A few years ago, I attended a baby shower in Cambridge. It was a couples shower, filled with men and women from the ward, and it was a jovial affair. At some point, the conversation shifted to naming, and one man confessed that he had heard his baby’s name in a dream. After detailing the experience, he became a bit sheepish and said, “I guess that sounds a bit fantastic.”

“Hey,” came a response, “We’re Mormons – we believe in magic.”

More and more I believe in magic – in fantastic, unexplainable blessings from unlikely sources.

This month, my husband and I have been engaged in making serious decisions about our future. Big Adult Decisions. The kind we can’t completely control. In the middle of this angst-filled month, I read my husband his monthly horoscope as a joke (the really long one at Rather unexpectedly, its accuracy up to that point in the month was unsettlingly accurate, down to dates and little details. And according to Astrology Lady, the month would be long and hard until this week when (in very specific ways) circumstances would turn beautifully in his favor. “Well, then there’s hope,” we joked. And today hope was realized, much as Astrology Lady described, and it feels magical.

What do I make of all this? I’m sold on something – and that something isn’t astrology. This reinforces my belief that God (and ministering angels) will speak to us however they can – scriptures falling open to the “right” page, a stranger’s kindness on the subway, a vivid dream, a song on the radio, a stunning sunset, a call from a friend at the right time, a comment in church, running into to your visiting teacher at the store on a day when you need a listening ear, a billboard, a blog post, a horoscope, a Star Trek episode (don’t ask).

Clearly this particular horoscope couldn’t have matched every Zodiac of his sign out there . . . but I don’t usually read this stuff (and when I do, I never read it to my husband!). I did this month. So I’ll take it as a bit of benevolent cosmic humor, a spiritual “Chin up, little camper. We are looking out for you.” Who am I to limit magic’s mediums? Whatever it is, I’m grateful.


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Mike says:

    I think one of the most common forms of magic is the open-your-scriptures-to-any-random-page-and-God-will-lead-you-to-a-passage-you-are-supposed-to-read practice. Many LDS do this without associating it with magic. (Hey, I admit to doing it. But what do you expect me to do since I don’t have a seer stone!) Actually, this practice has a technical name that I cannot remember.

  2. Kaimi says:


    That’s bibliomancy. There’s quite a few Mormons I know who have used it, sometimes with prayer and other things.

    Myself, I think that pure bibliomancy is probably a bad idea. But there are a lot of good things in the scriptures, and a person in tune with the Spirit can certainly be guided to the right place.

  3. Kaimi says:

    Also, I should say:

    1. I’ve had enough experiences in my own life to make me believe that there is something more than the “normal” physical world. So I guess I’m in the camp of magic-believing Mormons. I don’t know that it all ties together in the structure set out in standard lay Mormon thought, however.

    2. For a lengthy treatment on how ideas of folk magic may have affected Joseph Smith’s thought, see, of course, Quinn’s _Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview_ . A bit dated in 2006, yes, but still relevant.

  4. Mike says:

    Kaimi, I think there’s another name in addition to bibliomancy. Starts with the letter t. Now I won’t be able to sleep tonight trying to remember it.

  5. Tracy M says:

    It works with books other than the scriptures, too. Magic, or whatever name you want to give it, is all around is, we just have to be able to recognize it. I love the idea of ministering angels, and I know the Lord has helped me time and time again, even when I wasn’t aware of it- that’s magical.

    Nice post.

  6. andre says:

    The practice is called the sortes biblicae. It was adopted from soothsaying systems like the sortes Homericae and the sortes Vergilinae in which verses from Homer and Vergil were chosen at random and interpreted as prophetic. The practice among early Christians was widespread despite its proscription. Sortiledge played a role in the conversion of St. Augustine (Confessions 8.12), although he later discouraged the practice. John Wesley and the early Methodists also took the practice seriously.

  7. John says:

    Humans are very good at pattern-seeking. We want so much to make connections, and we have a tendency to conveniently jettison the data that doesn’t fit our desires.

    We do this collectively as well. Think of the filters on the stories we hear across the pulpit (you won’t hear the one my mission companion told me in private: “When I read the Book of Mormon and pray about it, I get a dark feeling inside”).

    So I’m skeptical of many of the magical anecdotes I hear, but at the same time, I’m skeptical of my skepticism.

  8. Deborah says:

    Interesting set of comments, all. Who knew bibliomancy had such a lustrous history?

