An omen (also called portent or presage) is a phenomenon that is believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change. People in the ancient times believed that omens lie with a divine message from their gods. These omens include natural phenomena, for example an eclipse, abnormal births of animals and humans and behavior of the sacrificial lamb on its way to the slaughter. They had specialists, the diviners, to interpret these omens. They would also use an artificial method, for example, a clay model of a sheep liver, to communicate with their gods in times of crisis. They would expect a binary answer, either yes or no answer, favorable or unfavorable. They did these to predict what would happen in the future and to take action to avoid disaster.
- The omen was foretold, and now we have a fear more grave. Today I saw the day become like night. I saw a man run with the jaguar. We must not let this man make feet from us.
- * Εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάτρης.
- Without a sign his sword the brave man draws,
And asks no omen but his country's cause.
- 'Fourteen clear signs of omen in the gem
With which Medea human fate foretold
- Eugene Lee-Hamilton, What the Sonnet Is (1845)
- Perfect knowledge of such things cannot be acquired without divine inspiration, given that all prophetic inspiration derives its initial origin from God Almighty, then from chance and nature. Since all these portents are produced impartially, prophecy comes to pass partly as predicted. For understanding created by the intellect cannot be acquired by means of the occult, only by the aid of the zodiac, bringing forth that small flame by whose light part of the future may be discerned. We need god to prosper those without him will not.
- Alas, why gnaw you so your nether lip?
Some bloody passion shakes your very frame;
These are portents; but yet I hope, I hope,
They do not point on me.
- The sweet imperious mouth, whose haughty valor
Defied all portents of impending doom.
- Sarah Helen Whitman, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919) The Portrait.