Practicing Bibliomancy

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Do you do this? What does “bibliomancy”mean?

I’m familiar with the concept, but until recently never knew what it was called. Nor did I realize so many people practiced this in an alternative form. I’ve done this countless times in the past and still occasionally explore new knowledge through this practice, although not in the classic dictionary definition:

Divination by means of a book, especially the Bible or a holy book

The religious practice was (or still is?) to place a Bible or holy book on its spine then let the covers fall to reveal a random page. Then with eyes closed, using a finger to pick a random verse and interpreting the meaning. Ancient Greeks did this with the works of Homer and Virgil, using the results as predictors of future events.

I, and many others, practice bibliomancy to serendipitously explore for ideas, inspiration, or to just learn something completely new. A favorite of mine is to do this with my large dictionary that resides on a stand and never fails to find an interesting word I didn’t know (with some liberty as to what’s near where my finger lands!). Other times I’ve used it in compilations and anthologies to randomly choose an interesting passage to explore. An encyclopedia (do any of us have these anymore?) would also make a good source target for this practice.

It’s a great technique to find a bit of sweet (usually) mind candy for that hungry taste bud wanting a new bite of knowledge. Using bibliomancy helps me override my internal knowledge librarian who knows too well what I like and tends to always steer me toward familiar zones.

My practice of bibliomancy is similar to another method I’ve used (which probably also has a specialized name) to step outside my comfort zones and explore new ideas. Although I haven’t done this in a while, for years every quarter or so I would pick a well-respected author or book within a topic I had zero interest in, then commit to reading it from cover to cover. To my surprise and delight, in every instance I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book and the new knowledge.

While I’ll continue practicing bibliomancy now and then, I’d like to restart this out-of-comfort-zone reading program. One could do it online, but ideally it’s best to browse in person at a library for unfamiliar subjects, and well, you know…covid. But at some point libraries will be open again once it’s safe. Think I’ll call this variant “bibliotemere” (book + latin for random) for now until I can think of a better term.

Each of us likely has comfort zones and some type of an internal librarian who knows what we like to read or learn about. Some have rigid ones, others are blessed with a more mellow, go-with-the-flow internal one. While it’s good to always expand on what you know and like, it’s also healthy and fun to learn about what we don’t know.

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