The seeking of guidance through the chance selection of a passage in literature.

This term dates back to ancient Greece when the Sibylline books, collections of verses that had been spoken by the oracles, were randomly consulted for guidance. The works of poets were also used for the same purpose.

I have been unable to ascertain exactly what method the Greeks employed to choose their pages. In another broadly similar example of rhapsodomancy, the ancient Chinese method of divination known as I-Ching, practitioners use a relatively complex method which involves the random division of 50 yarrow stalks, the outcome of which is used to choose a passage in "The Book of Changes", a collection of verses and commentaries. Many I-Ching practitioners claim that the division of the yarrow stalks is as much about achieving a receptive state of mind as it is about randomly choosing which passage to read.

A modern and surprisingly popular example of a system of rhapsodomancy is Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies, a collection of cards, each of which has a phrase printed on it. Eno devised them to assist in creative endeavors; whenever a difficulty or some uncertainty arises in a working situation, one of the cards can be chosen at random (usually by shuffling and then taking the top card) and the phrase on the card can then be applied to the situation, either literally or figuratively.

If you're interested in trying rhapsodomancy I can suggest four simple methods available right here on E2. Simply ask your question and then click :

The random node nodelet : E2's 'native' rhapsodomancy facilitator
Everything I-Ching : A non-traditional way to access traditionally confusing knowledge
The Everything Quote Server : The trouble with quotable people is, they're usually talking about themselves. Still, it might useful if you don't take it too literally
"Fezisms Generator" : Sort of a spiritual last resort... for use when all else fails

If you're interested in trying Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies, there's a very smooth Java Applet version at

It told me, "Trust in the you of now"

Readers interested in learning more about divination here on E2 should refer to m_turner's writeup at the divination node, which is an exhaustive list of categorized divination-related writeups.

Rhap"so*do*man`cy (?), n. [Rhapsody + -mancy.]

Divination by means of verses.


© Webster 1913.

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