Bible divination

Bible divination
   Reported by folklorists all over the country in only slightly differing forms, the Bible and Key was a popular method of divination. In the version collected by Ella M. Leather in 1909 (1912: 65-6), it is used for three purposes - to discover a lover's name, to name a thief, or to remove a spell. To find a lover, place the key in the Bible on the page containing Ruth 1: 15, with its text 'Whither thou goest I will go'. Close the book and bind it with string. Two people hold up the Bible with their forefingers under the key. As the names of probable lovers are recited, the key will turn at the right name. The only difference when trying to discover a thief is that Psalm 1: 18 is chosen. For removing a spell, place the key on two crossed sticks - one of yew, the other of mountain ash, place them on the text Ephesians 6: 13-15 'Put on the whole armour'. Read these verses nine times and at each repetition a small tear is made in a piece of white paper. Fold up the paper, sew it into the clothing of the person who is bewitched, without their knowledge.
   Leather's informants showed an ambivalent attitude to this procedure. They certainly believed its efficacy but were worried that the forces used may not come from the right quarter and that the Church authorities would hardly approve of them using the Holy Book in such a manner. The antiquity of the custom is shown by references in Opie and Tatem, which date back to 1303. Compare also *sieve and shears.
   Less complicated, but still relying on the Bible's innate powers, was a *New Year morning custom whereby people who wanted to know about the coming year opened the Bible at random, placed their finger on a verse, without looking of course, and read out the selected chapter. Those assembled then interpreted the prognostication. This could be done at other times, for example when starting on a journey. A variation was to take the Bible to bed on New Year's Eve, and open it in the dark when you first wake (after midnight), mark the place, and read it in the morning (Gurdon, 1893:136-8).
   Alternatively, place the Bible 'under your pillow with a sixpence clapt into the book of Ruth (verses 16 and 17, chap.1) and you will dream of your future husband' (Lean 1903: ii. 371), or the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs can be used to divine certain things: each verse indicates the disposition or fortune of the persons born on the number corresponding to the days of the month.
   See also *book, divination with.
   ■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 23-5; Henderson, 1866: 195-8; Hone, 1832: 127-8; N&Q 5s:4 (1893), 326; Lean 1903: ii. 343, 371.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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