August 10, 2012

Fortune Telling with a Key

Here's an exciting word for today: cleidomancy. It means using a key to predict the future. If any reader is studying for their SATs, remember that word. It might be on the test!

Cleidomancy originated in Europe, and was practiced here in early New England. Reverend Increase Mather, the father of Cotton Mather, fulminated against it in his book Angelographia, saying cleidomancy and other forms of fortune-telling had invited evil spirits into the colony.

For all I know cleidomancy may still be practiced here, but I think in our modern consumer society New Englanders are more likely to use something designed specifically for divination like Tarot cards or the I Ching rather than a key. If you're feeling folksy or are broke, though, cleidomancy is pretty easy.

We don't know exactly how early New Englanders did it but here is what modern practitioners suggest. Tie a piece of thread to the loop of a key, and dangle the key from your hand. Ask the question you want to know, such as "Will I marry Joe?" or "Did Sheila steal my iPhone at yoga class?" If the key starts to move, you have the answer to your question. Cleidomancy works best with yes/no questions. Lots of modern psychics and witches use small crystal pendulums to tell the future, and this is basically the same.

Now here's another exciting word: bibliomantic cleidomancy, which means using a book AND a key to predict the future. I don't think that will be on the SAT, but you never know. Ask your key.

Again, we know bibliomantic cleidomancy was practiced in New England because a Puritan minister preached against it. Deodat Lawson delivered a sermon at Salem in 1692 titled Christ's Fidelity the Only Shield Against Satan's Malignity, where he condemned people who use "the Bible and Key" to tell the future. (Please note bibliomancy does not require you to use the Bible - any large dense book will do - but it was the most common book in Puritan New England.)

I was a little puzzled by how you might use both a Bible and a key, but I found some interesting instructions from the Association of Independent Rootworkers and Readers (AIRR), a group for traditional folk magic practitioners. Early New Englanders may not have followed these exact same procedures, but probably did something very similar. 

You need a big key for this, like a skeleton key. Find a passage in the Bible that relates to your question. For example, if you're curious about who you will marry, open the passage in the Book of Ruth that reads "Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live." Put your key on that page, with the loop protruding over the top of the Bible. Close the Bible and then wrap it up with string or ribbon (if you're feeling fancy). You should be able to hold your wrapped Bible by the key loop sticking out the top. 

Holding the key with two fingers, begin to ask your questions. For example, "Will I marry John? Will I marry George? Will I marry Sebastian?" You have your answer when the Bible turns or it falls off the key. Bibliomantic cleidomancy works best with multiple choice questions. 

I have to wonder if Tony and I did this correctly, though, since the Bible barely stayed on the key at all. Perhaps we were supposed to hold out the Bible horizontally? That doesn't seem correct either, though, since the instructions say two people should grasp the key using their pinky fingers. According to the AIRR site, children are supposed to be particularly good at using the key and Bible since their hearts are pure. Perhaps when you hit middle age there's not enough purity left to do this right.

If anyone knows the correct way to do this please let me know! I won't ask how pure your heart is.


pinklibra9 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pinklibra9 said...

My mother taught me how to do this, but instead of using a key in her bible, she used a pair of metal scissors. And her method requires two people...each using their index finger to hold up one loop of the scissors handle. I have no idea how she came by this fortune-telling method, and until now, she is the only person i've ever heard of doing it.

Peter Muise said...

Thanks for comment Pink Libra!

Using scissors definitely makes sense. Even the skeleton key was too small, and I have seen instructions mentioning two people. Perhaps keys in the past were REALLY big, like the size of scissors?

What state was your mother from?

gloria said...

I am not from the states I live in Wales U.K, but as a child I remember my mother and her sisters used to use the key and bible for fortune telling, it was a popular method and of course the playing cards.

Peter Muise said...

Very cool Gloria! Do you remember how large the key was? We had trouble keeping the key in the Bible.

Anonymous said...

My mothers father had an old bible, a skeleton key was set on a specific verse in the bible. The loop of the key stuck out of the side of the bible and was bound in string VERY tightly. So tight it will not move. Pinky fingers of two people were needed. He would recite the verse in the bible which the key was on and ask the bible a yes or no question.

Anonymous said...

Peter....was hoping you would have a comment on the post by Anonymous

Fortune Telling UK said...

Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post. I really like the information which you have shared in your post about the fortune telling. Fortune telling is more than crystal balls and palm reading. Throughout the world there are many variations on fortune telling in existence and many people seek out their fortunes to help with major life altering decisions and choices.

Kevin Varney said...

There is a description of this in Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. Bathsheba Everdene uses the ritual to foresee who her future husband will be.

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