The Millions

Hearing Voices and Talking Back: On Bibliomancy

I. Bibliomancy is a form of divination in which one consults a book for answers and advice. The process is simple:

  1. Stand the book up on its spine.
  2. Ask your question.
  3. Let the book fall open to a random page.
  4. With your eyes closed, place your finger on the open page.
  5. The passage on which your finger lands contains your answer.

Throughout history, sacred texts like The Bible and the I Ching have been prime bibliomantic candidates. The ancient Romans often used the work of Homer and Virgil.

I made my first foray into bibliomancy while reading Ronald Johnson’s ARK for a graduate class on serial poetry. It was partly a matter of coincidence: In “Ark 73, Arches VII,” Johnson references the “sortes vigiliane,” or “Virgilian lots,” the proper name of the ancient Roman bibliomancy by way of Virgil. This was the first I’d ever heard of the practice, and I was curious to try it out.

I had another motive, too: I was looking for a way to reanimate the text. is by no means a boring work, but it is an imposing one, a textual architecture thick with imagery, reference, incantation, and meditation, often

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