    John: I hear where you are coming from. Sure, we are cognitively wired to fit new information into existing schemas and templates — it’s the genius of the mind. So maybe our brain is wired to find patterns, and maybe our spirit is wired to seek signs, and yet the universe (I find) constantly surprises us — with signs we weren’t necessarily seeking in places we weren’t looking. I feel like I have some sources of “familiar magic” — a friend who can be counted on to call, somehow, on those bad days. But sometimes magic seems to enter unbidden — like the orange tree that bloomed after four years of sick dormancy on the day I made a difficult, life-altering decision. I try not to ascribe too much meaning to these moments, to make them fit any larger pattern than this: in this vast world, somehow grace finds me. That’s magic.

  9. jana says:

    Carol Lynn Pearson calls this sort of magic ‘synchronicity’ and suggests that it is a message from God.

    I’ve had some flashes of synchronicity and I’m delighted when it happens–like that ‘small world’ feeling you get when you discover that the person you’re talking to knew your best friend from high school, etc.

    I don’t think I necessarily believe that this is a way that God is trying to communicate with us, though I have called it that way in the past. Now it feels more like a hug from the universe, or a karmic ‘payback.’ More than anything, I think it comes from a within oneelf–from being thoughtful enough to recognize patterns, and mindful enough to read one’s experience like a personal set of scriptures.

    btw, Deborah, I love the orange tree story. If only because I was standing outside in the rain just a few secs ago smelling the blossoms on my orange tree and thanking god for creating the scent of orange blossoms. Because they smell like heaven to me (our last house sat on an orange grove and I always loved Gen Conf weekend because I would walk outside in the orange blossoms and contemplate the messages of GC underneath the boughs, feeling very close to God both sensually and spiritually)

  10. John says:

    Jana, Deborah, thank you for your graceful descriptions of serendipity and magic. I’m trying to understand religion more as poetry and less as technical manuals, and you two set a fine example.

  11. AmyB says:

    I think that we are all part of one large organic wholeness that we could call the universe. Actions, thoughts, desires, prayers, all effect that great whole and manifest in our lives in often astonishing ways. Depending on our worldview we may interpret it as magic, miracles, serendipity or any number of things. However we interpret it, it’s pretty amazing.

  12. Leon says:

    If we walk down any street we can find messages for and against every issue in our minds, all we have to do is be looking for them and embrace them when we find them. It is a process that helps us enter our own minds to see what we truly want within our own hearts; it hardly has any “magic” to it. As John mentioned above we tend to filter through the failures rather rapidly and embrace the few that fit, or those that can be altered to fit.

    Even a short walk through 19th century Mormon prophecy will help us understand that where the prophetic voice can be verified it runs into serious trouble. The church has done a good job of doing much of the filtering for us through cut-n-paste presentations of history. Even when summoning the power of the priesthood and setting apart an apostle the First Presidency couldn’t get it right, never mind a horoscope, blessings, tea leafs, or chicken gizzards. The apostolic ordination blessing below is not the exception, it is the rule:

    “[Cyrus Smalling] ordination blessing which he received under the hands of presidents Joseph Smith, Jr. Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon, in Kirtland, Geauga [C]ounty, Ohio. June 30, 1835 when he was set apart by prophecy to the apostleship of the first Seventy, in the place of Ezra Thayer, who had left the church and the apostleship… ‘Thou shalt be a witness for the Lord of the things that thou knowest until the Lord comes in his glory, and thou shalt see him with thine eyes in the flesh;- for the desire of thy heart, in righeousness (sic), shall be granted. Thou shalt go to Europe and preach the gospel to the kings of the earth. Thou shalt stand before bishops, archbishops and lord bishops, and even the pope himself…Thou shalt be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and many other blessings that we cannot describe, which the Lord will show thee…’Recorded in this book Dec. 21, 1835, Oliver Cowdery Recorder.”

    The best way to understand is to begin to keep a written record of all that you feel inspired in, all those “significant moments of enlightenment” especially those things that are likely to be verified one way or the other later. Objective record keeping is likely to resolve the issue nicely for you.

  13. Caroline says:

    So I haven’t commented on this thread since, well, I just don’t see signs from the universe/god like a lot of people do. I really admire people who do “feel the spirit” in so many different ways and feel so in touch with the universe. Sadly, I’ve considered myself spiritually defunct for a while now because of this, but I’m trying to redefine the word “spiritual” to mean, in part, having strong moral convictions.

    I’m probably in the camp with Jana and John – that humans are trained to look for patterns and meanings – and truly sensitive souls will see them everywhere. (I wonder what it says about me that I don’t really see them…)

  14. AmyB says:


    I’m sorry to hear that you feel “spiritually defunct.” I think you raise a good question about what spirituality really is, or isn’t. I think religion and spirituality both mean so many different things and also get conflated. They say eskimos have several different words for kinds of snow. It’s too bad we don’t have several different words for spirit to describe the myriad meanings.

