Omens, Signs, Portents, and Cigars

Omens, signs, portents, and cigars? Augury, the practice of divination using omens, has fascinated, foretold, and, at times, fooled humankind since antiquity. Ancestral stories shape-shifting through shrouded mists of yore tell of portents, ofsacred or sometimes sinister signs of celestial guidance from the stars and comets, of Raven's "Nevermore." Grandma read the clouds and knew when to plant the sweet peas. Farmers checked wooly caterpillars to foretell how cold the winter was going to be.  Children looked for a four-leafed clover. Magi searched the starry sky.  And so on. Communing within oneness, rooted in an inherent understanding of a participatory universe, “augurs”, originally as priests and priestesses in rituals of fertility and increase and later as prophets, soothsayers, or fortunetellers, viewed omens or signs as information surfacing from universal consciousness.  Omens might appear either unbidden or in answer to a query.   A query might be asked with an intent that answers arise from the environment; such as, an appearance of a comet or a sudden, violent storm, or a flock of birds. Or, a query might be made using tools designated for divining.  (See "Argonauts and Augur Nuts") The trick or challenge was learning to interpret the identified information with skill, accuracy, and reliability.

Omens have intrigued or beguiled most of us at some time in our lives.  Most of us have experienced some sign or omen that caught our attention, startled us, or raised the hair on the nape of our neck. Perhaps even, our interest compelled us enough to wonder what divinatory purpose the omen held for us. We may have felt a nagging sense of unresolve, but shrugged it off as nonsense or not important.  As with augurs of old, the challenge of divination is learning to interpret information. Indeed, we can all learn to divine. I recommend "How to Read Signs and Omens in Everyday Life" by Sarvananda Bluestone, Ph.D.  inspirational methods and exercises to practice working with omens.

Awareness is key for interpretation of omens. Having an awareness of and being receptive to an interactive communication with universal intelligence is a first step in noticing and understanding omens. Pay attention to what is going on around you and within you.  If something seems out of the ordinary or odd or out of context in some way, pay attention.

If an omen presents itself to you, ask yourself if it is a message or answer to a question you've been pondering or a situation you're wondering about. What is the context of the omen?  What feelings arise in you?  What history, if any, do you have with the sign or omen.  Has a sign come to you more than once? Be observant. And, be realistic.

If a crow roosts in an Elm tree in your backyard and habitually caws at the daily trapeze antics of your cat vaulting from limb to limb--- well, ho hum.  If, however, a crow flies up to you, hovers in mid-air, rotates its head side-to-side while intently looking at you, drops down to the ground, hops back and forth several times, and then flies off in the same direction from which it came, you might ask yourself what that meant.  If said crow repeated that same routine three more times in the span of a few hours, you had better ask what that meant.

The above scenario happened to me when I was trapped in the epicenter of a forest fire in New Mexico a few years ago.  Each time, that crow flew in and flew out in the only direction to safety out of the fire.  I knew that crow was a sign of direct guidance and communication to get me out of a dangerous situation. Through a practice of shamanic journeying I had previously developed a relationship with Crow as a Spirit Helper, so knew the bizarre behavior of that crow in New Mexico was a message, an omen, for me.  In that instance, the omen presented itself to me without my having asked for a sign.

Another incident that clearly was an omen happened with a friend during a shamanic workshop exercise in which we found ourselves lost one late afternoon within a 300-acre National Forest Reserve. A path we were following suddenly forked and we had no idea which way to go. I looked toward the sky and through fear-tightened vocal chords, wheezed out a plea something to the effect of, "Okay Spirits.  We need help. Soon.  As in now. How do we get out of here?"

It was not one of my more eloquent prayers. But, when we looked back down at the paths, a large turkey feather stood up about five feet in front of us  in the middle of one of the paths,  its tip stuck firmly into the ground. That turkey feather had not been there a few seconds before.  I pulled the feather out of the ground and held onto it for dear life while we followed that directed path to safety.

The universe seems to have appointed birds as personal omens for me. Feeling despondent and dispirited one morning as I drove on the interstate into work, I asked Spirit for a sign of encouragement that I was, indeed, still being guided on my spiritual path of healing and not just off in La-La-Land on a personal, ego aggrandizement. In particular, I was discouraged about the slow progress in my son's healing and questioned my true connection to Spiritual help.

In the midst of my petition for a guiding sign, I watched an eagle lift off the steep rock cliffs on the right side of the interstate and elegantly swoop through the sky in front of me.  As I watched, Eagle turned and dropped down directly in front of my Jeep, flying about ten feet off the ground in front of me. For a few seconds, as I watched in mute wonderment, that eagle was so close I could see his tail feathers.

I've related that story several times and have had more than a few people tell me that eagles do not fly at 65-m.p.h, which is how fast I was driving.  And more than a few have pointed out that, although eagles do live in Vermont, they're somewhat rare. Maybe so.  But, the fact remains, an eagle did fly for a few seconds in front of me at 65 m.p.h.and lifted my spirits when I needed it.

On the occasions with the turkey feather and then with the eagle, I specifically had requested "a sign."  In both instances, the sign immediately presented itself. As with the crow in New Mexico, I intuitively knew what they meant and felt embraced, heard, "at one" with the universe.

While wandering through your wondering mind whether in a shamanic journey, a dream, a guided visualzation, divination, or any other form of information gathering, consider the following:

  • Set an intention (ask a question, ask for a healing, etc) .
  • Remember everything you can:
    • where (home, school, forest, distant planet, backyard...?)
    • who (friend, family,  stranger,  archetypal figure, rock star...?)
    • what (objects, events, situations... what's happening?)
    • when (nighttime, 503 BCE, your six-year-old birthday party..?)
    • feelings (fear, happy, confused, angry...?)
  • Trust your ability to interpret your own guidance
  • Keep a journal: Record your dreams, journeys, divinings, etc.  You'll be amazed. I recently read through a journal about shamanic journeys I did nearly eight years ago and was astonished at the relevancy and immediacy my notes still held for me.

Now, what do cigars have to do with omens, signs and portents?  Nothing.  As my friend David Corbin, faculty member of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies often says with a twinkle in his eyes while teaching shamanic workshops, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."