This is typical of the cup being too often consulted by some people. It
is almost void of meaning, the only symbols indicating a short journey,
although the flower near the rim denotes good luck, and the fact that
the bottom is clear that nothing very important is about to happen to
Line of dots leading W.S.W to
Two letters near rim
How have omens been regarded in the past? An appeal to anciency is
usually a safeguard for a basis. It is found that most of the earliest
records are now subsisting. See official guide to the British Museum.
Babylonian and Assyrian antiquities, table case H. Nineveh Gallery, the
"By means of omen tablets the Babylonian and Assyrian priests from time
immemorial predicted events which they believed would happen in the near
or in the remote future. They deduced these omens from the appearance
and actions of animals, birds, fish, and reptiles; from the appearance
of the entrails of sacrificial victims; from the appearance and
condition of human and animal offspring at birth; from the state and
condition of various members of the human body."
In India, where the records of the early ages of civilization go back
hundreds of years, omens are considered of great importance.
Later, in Greece, the home of the greatest and highest culture and
civilization, we find, too, omens regarded very seriously, while to-day
there are vast numbers of persons of intellect, the world over, who
place reliance upon omens.
That there is some good ground for belief in some omens seems
indisputable. Whether this has arisen as the result of experience, by
the following of some particular event close upon the heels of signs
observed, or whether it has been an intuitive science, in which
provision has been used to afford an interpretation, is not quite
clear. It seems idle to attempt to dismiss the whole thing as mere
superstition, wild guessing, or abject credulity, as some try to do,
with astrology and alchemy also, and other occult sciences; the fact
remains that omens have, in numberless instances, given good warnings.
To say that these are just coincidences is to beg the question. For
the universe is governed by law. Things happen because they must, not
because they may. There is no such thing as accident or coincidence. We
may not be able to see the steps and the connections. But they are there
all the same.
In years gone by many signs were deduced from the symptoms of sick
men; the events or actions of a man's life; dreams and visions; the
appearance of a man's shadow; from fire, flame, light, or smoke; the
state and condition of cities and their streets, of fields, marshes,
rivers, and lands. From the appearances of the stars and planets, of
eclipses, meteors, shooting stars, the direction of winds, the form of
clouds, thunder and lightning and other weather incidents, they were
able to forecast happenings. A number of tablets are devoted to these
It is conceivable that many of these omens should have found their way
into Greece, and it is not unreasonable to believe that India may have
derived her knowledge of omens from Babylonia; or it may have been the
other way about. The greatest of scholars are divided in their opinions
as to which really is the earlier civilization.
The point to be made here is that in all parts of the world--in
quarters where we may be certain that no trace of Grecian, Indian, or
Babylonian science or civilization has appeared--there are to be found
systems of prophecies by omens.
It may be accounted for in two ways. One that in all races as they grow
up, so to speak, there is the same course of evolution of ideas and
superstition which to many appears childish. The other explanation seems
to be the more reasonable one, if we believe, as we are forced to
do, that omens do foretell--that all peoples, all races, accumulate a
record, oral or otherwise, of things which have happened more or less
connected with things which seemed to indicate them. In course of time
this knowledge appears to consolidate. It gets generally accepted as
true. And then it is handed on from generation to generation. Often with
the passage of years it gets twisted and a new meaning taken out of it
altogether different from the original.
It would be difficult to attempt to classify omens. Many books have been
written on the subject and more yet to be written of the beliefs of the
various races. The best that can be offered here is a selection from one
or other of the varied sources. In Greece sneezing was a good omen and
was considered a proof of the truth of what was said at the moment by
A tingling in the hand denoted the near handling of money, a ringing
in the ears that news will soon be received. The number of sneezes then
became a sign for more definite results. The hand which tingled, either
right or left, indicated whether it were to be paid or received. The
particular ear affected was held to indicate good or evil news.
Other involuntary movements of the body were also considered of prime
Many omens are derived from the observation of various substances
dropped into a bowl of water. In Babylon oil was used. To-day in various
countries melted lead, wax, or the white of an egg, is used. From the
shapes which result, the trade or occupation of a future husband, the
luck for the year, and so on, are deduced in the folk practices of
modern Europe. Finns use stearine and melted lead, Magyars lead,
Russians wax, Danes lead and egg, and the northern counties of England
egg, wax and oil.
Bird omens were the subject of very serious study in Greece. It has been
thought that this was because in the early mythology of Greece some
of their gods and goddesses were believed to have been birds. Birds,
therefore, were particularly sacred, and their appearances and movements
were of profound significance. The principal birds for signs were the
raven, the crow, the heron, wren, dove, woodpecker, and kingfisher, and
all the birds of prey, such as the hawk, eagle, or vulture, which the
ancients classed together (W. R. Halliday, "Greek Divination"). Many
curious instances, which were fulfilled, of bird omens are related in
"The Other World," by Rev. F. Lee. A number of families have traditions
about the appearance of a white bird in particular.
"In the ancient family of Ferrers, of Chartley Park, in Staffordshire, a
herd of wild cattle is preserved. A tradition arose in the time of Henry
III. that the birth of a parti-coloured calf is a sure omen of death,
within the same year, to a member of the Lord Ferrers family. By
a noticeable coincidence, a calf of this description has been born
whenever a death has happened of late years in this noble family."
(_Staffordshire Chronicle_, July, 1835). The falling of a picture or a
statue or bust of the individual is usually regarded as an evil omen.
Many cases are cited where this has been soon followed by the death of
It would be easy to multiply instances of this sort: of personal omen or
warning. The history and traditions of our great families are saturated
with it. The predictions and omens relating to certain well known
families, and others, recur at once; and from these it may be inferred
that beneath the more popular beliefs there is enough fire and truth to
justify the smoke that is produced, and to reward some of the faith
that is placed in the modern dreambooks and the books of fate and the
interpretations of omens.