    Spirituality for me doesn’t really have to do with magic, faith-promoting rumors, or signs. It’s in quieting my mind, in learning to notice the subtle energies in my body, in communing with nature, in appreciating beauty, in feeling one with the universe. I’m just beginning my own journey into exploring my spirituality. And like I’ve said before, the mormon church just doesn’t have a good tradition to help with this.

  15. Deborah says:

    Amy and Caroline:

    Thanks for your comments. I am in favor of applying the term “spirituality” broadly, including the pursuit of integrity and ethical fortitude. I am using the term magic liberally on purpose, the idea that the divine can “speak” in limitless — and sometimes surprising — ways.

    Amy, I am intrigued by your statement, “I’m just beginning my own journey into exploring my spirituality. And like I’ve said before, the mormon church just doesn’t have a good tradition to help with this.” What do you mean by the word “tradition” — our history or our “traditions” (rituals, etc); some combination? For what it’s worth, I keep returning to a couple Mormon traditions in my own spiritual journey:

    1) The emphasis on gifts of the spirit that drew so many 19th century women to the church — the book “Women’s Voices: An Untold History of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900” sits dog-eared on my shelf.

    2) Joseph Smith’s experimentation — he was a dreamer, exploring ideas from so many religious traditions as he forged together a new church. And that (oddly?) has given me a measure of inspiration to explore how other traditions (yoga, meditation, liturgical music, etc.) can complement my own faith’s traditions.

    I’ll probably post on this later – ‘cause you have me thinking — but I am a big fan of Kathleen Norris (author of “Dakota: A Spiritual Geography,” “The Cloister Walk,” and my favorite “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith”). In the latter, she takes the words of Christianity she felt most distant from and wrestled with them to make them her own . . .

  16. AmyB says:


    To clarify my position- as I see it,our church does not have a contemplative or mystical tradition. In fact that has been lost from most protestant churches. In Catholicism they have mysticism and movements like Father Thomas Keating’s “Centering Prayer.” In Buddhism, meditation and mindfulness are highly valued and people are taught ways to do these practices. They involve getting deeply in touch with our interior selves and experiencing god, the universe, or whatever one calls in inwardly. Protestant practices are more outward.

    Perhaps I could benefit from a deeper study on gifts of the spirit. And Kathleen Norris sounds interesting.

    I have to admit that I’m quite disenchanted with the mormon faith and christianity in general right now. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “Living Buddha, Living Christ” he notes that it is often much more difficult to dialogue with people in our own tradition than with those of another tradition, because most of us have felt misunderstood or betrayed by our own tradition.

    I come to this blog to dialogue with those in my own tradition, even though it’s hard for me. I fear I may come off as a bit prickly sometimes because I have so much angst. I appreciate the level of dialogue here in which I have been respectfully engaged. I hope I can return the same respect.

  17. AmyB says:

    Rereading my post, I’m not sure I answered your question. By tradition, I mean a specific practice being taught.

  18. Deborah says:

    Thanks, Amy (and you don’t come across as “prickly” — I love reading your comments). Based on what you write, I think you really would enjoy Norris’ books. She was raised a Protestant, became disenchanted with Christianity, but began to feel the pull of the spiritual path. In “Cloister Walk,” she lives in a Benedictine monastery in Minnesota for a year and describes the monastic life with great poetry and grace.

    I think the time period that I had the greatest difficult with Mormonism is when I felt I had to be, somehow, “only” Mormon — and when it didn’t fill all my spiritual needs I panicked. I know have a library full of women writers from other faith traditions, and I feel a little like they are angels on my path . . .

    Incidently, I have a friend who keeps pushing me to read “Living Buddha, Living Christ,” so now I just might have to go buy it.

  19. AmyB says:


    Perhaps we should make a deal. I’ll get “Cloister Walk” and you can get “Living Buddha, Living Christ” (It’s been a healing book for me) and we can discuss sometime. 🙂

  20. Deborah says:


  21. John says:

    Amy, I can relate to your disenchantment, and agree with your assessment that Mormonism “does not have a contemplative or mystical tradition” (certainly not the way that Catholicism and Buddhism do). I’m drawn to the great mystics of the Catholic church (currently reading St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul), am flirting with Quakerism (the one Protestant denomination with a strong mystical bent), and am planning to attend a weekend retreat at Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery in Deer Park, near San Diego. So you’re not alone!

    I’m curious to hear more about your explorations–are you blogging them at all?

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