So just under two weeks ago [now well over a month] I had just finished cleaning my offering bowl when it slipped from my hands and broke upon the floor. This wouldn't have been terribly surprising, a dropped ceramic or glass dish is bound to shatter when it hits a ceramic floor; the thing is that my bowl is (was) made of wood. It wasn't even a clean break, it did not split along the grain of the wood; rather, a large chunk of it simply came away in one jagged piece. I had had this particular bowl for over three years, and here it was, useless. Suddenly a wave of foreboding swept over me, and the day which followed was, indeed, a terrible one. Nothing seemed to go right from that point on, and while I did prevail in whatever tasks were required, the effort was far greater than it should have been, and the results less than stellar.
This got me to thinking about the nature of omens, particularly of the negative variety. Now, before I go any further, perhaps a bit of a side note about the nature of omens, "believing in them", and psychosomaticism. While I tend to be rather skeptical of many forms of divination, I at least acknowledge that in the given world view I have adopted, "reading the signs" is well attested to in various sources, especially when it comes to methods like augury. With that said, I do tend to pay closer attention to specific instances of avian activity which seem rather odd or happenstance. Or, in the case above, when something I am doing in a ritual format results in something out of the ordinary (like dropping and ruining a vessel used for offerings). These sorts of things tend to make me step back and consider whether or not these are omens, or just random events. Though I suppose it bears mentioning that meaning is something one imparts onto an experience and so if a given event is understood to have a given significance, then it does so, at least on a personal level. I do believe that people can "psych" themselves out, unconsciously sabotaging themselves or reading too much into something and then seeing the results of the bad omen everywhere they look. There is, I believe, a line between self inflicted grief and external grief, the avoidance of which is not in a given individuals powers to have agency over.
I suppose that despite my ingrained skepticism, I have been making an effort to be more "open" to such experiences, and not just brushing them off as coincidence or happenstance. It would seem that I am not alone about being cautious and not jumping to conclusions, but also to be discerning and not merely dismissive, when it comes to interpreting such things.
As always, I do like going back to the sources, especially the tales, as they can provide some much needed perspective. Clearly omens and the reading of signs was considerably important, and for a very significant part of the litterature, the narrative will actuall revolve around some kind of prophecy, omen reading, or reaction to. This raises a good number of other questions and concerns, which are beyond the scope of this post anyway, but clearly the importance of correctly understanding the "signs" was something which was stressed.
So what to make of it all, there is the distinct possibility that my bowl just broke because it was dropped, and reading anymore into it is silly. The subsequent rotten day would have been so, regardless of wether or not I had dropped and broken my bowl in the first place. Of course, it would then merit pointing out that the later events were not actually caused by the breaking of the bowl, only that it foreshadowed what was to come. This, I think, is an important distinction to make because omens are not, necessarily, prophecy and "reading the signs" is not, necessarily, divining the future. The latter implies a chain of events or single event which will ultimaely lead to something. The former foreshadows that something may occur, and based on understanding what the omen means, wether it bodes ill or good. I suppose in either case there is a certain lack of agency, which can be disquieting, but then again sometimes, and despite your best efforts, things do not always go as you want them to.
But it helps to have a little warning.
PS: Since we are on the subject of coincidence, I had actually written a good chunk of this post almost a month ago, but then got fussy about where to go with it. Then Seren goes and publishes a related, but slightly different post only a day or so ago which provided some perspective, and got me thinking about this whole business again.
Is that weird, or what?