Thursday, January 3, 2013

Omens for 2013?

An omen for 2013?
The sky was overcast in my city on New Year’s day.  That’s surely the sign of a disappointing 2013.  On the other hand, maybe things start off dark and lighten up as time goes on: an in like a lion, out like lamb sort of thing.

There were other dark indicators, including a cold, a lost job and a broken vacuum.  The dog was scratching nonstop.  Must be signs pointing toward a disappointing year.  On the other hand, the weather was warmer than normal; the checkbook still has a positive balance.  Those are good omens, right?

It’s hard to read the indications when they are so mixed.

That didn’t stop me from trying or anyone else for that matter.  We all do it.  We look at daily events, in the skies, in random events, hoping to see some indication of what the future holds.  It’s human nature.

A successful hunt
The cave drawings in France reflect that.  Thousands of years old, they often depict successful future hunts, letting the gods know what these early humans wanted.  In essence, they created omens. In later cultures, like the Romans, priests dutifully searched the blood entrails of animals for hints of divine messages.  We weren’t sending then: we were receiving.

Predictions are the natural result of trying to read omens.  If they are read correctly, then we can see the future. 

Astrology was created for just that purpose: to see our future in the stars.  No matter that it’s absolute nonsense, completely refuted by science.  Famed astrologers had no better success than amateurs.  For example, Nostradamus, the 1500s seer whose name still means predictive success, was paid well to cast horoscopes for wealthy clients.  Too bad for his reputation that some of his charts have survived.  They were invariably wrong. 

Roman emperors relied on astrology.  So did medieval popes. At least one American president, Ronald Reagan, endorsed it.

Tarot cards
If you don’t like to study the stars, there are also tarot cards, which supposedly provide the clues to the viewer’s fate.  Palm readers make the same claim.  I remember one telling my mother than she would marry and have two children – unaware of course that she was already married and had four sons.

The idea that somehow we can divine the future underlines the constantly failed predictions of the end of the world.  After all, don’t we have a holy book that supposedly contains all information?  The future must be in there somewhere.

The Bible Code was built on that premise.  Letters could be lined up to show such past events as the atomic bomb.  Unfortunately, when the same effort was applied to the future, the code bombed.  Besides, investigators soon showed that the same results could be achieved using any other novel.

Reading tea leaves is a hit-or-miss proposition.  So is sniffing nutmeg, Nostradamus’ preferred method. 

Today’s psychics have no better success rate.  While one or two occasionally score a hit – make enough predictions, and one of them is likely to happen – their forecasts rarely match up with reality.  Scientists have the same problem.  In a book of predictions released in the 1970s and covering the next 30 years, only one scientist actually made a correct call – he predicted personal computers.  No one else in the large book -- scholar, scientist or psychic -- came even close to predicting actual events.

Despite the obvious failures, we continue to look at the signs – real or imaginary -- on a regular basis: the eventual winner of a big game; a stock that is sure to rise; tomorrow’s weather; and so on.  Such claims are based on facts.  That still doesn’t mean they will actually occur.  A prediction of a victory, such as Joe Namath’s prideful and ultimately correct boast that his Jets would beat the mighty Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl, sticks in our memory because such predictions rarely come true.

The truth is that the future is unknown.  What happens today may or may not be a guide for tomorrow.  That’s because situations change.  Predictions are based on our world staying on the same course, but that’s not reality.   As a result, weathermen are often wrong. A Louisville football team can upset the mighty Florida Gators, despite all the obvious signs that was impossible.

I saw that first hand after asking a Unitarian congregation I regularly address to make predictions for the coming year.  I saved the predictions for two years and then spoke to the members again.  Of all the predictions – and people chose obvious things like a cruise already paid for or the planned marriage of a child – only one came true.  The rest were wrong: illness blocked the cruise; the happy couple separated etc.

The correct one, a mild one about a parishioner moving to another housing facility, occurred, although the timing was off.  I suggested that the person who actually predicted her future should go out and buy a lottery ticket.  She did; it wasn’t a winner.

A successful prediction was not an omen for a more positive future.  Nothing is.  Dark clouds are just that.  They don’t given an indication of the future any more than Mayan calendars do.

 Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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