- Occurrences outside human control, interpreted by communal tradition as foretelling future events (e.g. seeing *magpies, hearing an *owl hoot); they differ from *taboo actions which cause bad luck but can and should be avoided, and also from deliberate attempts to discover the future by *divinations and *fortune-telling. Some foretell something pleasant: to see a small *spider on your hand means money, to find nine peas in one pod means (for a girl) a happy marriage. Others foretell misfortunes, especially death. Such beliefs are extremely widespread in European folk culture, where many English examples can find parallels.Many omens are drawn from things natural in themselves; they become significant either because the observer is currently in some stressful situation, or retrospectively, once something has happened to 'fulfil' them. Others are perceived as supernatural phenomena which only ever appear as warnings - *corpse candles, *wraiths, the Gabriel Ratchets. Some items straddle the categories: *comets were supernatural to some, natural but sinister to others; *dreams are, to most people, a natural phenomenon, but some think they can be sent from God, while others regard the ability to 'dream true' as a personal psychic power. Underlying the whole concept is a belief in *fate (or Providence) rather than mere chance: the future is already fixed, and omens offer glimpses of its pattern.Most folklore collections and all books on superstitions mix together the things said to cause good or bad luck and the true omens, which merely foretell it; their bald listings give no clue to the emotional importance omens can have in helping people to see a pattern in their lives, come to terms with loss, and so forth.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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