The Bible has been used as a talismanic object for healing for centuries from about the time it started being widely printed and distributed. In many places prayer books still remained the favorite of healers, especially in those areas that remained Catholic or Orthodox, but for many of the Protestant groups the Bible became a new and wonderful source for healing charms. I’ve already talked about this a little bit in my post on verbal charms, but here I would like to talk about the Bible as a talisman in an of itself.
For many people the Bible was and is a staple object of the home, even if they themselves were illiterate. It often contained a record of births and deaths, and in many cases acted as an object of healing power. In the Ozarks of the past more often than not the family might have had a Bible but whether they could read it (or wanted to) is questionable. Vance Randolph recorded several items of Bible lore:
“There used to be a woman at West Plains, Missouri, who had a great reputation as a ‘blood stopper.’ A wounded man was brought to her home in a wagon. The whole wagon bed seemed to be covered with blood, and the man’s friends were unable to stop the bleeding from two deep knife cuts. The woman looked at the patient, then walked out to the barn alone, with a Bible under her arm. In about three minutes the bleeding stopped, and the healer returned to her house. She would take no money for ‘blood stopping,’ and she would not discuss the method. She was not a religious woman, and rarely looked at the Bible except when she was asked to stop the flow of blood. The old woman confided to a friend that she had already imparted the secret to three persons, and that if she ever told a fourth the ‘power’ would be taken from her.”
“To find out if her sweetheart loves her, a girl hangs a Bible up with a string and repeats aloud: ‘Whither thou goest, I will go. Where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, thy God my God.’ Then she shouts the name of her boy friend Jim or Bill or Alec or whatever it is. If the Bible turns on the string so that the edge points toward the speaker, it is a sign that the boy loves her. Some say it means that they will marry.”
“There are several methods of predicting what a child’s future life is to be. One of the commonest is to offer a boy baby a bottle, a Bible, and a coin. If he grasps the bottle first, he will be a drunkard; if the Bible, a preacher, or at least a religious man; while if he chooses the coin, he will engage in some mercantile pursuit.”
“There are many ways of detecting a witch, such as hiding a Bible in her mattress, placing a broomstick in her path, scratching a little cross under the seat of her chair, or adding a bit of pawpaw bark to her tobacco. Any of these measures will make a witch deathly sick, while an innocent woman is not affected. Another method is to take a new awl and fix it in the seat of a chair, so that only a very little of the point sticks through. Then get the suspected woman to sit down in the chair. If she jumps and cries out, it means that she is not a witch, since a witch doesn’t feel the sharp point at all.”
“A woman at West Plains, Missouri, places her right hand on the closed Bible, makes a wish, and opens the book at random. She does this three times, muttering the same wish under her breath. If the opened Bible shows the words ‘it came to pass’ three times in succession, she is sure to get her wish.”
In several of these cases certain verses are taken from the Bible and used as charms, but also much of the use of the Bible is simply as a talismanic object; the Bible itself becomes the source of the healing power. There are cases where certain objects are placed in the Bible at certain points in order to act upon those objects. Names can be written on slips of paper then placed next to certain verses that the healer wants to pass onto the person. Photos are often kept in Bibles, as are stacks of money with the intent that the holiness of the Bible will bless the people in the photos or bless the money to multiply or be used well.
The family Bible may be thought of as just a nice antique to have around. But look at it as a wealth of family knowledge that’s been passed to you. How many people have prayed over that Bible? How many wishes and blessings were put into it? The very act of recording the family births and deaths in the Bible is sending those people a powerful blessing.
I will sometimes see old family Bibles at garage sales or in flea markets and it makes me a little sad to think that families don’t value these objects anymore. Even if you aren’t a believer, don’t throw aside a family Bible if you inherit one. If anything give them to me, I have a collection of them already. I’d be happy to hang out with your ancestors and talk about how you never visit them anymore.