Bibliomancy is the use of books in divination. The use of sacred books (especially specific words and verses) for 'magical medicine', for removing negative entities, or for divination is widespread in many religions of the world.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary,[1] the word bibliomancy (etymologically from βιβλίον biblion- "book" and μαντεία -manteía "divination by means of") "divination by books, or by verses of the Bible" was first recorded in 1753 (Chambers' Cyclopædia). Sometimes this term is used synonymously with stichomancy (from στίχος stichos- "row, line, verse") "divination by lines of verse in books taken at hazard", which was first recorded c. 1693 (Urquhart's Rabelais).

Bibliomancy compares with rhapsodomancy (from rhapsode "poem", "song", "ode") "divination by reading a random passage from a poem". A historical precedent was the ancient Roman practice of sortes ("sortilege, divination by drawing lots") which specialized into sortes Homericae, sortes Virgilianae, and sortes Sanctorum, using the texts of Homer, Virgil, and the Bible.[citation needed]


  1. A book is picked that is believed to hold truth.
  2. It is balanced on its spine and allowed to fall open.
  3. A passage is picked, with the eyes closed.

Among Christians, the Bible is most commonly used (in the Sortes Sanctorum), and in Islamic cultures the Quran. In the Middle Ages the use of Virgil's Aeneid was common in Europe and known as the sortes Virgilianae. In the classical world the sortes Virgilianae and sortes Homericae (using the Iliad and Odyssey) were used.

In Iran, bibliomancy using The Divān of Hafez is the most popular for this kind of divination, but by no means the only kind. The Quran, as well as the Mathnawī of Rumi may also be used. Fāl-e Ḥafez may be used for one or more persons.[2]

Because book owners frequently have favorite passages that the books open themselves to, some practitioners use dice or another randomiser to choose the page to be opened. This practice was formalized by the use of coins or yarrow stalks in consulting the I Ching. Tarot divination can also be considered a form of bibliomancy, with the main difference that the cards (pages) are unbound. Another way around this is to cut the page with something like a razor.

There is a prevalent practice among certain, particularly messianic, members of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidic movement to use the Igrot Kodesh, a thirty-volume collection of letters written by their leader Menachem Mendel Schneerson for guidance.[3]

Another variant requires the selection of a random book from a library before selecting the random passage from that book. This also holds if a book has fallen down from a shelf on its own. English poet Robert Browning used this method to ask about the fate of his attraction to Elizabeth Barrett (later known as Elizabeth Barrett Browning). He was at first disappointed to choose the book Cerutti's Italian Grammar, but on randomly opening it his eyes fell on the following sentence: "if we love in the other world as we do in this, I shall love thee to eternity" (which was a translation exercise).[4]

In Islam

Animals gathering before King Solomon and Queen Bilqis from the Khalili Falnama (17th century Golconda). Opening the book to this painting was interpreted as a favourable prediction.[5]

Bibliomancy has a long history in Islamic culture, using both secular and religious books, especially the Quran.[6] The Persian word Falnama or Falnamah ("Book of omens" or "Book of divinations") covers two forms of bibliomancy used historically in Iran, Turkey, and India.[7][8] Quranic Falnamas were sections at the end of Quran manuscripts used for fortune-telling based on a grid. It was common for Quran manuscripts produced in India and Iran to have folios at the end specifically for divination, from at least the late 14th century to the 19th.[9][7] In the 16th century, Falnama manuscripts were introduced that used a different system; individuals performed purification rituals, opened a random page in the book and interpreted their fortune in light of the painting and its accompanying text.[10] Only a few illustrated Falnamas now survive; these were commissioned by rich patrons and are unusually large books for the time, with bold, finely executed paintings.[11][12]

Falnama manuscripts were unusually large books; the surviving examples range from 40 centimetres (16 in) to more than 66 centimetres (26 in) high.[12] The paintings combined secular and religious imagery and their depiction of religious and mythical figures was very influential on other works. Each painting told the story of an event, although there was no narrative for the book as a whole; the order of paintings was random.[13] They were consulted to divine the prospects for a major decision (such as a business venture, marriage, or house move) or to divine the condition of absent relatives or friends.[14] To answer a question, readers would perform ablutions, recite prayers from the Quran and then open the book at a random page.[15] The text explained whether the prediction was favourable, unfavourable, or middling. For example, a painting of the Sun would suggest a favourable outcome while a villain usually meant a disastrous outcome.[10] To avoid the worst outcomes, the text recommended pious acts such as prayer, pilgrimage, or kindness to others.[10]

In fiction

See also


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989.
  2. ^ Omidsalar, Mahmoud. "Divination". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2009-04-05.
  3. ^ ""Igrot Kodesh" ("Holy Letters") of the Lubavitcher Rebbe". Archived from the original on 4 April 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  4. ^ The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, Vol, 1, p. 470
  5. ^ Parikh 2022, p. 123.
  6. ^ Parikh 2022, p. 16.
  7. ^ a b Coffey, Heather (2019). "Diminutive Divination and the Implications of Scale: A Miniature Qur'anic Falnama of the Safavid Period". In Myrvold, Kristina; Miller Parmenter, Dorina (eds.). Miniature books : the format and function of tiny religious texts. Sheffield. pp. 85–87. ISBN 978-1-78179-860-7. OCLC 1082402029.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  8. ^ Rogers, J. M. (2008). The arts of Islam : treasures from the Nasser D. Khalili collection (Revised and expanded ed.). Abu Dhabi: Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC). pp. 275–9. OCLC 455121277.
  9. ^ De La Perrière, Eloïse Brac (2016). "Manuscripts in Bihari Calligraphy: Preliminary Remarks on a Little-Known Corpus". Muqarnas. 33: 63–90. doi:10.1163/22118993_03301P005. ISSN 0732-2992. JSTOR 26551682.
  10. ^ a b c Py-Lieberman, Beth (22 October 2009). "Falnama's Book of Omens: The Future Will Be Bright and Sunny". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2021-11-11.
  11. ^ Gopnik, Blake (25 October 2009). "Art review: Blake Gopnik on 'Falnama: The Book of Omens' at the Sackler Gallery". Washington Post. Retrieved 2021-11-11.
  12. ^ a b Natif, Mika (6 October 2010). "Review of "Falnama: The Book of Omens" by Massumeh Farhad". CAA Reviews. College Art Association. doi:10.3202/ ISSN 1543-950X. Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  13. ^ Hadromi-Allouche, Zohar (2018). "Images of the first woman: Eve in Islamic Fāl-nāma paintings". In Exum, J. Cheryl; Clines, David J. A.; Apostolos-Cappadona, Diana (eds.). Biblical Women and the Arts. London: Bloomsbury. p. 9. ISBN 9780567685162.
  14. ^ Parikh 2022, p. 9.
  15. ^ Parikh 2022, p. 17.