A Translation of "An Explanation of dreaming Through the Apostles" from Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, MS Ham. 390 f.26v Published by the Global Medieval Sourcebook

This brief and anonymous text, known as a “mantic alphabet”, was part of a popular divinatory tradition around the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages known as bibliomancy - telling a fortune from books. Mantic alphabets survive in Arabic, Greek and Latin. To use such a text, a reader opened a second book - in this case the introduction prescribes a Psalter be used - at random. The reader would ponder the first letter that they saw, which would then correspond to the future as described in the alphabet. For example, if the reader opened to Psalm 1, which begins “Beatus vir qui...” the would turn back to the dreambook’s entry for letter B and learn that B predicts that they will have “power over people.”

As a personal oracle that relies on an explicitly religious text as part of its divinatory process, mantic alphabets like this one combine two seemingly incongruous traditions. Priests, theologians and other religious figures often explicitly condemned soothsayers, oracles and fortune-tellers, but some nevertheless supported it including Gregory of Tours (d.594), who described the practice of bibliomancy in particular. By insisting that divination occurred only after a prayer was said and only when a Psalter was used as the source of a random letter, this mantic alphabet attests to how popular practices of personal fortune-telling were able to carefully align themselves to fit within the bounds of religious doctrine. The practice of bibliomancy was particularly popular in the late Middle Ages and similar mantic alphabets exist drawing not only from Christian sources but similarly using Byzantine, Islamic and Jewish texts to tell a reader’s fortune.

Read the full text in parallel translation on the Global Medieval Sourcebook: http://sourcebook.stanford.edu/text/explanation-divination-through-apostles

Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, MS Ham. 390 f.26v