An omen (also called portent or presage) is a phenomenon
A phenomenon , plural phenomena, is any observable occurrence. Phenomena are often, but not always, understood as 'appearances' or 'experiences'...

 that is believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change. Though the word "omen" is usually devoid of reference to the change's nature, hence being possibly either "good" or "bad", the term is more often used in a foreboding sense, as with the word "ominous".


The English word omen is derived from the Old Latin word osmen and came into common usage in 1580. The origin of the old Latin version of the word is unknown, although it may be connected with the Latin word audire, meaning "to hear."

Ancient Rome

Ancient Roman religion
Religion in ancient Rome
Religion in ancient Rome encompassed the religious beliefs and cult practices regarded by the Romans as indigenous and central to their identity as a people, as well as the various and many cults imported from other peoples brought under Roman rule. Romans thus offered cult to innumerable deities...

 employed two distinct types of professional omen readers. Augurs interpreted the flights of birds, while haruspices
In Roman and Etruscan religious practice, a haruspex was a man trained to practice a form of divination called haruspicy, hepatoscopy or hepatomancy. Haruspicy is the inspection of the entrails of sacrificed animals, especially the livers of sacrificed sheep and poultry...

 employed animal sacrifice
Animal sacrifice
Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practised by many religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature...

 to obtain the entrails necessary for divination.


In the field of astrology
Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world...

, solar and lunar eclipses (along with the appearance of comet
A comet is an icy small Solar System body that, when close enough to the Sun, displays a visible coma and sometimes also a tail. These phenomena are both due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind upon the nucleus of the comet...

s and to some extent the full moon
Full moon
Full moon lunar phase that occurs when the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. More precisely, a full moon occurs when the geocentric apparent longitudes of the Sun and Moon differ by 180 degrees; the Moon is then in opposition with the Sun.Lunar eclipses can only occur at...

) have often been considered omens of notable births
Childbirth is the culmination of a human pregnancy or gestation period with the birth of one or more newborn infants from a woman's uterus...

, death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

s, or other significant events throughout history in many societies. One biblical example is the Magi
Magi is a term, used since at least the 4th century BC, to denote a follower of Zoroaster, or rather, a follower of what the Hellenistic world associated Zoroaster with, which...

 in the Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

 who predicted the birth of Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 after seeing the Star of Bethlehem
Star of Bethlehem
In Christian tradition, the Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, revealed the birth of Jesus to the magi, or "wise men", and later led them to Bethlehem. The star appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where magi "from the east" are inspired by the star to travel to...


Good or bad

Omens may be considered either good or bad depending on their interpretation. The same sign may be interpreted differently by different people or different cultures.

For example, a superstition
Superstition is a belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any process in the physical world linking the two events....

 in the United States and other countries across Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 indicates that a black cat
Black cat
A black cat is a feline with black fur. It is not a particular breed of cat and may be mixed or of a specific breed. The Bombay, known for its sleek black fur, is an example of a black cat. The all-black pigmentation is equally prevalent in both male and female cats...

 is an omen of bad luck.

Comets also have been considered to be both good and bad omens. The best-known example is probably Halley's Comet, which was a "bad omen" for King Harold II of England
Harold Godwinson
Harold Godwinson was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England.It could be argued that Edgar the Atheling, who was proclaimed as king by the witan but never crowned, was really the last Anglo-Saxon king...

 but a "good omen" for William the Conqueror
William I of England
William I , also known as William the Conqueror , was the first Norman King of England from Christmas 1066 until his death. He was also Duke of Normandy from 3 July 1035 until his death, under the name William II...


Indian Astrology

"Nimmita" or "shukuna shastra" is the identification and interpretation of omens in Hindu astrology.

Omens seen, heard, or even visualized at the initiation of an activity are said to foretell the outcome of the activity. Shakun & Utpaatsis a branch of Indian astrology dealing with; interpretation of dreams, status of living & non-living items in the environment, sounds produced by human & animals, analysis of portents, and modes of pacification of adverse omens and portents. It acts as a guide in horary astrology
Electional astrology
Electional astrology, also known as event astrology, is a branch found in most traditions of astrology in which a practitioner decides the most appropriate time for an event based on the astrological auspiciousness of that time...

 when there is a stalemate. In Nimmita it is thought that coming events reveal their results prior to them actually occurring in a means similar to foreshadowing in stories.

According to Nimmita, omens seen at the start of an action foretell its outcome. As a result when an adverse omen occurs some practitioners of Nimmita will say the activity should not be initiated.

The treatises on Hindu
Hindu astrology , also Jyotish or Jyotisha, from Sanskrit , from "light, heavenly body") is the ancient Indian system of astronomy and astrology...

 astrology have discussed omens in detail in regards to "travel elections". On seeing an inauspicious omen the treatises state the person should halt their journey and return to the starting point. Upon reaching the starting point the traveler is advised to recite Pranayam
Pranayam is a 2011 Malayalam romantic drama film written and directed by Blessy. The film revolves around the love bound between the characters of Mathews , Grace and Achutha Menon ....

 (a specific Mantra
A mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of "creating transformation"...

’s recitation) eleven times and then start the journey once more. If an inauspicious omen is again seen during the trip the traveler should return to the starting point once more and recite Pranayam 16 times, restarting the journey once more. Should an inauspicious omen be observed a third time the treatises state the journey should be abandoned.


In Nimmita numerous different aspects of the omen come into play in interpreting what the omen means. The severity of an omen is assessed based on its position with respect to the observer, it's direction in respect to the observer, time of its observation, the speed of the omen, the sounds heard during the omen, and the place where an omen is observed.

See also

  • Biblical Magi
    Biblical Magi
    The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

  • Battle of Halys
    Battle of Halys
    The Battle of Halys, also known as the Battle of the Eclipse, took place at the river Halys on May 28, 585 BC between the Medes and the Lydians...

  • Coincidence
    A coincidence is an event notable for its occurring in conjunction with other conditions, e.g. another event. As such, a coincidence occurs when something uncanny, accidental and unexpected happens under conditions named, but not under a defined relationship...

  • Death-warning
    Death-warning, a term used in parapsychological research for an intimation of the death of another person received by other than the ordinary sensory channels, i.e...

  • Delusions of reference
  • Divination
    Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic standardized process or ritual...

  • Harbinger
    -Places:* Montes Harbinger, lunar mountains* Harbinger, an unincorporated community in Currituck County, North Carolina-Transportation:* Harbinger , ship also called Norfolk in 1797* Harbinger , thoroughbred racehorse...

  • Luck
    Luck or fortuity is good fortune which occurs beyond one's control, without regard to one's will, intention, or desired result. There are at least two senses people usually mean when they use the term, the prescriptive sense and the descriptive sense...

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