49 | Creative Prompts: Omens

64 Arts

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the everyday applications of The 64 Arts.

As we wrap up this relatively brief foray into omens and related topics–let’s face it, you know whether you buy into superstitions, omens, etc. or not and it’s not my goal to convince you–we’ve come to my favorite part of each Art, the creative prompts.

See, what I said above is true: I’m not here to convince you one way or another. But my goal with this series is to encourage us all to live more creative lives. And that means approaching topics in creative ways. So here we go!

1. Have your chart done.

Chart? You mean astrology? Yeppers!

Now, you might be wondering why I believe (as friends have opined) that clouds of gas hundreds of thousands of light years away have any bearing whatsoever on my day to day life. Let me quote Guggenheim Grotto:

It’s not that I do or don’t believe
It’s that I just don’t not believe
In god and aliens and love at first sight…

And astrology. Some folks have said that since the Moon can affect the tides, and we’re made up largely of water, it’s not impossible that celestial events affect our pedestrian existence. And then there’s the point I read about how we’re not who we are because of where the stars were when we were born, but that we were born when and where we were in relation to the stars because of who we are. I tend to really like that last bit, because it puts astrology in the same light as reading Tarot and other forms of “divination:” a tool for reflection, meditation, and insight.

For instance, Mercury is about to go retrograde on September 18, which signifies an increase in technical issues, computer problems, and communication upsets. Now, most people see this as a prediction of doom, gloom, and general miserableness for 3 weeks. I prefer to see it as a reminder to be more careful with what I say, not to jump to conclusions, give people the benefit of the doubt, take my time, and backup my computer data. See, it’s all about perspective.

But I digress.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to have your chart done. Not just your sun sign, but the whole shebang. While you can pay people to do these for you, I’ve found a really fabulous resource in astro.com and if you know the time and place of your birth you can generate your entire chart and look up all the bits and pieces to explain it. And if you’d like some very down-to-earth astrological advice, I suggest heading over to MysticMedusa.com. I’ve especially enjoyed her “Style Your Ascendant” series (your ascendant being your “rising sign” and the sign other people initially perceive you as; for instance, I’m sun/moon Taurus with Virgo rising, so most people’s first impressions of me fit the Virgo mold more so than Taurus).

2. Grab your crayons and destress with this coloring page I made you.

See, one of the many “side effects” of paying attention to superstitions, omens, astrology and more could be a propensity towards worrying. Worrying leads to stress and stress leads to all kinds of other bad things. Not to mention, stress can bring about a lot of those things we’re already worrying about, or seem to, self-fulfilling prophecy style. Apparently the simple act of coloring can be very therapeutic (who knew? Oh, right, I did–it’s been a sure-fire way to bust through a creative block for ages).


Just click the pdf link here jvanderbeek_omens_coloringbookpage to download a full-size version.

And if you have watercolor pencils (or my Portable Plein Air kit, now available on etsy) you can absolutely print this out on watercolor paper and have even more fun with it!

3. Writing prompt: Hindsight is 20/20.

Sure, omens are all about portents of the future, but what about the past? Once a chapter of our lives has come to a close, it’s far easier to see the signposts along the way that we may have missed or brushed off as nothing in the moment. What can we learn about trusting our gut and our intuition by examining the past?

Along the lines of ‘those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it,’ take an experience from your past (or a friend’s or family member’s past, if that’s what comes to mind more easily–we can learn from other’s mistakes just as much as our own!) and write about lessons learned and ways it can be applied in the future. Or draw something, collage something, create something from it. Anything goes, medium is up to you.

In my comic book, Rings on Her Fingers, I talked about the different signs and omens I ignored leading up to my first marriage (which, by virtue of calling it the first one, I’m sure you can guess that it didn’t last–not really a spoiler there). Case in point:



If you choose to do one, two, or all of these prompts, I’d love to see what comes out of it. Leave a comment here with a link or tag me (@scrapsoflife) on twitter or instagram!

