A supernatural sign or event presaging a future event. There are two basic kinds of omen: normal occurrences of nature (the hooting of owls or howling of dogs, for example), which are interpreted in a specific context to augur good or bad fortune; and unusual occurrences, such as flights of sacred birds, or eclipses or comets, that are believed to be direct manifestations of the gods. Dreams have been considered to provide omens for thousands of years. Some are obscure and have to be interpreted. Others are precognitive, such as warning of impending disasters.
Many contemporary superstitious beliefs incorporate omens. For example, popular omens of bad luck include having one's path crossed by a black cat, spilling salt and breaking a mirror. Seating 13 at a dinner table, according to one superstition, means one person will die within the year. In an old English superstition, seeing a hare is a portent of Witchcraft, since Witches were
once commonly believed to assume this animal shape (see SHAPE SHIFTING).
Ancient cultures relied heavily upon omens in making all sorts of personal, business and legal decisions. Typically, nature, with its dependable rhythms, provided many omens in the forms of dis-ruption of rhythms: storms, eclipses, comets and meteor showers. In England, comets remained bad omens well into the 18th Century, despite scientific discoveries that comets made regular appearances according to orbits, which had nothing to do with chance. Nevertheless, preachers insisted that even regular appearances were deliberate signs from God that humanity was in store for periodic trouble.
The ancient Sumerians saw omens in nearly everything: dreams, birth defects, the movements of animals, the shapes of clouds, the positions of stars and planets, the direction of the wind - even the symptoms of various diseases. Priests kept detailed records of omens written in cuneiform on clay tablets.
The Romans also were keenly interested in omens and elevated Augury, or Divination by omens, to a priestly occupation.
Roman Augurs often interpreted the flight patterns of birds for answers to questions. Examining the livers of various animals for marks was another common method.
Throughout history, birds and animals have remained powerful sources of omens. Birds are though to communicate with the gods or God and communicate messages to humans. Most bird calls are bad omens, foretelling death, illness and disaster, espe-cially if heard after dark. Screech owls are particularly ominous, as are crows and Ravens. These three birds are associated with witches and Satan.
Dogs generally are good omens, while black Cats - another creature traditionally associated with witches - are generally unlucky.
However, dogs that howl at the full moon portend evil. The root of this superstition goes back to ancient Greece. Hekate, the dreaded Goddess of witchcraft and the night, who was also associated with the moon, would roam about in the dark, visible only to dogs. Her approach would set them howling.
In Divination, many omens are sought through created circumstances. Diviners cast grains, read tea leaves, roll dice and bones and throw sticks. Around the world, there are countless folk recipes for reading omens, from plucking the petals off a daisy to determine true love to more elaborate concoctions.
Physical characteristics also provide omens that have become popular superstition. For example, people whose eyebrows meet in the middle are said to have the Evil Eye; the eyebrows are the warning omen. Shivering, itching and having a ringing in one's ears is claimed to mean that someone is talking about one or walking on one's grave.
Omens also are seen in supernatural phenomena such as visions in the sky and the appearance of apparitions and ghostly lights.
A Biblical Perspective:
The Scriptures clearly prohibit Divination or the reading of Omens in any form. Divination is the attempt to divine the mind of Deity through some means other than God's way. It is an attempt to understand the past, present, or future by some means other than the revelation of God. The revelation may come through various means, but ultimately any revelation apart from God is divination. God's revelation and divination are opposites.
Divination or the reading of Omens usurps the rightful place of the Scripture in the life of the Christian. It attempts to give direction and guidance to the individual. The Bible is clear on the subject. Divination, is an abomination to God. Some would have us believe the Bible endorses Divination as an art that offers mankind an understanding of his true self, an opportunity to create his or her own reality to suit his or her personal spiritual goals. The following Scripture indicates otherwise.
'When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices Divination or Sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.' - Deuteronomy 18:9-11
Scripture also calls each of us to place our faith in Jesus Christ rather than the created universe. The book of Colossians reminds the individual to "see to it that no one takes you captive through vain philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of man, according to the elemental principles of the universe, rather than according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8)
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.
Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans. Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.
Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church. Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.
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