Advice from the Book Spirits

I wanted to do something different and fun for my Halloween post, not just review a book or point you to a good short story. But what?

Then I thought of M.R. James’s short story, The Ash Tree. In the story, after the mysterious death of the Lord of the Manor, a clergyman friend of the victim resorts to the old superstitious practice of “drawing the Sortes“, or bibliomancy.

…it came into my Thoughts, as at such moments of Helplessness we are prone to catch at any the least Glimmer that makes promise of Light, to make trial of that old and by many accounted Superstitious Practice of drawing the Sortes: …

“I made, then, three trials, opening the Book and placing my Finger upon certain words: which gave in the first these words, from Luke xiii. 7, Cut it down; in the second, Isaiah xiii. 20, It shall never be inhabited; and upon the third Experiment; Job xxxix. 30, Her young ones also suck up blood.”

This being an M.R. James story, the sortes were quite prescient — I’ll let you read the story and find out what the bible passages were hinting at. I linked to it above; it’s nicely creepy. Anyway, it occurred to me that some book-scrying silliness might make for a fun post, albeit not terribly spooky. But it’s a nice change from a Ouija Board.

BookPhoto: Nina Zumel

So I’ve picked a few questions to throw Out There, and picked a book to scry from. I didn’t want to use the Bible — I’m still enough of a Catholic girl that it would feel sacrilegious. Given the theme of this blog, and my more recent reading activity, The Weird Compendium would have been the perfect choice, but I only own it as an ebook, and I really wanted to physically flip through the book and point. So I settled on American Gothic Tales, instead.

The procedure: write down the question, close my eyes, open the book at random, and point. Read the sentence at my fingertip.

Here we go:

What’s the outlook for my blog in the coming year? Will I get lots of engaged readers?

A man was speaking on the station Jim had chosen, and his voice swung instantly from the distance into a force so powerful that it shook the apartment.

Now that sounds hopeful. I think the blog will go gangbusters over the next year! The quote is from John Cheever, “The Enormous Radio”.

Will I get Freshly Pressed again?

The Head’s main street dimmed, dimmed, and at last was gone.

Not so hopeful. But at least I got my fifteen minutes of fame once. Quote from Stephen King, “The Reach”

Will the Giants take the World Series?

Viola imposed on her lover but a short probation.

Umm. Yeah. I think that means “yes, but the Tigers will still put up a little bit of a fight.” We’ll find out soon enough. Go Giants! The quote is from Henry James, “On the Romance of Certain Old Clothes”.

UPDATE: And the Giants sweep it! Viola’s probation was short, indeed.

What should I spend more time on this coming year? Writing or dancing?

She turned and tried to hold the baby over in a corner behind the stove.

But he came up. He reached across the stove and tightened his hands on the baby.

I think this means — especially in the context of this story, Raymond Carver’s “Little Things” — that I should split the difference. Which is the answer I wanted, though I hope things turn out better for me than they did for the baby in the story…

You can get advice from the Book Spirits too, and you don’t even need a paper-and-glue volume. Poet Reb Livingstone has set up a Bibliomancy Oracle online — just click and see what her favorite literature has to say to you.

Have fun, and to any readers on the East Coast or in Hawaii: stay safe from the storms and tsunamis. I hope you all enjoy the upcoming All Hallow’s Eve, no matter how you choose (or don’t choose) to celebrate it.

11 thoughts on “Advice from the Book Spirits

  1. Although I’m not one to believe in such things as a Ouija Board or any similar method of predicting the future, I did have one remarkable experience using it with my wife and two out-of-town friends many years ago. The male in the couple suggested that we try to get the board to identify his laboratory number at Harvard. His wife claimed not to know it, so the three of us attempted to get it from the board. Indeed, the three digit number was identified, a 1/999 chance. Make of it what you will.

    • And I’m not one to spoil a good anecdote — but on the other hand, I’m supposed to have a scientific and skeptical mind, this blog notwithstanding, so I feel obligated to play devil’s advocate here.

      His wife actually knew the number, but didn’t remember consciously that she knew it?

      One or more of you was somewhat familiar with the room numbering system at Harvard, so the random chance was less than 1/999, and you got lucky? F’rinstance, probably his wife knew which floor of the building the lab was on.

      You were all getting subconscious signals from the the husband — I assume he was watching the three of you — that told you when you were near the correct digits? Like that horse that allegedly could do arithmetic. This is my favorite hypothesis, of the three.

      But as I said — never spoil a good anecdote. Keep telling the story, and forget all my silly rationalisms.

  2. I love this – my friends and I used tarot cards to predict the fortunes of a favourite football club. Surprise surprise, they were vague enough to apply to many situations/player transfers. I feel like if we had tried for Rangers who have spectacularly combusted in a cloud of grand fraud and insider dealing, we might not have found anything that fitted so ‘well’.

    • That is the fun of scrying or fortune telling, making the signs fit what you want/hope them to say. Although sometimes it’s more intellectually honest to say that the signs don’t fit your wishes, like with my Freshly Pressed question. But that just makes it more satisfying when the signs are wrong πŸ™‚

  3. What a fun idea! Great post!

    I decided to try it for myself. I used Wieland, which was originally published in 1798, a sufficiently old text, I think.

    Here’s my question: Will my youngest daughter find a boyfriend!

    The answer: A month passed away in this kind of intercourse.

    • Oh, dear — that sounds like the kind of answer that would be worrisome to a mother πŸ˜›

      I’ve actually got Wieland on my to-be-read list, ever since I read the first chapter in an anthology…

  4. This is so clever, Nina! I tried this, just for fun, with Eliza Victoria’s A Bottle of Storm Clouds. My question was: Will I get married in 2013? I got this for an answer: “Now, now, child, the man said. No tears at the table. Here, have some wine.” Uh-oh, that doesn’t sound so positive. Oh, well. πŸ˜€

  5. Hi Nina,
    Sorry to reply so late, but I really enjoyed this post and wanted to say so. πŸ™‚ I’d forgotten all about the bibliomancy in The Ash Tree (one of favorites from M.R. James). I must try this myself around hallowe’en next year.
    -Jay

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