A to Z Challenge: Bibliomancy is a Miraculous Thing

As a novelist, I rely on literary devices to take my writing to the next level.  A writer who can consciously use literary devices in their writing without making them that obvious to the reader is a writer who is truly working their brain muscle.  Some literary devices are easier to use than others.  Bibliomancy is one of those devices that takes a little reading on the writer’s part before they can use it.

Bibliomancy is the use of religious images or stories or even verses to tell a story.  It is a division of allegory where an older text is referenced or “given a nod” to but it only refers to the use of religious texts.  The literal definition of this word is when a person holds a religious text by the spine, balances it and allows it to fall open to a verse and then bases their decisions on what is found in the verse.  This can be problematic if the person is thinking of ending a relationship and finds Deuteronomy 17:5 “then bring the man or woman who did this evil thing to the gates of your city, and stone that person to death”.  It works much better as a literary device.

A perfect example of this device is found in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  Uncle John places a dead baby in a box and floats it down stream.  This is reminiscent of the story of Moses whose mother places him in a basket and floats him down the Nile river.  Another example is in the film “Braveheart” where William Wallace is “sacrificed” for the people of Scotland with his arms and legs in a crucifix position.

I use this literary device as a signature effect.  My first novel, The Transgression Box, was an allegory/satire of American evangelical Christianity.  The main character, Dornin, takes the sinister metal box, the Chattath, from his village in order to save the people who had fallen asleep because of its power over them.  The word Chattath is the Hebrew word for sin.  In a way, he removes the sin of the village by carrying it away only to find that he cannot do this himself and then in the end realizes that he must rely on the help of a higher power to destroy the Chattath.

Bibliomancy does not have to use the Bible as a reference.  Bibliomancy refers to the use of any religious text for reference.  Muslim writers use the Koran while Hindu writers often use the Rig-Veda.  The use of bibliomancy in a novel usually depends on the culture of the writer.  I happen to use the Bible because it is culturally more specific to me and because I am a Christian and its words speak to me on a more personal level through my faith in Jesus Christ.  I feel the same way about the Bible as C.S. Lewis felt about it.

If you are not a religious writer, this term does not have to be lost on you.  I have known and read several writers who did not have any religious background or belief in a supreme being who used this literary device well and wonderfully.  The point is that writers need to use literary devices like this in their writing.  If we do so, we will be adding beauty to the tapestry of our ideas and breathing life into stale text.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

4 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge: Bibliomancy is a Miraculous Thing

  1. I will never forget the unintentional but clear Biblical allusions that I put in one of my books. The central theme was about the elevation of principle over method of application of that principle and taking that to its logical extremes. A church had made their methods a requirement for godliness (much like the Pharisees) and as a result, one family walked away from the Lord and the church.

    What I discovered later were many little tiny things. The family raised sheep. The cover had a barb with a piece of blood-tinged wool stuck to it. I hadn’t even noticed the blood until long after it was published. The way the church can put up fences that are intended to protect the members from the world and then later those fences cause the very damage they were designed to protect from. Sheep… abused by the shepherds of the church…

    There was more but I remember knowing it wasn’t intentional. I didn’t TRY to do it, and yet it came out in a continued theme throughout the book.

    I love it when I see these things crop up in my writing. I remember studying the term Bibliomancy in high school, but I hadn’t remembered it. Thanks!

  2. Good points and I agree with yours and Donnagae’s comments. It is easy to slip in a reference here and there without even realizing where it’s origins are from. Good post.

  3. This is interesting. Don’t know if you’ve read my latest blog entry, but I write about a sentence, “Do not take the veil off, Neeyah” that popped into my head. With a little online research, I find that Neeyah means intention in Arabic and is a type of Islamic ritual (still researching that). Taking off the veil dates back to mythical times and relates to the “mysteries” which some interpreted as a look at one’s own death if the veil was removed. The story I started to write will be rethought.

    What is amazing to me is that these words just came to me, I didn’t even have to open the Koran, Bible, whatever! Is this still bibliomancy? Thanks for the post.

    1. Yes. Sometimes we do not realize how many religious references we use. I sat under a professor in college who developed his own critical theory and called it “Christian Irony”. Basically it is the idea that all literature uses biblical memes and tropes and cannot escape them. Interesting stuff.

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