49 | Clovers, Comets, and Crows

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing creative exploration of the 64 Arts.

As I’ve done more research and reading about omens I’ve noticed two common elements of most omens:

  1. The appearance and incidence is natural in origin (as opposed to man-made).
  2. The appearance or incidence is naturally scarce or rare.

This kinda goes back to my hooting owl example: not so powerful if its a regular thing.

I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover

Clover is plentiful in fields all over the place, but most only have 3 heart-shaped leaves per stem. Since the 4-leaved variety is rare, obviously it’s a sign of good luck, right?

Well, maybe to an naturally optimistic soul. But if there’s one constant among the undeveloped cultures (where belief is superstitions and omens is more common), it’s that the different and unusual will be feared as often, if not more so, than praised.

But what’s lucky for one could mean ill for another.

The Case of Halley’s Comet

Before science was anywhere near explaining the various lights in our sky, people made stories up about them–what they were, what they symbolized–and still do. Astrology is still practiced (seriously by some, casually by others) all over the world and while some do invest the stars with the ability to predict the future, their divinations aren’t exactly omens (or at least not all of them, we’ll go that far in safety, I think).

But when I star streaks across the sky, a meteor shower rains light from the heavens, or a comet burns its way over the horizon… that’s apt to get some folks’ attention!

As early as men and women could conceive of some higher power, the sky was often where those celestial beings lived. Any changes in the sky were considered their judgement on the actions of the mortals below. So when Halley’s comet streaked across the sky back in 1066, with war looming in England, a war that saw  the death of their king? Well,  obviously, a comet is bad news. But what about the other guy (William the Conqueror) who rose to power thanks to that same battle.

Two sides to ever coin. Even the fiery ones.

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy

And speaking of balance, some omens do take that into consideration from the get-go.

Magpies (please excuse my alliterative choice in the title of this post) were, apparently, pretty scarce once upon a time, and to see them was considering auspicious, indeed. Of course, how many you saw–whether it was at one time or over the course of a day I’m a little unclear of–definitely mattered.

There are many versions of the old nursery rhyme/folk song but they all start with

One for sorrow
Two for joy(or mirth)

Then they continue along, diverging between the overall good or neutral and the more negative.

Three for a wedding
Four for a death (or birth)–see, now we’re getting into weird territory

Some even had three for a girl and four for a boy.  Some versions stop at four, but for those that continue on, five and six stay pretty constant at silver and gold, respectively, so I suppose we can take that for people being as concerned with wealth then as we are now.

Seven for a secret is pretty common, though, again, a secret can be good or bad, and some versions I’ve read or heard referenced say seven for a witch. The version recorded in an 1846 book finishes

Seven for a secret
not to be told
Eight for heaven
Nine for hell
And ten for the devils own self.

I guess you really didn’t want to see more than 8 magpies for sure, right?!

While it was a non-reference book that reminded me of the magpies, I first heard of this rhyme many years ago while listening to a Guggenheim Grotto album and one of the tracks was “One For Sorrow” and I wondered what the symbolism behind the magpie was in the lyrics.

Incidentally, magpies are no longer scarce in England, so your chances of seeing a tidings of magpies (not a typo, that is their correct collective noun) are a lot higher than they used to be. So maybe take that, and all of this, really, with a grain of salt and a flutter of feathers.

These ominous examples are all from ages past, what sort of things would constitute omens in this day and age, were one to believe in such things. In the natural versus man-made distinction all that crucial as we continue to innovate and automate and rely on technology? Does a clap of thunder out of a clear blue sky make you think twice about something you just said or thought or are planning to do?

Definitely worth pondering, I think…

49 | Ominous Music Starts to Play

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring daily creativity via The 64 Arts.

After a fabulous, if jam-packed, weekend I proceeded to lock my keys in the car Monday morning. (At the lab where I stopped for blood-word, as if that isn’t adding insult to injury.) It’s not a leap to imagine it was a sign of things to come for the day.

