The other day I had an experience which might be considered an omen. I had been debating about whether or not I should attend a certain meeting. I wasn’t sure what I should say at the meeting and I doubted that my presence would make a difference. I also had a conflicting obligation at the same time. When I went to bed the night before the meeting, I had definitely decided not to go.

When I woke up the next morning, however, I realized that I had dreamed about this meeting. In my dream I arranged for someone else to cover for me at my other obligation and I knew exactly what I should say at the meeting. Unlike most dreams, I could remember every detail. It was so odd that I wondered if it were some kind of revelation or perhaps my unconscious mind working overtime.

I also had a feeling that the dream was something that I just couldn’t ignore. I ended up doing exactly what the dream prescribed. At this point I’m not sure that attending the meeting made any difference, but I don’t regret going. I feel like I did the right thing.

Such experiences must be more common than we realize. Just the other day my wife Diane and I heard a woman say that her daughter was questioning whether her new job choice was the right decision. Her new position was quite stressful and she was considering making a change. She was looking for some sign to help her make a decision. About that time she attended a trade association meeting where she won first prize in a drawing. The prize turned out to be a full year’s membership dues. She took this random occurrence, as many people would, as a sign that she was meant to stay in her new job.

Since ancient times, people have sought out omens and signs to guide them, especially in critical aspects of life such as work, money, health and survival. Gabriele Lepori from the Copenhagen Business School says that psychological research indicates that individuals are most likely to seek out omens and signs “in environments dominated by uncertainty, high stakes, and perceived lack of control over the outcomes.”

Omens and signs can be rooted in religious beliefs, superstitions and observed associations between events. Predictors that are based on actual research are more often referred to as indicators. Jesse Bering from the University of Otago says that when people ask for a sign, “they’re often at a standstill, a fork in the road, paralyzed in a critical moment of existential ambivalence.” He says, “When the emotional climate is just right, there’s hardly a shape or form that ‘evidence’ cannot assume. Our minds make meaning by disambiguating the meaningless.”

The economy is an area where signs proliferate. Currently, for example, there is a lot of interest in whether a recession is coming. Some economists assert that an “inverted yield curve,” which appeared a few times since mid-August, is a sure sign of a recession. This sign is when interest rates on long-term bonds are lower than those on short-term bonds. Supposedly investors are anxious about the economy and are seeking a safe haven for their holdings. Some economists believe this sign is no longer valid. Others argue that the time between this curve’s appearance and a recession is several months to several years, rendering it practically useless. There are, however, dozens of other signs of how the economy is faring.

These economic signs include: movie attendance, which increases when people flock to theaters to escape harsh economic realities. The unclaimed corpse indicator maintains that some families fail to claim the bodies of relatives when times are hard, to avoid the expense of a funeral. The Diaper Rash Index says that surging sales of ointment is a bad omen since it suggests people are economizing by changing their babies’ diapers less often. Other economic indicators have been predicated upon plastic surgery rates, high heel shoe height, mosquito bite frequencies, cardboard box sales, coupon redemptions, pain killer usage, and the R-Word Index, which is the number of times the word “recession” appears in the media.

Weather is another area in which omens play a significant role. Being able to predict weather is important for farmers, mariners, and anyone effected by floods, storms or harsh winters.

Supposedly woolly worms can forecast winter severity by the length of their red-brown bands. The wider the band, the milder the winter. In contrast some believe that the wider the stripes a skunk has, the harsher the winter will be.

Persimmon seeds also predict winter weather. If a seed is split and the kernel reveals a spoon-shaped image, a harsh winter with heavy snow can be expected. If the image is fork-shaped, a mild winter with light snow is on the way. Finally, if the image is knife-shaped, winter winds that cut like a knife can be anticipated.

Meteorologists say that the old adage “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor take warning,” is fairly accurate when weather comes from the west. The red color comes from light illuminating particulates trapped by high pressure. Another sign of precipitation is a halo around the moon or sun consisting of ice crystals refracting light. On some trees, the leaves curl up 24 hours before rains come. Cows often huddle together before a storm, possibly because they sense low pressure systems. Birds may also sense barometric changes and tend to soar high when skies are fair and remain low when storms are coming.

Genetic tests allow parents to learn their baby’s gender before it’s born, but in the past, they relied on signs. Women who experienced severe morning sickness were thought to be pregnant with girls. Boys were associated with milder sickness or none at all. Cravings for sweet foods were associated with having a girl, while cravings for savory foods portended a boy.

Women who carried babies high could expect a girl, while boys sat lower. Finally, if a pendulum were held over the baby bump, it would purportedly sway in a circular motion if the baby was a boy but moved in a straight line if the baby was a girl.

Many people still swear by such signs and omens, despite the lack of scientific evidence. Terry Pratchett, one of the authors of “Good Omens,” once wrote, “Omens are everywhere in this world you just have to find the one that fits.”

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D. lives in Jeffersonville and is the CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems. He can be reached at tstawar@gmail.com.

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