Bibliomancy and Eighteenth-Century Pennsylvania Pietists


Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

The blog of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania has an interesting post on a small box of cards belonging to eighteenth-century German-language printer Christoph Sauer. The box and the cards date back to 1744.  Each card includes a bible verse written in German and poem written by German Reformed writer Gerhard Tersteegen.

Here is a taste of the post:

Sauer and Testeegen were radical Pietists who lived and worked in Pennsylvania during the 18th century. This deck of cards likely possessed some ritual significance in their religious practices.

It is probable that the cards were used for biliomancy. This is a fortunetelling method that uses a book (usually a holy text) to reveal answers to questions of great significance or a cosmic nature. Randomly-selected pages of a book meant that the answer derived from the text was guided by the spirit of God.

In the case of Sauer and Testeegen’s deck of cards, a practitioner of biliomancy could use these cards to address pressing inquiries through reflection on the bible verses and poems.

Read the entire post here.  I think the author of the post means “bibliomancy.”

This sounds like a case for TWOILH reader Jared Burkholder!

One thought on “Bibliomancy and Eighteenth-Century Pennsylvania Pietists

  1. Thanks John, its always a good day when your gets dropped on TWOILH. As I mentioned on Facebook: I can’t speak to how frequently Saur or other (Schwarzenau) Brethren used this method but various forms of Christian divination were not uncommon among German Pietist and sometimes Anabaptist groups. (I don’t think “fortune telling” is the best choice of words in the HSP post). The Moravians used bibliomancy to select an OT and NT scripture verse for each day of the year and this was called a daily “watchword” and these were believed to have special meaning for that day. Also, they used cleromancy (drawing lots) frequently to ascertain the will of God on important decisions from marriage partners to church decisions. Mennonites and Amish have traditionally used cleromancy to select ministers and bishops from among the laity.


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