I suppose, though, the Universe was just providing me a handy segue into the next Art:

49 Observing the Omens
Observing the favorable or unfavorable signs before any enterprise.

So, what is an omen? It’s a portent or sign of something to come. Not always bad (favorable omens are a thing, a good thing!) but a lot of the times we pay more attention to the negative ones than the positive. What an omen is not, however, is a superstition.

(Direct link for the feed readers: Superstitious music video by Europe–this song keeps popping into my head every time I think about this subject; there are worse earworms to have.)

Superstitions are more like if-then statements or cause and effect occurrences. Like breaking a mirror leads to seven years of of bad luck, if a black cat crosses your path you’ll have bad luck. Even the childhood “step on a crack, break your momma’s back” rhyme is a superstition.

(Direct link for the feed readers: Superstition by Stevie Wonder)

And like Stevie says, “when you believe in things that you don’t understand you suffer.”


I don’t consider myself a very superstitious person. A black cat can walk where they want in relation to me and I feel no fear. I avoid walking under ladders more for the protection against things falling on me from heights above than any long-term potential. And avoiding cracks in the sidewalk just takes too much effort!

But haven’t you ever gone somewhere and found a parking spot right next to the door (bonus points if it’s also in the shade and it’s summertime) and thought ‘yes, this is a good sign’? Well, that right there is a sign of our subconscious mind seeing fate/diety/or lady luck bestowing some sort of blessing on our venture. We may not think of not getting that close-up spot as a sign of bad luck and it dooming our trip to the depths of darkness (no, other shoppers usually take care of that for us), but other things, like my keys held hostage, can certainly turn our thoughts of the coming day to less than positive avenues.

Some very common omens involve sensations of our body “telling” us things we need to know. It’s said that an itching right palm signifies money or wealth coming to you, but an itching left palm means you’re going to lose or spend money soon. (The whole right-good/left-bad thing dates back to at least Roman times, all you have to look at the words for right and left–dexter and sinister, respectively–to see the bias.) Have you ever heard “your earns must have been burning” from someone when you entered the room? Tingling ears mean someone is talking about you. Now, it could be anything from spreading gossip to extolling your virtues, that’s why it helps to add outside insight to simple observations!

One of my favorite movies, Practical Magic, has a scene where a broom falls and the aunts say “Broom fell… company’s coming.” Of course, if you look up what a falling broom can mean you’ll see all sorts of portents, both positive and negative. In the case of the broom, it’s always struck me that most people clean up before guests come over, so a broom has a higher chance of falling over when it’s casually leaned up against a wall rather than in the closet, cupboard, or hook where it might usually live. Ergo, the broom fell before company arrived, and that became tied to the action. But, in the movie, they were in the midst of a tense scene, so in that sort of setting, maybe company isn’t quite a welcome. It’s all about context.


Owls are a good source of omens and there is tons of lore about what seeing or hearing an owl might mean. Even though owls are considered wise, their large eyes and nocturnal habits often get them associated with death. So, hearing the hoot of a screech owl portends death soon to come. Okay, but what if live next to an owl-happy forest? You’ll be hearing hoots all the time and be scared half out of your wits that your demise was imminent 24/7. Context.

The other thing about omens, as opposed to superstitions, is that they are warnings of possibilities, not carved in stone. Take the broken mirror/bad luck superstition: you’re pretty much sunk on that one (if you believe it) as you cannot unbreak the mirror. Carrying a lucky rabbit’s foot (which wasn’t so lucky for the rabbit, was it?) could be an attempt to nullify one superstition with another, but they still stand along. An omen of trouble ahead, though, when contemplated could be avoided. Just like horoscopes and tarot, being aware of a situation via an omen has the power to change or guarantee an outcome though our actions, as much as we ever control a situation, that is.

Where on the omen spectrum do you sit: don’t believe at all? casual observer? or always on the lookout for signs and portents?

What local omens have you heard about or are common to your family?