This information on bibliomancy (“book magic”) is related to the topic of lectio divina, which was addressed here.
Merriam-Webster defines bibliomancy as “divination by books, especially the Bible.”
A similar term is rhapsodomancy. Josh McDowell’s Understanding the Occult (published 1982, with Don Stewart) gives this definition: “This form of divination is based upon a line in a sacred book that strikes the eye when the book is opened after the diviner prays, meditates or invokes the help of spirits.” (p. 78) That term rhapsodomancy is not in Merriam-Webster’s. But other online sources give definitions, with slight variations. One explains that a book is just opened by chance, not necessarily praying for guidance ahead of time. Another source says this practice is confined to books of poetry. There are descriptions of having the person focus on a question, get quiet and breathe deeply, and then open the book to a random passage, which will be seen as the divinely selected answer.
And remember that divination is “the art or practice that seeks to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge usually by the interpretation of omens or by the aid of supernatural powers.”
“Many early Christians, to discover the answer to a problem, would randomly open the Bible, read the first line their eye fell upon, and consider it a divine message for them. So popular was this practice, it had to be repeatedly condemned by early church councils” (“Did You Know?” by David M. Scholer, Christian History magazine, Issue 43, Vol. XIII, No. 3).
Perhaps you’ve had times when you were troubled, struggling, grieving … and you just let your Bible fall open. Lo and behold, the verse your eyes were drawn to seemed to match your circumstances exactly—and provide help. The Lord can do anything he wants, of course. But we’re not instructed that this is the regular method for “unlocking” what the Lord would have us learn/do. Anytime we create some kind of formula that smacks of sorcery/divination … well, the attraction/excitement of that sort of thing becomes an appetizer for other kinds of “-mancy” (ex: geomancy, necromancy). In other words, when something seems to “work” in the way we wanted, we justify it as legit. And let’s face it—doesn’t almost every page in the magnificent, incomparable Bible have strong do/don’t examples that are spot-on for a variety of situations?
Thinking in terms of bibliomancy as relates to some people’s practice of lectio divina, imagine that you’ve received a letter from your friend Derek. Open his letter and pull out the first few words you see. Imagine thinking about those words and trying to figure out what Derek is saying. Then write down your thoughts about those words. Now come to some conclusion—based on what you’ve written, not on the whole of Derek’s letter. Act on your imaginings.
Seriously? Why not just read Derek’s letter and take it in its intended context?
The contemplatives might argue that we’re ignoring the “living” aspect of God’s living Word, per Hebrews 4:12. But it’s interesting to read that verse and then back up to see that Hebrews 4:1-11 is quoting a string of Old Testament Scriptures. The writer of Hebrews seems to be telling us what God says, as if it’s clear and authoritative. There’s no hint that we should pull out a few words and run them through a series of steps in order to imagine what we think God might think we should think!
Again, anyone researching this topic needs to understand that the big picture of mysticism is the idea that we can’t really know “the divine” with our senses and our minds. We have to find some magic key to transcend, to force our way into the other realm. That’s not true. So the person is inadvertently participating in a system that’s standing on a false foundation. Supposed secret formulas and rituals designed to help us “break through” are based on a misunderstanding.
A Eugene Peterson quote illustrates this misunderstanding, in my opinion: “There is a sense in which the Scriptures are the word of God dehydrated. … Lectio divina is the strenuous effort that the Christian community gives … to rehydrating the Scriptures.” (Eat This Book, p 88–89) Really? So the Lord’s Scriptures claim to be “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) but need our “strenuous effort” in order to put some life into them? <cringe>
Do you see what we’re doing? Divination is supposedly a way to discover hidden knowledge. But the Lord hasn’t hidden how we hear from and speak to him. And remember, if God had wanted something hidden, isn’t it arrogant to presume that we’re clever enough to get around his plan?