What Are Sacred Books?

This is the third of a three-part series that I wrote on bibliomancy that was originally posted on tumblr in January 2013.

I touched on this in my original post, but I don’t think I did the topic justice, so it gets its own post. So here we go.

Traditionally, sacred books are used for bibliomancy. For a Christian, this means the Holy Bible. Other notable sacred books are the Torah and the Koran, but all three of these are for Abrahamics. Though, admittedly, anyone can use those books for bibliomancy, of any kind. If that’s what you want to do, more power to you.

For a Pagan, polytheist, and all variations thereof, though, these books might not necessarily work, and I think there’s a very easily determined answer for that: they aren’t necessarily sacred to you.

Let me explain.

We could argue all day on what it means to be sacred, but at the end of the day, what it boils down to is what is sacred to you. What do you find sacred? What books hold sacred meaning to you? Obviously, that answer is going to differ from individual to individual. What I find sacred and what you, the reader, find sacred aren’t going to always match up. And I think that’s a good thing because it means that, in the end, anything can be sacred. And that’s okay.

But this is about books.

I realized the problem with my initial post as I was reading Satsekhem’s post “Adventures in Bibliomancy” over on her WordPress blog, specifically this paragraph:

I have a lot of books and I spent a good while perusing my bookshelves. Even though the stuff that I’ve read from Dodger and from other websites talked about using a sacred book, I wasn’t willing to try any of my other magical texts or historical books. This wasn’t supposed to be anything more than fun, right? I was supposed to be happy about working with a new divination system, right? So, I went to my fiction books and my hand snagged on Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. This book is pretty much sacred to me, which I felt made it damn appropriate. This book has walked me through some of the most severe depression bouts imaginable in my teenager years and I re-read the entire series every summer. (It reminds me of summers in Misquamicut, actually, since I usually took the book with me when we went on vacation.)

The issue here, I think, is that when someone says the word “sacred” they tend to think books with high holy value, books that have served as the foundation of a spiritual or religious practice throughout the ages. Now, you can use those types of books, but as Satsekhem points out earlier in her post, those books probably won’t have the same effect when you go to do your readings.

Why?

Well, I have a theory.

On the one hand, “holy books” have high value to an individual. They’re special in and of their own right and they have a lot of good things to say. On the other hand, the things they have to say tend to be dedicated to spiritual and religious practice in some way, shape, or form. And while they’re sacred, they aren’t necessarily going to be the same kind of sacred as Ender’s Game is to Satsekhem.

Have I confused you?

Here’s the thing about books: (most) books are art and art is a form of human expression. Most books detail the human experience in a variety of ways, but sacred books like the Bible to a Christian or the Book of the Dead to a Kemetic aren’t going to detail the same kind of human experience as a novel. They might not detail humans at all, instead gods or mythic creatures or animals of all kinds, but they’re still, inevitably, written by man and man has to find a way for those books to make sense to others or at least to themselves later on. Yes, traditionally sacred books speak to us in some way; if they didn’t, we wouldn’t regard them as sacred. That’s the whole point. But, as Satsekhem points out in her post, there’s a sort of disconnect between her feelings towards the Book of the Dead and Ender’s Game.

Enter nontraditionally sacred books.

When someone asks you what’s your favourite book, you probably have a general answer: one person might say a Harry Potter book; another might say The Fellowship of the Ring. But let me ask you a different question: what book changed your life? What book moved you in ways that no other book has? What book do you find yourself going back to again and again, that you love unconditionally, that you regard as a dear friend?

If you have an answer, congratulations: you have a sacred book.

This might not make sense to you, and to be honest, that’s okay. It’s 3:30 in the morning here so some of what I’m saying here might seem…off, or weird, or just downright wrong. But I’m going to continue writing anyway. If you have a problem with something I said here, let me know. My inbox is always open.

So now you have a sacred book that’s not Sacred, big S, like a high holy book. It still means something to you. You probably have a very well-worn copy at home that you thumb through at least once a year, revisiting old characters and places that make you smile and laugh, cry and rage. So now the question is “Can I use this for bibliomancy?”

Yes! Yes, you can!

The thing about bibliomancy is that it tends to work with almost any book. (I’ve yet to try it with a cookbook, so I cannot verify all books.) You could literally pick something off your bookshelf at home and start doing bibliomancy with that right now. Go on, try it. I’ll wait.

Did you try it? How did it work?

If it worked well, great! If it didn’t, well, you might wonder why not.

I’ve found that bibliomancy tends to work best with books you have some kind of relationship with, books you’re fond of in some way. I use my Annotated Brothers Grimm because it gives me good reading and the variety of stories in there means I get a balance of possible answers. Satsekhem uses Ender’s Game because it means something special to her. Dusken uses The Last Unicorn because she enjoys it.

It might take you awhile to find a book that works well for you, and that’s okay. Trust me, it’s worth it in the end if you’re willing to work at it. Sometimes it takes awhile to find the right book, but when you do find it, you’ll know. It’s a little like finding just the right Tarot deck: this one doesn’t have the right energy; that one might not have pictures appropriate for the querent; another might just seem silly to you. But, if you’re willing to search and work at finding the perfect Tarot deck, why not do the same for your books?

I can almost promise you that, in the end, it’ll be worth it.

Almost.

Good luck.

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