Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Omens of the Weird Sort

The sky turned an ominous red as the wind picked up its pace, turning the girl’s hair to a golden wayward river. She knew then that the dreaded event was upon her; the signs never lied.

Omens. Crows, magpies and a scarlet ring around the moon: all taken as signs through the centuries as supernatural gossip of things to come. The sages used them to enlighten us while the madder took the advantage to instill fear in the more gullible. Poor men rose to power while mighty leaders fell to the mercy of double-jointed chickens and crones’ visions. Why? Because of the power of omens.

“Omen: an event seen as a sign of future good or bad luck”—Oxford English Dictionary, 2006
“…An omen is a phenomenon that is believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change.”--

A few things that I grew up believing in (please don’t freak out):
1. Itchy left palm= you’re going to spend money
2. Itchy right palm= you’re getting money (this doesn’t work if you apply itching powder so don’t even bother)
3. If you bite your tongue, it means that someone’s talking about you.
4. If you cough (practically choke) during a meal, someone is talking BAD about you.
5. Itchy left foot= you’re going on a journey
(Author’s note: People, I know there’s a lot of itching going on, but bear with me; it does stop eventually.)
6. If a photo of someone falls without human (animal or plant) intervention, something bad will happen to that person.
7. If your left eye twitches uncontrollably (and people huff off because they don’t appreciate being winked at by total strangers), someone is missing you.
8. If a very sweet smell suddenly permeates the air around you (and there isn’t a crazed perfume sales girl running at you), there is a ghost nearby.
9. A dog howling in the middle of the night means that the spirits have come out to play (insert eerie opera vocals here).
Now you can scream and run!

So how did the existence of and our readiness to believe in omens come about?
“...Traditionally the treatments of omens have assumed a sequence where first a peculiar feature of the environment is detected (an omen), it is then explained so that one can find out its meaning (result) which most often is of concern to the individual. Thus the sequence has previously been taken to be (indeed this is the pattern assumed by Victorian anthropology, which rendered interpretation of omens a pseudo-science): Omen  – Explanation – Result – (Concern)”--
No, that wasn’t French just then. In laymen’s terms, like in the case of superstition, all we want to do is interpret what goes on in our surroundings, based on our experiences and culture. I often wonder if our belief actually makes these things come true—if the power of suggestion plays a part in how omens gather their cronies. No one has actually given it much thought, so neither shall I. All I know is that we have always moved house every time a woodpecker knocked on our roof and that everyone I know who have moles on their feet end up living away from home. Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

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