An omen is an event which is supposed to indicate destiny, the chief feature being the gratuitous nature of the happening; it is a message about the future which we do not seek for. There is no origin for omens; they are as old as man himself. From time immemorial the changing aspects of Nature have told him about the changes which may happen in his own life; the flight of birds, the mysteries of dreams, a rabbit crossing the path, and an infinity of other matters have been taken as "signs" of something that forbodes good or ill--generally ill-ga testimony to the almost universal fear with which man has regarded the forces surrounding his life. Dryden and Lee in the OEdipus set forth the superstitions of their time:--
"For when we think fate hovers o'er our heads,
Our apprehensions shoot beyond all bounds,
Owls, ravens, crickets seem the watch of death;
Nature's worst vermin scare her godlike sons,
Echoes, the very leavings of a voice,
Grow babbling ghosts and call us to our graves:
Each mole-hill thought swells to a huge Olympus,
While we, fantastic dreamers, heave, and puff,
And sweat with an imagination's weight;
As if, like Atlas, with these mortal shoulders
We could sustain the burden of the world."
It is useless to say that omens are going out of fashion; they are still operative. When the Liberals are turned out of office and at the election make a clean sweep of the first day's pollings, they do not hesitate to regard it as a good omen; and the Conservatives are by no means backward in using the same phraseology if events for them should be equally propitious. But it is in the mental and social life of the people that augury in the strict sense has its fullest scope, and in the sections that follow some proof of this statement will be forthcoming.