In Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist, the protagonist Santiago gets recurring dreams about hidden treasures. Believing the boy’s dreams to be an omen, a gypsy fortune teller advises him to go to Egypt. While journeying through the Egyptian desert, Santiago gets fascinated by omens and strives to understand them better. Eventually, he learns to read omens himself and allows them to guide him on his journey. These omens help him meet an alchemist, recognise his true love, and eventually discover the hidden treasure.
Unlike Santiago, most of us may not believe in omens or read them just yet. But we certainly cannot deny we are fascinated with them. Be it through dreams, eclipses or inexplicable coincidences, omens intrigue us. Believed to be subtle affirmations when we are on the brink of doing something right or a foreboding warning when we are about to do something wrong, these ‘divine messages’ are believed to mark the advent of significant changes–good or bad. No wonder since time immemorial, omens have influenced kings, warriors and mystics alike. Soulveda explores some of the legends and historical events that were triggered or affected by a belief in omens:
The Battle of the Eclipse
It is common knowledge that the ancient Greeks were well versed in astronomy. However, a solar eclipse scared two powerful leaders enough to call a truce and make peace. According to historian Herodotus, the Medes and the Lydians had been warring against each other for over five years. They were, in fact, battling on the banks of the River Halys when the solar eclipse occurred. Considering the sudden blackout to be an omen, they decided that the gods were against the war. The two parties then buried the hatchet and became allies. To strengthen their relationship, the Lydian princess even married the Prince of the Medes.
Queen Maya’s Dream
A legend goes that Queen Maya and King Suddhodana of Sakya did not have children for 20 years. However, on a full moon night, Maya dreamt that she was carried by four devas to the top of the Himalayas. She was bathed in the waters of Lake Anotatta and was adorned with clothes and flowers. Soon after, a young white elephant with six tusks approached her, carrying a white lotus. It then entered Maya’s womb. Upon interpreting this dream, an astrologer prophesised that Maya would become a mother to a pure soul who would impart wisdom to the world. Ten months later, she birthed Siddhartha who indeed went on to become Gautama Buddha.
Whether or not we believe in omens, they have certainly influenced legends and rewritten the course of history. Many may dismiss them as superstition, but the fascination with omens persists.