Examples of omens from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493): natural phenomena and unnatural births.

An omen (also called portent or presage) is a phenomenon that is believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change.[1] 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."[2]

Ancient Rome

Ancient Roman religion employed two distinct types of professional omen readers. Augurs interpreted the flights of birds, while haruspices employed animal sacrifice to obtain the entrails necessary for divination.


In the field of astrology, solar and lunar eclipses (along with the appearance of comets and to some extent the full moon) have often been considered omens of notable births, deaths, or other significant events throughout history in many societies. One biblical example is the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew who predicted the birth of Jesus after seeing the Star of Bethlehem.

Good or bad

Halley's Comet's appearance in 1066 was recorded on the Bayeux Tapestry. ISTI MIRANT STELLA literally means "These ones are looking in wonder at the star". National Geographic translated it in a 1966 article about the tapestry as "These men wonder at the star."

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 in the United States and other countries across Europe indicates that a black cat is an omen of bad luck.[3]

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 but a "good omen" for William the Conqueror.[4]

Indian Astrology

"Nimmita" or "shukuna shastra" is the identification and interpretation of omens in Hindu astrology.[5]

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 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.[6]

The treatises on Hindu astrology have discussed omens in detail in regards to "travel elections".[7] 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 (a specific Mantra’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


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  • OMEN — pro quolibet auspicio augurioque: tibullus l. 3. El. 3. Aves dant Omina dira. C. Petronius Satyr. Fortior Ominibus movit Mavortia signa Caesar. I. e. auguriis. Sueton. Nerone c. 46. Terrebatur evidentibus portentis somniorum et auspiciorum et… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Omen — (Pl. Omen oder Omina, v. lat.: omen = Vorzeichen, Vogelschau) ist ein Vorzeichen eines zukünftigen Ereignisses und findet in der Vorhersage dessen seine Verwendung. Insgesamt wird das Erkennen von Omen und das darauf basierende Wahrsagen als… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Omen — Sn Vorzeichen (immer mit dem Zusatz gut oder böse) erw. bildg. (16. Jh.) Entlehnung. Entlehnt aus l. ōmen Vorzeichen , dessen Herkunft unklar ist. Das zugehörige Adjektiv ominös aus l. ōminōsus ist in seiner Bedeutung auf das schlechte Omen… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • omen — omen·tal; omen·to·pexy; omen·tu·lum; omen·tum; omen; …   English syllables

  • Omen — O men, n. [L. omen, the original form being osmen, according to Varro.] An occurrence supposed to portend, or show the character of, some future event; any indication or action regarded as a foreshowing; a foreboding; a presage; an augury. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Omen — das; s, Plur. u. Ōmina <aus gleichbed. lat. omen> (gutes od. schlechtes) Vorzeichen; Vorbedeutung; vgl. ↑nomen est omen …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • omen — {{/stl 13}}{{stl 8}}rz. mnż I, D. u, Mc. omennie, blm {{/stl 8}}{{stl 7}} znak zapowiadający coś; wróżba, przepowiednia, prognostyk : {{/stl 7}}{{stl 10}}Uważać coś za dobry, zły omen.{{/stl 10}}{{stl 18}}ZOB. {{/stl 18}}{{stl 10}}nomen omen… …   Langenscheidt Polski wyjaśnień

  • Omen — O men, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Omened}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Omening}.] To divine or to foreshow by signs or portents; to have omens or premonitions regarding; to predict; to augur; as, to omen ill of an enterprise. [1913 Webster] The yet unknown… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • omen — (n.) 1580s, from L. omen foreboding, from Old L. osmen, of unknown origin; perhaps connected with the root of audire to hear [OED] or from PIE *o to believe, hold as true (Cf. Gk. oiomai I suppose, think, believe ) …   Etymology dictionary

  • omen — ȏmen m DEFINICIJA dobar ili loš predznak, dobra ili loša slutnja (u rimskoj i drugim religijama); kob, znamenje ETIMOLOGIJA lat. omen …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • Omen — »(gutes oder schlechtes) Vorzeichen; Vorbedeutung«: Das Fremdwort wurde im 16. Jh. aus gleichbed. lat. omen (ominis) übernommen, dessen weitere Zugehörigkeit unsicher ist. – Abl.: ominös »von schlimmer Vorbedeutung, unheilvoll; bedenklich;… …   Das Herkunftswörterbuch

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